The roar of battle raged through the dense jungle, gunshots ringing out in rapid fire, the screams of soldiers who were little more than boys dancing about the death knells of exploding mines and mortars.
Sweat streamed down my face like I’d just finished a hot shower, the oppressive Vietnamese heat bearing down on me like some suffocating mass bent on stealing my breath. It was hard to breath with all the smoke and the stench of burning flesh. The air was polluted. I could smell blood. I could taste it.
I saw a structure a click North. There were allegedly hostages there, people we were sent to liberate from the ideological prison built by the Vietcong. The stank of communism permeated Asia, the stench of a wet dog fresh from justifying its nightly bath. There were people there. They needed our…my help.
I approached the structure warily. It was the emaciated husk of what looked to have been a hotel. Long ago destroyed, before Communism and Democracy had begun their cold war, the building still had what appeared to be intact rooms, though from this vantage point, it was difficult to tell. Not seeing an opportunity to enter from the south, I swung around to the west side of the structure. There were people there, women and children from what I could tell. They were going about their routines, like hanging wet clothing along lines to dry.
Just then I heard a twig snapping behind me. Reacting instanteously to the sound, I ran to the structure, immediately getting the attention of an older woman dressed in a brown sundress, ceasing her labor to stare in amazement at this American running out from the woods. Her face registered no concern and she went back to her work.
“No, no, run!” I hollered, suspecting a Vietcong guerilla come to kill off the last vestiges of resistance to Ho Chi Minh’s forces. “Run!” I bellowed, but the woman ignored me.
I stopped, quickly taking a knee, aiming at my pursuer. I saw him. I shot him dead.
Standing up to see who I’d just killed, I walked over and stared down at the ruined head of a barely teen-aged boy. I dropped my gun in horror as I stared at the partially exposed brain, the bloody mask of death stretched over the child.
“Oh my God, what have I done?” I cry out as the woman, who I pieced together was the boy’s mother, rushed by me, stooped low, and lifted the boy from the bloody earth. She cried as she did so, leveling me with what I could only imagine was the most vile of Vietnamese swears.
I followed her to the ruin, trying to reason through her grief. “I didn’t know… The Vietcong… Minh!” I followed her as she struggled up some exposed stairs. I tried to help her as she fought her way up the stairs, but she pushed me away.
We arrived at her room, and she walked in with the corpse of her son. Returning, she looked at me with tears in her eyes, and she asked me “Why? Why you kill my son? Why you such monsters, worst than Ho Chi Minh.”
I couldn’t find the words. They escaped me, fleeing the hatred in that woman’s glare.
I had no words for her.