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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Moan of Death (extended version)

The Moan of Death (original version)
Please excuse me if i don't tell a story well

The Mekong Delta, Vietnam, 1968. Just after TET and city fighting in Cholon, Saigon. Raining, cold and soaked to the bone. We were covered in mud from a firefight
It could be beautiful at times.
in the morning. Hungry, tired and weighed down with too much gear. Grieving from the morning’s losses and in a trance with the thousand meters stare, we kept going. 
They took us in by chopper to the first stand of trees but nothing was there. The Mekong Delta, located outside Saigon, was a flooded area that ebbed and flowed in depth according to the ocean tides. The choppers, having left, meant that the next stand of trees, more than a mile away would have to be approached by foot in deep water.
Rain was coming down hard and our Battalion waded in water up to our waste for more than a mile. We went in four columns, one for each Company. On occasion someone would fall into a hole and he would have drowned because of his heavy load
The Mekong Delta. An ugly place.
but his buddies would pull him out.
The entire area was engulfed in combat. Other Battalions from other units were engaged and as our Battalion sloshed our way to the next target one could see the conflict erupt at other tree stands. The Delta was a large flooded area dotted with stands of jangled trees, like small islands in Indonesia. You could see the terrain for several miles because it was totally flat.
On our way we could see Phantom fighter bombers dropping napalm on their target on a distant island of trees. Helicopter gunships were attacking with rockets and Puff the Magic Dragon was circling above pouring Gatling machine gun fire into the trees. Even though every third bullet had a tracer it appeared as though a red ray gun was streaming onto the ground. Artillery rounds whooshed above our heads for some unknown target.
The area was ablaze with the sound of combat. Even a mile away we could feel the concussion of bombs and see the rippling water from explosions mixed in with the rain drops. Even though the rain made a lot of noise you could still hear the explosions. Thumping sounds. 
As we approached our target we began to spread out. We hunkered down into the water with only our heads showing as supporting prep fire began to pour in. It sounded as if there were three batteries of 155 howitzers with their two hundred pound shells coming in from three different directions. One battery was lobbing in shells right over our heads. The air becomes electrified!
Soon artillery fire lifted and Phantom fighter bombers swooped in low and slow dropping 500 pound bombs and napalm. Shrapnel from the bombs peppered our positions in the water and the sound was so loud we had to cover our ears to protect our hearing.
Then we saw it. There were streaks of .51 caliber anti-aircraft fire with their tattle tale green tracers rising out of the trees and tracking the Phantoms as they swooped in. Before long a phantom was hit and billowed out streams of black smoke as it left the area disappearing over the horizon. Never knew if the guy got back safely.
Now we knew. Sir Charles was on this island in the flooded Delta. Many times we didn't know where Sir Charles was but this time we knew. Large .51 caliber machine guns always had a lot of troops for protection. On this day many would die. We knew it. Sir Charles knew it too.
On that day teenagers from both sides would give their lives and none of us knew
Stock photo. Not our unit. Like this afterwards.
why. Some of us cried because the fear was so great. Young men from North Vietnam looked at pictures of their families one last time and prayed to their God for safety. They were like us. I remember praying too. No one on that field of honor on either side wanted to die in the Delta.
Looking into the tree line, and knowing he was looking at you, creates a strange bond between opposing infantry. It was a bond of respect shared by infantry through the ages. He was about to give his life for what he believed in. You were about to do the same. Honor and respect for the North Vietnamese Army. Honor and respect for the flower children. We all flashed two fingered peace signs and had ban the bomb symbols on our helmets. Sir Charles did too.
He would wait for us to enter the trees, taking us too close to use our supporting fire. He would go nose to nose with us in a life or death slug-fest. Man on man. Live or die. As we approached, we knew what was coming. Yet, we pressed forward and he didn't run.
Beforehand, our squad would take turns and decide who would take point that day. It wasn't Jimmy’s turn but when another guy refused, Jimmy volunteered to take the other guys place. He was like that. He was the bravest person I have ever known. This time, taking point was a death sentence and Jimmy knew it. Still, as we entered the tree line, Jimmy went in. He went in and didn't complain.
He was only a few feet away when the “thud” of the bullet struck Jimmy’s flesh. He heard his friend give out a moan only the "soon dead" utter. The sound starts out audibly and fades into silence very quickly.
It is a sound that strikes deep into the soul for those who have heard it. It is a
Stock photo.

sound that comes back in dreams for many years to come and the sound raises its ugly head in moments least expected. The Death Moan never goes away resonating in dreams for a lifetime. It's present in your dreams. It’s there in daylight hours. It surfaces without warning and at times you least expect.
Years later, those who knew him best, would sometimes see tears in his eyes during movies or conversations. He couldn't explain his feelings and no one would understand, so he endured the weight of the memory alone. Always alone!
He crawled over to Jimmy, grabbed him by his webbing and dragged his pal over to a big tree. He sat down, leaned up against a tree and put his friend into his arms. The world went quiet for a while, two kids sitting in a foreign land under a tree, together.
A firefight broke out after the single shot, yet the two of them were not aware of
The Mekong was like this. Everywhere.
the events going on around them. Others died that day as well, but the world had been reduced to a very lonely place for two young men from America. 
Concussions from explosions were shaking the earth but were not felt by either. The world had come to a private moment between the living and the "soon dead". Holding his friend in his arms, he cried. 
He looked down at Jimmy and saw that his right eye had been partially popped from his eye socket. Blood vessels had burst covering his friends face with life blood. This as a result of the impact the bullet had on his frail body.
There were no words from the dying soldier the way you see in movies. Only gurgles could be heard as his friend slowly choked to death on his own blood and vomit which was spewing all over his shirt and legs. His friend was in his death throes and it was all he could do to hold Jimmy steady in his arms as uncontrolled muscles jerked and twitched.
Then for a brief moment but lasting for eternity Jimmy looked up and fixed his
one good eye on the last person he would ever see. He became very still and his muscles stopped twitching. Though the sounds of combat raged all about them, he could see his friend's breath slowing and becoming shallower.
Then Jimmy reached up and wiped a tear from the face of his friend holding him so tightly. In a fleeting second the "light of life" faded and in a moment, Jimmy, his
The feeling stays forever.
friend, was gone. He was gone in that moment but would die a thousand times more in dreams, in waking hours, during movies and for no reason at all. No one knew why. No one cared. No one listened.

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