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In the Face of Death Part 1
"Keep quiet!” he said, almost in a whisper.
It was a cold night, very cold. The tall grass kept scratching my face, and the squad's progress was slow due to the huge mud holes created by the day's rain.
The sergeant held up his hand, the signal to stop. We were using hand signals only because a corporal had recently seen the outline of a village, and, in Vietnam, you never know what is there, whether it's a huge Viet Cong force or just a simple village. We were going extremely slow, slow enough that I could count my footsteps for at least a few hundred feet.
Turning towards the man next to me, I asked, "Hey, what is he-"
"Shut up!” I shut right up. He was the same rank as me, but he was tall and had an intimidating look in his eye. As soon as I looked into his cold, hard, eyes, his face relaxed. "You're scared, aren't you?" I just nodded. "First night patrol?" I nodded again, and he sighed. "O.K., just stay quiet, any sound could tip the Kong off."
"Oh, and don't shoot unless you have to, too many people back home calling us baby killers." I nodded and then looked down at my rifle. I had just barely qualified with it, but that didn't matter here. When you were fighting in the dark, there were no targets or movements that you could see. The only way you could get close to killing them was by shooting the flashes that came from their weapons.
Just then, one of those flashes appeared.
The sergeant up front yelled, "GET DOWN!!!!!!" Even as my face hit the ground, tons of those flashes appeared. The sound of AK47s was all I could hear. In the faint moonlight, I saw a man get on top of a building, RPG in hand.
As the first rocket flew towards the squad, I buried my face in the mud. As soon as the explosion went off, I heard the screams of my wounded comrades. The soldier beside me yelled, "You hit?" Then he grabbed my shirt and tried to pull me away from the Battle, but he didn't get far before his body jerked as a bullet hit him in the back, then even more as three more bullets struck him. As the body slammed to the ground, I realized that that could have been me. That it could still be me. Even as I realized this, the firing stopped. It was completely silent for just a moment, and, in that moment, I thought that I could get away, that I could be safe.
How in the heck was I so wrong?
There was some rustling, a Vietnamese shout, then five Viet Cong soldiers surrounded me. I sat there, stunned for a moment, then one of them reached his hand out to me and said something, so I simply handed them my rifle. He took it, then started unloading it, as I had expected him to. But the next part I didn't expect.
The first of the soldiers kicked me in the face, then another, and another, until all five men were beating me with their fist, feet, and even my own rifle. All I could see was rifle butts and boots flying towards any place they could hit. Then they grabbed me and pulled me into the village. It was obviously some kind of barracks, but I couldn't see well enough to be sure. There was too much blood in my eyes. Then one soldier saw me looking around, so he took his rifle and hit me in the head. I saw a little cloud in my vision, another hit, then nothing.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I could hear them screaming, those men lying there in the mud; their souls screamed at me as they soared to the heavens. "Why didn't you shoot? You could have saved us!"
I woke with a start. My head was throbbing, but only a little bit more than the rest of my body. What had happened? Was it a dream? I looked around. I was in a prison cell, and the bunk was cold and hard. I could hear people screaming in Vietnamese, almost like they were begging to be released. No, I was awake. This was real. Very, very real.
Suddenly two guards busted in. Without a word they picked me up with out even drawing a breath and slammed me against the wall. One guard pulled out a rope and tied my hands so tight that I felt my hands go numb. The other pulled out a blindfold and squeezed it around my eyes. A strong powerful voice echoed into the cell. A third guard had come. He told the other two to take me somewhere, which I could tell by the soldiers picking me up and carrying me out the door. I couldn't see anything, but all I could do was listen and smell. But that was all I needed to do in order to know what horrible things were going on.
As soon as we exited the building, I could feel the air thicken and taste the smells of the village. The first thing I noticed was the smoke. So much smoke. But that wasn't the worst of it. There was some wretchedly horrid smell. I didn't know what it was; all I knew was that it was horrible, like burnt hair or a burnt animal, but different. So much different. It was strong, so I held my breath and waited for them to do what they wanted.
The air around me seemed to soften and I was thrust into a small chair. The blindfold was yanked off and the ropes cut. A huge Viet Cong officer stood before me now. He spoke three words to the two guards and they walked out, shutting the seemingly sound proof door behind them. The officer studied me, slowly going over every part of me. He then stood straight up and said in English.
"What is your name?"
"Well, Michael, I have just a few questions for you. Then it will all be over."
What? What was he thinking?
He smiled, then went on. "What was your squad doing here? Just patrolling?" I was confused now, why would he ask that?
"We were simply patrolling."
"Well, I bet my Captain that you were doing more than just patrolling. So, I will get the truth out of you one way or another." He smiled and pulled out a huge knife. "GUARDS! Secure him! Why did you untie him in the first place?"
Right then, I saw his gun holster was loose, so I jumped up and grabbed the gun from his side. Immediately, I shot the officer in the chest, then turned the gun on the two guards. The first one came in with his AK47 on safe, then, when he tried to fire, I shot him three times in the arm, chest, and head. The second one came in more prepared though. His rifle was pointed at my face, but just before he shot, I shot his arm. Then I forced him to the ground with another shot in the leg.
"Where is the prison? WHERE?" Adrenalin was pumping through me, but I was able to think enough to remember the people in the prison. He simply pointed. Not believing him, I yelled "GET UP!" He jumped up. "Now, get in front of me, you will show me where it is." He nodded, then I grabbed two AK-47s and put the pistol in my pants. I pointed the rifle at him and said, "Go!" He started to walk towards the door, which luckily did not enter into the village, but pointed towards the forest.
When he walked out, that smell attacked me again. It was worse this time just because we were closer to the source. Then I saw the huge trail of smoke leading up to the sky. I quickly took my eyes off the prisoner to glance down an alley to find out what was going on inside the village. That's when I saw it.
In the center of the town was a huge bonfire. All around it, buildings were burning and soldiers were throwing bundles of... something into the bonfire. Suddenly, my captive tripped over something. I forced him back up then looked to see what he had tripped over. There he was, a young boy, maybe 6 at most, lying there, dead. His body had bullet holes all in it. I nearly puked, but I kept the gun pointed at my captive. "Where. Is. The. Prison," I said in the most menacing voice I could muster. He pointed to the building right beside the one I had just left. "Thank you." Then I shot him. He hit the ground, dead. I looked back at him then the kid's body, then back at the soldier. "Serves you right"
I quickly looked at the prison. It had a back door just like the other room. I walked up and put my ear to it. As I did, someone screamed inside. I looked at the boy's body, then kicked in the door. Immediately, two guards turned around to see my rifle pointed at them. I pulled the trigger and shot the guard nearest me, then twisted the gun to shoot the next one. I saw a flash of light, but the bullet hit above my head. I quickly pulled the trigger again and he hit the ground beside his partner. I looked around to see everyone’s frightened faces. They were so scared. Was it me?
Disregarding the thought, I motioned with my gun for them to head out and stood by the door to make sure everybody left. As they filled out one by one, I noticed one different from the others. I stopped him, "You an American?"
"Yeah, my name's Brison."
"OK, I'm Micheal." I said as I handed him a rifle. "How many more people do you think are alive?" There was a round of fire, a scream, a single shot, then silence. I looked at him. "Let’s go!" We stormed into the woods after them, and, after a few seconds, we heard saw them sitting by a stream. I looked over at Brison.
"What are they doing? We need to move!"
"They're being smart." He pointed over to three women filling canteens up with water from the stream.
"Oh, well, you're right." I noticed an old man telling the villagers what to do in Vietnamese."Hey, bring him here." Brison nodded and went to go get him. When he came back, he presented the man to me. He was a short, bald man, with wrinkles around his eyes. "Hello, my name is Chou Young. My village was attacked yesterday before you arrived, and most of us have died since then." I noticed how slow and tired he spoke. But most of all, I noticed that he could speak English.
"You can speak English? Fluently?" He nodded. "Didn't expect that. Are you the leader of this village?"
"If you mean what's left of it, then yes, I am. We need to leave. Those soldiers were ruthless."
"I agree. I think I still have a map here...” I pulled it out of my shirt where I had kept it before the ambush. "Brison, Chou, which way do you think we should go? I know that they will come after us soon."
Chou pointed to the map."That is a shallow river that we can re-water from. If we are being chased we will definitely be caught though." He looked up at me. "Well?"
"Where do we go?"
Confused, I said, "Sure, let’s go to the river." Why did they ask me? He never asked Brison anything... And Brison had immediately obeyed my order to get Chou... They can't be looking to me to lead them! I thought about this... I didn't know why Brison would let me lead him, but Chou seemed to be a very humble man. Maybe he decided that he would help me lead since I saved them, but I don't know if I can do this. I barely survived the escape myself. I looked over at Brison, then back to Chou. Time to test.
"Chou, go tell your people what we are going to do. Brison, gather all the food and water canteens. Keep the food with you, but hand the water out. Let the adults have more than the children. Hopefully they will take care of the kids..."
Chou looked up at me again. "No worries, my people’s most prized possession are their children." I nodded, then Brison and Chou ran off to do what they were told. They had passed the test. Disturbed, I began to wonder why they should follow me, even though they didn't know my name or anything. I thought about this while I gathered up the weapons, still no thought came to my head why they should. Then Brison and Chou came back.
"You done?" They nodded. "Alright, Chou, here's my pistol. It only has 14 rounds, so be careful. Brison, you and I will take the AKs. Chou I need you with your people. Brison, behind us."
"What about the other American?" I looked at Brison.
"What American?" Then he pointed to an old looking man in a green Army uniform. "Come on, let’s go meet him." We all walked over to him. I studied him for a moment. Did I know him? "Are you an American?"
With his head down, he said in a low, sad voice, "Yes."
I remembered the voice... "Sergeant Kinsela? What are you doing? You should be in charge of this! Not me!" He slowly lifted his head. Still in that same, sad voice, Kinsella muttered. "Not after last night. I lost my whole squad. I'm not fit for command." Then he fell to his knees. "My whole squad! They were all good men, none of them ever deserved it! It was my mistake to go towards that village! They obeyed without question, and it got them killed! All killed!" He buried his hands into his face and started to weep like no man should.
I leaned down with him and put my hand on his shoulder. "I remember last night. I remember how I never fired a shot. I remember the man who tried to pull me away from the battle, and died trying. I remember their screams. But, most of all, I remember how the enemy came out of nowhere. How they just appeared. How none of us had a chance. No matter who was in charge, Kinsella we never knew what was in that village, especially not that an entire battalion of Viet Kong had surrounded us. Sergeant, we were the lucky ones, and, now we have to protect these people. I need your help." I took and rifle off my back and a grenade off my belt, then handed them to him.
"I need your help protecting these people. We will avenge our squad's death, we will avenge this village's destruction, and the people who died in it. But not now. Now we have to run. We have to survive. I need your help." He looked at me with watering eyes.
"I know, and so we shall, but they trust you, not me. You are still in charge, but I will help."
"Thank you, now get up, we have to leave." He nodded, then got up, in his old, confident way, with his back straight and his head held high. He turned to face the woods, and, with his rifle on his back and a grenade on his belt, he was the first to walk into the woods. Then came Chou, the villagers, and Brison. I was the last by the stream. I looked up at the towering trees, took a deep breath, and then plunged into the jungle.