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View Full Version : An Eternal Soldier. 1 of 3. Adult, War. 1,800



hvysmker
November 10th, 2014, 04:13 AM
Stepping down off the back of a deuce-and-a-half supply truck, I drop to my feet onto hard-packed red earth. Without a word, the driver waits, watching through a rearview mirror until I pull a duffel bag and suitcase off, then roars away, this being only one stop on his morning mission.

Here I am, at my new post. A sign reads "'C' Company, 2nd Battalion, 35th Armored Division.” There is also a hand-lettered sign next to the entrance of a squad-tent, saying "Orderly Room."

I'm “Fresh Fish” as the term goes, the same as in those prison movies. Meaning that I smell and will continue to stink until I prove myself there. I also have another strike against me. Besides being new, I'm a former “REMF,” automatically suspect by all. REMF stands for Rear Echelon Mother-Fucker. In my case it means that I've come from a cushy job back at Headquarters USARV (US Army, Republic of Vietnam) to this combat outfit. It also strongly implies that there has to be a reason for the change.

People in the rear don’t ever volunteer for combat duty. Nobody wakes up in a comfy villa in Saigon, dresses in starched jungle fatigues, eats a good breakfast in an air-conditioned mess hall or restaurant, then asks to see the company commander with ,“I’d like to go out to the field, sir. I wanna get shot at and live in a hole in the ground like a rat. Please, may I, sir?”

No. If a REMF gets assigned to a combat company, there is always a good reason -- and I'm no exception.

Sheridan tanks grumble and roar around me, making me step aside and wait as three of the monsters edge between myself and the orderly-room tent. As they pass, clouds of red dust envelope everything. I don't know if it's iron ore in the ground or what causes it but that dust seems unique to Vietnam.

There's still so much starch in my fatigues that even the sweat from 110 degree heat can’t get it all out. The cloth across my shoulders itches from the stuff, also my armpits. If someone looks closely, as I'm sure they will, the smaller PFC patch on my collar conflicts with larger, still unfaded, spots on the sleeves where larger insignia have been taken off. The difference in size is apparent. I've thought about buying new clothing before coming out here to the boondocks but know it would have made no difference. In either case, word will get around.

Dropping my bag outside, I walk into the tent and lay my 201 personnel file on the desk of a SP4 inside. He looks up from a typewriter to eye me casually. I can see his gaze swinging from face to sleeve.

“Kinda old for a PFC, ain’t ya?” he asks, picking up the file that contains records of eighteen years of service. I say nothing, ignoring him in favor of looking around the tent. Let’s get this shit over with is foremost on my mind.

The canvas encloses a space twenty-feet square and maybe nine-feet high at its peak. There is electricity, with several large floor-fans blowing heat around, occasionally rustling papers attached to a portable bulletin board pounded into sandy ground. Two other, empty, desks complete the ensemble.

“CO won’t be back today. First sergeant’s down at headquarters.” The clerk brings me back to earth. “You can hang around for awhile or wait in the mess tent. I’m Simmons, the company clerk.” He reaches a hand up, not bothering to get to his feet. I shake it.

“Mike. Mike Edwards,” I tell him. “I’ll be in the mess hall.” No need to ask which tent. It has a distinctive shape with one section higher than the rest for ventilating stoves.

The mess tent appears to be the largest in the small compound. I can see a makeshift counter made of stacked five-gallon insulated cans with wooden planks stretched between them. Behind the counter, nearer the front of the tent, there are several field-stoves with gasoline burners under them. Two cooks in fatigues, looking incongruous with white aprons and paper hats covering fatigue uniforms, are busily doing whatever cooks do at a wooden picnic table.

Cleanliness isn’t much of an issue under these circumstances. You're surrounded by dust and expected to eat a few ounces of it in every meal. Mosquitoes and flies buzz around, unchallenged by torn and sporadic mosquito netting. The sides of the tent are propped up on poles to let a breeze through.

I see one of the insulated containers sitting on a square field-table in a corner. It has an open five-pound bag of sugar and a can of condensed milk sitting next to it, along with a stack of paper cups. Taking the hint, I open the top and ladle out a cup of lukewarm coffee, probably left over from breakfast.

The cooks ignore me, busily chopping, stirring and measuring for the noon meal. I sit on a folding chair next to another long picnic table. The tables are fragile folding types, maybe three-feet wide by nine-feet long. There are about a dozen of them set in two rows at that end of the tent. It's only slightly cooler inside, despite more of those floor-fans.

I see no reading material lying around. Although I have a novel or two in my bag at the orderly room, I shrug and settle for watching activity outside the tent. From what I can see, the base is a temporary setup. It's a few-hundred feet square with concertina wire hastily strewn around the perimeter. From my viewpoint, I see a couple of makeshift sandbagged bunkers, so I assume there will be four of them, one at each corner. It doesn't appear very secure but then we aren’t in a very dangerous location. There are other larger and more fortified compounds all around us, with only narrow lanes between.

It's a tank company. I see a half-dozen of the small Sheridan jobs. One engine cowling is up with two guys working on something inside. Most of the soldiers I see are sitting around, shirtless, in what little shade they can find.

It has been a long time since I've been inside a tank. The last occasion was way back in Korea, in a long-gone war. That posting was still in my files, which is why I'm sitting here instead of in an infantry compound. With no love lost between us, my former CO wanted to put me in the worse scenario he could get away with....

***

It had been hate at first sight. Well, actually, more like intense dislike. At the time, I'd been Master Sergeant Michael Malchus Edwards, a highly decorated Special Operations Sergeant with a half-dozen rows of medals on my class “A” uniform. I found myself standing at attention at USARV Headquarters, braced up in front of a Colonel Transki’s desk. He was the head of personnel for the area and didn’t know what to make of me. And I couldn’t blame him.

“What kind of shit is this, sergeant? Most of your DD4 is blank, or referred for explanation to General Arnold at the Pentagon. It doesn’t even say what your Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) is. Almost nothing after basic training, except for postings in Korea and Washington, DC.”

He was flustered. Colonel Transki loved order and routine. Here he had a high ranking Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) with no defined skills. None that weren’t, in any case, highly secret.

“And General Arnold died last month under suspicious circumstances.” He looked me in the eye. "Word is he was under investigation at the time. You know anything about that?"

I stood silent, not venturing an explanation, which made him even more angry.

“Just what the hell am I expected to do with you?” he blustered. “Do you know anything about vehicles? I could use another transportation sergeant?”

“No, sir. I can drive a truck but that’s about all.”

“I don’t need no E-8 truck drivers. Can you type?”

“Not very well, sir.”

“Cook?”

“Not really.”

“Ever been in the infantry?”

“No, sir.”

“You ever shoot at a man in your fucking life?”

“Can’t say I have, sir," I lied. Well, not a complete lie, since I've never really trusted firearms, preferring bare hands, cutting weapons, or clubs.

“Well, then just what the hell are you good for, to make that exalted rank?”

“You’d have to ask General Arnold, sir. I’ve been sworn to secrecy, sir.”

“The general’s dead.”

I didn’t answer, only looked over his head at the wall behind his desk.

“Jesus Christ,” his voice fell to a loud whisper. I could sense anger. “Well, until I get an answer back from Washington, you can supervise building shithouses around the base. See Captain Thompson in the engineering detachment. He can use you for something. Dismissed, sergeant.”

I have no way of knowing what transpired at higher echelons, but it took two months to get an answer back. It must not have pleased the colonel because I now find myself in armored. There had been a vague reference in my files about being stationed in such a unit in Korea.

True, I'd been a tank driver when I acquired my real specialty. After that, further training and projects were so secret as to be known to only four people, the President, General Arnold, my trainer and myself. Since then, I've killed two of those four.

Although suspected of the killings, there is no real proof. Somehow feeling I'm a danger, the President has seen that I received a quick set of orders and been sent to Vietnam -- no doubt to get me out of Washington and away from himself. He's not one of the bravest Presidents we've had.

I must have lost my official appeal while I waited, because Colonel Transki also informed me that I had been reduced to PFC. As to the rank reduction, I can only imagine the confusion in Washington. General Arnold had kept my records himself, hidden somewhere in his personal files. All the Department of the Army would probably know was that I'm, indeed, in the Army and for how long. Not knowing what to do and since there was no record of promotions, some clerk had no doubt taken it upon himself to bounce me back to my former rank of private. I should have gotten out at that point but I only have four years until retirement. I figure I can wing it until then.

End of part one of three. The next will be posted in two days, the third a couple of days later.
Charlie

clapforrightthings
November 10th, 2014, 05:20 AM
Love it!

pointystar
November 11th, 2014, 04:08 AM
This piece is near flawless. I love the intense imagery.

However, there are two things that tripped me up.

...eats a good breakfast in an air-conditioned mess hall or restaurant... --- The "or restaurant" part seems a little redundant. It doesn't add value to the sentence and it just kind of messed up the flow of the sentence.

Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) --- I don't think a seasoned veteran would say the entire phrase out. Its like a doctor saying cardiopulmonary resuscitation instead of CPR.

Just two very minor flaws in a great piece of literature!

hvysmker
November 11th, 2014, 05:15 AM
Thanks for commenting, pointystar.

With the restaurant, I was referring to the troops stationed in Saigon. Many of them lived off post and had restaurants available. As for myself, in two tours, I only breezed through the outskirts of Saigon once, he-he.

As for spelling out the MOS, many readers will not be ex-military. Using only the initials may cause them to pause in their reading, which is not a good thing. initials alone will confuse them.

I spent all my time on relatively small bases up and down the countryside. Later, out of service and a computer programmer, I worked with an individual who worked in Saigon in that capacity. Man, but he made me jealous. He said he and a couple other programmers lived in a villa rented for them by the army, not out of their pay. He worked in air-conditioned comfort, almost like living in the US. He also made a much larger salary.

Charlie