Short Fiction for April - May 2002:
by Edward B. Dunnigan
About the Author
Used by express permission of the author, to whom all ownership rights remain reserved. No portion of this work may be reproduced without written consent of Gary Reed
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Lieutenant Lee was many things but, at this moment, happy wasn't one of them. His platoon was supposed to be on a simple patrol. A sweep through the area to flush out and engage the enemy long enough for the reaction force to be flown to the area to reinforce his platoon and hopefully overwhelm the enemy. Unfortunately, nothing in this piss-pot of a country seemed to be simple. They had barely started on the second leg of their sweep, when they had to stop. The man on point had stepped into a “punji” pit and impaled his foot. The medic had pulled him out of the hole and was applying a dressing to his foot. He looked at the soldier's wound, it looked to be superficial, “Can he walk?
The medic looked up at him, “Yes, it only caught him on the edge, but it's still going to get infected. You know what they put on these things. We'll need to get him out of here tonight.”
“Good enough. We'll put him on the resupply bird when we stop this afternoon.”
Lee hated this place. It was so hot, he felt like he was baking in his uniform, and the humidity felt like he was walking through water. Between that and the snakes, insects and the constant trudging through swamps and marshes, he longed for home. He wasn't even sure what they were here for anyway. The few people he saw made it clear that, at best, they were indifferent to his presence and, at worst, were just waiting for the chance to report their activities to the local guerillas. That was another thing, the civilians that they saw were either too young or too old to fight. Almost every man or woman between the ages of sixteen and sixty had run off to join up with whatever passed for a guerilla cell, leaving the rest to fend for themselves.
The guerillas were elusive, smart, and knew the area better than the intelligence people ever could. Lee especially hated this sector. It was a nightmare of booby traps, snipers, and ambushes that made him doubt that he'd ever see home again. Worse, the one time that they had actually managed to take a prisoner, he'd been shocked to discover the man armed with a rifle that had been supplied by Lee's own government. Apparently, thousands had been sent over in the previous years. Now it seemed that they had all fallen into enemy hands. This did nothing to improve morale in Lee's platoon. After all, wasn't it bad enough that they had to be here fighting this war without their own government supplying the enemy too?
Once the wounded soldier had been tended to, Lee picked up his rifle and took point himself. Unlike many officers who considered themselves too valuable to risk on point, Lee took his turn. Having a long military tradition in his family, he had picked up the secrets of good leadership almost by osmosis. Many of the things that he did were unconventional. The fact that he carried a rifle when regulations said that officers needed to carry only a sidearm was one. Lee knew from hard experience that officers were sniper magnets and to appear to be anything but a regular soldier was asking for trouble. His effort at appearing to be just a regular soldier paid off; his men followed him without question.
Lee crept through the thick undergrowth, taking care to make as little noise as possible. Behind him, in single file, his platoon moved like a huge snake, winding its way through the swamp. Each man peered around him, trying to take in every detail. Lee stepped carefully, feeling the ground, first with the toe of his boot, then, when he was confident that no surprises awaited him, he set his foot down. He carefully checked the muddy ground in front of him, looking for any tripwires. Sweat dripped down his nose and made little streams down his back under his pack. The only noises he heard were the sounds of the men breathing behind him. Before long, he came to a large clearing. Calling a halt, he had the men set up a defensive perimeter and called the platoon sergeant and his squad leaders in. Pulling out his map, he radioed his position back to the company commander. According to the map, there was an old church just inside the wood line on the other side of the clearing. The church, a relic from when the French controlled this area, would be a good place to resupply and evacuate his wounded man.
Lee ordered the squad leaders to get their men on line in preparation for crossing the open area. If attacked, this formation would allow them to bring more firepower to bear on their front. Lee and his radioman took a position right of center of the platoon, the platoon sergeant to the left of center. On his signal, the platoon advanced.
This was the worst part, being in the open. Here, they were lined up like targets in a shooting gallery. They moved carefully, each man boring his eyes into the woods on the far side of the clearing, straining to catch the slightest movement, anything to alert them that the enemy was around.
The first indication Lee had that anything was happening was when his radioman went down with a grunt. Lee looked at him just as he saw two more rounds hit the radio. He dove to the ground, as the woods on the other side of the clearing seemed to come alive with gunfire.
Firing a burst from his rifle, he rolled to his left and checked the radioman. He had a bullet hole in his forehead and the back of his head was gone. Lee looked down the line, yelling for his men to return fire, but there didn't seem to be very many men following his orders. Seeing that they were only twenty meters from the tree line, he ordered the men to withdraw.
To his horror, only about ten men stood up and moved. In the space of a few seconds, eighty percent of his platoon had been killed or wounded. Firing again, he stood and turned to run back to the trees when he felt as if someone had hit his leg with a club. Going down, he saw that he had been shot in the leg, and that his leg was broken. He tried to crawl towards the woods, but a stream of bullets tore up the dirt just in front of him. The pain in his leg white hot now, he turned to fire at the far wood line in the hopes of covering the few men that got away. When his magazine was empty, he reached for a reload when a round struck his weapon, knocking it from his grasp. Another round knocked it farther away from him.
As quickly as it had started, the firing stopped. From the far side of the clearing, he saw the enemy emerge. Looking around, he saw them stripping the bodies of weapons and ammunition. His peripheral vision picked up movement to his left front. The man coming towards him was huge. Dressed in camouflage, pointing what these damned Americans called an SKS at his head, he walked directly to him. As he got closer, he said something to someone out of Lee's field of view. Almost immediately, another man ran up to him and they both walked over to Lee. The first man, older, with a bushy, gray, beard, took Lee's load bearing harness off of him while the second man put a dressing on his wound. The second man produced a couple of sticks from somewhere and made a splint for his leg. A litter was produced and Lee was placed upon it. Another man, this one younger, and clean shaven, came over and looked at Lee. He reached into Lee's shirt and pulled off his identification tags. Looking at them, he said something to the other man, who replied and they both laughed. Then, the younger man leaned over to him and said to Lee in his own language, “Relax lieutenant, the war's over for you now.”
William Roy Lee was excited. It had been two years since the Chinese had invaded the US and this was the first chance he had had to get some revenge. He had led the men from his gun club, known as the “Delta Gators” for those two years. Even though he was pushing sixty, he still knew most of the things he had been taught during his two tours in Vietnam as a Marine NCO.
He stroked his beard as he lay in the mud, just
inside the underbrush and saplings that had once been the expansive manicured
lawn of the church, and waited to hear from the two man team that was shadowing
the Chinese platoon. Pulling the SKS closer to him, he looked to his right
at Earl Carter, his second in command. Carter, a CPA before the war, was
laying prone, his rucksack in front of him as a rest for the scout-scoped
M-39. As a designated Marksman, it was his job to take out the radios and
RTO’s. Farther down the line, another Designated Marksman, this one armed
No 4 Mk 1(t), was looking through a spotting scope towards the far side of the clearing. Each of the men had a headset that tied them into the network. They would know simultaneously when it was time to execute Operation “Grabass”.
The plan was a simple one, made all the more so because the Chinese had made the mistake of falling into a routine. They would wait for the Chinese to begin crossing the field. Each man would pick a target and take careful aim. When the signal came over the headset, the Designated Marksmen would take out their commo, everyone else would take out their targets. After the first volley, they would take out targets of opportunity. The important thing was that the platoon leader be wounded but not killed. He would be collected and sent up north for the Intelligence people to deal with. Billy was confident, he had hunted or shot targets with every man here. He knew that they were capable of hitting what they were aiming at. The clearing, formerly a children's play area for the school attached to the church behind them, was about eighty yards across, well within the capabilities of the men waiting in ambush.
A click in their headsets told them that the enemy was preparing to enter their kill zone. Everyone “snapped in” to their shooting positions. Almost magically, the Chinese soldiers appeared. They walked on line, obviously well trained and well led. Each man was intent on the area around them, ready for anything.
A second click sounded and the Designated Marksmen fired. Instantly the radioman went down. Earl fired twice more, ensuring that the radio was out of action and began looking for other targets. Billy fired at the man on the far left end of the line and saw him go down. He shifted his rifle towards the center. He aimed at another man and squeezed off a round. He, too, went down. Billy heard the distinctive sound of the second Designated Marksman’s .303 and saw the platoon leaders leg fly out from under him. Billy watched as he turned and tried to crawl away. Careful not to hit him, he fired six rounds directly in front of the wounded officer. The officer turned again and fired the remaining ammo in his magazine and pulled the empty from his rifle. As he reached into his pouch for another, he held the rifle slightly away from his body. Billy took that opportunity to put a round center mass into the rifle itself. It flipped out of the manes hand onto the ground. Billy fired again, this time the bullet knocked it even farther away from the wounded man.
Taking a moment to reload, Billy stood up and headed straight for the platoon leader. As he approached, he could see that the man was bleeding and had a fractured femur. The bleeding didn't seem to be arterial, but a fractured femur was painful and the last thing they needed was for the man to cry out in pain while they were moving him, thus alerting everyone around to their presence. Billy called over to Paul Gauchet, formerly a Paramedic with the fire department, now the medic for their militia unit.
“Paul! Get him ready to move!”
As Gauchet began taking care of the wound, Billy stripped the harness off of the young officer. When he stood up, Staff Sergeant Anthony Palermo, of the US Army's 5th Special Forces joined him. Palermo's A-Team had parachuted in a month before and established contact with Billy's group. They had provided commo equipment, medical supplies, and ammo for the hodge-podge of weapons that they carried. In return, they submitted to the training that Palermo's team provided and in a very short time, went from being a nuisance to the Chinese, to a very real threat.
Palermo leaned over the Lieutenant and pulled his ID tag from inside his shirt. Having been to the Army's language school, he could passably speak and read Cantonese. Looking at the ID tag he smiled at Billy, “This says his name is ‘Lee’. Figure he's any relation?”
“Well, I did get around quite a bit in the Nam, maybe I'm his daddy!”
They laughed as Gauchet and another man loaded the young officer onto a litter. Palermo leaned over and spoke softly to the man in Chinese. Turning to Billy looked serious, “Let's go. We'll need to move fast. When they don't check in, somebody will come lookin’. By that time, I’d feel better if we were far away.”
Billy whistled the signal to withdraw. Immediately, the men faded into the woods, leaving the now naked corpses of the Chinese soldiers lying where they fell. As they passed the crumbling church building, its lawn now overgrown with brush and weeds, Sergeant Palermo caught up with Billy, “We'll feed this guy into the pipeline. HQ will be very happy. You guys did a great job today, very professional.”
“That's why they call us a “well regulated militia,”