01 Feb Tales from The Iron Triangle: War Paint
Operation Junction City, February, 1967
Republic of South Vietnam
Sergeant First Class Martin Brubaker hadn’t slept a wink since the brutal NVA/VC (North Vietnamese Army/ Viet Cong) ambush which devastated his platoon the day before. How could he? His soldiers were Sky Troopers, part of the Army’s elite 173rd Airborne Brigade. But yesterday, Mister Victor treated his paratroopers like they were the VC’s bitches. His young paratroopers were shaken. They had been in Vietnam for two months and, as yet, had not suffered a single casualty. Then in less than an hour, his platoon of paratroopers got chewed up and spit out like a wad of bubble gum by an enemy that proved to be highly motivated and highly dedicated and could survive for days on rice and fish sauce. Sergeant First Class Brubaker knew that he probably looked like a crumpled up shit bag as he was summoned to the First Sergeant’s tent that morning. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t eat. He’d spent the entire night trying to console his young Sky Soldiers while wresting with the fact that for the first time in his six year Army career, he didn’t have all the answers.
First Sergeant Gordon ‘Gordy’ Malone was a six foot three inch Sky Soldier, a by the book senior NCO who took no shit from anyone, regardless of their rank or race. By sheer force of testosterone fuelled intimidation, Malone commanded the respect of everyone in his company, whether they were a white Confederate flag waving redneck or an afro-wearing black liberation activist. Malone was black himself, and in his Bravo Company, you conducted yourself a goddamned Sky Soldier and the most elite, professional, deadly mother-humper in the goddamned Valley of Death. If not, First Sergeant Malone would personally make your life a living tragedy. There was no in between with Malone. The 173rd had a motto: “Kill Professionally” and that’s what the Sky Soldiers excelled at. Bravo Company didn’t suffer from any of the racial strife and indiscipline that plagued some of the freaking leg units (lowly, non-parachute qualified, ground pounders who offended the Gods of War by simply breathing). The 173rd Airborne wasn’t like the infamous 23rd Infantry “Americal Division”, the American division that seemed to be made up of white trailer trash and black ghetto thugs that had been hopelessly thrown together and told by their politician masters, “Here! You fight this war!”
First Sergeant Malone kept his company at the pinnacle of military discipline and teamwork, his soldiers more afraid to incur the big first sergeant’s wrath than they were to catering to their personal racial biases and bigotry. But yesterday was different. The fucking Commies hit the entire battalion hard, not just Bravo Company, and Malone’s First Platoon of Bravo Company took it right on the chin. First Sergeant Malone didn’t say anything as Sergeant First Class Brubaker, Bravo Company’s First Platoon Sergeant, didn’t bother to come to parade rest as he entered the tent and simply plopped himself down on the aluminum seat in front of the First Sergeants desk.
“Jeezus, Martin, you look like shit,” said Malone, offering Brubaker a Pall Mall. Brubaker accepted the cigarette gratefully and lit it with his Zippo.
“I look better than I feel, Top,” said Brubaker. “Any word?”
Malone studied his First Platoon Sergeant. Brubaker was easily his most experienced and trusted platoon sergeant and was one of the very few soldiers in the company who was tall as he was. Both tactically and technically proficient in all of his combat skills and totally fearless in combat, Brubaker was one of those iconic “Sergeant Rock” types that soldiers naturally followed into battle. In fact, in less than a year Brubaker was going to pin on his E8 rank and become a first sergeant himself. But today… today Brubaker was a wreck, and Malone didn’t have the time to mince words.
“Wilson, Peterson, Fenton, and Halua are at Tan Son Nhut Air Base,” started Malone. “They’ll be on a Freedom Bird back home by this evening at the latest. With any luck, they’ll be back in the states by the end of the week where their families can claim their bodies.”
Brubaker nodded as he looked down at his muddy jungle boots, remembering when the ambush started. Private First Class Wilson, Private First Class Peterson, and Private First Class Fenton were all FNG’s (F-ing New Guys) still fresh from jump school and weren’t even in country long enough to catch VD from a bar girl in Saigon. The novice soldiers were still brand new and gung-ho, smelling like cheap Old Spice and betting on who would get the first kill as they were walking across a rice paddy when the enemy set off a well hidden command detonated mine in a rice paddy dike which blew them all to pieces. Their squad leader Sergeant Halua, the brawny foul mouthed hard charging Pacific Islander from Hawaii, had warned them about getting complacent. He ran forwards across the rice paddy to get to his fallen men, yelling for the medic. Suddenly a machine gun hidden in a bunker camouflaged to look like an embankment opened up on him at close range. Big Sergeant Halua was literally cut in half while the medic, Specialist McPherson, took a round in the small of his back before he could even take three steps. In less than five seconds, it was F-ing Communist Son-of-a-Bitches: Four. The United States of America: Zero. The rest of the platoon dived to one side of the raised dike on which they were walking and ducked into the brown waters of the rice paddy. That’s when the entire world erupted with automatic weapons fire in a textbook enemy ambush that caught the American platoon out in the middle of that damned rice paddy.
“Lieutenant Dunleavy and Specialist Gonzales are also at Tan Son Nhut, awaiting evacuation to Japan,” continued First Sergeant Malone. “Lieutenant Dunleavy had his right arm amputated and Gonzales has lost sight in both of his eyes.”
As First Sergeant Malone spoke, Brubaker was having flashbacks of the day before. Everything happened so quickly, and it seemed as if he were moving slowly, as if in a dream. When the ambush occurred, Lieutenant Dunleavy and his radioman, Specialist Gonzales, had jumped down off the paddy and took cover behind the embankment in the fetid smelling, knee high, brown water. The fire coming from the enemy positions were so intense that almost none of the American paratroopers could return fire. Lieutenant Dunleavy got on the radio back to the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) to request air or artillery support when two well placed enemy RPG’s (Rocket Propelled Grenades) impacted right were the platoon leader and his radioman had taken cover. Both of their bodies were blown into the air and they landed in a smoking, bloody heap.
As a platoon sergeant, it was Brubaker’s job to mentor and advise the young new incoming lieutenant so that he could effectively lead his platoon during combat. Lieutenant Dunleavy was just a kid in his early twenties, barely even older than his radioman, but he was turning out to be a fine leader. That one really hurt Brubaker, although there was really nothing that he could have done to prevent it.
“Lieutenant Dunleavy did everything right,” said Brubaker. “He took cover with his radioman and quickly called for supporting fires. But what did that get him? Dunleavy is laid up in some field hospital with a stump where his arm should have been. He’s probably going to get a bedside Purple Heart award from some desk riding office jockey general who could give less than two shits about young Lieutenant Dunleavy. And Specialist Gonzales is the platoon’s artist. He wanted to use his GI Bill to become a painter once he completed his tour of duty. How the hell was he going to do that now?” Brubaker’s voice creaked as he gritted his teeth.
“You saved your medic’s life, Martin,” said First Sergeant Malone. “You got McPherson aboard the dust-off before he bled out.”
“He said he couldn’t feel his legs, Top,” said Brubaker. “I saved him only so that he can live out his life as a paraplegic.”
“He’s alive, Sergeant,” said Malone. “You got him out! You got your lieutenant and your radioman out, and you got the rest of your platoon back into the tree line while the f-ing Red Legs (Artillery) put high explosive steel on the rice paddy.”
“And Second Platoon went in to secure the area after we hit the enemy positions with artillery, and a pair of air force F100 Super Sabres hit Mister Victor with nape (Napalm). Second Platoon found nothing,” said Brubaker.
“The Second Platoon Sergeant said that Mister Victor escaped down those dam tunnels that the fucking VC dug underneath all of the Iron Triangle,” said Brubaker, almost shouting. “Junction City was supposed to be a multi-divisional operation with us, the First Infantry Division and the Twenty-Fifth Infantry Division. The best of America’s best divisions were supposed to strike into the heart of the fucking Iron Triangle with all of our might and shit down the throats of Ho Chi Minh’s boys. Instead, all we did was poke a stick at a hornet’s nest and they all swarmed out on us.”
Brubaker exhaled, realizing that he had almost raised his voice at his First Sergeant. Malone was staring coldly at him and Brubaker knew that he was close to crossing a thin line. While the First Sergeant was being somewhat lenient with him, Brubaker knew Malone would not tolerate any insubordination from one of his platoon sergeants, whether Brubaker just survived an ambush or not. Brubaker exhaled again. “I’m… I’m sorry, Top,” said Brubaker. “I didn’t mean to sound like I was throwing in the towel.”
“I lost almost my entire company at Pusan, Sergeant Brubaker,” said First Sergeant Malone sternly. “That’s over seventy men killed in less than an hour. In Korea, we would have prayed for a day like you had yesterday. We never threw in the towel. When the Chinese came pouring over the ridge, we fixed bayonets.”
Brubaker nodded, suddenly feeling ashamed. Malone was only seventeen when he volunteered to join the army and fought against the Communists in Korea back in 1952. Malone was part of the Army 1st Cavalry Division back then and had somehow survived the retreat from Pusan. Brubaker’s platoon suffered 4 men KIA (Killed in Action) and three men WIA (Wounded in Action) yesterday in a stinking Vietnamese rice paddy. In Korea, the Americans had lost several platoons every day. Brubaker changed the subject. “Any word on Private First Class Neely?” he asked, putting out his cigarette.
“Not yet,” said the First Sergeant. Private First Class Neely was one of the other FNGs and was the fourth member of Sergeant Halua’s rifle squad. He had somehow gotten separated from the rest of the platoon when his squad was annihilated and was not present when the order was given to pull back. Second Platoon later found his jammed M16 rifle in the water caked in mud after the air force plastered the rice paddy with napalm, but there was no sign of Neely.
“There was a Marine recon team in the area,” continued First Sergeant Malone. “They searched for him last night, but the area was crawling with NVA and VC. The Marines got caught in a firefight and suffered KIAs. They had to extract under fire.”
“Has Neely been listed as MIA?” said Brubaker.
“For now,” answered Malone. “But we will find him.”
First Sergeant Malone leaned forwards and offered Brubaker another cigarette, which Brubaker politely refused. “Martin,” said the First Sergeant. “You’re the best platoon sergeant I have in the company. There are twenty-seven soldiers in your platoon that just got their asses handed to them and are all shaken up right now. I need to know if you can lead them.”
“Really, Top?” said Brubaker, determination now coming back to his voice. “That was never an issue for me. F-ing Victor Charles owes us a shit ton of pay back and First Platoon is going to collect.”
“Good,” said Malone. “Because last night, air force F4 Phantoms and F100 Super Sabers hit three entire grid squares with Snake and Nape (Snake-eye bombs and Napalm). Later today, they are going to Arc Light the hell out of the place with B52s. Tomorrow, battalion is pushing back into the Iron Triangle from the west while the First Infantry will be pushing from the east. I need your platoon ready to go back into the breach again.”
“The hits just keep on coming,” said Brubaker, grabbing up his M16, “I’ll have to rearrange our roster to make up for our losses, but we’ll be ready to move, Top.”
“Okay,” said Malone. “But sometime today when you get a chance, I’m ordering you to stand down. Get some chow and get some rest. I can’t have you looking like a rag bag in front of your platoon when we board the Huey’s in the morning.”
“Will do,” said Brubaker as he stood up from his seat.
“And get a damned shower, man,” said First Sergeant. “You smell like goat ass.”
“Roger, Top.” As Brubaker turned to leave the tent, he nearly ran into a soldier that suddenly threw open the tent’s door flap.
“Oh, sorry, sir,” said Brubaker to the other soldier as he barged into the tent. Captain Stapleton was the tall, lanky soldier who wore wire rimmed glasses who commanded the company.
“First Sergeant, you need to come with me,” said Captain Stapleton. He turned to Sergeant Brubaker. “I’m glad you’re here, Bru,” smiled the officer. “You need to come with me also.”
Donning their helmets and grabbing their rifles, Malone and Brubaker followed Captain Stapleton as he led them across the battalion’s forward operating base. Captain Stapleton was taking long strides across the dusty red clay ground that had been packed down like brick that had been baking in the oven. The morning air beat with the characteristic rhythmic THUN-THUN-THUN-THUN-THUN of Huey helicopters ferrying Sky Soldiers from the base out into Indian Country while other Hueys brought in supplies, ammunition, and more replacements for the meat grinder that was the Iron Triangle. Although it was only barely after eight in the morning, the heat and humidity rising from the surrounding jungle was already promising a sweaty and oppressive day in South Vietnam.
The trio passed the mess tent where the overworked cooks had been working since four in the morning to serve a breakfast meal of soggy French toast, powered eggs, and fatty sausage links to the paratroopers before they went on with the business of fighting a war. Soon, they passed the 81mm mortar pits and the battery of four towed 105mm howitzers before approaching several sandbagged bunkers built behind a perimeter fence of barbed wire. Beyond the barbed wire perimeter was 100 meters of relatively open flat space before the world was swallowed by a wall of thick jungle greenery. At the entrance gate, a squad of sentries were questioning a disheveled looking young American soldier who seemingly had crawled out of the bush. Sergeant Brubaker smiled and picked up his pace. It was young PFC Neely, First Platoon’s missing new guy.
PFC Neely was given a couple of hours to clean up, change out of his fetid smelling uniform and into a clean one, and grab some chow before reporting to Captain Stapleton’s company command tent. Bravo Company’s medics gave PFC Neely the quick once over and, aside from being tired, dehydrated, and suffering from several cuts and bruises from his overnight ordeal in Indian Country, PFC Neely was relatively unharmed. Captain Stapleton was seated in a metal folding chair flanked by First Sergeant Malone and Sergeant First Class Brubaker. The Battalion S2 Intelligence Officer, another captain named Measway, was also there. The skinny, intelligence officer with the wire rimmed glasses and stringy moustache hovered over a fidgety and nervous PFC Neely.
“Okay, Private Neely,” said Captain Measway in a surprisingly deep voice. “I need to know the size of the enemy you encountered! I need to know their activity and their exact ten digit grid location! I need to know what uniform they were wearing! What exact time did you encounter them? What equipment were they carrying?”
Neely looked up at Captain Measway with wide eyes, unsure about how to begin answering the intel officer’s rapid fire questions.
“Son,” continued Measway sounding frustrated and not relenting or even giving young PFC Neely time to speak. “Son, your buddies are out there fighting and dying right now while you are sitting here gawking at me. We need to find those Commie bastards and liberate the living hell out of them! This is our chance to score the big win! C’mon soldier! Give me that ten digit grid coordinate!”
“Captain Measway,” interjected Captain Stapleton. “My Sky Soldier just survived a night alone out in Indian Country. You aren’t going to get any of the data you need by interrogating him like he was one of the VC!”
“I wasn’t exactly alone, sir,” answered PFC Neely.
“I know you weren’t alone,” answered Captain Measway impatiently. “You were surrounded by the Viet Cong!”
“No, sir,” said PFC Neely. “There was another American out there!”
“What?” yelled Measway. “Captain Stapleton, are you missing another soldier?”
“Hang on, Measway.” Captain Stapleton held up a hand to silence the intelligence officer who was quickly getting on his nerves. Stapleton stared into PFC Neely’s eyes, the young private’s facial expression betraying a look that he was somehow in trouble.
“Neely,” he began slowly but sternly. “Did you say there was another American there? Was he a POW?”
“No, sir!” stuttered Neely. “Well, almost. We both almost were. But he had a couple of AK47’s and he fought like a tiger and he said he was zero days and a wake up short so he was headed to Da Nang!”
“Wait a minute, Private,” said big First Sergeant Malone. “Slow down! Good Lord, Neely, you’re talking like a runaway M60 machine gun.”
“Take a deep breath, Neely,” said Brubaker. “We want to hear what you are saying, but you need to calm down.”
Brubaker put two big hands on Neely’s shoulders and looked at the young soldier reassuringly in the eyes. “I’m glad you made it out of there, son. Can you tell me how you got here after the ambush? Start from the beginning and take your time.”
Neely gulped, then nodded. He looked down at his muddy jungle boots then stared up again, looking with a blank expression at Brubaker. “I don’t know how long I was knocked out after the explosion, all I remember was waking up and looking over the rice paddy and seeing my squad all blown to pieces and Sergeant Halua getting shot by the VC. I…I looked around to find my M16 but I think I lost it after the explosion knocked me out so that’s why I don’t have my weapon, sir.”
“That’s okay, Neely,” said Captain Stapleton. “We’ll get you a new one. Just continue telling us what happened.”
“Yes, sir,” nodded Private Neely. “So, I just laid there in that muddy rice paddy filled with water buffalo shit and tried to dig deeper as the VC were firing over my head towards my platoon. I don’t think they knew I was there, but they were so close, I could hear them yelling in Commie! I couldn’t hear much of anything else because of all the firing and my ears ringing, but I could just barely make out Lieutenant Dunleavy shouting for us to pull back to the tree line. I rolled over and tried to stand up to link up with the rest of the platoon and fall back, but I guess the explosion knocked me loopier that I realized because I got dizzy and fell back into the shit water. I don’t know how long I crawled, but I could hear the VC firing shifting away from me. I guess they were firing at my platoon.”
“Anyway, I kept crawling until I got to the end of the rice paddy and dragged myself out of the shit water and low crawled towards the jungle, hoping none of the VC would notice me and light me up. I got into the tree line unnoticed by anyone and rolled into a shallow ravine. I was covered in vines and mud and other jungle shit when I hit the bottom of the ravine. I heard a few RPGs exploding somewhere off to my right and people yelling for McPherson, the medic. I remember drifting in and out of consciousness, and I could hear more of the VC a few feet away from me on top of the ravine. I thought for sure they’d spot me, but I had rolled under a thick thorn bush. Soon, I could hear the choppers coming and Sergeant Brubaker yelling something somewhere in the distance on the other side of the ravine. I remember thinking not to forget about me, but it would have been suicide for me to have yelled anything. I heard radio static, people yelling in both Commie and English, and lots of machine gun fire. I guess I passed out again after that.”
Neely looked to Captain Stapleton. “What happed to my squad, sir? What happened to Wilson and Peterson and Fenton? We all went to basic training together at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. We all came to Vietnam together.”
Neely fought back the tears as First Sergeant Malone told him how his squad had died. Unknowingly, Neely’s story provided the key which solved a small puzzle: Why would an experienced soldier like Sergeant Halua charge over open ground in the middle of an ambush? The answer was he saw Private Neely get knocked down and Halua knew that Neely wasn’t dead. More than likely, the reason why Sergeant Halua had left cover was to pull PFC Neely back to the platoon’s positions when a hidden enemy machine gun cut him down. Brubaker handed him a canteen of cool water which Neely drank greedily, coughing as he gulped down the last drops.
“Easy, private,” said Brubaker. “Do you need a second to compose yourself?”
Neely shook his head. “No, Sarge. I’m fine. I can continue.”
Neely cleared his throat before picking up where he left off. “It was dark by the time I regained consciousness. What I thought were thorns biting into me turned out to be fire ants and the buzzing I heard were mosquitoes making a banquet out of my hands and face. I could hear movement all around me and the clacking of rifle slings hitting rifle barrels and water sloshing around in water canteens. They were close by, like just on the opposite sides of the bushes that surrounded me, and they were whispering in Vietnamese.”
“How many were there?” yelled Captain Measway. “What did they look like? Did you make an attempt to capture one? Can you remember what they were saying? What direction were they heading?”
“You aren’t helping anything, sir,” said First Sergeant Malone.
“Measway,” said Captain Stapleton sternly. “Stop interrogating my soldier. You’ll get your answers after he is done telling us what happened.”
Staring daggers at the intel officer, Captain Stapleton said to PFC Neely, “I’m sorry, son. Please continue.”
Again, Neely cleared his throat. “Yes, sir. Well, I waited until I couldn’t hear any movement around me, then I slowly crawled out from underneath the thorn bushes. I was still somewhat dizzy, but I walked in the direction in which I heard the VC running because I figured that’s where you guys would be if you were still there. I walked for a few minutes, the moon only barely illuminating the jungle. I was blind as a bat, holding my hands out in front of me so that I didn’t bump into a tree or a VC or something. My head was pounding and I was still dizzy. That’s when my stomach decided that it hated everything inside of it. I stumbled onto my knees in the dark and crawled forwards, throwing up next to what I had hoped was a strand of trees. I was retching louder than I had hoped and it echoed all across the jungle, but I didn’t hear anyone approaching. I was actually feeling much better after I puked, and didn’t feel dizzy any more when I stood up. But when I stepped backwards, my boot hit a tripwire. A bright red flare shot straight up into the night air with a swoosh! It was probably one that we had set, and now it announced to the entire universe that my dumb ass was there.”
“All of a sudden, I heard lots of footsteps racing back in my direction and Vietnamese shouting all around me. I could also hear the chick-clack of bullets being chambered into AK47s. With that much VC shouting, I knew that they owned the countryside. I was the only American left alive in that sector. I turned and ran off into the jungle, trying to get out of the glare of the trip flare which was suspended under a parachute above me and spotlighting me in a pink light.”
“I was hoping that the VC would think I was a deer or something that set off the trip flare, but Mister Victor was really close behind me and I was making too much noise as I ran. So I just kept running blindly through the jungle. I managed to get out from under the trip flare’s light but my night vision was ruined. I kept running into the jungle until I blindly slammed my noggin straight into a tree. I was stunned for a second but I could hear the enemy now closing in behind me and another group closing from my left. Before I could clear my head, something big reached from of the jungle to my right and grabbed me, pulling me into the bushes.”
“From behind me, I felt one big arm wrapped around my neck and another big hand covered my mouth as I was pulled down behind the tree which my dumb ass had just run into. Once again, I was engulfed in the shadows of a leafy bush while, just a few feet away from me on the other side of the tree, I could hear at least a dozen enemy soldiers running past where I, and whoever grabbed me, lay in the shadow. We hunkered down, holding our breaths until the sound of the enemy’s searching feet faded in the distance.”
“Very slowly, whoever grabbed me released me with one arm, still keeping his other hand over my mouth. He turned my face to face his and made a “shushing” motion with his free hand. My eyes must have been as wide as saucers because in the dim moonlight, I could make out his features. The guy had a do-rag wrapped around his head instead of a helmet, and his face was camouflaged in black and green stripes. He was huge, I mean probably even bigger that you, First Sergeant, and he wore this strange uniform. It wasn’t olive drab like ours, but had some kind of green and brown tiger-striped camouflage pattern. He looked at me and whispered, “Are you Private First Class Neely? Please tell me your name is PFC Neely.”
“I nodded, his big hand still covering my mouth and nose. Then the big guy smiled and for the first time, I saw that his eyes were blue. He was American.”
“Jeez, kid,” whispered the big guy, the friendly smile never leaving his face. “We’ve been searching all over the place for you. Where’s your rifle, Neely?”
“I lost it in the rice paddy,” I answered, probably sounding pretty stupid. “It’s probably covered in shit water and mud and wouldn’t fire anyway.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right, kid,” smiled the big guy. “Them new M16s just look for an excuse to jam. I’ve always been an M14 guy myself!”
The big guy rolled over, grabbing something which he had placed on the ground behind him. “Here you go, kid,” he said, handing me one of the two AK47s he had. “These things never jam! Hell, I seen these things fire just fine caked in mud and dirt. Granted, they were firing at me, but I was still impressed.”
My eyes widened again. “Where did you get these two VC AK47s?” I asked as I took one of the Communist weapons from him.
Big guy winked, his toothy grin never fading. “Let’s just say the two VC that I took these from doesn’t need these ones anymore. C’mon. We have to move if we’re going to get to your fire base.”
“Wait,” I said. “You were looking for me? Where is the rest of your team?”
“We got into a firefight with Mister Victor earlier,” said the big guy. “We took a casualty, so the rest of my team extracted out of the field. I decided to stay behind to search for you.”
“The big guy was just a silent shadow in front of me. He was so silent and stealthy when he got up and faded into the jungle, I would have never known he was there unless I was looking directly at him. Whatever training they gave those guys, it was awesome.”
“I’m really sorry about your friend,” I said to the big guy as he led me through the jungle like he knew where he was going in that black maze.
“Eh,” he said. “It was his time. Marines die. That’s what we do. It’s okay, though, as long as we take more of those assholes with us. Wait!”
“He stopped suddenly. I froze two steps behind him. He turned quickly and jumped at me, knocking me down and back into the dirt just as an automatic weapon fired at us out of the darkness from the right. Good lord, he hit me like a line backer when he knocked me down. Before I realized that the VC had set an ambush for us, the big guy was already on his feet and had tossed a frag grenade in the direction of the VC position. It exploded right were the VC had set up their machine gun and we took off running again. He was like First Sergeant Malone but… you know… as a Marine.”
“Ain’t no Marine like me, Private,” said Malone. “Don’t never use my name and the word Marines in the same sentence.”
“I…yes. Sorry, First Sergeant,” stammered Private Neely. “I didn’t mean to make you angry, First Sergeant.”
“Just get on with your report, Private Neely,” said Malone.
“Yeah, Neely,” said Brubaker. “What was the name of the other guy who was with you? Did he say what unit he was with?”
“I was just getting to that, Sarge,” said Neely. “We fell back away from the ambush for about a half-a-klick before we stopped and took cover again. We were under a bunch of foliage and listening for any signs of pursuit. I heard a lot of VC yelling. They were probably calling for their medics after the big guy fragged them. But after a while, the jungle went silent again. I felt like the VC were all around us, though.”
“When we were laying there under the bushes, I whispered to the big guy, ‘You know who I am, so who are you? What’s your name?”
“The big guy just looked at me and said, ‘The boys just call me War Paint.”