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An Eternal Soldier. 2 of 3. Adult, War. 2,800 (1 Viewer)

hvysmker

Senior Member
Synopsis: Mike Edwards, former Master Sergeant, now private, has just now reported to his new unit, an armored company in Vietnam. He's waiting in the mess tent for his new first sergeant....
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Now, I find myself waiting for yet another commanding officer, this one a mere captain talking to a private. Meanwhile, I sit on a hard folding-chair, a cup of coffee -- barely warmer than the 110 degree heat -- in my hand. It's quiet time, me idly watching equally inattentive soldiers sitting in the shade of their vehicles and looking back at me. A peaceful scene.

I'm brought back to reality by the sound of a heavy coffee mug hitting the already shaky table. Looking over, I see a large man wearing a dirty uniform. He's in the process of sitting down across from me. A large man, he has at least a week’s growth of beard, arms like small trees and dirty blond hair down to his ass. A rare Viking type. He's also wearing first sergeant’s stripes on his collar. The stripes are painted black, not glinting with a silvery shine like they would have been in the rear area. Since shiny stripes and bars signify rank, we would all prefer equality in a sniper's sights, hence unobtrusive rank insignia.

“So you’re the busted noncom, uh?” Turning to face me, the guy shoves a craggy face within a few inches of mine and glares silently. I can hear his breathing and smell a strong body odor.

Hell. I’ve been in long enough to learn the trick myself. He wants to get in my face to see my reaction … whether I'm combat material. It had been the same in Korea and I expect many more tests of the sort. I can’t blame them. You want to know whether a new man will crack easily. That knowledge might well save your own ass. If I flinch or look away, he'll still have his doubts. I don’t flinch, only look back at him. No, not a staring contest. He's the boss, so I look him in the eye for long seconds, then smile and let my gaze slowly lower to his coffee mug. It's a private one, not army issue. "Daddy" is printed on the side in green letters.

“That I am, Top,” I say, straightening my back.

“I've been warned about you. You know that, Edwards?”

I sit silently. It's his conversation, his test.

“At division, I heard you were one of those spy types? Won’t even say what the hell you did,” he tells me. “Even prefer getting busted way the fuck down to private than say,” he growls, again glaring at me like a kid playing King of the Hill when you have hold of his leg. Is he afraid I'll topple him?

“You must have fucked up good to get here. Someone in Washington has your ass on a string.”

What can I say?

“First Sergeant Joe Allison.” He suddenly grins, reaching out one hand, leaning across to pat me on the shoulder with the other. “We’re all fuckups here. You ought’a fit right in.”

The first sergeant goes on to fill me in. The commanding officer, Captain Thompson, had screwed up as an aide to a high ranking general by flatly refusing to pick up girls from Saigon streets for his boss. Captain Thompson is extremely religious and used the Higher Authority as an excuse. But that hadn’t satisfied the general as to why the captain had also reported him to Washington for asking. The captain ended up here, the general also transferred some fucking where.

First Sergeant Allison had screwed up by getting angry one day and cussing out that same general over another matter. Both had ended up in "G" Company.

The new general had decided to form the unit from scratch, also asking for “volunteers” from similar units. That procedure had guaranteed that the rest of the company was also foul-ups. After all, no self-respecting company commander would “volunteer” his best men. "G" Company received the dregs of the division.

The colonel in charge of the battalion, on the other hand, doesn’t trust any of us. He's afraid that if he sends "G" Company into combat we'll not only get ourselves killed but make him look bad. So all "G" Company does is sit around one temporary encampment after another, rarely associating with real soldiers. The colonel hates to turn in heavy casualty figures to his own bosses.

Of course, it follows that our equipment is also the worst. That same colonel reserves the good vehicles and other supplies for his best, combat ready, troops.

To me, that explains the flimsy perimeter defenses. Nobody here really gives a damn. I also learn later, from gossipy soldiers, that the captain is rarely around the company area. He has an amateur church project going in a nearby town and mostly hangs out there with his native girlfriend.

He comes in to sign paperwork every few days, then goes back to the village. Sometimes the girl even comes in alone. She’s mastered the captain's signature and, when he’s busy preaching, signs the papers for him.

“Since you won’t say what you’re good at, I’ll give you a choice of,” First Sergeant Allison tells me, “either a mechanic trainee, or a cook. We’re currently short one of each. Take your pick?”

From where we sit, I look around the company area. The only people doing any work are just those people, the cooks and the mechanics. The rest of the troops lie around doing nothing. Of the two jobs, the cooks look slightly cleaner, white aprons and such. From what I recall, tank maintenance is heavy dirty labor. Watching a cook open a large can with an electric can-opener, convinces me. It doesn’t seem to be all that bad a job -- an open cans and fry eggs type of thing.

“I’ll take cook,” I tell him.

***

So that’s how I become a cook. It's as easy as I figured. We have a cookbook but usually don’t have the ingredients it calls for, so we simply throw things together, experimenting with this and that. If the leftovers pile up, throw them together to make stew.

Half the time we’re issued combat rations, which take no labor whatsoever. They’re canned "C" rations. You fill a huge aluminum pot with water, dump in unopened cans of rations, heat the pot over a burner and you’re done. All that's needed is to hand one hot unopened can to each soldier.

Like everything else, the combat-ready troops get the good stuff. By the time it gets down to us, the lowest priority, we’re issued the dregs. Damned but I have it soft, I figure. A few more years and I’ll look for another army. Maybe a navy or air force next time? I haven’t been in an air corp since WWI. That time with the Germans.

A civilian lunch wagon even comes here twice a day from a much larger base near us and has a booming business.

All goes well until "Tet" of 1968. Tet is a Vietnamese holiday. Technically, it's also a brief cease-fire. Neither side is supposed to be aggressive during holidays, including both US and Vietnamese ones. I think it's kinda silly, since we all pretty much ignore it.

During this particular Tet holiday, the enemy makes a point to attack every base we have in-country, including ours. They even try to take over the US Embassy in Saigon.

The night of Tet starts out with flashes of gunfire all around us augmenting the boom of artillery and mortars, our small camp being a sea of relative quiet. That does give time for our guards to wake and act alert. The distant firing goes on and on, far into the night. Helicopters buzz over us, tanks rumble back and forth up and down the roads between our close-together compounds. Of course, Captain Thompson is nowhere around, leaving the decisions up to First Sergeant Allison.

Me, I stay in the cook tent. My KPs have all left for their defensive positions and the pots and pans still have to be scrubbed. The other cooks and mess sergeant leave to watch the fight or get under cover. I'm not worried about myself. One of the first things to go is the electricity, probably to make the enemy's targeting more difficult.

As the enemy eventually deigns to notice us, an occasional bullet zips through the tent. When one finally hits and busts the kerosene lantern I'm using to peel potatoes I go out to watch.

By then I'm very friendly with Sergeant Allison -- both of us being longtime soldiers. We've had many of the same types of experiences and spend time together drinking. I keep my cool until I see him shot down by an errant projectile.

Rushing over, I raise his head, what remains of it. The left side, from the bridge of his nose over, is gone. Looking up, I see a night sky filled with tracer rounds as choppers fire down at a distant target. Both red and green tracer streams shoot out from and into our small camp. An explosion rips through a squad tent near me.

Feeling an all too familiar sense of oncoming violence, I take off my apron and white hat before heading for the perimeter.

It's then that the familiar rage rises from nowhere to surge through an unwilling body. I can't fight it. I simply can't fight it. God knows I've tried often enough.

By chance, I pick a back gate -- the nearest one to the village. Ignoring calls from guards, I raise a stout wooden bar locking the gate and storm outside. As it slams shut behind me, I search for someone, anyone, to vent myself on. Hearing yelling nearby, I run into the bush -- toward them.

I come upon a jeep, on its side in a ditch and surrounded by Victor Charlie (VC). They're foolish enough to rush at me, even as I run at them -- weaponless. As I tear into them, I take two out of action. Those small men give me little cause for concern. What can they do, shoot or stab me? No big fucking deal. I rip into them like a coyote into a pride of rabbits.

Those that can, break and run. Several of their companions are left behind to be stomped and torn into pieces as I finish venting an inhuman rage. A red haze leaving my vision, I give a final resounding roar of victory before visibly deflating, back to being a sentient human.

I find Captain Thompson, apparently wounded but conscious, looking up at me in fear. He must have seen the entire fight -- if you could call it that. More a massacre.

"Are you all right, sir?" I ask as I help him sit up. He nods, motioning that he wants to get to his feet.

As it turns out, his injury is mostly to his pride, that and minor bruises from when the jeep rolled.

"Help me inside, Edwards," he orders.

The guards see us walking toward the base and let us in. The attack only lasts another fifteen minutes as the firing peters off into quiet except for an occasional burst of gunfire in the distance. We all sit, on alert until morning and sunrise.

I sleep in that morning, worn out from the burst of activity and resulting lose of adrenaline. I'm not scheduled until the noon meal. That action also, as it often does, brings on the flashback of a dream. This time, from a long gone war in Korea....

***

It was colder'n hell -- far below zero. I was driving a Sherman tank across a frozen landscape, looking out three small view-ports. They were slim slits in thick armor, enclosed in layers of glass. I had to constantly wipe condensation, both from them as well as sweat from both hands in order to grip rubber-capped steering-levers. Springs were nonexistent on the vehicle. Simply staying in the seat was enough of a chore.

In the worse terrain, I would brace a steel-helmeted head against an escape hatch above my seat. Although hard on my neck, it was better than having that head bounced against the metal. The noise inside was deafening. Although wearing earphones, it was still hard to hear orders from the tank commander in a turret section behind and above me.

Strong odors of hot oil and diesel exhaust fumes filled my compartment, along with the feel of frigid air. I had a heater under my seat but there was no way to avoid currents of freezing air from outside. Those vehicles weren't very air-tight but still better than walking through the snow and ice of South Korea.

There were five of us inside, with me being the newest and oldest. Behind and above me was the the tank commander, a sergeant; Mike, the gunner; Harry, loader for the main 75mm gun; Joe, machine-gunner; and a communications specialist -- I don't remember his name.

That's common with me. The human mind has only so much space for memories. Eventually, it drops some in order to store newer ones. At my age, my memory is selective, as of that moment in Korea. It was a time to retrieve very, very old memories.

Anyway, I was driving. Ours was the only tank, along with a squad of infantry. For some reason unknown to myself the colonel was along with us, riding in a jeep. My best pal, Tim Evans, was driving him. As a private, nobody bothered to tell me what we were doing out there alone in enemy territory.

I was tired and cold, trying to steer around and through huge potholes and over obstacles, hold myself steady, wipe view-ports and follow orders from the sergeant. He must have had his head sticking outside through the top hatch, because I couldn't see for shit.

Taking one hand off a steering-lever, I swiped at a view-port. During the few seconds it was clear, I saw a ball of flame up ahead, heading right at me. As it flashed over my head, I had barely enough time to feel the heavy vehicle jump upward and to the side before my world was encompassed by heat and light. I passed out.

I woke to a strange though somehow familiar feeling -- something between pain and a strong itch. Long buried memories told me that it was my body healing, a feeling of deja vu. First, one eye opened ... then the other. I could feel heat, intense heat, and smell the distinctive odor of burning human flesh. Looking down with newly repaired eyes I could also see a skeletal hand. Even as I watched, it grew flesh and acquired feeling as I flexed new fingers.

My regeneration took time -- though such a concept had no meaning as my body healed. It did bring back even older repressed memories. Those were thousands of years older, back to the time of Jesus Christ.

Eventually I raised my arms, feeling more pain as they semi-consciously reached up and unlatched a hatch over a now helmet-less head. As I stood on a mostly-melted driver's seat and reached upward, I could see my hands burning again -- new flesh dripping. Pain seemed unbearable, but I managed to crawl out, dropping into a puddle of melting ice and snow alongside the remains of the heavy vehicle.

Then came a new period of healing while I screamed and looked up at the misshapen bulk of my former steed. The turret was half-off, blasted by the Chicom shell or rocket that had almost killed me. Almost, since I was doomed to near eternal life. Although many memories were gone, I knew that much. And that I'd come close to death many times before.

Feeling intense cold from wind and snow, as well as heat from the smoldering hulk, my body healed itself.

Eventually, I managed to rise, bare-ass naked in the cold of a Korean winter. I staggered away, looking for my compatriots. Somehow -- not unexpectedly -- I grew stronger, even as I plodded naked through snow and ice.

There were a few bodies around me, American soldiers. They were unlucky, or lucky -- according to how you look at it -- to stay dead.

I heard the noise of warfare over to my right and knew it was where I would find more Americans. Gaining strength with every stride, I plodded in that direction. I could feel pain and cold, though both within limits. Both were uncomfortable, though not excessive, my nervous system not yet fully functional. Although memories were coming back, I fought them off. I had to find my buddies; that was all-important.

I didn't want those memories, didn't want to review past mistakes and miseries. I, somehow, knew they would eventually fade away, back down into the recesses of my brain. They have faded and gone away many times in the past. Although craving peace, my long life has been fraught with many periods of such violence. I have, through the ages, learned to control memories -- letting them rest in peace. Most of the time.


End of part two of three. The first was posted two days ago, the next will be posted in two more days.
Charlie
 
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