[ p.o.w. ]

by lt. mac

The powers that be decided in their infinite wisdom that Lieutenant Goldman and his men would head straight back out with no rest after their last mission to S&D a munitions cache in the north. They were going to be air dropped about 15 miles south of the 'alleged' site and walk in. In a three days the bird would rendezvous at the same LZ to air lift them out. They were under strict orders to maintain radio silence for the duration of the mission and only radio their arrival at the LZ on the last day.

Still in flack jacket and pack, helmet tucked under one arm, mud caked, battle weary and dog tired Lt. Goldman stood before Major Darling's desk listening to his company's latest orders.

"Permission to speak freely, sir." said Lieutenant Goldman, trying very hard not to not loose his temper.

"Of course Lieutenant." encouraged the major.

"Sir. Why are you're sending my men out first thing in the morning. They've been out for 6 days straight already. It's stupid! It would be risking their lives. . Sir."

"Your opinion is duly noted Lieutenant. But the orders stand. You're on that bird at 0500 hours. Dismissed."

"But, sir . . . !" started Goldman.

"DIS...missed, Lieutenant." He turned his attention back to a map on the desk, his tone left no room for further discussion.

"Sir." Goldman snapped a brief salute before whirling around and storming from the major's office.

Sargent Zeke Anderson stood outside the major's office waiting for the Lieutenant to come out and when the Lt. roared right by him mumbling hotly to himself, Anderson had to hurry to fall into step beside him. The Lt. glanced absently at him and kept on going.

"Doesn't look like the Major's going to change his mind any time soon."

The Lt. stopped abruptly. The Sargent kept walking and had to go back to the Lt's side.

"He is such an arrogant bastard. He is going to risk our men because he's not willing to admit that he made a mistake!"

"What can we do about it?"

His anger rising again, the lieutenant stormed off, heading for the barracks. Sargent Anderson just shook his head and followed silently.

He usually found it amusing when the Lt got his back up, but this time he was as concerned as Goldman was. It was really stupid to send out a bunch of exhausted men to get a job done right.

The room fell silent as Goldman clumped into the barracks. The men rose and gave him a salute, puzzled looks on their faces. The Lt. stood a moment looking at his men as the Sargent edged his way into the room around the him.

"At ease, men."

"What's the word, Lt?" Purcell asked the question on all their minds.

Goldman sighed and put his hands on his hips.
"We fly out at 0500."

The room exploded in protest.

"Hey! Knock it off." snapped Anderson, getting the men back in line.

"I know this is whole mission is a load of crap, but the Darling isn't budging, I'm sorry guys." finished the Lt. seeing the disappointment in their tired eyes.

"All right, you better turn in. We're on the bird at 0500."

The Lt. was already out the door before the men could react. He was sick and tired of the bullhsit that the brass kept flinging at him and his men. The last mission was a great success and the reports would probably generate a couple of medals. But this. This was a recipe for disaster.

Heading for his hootch, movement caught his eye behind the latrines. It looked like a G.I. kneeling behind the huts.

"Everything all right, soldier?" he asked coming closer to see if he could help the man out. The crouched man turned and bolted away into the shadows.

"Hey!" called Goldman, dropping his helmet and going after him, reaching for his service revolver. He cleared the row of huts and saw the man heading for the perimeter. He took aim. And suddenly he was lying face down in the dirt, blood seeping from a scalp wound and his gun was gone. In a daze he tried resisting weakly as his pack was pulled from his back and he was stripped him of his flack jacket.

"Hel . . ." he began to yell before being knocked out cold.

Zeke stopped in his tracks, listening, waiting to hear it again. Something was wrong, he could feel it.

He worked his way slowly across the compound taking in every shadow and noise around him. He spotted the discarded helmet by the latrines and he immediately recognized it as the Lt's. He scooped it up and ran back to the barracks. He burst in startling the guys.

"It's the Lt. Something's happened!" he blurted out, holding out the helmet as evidence.

"Sarg?" asked Baker coming out of his bunk reaching for his fatigues.

"I found this lying on the ground behind the latrines. We need to get a search party together, start looking for him, now. I'm going to go tell the Major." he ranted before he turned and left the confused men behind.

"Sir, something's happened to the Lt. Request permission to take out a search party." Anderson stood saluting the major, waiting patiently for the return salute.

"How could something have happened to your lieutenant, Sargent, he was just here with me not more than ten minutes ago."

"Yes sir, beggin' your pardon sir. But I found this lying on the ground behind the huts, sir. Lieutenant Goldman would never just toss his lid on the ground."

"He's probably blowing off steam somewhere, Sargent. He was, a little, annoyed, when he left here. . . Dismissed."

"I know all about why he was 'annoyed' sir. And rightly so. He's not like most Officers, sir, he cares about his men." Anderson saluted and stared at Major Darling until he received the stunned return salute, turned and left.

The VC party slipped through the jungle, seeming to know where to avoid branches and holes. Head pounding, Goldman was pulled along behind them by a length of rope noosed around his neck. With his hands lashed behind his back, he struggled to stay on his feet.

"SARG!!!!" screamed Ruis sprinting away from the huts.

The men spilled from the barracks, all toting their rifles.

"Sarg. Bomb! Latrines!" panted Ruis gesturing wildly.

"Ruis. Calm down. What's wrong?"

"There are bombs sitting behind the latrines." he finally blurted out.

Anderson pushed by him and ran for the latrines.

To his relief, the explosives had not been armed. The Lt. had probably interrupted them before they could finish, he thought, and he may have gotten himself killed for it. A hero's death, the report would say.

The sarg scooped up the bits and pieces and returned to the major's office, calmer than when he left.

"Sorry to disturb you, sir. Thought you should see what Specialist Ruis found behind the huts, sir. Looks like the Lt. may have saved a few lives with his unselfish actions."

"Sargent Anderson. I, uh, I've contacted HQ and they have given us the green light to use all means available to mount an S&R for your Lieutenant Goldman. You and your men can head out at first light." said the major a little sheepishly even if it was to give a subordinate an order.

"Thank you, sir!" He laid the makings of the bombs on the majors desk, stood back and saluted. He turned and left once Darling returned his salute.

"The mission to the north is going to Delta company in the morning. We've been given the green light to find the Lt. We move out at first light." announced the Sargent as he approached his waiting men.

The troop returned to their barracks to get what sleep they could. A check on the perimeter sentries turned up two dead g.i.'s with slit throats. The VC had slipped in and out of the compound unseen.

The seemingly tireless VC rushed on silently through the moon lit jungle. With heart pounding, the Lt. was doing his best to keep up but the blood that oozed from a ragged gouge across his forehead was doing a good job of nearly blinding him. Miscalculating a step, he spilled forward, and landed with a pained grunt. He lay there unable to get to his feet on his own with hands bound behind him. The toothless little man that held his 'leash' bent over and slapped at him, jabbering wildly as he did.

"I'm trying!!" screamed Goldman, assuming the slapping and wild gesturing meant that he should be getting back on his feet. The little toothless man, displaying surprising strength, hoisted the Lt. to his feet, shaking him till his teeth nearly rattled and shaking scraps of paper and a lighter fell unnoticed from the Lt.'s pants pocket, shoved him on his way.

Early morning streaks in the sky signaled a start to a new day. The VC slowed their grueling pace as the heat rose with the sun. Goldman, covered in sweat, dirt and blood, his energy just about drained, wobbled dangerously on his feet as they lead him into a densely jungle-surrounded clearing. He froze in horror when he saw the layout before him.

Bamboo cages the size of crates, sat in rows under the already baking sun. A majority of them were occupied by wounded, sick, exhausted, dejected U.S. soldiers.

A few of the men in the cages watched his arrival with indifference. Others were just too sick or injured to even stir. The VC who'd dragged him through the night jungle herded their prize into a bamboo constructed cabin and shoved him down onto his knees in the middle of the room before a rickety folding table.

Purcell and Ruis were the last two to join the Sargent outside the barracks and shouldered into their packs as the major crossed the compound, the early morning chill clouding his breath around his head as he approached.

"Men. You've got 48 hours to achieve your objective. You return in two days regardless of the outcome. That is an order. Is that perfectly clear? Sargent?" he turned to eyeball Anderson when the men remained silent.

"Sir. The Lt. . ." he started.

"I will cancel this mission if I don't see any cooperation here. I don't know what your lieutenant let you get away with, Sargent, but it ain't gonna fly with me. Now. Have I made myself clear?"

The men around him mumbled their assurances that they understood.

"Dismissed, Sargent. Good luck. Bring him home men."

"Sir!" Anderson snapped the major a crisp salute.

"You tell!!" barked the chubby VC officer.

"Go to hell." spat out Goldman, ears were still ringing from the clout to the back of the head that knocked him off his knees. He hissed when a length of rope whipped through the air and licked across his thigh. He kicked out defensively at the man who whipped him, to his satisfaction, his army boot landing squarely against the man's shin.

Blows rained down on him until he lay there bleeding and senseless. A curt order from the VC officer had two of the troops drag the unconscious lieutenant away.

They tossed their unresponsive burden headlong into a bamboo cage and left him lying there in a heap, tied as he was.

"Hey. Yo. . . Soldier. . . Lieutenant ?. . ." He heard it coming from far away. Like a weak radio signal. He wanted the radio to shut up. He tried to roll over, to get away from it, from the pain it was letting in.

"Goldman? Is that what it says? Lieutenant Goldman. Sir. Lt?" came the persistent nagging. Annoyed fully awake, groaning, the Lt. tried to find the source of his aggravation. But intense pain and the inability to move reminded him with a jolt of where he was.

"Back among the living dead, sir." came the voice again. Goldman craned his neck and found the source. He also took in his immediate surroundings. He found himself in one of the bamboo cages he'd seen when they'd entered the camp.

"Roll towards me, up against the bars, I'll try and reach across and untie you." offered the mystery man in the adjacent cage. With some effort on both their parts, the Lt. managed to roll closer and the soldier managed to reach across and get the Lt.'s raw wrists free.

"Thanks." said Goldman gratefully. He took a careful look around sizing up just how big a pile of crap he was in.

"Don't bother thinking of breaking out of here, Lt." volunteered the Lt.'s 'neighbor'.

Goldman looked at the man seeing empty eyes looking back at him.

"Your name, soldier?" asked the Lt. rubbing absently at his wrists.

"Some days I can't remember. Today it's Hammell. PFC, sir." his attempt at a salute failed miserably.

"How long have you been here, Hammell?"

"Not too sure anymore. I'm guessing maybe six months." he picked at a scab on one of his scrawny knees.

"Six months?!!!" Goldman couldn't believe it. Hammell just nodded. "How many guys here?"

Hammell glanced around taking in the sea of cages around him. "The numbers fluctuate, sir."

"So some have managed to escape." said Goldman, feeling hope for a moment.

"No sir. . ."

"This isn't happening." whispered Goldman, refusing to believe the private. But as he looked around at the cages and a fist of fear clenched at his stomach.

Anderson and Bravo Company stepped into the jungle at first light. A heavy silence weight on them as they moved cautiously through the trees.

"Sarg." called Taylor, excitedly.

The rest of the men squatted where they were keeping their attention on the trees around them, knowing that they could be easy targets if they let their guard slip. The Sarg. dropped to a knee beside the squatting Taylor and saw the signs that had the young soldier so excited.

Relatively fresh drops of blood were splashed on some low grasses. A concentration of footprints assured that they were tracking in the right direction.

"He's wounded, Sarg." said Taylor.

"Who says it's his blood, Taylor? He could have given one of theirs some grief too." Taylor grinned appreciatively at the Sargent's attempt at wishful thinking.

"Right, Sarg."

"All right. Keep your eyes open. Good work Taylor. Okay, men, nice and slow. Don't miss a thing. Move out."

They made slow progress but opted for accuracy over error. They rested at mid day in a protected clearing. None felt much like making small talk and all seemed glad to be back on their way when the Sarg ordered them to 'mount up'.

Late afternoon shadows fell across the VC compound. Goldman sat in the corner of his 'cage' watching the hive like activity around him. So far he'd watched six g.i.'s dragged out of their cages and brought into the main hut. The excruciating sounds of obvious torture held Goldman riveted. He could not believe that this was happening. Like most educated Americans, he'd heard of the Geneva Convention and supposed that most countries honoured that agreement. These people obviously were choosing to ignore it.

He had made a couple attempts to engage Hammell in conversation but the private seemed reluctant to talk. He seemed to be closing himself off from everything outside himself... To 'zone out' thought Goldman. Which was perfectly acceptable considering what he'd been enduring for nearly six months. If he could, he thought, he'd be trying some way of getting out of this mess. He would like to be able to set the rest of these men free too, but he also realized that the majority of them would be unable to move if he did. He would bring in the reinforcements. He'd bring the cavalry.

He tensed when he saw the VC soldiers approaching his cage. Hammell moaned as he saw them approach.

"What ever you do, Lt, don't piss 'em off." hissed Hammell quickly before two of the soldiers pulled open Goldman's cage and reached in to drag him out. They hauled him to his feet and shoved him in the direction of the main hut. He walked ahead of them showing them more confidence than he really felt.

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust as he stepped into the hut. Hands ushered him into a straight backed chair and taking ropes, strapped him securely to it. The chubby VC officer sat behind the stained and wobbly card table, watching him. Goldman leveled a blank stare back at him.

"I see that you are a Lieutenant." started the officer.

Goldman remained silent.

"Lieutenant Goldman. We know that you have valuable information that we will to further our advantage in this war." A flicker of anger sparked in the Lt's eyes, but still he maintained his silent.

"Lieutenant. To cooperate means to not suffer." the officer nodded to someone behind Goldman. His head snapped back as he was back handed across the face. Jaw muscles jumped as he focused on keeping his mouth shut, Hammell's advice coming back to him. He stiffened as he saw the second slap coming. He took it without flinching. A small trickle of blood formed at the corner of his mouth and he licked the blood away, staring across at the officer, his anger shining in his eyes.

"I see that I have a very brave man before me. This pleases me. I will enjoy watching how long it takes before you are on your knees like a dog begging for mercy."

Blinking a few times to clear the stars from his eyes, Goldman found himself sprawled awkwardly across the floor on his face, arms still strapped to the chair that now lay on top of him.

"Is this your definition of the Geneva Convention?" he growled back.

"I do only what American pigs do to their prisoners, lieutenant!"

Before Goldman could answer Chubby's accusations, he was kicked solidly in the ribs, the wind was knocked out of him. He and the chair were righted and Chubby came around the table to stand before his prisoner.

"You will answer questions now!!"

"Go to . . , HELL!" was Goldman's answer as he raised his boots and ploughed into Chubby's stomach, sending him backwards into the rickety table. It collapsed under the officer's weight and the man crashed to the floor with an undignified grunt. He struggled quickly to his feet screeching orders.

Goldman sat panting in anger and anticipation, eyes locked with Chubby's. He should have listened to Hammell, he thought as he was released from the chair and yanked to his feet. The officer walked up to him and pressed the muzzle of his pistol to Goldman's forehead.

A VC soldier bound the Lt.'s wrists together with a length of rope that hung from the rafter of the hut, then took the end of the rope and tightened its slack. The officer stepped back as Goldman's arms were pulled above his head. He smiled at the surprise in Goldman's eyes as he was raised off the floor and suspended there by his wrists.

Goldman wanted to scream as the ropes bit to the bone under his own weight, but like hell he was going to give this bastard that satisfaction.

"We leave you for while, lieutenant. You think." he nodded to one of his soldiers and left the hut. An unexpected pipe came down across his thigh made the Lt. cried out in surprise as much as in pain. the second one across the back of his head knocked him out cold.

Anderson and Purcell stopped at the same time when they spotted the debris on the ground. The rest of the men squatted in their places as Anderson raised a warning fist.

"Think it's his, Sarg?" asked Purcell.

"Think so." Anderson knelt and retrieved the papers and lighter before him. He opened one of the folded bits of paper. It was a note from Alex Devlin. The Sarg folded it closed, feeling like he was intruding in someone's privacy.

"It's Lt.'s stuff." he said as he pocketed the papers and lighter.

"What was it, Sarg?" asked Purcell.

"Nothing, just a grocery list. We're on the right track." he answered absently.

Goldman woke with a gasp, and water dripping from his face.

"Lieutenant Goldman. We talk now." informed the little chubby officer, standing in front of his prisoner.

"I have nothing to say." answered the Lt. He was rewarded for this with a punch to the kidney.

"We will resume this tomorrow, Lieutenant."

The rope was released and Goldman dropped to the floor at Chubby's feet. His shoulders were on fire, he couldn't move his arms. He was dragged from the hut and tossed back into his cage. He lay where he landed, too sore to move. Too tired to care.

"You okay?" came a small voice in the growing dark.

"I'm not sure." sighed Goldman painfully as he tested his aching limbs.

"You were in there a long time, man."

"I guess I pissed them off." answered Goldman chuckling despite the pain. He rolled on his side to face Hammell's cage. He was horrified to see bruises and blood covering the other man's face.

"You look like hell!" he observed, ignoring his own aches and pains in the sight of this enlisted man's injuries.

"No disrespect, sir. But I was going to say the same thing." he spoke around torn lip.

"We've got to try and get out of here."

"No!" Goldman heard the man's intense fear in that one word.

"Hammell. They are going to kill us." explained Goldman bluntly.

"No. Leave me alone! I don't want no part of it!"

Hammell grew progressively more withdrawn, curling himself into a foetal position the more Goldman tried to reason with him. The lieutenant eventually gave up and curled up too, thinking of ways to escape, eventually sinking into a dead sleep himself.

Anderson made the rounds of the perimeter sentries giving them pep talks before he allowed himself a few hours of rest. The rescue team had made good time all that day. They were following the trail easily. The party they followed was confident that they were alone in the jungle. Anderson held onto that factor as their only advantage. Otherwise, the jungle would have swallowed up the Lt. for good without a trace. He settled in beside a snoring Taylor.

Sounds of struggling woke Goldman with a start. He sat up and turned around to see guards dragging Hammell from his cage.

"Lieutenant! Oh God help me. Lt, please, . . Tell my wife I love her."

cried the terrified soldier as they dragged him towards the hut.

"Hammell! Fight back, Hammell. . . Hammell!!!" Goldman screamed as the man disappeared into the hut. The Lt. began kicking at the door of his cage. One bar cracked under his boot and he redoubled his efforts. He kicked out a second bamboo tube and was working on a third when two guards came for him. They pulled open the kicked out door and grabbed the Lt. by the ankles and dragged him out into the night. He fought with all his might to break free from their hold but a good couple of clouts to the head subdued him soon enough and they hauled him into the same hut Hammell had been taken to.

They shoved him into the hut and slipping on a slick spot, he fell and skidded to a stop against the wall. He looked around to find Hammell and froze when he saw him. They'd stripped him and had him hanging from the rafter by the ankles. Goldman tasted the bile and threw up on the floor. They'd slit the man's throat. That was all he let himself see. He squeezed his eyes shut and turned away. He'd slipped and fallen in Hammell's spilt blood. He began shaking then, terrified more than he'd ever been in his life. He knew now that he would not be leaving the hut alive either.

Goldman became aware of the laughter above him and he looked up into the greasy face of the VC officer. Without warning, HE leapt at the little man's fat neck. His dirt caked fingers dug into the man's flesh. The two went over in a heap, the little man flapping and gagging under the enraged soldier. The VC soldiers pounced on the lieutenant and dragged him off their gasping leader. They pummeled the lieutenant until he was lying lifeless at their feet, his living blood running into the dead blood of Private First Class Hammell.
They had managed to break his nose. One of them would later that night find a chip of Goldman's tooth embedded in his knuckle. They left him with four cracked ribs, bruised kidneys and a concussion. The man that lay at their feet would not be recognizable even to his closest friends. A hoarsely barked order had the men returning the now useless lieutenant to his cage where he would be left to die. He lay in a broken heap, blood oozing into the dry earth.

Anderson and his men were up and on the move before dawn. They were pretty sure that they were near a VC camp from the slight change in the terrain around them. They all were glancing at their watches. Their time was running out and they were far from home. Johnson at point, threw up a fist and dropped into a squat. The look on his face as he looked back to find the Sargent scared the men. Anderson raced to Johnson's side.

"What's wrong?!"

He followed the soldier's gaze and froze. They had come up on the high ridge on the west side of the prison compound and they looked down at the cages and their occupants.

"My God." whispered the Sarg. before he and Johnson retreated away from the view. Johnson said nothing to the questioning glances he received.

"I need you men to listen to me now, understand? It looks like we might have found the Lt." he glanced at Johnson before continuing.

"Now. There's going to be some upsetting things you're going to see in a bit, but you can't let it stop you. You are on a mission. You can't let down your guard until we have the situation completely under control. Does everybody understand me?"

"What's this all about, Sarg? We go in grease a couple of Gooks and bring the Lt. out. Wham bam . . ." grinned Ruis getting a better grip on his rifle.

"It's not gonna be that easy." said Johnson quietly.

"That's right. We've found a p.o.w. camp."
He waited until the deluge of questions subsided before continuing.
"Listen to me y'all!" he snapped shutting them all up.

"I've seen a p.o.w. camp. It was something I hoped I never had to see again, y'understand. This is going to be something nightmares are made of. You can't lose it in there. And trust me you're going to want to."

The look on the Sarg's face and the hollowness in his voice kept the g.i.'s around him riveted on his every word.

"We gotta go in low and fast. We have to restrict our gun fire to single shot. There won't be a lot of room to maneuver and we don't want to hit the wrong targets. Hell! Nothing I say is going to ready you for what you are going to see. Just try and keep your heads and come home alive."

He had them all make their way over to the ridge to see where they were headed. It also allowed him to gauge the men's reactions, and to see who he'd have to leave behind or keep an eye on. Before they moved out, he could see that the group was psyched for this and confidently, didn't need to leave anyone behind.

The compound was quiet as the men of Bravo Company surrounded it. Anderson, Taylor and Ruis had taken out the camp's three only sentries. At the synchronized hour, the troop closed in. They entered the compound grim and ready for action.

Ruis scanned the area, movement in the nearest cage to him caught his eye. He looked down into the large frightened eyes of a young, emaciated soldier.

"We're going to get you outta here, buddy." whispered Ruis, the soldier cringed in fright when he spoke to him. Ruis had to tear his eyes away from the desperate look that followed him.

Anderson and Purcell moved silently across the compound forcing themselves to ignore the cages they passed, to not look just now for one that might be Lieutenant Goldman. They slipped into the nearest hut in unison. They opened fire and killed all its occupants. This brought gunfire from other areas of the compound. In an amazing short time however, Bravo Company had eliminated all the VC in the place.

Anderson and Purcell stepped into the big central hut. Anderson had to swallow hard to keep from losing his lunch. Purcell wasn't so lucky and barely made it outside before he threw up what seemed like his last three meals.

"Purcell! Get back in here." ordered Sargent Anderson through gritted teeth.

"Yes sir." came a weak reply.
Purcell reluctantly came back in and stood behind the Sargent, concentrating on the pool of blood the toe of his boot sat in.

"Help me cut him down."

"Sir . . ." Purcell didn't think he could move.

"Go cut the ropes then get the hell out of here." said Anderson stepping over to the bled body of PFC Hammell and held him until the ropes slacked then laid him down on the floor.
"Find a blanket or something before you go, Purcell." called Anderson as Purcell hurried from the hut. Anderson looked around the hut's shadowy interior and spotted the body of the chubby VC officer lying behind a toppled folding table with a fresh bullet hole in his temple. He saw a soldier more afraid of capture than death.
Anderson became aware of the commotion outside and went out to find out what was going on. Bravo Company was working its way through the cages and releasing their captives. Most crawled out in unabashed tears into the waiting, welcoming arms of their rescuers.
He scanned the scene before him looking for the face of the man they'd come to save. To find the deep brown eyes of Lieutenant Goldman looking back at him.

"Lt.?!!!" he called out as he approached the cages.

"Lieutenant Goldman? Myron?" Anderson peered into the cages where the men were either too scared or wounded to move or call back. He glanced into one cage at a man sprawled in the dust, caked in blood and dirt. He moved to go to the next but something made him look back. The dirt covered fatigue jacket had a name. Anderson fumbled getting the cage open. When he finally did, he slowly crawled in to have a better look. The name on the pocket read Goldman. Anderson was afraid to touch him. He looked all broken up. He didn't look like he was breathing.

"Sarg?! Is that the Lt.?" asked Johnson who was breaking open a cage beside the one he was in.

"I think so. . ." he pulled out his canteen and gently poured water over the soldier's face, washing away some of the dirt and blood. The man laying before him stirred and Anderson watched the dark brown eyes blink up at him. In a delirious fog Goldman thought the guards had come to drag him back to the hut. A terrified whine escaped his clenched teeth as he made a feeble attempt to roll over and crawl away.

"Lt. . . Lt., it's Zeke. Myron. It's Zeke!" yelled the Sargent to get through the nightmare Goldman was trapped in.

Anderson pulled the flailing, panicked man into his arms and held him there until the fight was out of him.

"Hammell! . . . Hammell?" Goldman cried out weakly trying to squirm out of the Sargent's hold. Goldman looked up into Anderson's face and stared a moment in disbelief.

"You're okay. I've got you now. They’re all dead. You're coming home." he spoke softly so as not to spook the man.

"Sarg?" called Ruis.

"Go away Ruis. I'll handle whatever it is later." "Zeke?" asked Goldman weakly.

"I'm right here Lt." he answered as he felt the body in his arms begin to shake. Shock was setting in and Goldman was fighting to keep it under control.

"It's okay, Lt. Let it go. We'll take care of you. You're safe. Let it go." he saw the tears well up in Goldman's eyes and the effort he made to fight them back.

"It's okay Lt., you're going to be fine."
He held him like that until the racking sobs had stopped and the man had drifted into an exhausted faint.

"Can he be moved?"

"I think he's got a couple of busted ribs." answered Anderson looking up at the doc.

"What say we get him out of this thing and take a closer look."

They managed to get the Lt. out of the nightmare cage with as little pain as possible.

"Hey Sarg." mumbled Taylor, in shock at the Lt.'s condition.

Doc instructed Anderson to lay him down.

"Besides everything else, looks like he's got a concussion. We have to keep him awake to make sure he's okay." said Doc shaking his head.

"Do you realize what this man's just been through?"

"Yes sargent, I do. But if you want to avoid him going into a coma, you'd better make sure he's woken up every couple of hours."

"All right. Can you give him something for the pain?" asked Anderson.

" I don't want to risk it."

"Okay. Why not check on the rest of them, Doc. We'll radio for a pick up. Purcell, stay with the Lt. I need to call for a cab."

"Yes, sarg." answered Purcell going down on his knees beside the Lt.

"Keep his head elevated too." called Doc as he rushed to his next patient.

There turned out being 16 other g.i.'s beingin the camp. 16 still alive. They found 6 men who'd either died from their injuries, starvation or disease. And of the 16 still breathing, 9 were still healthy enough to walk out of the jungle under their own steam. 4 could manage with a shoulder to lean on, the remaining three besides Lieutenant Goldman were to weak or wounded to make it out on their own. The numbers were good considering what they'd been through.
Anderson radioed back to base with news of their astonishing find and set up a rendezvous time with the choppers. He could hear HQ buzzing from here. There would be a big PR blitz from this one. They reminded him to take a VC body count for the score keepers, congratulated him and wished him luck getting the men back in one piece. But they were still going to have to walk them out to the LZ to meet the birds.
Ruis came looking for Anderson telling him that he better come quick.

"All I did was go help the doc move a couple of guys into the shade, Sarg. When I got back he was gone." apologized Purcell, feeling horrible.

"S'all right, Purcell. You done good. I'll have a look around. You go two go see if the doc still needs you." he comforted, waving the two off.

Anderson thought he knew where Goldman had gone. He moved slowly towards the hut where they'd found the g.i.'s body. That was who Goldman had called out for when he'd found him locked in the cage. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the shadows and he stood just inside the doorway till he could see. Trembling with fatigue Goldman was sitting beside the blanket covered body. With tears running down his face he just sat there staring off into space. As the Sarg. approached, he could hear that Goldman was mumbling to himself. Slowly, not to startle the suffering man, Anderson eased himself down beside him. He watched Goldman, waited for the man to acknowledge his arrival.

"It should have been me." came the small drained voice beside him.

"You can't say that, sir." comforted Anderson.

"He knew. . . He knew they were going to kill him."

"Myron, you can't blame yourself." insisted the Anderson.

The lieutenant's face crumpled and he sobbed. Anderson rested a hand on his shoulder.

"He . . , he asked me to . . . to tell his . . , wife, his wife that he . . . he . . loved her." he broke down and cried openly now, the weight of his imagined guilt too much to bear. Anderson wrapped a caring arm around the young man's shoulder, giving him a fatherly hug.

"What, what am I . . . supposed to tell her?" he gestured at the shape beneath the blanket.

"I know you'll tell her what she needs to hear, Lt." assured Anderson.

"Did you see them Zeke. Did you see them all?" asked Goldman, wiping the back of his hand under his running nose.

"Yes sir, I did."

"Some of them are dead aren't they?" he asked weakly staring down at his hands.

"Yeah, but there are a lot more alive, sir."

The two sat there side by side in silence for a long while before the Lt. stirred.

"I guess I can't sit out the rest of the war in here can I." Said Goldman trying to show 'a brave face'.

"The brass may have something to say about that."

"I hurt." groaned the Lt., glancing sheepishly at his Sargent.

"Not surprised. Doc says you have some broken ribs, for starters . ."

Goldman looked for a moment at the body, absently picking at a scab on his knuckle.

"Are . . , how do. . . are . . ." he gestured towards the body searching for the right words.

"We're taking everybody with us, Lt." Anderson said deciphering the Lt.'s scrambled attempt.

"Good. . . good." sighed Goldman.

"Sarg? Lt?" called Taylor from outside. "We're all ready to head out."

"Can you walk?"

"I think so," he however, hissed in pain, clutching at his side and fell back unable to lift himself to his feet.

"I think I need a little help."

Anderson helped Goldman to his feet. He swayed dangerously.

"You have to take it easy now Lt., Doc says you've got a concussion."

"Is that why I feel like puking?" he asked, his light headedness not getting any better. Anderson helped him walk from the hut. Goldman was greeted by the guarded smiles of the men of Bravo Company.

"Hey, Lt." ventured Taylor, smiling hesitantly.
Goldman looked into the circle of faces a moment and a puzzled little smile came across his face as they started to all slowly fade away. They all made a reflex step forward as they saw his eyes roll up into his head and his knees go out from under him.

While one more makeshift stretcher was constructed and the Lt. was deposited into it under the watchful eye of the team's medic, Johnson and Ruis took care of Hammell's body. Taylor and Purcell volunteered to carry Goldman's litter.

"You two have to make sure you remember to wake him up every two hours, understood?" asked the doc pointing his finger at them to emphasis the importance of their vigilance.

"Yes, Sir." they answered and the troops headed out.

The going was slow and arduous, but after a day and two night's walk, the motley crew made the LZ where the birds met them. The dead were loaded onto one chopper. The wounded and the mobile g.i.'s were put on another. Bravo Company, with Goldman in their midst rode home in a bird of their own.

A contingent of press people, Military brass and regular g.i.'s stood waiting for arriving choppers. Among the crowd stood a frightened Alex Devlin. She had not heard clear word of whether Myron was among the walking, wounded or dead. She knew she had to put her personal life aside for the amazing story about a camp of p.o.w.'s being found and liberated, but her heart was racing with fear that one of the covered litters was going to hold the body of Lieutenant Myron Goldman.

"Here they come!" shouted a reporter waving madly in the direction of the arriving birds.

The waiting was excruciating, she thought she might faint before the helicopters would land. She gripped the barricade, knuckles white with fear. The crowd grew silent as the chilling cargo of the first bird was unloaded; the dead were placed in the back of a truck and taken quietly away. The second bird sank to the ground and staff from the dispensary rushed over to usher the prisoners into their care. The third helicopter came in smoothly and Bravo Company came spilling out.

Alex felt her heart stop a moment until she saw Sargent Anderson pull sweet, shy, sexy Myron Goldman from the chopper and help him slowly make his way across the landing pad to an awaiting orderly. The crowd began applauding and cheering as Goldman gave them a weak wave and his familiar dimpled, lop-sided grin. She pushed her way through the crowd, missing the pain crease his features as he was deposited onto a gurney and wheeled quickly into the dispensary.

She rushed headlong into the dispensary building and right into the chest of Sargent Anderson. He had to grab her arms to keep her from toppling backwards.

"Miss Devlin . . . !" he smiled down at her.

"Hello Sargent." She wiped shyly at her red eyes.

"You can't see him right now. Doc's taking a look at his innards."

"Is he alright, Zeke?" she asked, afraid.

"His body will heal." she looked up at him confused by the comment.

"Was it bad?"

"Yes." was all Anderson would reveal.

"What . . . , is he . . . did . ." she wasn't even sure what she wanted to ask him. There were a million questions racing around in her head but she couldn't pick one to ask.

"Why don't you buy a tired soldier a beer?" he asked putting an arm around her shoulder.

"I don't know. I want to be here. . ." she hesitated.

"He's going to be out of it for a while."

"Well . . ."

"Besides, you look like you could use that drink too." he pulled her out the door and went straight to the bar. The rest of the Bravo Company were in the bar uncharacteristically subdued, not surprising, thought Anderson, after what they all saw.

Goldman lay quietly on the gurney, cut out of his blood and dirt caked fatigues, too tired and sore to do any protesting, as the doctor poked and prodded him.

"Been through a lot haven't you Lieutenant." commented the doctor as he taped up the bandages around his ribs, their white standing out brightly against the bouquet of bruised that ran from armpit to thigh.

"We're going to have to set the nose and stitch up the scalp wounds now." warned the doctor.

"I was afraid of that." mumbled Goldman. A couple of choice swear words echoed through the dispensary before they were through. But Lieutenant Goldman finally lay dozing with a clean white bandage taped across the bridge of his nose and butterfly tape over stitched up lip, eyebrow and scalp.

"We'll be back to see you in a couple of hours, soldier."

Goldman sat up with a start. He looked around the ward and found all the beds empty except for one. The covers were pulled up over the face of the patient in it. He watched in horror as the covers began to rustle, as the body sat up and the sheet fell away. The blood drained face of Private First Class Hammell turned and grinned at him. No, that wasn't a grin. It was the gaping slit across the man's throat that Goldman was looking at. He tried to jump out of his own bed and run as the Hammell thing swung its legs off the bed and got up, but he found he was strapped into the bed with restraints. He was trapped there watching the dead man shuffle towards him.

Doctor Seymour bolted out of her office when she heard the first screams. To her surprise she found the patient in distress was Lieutenant Goldman. Zeke had told her a little bit about what they'd found out there but realized he'd not told her the whole thing.

She shouldered by the orderly and grabbed the Lt.'s arms firmly and pinned him down against the bed.

"Lieutenant Goldman!!! Wake up. Lieutenant!! Myron!!!" she yelled.

She felt the tension leave the muscles beneath her hands. Saw the lines smooth out in his face. He, however, kept his eyes squeezed shut, teeth clenched.

"Lieutenant. . . Lieutenant. Look at me. It's Dr. Seymour. You are back at the base. You're safe. Myron. Look at me."

Goldman began trembling violently under her hand.

"Orderly, 10 cc's of Pentathol. Stat." she ordered then turned back to the panicked patient in her grip.

"Hang on Myron, help's on the way," she spoke soothingly to him.

"It's Dr. Seymour, Myron. Can you look at me?" she continued.

"I can't." he whispered to her, thinking Hammell wouldn't get to him if he stayed really quiet and didn't open his eyes. Hammell's dead eyes wouldn't be able to find him if he didn't move.

Dr. Seymour quickly administered the sedative and stood by the bed until the rigidity left Goldman's body and his breathing became deep and relaxed.

"That'll be all orderly, I'll sit with him for a while." She pulled up a chair and sat by the head of the bed. She watched the young Lieutenant while he slept until she fell asleep herself.

She jumped a little when a pair of hands massaged her shoulders.

"Zeke. I fell asleep."

"How is he?" asked Anderson nodding at the Lt.

"You didn't tell me everything did you."


"I think you better. I've got a bottle of scotch in my quarters. . ."

"Do I have to?"

"If this young man is going to be able to sleep at night again, you better. And not leave anything out this time."

They sat together not talking right away. Both seemed very interested in their drinks all of a sudden. Jennifer finally turned to Zeke and reached up and cupped his cheek in her hand. He turned his face into her hand and shyly kissed the palm. Their arms found themselves around each other and their lips met with hungry desperation.

When they finally came up for air Jennifer pulled away with a sigh and looked up at Zeke.


Zeke took up his drink and stared down into the amber liquid for a long moment.

"We found the camp just after sun up." he downed the scotch, Seymour was ready and filled it right away.

"There must have been 30 cages down there. Only half of them were occupied. I don't want to think of why the others were empty." he looked at her not wanting to continue. She rested a caring hand on his arm.

"We had to go in and clean out the VC but had to be careful we didn't hit any of the men in the . . . in. We didn't want to hit and of the prisoners."

"That would have been anyone's priority."

"Yeah, yeah it was. But there was this one kid that just kept staring at me. Like I was pointing my rifle at him or something. Y'understand?"

"He probably thought you were a hallucination, Zeke."

"Do you think so?" he asked still feeling the guilt the g.i.'s fear triggered in him.

"Keep going." prodded the doctor.

"They were just kids, Doc. All of them. Y'know, I don't notice how young the Lt. is any more, but he . . . " he took another long drink, washing the lump that threatened his throat.

"Purcell and me, we went into this hut, y'see . . ." he let that train of thought go and he hesitated, the memory hard to deal with.

"Tell me Sargent."

"Uh, there was this body," he swallowed hard and Jennifer reached for his hand. He clutched it hard and held it against his chest. She could feel his heart racing against the back of her hand.

"I . . . I thought for a second . . . that it was the Lt." he took a swig of his scotch.

"The VC had stripped him, strung him up by the ankles and slit his throat. Bled him like a pig." he blurted it out afraid he'd never be able to continue if he stopped, with a shaky hand he put his empty glass down and rubbed at his eyes.

"And I thought it was the Lt." his voice broke and tears spilled from his eyes. Jennifer threw her arms around his shaking shoulders, heart breaking for the man she was falling in love with. When Zeke was sure of his voice again he continued. He knew he had to share it with her or he'd never escape the dreams that were already waiting for him.

"Y'see, I thought it was the Lt. and then when I knew it wasn't I was glad. But I felt bad cause that meant that I cared less for this man hanging there." he sucked in a huge lungful of air like he'd just broke the surface of a deep lake.

"Zeke . . ." agreed Seymour.

"Purcell threw up. I didn't." he felt he should mention that.

"It doesn't make either of you any less a soldier."

That made him feel better. He'd have to tell Purcell that cause he knew he was feeling badly about that. He thought he should order the rest of the men to come in and have a talk with this little lady. She could set them straight.

"Thank you, Zeke."

"What are you thanking me for. I should be thanking you. I'm the one feeling better here."

"Thank you for trusting me enough to share that."

"I'm glad I did it actually, Doc, I feel better." he shrugged shyly and gave her his little boy grin he knew she had a soft spot for.

"Dr. Seymour?" came a disembodied voice after a rapid knock at her door. She stirred lazily and looked up at the window seeing the height of the sun in the sky. She and Zeke had fallen asleep on the sofa in each others arms. Zeke lay sprawled on his back beneath her, a sleep smile curled his lips.

"I'll be right there." she called.

Zeke came awake alert and ready to jump to his feet. Her hand pressed against his chest held him there where he was. They smiled warmly at one another.

"I've got to check in on Myron. I think he and I aught to have a little chat today."

"I'll come with you and say good morning."

"I don't know if he'll be up to seeing anybody just now but what say we find out."

They walked into the dispensary together, guiltily fighting the urge to see if anyone was watching them. They crept up to Goldman's bed and stared down at him a moment.

"Lt.?" he looked down at Jennifer when there was no response from the bed.

"Lieutenant Goldman. It's Dr. Seymour. We've got to talk."

Goldman stirred and peeked at the two at the foot of the bed.

"How you feeling, Lt?" asked Anderson.

"Good." he was a terrible liar.

"Sargent, if you'll excuse us, Myron and I have to talk." she gently shoved Anderson away.

She waited until Anderson was out of ear shot before she spoke.

"You've got to learn how to lie better than that, Lieutenant." she said as she moved a chair closer to the head of the bed. She watched him picking nervously at the scabs on his knuckles, avoiding her.

"Want to talk about private Hammell?" she sucker punched him to see what his reaction would be. Bingo. He just about leapt out of the bed at the mention of the dead soldier's name. She plunged right in.

"Zeke told me that the prisoners were all kept in, a barracks?" she went on, purposely misquoted him to pull the Lt. into correcting her and start talking about the experience himself.

Goldman gave her one of his shy lopsided grins and shrugged.

"Tell me what happened."

"Didn't Zeke give you all the gory details?" he asked going to work on the scabs again. Seymour took his hand in hers.

"He had his own stuff to get out."

Myron raised his eyebrows in surprise. The Sargent always seemed unflappable to him. This had been tough for all of them he realized. All of them - he'd not thought of the other men from the compound until now. He sat up wincing at the sharp pains he triggered moving so quickly.

"The g.i.'s! Are they . . ?" he eased back down into his pillow under the doctor's gentle hand.

"Everybody's doing great Myron. We're taking good care of all of them."

"They weren't kept together." he said in a small voice finally getting to the question she'd asked.


"No. . . No you see, there were all these, . . . there were these cages." He looked away from her for a moment to compose himself. He knew he had to talk about it or go crazy right in front of her. He felt her grip tighten over his hand and he looked at her.

"Go on."

"It was a VC p.o.w. camp. The compound was full of these cages. There were men inside some of them. . . They, . . . I, uh. . ." he struggled, fighting the tears that threatened, and was losing.

"It's all right Myron, let it out." she could see the inner turmoil tearing the young lieutenant apart. She'd seen so many brave young soldiers struggle against unchecked emotions. But once the tears started flowing, especially in front of her, a woman, he'd be able to move through this.

"I'm sorry." he apologized for breaking down in front of her but at the same time it felt so good to be telling someone.

"Don't be sorry."

He nodded looking down at his hand cradled protectively in hers. He took in a shaky deep breath and started again.

"After they, uh, 'questioned' me . . , when I woke up, I was . . , inside one of those cages, Dr. Seymour."

Crying quietly behind a hand pressed to her mouth, Alex Devlin sat unseen, in an adjacent cubicle listening to the lieutenant recount the terrifying three days he spent in the hands of the enemy troops. She thought her heart would break when she heard him, unable to go on, break down and cry like a frightened little boy. She wanted to rush in there and hold him until he'd cried the images from his mind. She was as exhausted as the they were when the retelling was over. In the end the doctor sedated the lieutenant so he could get some undisturbed rest, free from tormenting visions and begin to heal the physical wounds. Alex composed herself and slipped from the dispensary and back to her quarters, crumbling into her bed and crying herself to sleep.

"Miss Devlin, m'ame." She came fully awake with a start thinking she'd heard Sargent Anderson's voice.

"Yes?" she called wondering if she'd imagined it.

" Sorry to disturb you, m'ame. But there's a g.i. requesting your presence at his bedside."

She sprang from her rumpled bed, raked a comb through her sleep scattered hair and flew out the door.

"Did he really ask to see me?!"

"I quote; 'I gotta pee like a race horse, where's Alex?' end quote." grinned Anderson.

"Thank you Sargent." she hopped up and gave him a peck on the cheek.

"You're welcome, m'ame." he stopped at the bottom of the dispensary stairs and watched her step inside.

Dr. Seymour was doing her rounds when Alex stepped into the hospital.

"Good morning, he's been asking for you." she motioned in Goldman's direction.

"Myron?" she whispered after a moment watching him lying there so still in front of her. His bruises livid in contrast to the crisp white sheets.

He woke with a start and looked up at her a little dazed for a moment.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" she hurried to the head of the bed.

"That's okay. I seem to keep falling asleep if no one's poking a needle in my butt." he said it loud enough for the nearby staff to chuckle.

"You look like hell." she told him plainly, easing down into the space on the bed he made for her as he scooched over.

"Yeah? Well, I feel worse." he absently rubbed at his taped up ribs.

Alex gave him a devilish grin after looking over her shoulder for listeners.

"That broken nose makes you look pretty sexy, Myron."

"Y'think so . . . ?" he poked gingerly at it with a finger.

"Uh,hu . . ." she leaned over him and kissed a spot on his cheek that wasn't discoloured by bruising.

"Could you do that again?" he sighed, eyes closed.

"What? This?" her mouth hovered a fraction away from his. She licked gently at the corner that wasn't stitched and taped up. He slid his hands up her back and pulled her against him.

"Maybe you two should rent a room."

The doctor's voice right behind them had them springing apart like two guilty teenagers.

"Sorry." mumbled Alex turning beet red, matching the Lt.'s changing shades.

"I need to do a quick check and, then uh, I'll leave you two alone. Just wait outside a moment will you, Alex." Dr. Seymour pulled the curtain closed around the bed. Goldman asking to see his girl, was the sort of sign she had hoped to see in the mending of the young lieutenant. All his wounds would heal and she was pleased to see that. She'd allow them this little indiscretion, all in the name of recovery.

[ lt mac ]           [ index ]