I made it back to my cave under the rock wall of the cleft I was holed up in, the one I’d spent some time hoping to get back to. I laid in the darkness, shedding outer pieces of my wet rotting uniform, and wondering about the reality of the combat I was hopelessly engaged in. The moving, moist, noisy and miserable tomb of the A Shau Valley gave nothing back. There was nothing to give. I thought about the movies I’d seen growing up. The troops and Marines in the field had litters and stretchers for the wounded. Cruikshank had come back inside a poncho cover, looking like nothing more or less than a giant moth pupa. In combat, Marines carried everything, and there was no way to order them to carry more, and nobody was going to carry an extra twenty pounds in case somebody else needed to be carried. If the Marines didn’t want to carry a load or disagreed with what was in it, then they simply dumped whatever it was into the jungle around them. Punishing them didn’t change anything. When a punishment, even as extreme as immediate death, is commonly administered among a human group the members of that group get used to it. The Gunny had been very peculiar and particular in how he’d described accommodating combat weeks earlier. Actual ground combat teaches, with death as its primary tool. It doesn’t teach by killing the Marines around you. It teaches by killing you.

“You need to come,” the Gunny said, from just beyond the outer edge of my hideout.