Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Ron Orem
I remember the slick coming to a hover over the small perimeter, stopping its flight where the purple smoke and my radio directions indicated. The crew chief and gunner hastily heaving the cases of c-rations, bladders of water, bags of supplies, and some mail in a sand bag. The squad leaders and platoon sergeant quickly gathering the supplies from where they fell to the jungle floor, and just as quickly breaking them down for each squad, each man. The ritual of turning a case of rats over so the labels on the meals can't be read, and every man with an equal chance of the good meals and the bad. The selection of cartons of cigarettes according to each man's preference. The supplies in the sundries pack (shoe laces, toothbrushes, candy, paper, pens) given to those who need them. Stowing the supplies in our rucks, taking a greedy drink of fresh water, still cool, before the jungle heat turned it warm and foul to the taste. Mail being read quickly, tucked into old plastic wrappings by some to try and keep the letters dry and readable for a while before the jungle devoured the paper.
Me, mostly watching to see it was done quickly - the excess piled, unclaimed cans slit with large knives to render them useless, debris in one stack - and making sure that some are still on guard, not distracted by the activity. My rats stowed as quickly as possible. A fresh smoke lit, a letter from home quickly scanned, the Zippo that lit the cigarette held to the edge of the paper until it too goes into smoke and flame. Back to the map, refreshing my memory of the contours of the land it represents, anticipating the next movement into the green wilderness. The pile of unwanted, unneeded set ablaze with a chunk of C-4, burning brightly, leaving nothing useful for the enemy. The point man heading off on the new azimuth, starting the pace count, the watching of the terrain, the smelling of the jungle for the other. Rifle hanging by my side like another hand, another arm. Letter forgotten already, another world that doesn't really exist. Only the jungle now, the slow movement of heavily laden men, dead tired, trying not to be more dead. Eyes grimy with sweat, dirt, and fatigue. Moving as if in deep water with a strong current, as quietly as possible. No talking, nothing clinking, nothing brushing loudly against the vegetation. Ghosts. Twenty minutes have passed, at most, no more. Too long in one place when a slick marks the place for all to see. Time to fade into the trees, to be not seen, not heard, not there.
Ron Orem, who served as an Infantry Rifle Platoon Leader in Viet Nam, now lives in Owings Mills, MD, travels the country on his BMW motorcycle, practices ball room dance, and leads sweat lodges.
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