Disclaimer: The Tour of Duty Characters do NOT belong to me and I am not being compensated in any way for this work of fiction.
Summary: Zeke Anderson finds himself in a bad situation with no way out.
Placement: Prior to 1st Season during Anderson’s first tour. This incident is mentioned in the episode Roadrunner (1st Season).
Note: This story was written in response to the Zeke’s Birthday Challenge.
Acknowledgement: As always, a big thank you to my beta reader DC, who actually didn’t have much to do on this one, thank goodness! Also thanks to Major Doc, who always supports my writing. And to Lee Russell, who encouraged me to pursue this angle.
Dedication: To Ettrick Glen (11/24/88 – 3/24/03), the best Border Collie to walk the face of the earth, who stole my heart from day one and never failed to let me know I was his number one human. He’s herding God’s sheep now and most certainly forgiven for any little nips he might care to take. I miss you old friend.
Dong Ho Valley, Republic of Vietnam – November 1965
They’re not comin’. I know it. They’re not comin’ an’ we’re gonna die here. Those of us that ain’t dead already.
I look over at the redheaded kid, hunkered down so tight next to his termite mound he can’t possibly see to fire his weapon. He’s a replacement, a damn FNG. I only got here two months ago myself, but I swear I wasn’t never as green as that kid.
It’s been real quiet for about an hour now. The radio died sometime in the night. Died right along with the RTO. He was hurt bad, gut shot at the outset. I don’t know how he lasted so long.
We’ve been pinned down almost fifteen hours now. We can’t last much longer. No water, low on ammo. And nobody can get to us.
We came into the LZ yesterday afternoon easy enough. Seemed kinda like a walk in the park. Nice sunny day. Breeze that kept the worst of the heat off.
The new L-T moved us off, setting up a perimeter for the rest of the incoming choppers. We waited there, digging in, watching the jungle an’ listenin’ for the whomp whomp of the returning slicks. There was no sound at all, not even birds. That should have been a tip-off but I ain’t been in-country long enough to know.
Just as the next wave came in, a single shot rang out from somewhere off to the left. I grabbed a piece of real estate and brought up my M16, aiming where I thought the enemy was. Trouble was, there was only the one shot. I glanced over at the L-T, taking my eyes off the new kid for just a second.
The L-T was screaming at the replacement to come back. Kid had seen a gook running an’ he took off after him. The rest of us watched in astonishment, our mouths hangin’ open. And God help us, we all jumped up and followed him.
It didn’t take long to find him, standing there, rifle at the ready and his tongue hanging out, panting. He turned to us, shrugging his shoulders, too winded to talk. We were all bunched up tight and I turned to tell the guys to spread out, set up a perimeter. Before I could say a word, the trap was sprung.
We musta lost half our men in the first minute, like shootin’ fish in a barrel. They droppedwhere they stood, weapons held uselessly in their arms. I dove for cover, draggin’ a couple a guys with me and firing on full automatic for no good reason other than I was hopin’ ta get lucky an’ plug some of those bastards.
Of course, full automatic uses up a lot of ammunition. I’ve had a long time to think about that. We managed to get the survivors in a circle an’ drag the wounded in the middle. The L-T was dead. The RTO was wounded but still trying to get us help, crying over his radio. I’ll never forget when he told us they weren’t comin’ before morning. That we’d have to hold on until daylight. Hold on surrounded in enemy territory low on water, low on ammo an’ guys dead an’ dyin’. What kinda crap was that? Hold on my ass.
For some reason, the gooks don’t just move in and finish us. I think they’re playing a game. Waitin’ to see if somebody WILL try an’ help us. Some more GIs for them to mow down on their own turf. And there’s no doubt in my mind who this land belongs to. We’re just kiddin’ ourselves that we can fight these people. We dig in while we can, usin’ our bayonets an’ helmets an’ bare hands. Our entrenching tools got left behind when we dropped our packs to follow the redheaded kid. All’s I can think is how we’re left behind now.
I hear them in the night, creepin’ past on their way to attack the main element. Hear battles all around us, up and down the hill, gunfire and screaming, bugles and whistles. Arty pounding everywhere except our quadrant, like freight trains jumping the track an’ falling out of the sky, slammin’ inta the ground with enough force to lift our bodies physically in the air before smashing the breath from our lungs. The air assaults continue all night, long red fingers of death stretching from the Puffs overhead though the broken cloud cover to the jungle below.
Our radio, before it quit, wouldn’t get the command frequency. We could only talk to a sister squad, caught in their own troubles across the way. I saw the tracers of their weapons as they engaged the enemy. At least they have US Army behind them. We’re surrounded. Cut off. Written off. Why aren’t they comin’?
I check my weapon. Safety on. I work my way over to the redheaded kid, easy like, not wantin’ to spook him. He looks at me with eyes that are perfectly round with fear, the pupils huge. I can’t even tell what color they are, just all black shinin’ pupil, the moon reflecting back at me like a spotlight.
The moon! Christ, the moon’s come out, lightin’ up the hillside clear as day. It won’t be long now ‘til dawn and the NVA come in to finish us. I take the kid’s M-16, check it out an’ hand it back to him. I point at his clip, tryin’ to ask him how much ammo he’s got without talkin’. I don’t want our voices carryin’ across the jungle.
He just stares back, mouth slack, hollow-eyed. I pull my last clip from my pocket an’ show it to him, raising my eyebrows and shrugging. The kid just shakes his head an’ taps the clip in his weapon. Nothin’ left but what he’s got. Oh Jesus.
I creep around to the other men, checkin’ ammo, water supplies. Nobody has any water left. We’ve got enough ammo to hold our own if the gooks hold still an’ don’t shoot back. I don’t think we can hold off another wave. Another two guys dead of their wounds in the last hour, including the medic. Shit.
I gotta hope they’re comin’ for us, bringin’ in the rest of the Cav and comin’. I’ve crawled all the way back to my termite mound. The redheaded kid is lying on his back now, M-16 held loosely on his chest. He’s watchin’ the sky, near as I can tell.
I used to do the same thing, back home with Katie. Katie, she’s gettin’ big enough to realize I’m gone now. When I left, I told her to look at the stars. Told her I’d be lookin’ at ‘em, too. I glance up, catch a glimpse of Orion an’ find myself swallowin’ hard, my throat all of a sudden thick an’ scratchy. I need to be thinkin’ about my men, the gooks, but all’s I can see in my head is Katie fishin’, Katie giggling, Katie blowin’ out the candles on her birthday cake.
A bugle blares an’ I yell to the guys to be ready, to pick their targets an’ make every bullet count. I know we can’t hold on if they attack. The redheaded kid has flipped over on his belly, a new look of determination in his eyes as he brings his weapon to his shoulder. I squeeze my own eyes shut for a moment, tryin’ not to think too hard about how much responsibility I have in gettin’ that kid to face death so defiantly. I wonder if he knows, if any of them know how hopeless this is.
I breathe in and out a few times through my nose, tryin’ to force the fear from my belly and settle into as good a firing position as I can. It’s not the best, but I gotta go down fightin an’ I’m gonna take a few gooks with me.
They’re comin’ now, not even trying to be quiet, retreating in the growing daylight away to their hidey holes. Sporadic fire slaps into the termite mounds and little clods of dirt shower us as we wait. Forgive me, Carol, little Katie. I’m a soldier. I don’t know how to be anything else.
I stare down the barrel of my M-16, waiting for a target, waiting for death to appear and wrap me in dark wings. I blink hard, aware that my thoughts are wandering again but unable to keep them on track. Not enough water, I guess, we none of us are completely in our right minds.
I squeeze off a quick couple a shots, bringing down one of the lead men. The others pause, a whole line of them looking up suddenly, staring at the sky. We all freeze, the howling thunder of the F-4s filling our ears near to bursting. I hurl myself to the ground, screaming insanely at the men to do the same, knowing they can’t hear me anyway.
A flash of blinding white heat rolls over the jungle floor, smashing through the trees. I can hear men screaming and hope to hell that none of them are mine. Another strike, slashing across our flank, falls close enough that I feel the hairs on the backs of my hands curling as I wrap my arms protectively around my head. I can no longer hear, my ears popping uselessly in the rapidly changing pressure left by the bombs.
I lift my head, slowly, so very slowly. Keeping my eyes to slits, I see the raging fire of napalm burning hot thirty yards from our position. The red-headed kid is right alongside of me, I don’t know when or how he got there, but I can feel him trembling against me. Maybe it’s me, I dunno. Turning to look along our pitiful line, I see movement, my guys, all still there. Blinking hard I wipe the back of my hand across my eyes, the dampness there taking me by surprise. I guess it’s the napalm. Whatever the reason, tears continue to slide down my cheeks and I can’t stop them.
Soldiers appear through the fire and I swing my weapon up, startled by my inability to keep the sights steady. It’s Americans anyway and I let the rifle fall to my lap. I keep gulping at the air, trying to find a cool lungful an’ not succeeding. Staring at the flames, I see candles burning, flickering and wavering against the darkness of the jungle beyond.
I see candles burning and my ruined ears hear singing. I shake my head, but it’s still there. I lower my head to my knees, weeping as the reinforcements move among us, helping the wounded and offering canteens to the rest of us. I shake my head again, waving away the fresh-faced medic who offers to help me up. He drops to one knee, shoving a canteen in my hand and asks me my name, my birth date, other things I can’t understand through the ringing in my ears.
I look up at him through the thick, blowing smoke, squinting through the film of tears spilling from my eyes. "Anderson, Zeke. Staff Sergeant."
He peers intently at me, starin’ through me the way medics do.
"Date of birth?"
I tell him and he smiles, pattin’ my shoulder an’ fending off my attempts to hand him back the canteen. Moving off to the other men he glances back and grins, his teeth impossibly white against his grimy cheeks. "Happy birthday, Sarge."
I shake my head as I lean back against the termite mound, my gaze drawn to the candles I still see flickering in the flames. And I can still hear that singing.
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday dear Daddy,
Happy Birthday to you.