For those who are interested enough to read this story, I would like to place some food for thought on the table.
When I sat down and this story came out of my head I was working on an entirely different story from a different time and place. It took about two hours to get down on paper before I went back to the story I was working on. When I picked up the story and read it the next day I was stunned.
It was about November 18th or 19th, 2015. Which probably wouldn’t mean very much to most people, but it was fifty years to the day from the end of the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley.
The story I was working on is about a soldier who returned from VietNam and was having some personal problems at work and home.
“Hey Rummy! How da hell ya been? Haven’t seen you in years. More’n half my life anyhows.”
Who is that? Sounds familiar, like somebody I should know. I just heard that in my head, there was no sound and the ringing in my ears is gone. Last thing I remember is a slight pain across my chest.
I haven’t been called Rummy in fifty years or more. How did I get that handle? Oh yeah! I drank Rum and Coke cause it was cheap. “My name is Randall, Charles Randall,” I retorted in the same angry voice I had used fifty some years ago.
Turning to look at my tormentor, I saw several hundred men sitting on a large dome-like hill more than a mile in diameter. Looking at the men on the hill I recognized them all. Some were in fatigues and some in civilian clothes. It was a lush green hill at the start of the Jungle. Somehow it looked familiar and yet was a lot different from the last time I was here. It had been burned black and brown in my memory.
There stood Brad Rice, a blonde short guy and second platoon radio man. He and I didn’t like each other from the first time we met in basic training. Never could stand to be close to him. Fact is whenever we came within arm’s length of each other there was usually a scuffle. The rest of the company kinda made sure we didn’t get close. At least he had a smile on his face now, and somehow he didn’t look as menacing as usual. In fact he almost looked friendly.
There stood Jerry Jackson, who had gone through Basic Training with us and had been a saxophone player. Usually a neat well kept guy from Kalamazoo. He was covered in sand and mud, standing at the base of the hill. Jerry and I had been standing next to my fox hole, talking at breakfast after ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ finished the battle of the Ia Drang Valley. “Jerry, what happened, I haven’t seen you since that mortar landed between us?”
“Nothin’ happened to me Eagle, I been here ever since.”
Eagle was my call sign back then. With another look I saw Lt. Ragger and Captain Muller. Both were sharp and neat as any officer. There was Sergeant Rollin, too.
“Captain, what happened, last I heard you were in Flint?”
“I was on my way back from visiting Sgt. Keatland in Colorado when my car was hit by a cement truck, so here I am. He had a fight with cancer, you know.” It was still more thought than sound from the Captain.
“Yeah, I knew, I see him on Facebook almost every month. He’s real fond of his grandkids and posts a lot of their pictures.”
“Lt. Ragger, what happened to you, I thought you were goin’ to make a career of the Army?”
“Naw, I was goin’ back to West Virginia when I got out, that other bit was just ta get the enlisted guys ta re-up. I found a Claymore aimed the wrong way in a vil we attacked up near Bhn Khe, never got back to the real world.” The world or real world is what most of us called home.
“Hey Captain, where are the rest of us, I know Gary Leats is still just outside Toledo, and Fargo still lives in Northern Michigan in the summer, and travels southwest during the winter and Mallory Mount still lives in Lansing. I haven’t seen Andy Monte since that week in Grayling. How come they’re not here and just where the hell is this?”
“Look around Randall, we were all here fifty years ago. Those of us that are able try and make it back here this week. Sorta special to some of us.”
“What the hell is so special about this week, and the area around this hill reminds me of - - . Wait a minute was this area about five or six hundred feet higher before?” I remembered Air Force F 4’s making a mole hill out of what looked like a mountain.
“You’re startin to get the idea troop.” Sgt. Rollin caught my attention. He was black, over six foot tall, the sternest and fairest sergeant I’d ever met. That is unless you were black. He expected every man in his platoon to be excellent, but if you were black he expected perfection.
“Gary told me you caught a fifty cal in the stomach up near Phu Bye.” I responded.
“Nearly right, it was closer to the DMZ, but I don’ remember much about getin’ hit or anything cept the helicopter ride, that felt like a bed of knives. Kinda wish you had been with us that day. The radio man that replaced you never knew where he was on the map and couldn’t read it either. You might have had an even chance of takin’ that gun out with artillery. Maps was the one thing you were good at.”
Looking directly at Sergeant Rollin I ask, “You mean that everyone here is, well ah, I mean are we all ah?”
“If you mean dead or no longer among the living, you are correct.” It was the Captain looking at me. “With the exception of you, who seem a little fuzzy around the edges. You may not be totally with us yet.” He continued, “Remember, you were here with all of us fifty years ago today. A week from next Thursday is Thanksgiving.”
He finished and sat back down next to Lt Strong. A kind of energy seemed to encompass me and I was in a hospital bed with my wife holding my hand. She had tears in her eyes.
“You know I can’t stand a cryin’ woman.” I said.