Okay, the masses have killed poor Luke's story. It is not a joke, it is an ironic story that apparently does not appeal to everyone's delicate tastes.
Therefore, I am posting another story..different genre. This story is written by an award winning author and it is part of the second issue of Short Story of the Month.
So without further delay, here is Mekong Ambush, by Dale Day:
By: Dale Day
“What in the hell am I doing here? My job is behind a desk, not out here on this damned, stinking river.”
The sights and sounds of Vietnam fade with time. The smells never go away. The stench from rice paddies filled with human waste overpowers the nostrils. The rot of jungle vegetation turns the stomach. The overpowering essence of sweaty bodies crammed together in the dank heat stays in ones lungs forever.
Even being in the middle of the wide Mekong River did not take one far from the odors. They were added to by the fetor rising from the water. Add the stink from shipboard oil and lubricants and the stomach churned and prepared to empty its contents -- nothing to do with seasickness.
SSG Bill Sanders stood on the bridge wing of the barge, relieved that the passing air eased the power of the smells. The Spec-5 manning the fifty caliber machine gun next to him avoided most of it with the cigarette hanging loosely from his lips.
The Captain, a Warrant Officer, had welcomed Bill aboard. Having anyone from the Group Headquarters on his supply vessel was rare. That Bill didn’t have to be there piqued his curiosity. “Aren’t there easier ways for you to get to Can Tho?” he’d asked.
Bill shrugged. “I’ve been in the Army for twelve years and it wasn’t until I got into this accursed country that I learned we had a navy.”
That brought a laugh from the captain. “You may find it hard to believe but we have hundreds of vessels, more than many countries.” He added that he’d been serving on Army vessels since he’d gone through the school at Fort Eustis. “I just found it fascinating.”
“If you like boats, why didn’t you enlist in the Navy?”
The captain shrugged. “I didn’t enlist for it. They just found out that I’d skippered fishing boats and that was the end of that.”
As a Personnel Sergeant, Bill was all too familiar with how that worked. “The needs of the service,” somehow changed the fortunes of many who’d signed up for other jobs -- himself included.
“What the hell you doin’ on this tub, Sarge?”
The Spec-5’s voice brought Bill out of his musing. He turned and replied, “Just believe that I need to get out of my air-conditioned office now and then to see what the troops are doing.“
“It also gives me a chance to make sure the guys in the field are doing their jobs and ensuring the troops are getting what they’ve got coming.”
“Well, I sure as hell could figure out better ways of getting around.”
Bill had to agree. As the Personnel Staff NCO for the 53rd Support Group, his job was to coordinate personnel matters for the men and women serving in the Mekong Delta. Most of it could be easily done from his desk in the air-conditioned headquarters of the group. He could not be further from combat, stationed in the port city and R&R Center of Vung Tau, south of Saigon.
Bill was certainly no hero. Nor did he have a desire to be one. The army had been good to him since a kindly judge had given him the choice of viewing his neighborhood from behind bars -- or of seeing the world in a military uniform. He felt it was his duty to serve his fellow soldiers to the best of his ability and that meant personally visiting the various units to see what the individual Company Clerks and Battalion Personnel Sergeants needed in the way of support from the Group headquarters.
The acres upon acres of warehouses and storage compounds in Vung Tau were the staging points for supplies and munitions going to the troops fighting in the Mekong Delta. Bill was, of course, aware of the Military Occupational Specialties for Watercraft Operator and Engineer, along with the officer specialties of Marine Deck Officer and Marine Engineering Officer.
Of even greater surprise was the amazing number and variety of water vessels operated by the Army. The 5th Heavy Boat and 544th Medium Boat Companies stationed out of Vung Tau were subordinate units of the group and were the first Bill had ever heard of.
They sure as hell weren’t luxury boats. The crews spent most of their time onboard, living in makeshift structures. This particular craft had dry foodstuffs in the hold and pulled a refrigerated barge loaded with frozen meats and vegetables. It was Tail End Charley in a convoy of LCMs that had departed from Vung Tau early in the morning.
The first port of call was Bill’s destination, Can Tho, a major staging area for troops in the Delta. The convoy would go on from there to take supplies to Long Xûen, the closest they could get to the border with Laos.
The first part of the voyage had almost been pleasant. Leaving harbor, they had entered the sparkling clear water of the South China Sea, sailing to the southernmost outlet of the massive Mekong River.
Bill spent most of his time at the railing, gazing at the schools of fish glistening in the azure sea. They were beautiful. But, as with the rest of the damned country, nothing was as it seemed. One of the crew pointed out some long, slithering sea creatures, telling Bill, “They’re deadly poisonous Sea Snakes.”
Now, they had moved into the murky green waters of the river with tall grasses and reeds covering the banks on either side. The stink had returned, pushing away the crisp ocean breezes.
“You ever had to fire that thing?” Bill asked, pointing to the machine gun.
“About every other trip.”
That shocked Bill. “You gotta be kidding?”
“Nope. Charley knows we’re sitting ducks out here. He comes after us with RPGs and eighty mil mortars.”
He tossed the butt overboard into the murky green water and quickly lit another. “Lucky for us, their aim is usually shitty and the Monitors come up in time to chase ‘em off.”
The Navy’s heavily armed Swift Boats were at the head of the convoy, covering the heavily laden munitions barges. That left his boat a Sitting Duck in the event Charley decided to come after it.
Bill had heard the crew joke about how Charley would get sick and tired of eating rice and decided to go after a “Reefer Barge” in order to get some steaks.
Bill shook his head. “They couldn’t pay me enough to spend a tour on one of these things.”
“It fucking beats slogging through the jungle trying to avoid booby traps and punji sticks. And I don’t have to carry one of those damned heavy packs and get to sleep in my bunk at night. Hell, we even get hot meals on a regular basis.”
Bill was constantly amazed how soldiers found their own way to make the most of what the military gave them.
Bill heard the ricochet and was slammed back by the projectile before he heard the sound of the shot. He hit his head hard against the steel bulkhead and saw stars as he crumpled to the deck.
The Spec-5 screamed and fell to the deck. Bill struggled to crawl to the man, swearing at seeing the gaping hole in his chest.
“God damn it! Why din’cha close your fucking flak jacket,” he groaned, seeing that the bullet had buried itself deep. Bill tore open his First Aid Pack and ripped the package of a pressure bandage, knowing it would do no good for a punctured lung.
“Medic,” he screamed. “Man down. We need a medic.”
It was doubtful anybody heard him. Rounds slammed into the steel plating of the barge and a couple of projectiles erupted against the hull. In addition, the other fifty caliber, plus the two sixties, spit out streams of bullets toward the riverbank.
The boy could not speak, his gray eyes growing dim as his life oozed away. He tried to point to his breast pocket and Bill soothed him. “I’ll make sure they get it,” aware the dying soldier was trying to point out where his last letter home was stashed.
Knowing there was nothing more he could do, Bill picked the Spec-5’s helmet from the deck and put it on after tossing his soft fatigue cap aside. He buckled the chin strap and rose, grabbing the handles of the machine gun. He pulled the trigger.
“You dumb shit,” he growled, pulling back the cocking lever, angry that he’d been so stupid. In truth, it was the first time he’d ever fired one of the damned things.
A half-dozen sampans hiding in the thick foliage were the source of the ambush. Bill fired, inexperienced and not knowing that the fifty tended to fire high. It took him a moment to realize that he was wasting ammo before he lowered the muzzle and drew the stream of tracers into the flimsy craft. He got lucky and hit something, watching with bitter satisfaction as the craft exploded in flames.
It was over almost before it started, at least how Bill felt it. The Monitor reacted quickly and twenty millimeter shells blew the remaining sampans all to hell.
The adrenalin coursed through Bill as he hung onto the handles of the machine gun.
“It’s too late, Sarge. There’s nothing’ I can do for him.”
Bill turned to see the crew’s corpsman closing the corporal’s eyes, placing one of his dog tags in his mouth where the mortuary crew would find it. Another crew member relieved him at the gun so Bill staggered into the wheelhouse.
“You handled yourself damned well for a Desk Jockey,” the Captain said.
Bill glanced down to the wet spot in his pants and grunted, “Yeah, like a real fucking hero. I pissed my Goddamned pants!”
The corpsman came in and examined Bill, cleaning a nick where he’d been hit by a piece of shrapnel.
“Look’s like you got yourself a Blue Wienie, Sarge,” he said, referring to the Purple Heart he was entitled to.
“And I’m puttin’ ya in for a Bronze with a Vee,” the Captain added.
“Aw shit! Ain’t none of it gonna bring him back. Hell, I don’t even know his name.”
Added to the reek of the rotting jungle was the acrid smoke from the burning sampans.
I hope you enjoyed this story and if you have stories of your own or are curious about the website it is www.shortstoryofthemonth.com.
- Short Story of the Month
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