The brand new lieutenant, “just shipped in from the world,” had led them into a bad place. The Viet Cong were set up and waiting. Being the experienced point man of the patrol he saw the trap soon enough to warn those behind him but he was out front, naked, on his own. At first sound he dove into a hole which located him directly between the good guys and the bad guys.
Curled up between a couple of fallen trees he lay flat on his back, listening to .30 caliber AK-47 rounds zing over his head. A few seconds later they were answered with several volleys from his buddies’ 5.56 M16s and a few seconds after that there was the distinctive booming of the big .308 M60. Ten months on patrols in Vietnam had taught him how to discern the individual song that each round sang.
“Roscoe! You OK?” The new LT yelled at him. His name wasn’t Roscoe but “in country,” when guys yelled at each other, everyone’s name was Roscoe. It was supposed to confuse the enemy.
“I’m OK. I’m pinned down between everybody. I got no way of backing up.” With the AKs on one side and the M16s on the other he’d stay put.
“Stay hunkered down. Help is on the way.”
“Don’t send Tim up here to help. I’m not hurt. I don’t need him.” Tim was the over-conscientious medic who already had two Purple Hearts trying to save everybody.
He knew if he kept his head down his guys wouldn’t leave him, so he might as well get comfortable, as comfortable as a person can with a fire fight raging over his head.
“Why didn’t I get on one of those PBR river patrol boats like Jessie and George? Those guy have it made, lolling around on the deck, getting a suntan, water skiing up the Saigon River, shit, they’re just getting fat and drunk.” He talked to himself and tried to take his mind to a place where people weren’t shooting at him. He thought of home.
Before the Army he rode a big Harley-Davidson motorcycle. His girl loved riding behind him. She was a blonde, long straight-haired surfer girl, with a perfect swimmer’s body, hard stomach, flawless skin and long legs. She had the kind of legs that fashion designers thought about when they invented the miniskirt. She wrote him once a week, said she was waiting for him and would continue to wait. Why would something so wonderful wait for him, he wondered? Whatever the reason he was glad for it and called himself lucky. Even down in this hole in the muck of Vietnam he thought of himself as lucky. His girl was waiting for him, he had a great motorcycle being tended by his brother and when he got out of the Army he and his girl were going to take a long cross-country tour. They had talked about all the tourist traps and National Parks they wanted to see and had it all mapped out. He’d attached a trailer hitch to his Shovelhead Electra Glide, made a small cargo trailer and he and his girl had packed it with sleeping bags, Coleman stoves, lanterns and things they would need camping across the good ole USA.
“Roscoe, you still there?” The LT sounded worried.
“I’m still here. A little while ago I gave some thought to getting up and taking a stroll, you know to stretch my legs a little, but maybe later.”
“Keep down, you SOB, I told you help is coming.”
He thought about the word “help.” It was easy to think about helping your buddies when you need an extra set of hands to fix something on the motorcycles. Jessie and George had done a lot of work helping when he was making the trailer. Neither of them thought a trailer was a good idea and they didn’t want to ride all over the country but the fact the he and his girl thought it was, well that was OK with them.
He wondered about the time difference between this hole and where his girl was. He thought about the day he would be mustered out of the Army, when he would get off the plane and be back in the world. His brother would be there with the bike. She would be there. They would get on the Harley and ride to her house, change clothes, hook up the trailer and leave for parts unknown. It was all planned.
“Roscoe, do you have smoke?”
“Yeah, what do you want me to do with it?”
“Wait two minutes and pop it. We need to mark your place. They’re coming in and want to make sure where you are.”
He twisted around and snagged a smoke bomb from his pack, checked his watch and in 120 seconds he popped the smoke marker. Seconds later he heard the whirl of a helicopter, the big Huey gunship came up the draw, barely over the tops of the trees and opened up on the semicircle of Vietcong that had him surrounded.
The pilot made five passes with hell raining down from the crazy man who stood in the doorway blazing a .50 caliber on anything that moved. He wondered if it was his buddy Dick, who thought it was fun hanging out of a Huey’s doorway with a machine gun cooking. He also hoped that they knew it was him under the smoke and that they wouldn’t get careless. Bad things happen when a person’s blood gets up.
In less than two minutes there was no sound from the AKs. The Huey stood off a ways to make sure all was quiet and then turned home for a couple of well-earned beers.
“Roscoe, keep your head down and make your way back to us. Let’s get out of here.”
He did as ordered.
When back at base he made a point of finding the Huey gunship crew that had saved his bacon and rewarded them with a fifth of Jim Beam.
Back in his hooch he was rewarded with a letter from his girl telling him that everything was fine, his brother was riding and maintaining his Electra Glide to perfection, the trailer had been taken out on a couple of shakedown runs and it skimmed down the roads as straight as a string… and… she missed him.
Laying in his bunk he read the rest of the letter, the personal sexy stuff to himself several times.
—For Jessie and George and Tim and Dick and Frank.