Raw Man - A Serialized Novel by Fred Rivera

Fred Rivera has a powerful story of the Vietnam War, racism, and PTSD that needs to be shared with the world. As I am an ardent fan, I got his permission to submit the book in chapter form. Direct purchase available.

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3. The Kill

Tags: Vietnam, PTSD, Racism, Latino, Black, California, Draft, C4, ARVNs, AK-47, Ambush, Fresh blood

This chapter (3 of 22) baptizes by blood and broken innocence as Fred deals with “Enemy in the area”. The cost is severe, and to this day Fred pays.

 -Tiffany V.

III

The Kill

 

Thursday, July 23, 1969

 

0600 came and, true to his word, Bobby Haynes had us up and ready to move out.

“Saddle up!” Bobby began yelling at us to get our shit together.

The radio crackled with more chatter than I had ever heard before. I looked up and saw two gunships moving out over the horizon, heading north. I swung myself behind the right-side M-60 machine-gun and looked over at Herman. He smiled. Lt. Cutter pulled alongside of us and Clementi waved at Herman and me. Clementi looked genuinely concerned for our safety. He clearly knew something that we did not.

“Keep your heads together, boys, keep them clear and keep them down.”

He knew about our extensive drug use and during his stint as our track commander he always looked the other way. Today however, his voice had urgency to it. His eyes were wide open with anticipation and he looked as if he wanted to tell us something privately.

He was with Cutter now, and so was privy to more information than any of us had. What did Clementi want to tell us? Why would he care about us? The LT nudged him on the shoulder and they pulled ahead of us. The smell of burning diesel filled the air. Thick black smoke billowed above the tracks as we formed a single line. With our antennas waving high, brushing against the tall banana trees, we moved out slowly and felt ourselves soon showered with falling branches and big thick leaves.

Bobby looked over at me and said, “We’re picking up a squad of South Vietnamese soldiers. ARVNs about 5 clicks from here.”

A low growl spread through the men of C Troop. We hated those bastards. “We’re running single file through a string of VC base camps. Radio silence from here on out. Protect the flanks. Fred, you have the right rear. Herman, left rear.” Maybe that’s why Clementi seemed so concerned: he wanted us to protect his ass.

We hooked up with First and Second Platoon and moved slowly into the first base camp. It still appeared to be deserted. With all of our firepower, it seemed unlikely that anybody would return. We moved on slowly. The abandoned base camp, littered with bloodstained rags and torn shirts, gave the impression that the VC had used this place for treating their wounded. A group of bunkers covered with sandbags ran in a semicircle around the trail. On the right side of the complex I saw a spider hole. It once had been covered with such ingenious camouflage that it would have been unnoticeable to our still untrained eyes. Now, it stood there wide-mouthed as if asking us to come down and inspect it. We moved on slowly to the ARVN pick-up point.

“There they are.” Herman was the first to see them. What a sorry bunch. A seemingly small, dirty, ragtag army. That was my first impression. It got worse. They just kept coming. They were legs—infantry men—and they were notorious cowards. They also smelled horrible. We were not the perfect examples of proper field hygiene. These guys, however, didn’t look like they had bathed in months.

“You gemme go? You gemme go?” They kept asking this over and over again. Finally, I understood what they wanted. They were dog tired. They wanted a lift.

“Okie dokie. You number one? Yes? You kill VC?” I wanted to know. We helped as many onto our track as we could fit. Still they kept coming. We started to push the extras over the top. As they scrambled to fill all of the other tracks in Third Platoon there were still about fifteen left with nowhere to sit. It became a brutal kind of musical chairs. When the music stopped and there remained no more empty seats, you stayed behind and died. They panicked and started climbing back onto the vehicles, desperately searching for an empty spot. Bobby drew his .45 and fired a round into the air. They stopped scrambling. Lt. Cutter ran back to see what all the commotion was about.

“Look, sir, there just isn’t any more room back here. They’ll restrict our field of fire.” God, I was learning how to speak Army. A lot of good that did me.         

“Pile ’em on and when we hit the base camp you may dismount them.”

“Throw them off, sir?”

The LT walked away. We piled them on and moved out. Bobby slipped the .45 back into his holster. I was thinking, man I should grab that .45 someday and take it home. No one will ever miss it. What a great souvenir.

I looked up and noticed a sixteen-year-old boy looking at me. He had the Army of the Republic uniform on and filthy green socks and sandals. His helmet liner was stuffed with tree branches and leaves for a very impressive camouflage. Draped across his shoulders were two bandoleers of ammunition. This pip-squeak was carrying a heavy load. He took off his sandals and socks and I spotted the jungle rot on his feet. Three toenails on his left foot were missing. The skin on his feet was a mixture of green, dark red and black. As he massaged his feet, he had a toothless smile of genuine relief. He gave it to me. I refused it.

“GI numba one,” he said. “Numba one USA.” He waved his free hand around in a broad wave over the troop. Yes, we were number one. No doubt about it. We had so much firepower sitting on that trail and so much more in the air with the helicopter gunships, we felt invincible. I looked down at his feet. He was rubbing his left foot again, trying to get some circulation back and clean off the rot. He still had the smile.

We stopped suddenly. The lead elements had entered Base Camp No. 2. Herman lit a pipe and we took a few hits. The Vietnamese just looked at us. We were used to this stop-and-go routine. A few people would dismount, clear the bunkers, and we would be on our merry way. Suddenly the radio popped.

“All units, be advised, enemy activity in the area.”

Shit, I hated those words.

The radios started chattering again. So much for radio silence. Now the word was coming down the line to dismount the ARVNs. We did.

Di di,” Haynes started yelling. “Di di mao!” They didn’t move. “Get the fuck off of my vehicle, now!” They didn’t respond to English any better than they did to the Vietnamese. Bobby yelled some more. Herman flew into a rage. He started cussing loudly and throwing them off the track onto the ground. Herman looked skinny but he was tall and strong. He picked them up by their shirts and flung them over the side. The kid with the bad feet still sat there smiling. Bobby pulled the .45 from his holster and pointed it at his head. He jumped overboard. We sent them out to check the bunkers. We were deep into Vietcong-held territory. At the front of the column somebody reported a cooking fire burning.

Bobby pointed to the very last bunker on the right side. The boy walked over like he was strolling in the park and without even taking his rifle off his shoulder, peered into the bunker.

I stood alone on the back of the track watching the little boy with sore feet. He stuck his face into the bunker opening and in a flash of light his head exploded. I smelled the white smoke and burned flesh. The sound of an AK-47 assault rifle rang out in my ears. My boy fell backward, and to my surprise, the Vietcong that shot him jumped up and started running across my field of fire. Time ceased to exist. All I could do was fixate on him. All movement was reduced to single-frame imagery. I stood there behind my M-60 machine-gun. I didn’t move. I watched. I saw in detail all of the events unfolding before me.

The Vietcong darted out of the bunker wearing black pajamas and sandals made from truck tires. His pajamas had become caked with dry mud and fresh blood along the side of his leg. His black shirt was torn around the sleeve, as if someone had grabbed him there and he had broken free. I randomly wondered how it happened. He wore a straw peasant hat, wide at the brow with a red bandanna tied around his forehead. He was really digging in, running with everything he had and churning up mounds of mud in his wake. He glanced up and noticed me sitting there very still and quiet. One eye was almost swollen shut from a gash across his eyebrow. He wasn’t zigzagging or trying to be elusive. He was running in a straight line to the edge of the clearing. He carried something in his right hand. All this was happening in slow motion.

At that moment, there was not a sound in my world.

I glanced to my left and saw the white cloud of gunsmoke still lingering in the air. I looked again and realized what the VC held in his right hand. It was the same AK-47 that he had just used on the boy. My heart was pounding, blood pumping through my veins rushing to my trigger finger. The world remained in slow motion. My head spun out of control.

I’m going to kill him.

I can’t kill another human being. This is a father or brother or son. How could I ever live with myself? I can’t kill. I can’t kill. I began to cry.

He stopped running and pointed the rifle at me.

My first burst of fire cut him in half.

The sound of my gun discharging woke me out of my trance. I became conscious of Herman and Bobby hitting me over the head. They were yelling.

“You killed him!” Bobby screamed.

“Shot the motherfucker up his ass!” Herman’s eyes opened wide and danced around the scene.

I looked at them. A huge smile crossed Bobby’s face. A genuine happiness spread through the track crew. Even Billy Henderson stuck his upper body up over the driver’s hatch and gave Herman a high-five. I felt like a baby that took a crap in the toilet for the very first time. Everyone became so proud of me.

“You’re a big boy, now, yes,” pinching my cheek, making those eyes at me. “You’re a big boy, now, mijito.”

Thoughts of any right or wrong ceased to exist for me. No lingering doubts about my circumstances remained. I had arrived at war and it all just boiled down to survival. No thoughts of love and peace crossed my mind when Charlie aimed his rifle at me. Since the beginning of mankind, it had been kill or be killed. There it is.

Lt. Cutter looked at the dead kid and the VC. He reported the body count to headquarters, “Two confirmed enemy KIAs. No friendly casualties.”

I started breathing again, astonished at his statement. How convenient for the Americans that they all looked the same. Well, they could have been related for all I knew. This was a civil war and we were right in the middle of it. Vietnam was a war of attrition and the only thing that matters was that at the end of the day we report a high body count.

We moved on. First Platoon had the lead and we found Base Camp No. 3. It was not unoccupied. I was still thinking about the events that just went down when a cacophony of AK-47s and RPGs startled me back into the present.

“Ambush!” somebody cried.

Herman and I opened fire at an unseen enemy. I shot an empty hammock. Herman killed a bowl of rice. First Platoon started coming back alongside of us so I stopped firing. It only took ten minutes. I saw the guys in First Platoon stacking twelve dead Vietnamese. Four more were captured and blindfolded. Lt. Cutter called in another body count. I couldn’t help wondering how many of the dead were really on our side. It had been quite a day. Exhausted, I watched as Clementi unsheathed his knife and walked toward the bodies. Closing my eyes, I collapsed on the floor of the track.

 

***   ***   ***

This is Fred’s raw world, characters and setting unadorned but for the layer of racism, horror and war. It stinks of it, and yet you will not put it down. You will not want to. It is for this reason that Raw Man is a Pulitzer Prize nominee, and has already received the Isabel Allende Mariposa Award for Best New Fiction at the International Latino Book Award.

If you would rather not wait for the next installment, you may purchase a signed copy of Raw Man and for 19.95, go to http://rawmanthebook.com/buy-the-book/. For the e-book version (only 5.95), go to http://awordwithyoupress.com/store/raw-man/.

 

This chapter submission is brought to you by:
A Word With You Press
Publishers & Purveyors of Fine Stories in the Digital Age
 


 

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