Night didn’t come easily in the Nam. The day had been a blessing compared to my first night. Moving seventeen clicks through muddy rice paddies wearing a fifty-pound pack was its own form of misery, but the brutality of Marine training had kicked in and setting one foot in front of the other had become a tweaking exercise of endurance. And I had endurance. What I didn’t have any longer was a useless flak jacket or utility coat, and wearing only a Vietnam issue green “T” shirt allowed the shoulder straps of my pack to chaff, cut and hurt like hell. Being the supposed leader of whatever this Marine Company had morphed into, I knew instinctively that there could be no show of weakness. I hunched and staggered my way through without comment and without water.
We were in the flatlands. From the ocean far away in the unseeable distance to the mountains inland, the land supported subsistence farmers trying to grow rice. Rice and small fish, with inedible fish sauce called nuoc mam (nook mom), were what indigenous locals ate all of their lives, along with noodles. My concern, with nightfall coming and the inevitability of attack facing us again, was where to set in. The soggy land prevented digging foxholes. The few spotted areas among the paddies of low hanging jungle seemed to be all that was left. My training told me that those would not work simply because they were the only places to spend the night. The enemy would know that. They would be registered (previously measured for range and declination) for mortar fire, if not heavier stuff.
The unit stopped just before sunset. I’d ended up near the rear for unexplainable reasons. I’d talked to no one during the arduous hike, preceded by my scouts and followed by Fusner, who somehow managed a full pack and the Prick 25 radio. The Gunny made his way back from the long line of Marines strung along the straight raised berm of the paddy dike. The dikes themselves were all wide enough for two people to pass one another side by side, but that was about it. The slightest misstep and a bath in the awful smelling paddy water would result.