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Chapter 8 – Willie’s Last Mission and the Walk Through the Jungle

Without Glory Logo“Our Mission is to destroy one 750-pound general-purpose bomb located at 72362,” Billings says.

“Execution of task as follows: Demo team, blow the bomb in place with comp C-4 explosives and electrical time fuse. Security element, provide perimeter defense at bomb site. Also, provides point and frontal security in movement and danger areas. Primary route is red, alternate route is blue.”

I draw lines followed by the letter “R”  for our primary route and “B” for the way we’ll go if we run into problems.

Billings continues with the mission briefing and identifies the mission’s call signs, which DJ writes down on a card he’ll tape to his radio’s handset.

“Gentlemen, stay on your toes out there. Let’s all come home alive.” Billings slides his notepad into his pocket. “Saddle-up, we depart in one hour.”

The Padro choppers land one behind the other in a large clearing. The jungle lies to the west of the landing zone.

As I sprint out the back of the Padro, I get a deceptive impression of the elephant grass. The chopper’s backwash has forced the elephant grass nearly flat. When the helicopters lift upward, the grass springs back in place with its sharp teeth. I see only the upper portion of the team member’s bodies in the five-foot-high pasture.

The razor-sharp weed tears at my skin, slicing long gashes into the flesh. Blood trickles from several lacerations, and the stinging goes unnoticed after a while.

The baking sun, producing temperatures of one hundred and thirteen degrees, immediately begins draining my body’s vital fluids. Before long, I’ll start to dehydrate. I don’t know which is worse, the heat or the relenting rain. But whatever the weather, we have a mission to complete.

A-Team moves a short distance before entering the triple canopied jungle. The blinding sunlight fades away, turning into semi-darkness. Soaring, black-brown trees support a canopy of multi-colored foliage like hundred-foot pillars inside an ancient temple. Clinging in the lower levels of the canopy, contorted brown vines twist in every direction. Some dangle like limp tentacles from higher branches, and others stand like proud erections.

As we start into the jungle, the security element splits. I take the lead element as point, with Frenchie and Worm behind me. The demo element, made up of Billings, Smitty, DJ, Doc, Stoney, and Gator, follows us. The rear guard is the other half of my security element: Willie, Tex, and Loverboy.

Each man maintains ten feet intervals between himself and the man to his front and rear. Heavily wooded mountains surround the trail we’re following on both sides. Snake-like vines ensnarl the trunks and trees as if trying to strangle them in some silenced death grip. Irregular strands of bamboo stand clumped together like bundles of lime-green poles. The air smells of sweet mold and rotting vegetation. The ground cover consists of incredibly dense undergrowth, which tangles up our feet.

I fear, at times, we’re making too much noise.

The overgrown terrain is ideal for the VC booby traps we’ve come to fear so much. Even with the knowledge that the Koreans passed this way earlier, we know the VC could’ve slipped in behind them and reset or added booby traps.

A fine spray of mist floating ten inches above the jungle floor makes it more difficult to spot them. Sergeant Billings instructs us to keep a watchful eye out for both trip wires and possible ambush sites.

The trip wires would trigger meticulously laid traps designed to bring pain and death rushing down on anyone in their path. The VC, hidden in ambush sites, could blend into the undergrowth, attacking with devastating surprise when they feel they have the advantage.

The jungle is filled with the noise of buzzing insects and chirping birds. People don’t realize how noisy a tropical rainforest is until they enter one and try to be quiet.

The screeching of the tiny, black monkeys high in the trees rings in my ears as I strain to listen for the enemy, for the natural sounds only people make. But I do not hear them.

The slapping and brushing away of the malaria-carrying mosquitoes wishing to feast on my blood and an occasional snap of a broken twig are the only sounds disturbing the hum of nature. The straps on my rucksack dig into my shoulders as the sweat soaks my uniform. Droplets of sweat pour down my back. More drips down the crack of my butt, causing an uncomfortable prickly sensation.

But my main torment is the insects. Like a special effects-ridden scene from The Ten Commandments, a thick cloud of hungry mosquitoes returns, swarming over my exposed arms and face. I bat them away with my hand as they dart and dive for me. It’s useless. They want my blood.

A gentle rustling of broad leaves catches my attention. I see a small brown furry animal scurry away. High in the canopy, leaves flutter in the whimpering breeze, reflecting light like a billion tiny mirrors. Splinters of sunlight pierce the world of shadows beneath the jungle canopy. They glow a translucent white as they ricochet off the mist of the jungle floor.

We push on, my gritty eyes moving quickly over the silhouetted mountainous jungle terrain, searching for visual references of the enemy or their hideous traps. Our movements are slow and prudent. Slowed down only by possible enemy danger and the moss-encrusted remains of large fallen trees and hanging vines. The vines have sharp, needlelike thorns that slash and stab at exposed skin on my ears, face, and arms. Occasionally, I stop to remove them.

To Be Continued.


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