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... Show full author's note »
Killing FieldJune 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.