The night sky is coal-black… the naked eye can see only stars. Its May and the monsoon season is in full swing. It rains all day and all night for seven days at a time. Leeches attach themselves to every part of the human body. Hundreds of mortar rounds are dropping from the sky by the Viet Cong, sometimes called Charlie. Within five hours of constant battle, the terrain is riddled with mangled body parts. Sgt, Martenez envisions what was once a beautiful hill has now become a cacophony of blood and violence. The land was violated by unexplainable conflict. The soldiers fight onward.
Each side thinks they are fighting for a cause that only the politicians understand. The men dying on the battlefield want to know the secret to this war, but no one seems to know. Just do your job! The flurry of bullets reigns on…I bury my head in the dirt…my senses are jam-packed with a recipe of mud and blood. Soldiers become consumed with the smell of death.
“Who will prevail,” rattled in Sgt Martenez’s brain?
“When will we get reinforcements?”
“Will I live, will I die?”
“Will anybody back home even give a dam?”
“What are military fatigues doing under the dirt.” thought Sgt Martenez?
“Is it a Marine,” I whisper to myself?
“Is he alive, or is he dead,” I surmise?
“A silence overcomes me as if I was home at the lake watching trees grow.”
“I would give anything for that right now.“
“I become entranced.”
“Something inside my head encourages me to shake him and call out,”
“Hey, are you alive!?” Sgt Martenez hesitates, considering the worst.
Sgt Martinez pushes on the fatigues; what he thinks is a leg. Nothing! Still, no sound! He looks up to the stars and shouts, “ Come on, man, be alive! He shakes again. This time a little harder. The figure starts to move. “Hell, man,” I mutter. A quiver of hope. The person starts to dig himself from the dirt. Suddenly, the mud and debris begin to move. “Hallelujah,” Sgt. Martenez shouts at the top of his lungs! “He’s alive!” “The SOB is alive,” Sgt. Martenez speculates. The soldier looks at Sgt. Martinez, and mud stuck to his eyelids. The soldier slowly wipes away the dirt from his eyes.
The soldier booms, “Howdy Sarge, as if they were old friends meeting at a local bar?”
“Where the sam hell did you come from,” The soldier asked?
“Man, I’ve been here for the past hour, Dude,” Sarge curtly points out.
“Well, you know one of those mortar rounds drops in our toilet here; we are melba toast, sarge!”
“You’ve got to be dug in the dirt,” the soldier explains.
“What’s your name, soldier,” Sgt. Martenez asked?
“Private Jackson,” Sarge.
“What platoon, are you with?”
“CAAT Platoon, I man the 50 caliber machine gun,” Pvt. Jackson responds.
“Where the hell is your 50 caliber son,” Sgt. Martenez barked?
“It’s over about 20-feet east of this foxhole,” Jackson explained.
“What the f*** are you saying, soldier,” Sgt. Martenez barked again!?
“It’s over there, Sarge, Martenez pointed. Sgt Martenez carefully peaks over the ridge and spots the MK-19, 50 calibers laying on the ground right where Pvt Jackson said it was. Pvt Jackson hesitated from embarrassment, then continued, “Ah, Sarge…the pineapples were dropping from the dam sky Sarge, I dove for this hole to save my ass and family jewels, I am sorry, I dropped my MK-19 behind me!”
Their brief conversation was interrupted by a 120-HM 38 mortar round that drops right near their fox hole, stifling their short reunion. Colorful streaks of tracer rounds from a Viet Cong M44 machine gun whisked by their heads. “No time for us to take long showers at this wee hour of the morning.” Sgt Martinez commented. Mortar rounds explode…ripping away body parts…the death toll multiplies…the enemy keeps the first platoon pinned down. Thank goodness for helmets, or heads would litter the ground.
“My God private, we need to get that 50 cal back here and put it to work toward that bunker that’s got us pinned down,” Sgt Martenez exclaimed! “Get your derriere out there and get it! I will cover you!”
Sergeant Martenez swung his M-16 around and started firing short bursts of 5.7MM rounds directly at the bunker. Pvt Jackson quickly dashed out of the fox hole zig zagging to keep from getting blasted. He slid headfirst, rolling on top of the 50 cal. Enemy rounds were ricocheting around Pvt Jackson. He waited for Sgt. Martenez to give him the signal to return and instantly start a wave of bullets again so that Pvt Jackson could repeat zig-zagging his way back to the foxhole.
“Ok, get that thing set up towards that bunker, and let’s make some friggin noise private,” Sergeant Martenez challenged! The battle was on! It was personal between Sgt. Martenez and that M44 that was shooting his men. He was determined to shut it down. Sgt Martenez crawled out of the foxhole and began flanking Charlie’s bunker. Private Jackson saw what the Sarge was doing and decided to follow him. Why? No one can answer that dilemma. Pvt Jackson stumbles through the mud clods zig-zagging towards the Charlies bunker, at the same time shooting his M60 machine gun, slowing down the returning fire. Sgt. Martenez has two grenades in one hand while carrying his M16 in another. He’s shooting short bursts to help keep the enemies heads down and to conserve ammunition. Sarge trips and falls short of the bunker. “SOB,” the Sarge yells in frustration. He has already pulled the pin on one of the grenades; options are now minimal; he has no choice but to loft one of two grenades at the bunker. Its a bullseye. The bunker has been destroyed. No longer a threat to the Marines on the hill.
The sun starts to rise…fog is setting in on the mountain, the Viet Cong have started their retreat to the river. Silence. Time to regroup, gather the dead, the wounded for medivac, gather one’s faculties, eat a can of peaches, and rest for a few minutes. Maybe not in that order.
At the most unorthodox moment in time, two men unknown to each other before today, share the same foxhole, fight for the exact cause. Sergeant Martenez and Private Jackson find each other. They don’t know each other—both talk or trust others. Today, a relationship nurtured into a friendship. Two men striving to stay alive, suddenly confess their secrets that lay within each one’s closet.
The conflict subsided. Sgt Martenez and Private Jackson take a seat across from one another by the dilapidated food tent. Sgt. Martenez lights up a cigarette while Jackson starts up a C4 to heat Lima Beans and Ham. Both men look at the ground, saying nothing. Each one wants to thank the other for saving each other from annihilation, but there is something else. A secret they want to share. Both men hunger for someone to listen. Both feel confident the other will be the one to share secrets.
Private Jackson blurts out, “ I lied to you back there.”
“About what, Jackson,” Sgt Martinez confused.
“ This war is not easy, Sarge.”
“I lied to you.”
“Explain yourself, man,” Sgt Martenez questions?
“First, before you talk, you saved my life, I don’t give a dam about anything else,” Martenez divulged
“I have something to say, Sarge, and it’s hard for me to say it,”
Sgt. Martenez offered his hand to change the subject, “Let’s start of over, my name is Sergeant Theador Martenez. “
“And that’s our secret, don’t ever call me Theador.”
“So what’s yours, private.”
“I know your last name is Jackson. Are you some kind of convict?” Sgt Martenez laughs.
“My name is Dorin, Private Dorin Shithead,” Private Shithead announced, offering his hand.
“Shithead,” Sgt Martenez grimacing trying not to laugh?
“I’m confused; I thought you said your name was Jackson?”
“Why the big secret?” Sgt Martenez asked?
“Let me ask you a question Sarge, would you have taken me serious about anything if I would have given my real last name, Shithead?”
People have been making fun of me from the first day of kindergarten, Pvt Shithead explained.
“It was rough enough out there.”
“Sgt. Martenez paused, “I see what you mean.”
Pvt. Shithead countered, “For the record, its pronounced Shi-theed, long ēē.”
“Well, you are a helluva man Dorin. I am honored to know you.” Sgt Martenez continued, “Don’t be surprised if Pvt Shithead gets a medal for saving my life.”
Sgt Martenez grinned.
“That will look great, Pvt. “Shithead” gets a medal,” Pvt Shithead declared.
Sgt Martinez laughs out loud.
“Where you from, Jackson,” Sgt Martenez asked?
“I am a Cornhusker from Fairfield, Nebraska.” Sgt Martenz proudly stated.
“This is a hell of a place to be on a spring morning, wouldn’t you say,” Sgt. Martinez quizzed?
“You might say that sarge.”
The L and R platoon leader, Lieutenant Koslasski, arrived to inform Sgt Martenez of his new orders. No time for relaxing for long during a war. Sgt Martenez was assigned to take R squad down the hill. The mission was to keep forcing the Viet Cong back to the north.
Before Sgt. Martenez left; he strolled over to Private Shithead and thanked him for being his hero. “I get to hope for another day. My prayers were answered. God sent me you, so I might live to get home to my family, Thank you, and good luck, I hope I meet Mr. or Pvt. Private Shithead again sometime.”
Charlie’s mortars started raining down from the sky again. Private Shithead moves on to his next assignment. He keeps to himself. His father taught him not to trust anyone about personal feelings. There is a lot of small talks, and rarely does Jackson share his inner feelings. As the enemy mortar rounds continue, Private Shithead reflects on his experience with Sgt, Martenez. He learned something: friends can be apart of a person’s life, one can trust some people, and everyone shouldn’t judge others.
Pvt Shithead, like many young 19-year old boys, is drafted or enlists to fight for American freedom. For Shithead, the Marines would be nothing compared to what he was subjected to at home. He had no friends at home. And already he met one friend. Pvt.Shithead learned a lot and feels there are many more lessons to be gained during his journey.
Pvt Shithead writes in his journal: When you’re at war, and the dark comes, the soldier knows not what he will do. But, if he should die, he will lose the fight. He will no longer see the light. I have one friend that I met one night. I will befriend him with all my might if I should live to see the light. I will share it with others without fright.
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