The war has lost favor at home, become the political albatross, [ where’d I learn that one?] LBJ shucked, and Nixon claimed he’d bury. I remember now, we’re a marauding band, not a crusading army, but it seems that, for appearances sake, we’ve got to cooperate with the native politicos to preserve order. If we don’t improve the PR, they could close down the show immediately, assassinations, or no assassinations. Civilians have been wasted, villages torched,[ remember Lt. Zippo? ] but I never saw any civilians killed, and it was the NVA that killed the banana farmers at Khe Sanh. We torched an NVA field hospital, and a shed full of commie propaganda, but no hooches, or animals.
We’re in these people’s village, spread out across their fields, here to protect them, but I still don’t see any thanks, or acceptance in their eyes. On the highway by Da Nang, the kids resented the hell out of being called VC, and they hung around for money, for advantage, for talk, not for a chance to kill you. It’s ridiculous, and I know I should spray these assholes, kill them face on, before they shoot me in the back. Police action shit, again, now in a really bad neighborhood. From LBJ, to Thieu, or whoever’s running Nam, to Westmorland or whoever, or Macnamara, or the new guy, Everybody’s turned their backs . Nixon’s plan is about as realistic as hitler’s, if this is what it means: We’re going to roll over, and the gooks will be scared of the ARVN? the public’s not looking at us, they’re watching the war on TV. This is unbelievable; when the NVA breached the lines on 861, it was with the understanding that we were at war. An old guy, looking back, suddenly angered to emotions, says, “ Hey, I thought it was all my fault.” It would be cool to see how Giles is doing; I know he can’t believe I actually came back. I should be over to my position, even if I’ve got enough salt that Delwin won’t give me any shit, and he might even figure that I’m really the team leader, even if all Bell did was leave me there. I can see Giles and Bowers, and maybe Drake, checking out a couple of our Gook visitors. I’ll get over there later, and see what’s what with the squad. At least, I should be able to be a squad leader. A lot of shit is becoming familiar again, the web belt, flak jacket, the shape of a sight , on an m-16, Bamboo, with those cool segments that kids thought were filled with water, a temperature high enough over 100 to trivialize the number. How about, if 98.6 is zero, then going from 104 to 109 doubles the temperature. That’s just a theory. There’s a tree, or brush, mostly bamboo, line less than a hundred meters from the position. I can see these plants now, and I’m telling myself that they are in my mind, and won’t turn into Gooks, or monsters, when the dark comes. Good for me, the first few hours are moving at the speed of civilian life, almost, which means the clock is zooming, and not that much is happening. Tomorrow, probably, it will be a tick, or a tock, at a time, and my mind will shrink back into its bunker. I’m seeing a ton of shit that I don’t need to see, watching the bullshit, instead of always keeping behind the Gooks, and off to the side so these “civilians” can be civilized in a hurry, without damaging any of our guys. This is the Tet offensive, I overhear, and “It’s gonna last .”
"It’s time we went north.”
"Are you crazy?”
“We’ll never end this by standing on the front porch, and shooting at invaders.” These guys don’t think so, or don’t think they would let us go. Is the Z there, to keep the North out, or to keep us in? Where the fuck’s the LBJ trail?
The sun’s setting, before I finally see, up close, one of the guys I knew. It’s Barthol, getting ready to go on LP, hitching his pack, and grimacing. Maybe the grimace is just the face he wears into the bush. He looks odd, like he’s really worried, the look I’ve never seen, of someone sure he’s not coming back, and I’m smiling, to say,”There's nothing to worry about from any scumbag VC,” but there’s no time, LP’s moving out. A distracted grin; the look a condemned man walking to the gallows, eyes on his family, might flash a friend, what the hell have they been running into out here? Last Tet, we finally got them in the open, and kicked their little asses. All anybody at home noticed was, that we were at war. Barthol was probably still in high school, and didn’t know how we felt about it. The LP’s off into the waist high shitty grass, olive drab and camouflage through dead yellow and brown, a great still for the newspaper, if you look at the intense faces that look burnt enough for thirty, and too young for twenty.