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The countdown, going home

Story ID:11322
Written by:Ronnie Eugene Jones (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Fiction
Location:Chi Minh Vietnam
Person:The sergeant
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The countdown, going home

[I haven't been over here for a spell, but I have been writing. Mostly short stories for other sites and contest entries. A lot of my writing doesn't fall into the family genre for this site, so I'll reframe from exposing you to pure works of fiction, but I can connect with this story. Tomorrow is never promised.]

The sergeant threw his bag in the back of the jeep, then hopped in. His stripes were new and looked almost out of place on his faded fatigues that hung loosely on his body. He figured the promotion was nothing more than an enticement to re-up, not that he felt like he hadn't earned them. He looked up, he could hear the erratic whomp, whomp, whomp of a chopper's rotor blades, but he couldn’t locate it, then it dropped out of the sun skimming the tree tops leaving a thin trail of black smoke behind it. He could see the pilot and the cargo bay behind him; it was empty. Bullet holes riddled the thin alum camo painted body and one landing skid was mangled. He took all this in, in one glance. That’s what he was good at; instantly assessing the surroundings and why he was always on point when on patrol. Now, he was going home fifteen pounds lighter than when he had got here. Everybody else had lost a pound or two or stayed the same, but not him. If he had night patrol he was usually so uptight he couldn't eat and he needed all his senses hitting on eight cylinders; all it took was missing one thing out of place to change the seating arrangement on your going home flight from 1st class to a box in the cargo hold.

The private driving the jeep never slowed down; it was like he only knew one speed and that was wide open. The shallow faced sergeant tightened his grip on the jeeps door frame as the driver suddenly swung around a crater in the road, then passed a maintenance hangar as the chopper was just sitting down between the men with fire extinguishers.

A quarter mile down the jarring road the dusty jeep stopped quickly causing more dust to roll across us. He crossed himself looking upward and said “Thank you,” then took a small notebook from his pocket. He wrote his name and state-side address on a page and tour it from the book and handed it to the private. He slid out of the jeep seat, slapped his duffel bag and watched the dust rise before picking it up and said, “You get back, look me up, I won’t be very hard to find. My dad said they were building a new racetrack close by, you’d fit right in”. The private said something, but the jets flying over the tree tops drowned out the words. He waved as the private drove off leaving a trail of dust behind him. He smiled as he watched the guys in the ditch get up off the ground and give the jets a finger then pick up their bags while a sergeant stood there waiting, standing in the middle of the road. 'Fresh meat' he thought. It won’t take them long to know who’s friendly and who’s not. He tugged at a piece of skin that should have been his lower ear lobe. Now there was about an inch missing; he didn’t even know he was wounded until the chopper set down and they were taking off the wounded. He just thought it was somebody else’s blood.

The captain over at headquarters had said the last tents in the back row were transit tents. He found a tent with the front and back flaps tied up. A makeshift sign hung from the tent pole. Someone had a sense of humor, 'Last man to leave turn off the lights'. He looked inside the empty four man tent. All the beds had duffel bags piled on them, but one. So, he didn’t know if the people were incoming or rotating back to the states. He threw his duffel bag on the empty bed. He wasn’t used to such a luxury as this; most times it was a just bunch of sand bags to rest his strung out body on. Damn, he wished he had a joint right now; coming back to civilization was almost as bad as night patrol. But this far back from the front line would get you busted in a minute. Not that he cared if he got busted or not, he just didn’t want anything to screw up his going home.

It would be tomorrow before he could get a ride to Bien Hoa Air Base. He looked at his watch, then got directions to the mess tent and took his place in line and reread his girlfriend’s last letter while standing there. She, use to read parts of his letters to her friends until some said she was dating a barbarian and they didn’t want anything to do with her either.

The line moved up and it wasn’t long before he was standing by a marked up post with initials carved in it with little notches cut in the wood below; ‘Short-timers’ counting off the days until they went home. He had three more days left. Then he heard the whoosh.

He woke up and opened his eyes a week later in a hospital ward in Kaiserslautern, Germany. He didn't remember anything. A nurse came over, seeing he was awake and told him where he was at then went to find a doctor. He looked over at the soldier in the bed next to him. White bandages encased the soldier’s right shoulder; the arm was gone. The soldier said, “Glad to see you’re still with us sergeant, we were lucky. The guys in front of us didn’t make it. They figured the RPG was a wild shot, as nothing else followed. They said you were a short-timer; only three days to go until you went home. Me, I didn't even get to start my countdown," his tone changed,” That was my first damn day in Nam," with that said, he hurled a dented bedpan across the room with precision. It knocked another piece of paint from the green colored wall, matching the other half dozen dents in the wall.

The sergeant watched the bedpan wobble around on the polished floor until it fell flat. He thought, 'War doesn’t discriminate'.