There was no hooch for Captain Casey. The remnants of his tent lay scattered about the sand, a testament to the power of the Chicom 82mm mortar rounds that had impacted, taking Billings’ life with them. Only Billings’ bloody poncho survived, along with some items from Casey’s pack. Pilson scrubbed the dead lieutenant’s poncho near the edge of the sand, occasionally stopping to look up, as if to assure himself that no additional mortar fire was forthcoming, before going back to work. Night was coming, which would bring its own form of concealment but no cover. The jungle trees and other growth were the only covering protection available to any of them.

There was a loose perimeter the Gunny had put together after Billings’ body had been dealt with, and the effects of the mortar strike were over. I helped Fusner find a place for my hooch twenty feet deep inside the jungle bracken, backed up to a stand of old bamboo stalks. The rest of my informally reassembled scout team was nearby, set in around and under the same overhanging fronds of the stand. The Gunny made his way through the path we’d worn over to the sandy area. He squatted down, but made no move to make coffee.