When the company came to a slowing halt, I was more than ready to rest. The straps of my pack burned where they pressed down over the narrower suspender straps that held up my web belt. We’d made it back close to where the company had veered north and gone to the aid of Kilo Company the day before. I stripped off the pack and collapsed to the jungle floor. I checked my canteens but both were empty. Fusner pushed his own toward me, and I accepted it willingly. I drank down about a third of the warmly awful, but so welcome, liquid before giving it back. I looked around. Even though we were moving downward along the ridge we were still high enough for the temperature to be cool, the wind slight and the mosquitoes limited to occasional bites not important enough to warrant slathering on the nasty oil repellent.

My scout team rested only a few feet away. I leaned over to ask Stevens about the sapper regimental helmet affair. Zippo had discarded it when others around him had taken to calling him a black gook.

“I thought the Montagnards were on our side,” I said, motioning for him to put the question to Nguyen. It took almost a full minute for Stevens to counsel with the Kit Carson Scout and reply.