Pete added. “It’s a supply route to our troops north of Saigon. The Marines are always fighting Charlie for control of it.”
Dee looked down on strategically placed tanks and armored personnel carriers.
Buzz continued, “Our planes drop bombs on either side of the road. Charlie takes a hit, but he keeps comin’.”
“The Purple Heart, that’s a Presidential Award for bravery.” Dee struggled to make conversation. The war was becoming a reality.
Pete spoke.“Every solider wounded by the enemy gets a P-Heart. Get three of them and they’ll reward you with a trip home, walking or on a stretcher.”
“That’s mighty generous,” Dee retorted. “And a tall tale?”
Pete shook his head and glanced at Buzz.
“Tell her about Hank.”
Buzz took out a rolled marijuana cigarette. He made no attempt to hide it. He screwed up his face and an angry look prevailed.
“Hank was messed up real bad. He lost part of his left arm. Well, this General gave a Purple Heart to the guys on each side of Hank. The bastard didn’t even acknowledge Hank.”
“Why?” Dee looked aghast.
“Hank was unlucky to get hit by friendly fire. No Purple Heart if our side does the wounding.”
Dee was indignant. “That’s unfair!”
There’s nothing fair in love and war,” replied Pete nonchalantly.
Dee redirected her gaze down to the scattered villages and paddy fields. There were areas of scorched land and huge bomb craters.
Pete spoke. “It gets really chaotic after villages are bombed. The Gooks head for Saigon. They can’t farm any more.”
Dee stared at Pete. Gook was a derogatory term.
He continued. “If a village is pro-American, Charlie will kill everyone. He’ll take whatever food he wants.”
“Yeah,” Buzz added, “Those Gooks can’t win. If we think they’re Charlie friendly, we’ll move in, kill the livestock and burn the village. Gooks ain’t like you and me.”
Dee turned away remembering her Mennonite dress and taunts from children at school. “Why can’t you be like us? Why are you so different?”
“How do your folks view the war, Lieutenant?”
Dee turned to face Buzz. “They’re farmers. Their religion makes them pacifists.”
“Nothing against your folks,” continued Buzz. “But, the protestors back home are scum. They’re hippies, drug addicts andqueers. The sons of the rich and powerful never get drafted, they just extend their college education. They can even fail and repeat enough times to see the war through.”
Pete blurted out, “I blame the Commies that have infiltrated the American media.”
“Right on!” interjected Buzz.
The gunner was looking at Pete and Buzz and pointing below him. They moved behind the gunner and the three men were cheering. Dee balanced herself carefully, holding on to the strap. There were no seats. This allowed for more litters of wounded men. Dee looked below at the flames and smoke as a plane circled for another run at the thick jungle vegetation.
Dee was the first to return to sit down on the floor. She knew from her training that Napalm burned on flesh and was hard to extinguish. Civilians in war were always victims of bombing mistakes.
Pete moved beside her and shouted.
“We use napalm to clear vegetation and flush out Charlie. What does television show? It shows villages in flames. We’re shown as the bad guys!”
“Yeah,” added Buzz. “They don’t show the Gooks as farmers by day and guerillas by night.”
Dee was troubled by the callous attitude. “But the victims are innocent, like your mothers and siblings back home.”
Pete’s voice grew angry.“Gooks ain’t like us. They strap bombs onto kids. One of our grunts picks up a laughing child and boom, he’s fuckin’ dead.”
Pete apologized for his language, then added. “Well, not all gooks are killers. Sometimes, the Vietcong invades a village and they strap the kids with booby traps.”
“But, those must be isolated incidents,” Dee protested.
Pete studied her intensely.
“Wait until you find the maids sneaking ammo into the compound, or booby-trapping your hutch. You come back after saving soldier’s lives, open the door to sleep, and boom, you’re joining the angels.”