Tremor Dog first named it “the pulpit.” I thought of it only as a burned out tree stump, about a click outside the wire. It was, for all intensive purposes, a marker. Beyond the pulpit was an existence of momentary life, or an invitation to leave the same, depending on the day and time.
We lost the lieutenant two steps off the chopper. What was left of our platoon sort of linked with Scott’s squad and we crawled through leech-laden rice paddies to a drier landing. My job was not to determine location. Somebody said we would run recon with a forward patrol. Big O chattered back to fire base and minutes later the hills rocked with exploding ordinance.
Orders came down. During the night we would move to the pulpit. Mick walked by with strands of his 60 cal ammo strung around his shoulders. I nodded. “Hey.”
“Yeah.” He was a man of limited vocabulary. “You got room to carry my extra barrel?” Mick had a habit of melting barrels.
“Naw, but Big O’s not hauling the lieutenant’s gear any more. Give it to him.”
Seconds later I got a tap on the shoulder, which meant we were moving out. I checked the safety on my weapon. There were two theories. First was to walk along the trail with the safety off, immediately ready to fire; the second theory was to keep the safety on because an accidental misfire would alert the enemy to our location. Dog sawed my safety off to match his – for us, there was no debate.
Nance stepped in front of me. “They need you back with O.”
“Sheesh, the last place I want to be is with a radio antenna.”
Nance chuckled and snapped another grenade to his shoulder belt. “Yeah, you’re guarding him. Captain needs a com man back ten from the squad."
Dog looked up. “I’m tagging here too, recon needs flank push.” This simply meant that Dog was fighting his own war. It also meant that he would follow the platoon and would pick off any activity that took up the trail behind them. He carried a bluster, a 16, and a very ugly long knife.
Captain Scott slid in behind O and picked up the handset. “Light the brush on the flare.”
All this meant was that an F14 would lay down Napalm at a location indicated by the flare. The jet or possibly two would spray enough fire that anything living would be a sitting cinder. The trick for the platoon would be for the flare to be set forward of their own position.
I glanced at my watch. The patrol had been gone ten minutes. “How long Captain?” My voice was horse from tension strain.
“Watch for the flare.”
A minute later a blue sparkler lit the night. An obvious exchange of gunfire followed, and then the roar of two tomcats fresh off the decks of a nearby carrier cracked overhead; and then as if a match was struck, the entire hillside lit up on fire.
The party continued into the morning hours. Finally, the search platoon showed up, O and I joined them and we walked through the brush toward the previous night’s fight. Forward units had secured the trail.
Along the trail were the remains of a previous country life, one of cultivating rice, now destroyed in the wake of a needless battle.
Finally, we made it to the site of the platoon. The results of the night’s carnage were everywhere. I could hear Tremor Dog’s distinct voice as we approached. The search dogs’ ears seemed to perk up. Finally, I caught sight of him. My buddy Dog, a grenade hanging from his vest, was leaning on the pulpit praying, and six men knelt on the ground in front of him praying too.
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