The attack run banshee wail of the four jets screamed overhead, barely missing the highest levels of the upper jungle canopy and shattering the normal semi-stillness. Instinctively Dennis threw himself into the mud, covered his head with his arms and tried to dig a foxhole with his navel as the Phantom F-4s dropped their load of napalm canisters.
The scream changed pitch as the fast movers completed their run, kicked in the afterburners and started the climb to safety; the chatter of small arms automatic fire chased them into the clouds. As they safely headed home to Cam Rahn Bay the scream of the fours began to fade, but was quickly replaced by the "Whump Whump" of canisters exploding and the angry roar of the napalm spreading a wall of death. A blast of hot air washed over his back, more than singeing his uniform and arms. Whether it was the shock wave of the napalm canisters or that of the Phantom's turbines didn't matter. Dennis' eardrums saving him from hearing the screams of the men behind him, the flesh melting off of their bones from the unquenchable fire as their hearts beat their last tattoos.
Surprised that the blasts were so close, Dennis looked behind him to see the rest of his patrol writhing on the ground in agony, many still on fire. In shock, he crawled towards the closest one, a black, charred caricature of a man twitching in the final throes of death. The body stilled before Dennis could reach it. He rolled the body over, causing a chunk of smoking, melting flesh to fall into the mud. The eyes of the corpse flew open, the mouth open wide in a soundless scream. Madly scrambling back in horror, he slipped and fell backwards, a hard object impeded his progress by getting in the way of his head, bringing stars and a quick night to his consciousness.
When he came to, Dennis wiped off some of the mud and gore covering the object and through his strangely hazy vision, realized that it was the PRC-25 backpack radio that the corporal had been carrying; the whip antenna was still attached. Unaware of his deafness, Dennis ignored the pain and strange ringing in his ears as he frantically fumbled to get the prick's handset out of the pack.
Stunned, Dennis pressed the transmit button twice to let the 150 Hz tone break squelch on the Phantom's receiver.
"Dragon One ... Dragon One ... This is Star Raider. Friendly fire! I repeat ... Friendly fire! You hit our position! Victor Charlie is one klick east of your drop point. Repeat, Victor Charlie is one klick east of your drop point. We need medivac NOW! Over." He screamed into the handset.
"Dragon One ... Dragon One ... The is Star Raider. You were off target! I repeat ... You were off target! Victor Charlie is one klick east of your drop point. Repeat, Victor Charlie is one klick east of your drop point. You hit our position! We need medivac NOW! Over." He screamed again into the handset, oblivious to the severed cord dangling in the mud.
Continuing to try and raise the aircraft, Dennis let his eyes roam over the devastation, mentally ticking off each smoldering body as one of his squad mates. "Xin loi", he murmured to the remains, "This is one major fugazi." Fondling his short-timer's stick, he wondered if he'd ever survive the 13 and a wake-up to cut off that last piece.
The jungle started to spin and Dennis struggled to hold himself up as he realized that the roaring and pain in his ears was only getting louder. The already dim light of the dense jungle suddenly faded into a personal eclipse as the patrol permanently ended. Hidden eyes watched from the brush as the soldier slowly collapsed into the mud.
"Darling, You don't have any idea how much I've missed you." Suzanne exclaimed as she snuggled closer to him. "I was worried and swearing at Nixon the entire time you were over there."
"I didn't like being away from you and Amy either Dear. Especially after I got there and found out just how fucked up this war really is. Those of us who were over there don't think Uncle Sam really wants to win."
"Hush now and we'll discuss politics and such later ... right now I just need to hold you for awhile." With that, Suzanne wrapped an arm over Dennis' chest and buried her face in his neck, tears slowly trickling down her cheek and onto his neck.
Dennis luxuriated in his wife's embrace, thankful that he'd made it home safely after all. How he made it out of the jungle was a miracle... "Wait ... how DID I get out of there?" he thought to himself. Suzanne chose that moment to start kissing his neck and ear. "Somethings wrong with my memory." Dennis realized. "I don't remember anything after the Phantom jocks flamed us instead of the Cong!"
Trying to gather his thoughts he started to move away from Suzanne's attentions which only seemed to make her more insistent, her kisses becoming licks and nibbles.
"Honey! Stop for a moment, huh?" he cried out while trying to sit up. Suzanne's nibbles got overly enthusiastic at that point as she bit into his ear and shook her head as if she was trying to tear it off.
"What the..." Dennis was jerked awake by the pain in his ear, striking out blindly he made contact with a large football. After striking it repeatedly the pot bellied pig finally let go of his ear and ran off into the jungle.
Collapsing back to the ground was just a short trip.
"Shit... " thought Dennis as ground spun and the lights faded back to black.
Dennis stopped crawling to drink some rainwater that had collected in the furrow of a broad leaf. "Feels like I've been crawling for days" he thought. "If I could just stay conscious for awhile, I could keep better track."
During moments of lucidity, he had collected what little survival gear was worth salvaging from the patrol, and began to head back to base. For safety, he'd decided to stay off the trail, but parallel to it. The problem was that between the burns on his back, his torn ear, the loss of blood and who knows what else, Dennis fell down so much that he'd finally decided to stay there and start crawling. "At least when I pass out, I don't hurt myself falling. Too damn bad I didn't even get to booze it up to get to this condition." He laughed to himself.
Once the roaring in his ears had quit, it hadn't taken him long to realize that he was deaf. Even in the "empty" jungle of Viet Nam there should have been plenty of noise. "The damage is bad enough, but I'll have to be really careful as I can't hear anyone coming up on me."
"Shouldn't have gotten turned around dammit!" At some point after waking back up after one of his episodes, Dennis had propped himself up against a tree and found no trace of the trail he'd been trying to follow. He now had no idea where he was or where the base was. At least not with any certainty.
After eating the last of his cold rations, he continued crawling through the brush until he came across a very small game trail. "Where there's game, there's water, in this part of the country probably a river. Where there's a river, there's people. I just hope I'm following the trail in the right direction."
Hours later he parted the thick brush to see a river further down the slight hill. Dennis struggled, crossing and uncrossing his eyes trying to focus on the river. "I think see someone! Yes! Several someones. I think they're women doing their wash. There should be a village near."
As his vision cleared, Dennis realized that the "women" were three young teen girls accompanied by an older ("very much older" he thought) woman who was standing guard on the bank. They weren't washing clothes in the river, the girls were washing themselves.
Feasting his eyes on the first nude female flesh he'd seen in months, Dennis wished his eyes would focus better but temporarily forgot his problems. "The woman is too old, but those girls could make a lot of money in Saigon... " He watched with pleasure, figuring that if things still looked safe, he'd try to get help from them after they dressed.
At a sharp word from the woman, the girls left the water for the river bank. Just as they reached their clothes on the large rocks, a man in uniform stepped out of the brush, shouting a command to the old woman. She quickly turned to face the man, protecting her charges while urgently saying something to the girls in Vietnamese. The girls grabbed their clothes, modestly holding them against their bodies as they too faced the man. "Shit! That's an NVA Officer!" he thought as Dennis tried to worm his way back into the brush.
When Dennis saw six men dressed in black, exit the brush and come up behind the girls, he knew they were all in trouble. The three girls were concentrating on keeping themselves covered and on the argument the old woman was having with the officer. As the girls were simultaneously grabbed from behind, the officer suddenly lifted his hand from his belt and with a clean movement, drug his knife across the woman's throat.
Leaving the old lady to lay gasping on the rocks as she died, the officer gave a sharp command to two of the men who were holding the oldest girl. He then dropped a U. S. Army issue canteen next to her body. As he stood by one of the larger rocks, he dropped his trousers as the men forced the girl to lay across it, her legs spread lewdly open.