The putrid smell of stagnant water entered my nostrils as I grasped tightly onto my plastic AK-47 assault rifle. The sun beating down on me from above was causing drips of sweat to bead up and gently stream out from underneath my plastic helmet that was there to protect me from a well placed Viet Cong head shot. My jungle fatigues were thick and heavy but protected my skin from the unrelenting elements that surrounded me. My combat boots water logged from the snake filled jungle stream that I had to trudge through in order to avoid trails and deadly booby traps laid down by “Charlie”. By buddy was five paces behind me, I was the point man.
We crept slowly one step at a time through the water, keeping our eye’s peeled for any movement along either side of the bank. Death was around every corner. My dry throat was like sand paper, desperate for a sip of luke warm water from the canteen strapped to my hip. But this was no time for hydration, the enemy was reported to be in the area and it was our job to find and kill him.
Suddenly, an unnatural “snapping” sound broke through the air. I raised my right hand to signal for my buddy to stop and kneel. I placed my index finger over my lips indicating that he needed to stay quiet, then pointed in the direction of the sound. Ever so quietly we laid in the water and pointed our weapons towards the waters edge and the foliage not knowing what instrument of death lay beyond it. Thoughts of my family started going through my head. Home, Christmas’s, and mom’s cooking. This was no place to die, face down in a disgusting stream half way across the world. I was soaked, but I remained vigilant. My unfastened helmet strap lie dangling in the water, inches below my chin. The words “Born to Kill” scrawled onto one side with an ace of spades playing card tucked neatly into the other. My rifle pointed towards the unknown.
Suddenly a shot rang out, then two. Hissing of bullets were all around me. Lead shot piercing the water and snapping on the rocks. We quickly began to return fire. Firing our weapons into the jungle, not knowing what or who we were aiming at. The fire fight was fierce. I took the grenade that was strapped to my chest, pulled the pin with my teeth and threw it towards the enemy. Explosion. Silence. After a few minutes my buddy and I slowly got up from our prone positions and began to double time out of there.
As we made our way out of the canal, we came upon a clearing. About 100 yards, just before the treeline there was a small hill. We had made it. That hill is what we were to take at all cost. The VC had taken it from us about a week before and we were determined to take it back.
As we emerged slowly from the canal bank, my buddy and I began to slowly leap frog from bush to bush keeping an eye out for Charlie. We soon made it to the base of the hill. It was time to make our way to the top. The hill was about 25 feet tall. A mound of dirt really, no doubt put there by a native bulldozer sometime earlier during a construction project.
There we were, squatting at the bottom of it. The smell of earth and rock and death before us. After a quick game of “Rock, paper, scissors”, fate determined that I was going up first. All I had to do was make it to the top and the hill was ours. I would receive a medal for my actions. I slowly began to climb, higher and higher I went. My buddy covering me from behind. I was out of grenades, so I picked up dirt clods and began to hurl them at the top of the hill in an attempt to kill anything that was up there. Plus, when dirt clods hit the ground they make a really cool explosion effect.
I was almost there. This was it. THIS is what all of this has been leading up to. Mortar shells began to rain down all around me, exploding into a billion pieces of jagged dirt and shrapnel after hitting the ground with dozens of ear piercing blasts. But I kept moving up that hill, stopping only to return fire onto those who held the high ground. 15 feet from the top, 10 feet…5 feet, I was there! I made it to the summit with my buddy only a few paces behind me.
Then suddenly I noticed movment just below me on the other side of the hill. Just as my brain was able to make out the all too familar black pajama-like uniform of Victor Charlie, a shot rang out and I was jerked suddenly back.
“I’m hit buddy”! I screamed as I dramatically dropped my rifle to the ground and clutched my chest. The air was racing from my lungs, blood was draining from my chest. My buddy, who was a few feet behind me quickly avenged me with his last grenade. But as he tried to get to me atop that hill, I began to fall back down. Down I rolled, like a limp rag doll. Making sure my uniform got really dirty and that my helmet protected me from any rocks. I tumbled and tumbled down the hill. Soon, after much dramatic falling, my limp body came to a rest at the bottom, face up, arm outwardly extended – fingers curling up ever so slowly into their final position before rigor set in. My buddy was squatting over me trying to tell me I was going to be OK.
My last words were, “Help me buddy”. Then, my eyes closed and I took my last breath. The last sounds my ears heard were that of my buddy screaming out.
Soon I couldn’t hold my breath anymore and the uncomfortable position I was laying in began to hurt. So I got up and proclaimed that I was a “new guy” and wanted to try falling down the top of the hill again, as this performance seemed to lack a certain authenticity that I demanded of myself anytime I was being shot by Charlie.
Craig’s mom had dinner almost done and we needed to start heading back over to his house. There we were, two war torn soldiers humping it back to the house before the street lights came on. Ditching any car that came near us, we began to make plans for building a fort in his room and playing G.I. JOE until midnight, if we could get away with it.
“What do you want to do tomorrow Jason”? asked Craig.
“Tomorrow, we play Vietnam again”, I said matter-of- factly.
“But I want to play World War II”! Craig pleaded.
“World War II is stupid, besides all of our stuff we got from the army surplus store is Vietnam stuff. World War II was like a hundred years ago, and they didn’t have a jungle or AK-47’s” I said as we made our way across a Colorado field, devoid of any and all jungle foliage.
“Oh, OK”. Craig said disappointedly.
“Dude, is your mom going to be pissed that we are soaking wet right now and covered in mud”? I asked.
“I hope they don’t bulldoze our hill tomorrow, it’s way cool. Maybe we can jump it next week if I bring my bike over” I hoped.
“That would be totally awesome Jas” said Craig before he reminded me that I left my grenade over by the canal.