Nobody Gets Off the Bus:
The Viet Nam Generation Big Book
Volume 5 Number 1-4
This text, made available by the Sixties Project, is copyright (c) 1996 by Viet Nam Generation, Inc., or the author, all rights reserved. This text may be used, printed, and archived in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of U.S. Copyright law. This text may not be archived, printed, or redistributed in any form for a fee, without the consent of the copyright holder. This notice must accompany any redistribution of the text. The Sixties Project, sponsored by Viet Nam Generation Inc. and the Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, is a collective of humanities scholars working together on the Internet to use electronic resources to provide routes of collaboration and make available primary and secondary sources for researchers, students, teachers, writers and librarians interested in the 1960s.
Welcome to the 'Nam, Part II
Stephen T. Banko III, Buffalo, NY
The sun had bleached the blue from the cloudless sky and reduced it to a molten gray. Sweat bubbled beneath the weight of his steel helmet and streamed down his face, stinging his eyes and tickling the corners of his mouth with salty dribble. His mouth felt like it had been packed with pretzel salt. Breath came to Duffy in short, tortured gasps as he pushed himself through the suffocating heat. His first day on the point was now into a simple endurance test. The platoon had been moving for an hour, covering a lot of ground over the lightly foliated terrain. But the trade off for open ground was an unobstructed sun. Its punishing heat was the only enemy they confronted. From beneath the brim of his helmet, Duffy saw an oasis of shade a few hundred meters ahead. He sucked in a deep draft of hot air and quickened his pace at the prospect of some relief from the baking, angry sun.
Five days in the unit and already I'm on the point, Duffy thought. If I didn't know better, I'd think these guys didn't like me.
He followed the sloping ground into a narrow gully and found himself staring at sheer wall of dry earth nearly twenty feet high. To reach his precious shade, he'd have to scale the cliff. Nothing in this shithole of a country would ever be as easy as it looked, he remembered. Duffy slung his rifle and started the climb, the sweat boiling out of him in waves. Behind him, the rest of the platoon watched. The platoon sergeant turned to his radioman.
"I think we got us a soldier this time," he said.
Duffy got a hand on the edge of the cliff and pulled himself up. As he came eye level to the ground, he heard voices. Staring into the brush, he saw two men sitting cross-legged next to a small fire. One was dressed only in black shorts and rubber sandals. The other wore a peasant shirt of white cotton and green pants. Between them sat a long, ugly machine gun resting on bipod legs and topped with a circular magazine. Duffy had never seen a gun like it but with a week in Vietnam he reasoned much of the commonplace was still strange to him. The two men looked very natural as they fixed their meal, stirring a tin pot next to the low flames and spouting a steady stream of unintelligible chatter. Duffy wasn't expecting to see friendly troops on this patrol but it never occurred to him that they could be Viet Cong. They were so casual, so nonchalant. Besides, even an FNG like Duffy had been able to creep this close without getting their attention. These were certainly not the stealthy, slinky jungle experts he'd been trained to fear. He was tempted to call out to them, so as not to risk startling them but he decided, instead, to check it out with Sennett, now at the base of the cliff. Duffy inched back down the rise and whispered to him.
"We supposed to see any friendlies out here?" Duffy said.
"Hell no. Ain't nobody out here but us and Charlie."
"Goddamned right I'm sure. What's the problem?"
"There are two guys sitting by a cooking fire about twenty meters from the edge of the cliff. They got this machine gun with a round clip on top."
Sennett's urgency sent a million pin pricks of fear tingling through Duffy's body.
"Jesus Christ, Duffy, that's a Russian RPD," Sennett said. "Get back up there and wax their asses."
Duffy scrambled back up the cliff, still not fully aware what he was supposed to do. When he neared the top, it fixed in him that he had to kill the men. His fear turned to dread and hardened in a thick lump in his throat. He inched back up over the rim of the gully, praying the two men had fled. But there they sat, stirring and talking--totally unaware of the danger crawling forward to line up a better shot at them. Duffy bellied into a slight depression covered with low brush. He shook slightly as he sighted down the barrel of his M-16. He brought the blade of the front sight up to the chest of the VC closest to the machine gun. His heart beat so violently he was sure the sound would give him away. His mind was suddenly cluttered with rapidly rising thoughts: Could he really kill these men? Should he deliberately miss? Would he put his own men in danger if he did? Jesus Christ, he thought wildly, don't do this to me! Not now! He sucked in one last breath and held it as realigned his target. Only now did he really see the man. He was grinning, his face hard and deeply lined.
Duffy felt his courage ebbing as the target got a face. But when the grin broke into a wide smile, flashing a that yellow hint of gold teeth, Duffy gasped. The smile, the teeth, and for a fleeting second, the man had the face of a little whore. That second was all Duffy needed to squeeze the trigger. The crack of the bullet shattered the already tattered walls of his moral universe; ethics overshadowed by hate. His aim was slightly high. The bullet cracked into the man's jaw, exploding it in a confusion of blood and bone. Duffy's breakfast lurched from his belly. The vomit was still leaking from his mouth as he sought his second target without result. The crack of the rifle had sent the other VC sprinting deep into the womb of the jungle. He had no time to worry over his dead friend. Duffy flipped his selector switch to automatic and sprayed the rest of his magazine into the brush. Then he rose on shaky legs and wobbled to the fire. The Russian machine gun stood silent guard. The shirtless VC lay still, only the sound of his gurgling blood breaking the silence. The lower half of his face was gone. But his eyes were locked in a cold, empty stare reflecting the shock and pain of his life's last horrible second. Duffy stared, transfixed by the horror. Only seconds before this had been a living, breathing, feeling human being. Now it was merely a piece of meat: a raw, obscene feast for a million flies drawn by the smell of spilled blood. Again, Duffy's stomach jumped to his mouth and he wretched violently next to the broken body. Tears mingled with the sweat running down his face.
The rest of the platoon scurried up the cliff, but Duffy drifted way from them. Too much was happening too fast. He had come to Vietnam as Josh Duffy, a simple, decent kid. He had no idea who it was he had become in the span of a week, but he was sure the words "simple" and "decent" no longer applied.
Sennett was the first to reach the murder scene.
"Oh man, Duffy, you did Mister Charles here a number and I ain't even bullshittin'."
The platoon sergeant was positioning his men around the site as Sennett called to him.
"Hey Sarge, I think we got us a troop this time," he laughed. "Our boy Duffy popped two cherries this week."
The sergeant's black skin gleamed with sweat as he turned to Duffy. His brilliant white teeth flashed in a wide smile. He looked at Duffy the way a father might look at his son when he finally mastered the mystery of a two-wheeler.
"You did real good, Duffy, you did real good."
Duffy wiped his mouth on a sweaty sleeve.
"If I did so goddamned good, sarge, why do I feel so fucking bad?"
"'Cause you on the other side of the looking glass now, Duffy. You in the 'Nam."