The Bomb Crater by Mike Mulholland

Viet Nam, I Corps Tactical Zone, March, 1969

I was drafted into the U.S. Army on December 11, 1967. Basic training was at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Advanced Infantry Training followed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and from there it was on to NCOC training at Fort Benning, Georgia.

I deployed to Viet Nam for my one-year tour of duty around September 21, 1968, and from there I was picked for special training at British Jungle Warfare School (BJWS) in Malaysia. After some of the most arduous training that the Army had to offer it was back to Viet Nam, December 1968, reporting to the 101st Airborne Division as a member of the 557th Combat Tracker Platoon.

The Tracker Platoon’s duties were to be called into a situation where the Infantry had made contact with the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), and more often than not that situation involved a blood trail left by the retreating enemy. We would get the call and be on the Chopper Pad in 5 minutes where a chopper, usually a Huey, would give us a 20 to 30-minute ride into the A Shau Valley. If the chopper could not land in the jungle, we would rappel from the chopper to reach the waiting infantry outfit.

At this point we would assume the point position and follow the blood trail until we would reengage the enemy. This was a very stressful job as we would always be on point. We lost many of our team members along the way, either K.I.A. or W.I.A.

I was quickly awarded my Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB), an insignia that indicated that I had been under direct fire from the enemy. I had already engaged the enemy many times before March, when our unit became part of a large battalion-sized operation that the 101st executed in the A Shau Valley.

This operation was the first foray into the A Shau since the First Cav had left there two years prior. The A Shau Valley, it was a great place – for the NVA. They had long used it for a highway to link North Viet Nam to Saigon and the southern parts of South Viet Nam. In fact, the 101st found a road through there that we nicknamed the Yellow Brick Road. They had trucks, machine shops, farms, a hospital complex with a cache of medical supplies and all kinds of supporting trades. Its close location to the Laotian border made the NVA very slippery for the U.S. forces to pin down. It was also the location of Hamburger Hill, which had an upcoming date with history in another 2 months.

On the first day our insertion was carried out by a fleet of Bell UH-1 choppers, the Army’s reliable workhorse, better known as the Huey. These Hueys had been requisitioned from every infantry division in the I Corps Tactical Zone. The choppers bore not only the Screaming Eagle of our own Division but included the insignias from the Americal Division, the 5th Mechanized, the 1st Cavalry, and a bunch of others that I don’t remember. There were even some Marine choppers in the mix. This was a big push into the daunting A Shau Valley.

In flight, I was caught up in a whirlwind of surreal proportions as I sat in the open door of the chopper with my feet dangling out over the skids and the noise of the chopper jacked up my adrenaline. Below us lay the uneven top of the triple canopy jungle like a brilliant green long pile carpet. Across the open air, I looked over to see other members of the 101st in their respective choppers, close enough for me to see the pimples on the smiling face of the young trooper who was waving to us. Poor kid, 18 years old by my guess; maybe he thought we were going on a picnic. My God, we were flying in formation. This seemed like a joke as everything in this country was like a pile of jigsaw pieces that needed to be placed in order.

The LZ was hot, but not too hot, as the choppers flared in and we jumped off. A staff sergeant awaited us and was bent over against the wash of the chopper blade while trying to hold his steel pot squarely on his head. Shots rang out here and there as we followed his urgent signals to our position in the rapidly forming perimeter. We hunkered down at the ready over a sheer drop off into the jungle. I was in the prone position, very alert, and had my M-16 ready to fire should an NVA target present himself.

About 2 feet from me I saw some movement in the undergrowth. Son of a bitch, it was a snake. Not very big, but very deadly. A Bamboo Viper, evil looking and heading right towards me. I tapped my team member on the arm to show him that it was getting close. He started freaking out. Some kind of snake phobia, I guess. I looked around, summed up my chances to get away with what I was about to do and gave myself the green light. I flipped the safety off my M-16 and leaned forward, placing the barrel of the rifle as close to the head of my deadly stalker as I could. I took one more look around to make sure no rank was near us and pop, no more Mr. Nasty. Luckily, the noise from my single shot was missed in the overall confusion. I refused a kiss and took a hug from my buddy as we got the word to move out.

Our tracker teams were split up and we wished each other well as we were paired up with the infantry unit, we would be working with in the various parts of the A Shau Valley. Our team consisted of a Black Lab tracker dog, along with his handler and a visual tracker. Completing the team were two cover men, one for the dog handler and one for the visual tracker. My job during this operation was cover man for our visual tracker, Sgt. Bobby Baldwin (a.k.a. Chief), a full-blooded Navajo Indian and our team leader. When Chief was tracking, I walked behind him as he looked for signs that the NVA had left. I looked past him, hopefully to spot any enemy that may be lying in wait for us.

The tracker team took point if there was a blood trail and if there was no Scout Dog. On our current mission we did have a Scout Dog, a German Sheppard named Bizz, and his handler Sgt. Leroy Jackson. Sgt. Jackson didn’t have a cover man, so I was somehow appointed to the job. We had a few days filled by scattered engagements with the NVA. No casualties, which was a good thing, but things were about to change. Jackson and I worked well together. We could communicate with the unspoken word of a hand signal or a head bob where quiet was the optimal mode.

The next day before we headed out, Headquarters prepped our route with a couple of AH-1 Cobra Gunships. These gunships were either equipped with rocket pods carrying 72 2.75” rockets or the M129 grenade launcher, which fired 40mm grenades at the rate of 400 per minute. Their pride and joy, however, which ground troops appreciated most was the M134 miniguns that cranked out up to 4000 rounds per minute. They didn’t sound like any kind of a rifle or gun you’ve heard before; they made a loud grinding noise when they fired and the tracer rounds lit the path of the bullets fiery red. Every fifth bullet was a red tracer round and the rate of fire made their path look seamless. This helped the Cobra pilots direct their fire as they circled above the jungle canopy to lay down their payload ahead of us.

We started out on the planned route and I was amazed what a good job those Cobra gunships had done. It looked like there wasn’t a leaf on a tree or bush that didn’t have a bullet hole in it. Any waiting NVA ambushes got surprised by this tactic; it helped us make good time. Forward progress came to a halt when we came to a bomb crater that was on our route. A call was placed to headquarters and the ensuing discussion resulted in the infantry platoon leader, let’s call him Lieutenant Ardone, coming up to Jackson and I with a pointed finger on the end of his extended arm and the words, “Let’s go Scout Dog. You and your cover man move out and we will follow.” His finger was aimed top-dead-center on the bomb crater.

This crater was the biggest one that I had seen in-country. I didn’t know the weight of the bomb that made the crater, or what kind of an aircraft delivered it, but it looked more like the scar of a comet that had pummeled the earth. The huge area of ruptured brown earth looked so out of place surrounded by the vibrant green of the jungle. The crater started near the apex of a hill and spread out in a flare pattern near the bottom. It was at least as long as a football field from top to bottom, and at least a third that much across, getting wider at the bottom. Jackson and I asked the Lieutenant if we couldn’t go around the fringe on one side or the other of the crater. This would give us more cover and we promised it would not take as long as going up the center of the crater.

While he mulled it over, we looked at the hardened faces of his men, the Grunts, who had stayed in the jungle for months on end. Their faces ranged in color from white to almost black but that didn’t matter; it was in their eyes that told the story. There was no sympathy for us in their eyes. I got that: they didn’t know us and they had no emotional investment in us. I didn’t blame them. If somebody was going home in a body bag it was better if they didn’t know them well. Jackson and I were interlopers in their world. We may have point while we were there, but we came in and out often and had a hot shower and a hot meal waiting for us at Camp Eagle, our base.

Finally, the Lieutenant turned toward us, giving us the full force of his presence. He was a ruggedly handsome leader; he had a few days stubble on his muscular face and he reeked of authority. But an unlit cigar stub in the corner of his mouth? Who the hell did he think he was? John Wayne, Aldo Ray…give me a break.

He spoke, “I got my orders and you got yours.”

Jackson and I turned to the bomb crater to start this dangerous and absurd ascent. The faintest of words on the decibel scale got into my head by way of my ears. I don’t know who said them but they did have a tinge of Ebonics, “White Cracka.” A whisper escaped my lips, “Yeah, White Cracka.” I looked over at Jackson and his dark face had the faintest of smiles as we started our ascent of the bomb crater.

These moments I will never forget. The raw fear that I felt was tempered with the strenuous physical exertion of climbing that steep sand pit. For every two steps Jackson and I took we slid back one. Jackson was kept off balance by Bizz, who was tugging on the leash that was tethered to Jackson’s hand. This exacerbated our predicament as we were in the middle of a wide-open area with no cover. Any NVA in the area would have all the advantage. I swiveled my head back and forth 180 degrees hoping to spot something, anything, to give us a reason to lay down and start firing at the enemy before they took us upright and helpless. Sweat streamed from our faces in the hottest part of the day in that sweltering jungle heat as Jackson and I struggled on the incline while trying to keep the load of our rucksacks high on our backs.

Something my Dad once said popped into my head. It was about eight years earlier, on a Sunday morning, when I was 14.

“Why do I have to go to church, Dad? I don’t believe in God,” I said defiantly.

“Well, you are going to church anyway, and remember this: there is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole.”

My Dad, a World War II veteran. Yeah, okay, I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about but I went off to attend mass at St. Peters church despite my defiance.

This day, in that bomb crater, I got his time-delayed message. A thought ran through my mind, “Please, God, give me strength.”

I thought of my girlfriend Janet, my Mom, my Dad, my brothers and sisters, and our happy house in Saratoga Springs, New York. These were pleasant thoughts and they helped me divert the fear. It was a mental game. Crowd out the paralyzing fear, gain control of your mind and be ready to act or react as the case may be. As we got closer to the top the NVA’s opportunity to ambush us was shrinking in direct proportion to our exposure. For the first time I turned around to look behind us and said to myself, “Jesus, talk about a couple of canaries in a coal mine.” Those infantry guys were a long way back from me and Jackson.

Near the top of the hill there was about a four-foot parapet that we needed to scale. Silently, Jackson and I off-loaded our rucksacks and together hoisted the nearly 100-pound Bizz up the sheer drop-off and placed him on the peak. His feet had barely touched the ground when he whirled around, snapped off a growl, and let out a menacing bark. With bared teeth, he was all business as he scrambled towards our left.

Bizz had sprung the ambush. AK-47 rounds were flying everywhere and the whoosh of an RPG round went by our heads, harmlessly exploding beyond our position. We got the best cover we could as we returned fire. The guys in the infantry quickly swarmed from the rear, joining the fray and driving the NVA from their position.

Jackson and I helped each other to the top. A few feet away lay the lifeless body of Bizz. We both stood there realizing that we were the targets that the NVA had wanted. Thank you, God, and thank you Bizz.

Headquarters decided to set up a night perimeter on the hill that we had just taken, so Jackson and I sat ourselves down using our rucksacks as a back rest. We slaked our thirst from our canteens. The water was warm, but it was wet and felt good. My mood was bordering on giddy as I had seen my death sentence commuted to a close call.

Instantly, I was ashamed of myself for failing to pick up on Jackson’s glum mood. He was in mourning for Bizz, his best friend. Every waking day in Viet Nam, Jackson took care of his canine partner. In the jungle he carried Bizz’s food and water. In the rear, at base camp, he fed him, watered him, groomed him, exercised him and (Bizz’s least favorite) flea dipped him.

Jackson and I had dug our foxhole in a spot on the perimeter that L.T. Ardone had dropped by and pointed out to us. We laid out our security to the front of our foxhole. First, we strung up the trip wires tight and tied them to the pins on the trip flares. Finally, we set the claymore mines, ran their wires back to the foxhole and hooked them up to the hand generators that were used to detonate them. Now we were ready for any night visitors.

The heavy work was done and it was time for chow. Jackson and I tossed our rucksacks and assessed our inventories of C-rations and LRRP meals. We bartered a few items and began to eat. It was a somber meal as Jackson laid out between us the food he had carried for Bizz. “He was a good boy,” Jackson said as he dabbed the moisture from his eyes with the corner of the olive drab towel that always hung around his neck.

“What the LT say about burying Bizz?” Jackson asked, referring to an earlier conversation that we had with the Lieutenant. Bizz’s body lay just outside the perimeter, not far from us, where he was dropped during the ambush. I thought it was a no brainer. What else could be done with Bizz’s body?

“He said that he would get back to us,” I answered, while thinking about setting up the night’s watch schedule with Jackson. The standard for a night was two hours on, two hours off, and good luck quietly waking up your partner.

We were interrupted by a couple of members of the Infantry Company. It was still light but every one talked in whispers and stayed low.

One of them addressed Jackson. “Hey Man, sorry about your dog but he did save your lives and maybe some of ours,” he said while unscrewing the top off a half-full pint bottle of Old Mr. Boston whiskey and offering it to Jackson.

His partner leaned over, put his hand on Jackson’s shoulder and said, “Bizz was a good one, Jackson. Sorry.”

Jackson nodded his head in acknowledgement. “Thanks,” he said as he passed the bottle to me.

As they turned to leave, I held out their bottle and one of them waved me off, “It’s yours, Man.”

It was an infantry wake. Share the pain, share the bottle, and know deep down these men always had your back. Two by two the other men from the infantry company stopped by our fox hole to show Jackson their respect for him and Bizz. We passed the bottle until it was empty and I heard testimonials by these men how, at one time or another on other missions, Bizz had alerted to a deadly ambush and saved lives. I was held in awe of Jackson and Bizz, left out of the conversation, my only purpose to mentally record the evening.

Mother nature was fast pulling down the night shade and it was time to either sleep or pull watch. This was Jackson’s day so I gave him the choice and he was asleep before I fumbled in the dark and located the hand generators that would blow our claymores if we got a night visit from the NVA.

The night, and our watch rotation, passed without incident. My final wakeup call was Jackson’s hand on my shoulder rocking me back and forth and him saying, “Hey man, you gonna sleep all day?”

I pulled the poncho liner off my head and there sat a bare-chested Jackson on the edge of the foxhole, smiling at me.

“What’s up Jackson?” I asked.

“Had a dream about Bizz ‘n he okay…. he home now,” said Jackson. He stood up and turned away from me.

I said, “Hold on Jackson, you got a fat one on your back.”

He cranked his head around towards his back as far as his neck would let him, casting his eyes downward and trying to scan his back. “Ooo…Ooo…get it off Mohall. Get it off,” Jackson pleaded as he gyrated his legs without moving his feet.

I responded, “Geez, this is a big leech. He must have a pint of your blood in his belly. Do you feel okay, Jackson?”

Jackson repeated, “Mohall, get him off. Don’t be messin’ with me.”

I was laughing as I grabbed my Army issue bottle of bug juice and removed the leech. “All set Jackson.”

Slowly my mind reset to the previous day’s events. “Jackson, I’m making myself a cup of coffee.”

In the jungle this was my favorite part of the day. I boiled the water in my metal canteen liner using one of our heat tabs. They came in a packet similar to an Alka-Seltzer wrapper. In fact, they looked like an Alka-Seltzer tablet. All of the ingredients for my coffee were condiments in our C-ration packs; instant coffee, powdered milk and sugar.

Whenever possible, this was my daily ritual. The smell of coffee sent me back to the real world, back to my Mom’s kitchen sharing a cup with Mom and Dad, or back to Saratoga Springs’ Dunkin Donuts counter sitting next to my future wife, Janet.

My trance was broken by Jackson’s words, “What we gonna do about Bizz?”

I knew that Jackson didn’t want to deal with it. While finishing my coffee, I told Jackson I would find Lieutenant Ardone and get permission to bury Bizz. I quickly found the LT and spoke to him.

What is the number one example of an oxymoron? The answer of course, military intelligence.

I reported back to Jackson, “They won’t let us bury him. LT Ardone informed me that headquarters said all military dogs had to have an autopsy performed on them and we have to bring him back to base camp.”

Jackson was dumbfounded. “How we gonna do that?”

“The Lieutenant said figure it out and told me not to bother him again,” I told Jackson.

Jackson said, “What about a chopper? Will they send a chopper for Bizz?”

“Ain’t gonna happen.” I told Jackson that was the last thing I asked the LT before getting the bum’s rush from the inner circle, where all the officers and top NCO’s were having a daily briefing before moving out.

Jackson said, “I know you a Tracker but will you help me?”

“Of course, I will,” I replied. To me, Tracker Dog People plus Scout Dog People equals One Happy Family.

We packed all our gear into our rucksacks and headed to where Bizz lay. Bizz appeared to have one clean bullet wound in his side, not much blood, and he was starting to bloat. Jackson tied Bizz’s front legs together and then his back legs. With my machete I cut down a pole that would bear the hanging weight of Bizz while spanning the distance between our shoulders. Jackson folded his olive-green towel and placed it on his shoulder before hoisting up the pole and placing it on the towel. I did the same and now we were ready to take Bizz down the hill.

There’s always a silver lining if you’re willing to look for one. At least we were not on point. In fact, we were a long way back from the front. Can things get worse? Always. We had been carrying Bizz for a couple of hours when we heard shots whizzing by.

“Get down, men, we got us a sniper,” a voice of authority rang out a warning, breaking the silence protocol. We had trouble seeing one or two guys in front or behind us in the thick jungle, let alone a sniper.

Jackson and I off loaded Bizz and our rucksacks, trying to make ourselves as small as possible and find some cover while crawling over poor Bizz, who by now was swelling into balloon status and getting ripe. An occasional shot whizzed by or ricocheted close to us, but I got to tell you these infantry guys were worth the price of admission for the show they put on. They were out of sight but we could hear them. They were yelling at this NVA sniper, who I think had tied himself into a tree and was pouring fire down on us.

When he stopped firing, they started yelling at him. We had a Vietnamese Kit Carson Scout with us who was coaching our guys to say some nasty shit in Vietnamese about this guy’s mother, his wife and sister back in Hanoi. Sure enough they would get him to fire again, slowly letting our guys triangulate his position. Finally, one of our guys took him out with a disposable rocket launcher called ‘The Law,’ which the infantry guys carried on top of their rucksacks.

Score: Team Grunt – 1, Team Charlie – 0.

With the sniper gone, Jackson and I wolfed down a can of C-rations, assumed our load and continued the descent with an upside-down Bizz swinging between us. Another two hours passed and an exhausted Jackson and I followed the end of the hill down into a flat plain with very little vegetation. There were short scrubs covering the plain, probably a new cycle of jungle growth repairing itself after some kind of fire.

Jackson and I set Bizz down and took on some water. I nudged Jackson, pointed and said, “I think the worm has turned, Jackson. Look, it’s another Infantry Company. They must have just got here because the choppers are still here.”

“What you got in mind?” he asked.

“Let me go over and see what I can find out, okay? There is no way LT Ardone is gonna help us, but maybe someone will.” I responded.

Jackson agreed, “Can’t get no worse.”

I hadn’t gone very far and I made good eye contact with a Lieutenant attached to the new company.

Good eye contact was like finding a seam in a hard rock that you need to split open. It was my opening to address him. “Sir, may I speak to you for a moment? We have an untenable situation.”

He had been looking at a topo map and slowly refocused his attention on me. “Okay, Son, what’s up?”

I laid out the scenario: Jackson and I had been with the other infantry company, played up the heroics and said we could not go on any further. I lied and said our mission with the other Infantry Company was over. I said, “Sir, you need to see what I am talking about. This dog is going to rupture, some guys are going to get sick and have to get medevac’d out of here.”

I pointed over to Jackson and the LT said, “Okay, go over and wait by your buddy. I’m going to get on the radio, see what we can do and I will stop by.” He grabbed the microphone and its curly umbilical cord that led to the radio mounted on his radioman’s back.

I didn’t care that he called me son, even though I was probably his age. My eye contact had been right. He was well meant and I said, “Thank you, Sir.”

Jackson and I mingled with the guys from the new infantry company comparing notes. Some of these guys knew Jackson and Bizz. The LT from the new company walked over to me, held out a small plastic bag and said, “Listen up, Son. Go ahead bury your dog but cut off his ear, the one with the tattoo inside, put it in this bag and give it to me. I will take it to headquarters. We clear?”

I responded, “Yes sir and thank you.”

He turned to Jackson and said “Son, I can see you feel bad about your dog but let me say that I would rather see him being buried than all the men he has saved.” With that he shook Jackson’s hand, turned around and left.

Jackson and I grabbed our folding entrenching tools and started to dig Bizz’s little grave. We decided to dig it deep enough to make it hard for jungle animals to find Bizz. We were already tired, but thankfully we were crowded out of the digging by the guys in the Infantry. We stood back until the grave met with Jackson’s approval.

It was almost ready when a short muscular infantryman stood in front of Jackson and me. He had a chilly smile; I think his name was Rodriguez. Anyways, he was nobody that I wanted to mess with. He held out an army issue bayonet knife to Jackson, handle first, and said, “Here, cut off your dog’s ear.”

This set Jackson back. After a long pause he looked at me and I noticed a tear streaming down his face.

“I can’t do that. He my baby,” Jackson said to me.

“It’s okay Jackson, I’ll do…” I was interrupted by the trooper who took back the knife and leaned over Bizz. He had his back to us but we could see his arm reciprocating back and forth while he cut the ear off.

He wheeled around, facing Jackson with a filthy smile and said, “I cut the ears off Charlie, what the hell do I care about cutting a dog’s ear off.” He snatched the plastic bag from my hand, put Bizz’s ear in the bag and said, “I’ll save you the trip, I gotta see the LT anyways.”

Jackson and I just looked at each other. Meanwhile, the infantry guys had started to lower Bizz. “Wait, let me…” Jackson’s voice tapered off as he grabbed the poncho liner from his rucksack and carefully wrapped it around Bizz. The Infantry guys proceeded to gently lower Bizz into his final resting place while Jackson continued kneeling on one knee with his head bowed. We all knew that he was praying and we silently joined him until he was finished.

The deck got shuffled, the jokers fell out and nobody was the wiser.

Jackson and I noticed that LT Ardone and his infantry company had moved out. We guessed that he didn’t miss us. Don’t get me wrong, we liked his guys and we didn’t envy them for being under his command. LT Dogguiere agreed to let us stay with his unit until we could catch one of his resupply choppers the next day. We got in the marching order, not too close to point, and went up a nearby hill. My favorite kind of hill, not too high and not too steep.

It was still light when we stopped for the night. Jackson and I finished our foxhole and set up our claymore mines and trip flare security. We had chow and it was obvious to me that Jackson was still hurting from his loss. Part of the healing process is talking about your pain. He was in luck because I’m a real good listener.

We talked about our families and our upbringings. We had a lot in common. Neither of us came from privilege; he grew up in Georgia and I grew up in upstate New York.

The subject turned to Bizz and he really opened up. “Hey Mohall,” that’s what he called me, ”how much you know about Bizz?”

I answered, “Not much Jackson, just what I heard the last couple of days.”

“Well, let me tell you, Mohall, I was with them crazy guys from Alpha Company, Five O One,” he said. I knew who he was talking about, I had worked with them too. Jackson went on, “Maybe one, two months ago and it was hot, real hot. Bizz and I had been walking point and he stopped, just like that, stopped and laid down. Yep, just laid down. Couldn’t go any further, not one step.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“Overheated. His eyes were half open, his tongue was hanging way out and he was panting really bad. Can anyone imagine, we got the sacks on our backs and the rifle and we got to keep going. That’s right, Mohall, tell your grandkids it was so hot and miserable that the dogs quit and laid down, but we kept going.”

“I let him drink some water and rubbed water on the hair of his head and fanned him. An infantry Captain came up to me ‘n says, ‘what’s the holdup, boy?’

“I told him that Bizz was overheated and I was trying to cool him down. Then Captain Clock said that I got 5 minutes to get him going and told the other guys to take a break. I did everything I could to get Bizz up. Captain Clock came back and told me that he had a schedule and if Bizz didn’t start moving, he would leave him there.”

“I went back to work on him like the rent was due. I had taken his leash off ‘n all of a sudden Bizz gets up ‘n starts running down the trail. You gots to be messin wit me, Bizz. Where da hell y’all goin?” “Jesus, what the hell did you do?” I asked.

Jackson said, “What the hell could I do? Leave the infantry behind and chase him into Charlie land and get shot? Or walk down the trail yelling ‘Here boy, c’mon Bizz, let’s go boy.’”

“Well Jackson, what happened?” I inquired.

He went on, “I was quietly going down the trail, duck walking alone. I would poke my head up, wait a bit, whistle a couple of times. I was scared and I was by myself. It seemed like forever and then I heard Bizz, except he was doing something I never heard before. He was whining. Yeah, bad ass Bizz was whining like a puppy. I stood up to see what the hell was going on and here comes Bizz, running full speed at me, and so was the tiger that was chasing him!”

“Holy shit! What did you do?” I whispered.

“I was afraid to hit Bizz so I ripped a burst from my M-16 in the air. That fraidy-cat tiger took off and Bizz ran to me and tried to lick the skin off my face.” Jackson finished.

Once again, in this country, the hunter was quickly turned into the hunted. By now it was dark and it was Jackson’s turn at watch. I knew he felt better. His pearly whites revealed a smile that I could make out from the other end of the foxhole. I covered my head with my poncho liner to try and keep my body from being a smorgasbord for Vietnamese mosquitos, as big as sparrows. I grinned under the poncho liner, thinking about Jackson, Bizz and that tiger.

As promised, the next day, LT Dogguiere had a chopper for Jackson and me. Our chopper ride took us to LZ Sally, which was Jackson’s home base as a member of the 47th Scout Dog Platoon. We parted company with a firm hand shake and beaming smiles.

I caught a ride to Camp Eagle, my base as a member of the 557th Combat Tracker Platoon, in the back of an open truck. There was one other passenger in the back, an 18-year-old PFC from the motor pool. He had a tape deck and was playing an album by The Doors.

I was on the last leg of my journey, a 15-mile truck ride, and twilight was falling. Viet Nam has beautiful sunsets; the sky and the pillowy clouds get painted a color that I would describe as a cross between tangerine and strawberry.

Many people mark time with music as I do, like milestones cemented in my memory. I caught one that evening when the tape deck played ‘Light My Fire’ by The Doors. There is a part of that song, a long instrumental that goes on a bit and floats this listener away back to that ride, thinking about the painted sky, the mission with Jackson, Bizz and all the other soldiers we meshed with.

I never saw Leroy Jackson again, but our mission in the bomb crater has played over in my mind a thousand times.