I finished my letter home, the light of dawn sufficient to allow me to see the paper almost as well as the lousy black ink from my cheap government ballpoint. I had already decided earlier, if I lived, that I would be buying a watch that didn’t have a plastic crystal, in case I ran into Agent Orange back in the world. I added a quality pen to my imaginary collection. The moisture always present, even up in the highlands, made every other letter of my writing almost indistinguishable. I called Fusner over, as he returned from dividing up the ‘spoils of war’ he’d likely be sharing with the others.

“Rittenhouse won’t send the papers,” he complained, before handing me the artillery net handset.

“Why not?” I asked, in surprise, before accepting the mic.

“Because everyone says that the guy on the chopper with the Thompson shot those women.”

“What?” was all I could say, my face no doubt a study in consternation.

“They said you could never have made those shots with a .45 automatic,” Fusner said. “The range was too great and each woman took a hit in almost exactly the same spot. The Thompson would have made that pretty easy, since it fires so many rounds, and it’s got a lot more range.”

“Ah, you were right there Fusner, and you saw it all,” I said, raising my voice a little.

“Yeah, I know, but there was a lot of noise and the guy from the chopper might have been firing from the back side of the Huey. He’d just lost one of his crew and all.”

The Gunny came walking out of the brush nearby. I presumed he’d arrived to announce our coming move.

“Who told you Macho Man shot them?” I asked Fusner, still in shocked wonder.

“I did,” the Gunny said, hunkering down to make another of the instant coffee preparations he was obviously addicted to.

I just looked at him in disbelief, unable to say anything.

“They were women,” he said, getting his canteen out. “The men hate the female NVA worst of all because if one of us gets captured the women do the torturing, and they seem to enjoy it a whole lot. But they’re women, so you’d eventually look bad for shooting them, in the unit’s way of looking at things. Don’t forget to reload your .45, since you seem to know how to handle the thing.”

My hand slid down to the comforting butt of the Colt. The Gunny was right. I’d forgotten to reload, and that failure shook me more than the strangeness of once again giving whatever credit I got for anything to someone else. I pulled open one of the dual magazine carrier covers I had snapped to my belt, took out a spare magazine and exchanged it carefully with the half expended one. I’d left the single round in the chamber so I was loaded with that, and five more in the fresh magazine. I clicked the safety on and re-inserted the gun back into my holster.

The Gunny watched my every move, while sipping away from his canteen holder.

“Had to be sixty, maybe seventy yards,” he said, as if he was talking to himself instead of me. “Didn’t think a .45 would shoot that far, not accurately at least,” he went on. “You got one of those expert badges in training, I’ll bet.”

“Yeah,” I replied, taking my own canteen out. “I had enough points to make master though, when I was going to Camp Perry, but I was too young to be awarded any. Slow fire was my favorite. Ten minutes to fire ten rounds. With a good Colt I could put every round in the black, and quite a few in the X ring, at fifty yards.”

“I guess calling artillery and map reading aren’t your only skills,” the Gunny said, after a moment, while he extinguished the little fire he’d built. The Gunny got up and headed for his hooch, not far away.

“Let’s get ready to move out,” he said, with Pilson running to catch up to him, after slinging his radio onto his back.

I leaned back onto my dry poncho cover, the microphone Fusner had passed to me still in my hand. I looked down at it, thinking. The only three guns I’d fired in my life were my Dad’s .45, his accurized .22 Ruger and the M14 rifle I’d qualified with in training. The crummy worn .45 I’d been loaned at the Basic School I’d left in my locker until the shooting qualifications were over. I’d taken my Dad’s worked over professional piece and shot the course to not only get my Expert Badge in pistol but clean the course with all bullseyes. My instructor there had been very surprised. I was sure he would have been equally surprised at my success in shooting the two women. I tried to feel something. I felt nothing. Shooting the women had been just like shooting the course. Breathe and squeeze. The horrid bunched together bloody blouse of the women’s belongings hadn’t been so easy, but I was dead set on forgetting that, just like the girl’s faces.

I could use Russ and the battery fire, at maximum charge and elevation, to safely clear the way, or terrify the way, for the company to force march up the side of the mountain. It was a nothing mountain with no name, or even elevation listing on my map, so it wasn’t likely to be defended. And for the first time in days we would not be on the gun target line.

I had Russ give me a couple of zone fires along the way on up to the summit, but I didn’t complete the fire mission. I motioned for Stevens to approach, and then instructed him to go to the Gunny and the platoon commanders to let them know arty was going to be coming in.

I waited for Stevens to return from his mission, packing my stuff together and dumping what I could from what little pack material I had. The mountain was steep and the company was going to go up the slope hard and fast. There was no other way, and I and every Marine there was supposedly in shape and trained for just that kind of a challenge.

Fusner’s little transistor radio suddenly blossomed alive. Brother John and his soothing voice from Nha Trang came out of the tinny little speaker like poured molasses. The first song of the day was by a group fittingly called Truth. And then the song began. “In the year twenty-five twenty-five, if man is still alive, if woman can survive…”

The song’s lyrics had some strange bite to it and it was a bite from an unlikely glum future. I didn’t care. Any future was fine by me.

When Stevens and Nguyen didn’t return, and after waiting for what I thought was long enough, I executed the fire command with the battery, figuring anyone who hadn’t got the word would figure it out when the shells screamed in so close to the ground. Less than two minutes later the usual “Shot, over,” radio message came in, and in seconds the “Splash, over.”

There was no screaming of shells overhead because the company was no longer under the gun target line. A crumping series of explosions indicated that the shells had landed. It took me a few seconds to figure out that Russ had decided to hit the peak before rolling another zone or two down the slope in our direction.