The last thing he could remember was standing in front of the mirror
applying camouflage paint to his face. they were preparing for a recon
mission? Why wasn't any of it coming back to him?
He blinked open his eyes, not able to process what he was seeing. His
head was pounding and he became more aware of that the more alert he became.
He slowly swiveled his head and the world around him tilted a little
closer to reality and he realized that he was hanging upside down and
about six feet off the ground. His ammo belt had somehow become
tangled around the muzzle of the Huey's mounted M-60 when it was going
down. The chopper went down?!
He untangled himself from the barrel and dropped to the jungle floor
with a grunt.
He wiped what he thought was sweat from his forehead
and came away with blood. He tore away the bottom of his t-shirt and
wrapped it around his head.
Calmly, he looked around for the first time, taking in the carnage.
'That bird ain't flying any time soon.' he thought to himself.
What was going on? Was he the only survivor?
He began the gristly task of looking for survivors, not feeling the
impact of it at all.
From where he stood, he could see that the co-pilot
was dead - impaled on a gore covered branch that had driven up through
his body when the chopper came down in the trees.
He stood listening. There it was again. Someone else was alive. The
disoriented moaning drew him away from the wreckage. His wobbly legs
carried him to a bamboo thicket. He sank to his knees as Lieutenant
Myron Goldman sat up giving his head a shake.
"Roo?" he blinked at the little Puerto Rican kneeling beside him.
"You okay, Lt?"
"Yeah, is everyone okay?" He asked glancing around.
"Co-pilot bought it." Ruis said flatly.
"The guys?" asked the Lt. getting to his feet.
"Dead . . . ?" speculated Ruis staring down at the blood smeared on his
hand, "All dead?"
Myron peered into the growing shadows for any signs of
the men from Bravo Company.
"Ruis. Snap out of it." grumbled Goldman grabbing him by the arm and
began hauling him to his feet.
"Shit!" he hissed pulling his hand away to look down and find a jagged
gash across his palm. He pulled off his bandana and wrapped it gingerly
around the wound.
"Help me find Sargent Anderson and the rest of the
men." Myron said down at Ruis. Ruis only shook his head and stretched
out in the damp grass beneath him.
"I'm too tired, Lt., need to rest. . ."
"Ruis. . . Ruis! . . .Roo . . ."
Goldman's voice faded as Ruis peacefully drifted away.
Goldman had to yell to be heard over the roar of the helicopter's engine.
"How's he doing, Doc?"
"We better be home soon. He's loosing blood as fast
as I'm pumping it into him." answered Hockenberry holding the plastic
plasma bag in the air.
"McKay! . . . Johnny! Can't you get this bird to go
"Myron, I'm pushing it as it is. Your man's going to
be fine! Relax."yelled McKay.
"Hot dog, my ass." mumbled Goldman finding room to sit as the chopper
raced through the night sky.
"Percell. You gonna be all right. Don't look so
scared. You done good, son. Ruis owes you his life, y'unnerstan."
hollered Anderson putting a fatherly arm around the pale, trembling
"Ruis . . . Ruis . . . Roo . . !" faint voices.
He felt the cold creeping up his legs before he realized he was making
his way across an icy river. He stood thigh deep in the middle. Half
way from where? Half way to where? It's grown too dark to see anything.
Turning back he could barely make out figures standing at the water's edge.
"What?" he asked, not hearing their cries or understanding their gestures.
'What are you saying? I can't hear you." he called back to them.
He could not hear them, the rushing water was drowning them out. He
turned to explore the shoreline ahead of him. He could not make out a
thing. The shadows could be filled with VC and he was out in the middle
of a fast flowing river. Alone, out in the open. He wanted to go back
the way he came but his feet were mired in the mucky river bed and it
was taking all his strength to move.
The soldiers of Bravo Company spilled from the chopper to clear a path
for the medics to scoop Ruis onto a gurney and rush him into an
operating room where they would try and patch him up.
"All right, now. We gotta give the docs time to put him back together."
said Anderson holding up a hand to keep his field-filthy unit from
clomping through the dispensary.
"But, Sarg . . ." started Percell.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm worried too. Now, y'all go get cleaned up and
get some grub."
"I'm not hungry." commented Johnson, turning and
"I'll come with news as soon as there's any."
reassured the Sarg. as the guys shuffled away.
"Lt., wait up," he trotted into step beside Goldman
"How's the hand?"
"I'll be fine. Stitches maybe." he answered glancing
down at his blood-smeared hand wrapped in his dirty bandana.
"Sure, give me half an hour" Goldman motioned to his hand and stomped
up the dispensary stairs as Zeke veered off heading for his quarters.
Ruis stood staring up into the night sky, soft cold
snow flakes catching in his lashes, melting as they kissed his face.
'It didn't snow in 'Nam.' he thought.
He stood in the middle of a deserted village, sticking his tongue out to
catch the icy flakes.
'Where were the guys?' he thought. He looked down and
saw that the snow had become as deep as his waist and he thought he had better get
undercover before he was buried alive. He started for a hut across the
village clearing but lost his footing and plunged headfirst into the
snow. He began to thrash about but was unable to break through to the
'Y'know, this snow isn't even cold at all. It
cushioned him in great comfort. He thought he should maybe lay low here
until the guys showed up. He felt safe, protected. He snuggled down to wait.
"Ruis. Keep an eye on the trees! They're waiting forus in the trees!"
Ruis burrowed deeper into the snow not wanting to listen to the Lt
anymore. He was so tired.
"Ruis . . . Ruis . . . Roo . . !" the Lt.'s voice was fading and Ruis
smiled a dreamer's smile.
"Okay, he's stable. BP's 120/75. He's under."
The surgeon opened his palm and the surgical nurse slapped the scalpel
handle against it. They began the long job of repairing the damage done
to the Specialist's abdomen. Hoping he'd not gone septic in the field.
Myron struggled awkwardly, trying to cut his gristly
roast beef with his hand sutured and freshly bandaged.
"Let me." offered Anderson coming around to Goldman's side of the table.
"Thank you, Sargent. They said the freezing will be worn off soon." said
Myron, sitting like a little boy waiting for his mom to finish cutting
his dinner up for him.
"Just in time for the pain to keep you up all night,
Lt." he scooped up a dollop of mashed potatoes, stabbed a morsel of beef
and handed the fork to Myron.
"Okay, you're your own from here on out." he joked returning to his own dinner.
"Ruis was amazing today."commented the Lt., chasing peas around his plate.
"I hear that, sir. That boy made us all proud today."
"Besides from needing a change of drawers, he's fine."
"We're very lucky, Zeke."
"Sir?" he asked, fork's journey to mouth momentarily interrupted.
"To have such a great team."
"I hear that." agreed Anderson.
"Ruis better pull through, or I'll kill him." said Goldman resorting to
squashing the peas triumphantly under the tines of the fork.
"How long are they going to take?" snapped Taylor pacing the length of
"Wearing a groove in the floorboards isn't gonna help Roo any."
commented Doc handing a nut to his pet monkey.
"I don't care what the Sarg said. I'm going over
to wait for some news." declared Taylor and was out
the door in two strides. The others exchanged 'shall
we' glances and filed out after him.
I think I'll stop in at the dispensary, Lt., if'n
"Let me know how he's doing." answered Goldman
pushing his plate away and rising to his feet.
"Ruis . . . Ruis . . . Roo . . !"
"Lt.? Is that you?" asked Ruis hearing muffled voices
through the snow.
"Lt.?" he was very cold now. He'd slept too long.
Maybe the men had gone by while he'd slept. Left him
behind. He stood in total darkness hearing the
rustling. Someone or something was near.
The Lt., in tattered, blood soaked fatigues, marched
up to him, saluted and handed him a grenade. The pin
"You're the one." said the Lt.
Ruis watched, a little queasy, as the Lt. pulled open
his shirt and jabbed a finger into a bullet hole in
Ruis fell to his knees screaming in agony feeling the
searing pain in his own abdomen each time Goldman
probed a bleeding hole.
"Lt. . . stop. Please." he gasped, the pain knocking
the breath out of him.
Goldman squatted beside him giving him a stern
"For God and Country, soldier." said Goldman before
snapping a salute, rising and walking away, leaving a
bloody trail in his wake.
"Get another unit of O neg. He's got a bleeder we
can't find." barked the army doctor and the nurse
fled. He glanced down at the bloody footsteps she
Anderson sauntered into the dispensary and stopped.
The men from Bravo Company filled the little waiting
"What did I tell y'all?"
"Sorry, Sarg." rasped Percell.
"Well, at least you're all behaving, it seems."
Johnson and Percell scootched over to make room for
Goldman stood before his mirror, in t and skivies,
toweling off the green and black paint from his face.
He was too tired to shower and Anderson was right,
the freezing was gone and in it's place, a deep
throb. He took a generous gulp of whiskey, grimacing
as it burned its way to his belly and went back to
task of getting some of the surface dirt off for the
night. He'd think about having a shower in the
He wiped across his eyes streaking the paint, his
intense brown eyes standing out sharply against the
He let out a startled shout and spun around. The
room behind him was empty. He gripped the table as
he gazed back at the mirror. He gawked wide-eyed
into the mirror. Ruis stood just over his left
Goldman looked back over his shoulder and still the
room was empty.
"Jesus Christ!" he fled from his hootch, forgetting he
was barefoot and out of uniform.
"Ruis . . . Ruis . . . Roo . . !"
"I'm here. I'm right here." he was running now. The
snow was all gone, the village ominous and empty.
"You're the one. You're gonna do it." The Lt. stood
just at the edge of the tree line waving him on. Ruis
ran, little legs pumping. Fear gripped his stomach as
the Lt. turned from him and slipped quickly into the
"Wait. Wait, don't leave me here. I'm here . . . I'm
here." he cried out desperately afraid the guys would
give up on him.
Their heads swiveled around in unison to see
Lieutenant Goldman burst through the dispensary
doors in just his regulation briefs. An assortment of
expressions crossed the faces of Bravo Company,
but they all sat there gawking in stunned silence.
"Lt?" ventured Anderson.
"Where is he?" asked Goldman not noticing the
stares, steeling himself to see the body.
"They're still working on him . . ."
"Still working on him . . . ?" he processed the
information out loud.
"Yes, sir. No disrespect, Lt., but are you okay?"
"Uh, yes. Of course. Yes Sargent, I'm fine." he
around the room nervously, looked at the men who all
suddenly has a nail to examine or a boot to lace. He
looked down at himself realizing he'd not thought to
put on clothing.
"Bring me news as soon as there's any, Sargent."
ordered Myron, before leaving in stiff-legged
"What the . . ." began Taylor.
Myron stepped cautiously into his hootch, slowly
easing the door shut behind him. He scanned the
room before reaching for his pants and climbing into
them. Still standing against the door, he buckled the
belt and craned his neck to look into the mirror
without getting any closer. It only reflected the
empty room back at him. Still not convinced he
wasn't going to see Ruis again, he slipped into his
shirt feeling a little less vulnerable fully
Filling his tumbler with J&B, he climbed up on his bed
and sat cross-legged against the wall, clutching the
glass to his chest. He sat waiting for news or,
The surgeon pressed his fists into the small of his
back and stretched his aching muscles.
"All right, sew him up and come get me if there's any
changes in his condition."
"Sir, this soldier's unit is sitting outside,
"Have they been out there all this time?"
"All right, I'll speak with them."
He looked down at Spc4 Alberto Ruis. He wasn't sure
if they'd saved this one. Time would tell along with
young man's call to survive. He'd seen too many give
up the fight after he'd put them physically back
The troop rose in unison as the doctor pushed through
the doors pulling his cap from his head.
"Well, he's alive."
A joint sigh escaped the men.
"But he's not out of trouble. He was out there in
condition longer than I'm happy with but time will
we've started him on antibiotics. We should know
more in the morning. He turned to leave.
"Can we see him, Doc?" asked Percell.
"He's still out of it."
"Don't matter none."
"Well, I suppose . . ." he was swept along as they
barged through the doors.
"Ruis?" Roo spun around to see the Lt. standing in
"Lt?" Asked Ruis surprised.
"We've got to find some way out of this."
"Where are the guys?" asked Roo licking nervously at
his dry lips.
"They're waiting. They're all okay."
"Good." he was relieved.
"And you're okay too." said the Lt., reaching out his
blood smeared hand and pressed it up against Ruis's
"I'm not dead?"
"That's good to know, sir."
"That is very good but you need to rest before we
head back. You'll need to be strong."
"Yes sir." and Ruis lay down and slept.
Not realizing he'd drifted off to sleep, Myron woke a
little disoriented as Zeke knocked and entered .
Anderson wondered if he should choose to ignore the
fact that the Lt., was perched on his bed fully
sleeping sitting against the wall.
"He's out of surgery,Lt."
"Good. I want to see him." said the Lt., climbing off
the rumpled bed.
"Lt. . ."
"What is it, Sargent?"
"Are you all right?"
"Just worried about Ruis. Good night, Sargent." he
headed for the dispensary.
The place was all but deserted at this late hour. In
hushed tones he asked a nurse where Spc4 Ruis was.
He pulled a straight back chair up to the side of the
bed and straddled it backwards. Goldman looked down
at the little soldier, lying so still with machines
beeping and clicking around him.
Myron wondered briefly if Ruis was in there.
He'd heard of people having visions of loved ones back
at home the instant a soldier died. If that were even
possible why would Ruis pick him of all people to drop
He could still see the look in his eyes when Percell
tackled him just before the grenade blew.
Resting his forearms on the chair-back, he sat
watching the feistiest of his men fight his way back
to life. He reached out and gently squeezed Ruis'
Suddenly all around them were blinding flashes, earth
shaking explosions and they were diving for cover.
Everything around them was being destroyed.
With heart pounding, Goldman grabbed for his rifle but
came up empty handed.
"Give me a weapon, I need a weapon!!" screamed the
Lt., watching in a fog as a VC soldier broke from
cover and ran at Ruis brandishing a knife. Without
thinking Goldman, propelled himself into the man's
side tackling him to the ground. He threw up a hand
in defense as the VC swiped at him with his deadly
blade. The Lt. fell back writhing in pain as the
chewed through the flesh of his palm.
Ruis turned and froze as the man raised the knife to
finish off the officer sprawled at his feet.
A single shot rang out and the knife man was blown
off his feet. A gaping hole in his thigh gushed dying
blood. In his last moments of life, the VC pulled a
grenade from its clip and tossed it.
It rolled and wobbled to a stop only feet from where
Ruis stood there blinking at the little ball of death,
unable to move.
Suddenly he was slammed into and dragged to the
ground as the grenade exploded. He felt razor sharp
bits of shrapnel burrow viciously into his belly as he
hit the ground with a thud and the 200 lbs impact of
Danny Percell landing on top of him.
Screaming, he felt like he'd been ripped in half.
'Please God don't let me live if I'm missing
he prayed, oblivious to the controlled chaos swirling
"MacKay, get your sorry ass in here now!!" roared
Goldman into the radio scanning the darkening sky
and threw down the blood smeared hand set. He
pulled off his greasy bandana and gingerly wrapped it
around his wounded hand as he knelt beside Ruis.
"Ruis . . . Ruis . . . Roo . . !"
"Chopper comin' in." called Zeke pointing at the
approaching light in the sky.
"Hang on Ruis. Not much longer! You're gonna make it.
. . . This Goddamned country! Doc . . can't you stop
the bleeding! " barked the Lt. helping himself to a
thick gauze bandage and pressing it to Ruis' torn
"Lt. . . stop. Please." Ruis gasped.
Stabbing pain woke him. He blinked open his eyes,
unable to process what he was seeing. His head and
belly were on fire.
He moaned in agony as he was jostled into the bed of
He swiveled his head and the world around him tilted a
little closer to reality. He watched the jumble of
and legs climb in around him and find room. He felt
the bird soar up and away. He faded in and out and
the last thing he felt was Lt. Goldman's hand take his
and he mumbling something like 'hotdog, my ass.' ?
Goldman sat up with a jolt expecting to be kneeling in
the back of a noisy, drafty chopper instead, blinked
down at the hand clutching his.
"Ruis . . ," he leaned closer, "Ruis . . . Roo. It's
You're okay. We got home on time. You're going to
be fine." he felt the grip ease as he spoke.
Goldman wasn't exactly sure what he'd just experienced
but knew no one would believe it. He wondered if Ruis
was experiencing the same thing. He'd have to ask
him, then again, maybe he wouldn't.
He eased his hand free and slipped from the room
knowing inside that Spc4 Alberto Ruis would
'not die before he woke'.