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A Soldier Named Peace
It was sometime in the spring of '67 when I met Ahn. We were down north heading to Khe Sanh in the south for further instructions. The weather was extremely humid and dry when the men of our company decided to camp out only a few hundred miles from the province for much needed rest. I was just beginning to unload my belongings when James Dudley, one of our men, brought in a new treasure.
“Ay, Rider!” he yelled.
I turned, only to see Dudley’s usual blurry figure covered in dirt that he probably obtained from his latest ambush. His face was plastered with the usual amount of mud but otherwise he was smirking in an unusual matter. However I couldn’t quite contemplate Dudley’s out of fashioned smile, instead my eyes were fixed on the figure that Dudley’s arm was around, a smaller, younger man, whose figure was crushed under Dudley’s and his eyes wide and glassy. His uniform differed from ours in every aspect and his gun was smaller and much older. He was a man of yellow. A man of the Vietnamese. Unconsciously I gripped my weapon tighter.
“Meet my new friend.” Dudley grinned, his teeth stained yellow “Found him lost in the jungle.”
Before I could make out a word, Frank Harvey, a sarcastic, almost crude member of our company rose his gun up and pointed at the new face.
“The hell man?” he growled, his eyes narrowed “Why would you bring an enemy here?”
Dudley rolled his eyes, unaffected by the raised weapon, the polar opposite of his newfound ‘friend’. “Man, put the gun down. He’s not an enemy.” Dudley pursed his lip in thought “…just looks like one I suppose” he shook his head “Man whatever, his name’s Ahn alright? He’s from the south, see his uniform? He’s fighting the same side as we are, for de-mock-rah-see.” He smirked, patting Ahn on the shoulder, “Strayed away from his men and got caught lost in the trees. He’s staying with us.”
Harvey snorted “Says who?” his weapon still pointed.
“Says me.” Dudley snapped back “And the Lieutenant…once I ask him.”
With that, Dudley sharply turned and guided himself to the Lieutenant’s tent dragging Ahn with him like a lost puppy.
“I swear I think Dudley is clinically insane” I could hear Harvey mumble from behind. I turned to him with my eyebrows raised; Harvey put down his weapon but otherwise kept his eyes narrowed with distrust “He’s like six years old, asking ‘daddy-dear’ if he can keep his little Vietnamese puppy dog.” He scoffed. “Bet that guy’s with the Vietcong”
“The Vietcong?” I asked. Although I was a bit skeptical about Dudley’s new ‘friend’, the guy did look innocent enough, and his uniform looked nothing like the one’s we’ve been shooting.
“Yeah man, heard those babies fight for the North but live in the South. They break apart a lot and spread out to attack. For all we know Dudley is welcoming in a spy into our good ol’ American home.” Harvey hissed, and began to unload his gear.
I glanced over to the Lieutenant’s tent, where I could see Dudley gesturing to the Ahn, his smirk wide and eyes gleeful. The way Ahn was slightly trembling and his eyes gleaming with fear, I could tell he was a newly drafted soldier, a man who feared the thought of death. He didn’t want to fight this war, nobody did.
“I am telling you man.” Harvey said again “The Vietcong.”
Turns out Ahn wasn’t part of the Vietcong, much to Harvey’s dismay. In fact the rest of the company (asides from Harvey) found Ahn’s presence in the group rather warmly. Although he didn’t know much English and we didn’t know much Vietnamese, he showed us new techniques to fight during guerrilla warfare and how to camp out much more efficiently out in the jungle. Plus he wasn’t a bad poker player either.
A couple days later the Lieutenant had orders for us to head down Khe Sanh and secure the area and aid another company who was recently attacked in one of the bamboo fields in the hill.
Khe Sanh was a province filled with tall grass and massive hills that were build from a volcano many years back. It was getting harder to see as you escalated higher up to the hills. The sky began to darken with streaks of gray and the fog was dense. All was calm, peace, tranquil. That is until a clashing boom overwhelmed the surroundings.
Suddenly from the sky artillery bombs began to drop, causing everything to get even smokier and chaotic. Shots were being aimed and fired at nothing. Enemies were disappearing in a flash behind the bamboo grass. Our company was cornered.
From all the hectic noises going on, my ears caught the sound of Ahn screaming. As my eyes strained to find his small figure amongst the smoke I realized the action had died off. Just like that, as quick as they attacked us they were gone. That was the worst thing about Vietnam, one minute your enemy was there, nose to nose in front of you, and the next thing you know they disappeared into the fog. It made things more tantalizing, more deadly, you didn’t know when the next attack would be, a few hours from now or in a couple of seconds.
I quickly found Ahn amongst the mess. His weapon dropped, hands bloody, body frozen, and eyes wide. A couple feet away from him laid a body of a North Vietnam soldier.
“You alright?’ I asked. When I got no answer I asked again “Ahn, man I said you alright?” When Ahn didn’t reply or even budge from his position I began to worry. “God damn it man, speak to me, you alright?” I was shaking him by that time.
“Don’t bother Rider. Dude just committed his first kill.” I turned to see Harvey smirking from the distance. “Must be pretty scarring too, knowing the fact your first kill is a man who looks exactly like you do.” His smirked widened. “Like looking at a mirror.”
I wanted to smack Harvey right up his skull, and I was this damn close to doing so. But the only thing that stopped me was a whisper I heard next to me. I turned to see Ahn had moved from his position in front of me and instead crouched down and starting at the dead North Vietnamese soldier he had shot.
“Like a mirror” I heard him whisper.
The Battle for Hill, as they called it, lasted for a number of days. Most of the attacks were from above, but the real trouble was the Vietcong soldiers attacking from non-visible areas. Several of our men were injured, some dead. But the real shock was Ahn himself.
Since his first kill, Ahn spent some alone time to himself, running off chanting something in Vietnamese in his bunker. Some of us thought he had officially lost it. But once the second strike of attacks from the North began to charge in waves, Ahn, the once calm soldier, became a killing machine.
He would attack in record speed, shooting expertly amongst the fog. His once clean uniform slowly became drenched in blood and dirt. His eyes once meek and innocent became crazed and fueled with fire. His face once smooth and baby-like of a man who fought no war, became stained with bloody cuts and bruises, framed with a much too haunting smirk.
“Guess the war got to him.” Harvey said.
One day Ahn was no where to be found. His bunker was cleared, his weapons gone, and not a trace left.
“Guess the dude ran off and found a new company” Dudley said. Although Dudley was the reason why Ahn was in our company in the first place, he too began to stray away from his ‘new friend’ when Ahn began to go haywire and became a massacre machine. “Or maybe he got lost again…”
“Just face it, Ahn went complete bonkers and ran off to kill more things himself.” Harvey exclaimed from his bunker, flipping through a book. “Just the other day I saw him shooting at pigs just for the heck of it.” He smirked licking his lips. “He sure wasn’t a Vietcong, but hell- he fights war like one.”
Dudley sighed, sinking into his own bunk. “Sucks though. I was kind of hoping we’d have someone of innocence and source of good in this hell hole. And I swear I thought Ahn was the man to do it.” Dudley closed his eyes, pausing, “Guess war makes does make everything darker.”
The three of us sat there engulfed in the silence, only the sound of the jungle’s wind and a cough in the distance making noise. Finally Frank Harvey broke the silence, lifting up his book he was reading to uncover the fact that he was reading an English-Vietnamese Dictionary.
“Says here Ahn means ‘peace’ in Vietnamese” he chuckled. “…how ironic.”