I slept in my scooped out small spot atop the mud, dug down through the normal couple of feet of debris that covered those areas of the jungle not occupied by bamboo groves, trees, lianas and tubers, not to mention the vast dense thickets of ferns and other ground-hugging vegetative matter, that made parts of the area almost impossibly impenetrable to man. I slept until I felt a strong hand grip my right ankle, an ankle that had errantly gotten out from under my protective poncho cover and was soaking wet. I opened my eyes, but under the cover could see nothing. I felt instant relief. I didn’t need to see. The hand I knew. It was the hand of Nguyen, my guide and interpreter, but who was much more than that, at least to my imagined characterization of him because he seldom spoke at all. An interpreter who did not speak should have been someone who was either sent to the rear or held up as the butt of some strange war joke that only the A Shau Valley might regurgitate up.
I pushed the poncho cover aside, welcoming the first glimmer of sun I’d seen in many days. The dawn was just breaking. I craned my head around and looked at Nguyen. The man was impassive but I could tell he was energized, no doubt by being caught out in the open during the massive firing of weapons all across the mudflat where the attack took place.
“McInerney?” I whispered hope in my early morning and half-broken voice.
One quick and small shake of the Nguyen’s head told me all I did not want to know. Nguyen was not saying that the new Lieutenant wasn’t there. He was saying, with that one head slight head shake, that McInerney had died in his efforts to successfully direct the Ontos fire that had broken the back of the enemy attack hours earlier.