The move was a long hard one. In training I’d literally run twenty miles with a forty-pound pack on my back carrying an M14 and wearing a full helmet and liner. I had none of those things going down the ridge, in hopes of coming in behind whatever units were set up to ambush and cut Kilo Company to ribbons. Without gear I felt cleaner and light on my feet, but the drop in altitude made me regret leaving my steel pot behind. The repellent was held to the side of the helmet by Fusner’s big rubber bands, and with my increasing perspiration and the rising heat, the mosquitoes were back. I knew they would be worse when we stopped to set in.
Moving through the jungle was nothing like a hard forced march in the Virginia hills. The mud, mixed with the undergrowth, made slipping and sliding part of the journey and sapped energy at every opportunity. By the time the company made it to where I thought we should turn and head north, I was beaten to near submission. As if hearing my unspoken plight, the company came to a halt. I reached for my single canteen and drained half of it down my throat. Fusner handed me a little plastic bottle of the repellent without my asking. I smiled one of my new plastic smiles back at him. I popped the malaria pill I’d forgotten in the morning, put my canteen back into its holder and then slathered the oily mess into the mixed mess of whitish agent orange and jungle dirt that my skin had turned into.
The Gunny came up through a bamboo thicket, prying two shoots apart and looking like a character on a Tarzan movie set. He squatted down but didn’t go to work making his usual concoction of coffee. Instead he drank deeply from his own canteen.