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In The Company of Death
Author's note: An experiment into writing war horror, I first came up with the idea shortly after watching "Good Morning Vietnam" on HBO. It was initially a Creative Writing assignment, but grew into a story I'm proud of.
December 1st, 1944
Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany
The soldiers came for me.
I didn’t know why, I only remember them entering the shack where myself and 30 others lived in.
“Nummer 3563490! Kommt hier!”
I didn’t understand a lick of German back then, only Polish. What would happen to me I didn’t know, but it was bound to be bad. I cried out to my father, sleeping next to me. He never answered. I thought he didn’t care, or that the soldiers made him shut up, but after a while, I knew he was dead. The people under the ground told me. The people in the hole.
June 9th, 1965 Somewhere in the Phuoc Long Province, South Vietnam 13:34 hours “Alright, tea time is over! Get your crap packed and your ass in the saddle!” Sergeant Darkin boomed over my fireteam of talking heads. We laughed, food still in our mouths. Shitty military sludge, manufactured somewhere in a Jersey industrial plant. America sure loves her soldiers. Lunch time was our unwinding time. We told jokes and stories to keep ourselves entertained, to keep us sane. Laughing still over the joke Private Rindell told about the woman and the bird cage, we cleaned up our mess kits and set out into the Vietnamese jungle. “Where are we goin’, Sarge?” PFC Farsty asked. A scrawny ginger from the Bronx, he, like most of us, didn’t escape the draft. A bright student in school (as he told us anyway), but lazy as all hell. “Our orders are to support a Marine company that has been pinned down since 0800 near National Highway 15. NVA has been giving them one hell of a fight.” “NVA are just hit and run guerilla forces, how are they pinned down?” I asked. “They got machine gun emplacements and artillery. Minefields too, apparently; the company can’t cross ‘till they get some sweepers out there. But then again, it’s coming from Command. General Taylor loves to exaggerate.” Darkin turned to Rindell “Put out that smoke, soldier! You want the Cong on our asses?!” Rindell gave the Sarge a dirty look and extinguished his cigarette. Rindell loves his smokes like a wife. We walked for damn near 5 miles before Darkin finally said “Take 5, men. Sit, rest, and s*** your brains out.” Glad for such a relief, we plopped down and did such. Our navigator was Corporal Sunder, a very quiet fellow who only talked with the Sarge about the map and compass. Other than that he was completely silent and stoic. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t notice him falling towards the ground with half his face blown away until Darkin shouted “NVA! Get down!” The area was then covered with bullets. The unique sound of the AK-47 hammered from the trees in front of us. I took cover behind a log with Rindell and a private named Husky, who was a close friend to Rindell. Darkin escaped to a nearby tree and returned fire. I leveled my M16 and took four shots at a seemingly black shadow. A scream and a fall answered my lucky shots. Another yell came from the woods as Husky reloaded, a smile on his face. As soon as it began, the fire stopped. Carefully, I stood up from behind the log and checked the bodies. 7 NVA soldiers. Just a patrol, but it had felt like an entire army was attacking us. Darkin examined Sunder’s body. The entire left side of his head was a pulpy, brainy mess with bits of skull fragments and hair. It looked like a large tumor on the side of his head, except it was leaking yellow, white, and red fluid all over the place. Rindell started shaking. “Oh my God, Oh my God, he’s dead, oh God his teeth are stuck in his f*ing BRAIN…” “Shut your trap, Private! Get a hold of yourself!” Darkin shouted. His words were of little use, however. Rindell was out of control, babbling incoherently and near-convulsing on the dirt ground. He tried to tap a cigarette from his pack with shaking hands, but as fate would taunt the poor lad, there were none left. Husky made his way to Rindell. “Alex, Alex…calm down.” Before he made it to him, though, Husky seemed to disappear. Darkin watched the whole thing, and ran over to the spot where Husky went poof. In fact, he fell, as the sergeant pointed out. Fell into a pit of s***-covered pungee stakes. He didn’t say a word, and he didn’t need to. One of the stakes pierced his skull and went out his mouth. Thank God it killed him instantly. I hoped he didn’t feel the other stakes going in him first. “Fucking Gooks are gonna kill us, gonna grind us up! Do you see now? DO YOU FUCKING SEE NOW?! THEY’RE GONNA F*** US ALL UP! I don’t want to die! I DON’T WANT TO DIE! DO YOU FUCKING UNDERSTAND, YOU DUMBFUCK JARHEADS?!” Rindell was screaming and visibly crying. It was too much for the Private. Darkin was ready to shout at him when I tapped his shoulder and shook my head. He got the message. He nodded and turned to the rest of the platoon “Farsty, signal for a medivac. Rest of you, make the ground clear and prepare to head out .” Rindell looked up from his frightened stance “What about me?! You can’t just leave me here!” Darkin spoke with a deadly tone “That’s right, I can’t. Therefore, your new orders are to guard the bodies until the medivac chopper arrives. When it comes, you are to get on that chopper and get the f*** out of my platoon.” Rindell whimpered “I don’t want to be alone out here!” Darkin didn’t even glance back. “You’re scared? That’s fine soldier. We all are. Being a dramatic little simpleton, however, is not. You want to be a coward? Go to the NVA, perhaps they’ll let you in. I heard they love cowards.” Rindell stared at him with cold, black eyes. “I’ll kill you, Darkin. You HEAR ME? I’LL GODDAMN KILL YOU!” Farsty smacked him on the head as he was retrieving Husky’s impaled corpse. “Can it, asswipe.” Rindell glared at Farsty, said nothing else, and lay back down on the ground, breathing hard. Darkin started towards the jungle once Farsty set a signal smoke flare. “Driven, you’re our new navigator. Lead us north-northwest to these coordinates. A Huey will be there to transport us to the combat zone. Its about 20 miles out.” “Yes, sir.” I replied, and pretended to know where I was going.
February 21st, 1945
Dachau Concentration Camp
My entire family was dead.
My brother and sister were sent to the showers, as the soldiers had promised. They didn’t come back, never. I knew they were dead, as I saw his shoe, his special one with the embroidery, in the piles of shoes that they scrounged from the dead.
My mother was shot to death for trying to protect me. A soldier started to yell at us. Mother told me that he wanted me to go to the mines. The SS soldier grabbed my arm, and my mother defended me. She was thrown into a fire pit after being shot. I hoped she wasn’t still alive when she was burned.
My father was a hard worker, being a cobbler and later a carpenter. We lived in the same excuses for shanty huts, with only 1 instance of us being apart. He was my hope, my reason to keep going. When I was taken away, his reason to live went with me. When I lived under the ground, survivors told of his passing. I never shed a tear. I shed them all already.
June 9th, 1965
National Highway 15, Phuoc Long Province, South Vietnam
Pinned down in an embankment, with about 70 or so soldiers fighting seemingly limitless amounts of Cong, and mortars going off everywhere. All this tends to give you a slight headache, which I had.
Clearing my head, I brought my gun up from cover and fired off a trio of rounds. A Viet Cong went down, screaming as his chest resembled a miniature macabre Pompeii.
So I found out I wasn’t as bad at navigation as I thought. I only got us lost twelve times. That in itself is a miracle. At least we made it out in one piece. But now it seems we’ve gone from the frying pan to the fire.
Darkin was nearby, providing suppression fire for the troops making their way up the nearby embankment. His M60 was perfect for this, the shower of bullets threatening to rip apart anyone in its way, as some Cong soldiers found out. One of them had his arm literally torn off, and he screamed for the better part of a minute until a friendly soldier was kind enough to give him a 5.56 millimeter present in the face. I crawled my way over to him, making sure not to get nailed in the head by a stray or not-so-stray bullet. I knelt next to Darkin and gave him an extra belt box I found. “Last one, Sarge, we’re running low on ammo!”
“Not for long, we’re not!” he grinned. As soon as he said it, a thunderous noise filled the air. Several Hueys descended from the smoke-filled sky. Some had M60s on the doors, providing supporting fire with tracer rounds.
A crate landed about 50 feet away, containing ammo and grenades, as well as something very special. I glazed in amazement, as it lay there, beckoning me to use it.
The launcher felt good, its heavy weight corresponding to its sheer power. It was a LAW one-use rocket system, great for taking out personnel and fortifications. This thing alone could help eliminate the seemingly endless amounts of NVA. I picked up some mags for my sixteen, and started to go forward when Darkin stopped me.
“You aren’t going in there alone! That thing is one-use! I can carry more for you! The squad will cover you with supporting fire, and I’ll be right behind you!” He took about 5 LAW and fashioned a carrying handle out of his jacket. He threw his M60 to Farsty.
“Second Platoon, place supporting fire for Sergeant Driven. Collins, run to the Lieutenant and tell him we got a rocketeer heading up the slope! Husky, you’re in charge while I’m gone!” He turned to me “Ready?”
He patted my shoulder and we advanced up the embankment to the highway.
January 23, 1982
Lower East Side, New York City
I woke up to my alarm clock buzzing. Grumbling, I hit the snooze button, determined for my body to rest. Only after I laid there for a few seconds did I remember I had work at 9. S***.
After taking a shower and breakfast, I set out from my tiny apartment in the dilapidated building in the East Side of Manhattan, to the jewelry store on Nerman Avenue, where I worked. It was a nice little shop, owned by a Nathaniel Kravoski. Kravoski wasn’t a bad guy, he was just socially awkward, often letting his employees do the talking. I’ve been working there for about 7 years now. I started working right after my discharge from the Army, being alone since my wife died.
Kravoski greeted me from the door as usual, but he had a look of sadness on his face, well, more than usual anyway. The rest of the staff was the same. The usually popular store was empty, with crates and boxes everywhere.
He ushered me into the back office, closing the door behind us. As we sat down, I noticed the office was blanker than usual. His family pictures and his Jimi Hendrix-signed guitar were off his wall and lying on the floor behind his bare desk.
He cleared his throat, and stated the obvious. “Steve, we’re closing.”
I knew this was coming. Ever since one of the former-employees embezzled almost $25,000 from the store, and due to recent robberies by street-corner gangs, things have gone seriously downhill. Kravoski has been unable to pay the taxes and loans, and the Feds must have finally had enough.
“I’m sorry, Nathan.”
He waved his hand. “It is what it is. We’re vacating the store by 4 o’ clock. I’d appreciate it if you helped Walton move the cases out.” Handing me an envelope, Nathan looked down and said quietly “This is your final paycheck. I threw in a little bonus in there, for putting up with me for seven years.”
He chuckled a bit, but not for long.
June 9th, 1965
National Highway 15, Phuoc Long Province, South Vietnam
The launcher thudded against my shoulder; the recoil of the rocket exiting the tube was tremendous. The fortification holding us back transformed into little tiny woodchips as it exploded inward, spearing several Viet Cong through various body parts. Most were still alive, albeit punctured, and returned fire. Their agony was met with a second rocket from yours truly, making a gibbed, gore-ridden mess of entrails and extremities.
Darkin loaded another. “3 left!”
We took cover behind a cement support for the highway, chips of such flying off from the return fire of the Cong. When a lull appeared, I stepped out and fired a rocket directly at a hastily-constructed bunker. Wood, steel, and bodies went flying in all directions, taking out many NVA stationed around the perimeter, as well as a machine gun nest mounted on top of it.
Another rocket went into the breech. “2!”
That rocket went right into a machine gun nest holed up in the treeline, while it was distracted by the Third Platoon. I gave the advancing troops enough support to gain a lot of ground. The 54th regiment started to charge the line, and thus the enemy line fell backward into Cong territory. I used the second-to-last rocket on the retreating troops, blowing a huge hole in their defensive structure.
The battle seemed to be won, the highway was ours, and we controlled their main supply route to outposts in the South Vietnam area. Things looked good for once; maybe the war might be turning in our favor. The battlefield seemed to be peaceful now; the smell of victory was in the air. It smelt like blood, gunpowder, and flowers.
Well, until a blast came from the trees, and men shouting “Tank!!!!” Otherwise, it was pretty blissful.
Never have I seen a tank used by the NVA. There were rumors that the Commies gave them about 100 or so T-34s from the war 20 years ago. There were no reports of anyone encountering a tank in the battlefield here, but then again, who would survive to tell about it?
The tank crushed the trees covering the much larger Asian rainforest, coming up on the flank of the advancing regiment. Orders from the Lieutenant made them fall back, getting slaughtered in the process. The tank’s 12.7 millimeter machine gun roared, shredding several men unlucky enough to stand in its way. Its treads were scarlet, covered with the blood of troops from both sides.
I got behind a stone wall nearby, just as the place where I was standing exploded. I didn’t know where Darkin was; I lost him in the confusion. I’d have to grab the last LAW myself and hoped this thing was anti-armor.
I extended the stock, priming it, frantically shifting it to my shoulder. I had to make this one count.
Carefully I got on one knee and looked down the sights. The tank was moving very slowly, as if to terrorize the troops. It was certainly doing it’s job, but not for much longer.
I focused on the junction between the turret and the body, and fired.
The round impacted the tank directly, hitting the junction dead on. When the smoke cleared, the tank stood still, not moving. Then, itturned its turret towards my position.
I swore, and dived from the stone wall, just as it exploded into small bits. I felt one go into my right arm; it stung like an absolute b****, but I kept going.
I glanced back towards to tank, to see if it was still aiming at me. What I saw instead was Darkin on top of the tank, wrestling with a NVA soldier in the hatch. He took his pistol out and shot the Cong in the face. The soldier’s head flew back and Darkin pushed him off the tank and into the mud. Priming a grenade, he threw it down the hatch and shut it quickly. A “whump” sound gave him a delight, and hopped off the now-defunct tank.
I was rushing my way there, to be with and support him, when I saw an injured, crawling person, reaching for his rifle. Time seemed to slow as he clacked a magazine into an AK and aimed at Darkin.
“Sarge! Darkin!” I hollered to him. He turned in my direction just as I fired my .45 at the crawling soldier. It hit him square in the chest, but not before the AK rounds did the same to Darkin.
Darkin lurched as the bullets hit him. He emitted a wet cough and slumped against the side of the tank hatch. I made my way quickly over to him, stumbling over corpses of each faction. I fell over one and came face to face with what I think was supposed to be an American, but more resembled spaghetti sauce.
Horrified, I got up quickly and rushed away from the blood pool. I stepped and jumped on bodies to get to the tank where it was in the middle of the clearing.
Darkin was dead when I got there, several bullets in his chest and stomach; another hit his head. He had that menacing look on his face, the one he always had when he was winning. Darkin was brave, a man who died for his country, his fellow men, and his team.
Sighing, I took his dog tags and, before I made my way back to the American frontline, I decided to check the one who shot him.
To this day, I don’t know why I bothered to check. Perhaps it was some supernatural intuition, or the wanting for closure, but it happened, and perhaps if I didn’t I would have known a lot less about the human mind than I do today.
The man didn’t look Asian. He was the pale-bronze of Hispanic origin, not Vietnamese at all. As I noticed this, my intrigue grew, grew until I was right next to him. It was then I realized this man wasn’t Viet Cong. He was clearly disguised, as his mismatched insignia showed. As I rolled over I failed to see the US Army tattoo on his ripped right arm, at least the first time.
What made me check was when I rolled him over, because when I did, Private Alexander Rindell’s dead eyes stared right into mine, mocking me from the grave.
It’s a look I never forgot about.
February 1st, 1945
Beneath Dachau Concentration Camp
After a few months, I became desensitized to the death. You saw it everywhere. It became as normal and as regular as breathing. That’s when I discovered the hole.
It was a hole used to bury bodies in, but evidently was never used. It was about 15 feet wide and 5 feet deep, more than enough for my small body. I first found it while trying to find some bread to feed the men in the hut I lived in. It was covered by some cloth, hidden behind a storage building. I moved my things discreetly from the hut to the hole, envying the free space and darkness in which I could hide. I stayed there for 26 grueling days, stealing bread from the dead hands of corpses. Anything was better than living with the doomed.
February 27th, 1945
Dachau Concentration Camp
When the Russians came, I stood there with a confused look. Were the Russians taking over the camp? Will they kill us too? I shook with fear as gunfire raged in the front courtyard, explosions shaking the ground like Hell itself was angry, angry at me, wanted me to die. I thought I WAS going to die, that the world was coming to an end. Not that I cared too much; I was living in a firsthand Hell anyway. But I was still scared.
Only when a Russian-speaking prisoner by the name of Alexei Yardinov came, teary eyed, and told us we were being set free, did I realize that my hell was over. The massive death and fear was finally over.
After the Soviet Union takeover, many American organizations adopted child survivors from the event that became known as the Holocaust. I was one of the few adoptees. I went to a shelter in New York City, and learned English very quickly, as well as a basic education. I also earned citizenship status, and began to work.
I enlisted into the United States Army, and that’s when my life became hell. Again.
March 4th, 1980 Lower East Side, New York City 1:29 A.M. I can’t take it anymore. The constant flashbacks, I’ve been recording them for the past 3 days. My time in Dachau, the horrors on Highway 19, and the last place for me to feel useful, all gone. All forgotten, but the pain lingers in memories. I hated them, the Waffen SS, the Viet Cong…I hated how they tortured me, all the time, even when the past is gone. I heard Darkin’s voice in my head, Rindells too (HIS F*ING BRAIN.) I heard the screams of my mother as she burned in a fire pit. The glare of Rindell’s dead eyes, staring into mine. I have shared my story, and sent it to one of my old squadmates. He’ll know what to do with it, won’t you? I hope so. But now, its time for a rest. I will be set free, Hell no longer has a grip on me. I float freely.
Name of Deceased: Driven, Steven A
First Reporting Officer: Serti, Sgt. Terrence R
Location: 445 Block Street, New York. NY.
Detectives on Scene: John McKinter, Ernest Rawley
Death Ruling: Suicide
Trauma Report: Single gunshot wound through head. Death instant.
Coroners Signature: Burns M.Callister