They all felt great relief. There was that new hardness in his stomach. At night, on guard, staring into the dark, they were carried away by jumbo jets.
They talked grunt lingo. It was this separate-but-together quality, she wrote, that had inspired her to pick up the pebble and to carry it in her breast pocket for several days, where it seemed weightless, and then to send it through the mail, by air, as a token of her truest feelings for him.
She was a virgin, he was almost sure. Kiowa, a devout Baptist, carried an illustrated Obrien 13e chapter 2 Testament that had been presented to him by his father, who taught Sunday school in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
He liked the smell of the New Testament under his cheek, the leather and ink and paper and glue, whatever the chemicals were. In its intransitive form, to hump meant to walk, or to march, but it implied burdens far beyond the intransitive. Will your flashlight go dead? Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried tranquilizers until he was shot in the head outside the village of Than Khe in mid-April.
He realized it was only a gesture. He imagined bare feet. Lieutenant Cross nodded and closed his eyes while the others clapped Strunk on the back and made jokes about rising from the dead. He had difficulty keeping his attention on the war. He would dispose of his good-luck pebble.
He liked hearing the sounds of night. Slowly, a bit distracted, he would get up and move among his men, checking the perimeter, then at full dark he would return to his hole and watch the night and wonder if Martha was a virgin. It was a tired line and no one laughed. As if in slow motion, frame by frame, the world would take on the old logic—absolute silence, then the wind, then sunlight, then voices.
The rest of them would fan out as security. He carried a strobe light and the responsibility for the lives of his men. They carried the sky. The cheekbone was gone.
He wanted to say more, just to lighten up his sleep, but instead he opened his New Testament and arranged it beneath his head as a pillow. Every third or fourth man carried a Claymore antipersonnel mine—3.
Yeah, but you had to see it, the guy just— I heard, man.
They carried wiring, detonators, and battery-powered clackers. Why that grayness in her eyes? In the heat of early afternoon, they would remove their helmets and flak jackets, walking bare, which was dangerous but which helped ease the strain.
Boom-down, and you were dead, never partly dead. As PFC s or Spec 4s, most of them were common grunts and carried the standard M gas-operated assault rifle. They all carried fragmentation grenades—14 ounces each.
They spoke bitterly about guys who had found release by shooting off their own toes or fingers. How she nodded and looked away.
He imagined a pair of shadows moving along the strip of sand where things came together but also separated. There was no visible sweat.
They carried the land itself—Vietnam, the place, the soil—a powdery orange-red dust that covered their boots and fatigues and faces. They carried plastic water containers, each with a 2-gallon capacity. He looked at the tunnel opening, then out across a dry paddy toward the village of Than Khe.
He tried not to think about Ted Lavender, but then he was thinking how fast it was, no drama, down and dead, and how it was hard to feel anything except surprise.
Because the land was mined and booby-trapped, it was SOP for each man to carry a steel-centered, nylon-covered flak jacket, which weighed 6. Lieutenant Cross gazed at the tunnel.
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