Bien Hoa Province, South Vietnam, 1969
(North of Saigon and Tan Son Nhut)
Perfume? Clean, sweet, flowery. There it was again. Where the hell was it coming from? He'd lost the ability to smell his own stink days ago. His and the squad's. Sergent Zeke Anderson and Bravo Company had already been out ‘humpin' the boonies' for fifteen days. They smelled of the rotting jungle, of their rotting crotches and feet.
The morning's light teased his eyes as the jungle surrounding him began to take shape. Spec4 Percell's sweaty back lay up against his own. Long legged Specialist 4 Marcus Taylor, lay stretched out on his back beside him, snoring softly. They were all exhausted. It felt like they'd been out on this recon patrol for a month. They still hadn't found a thing. Not a blade of grass out of place. Charlie was definitely staying low to the ground. Probably ‘under' it in the tunnels.
Anderson lifted his head slowly and looked around, the din of birds in the rich green canopy above them announcing the arrival of the day. The walls of vegetation all around him sometimes tied knots in his gut. Made the hairs on his sweat slick arms stand on end. He felt trapped not being able to see farther than 10 feet ahead of him. Felt his chest tighten a little sometimes when he looked up and the sky was blotted out by monstrous palm fronds and branches, when it seemed he didn't get to see it for days.
After being out for more than two weeks, the squad was finally heading back to their firebase, to lukewarm showers, lukewarm food and lumpy bunks. They'd take some time this morning to wolf down cold c-rats and then they'd start humpin' out of the jungle. Finally, he though, he wanted them out of the humid emerald maze before the sun sent the temperature into the lung sucking 100's. They would make it to their designated PZ by midday, scramble aboard the Huey and be hitting the EM-Club by sundown. Yeah! He could taste the lukewarm beer now.
Damn! He sniffed at the air. Perfume. Definitely perfume.
"Walsh?" Anderson whispered, seeing one of the FNGs, sitting hunched over with his back to him, his fatigues still so new they still had their fold creases in them. He noticed how the pale sunlight that penetrated the thick canopy lay across the young thin back, mottled shadows of leaves playing over the regulation olive drab.
Anderson gave Walsh an easy smile as the gangly nineteen year old turned to look at him.
"Yeah, Sar . . . ?"
Jarred by the suddenness of it, Anderson lay frozen watching as Walsh arched backwards, a bullet punching through his young body and exploding from his chest, watched the accompanying gore and droplets catching the glint of the sun as they splashed across the startled men around him.
"SNIPER!" screamed Anderson, unaware he'd risen to his knees, and clutched his M-16 to his chest. Unaware his eyes never wavered from the boy's final dying moments.
Walsh flopped over, twitched loosely a couple of times then lay still.
Perfume. Definitely perfume, thought Anderson from where he knelt, staring at the blood stained letter crushed in the dead boy's hand.