The platoon moved into the village routinely, it wasn’t the first and surely not the last one the would be clearing this week. A group of soldiers gathered all the civilians in the village center as the rest of us searched the houses. I got partnered up with Tex and we moved towards the first hut. Tex was 6′ blonde hair, blue eyed, 18 year old from Fort Worth, and fancied himself to be a cowboy. We approached the front door.
“After you, partner,” he said with a shit eating grin.
I let out a quiet chuckle and kicked open the door, gun drawn. Tex followed right behind me. The shack was the same as all the others, except for an old Vietnamese man sitting in a rocking chair smoking a cigarette. Seeing no one else in the room I let my gun down.
“C’mon old timer, you gotta go with everyone else,” I yelled at the old man.
He just looked at me with a look of disinterest, took another puff from his cig, and began talking angrily in Vietnamese. Motioning with his ancient finger for Tex and I to leave. Just as I was about to yell for a translator, Tex grabbed the old man and threw him to the ground.
“Listen here you old gook, you listen to us when we tell you to do something,” Tex shouted as he put M16 into the back of the mans neck, then looked to me and said jokingly, “Whatcha think partner? I’d say this old feller might just be pals with old Ho Chi Minh himself.”
“Dammit Tex, lay off him,” I said as I pulled his gun away and picked up the old man, “I’m gonna take him with everyone else, you finish up here and cool down.”
“You better be not going soft on me, anyone of these fucks can be VC,” Tex stated as I carried the old man to the villages center.
I don’t care what the circumstances are, I haven’t gone crazy enough to begin beating up the elderly. Tex was a nice guy, just been on the edge since the last ambush we were in. Suddenly the old man began speaking again. Only this time he seemed to be repeating something over and over again. I tried to ignore as we approached the group of villagers. Two middle aged women saw me and began waving towards me, crying out. Must be his daughters, I sat him down with them and they began to attend to the bruise of his head. He just kept mumbling the same thing over and over still.
All the villagers were accounted for and every house cleared, two shacks were torched for having weapons. The smell of smoke filled my nostrils as I grouped up with the Commander. We began to discuss our route to the next village over the sounds of the crackling fires and crying women. The commander called for the village leader and the translator and show him the map.
“Tell him we need the quickest route to the next village north,” the commander said in a stern tone. The translator relayed the message and the leader began pointing at the map and speaking.
“He says to head east, cross the river, go around the mountain, then follow the river north till the village,” the soldier translated.
“No no no,” the commander shook his head, “That’s going way out of the way, ask him if there’s a way through the valley.” The soldier turned and asked the leader. He shook his head and started talking in a very serious tone, pointing again at the mountain on the map.
“He says, no one enters the valley, it’s not safe,” the translator said confused.
“Ask him why the hell not private, if there’s Viet Cong in that valley we can handle him,” the soldiers began laughing and cheering while the commander remained serious. Again the message was translated, but this time the village leader looked terrified and uttered,
“Well what the hell does that mean?” ask one of the soldiers to the side.
“Devil,” the translator said, a bead of sweat running down his visibly shaken face. The other soldiers burst out laughing. I had seen superstitious villagers before, but this guy was different. I could feel that he was completely terrified of whatever was in that valley. The commander dismissed the villager and looked up at the sky.
“All right fellas, we’re gonna stay here for the rest of the day,” Shouted the commander, “I need some volunteers to scout out the valley.”
“Here Sir!” I shouted without thinking. Something in me wanted to head into that swampy valley. If there was a devil in there, well I think I’d like to meet him. A few other soldiers also stepped forward, including the translator.
“Good,” the commander said as he looked at the scrappy squad that had assembled, “Get one of these gooks to go with you as a guide, I don’t you out there getting lost in some damn swamp.”
“Sir Yes Sir.”
We walked back over to the villagers and the translator asked for volunteers to be our guides. No one seemed too excited to help us out. Then the old man stood up.
“Great, looks like we got our guy,” said of my squad mates sarcastically.
We resupplied and met at the edge of the dense jungle. The jokes and smart remarks died down as we stared into the dark green labyrinth. We all stood there, froze in place, until I stepped forward.
“Well I guess I’ll take point.”
TO BE CONTINUED