It was raining hard on that dreadful night when Daniel O' Conell PFC was shot in the upper arm, he remembered that most of all. not the pain or smell of death all around him, just the rain, a rain so hard it bounced off the rocks and leaves all around him.
They had just entered a clearing in the jungle somewhere north west of Nha Trang, and were in the process of moving round the edge staying low, when all around them gunfire had erupted just as the heavens opened and the rain came down.
It bounced off them like rocks, bullets flew, as the bodies fell, ripping through flesh and bone. Daniel threw himself into the tangle of bushes next to him. He hugged the ground as bullets and tracer fire flew over his head and pinged off nearby rocks, within seconds the patrol is decimated and just before the fire ended Daniel felt a blow against his right arm. A glacial spasm of pain like the stab of a dagger of ice frozen from a poisoned well ran down his arm followed by the feeling of wetness as blood flowed.
He pulled himself deeper into the jungle as silence descended and that silence now appeared to be a source of additional peril.
Daniel listened intently for any sounds of movement nearby, the enemy had arrived, like ghosts in the night. No warning and suddenly death was all about.
He was now in serious harms way with only his training to rely on, a training that ended just under a month ago. He tried to think but the pain in his arm made it difficult, and he knew it needed to be dealt with speedily less infection set in. Inch by inch he moved back into the deeper darkness of the jungle, listening out for any sound that would mean the enemy was near.
He heard a crunching sound off to his right and froze. Looking in the direction of the sound, he saw silhouetted, a figure carrying the familiar AK assault rifle, standard issue for the Vietcong. Rising to a crouch, he tested the movement of his arm and found although painful it would still operate. The figure had his back to Daniel. Sliding out his K-bar he quickly rushed forward, just like in boot camp sentry removal training-left hand covers mouth, kick to back of knee, K-bar into the right side of neck and slicing round, taking out the voice box. Blood gushed and silently the man died.
Daniel turned and ran head long in the dark, shouts rose behind him. He only slowed to push through the dense underbrush. Weapons opened up, and the sound of his pursuers was loud behind him.
He ran on oblivious to the dangers around him, heart thumping against his ribcage like a demonic Tai-ko drummer. Adrenaline flooded his body as fear carried him on with monstrous wings.
Suddenly the ground vanished, and he plunged headlong down the side of a valley, rocking and rolling all the way down. He was only halted as he came up against a fallen tree knocking him unconscious.
Daniel regained consciousness to the sounds of the sing song dialect of Vietnamese women talking nearby. He pushed himself up against the fallen tree, and checked himself, nothing appeared broken and the only damage apart from the bullet wound was a lump on the back of his head. By the grace of god he still had hold of his M14 rifle, and it seemed in one piece. It was daylight already, so he must have been out about six hours. His watch said it was six thirty so make that seven hours.
Shaking the fuzziness from his head, he rose to pear over the tree trunk. Before him lay row upon row of paddy fields worked by at least a dozen doo- mommies, as he had been reliably informed they were called, all dressed in the traditional ao-dai, their village could be seen in the distance with what looked like several trucks parked in the center.
No way he could go diddy bopping through this lot, a way round would have to be found. Getting his bearings from the position of the sun, he moved off through the high grass next to the fields. Moving slowly, he followed the contour of the valley.
The sing song Charlie chatter faded into the distance, he could now move a little faster. Somehow he and the patrol had stumbled into bandit country. All the Intel stated no N.V.A in the area, what a total cluster fuck someone had made.
He was approaching the trail that led into the village, a jeep is halted, its wheels sunk into the mud that must have been churned up by the trucks he had seen earlier. One V. C is sat at the wheel, his feet up on the windshield. Another was taking a leak in the ditch next to the trail. Both were unarmed, but no doubt their weapons were stowed in the jeep.
Daniel hunkered down in the long grass and considered his options. .
To either side of where he is positioned was boggy wetland. He did not want to get caught in that kind of terrain, so close to so many enemies, unless it was necessary. He decided to use shock and surprise as he knew a contact was the only way out, bracing himself he burst from the long grass and screamed "Trợ giúp, giúp 'ỡ, lửa cháy" loosely translated help, help, fire, fire. It was a phrase he had learned from one of his instructors who had been in a similar situation.
The two V.C's froze, the site of the tall burly marine rushing like wounded tiger from the grass elicited almost comical looks from the two and they screamed like startled virgins. Daniel double tapped the two of them before they could react, and he was across the trail over the ditch into the tumble of grass and trees beyond.
He moved quickly knowing that the gun shots would bring a holy shit storm down on him, Charlie Knew the report of American weapons as they knew their own mothers voices. Low tree branches whipped at his face as he ran deeper.
After what seemed like forever he stopped to catch his breath. The sounds of the jungle assailed his ears and insects bit at his skin lapping up the sweat he was now drenched in. The adrenaline rush he had experienced during the contact and subsequent flight, was now subsiding, and he knew panic and fear lingered at the periphery of his world. He shook himself and mentally pushed it back. Daniel knew if he let it in then he was as good as dead.
Wiping the sweat and dirt from his face he took a swig from his canteen. He had subconsciously veered to the right in his flight from the contact, Daniel knew if he continued this way he would reach the head of the valley and away from harm.
Do it by the numbers, he thought, " just like in Boot " he voiced his thoughts.
In the distance, he could hear raised voices, and bodies crashing through the jungle. Time to move again. The sounds appeared to come from nearby.
He moved off vectoring away from the sounds, moving through the trees that towered some 120 feet above him,vines pulled at his feet making progress slow. Various flying insects had taken a liking to his blood, and he could feel the banquet taking place all over his body. He ignored the itching this was causing and plowed on, circling back towards the trail. If he stayed close to it, he could find his way out of this godforsaken valley.
Two hours later he had finally lost his pursuers and had reached the trail, the heat and humidity was getting to him making his movements sluggish. Time to rest up, Daniel thought, "Hole up till night then move out soldier". The voice seemed to come from all around him and from inside, Daniel spun round lifting his weapon, a thin dry chuckle drifted on the air and through the trees.
Man I am losing it, Daniel thought, shaking his head to clear his blurred vision. He dropped to his hands and knees and crawled into a tangle of bushes and pulled them round him, they would shield him hopefully. He had no energy left, every part was crying out for rest. His head swam in a dreamy miasma. Curling up, he closed his eyes and the jungle whispered sleep....sleep, sleeeeeeeeppp.
Daniel came awake with a lurch, his body shaking, feeling as if a deep fever was running through him. The darkness of the jungle now enveloped him and the cacophonous sounds of the night creatures at play filled the air. He shifted his stiff body and crawled out of the bushes.
While sleeping he had dreamed of a Marine crouched outside his hide, a huge man, face covered in Camo paint, eyes scanning the surrounding jungle. This Marine told him to go to sleep he would take stag with a voice sounding like the one that he thought he heard before he fell asleep.
Daniel knew his mind was playing tricks, the instructors had warned them of this, exhaustion was playing tricks with him. Daniel allowed himself a small guffaw, this is something I can't tell the guys, the jungle is full of enough ghosts with out me conjuring up one of my own, Daniel checked his rifle and concentrated on the job in hand. Taking a few sips of water before nibbling on some K-rations, or as his friend Tucker called it, G.I. grits, he started to feel a little better, although a warm bath would have completed it. He moved off, paralleling the trail, carefully looking out for anything that could foul him, last thing he needed now was to break a bone because he tripped over a hidden tree root.
The going was exceedingly slow,the trees were distinctly in abundance and the area was hard to traverse plus he had to have eyes and ears everywhere, Charlie never slept and he did not want to stumble into an ambush party. The smell of rotting vegetation was everywhere making him gag at times.
Daniel was moving past a particularly large tree trunk that is when a different smell assailed his nostrils, Tobacco smoke, not American. He crouched listening, a twig snapped behind him, turning to the sound he felt a blow to the side of his head and out went the lights.
Consciousness came slow. Daniel was aware of his hands tied behind his back and he had been stripped to the waist. He half opened his eyes to see six Vietcong army regulars, all armed with A.ks', sitting near by. Fear pulsed through his veins like an icy stream, Oh fuck, he thought, the F word was one he hardly ever used but Daniel felt this situation unquestionably warranted it. Looking round he could see they had brought him to a small clearing. The nearest V.C noticed he had come round. He dragged Daniel to his knees and the others gathered round.
"Hello G.I Joe" one of them said in accented English, "Not bad for a bunch of gooks eh"
Daniel stared straight ahead, his mind reeling, he tried not to think of all the stories he had been told of what happened to captured Americans.
The beating started after a nod from the one who had spoke, cool and efficient, boots and fists to his body not once touching his face, all he could do was take it.
After what seemed like forever they stopped, a discussion ensued,he heard the phrase giết ông mentioned a few times meaning kill him.
Daniel was in too much pain to care, he was sure a couple of ribs were broken and his left wrist. The pain washed over him like white hot water and consciousness was fading. He fought against it.
What happened next came to him in dreamy slow motion, like watching a scene play out from underwater. The one who had spoken turned towards him bringing his gun to bare, ripples ran across Daniels vision as he saw the flash and the bullet leave the barrel, darkness covered his vision, I am dead, he thought.
Rippling vision returned and what he saw he did not believe, reality had been blasted away like a mortar round. The big marine from his dream was ripping into the V.Cs like a whirlwind, they tried to shoot him but he had moved when the bullets arrived, picking up a tree trunk that lay on the ground he tore into them knocking them this way and that like Saturday night bowling. He battered them where they lay till they moved no more.
He moved towards Daniel and the image of the Marine seemed to fade in and out as he approached.
"Don't worry son I'm a here to take y'all home" he spoke with a deep southern drawl.
"Wh...Who a... are you?" Daniel whimpered.
"Names Joe Tyler, Master sergeant, y'all can call me squirrel" he winked and lifted Daniel into his powerful arms.
Just before he finally past out, he could have swore that he and Joe turned to smoke.
Thump Thump Thump.
The sound came again.
Coughs and the sounds of metal on metal.
Thump thump thump
Daniel opened his eyes, he was laying on a cot in what he knew was in a M.a.sh tent. He could see a man on crutches and there was other beds and doctors rushing about.
He was frozen in shock,so heavens an army tent was the first coherent thought he had. A doctor came over to him.
"Hey,O'connel, hows tricks" he was about twenty eight all smiles and walked lightly on his feet. Grabbing Daniels arm he took his pulse while looking at his watch.
"I feel okay" he stammered "How did I get here?"
"A patrol found you just outside the camp, you had been pretty beat up and got a touch of fever"
He dropped Daniels arm and looked at him.
"You're darned lucky if they hadn't of found you when they did you would have been joining Squirrel over there" he indicated a bed in the corner with a sheet covering a large framed body.The Doctor turned to leave.
Daniel grabbed his arm.
"Doc, what cha say his name was?"
"And his real name?"
"Son that was master Sarge Joe Tyler, call sign Squirrel, he died two days ago, last thing he said he wished he could save one last young Marine who was in harms way"
© 2010 Andy Scorah