My body remembered each and every turn and drop, as I literally fell toward the fast-approaching bottom of Hill 975. I let the mashed mess of fern fronds, dead leaves, twigs and mud mix possess me like I was a well-massaged larva just popped out and plunging toward the earth from the cocoon of some giant insect.

I’d lost track of the sounds from higher up, or whoever was coming down the slide after I had finally figured out that yelling in the middle of the A Shau night was an open invitation to instant death or they had become used to the frightening high-speed sleigh ride without a sleigh.

I knew the ride was over when the bottom of my stomach dropped out. I was in mid-air, just like before. The wait to be caught by my fellow Marines was longer than I knew it should be, and then I hit. There were no loving arms to catch me or any other kind. I impacted the surface of the water hard and then plunged butt first into the mud just beneath, my panicked lungs bursting out the last of my breath. The water was only waist deep, however, but instead of standing up to get clear I slithered along on the surface using my arms and a frog kick to reach the edge of the pool. I laid under what cover I could that was hanging over the edge of the water, the scene not a scene at all because I was in a stygian dark night under cloud cover with heavy rain. Where were the Gunny and the rest of the company, I wondered, before hearing what sounded like a bunch of logs coming down a timber sluice up above the other side of the pool. Nguyen touched my back with one hand and then pushed me outward and down until I was once again fully immersed under the surface of the water. In spite of the fact that I knew I was in the same mud hole, I’d landed in before, being under the water quieted my heart thumping fear of whatever might come next.