I was one of four Marines in two jeeps. We were Marines but we were not Recon Marines. Two of the four were officers. One was a staff sergeant, and I was the radio operator with equipment so old that the three spare batteries had a better chance of being dead before me. Heck, they were feeding us twenty-year old C-rations. The sides of the boxes were stamped 1945 and it was 1966. Proof that the Marines don’t waste anything.
What was more dangerous? The food we were eating or the Vietcong. It’s good to be stupid and nineteen—not knowing about botulism. Besides, I liked the ham and limas.
The 1st Marine tank battalion was involved in a field operation with a South Korean unit—the kind of soldiers you want on your side. The US Marines and the Koreans, along with an ARVN unit, were forming a box to trap a regiment of North Koreans.
We drove ahead of our troops to check the depth of the rice paddies making sure our tanks wouldn’t be bogged down. Every mile or so, we would stop and the officers, a major and a lieutenant, would take a long pole and poke a paddy.
Once we were fifteen to twenty miles ahead of our lines, I lost contact with our people. I switched batteries until I’d tried them all. Then we rolled through a recently deserted village where I saw the Vietcong flag and radio antennas sticking from the top of a tree. Food was still cooking on open flames inside empty huts.
I pointed them out, and the staff sergeant said, “Don’t tell the officers. They don’t need the worry.”
Thirty miles in front of the lines, the officers were busy poking a rice paddy when I spied a line of muscular men in peasant clothing coming toward us. I was squatting behind the second jeep watching our rear holding a fifty-caliber Ingram submachine gun. I was dressed in camouflage, the jeep was olive green, and I was squatting in shadows. These guys were approaching from the rear and the staff sergeant and officers didn’t know.
I felt like an orphan about to be molested.
When that line of men reached the dirt road and climbed from the rice paddy, I stood so they could see my weapon and me, the skinny Marine who had gained twenty pounds in boot camp and was no longer invisible if he turned sideways.
A fifty caliber Ingram submachine gun with a fifty-round clip will cut small trees and men in half. Once you pull the bolt and let go, the entire clip empties. There was another clip taped to the first one. It’s a quick change. You aim to the left of the target and the recoil swings the weapon in an arc to the right.
They saw me and, still walking military fashion, crossed the road, went down the other side into the next rice paddy and kept going. No one shot at us on that recon, but this kind of memory causes you to wake sweaty at three in the morning listening. I remember thinking that maybe my hands were too slick with sweat to pull the bolt and fire.
His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.
And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.
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