Without Glory -Written by Ken Smits.
I watch the lone shadowy figure clad in black garments cross the third fence. He’s less than thirtyfive feet from our position. He has now entered our kill zone according to the guidelines from Control. “Waste him,” Sergeant Adams whispers. “What?” I flinch, turning towards him. “Why me?” I freeze, my mind suddenly blank. Sergeant Adam’s sarcastic whisper rings in my ears, “Cause it’s your turn, Newbee.”
Looking down through the aiming sights of my M16 assault rifle at a target is nothing new. I’ve spent countless hours on the firing range. I must have ‘blown away’ a thousand or more targets, but this is different. This is a living, breathing human being with dreams the same as mine. I try to think of the steps to take when firing.
All I can remember is: ‘Sight on dead-center mass, breathe, and squeeze.’
Or is it ‘squeeze, and breathe?’ It’s all jumbled up in my head. This target is not simulated. It is flesh and blood. I continue to track him through my rifle sight, attentively following every move the man makes. He’s being cautious-stopping; standing still for what seems to be an eternity. Then he moves again. After a few steps, he stands motionless again. Only his eyes move, scanning left, right and then forward. The VC never looks up towards us. What’s he thinking? Doesn’t he see the tower silhouetted in the moonlight? Or its dark black shadow cast on the gray damp ground at his feet? Does he not know someone is sighting him in, like a lamb led to slaughter?
Someone intends to end his life tonight. What does he think he’s going to do before this night is over? Does he know he’ll die tonight? Does he have a wife, kids, or family? He must have a mother. Everyone has a mother. Is he thinking of her?
My heart pounds uncontrollably. It feels as if it’s going to jump right through my chest! I know Sergeant Adams and the VC can hear my heart pounding. It sounds like a drum in my ears. Why doesn’t he look up? Why doesn’t he run away? I can always kill someone else, later. I don’t need to kill tonight. Not tonight! ‘Run you son of a bitch! Please run away, pl-ee-ase, do it now,’ Am I sweating because of fear or has it started raining again? Can Sergeant Adams see that I’m unsteady? Or, perhaps afraid? Am I being still? Has the breeze picked up or am I shaking? ‘Please run away, little yellow man! Go to your family, now before it’s too late for both of us. God, please….oh please make him run away!’
The VC is now less than twenty-five feet from the tower. I’m practically looking straight down on him. I have to lean over the edge of the rail to see him. I tell myself, ‘think, think, think, damn-it! Think! Come on, asshole, see the legs of the tower?? Your enemy is up here with guns! My hands tremble, by body shudders, my mouth is dry like I’ve been sucking on cotton balls. Yet, it is filled with the coppery taste of panic.
I hear voices—my voice– inside my head. ‘God, please, steady me and give me the courage to pull the trigger.’ I hope I’m thinking and not mumbling out loud. I can’t think logically; twisted thoughts jumble together. I’m asking God to help me kill. Somehow that doesn’t make sense to me. However,God does love his soldiers. Someone told me that once. “C’mon, shoot the bastard, Smits!” Sergeant Adams voice rings in my ear. It sounds like he is screaming at me, but the VC on the ground STILL does not look up. “Pull the damn trigger and waste him before he sees us,” Sergeant Adams urges me on.
“Now, Newbee! Do it now!” Suddenly fear strikes again. It’s a different feeling like an angry outburst in my head. What if he has a friend watching me? A VC Sniper prepared to put a round between my eyes if it appears I’m ready to fire on his friend? That could be why the VC hasn’t looked up at us. While Sergeant Adams and I have been watching him, someone else could’ve been sneaking into place right under our noses.
The other enemy soldier could have me in his sights right this second. I could be the dead one in the flicker of an eye. I hope Sergeant Adams has been searching the area for the other VC. I cannot take my eyes off my target, my living, breathing target for fear he’ll look up at that very second, and kill me. Too many things going on in my mind at the same time and none of them make sense. Damn!
The front blade of my M16 is centered on his chest. I take up the slack on the trigger, ‘Whack!’. A single explosion from my rifle breaks the silence, startling me.
The yellow-white fireball that has erupted from the recoiling barrel immediately in front of my intently focused eyes has temporarily destroyed my night vision. The slight kick in my shoulder jars me back to reality, or ushers me deeper towards insanity. My mind cannot distinguish the difference. “Breathe-damnit, breathe, breathe, breathe!” I command myself.
Sergeant Adams’ voice splinters the haze yelling, “Yes, damn good shot, newbee! What took you so long? He almost crawled up our ass.” He slaps me on the back. “Go check the body, Deadeye. I’ll notify Control. Hot damn, KIA!” His voice is filled with cheerfulness as if I just hit the ball over the fence in the bottom of the ninth with two outs.
The descent down the staircase feels like five hundred feet instead of fifty. The twenty-five feet to the corpse feels like a mile. I point my rifle at the figure of a man. Standing above the body, I realize it no longer resembles a man, because, it’s not. It’s death….real death… not play death like in the movies.
I kneel on one knee next to the lifeless VC. The stillness is frightening. Thick, red liquid saturates his clothing and the ground around him. I flop down just inches from him, the damp ground penetrating my pants soaking my bottom as I stare helplessly at the corpse. A short time ago, this was a living,, breathing person, no one special to the world.
He was just a man, like me.