Originally published this as M but that means it doesn't get put on Just In or archived so I've toned down the violence and republished as T
Summary; I was watching Tour of Duty the other day via satellite, what a brilliant series it was, very, very brave in so many respects dealing with issues like drug abuse, racism etc at a time when especially American TV tended not to. It struck me the parallels between what was happening in Vietnam in 1968 and what's happening in Iraq today. So I thought that it might be a good way to discuss the issues brought up. Besides, we never did find out what happened to the guys after the series ended. In some ways they will always be in that endless firefight in the bush.
So here it is. Leading the men of his infantry division through the streets of Baghdad Lt General Myron Goldman runs into an old friend from his Vietnam days and discusses the similarities of then and now.
Series; Tour of Duty
Warning; violence and suffering and racism
Rating; NC17 for the above, no sex
Disclaimer; This series does not belong to me but belongs to Zev Braun productions. This fic is purely a work of fiction and is done for free internet distribution with no profit motive at all.
Feedback; more the merrier
Tour of Duty; Iraq
"I see the girls go by dressed on their summer clothes"
"I have to turn my head, until my darkness goes"
He wished he'd had his iPod in Vietnam. Better than humping Taylor's old PX radio and it's 8-Tracks along. He turned it off and placed it in his webbing pocket as his Humvee drew up to the target house.
The captain and the major were there to meet him. He liked them both, they were good officers. The Army had made a lot of progress in its' selection and training since the 60s. But he liked the captain better. He was actually National Guard, ran a paper mill back home. Didn't give a damn about anything other than the men in his company.
The major was West Point, third generation soldier. He was a good guy and keen but he was an army lifer, wanted to make it his career, to wear Myron's rank some day. He kept trying to impress and sometimes that was dangerous.
He stepped out of the Humvee onto the street, his bodyguards spreading out on either side, their M16s at the ready. Myron carried his own M16, he didn't expect to have to use it but it was one more thing to make him blend in with his troopers. That and the weight was reassuring. He wore his Baretta pistol in a subdued holster on his web belt. Many of his men also carried sidearms, some personal purchases. Myron didn't mind as long as they carried their issue kit as well. As long as they were prepared to hump it, he didn't mind them using it.
Not that there was much humping. Good thing about Iraq was that you didn't have to walk anywhere.
The gunner on the roof of the Humvee swept the street with his machine-gun, his night vision goggles making him look like he was defending the Death Star from rebel attack.
"Guess that makes me Darth Vader" he thought. His arrival was somewhat similar to the Dark Lord's of the Sith's first appearance, the troopers standing to one side as he swept through them. All he needed was a cape and the theme tune.
No one saluted. It had been one of the first things Myron had instituted when he'd taken over the division. You didn't salute. Snipers loved to kill officers. Machine gunners, radio operators, NCOs and officers were always the top targets. He'd told his men again and again not to salute, officers not to gesture too much, to limit their rank markings to subdued symbols inked onto the rear of their helmets. He wondered how many lives he'd saved by doing so. He wondered how many lives could have been saved if they'd only taught this at OCS.
"This way sir" the major led him into the house. The smell was that familiar third world smell, disel fuel, rotting rubbish, unwashed bodies and exotic rice and sauces mixed to make it palatable. He never thought he would miss the greenery of Vietnam but sometimes he yearned for it amidst the dry heat of the desert.
The prisoners were on their knees, blindfolded and handcuffed. Some were muttering, praying, making their peace with Allah now that they were fallen amongst the heathen. One difference between them and the gooks, Charlie and the PAVN didn't have anyone to pray to, not even Ho Chi Minh. Not that a lot of them didn't rediscover their Christian or Buhdist roots when Fonataine was dangling them from the chopper for information and sometime just for the plain fun of it.
"Mixed bunch sir" the Major pronounced proudly. "Syrians, Saudis, Pakistanis, even Algerians along with some local boys, all Sunnis" The Major's deep Alabama drawl made Myron smile. It was a different army now, a southern black man now an officer commanding white troops and no one so much as batted an eyelid. Some things were definitely better.
"Shipping them out now"
After Abu Grahib Allied Forces no longer conducted hardcore interrogations anymore. The Iraqis would be handed over to their countrymen who would proceed to torture the shit out of them and make them wish they were still in the captivity of the Americans before making them confess live on TV to their crimes, drinking binges and homosexual orgies. It was good propaganda, it saved lives, robbed them of their support from the Sunni population who didn't like the occupation but weren't exactly sure what they wanted it replaced with.
The foreigners would be shipped back to their homelands by phantom CIA airlines and disappear into their prison systems probably never to be seen again. Either way they would eventually provide a treasure trove of information. It was much cleaner. Outsourcing was how the business world put it.
"We found these" the Captain lead him to the rear of the garage area. There were half a dozen artillery shells partly disassembled, some wired to mobile phones. They were almost the ideal terrorist weapons, place one by the roadside, wait until a convoy came past and dial the number. God knows how many men Myron had lost to such devices. One of the problems with Iraq is that it was simply dripping with ordinance, after two decades of nearly continuous war you could literally just walk out into the desert and stumble across it.
There was plenty more besides, small arms, largely AK-47s and RPK machine guns, RPG7 anti-tank weapons, mortars, grenades. Each Iraqi household was allowed to keep one assault rifle and one pistol for their own security but you didn't need support weapons and explosives for home defence. Engineers were meticulously going through the captured arsenal, checking for boobytraps, defusing live ordinance. The concept that blowing yourself to smithereens would guarantee you a place at God's right hand made people rather cavalier with their safety standards.
Some of the soldiers present were taking pictures of the cache with their camera's mounted on their own mobile phones. And by tonight the pictures would be on the Internet for all the world to see. Technology never ceased to amaze Myron.
There was more besides. Documents, videotapes, computers, all to be sifted through by the division's massively overworked intelligence staff aided by the CIA snake-eaters and the fledgling Iraqi government security staff. It was their information gained from just such an analysis that had led to tonight's raid, going through reports, looking for patterns, cultivating informants. Nine out of ten times they would come up dry and get it wrong but every so often they hit the mother lode. Tonight was such a night, otherwise Myron wouldn't have been there to appreciate the fruits of their labours, give a hearty and genuine well done to his men. He recalled the hollow and dumb platitudes of the senior officers who'd visited his own unit in Vietnam and vowed to never indulge in their bombastic cliches.
The troopers started loading the documents into the trucks. Terrorists loved to write. It was a weird thing but everyone from the IRA to the Klu Klux Klan just loved to write everything down, perhaps they felt it gave them more legitimacy, made them more like a real army. Bureaucracy was something Myron fought a constant battle against. He tried as much as possible to delegate authority downwards so that his command wasn't constantly nagging combat units for senseless details and reports, pressuring them for figures which he knew from experience were largely just made up. He also kept an eye on the numbers of men riding desks, constantly rotating assignments so that everyone got their turn on the streets. It did wonders for morale, it was all too tempting for men to create nice safe office jobs and kid themselves that what they were doing was vital to the war effort as they shuffled paper that mattered to no one but themselves..
One of the tapes was playing on the portable TV in the corner. Osama Bin Laden preaching to the faithful. Despite his attempts to learn Arabic Myron only had the vaguest idea what he was talking about but the message would have been plain to even a deaf man.
DEATH TO AMERICA
The intel boys would go through everything they found tonight and try to piece it together, try to gain more intel for more successful raids. At least that was the theory. One of the hardest things about fighting the Islamists was their cell structure. There was no central command like the VC or PAVN had. All a cell needed was a shared belief. They could get arms anywhere, raise money by kidnapping and their targets were simply anyone they decided was an enemy. It was that simple.
"Well done" Myron said simply both to the officers and the men. "Excellent work, what you did here tonight has undoubtedly saved countless lives. A few more ops like this and we can all go home".
It was the ultimate carrot to dangle in front of them. Home. The World. Nowadays technology had brought it a lot closer but it still seemed a mythic and faraway place. A place where you didn't have to wear body-armour all the time. A place with unlimited running water, a proper toilet, paved roads and no one hurling mortars at you all the time. A place where you slept in your own house, showered and bathed as much as you wanted and ate at a real resteraunt, rather than sharing a hanger with one hundred other guys and chowing down at the mess hall every single night. Home. Family. Wives, sweethearts, approachable women who weren't clad head to foot in black curtains.
It was a lie of course. The American Army wouldn't be going home form Iraq for many years to come. Another good change was that units would rotate home together, no more individual soldiers counting their time until they were short rather than worry about their buddies. No draftees, all volunteers, National Guard, reserves, the lot, a true nation in arms, just like it was World War Two. Lot's bellyached about being here saying this wasn't what they'd signed up for, even some of the regulars who seemed to think the army was just a stepping stone to a free college education. Myron gave them short shrift, you joined the army you expected to go to war and kill the enemy, up close and personal. He'd lost count of the number of men he'd killed, the figures in black pyjamas or PAVN pith-helmets he had lined up in the sights of his rifle, squeezed the trigger, heard the bark and felt the recoil as he watched them fall. Not caring a whit about them past the fact that they were no longer capable of harming him or his men. He'd killed with his bayonet, stabbing another human being to death just like the cavemen thousands of years ago, just like Kane and Abel, killing them close enough to be able to smell their ordure as their bowels let go and they pissed and shit themselves as they died.
That's what soldiers did. It wasn't their job to march around looking pretty, it was their job to kill. To kill for the greater good.
Whatever the hell that meant?
He looked at the faces of the men he addressed. God was he ever so young? During his career he'd actually served as a scoutmaster for the base kids, knowing it would look good for his chances of promotion. Looking around now at the soldiers dripping with weaponry around him he couldn't help but be reminded of the boys in his troop. Even the Sergeant looked barely out of his teens. At least Zeke had been over thirty, already a Korea vet with previous Vietnam experience under his belt. But sometimes boys had to grow into men fast. He'd read about soldiers in their 20s commanding entire battalions in World War 2 simply because all the older guys had been killed, wounded or cracked up. "Bloody wars and sickly seasons" was the British army toast because that was the way to promotion.
They smiled and grinned at his praise. In the army you tended just to get shouted at all the time, every mistake, every tiny flaw jumped upon as though it were a mortal sin by officers and NCOs determined to demonstrate their authority at every possible opportunity. Myron didn't believe in it and neither had Zeke, he led by example, his disapproval more fearful to his men than any amount of bawling.
They were a mixed bag. They adorned themselves with any amount of personal gear. It always made Myron wonder why the army put such an emphasis on uniformity when it went out the window as soon as you were in real combat. He suspected it was partly to give a peacetime army something to do.
Their helmets and body armour were covered in slogans penned on in Magic Marker. "Mean Motherfucker", "The Animal", "Hardcore" "No Mercy". The machine-gunner had carved an eagle's head into the butt of his weapon. The team sniper had 'The Judge' written on the side of his helmet and 'The Jury' inscribed on his rifle, an old, battered but immaculately cared for M14, fitted with a state of the art nightsight but just like what they'd used for sniping back in 'Nam. Probably older than most of the men in the room. An oldie but a goodie.
Just like him.
The sniper had five notches carved on his rifle butt. The army's sniper programme had been one of the great successes of the war, essential for largely urban guerrilla warfare, someone had finally shut the door before the horse had bolted.
They were black, Mexican, Puerto Ricans, white, every possible race and creed under the sun. Men from squalid urban ghettos who saw the army as a good alternative to jail or death in some pointless drive-by shooting that wouldn't even make the local news. Many of the white soldiers were constantly chewing tobacco, dirt poor mountain boys from the hillbilly states. 'Flyover America' they called it but in many ways they were the backbone of the army, born with a rifle in one hand, raised hunting and living on their wits, accustomed to discipline and physical hardship.
What was it Purcell had always said? America's wars were fought by the Hicks, the Spics and the Niggers? Goldman could have been chucked out of the army for saying that today but it was true. He remembered Purcell saying it in front of Taylor, Johnson and Ruiz and no one had disagreed with him. The poor and disadvantaged would always be in the army and the poor and uneducated would end up as the infantryman at the sharp end because they didn't have any other skills to offer. He was certain it was as true in Washington's time as it was now.
He turned. The Iraqi family was in the corner. The mother and daughter were guarded by a female soldier, another change from Vietnam. The mother was in the full Bhurka, only her eyes visible. Myron's troops called them 'Ninja Turtles', the Brits called them Guinness bottles. Myron felt a nostalgic urge for the bar girls and whores of Vietnam whizzing around on their little scooters. There simply were no local women in Iraq to go out with, something that must have been unique to this conflict. The 'fucky-sucky me so horny love you long time' fantasy harboured by the troops just didn't exist. It was one aspect of Vietnam the movies had got right.
The little girl was clutching at her mother's skirts. Even through the all encompassing garment you could tell the mother was shaking, terrified at these nightmarish invaders in her home, the plastic gloves discarded at her feet signifying that the female corporal had already searched them. The little girl lacked her mother's fear. She was clad in a simple white dress and was staring intensely at their blonde captor. It occurred to Myron that she'd probably never seen a white woman up close before never mind one dressed in a combat uniform, bearing a gun and ordering male troops around.
The man of the house had spoken. He was handcuffed but not blindfolded and stood by his family, staring at Myron's subdued namebadge on his uniform. So he could speak and read at least some English?
"JEW!" he declared, spitting in Myron's face.
"WHORE!" he turned and spat in the corporal's face a microsecond before Myron's bodyguard broke his nose with his riflebutt.
The man collapsed on the floor blood pouring from his face. The bodyguard raised his rifle for another blow but Myron stopped him. The man's wife began to wail hysterically and his daughter ran to him to try and shield him. The corporal pulled her away, the girl crying her eyes out, the soldier seemingly on the verge of tears herself as she wiped the spittle away.
The man was muttering as he lay on the floor. The Iraqi security forces interpreter came forward, clad in a balaclava to try to hide his identity. "He asks you to spare his family" he translated. "He asks that you don't kill him in front of them"
Myron looked at him, this man begging and pleading for his family's life, lying on the floor in a puddle of his own blood. He realised he didn't understand, didn't understand at all. He was also aware that the rest of the troops in the room were looking at him intently. His actions in the next few seconds would make or break his reputation with them.
"Tell them he isn't going to be executed. Tell him those days are gone. Tell him this isn't Iran and that Saddam isn't coming back"
"Fuckin-A!" the Sergeant chorused.
"Right on sir!" another of the troops agreed.
The interpreter translated Goldman's message with a grin, the man staring sullenly at the floor, relieved but still resentful. His wife stopped sobbing and willingly took her daughter from the corporal who'd managed to make her stop crying.
He turned to his men as he left. "Good work, keep it up. Then we can go home"
The world turned upside down as a mighty giant picked up the Humvee and flicked it across the road like a pebble skipping along the surface of the water.
Myron didn't feel fear. He just clawed through the darkness of bodies and wreckage until he was out of the vehicle and standing again. He looked around, completely deaf.
There was a small dust storm kicking up the dirt at the side of the road. He watched it with amusement for a few seconds before he realised it was automatic weapons fire impacting just beyond the Humvee. Looking around he could see sparks and the occasional tracer round impacting on the bodywork. The vehicle was resting on its' left side where the blast had left it, the ambushers hosing the underside with small arms fire. An RPG thudded through the rear of the passenger compartment like a firework going off mere feet away from your face, Myron close enough to feel it's heat, spinning around to shield himself. Thankfully the Humvee's armour wasn't thick enough to detonate the warhead of the weapon which was designed to kill tanks. It simply passed straight through.
He became aware that his mouth was filled with his own blood.
He unslung his M16 and blindly fired off an entire magazine in the general direction of the incoming fire. He drew his pistol and emptied it too. He couldn't even here the shots, only knowing it was empty when the recoil stopped.
"Gimpy, got to get the gimpy" he thought. There was no point trying to reload his rifle when there was belt fed machinegun a couple of feet away. If the enemy were smart the incoming fire was designed to suppress any survivors whilst they flanked him. He had no idea if anyone knew they were in trouble, no idea if there was any help coming. He needed firepower.
There was something wrapped around the GPMG mounted on top of the car. It took him a second or two to realise that the dark, wet mass was Howard, his gunner, his head neatly cleaved from his shoulders. He paused for a second to let the information sink in then turned his head and gritted his teeth, feeling amidst the horrible warm, wet flesh for the mounting release.
It came away in his arms and he carried it, cradled like a baby in his arms and rested it on the front bumper as close as possible to the front windshield in order to show as little of his body as possible. His hearing was returning, able to make out the zsip, zsip of bullets flitting over her head, like a bee passing his ear.
And then the machinegun was roaring, bucking and thrashing in his grasp, the belt disintegrating in his hands, the butt thudding against his shoulder, the muzzle flash flaring as the tracers cut like a laser beam through the night, creeping his aim up at the flashes of the enemy, a few hundred yards away. He felt fear but as an urgent need to destroy his attackers rather than as an impulse to flee.
The gun kept jamming. The redoubtable Belgian design, adopted by nearly all the NATO countries, far superior to the M60 Ruiz had humped through the boonies was jamming, its' belt covered in Howard's blood and caked with dust from the mine explosion. Myron desperately cleared it time and again, knowing that all their lives depended on it.
Corporal Carlisle joined him, firing his M16, hobbling on one leg. Myron beckoned and Carlisle grabbed the belt, working it into the gun, clearing the gunk off the rounds as he fed it with one hand into the breech, firing his rifle like a pistol with the other.
The GPMG ran dry. Myron dropped it and left Carlisle to fire whilst he routed about in the wreckage for another box of ammo. Instead he found Howard's personal weapon, an M16 with a 40mm grenade launcher mounted underneath the barrel. He brought it to his shoulder and started dropping the grenades on the enemy position, firing single rifle rounds at them whilst he reloaded the launcher. It occurred to him how useful this weapon would have been in back in the day.
Carlisle pitched in too with a couple of hand held grenades followed by smokes, falling far short, the blast and shrapnel actually rocking the Humvee but creating enough noise and confusion to hopefully given the insurgents second thoughts about trying to overwhelm their position.
Myron ran out of ammo for his grenade launcher but added his own smokes, ripping the electrical tape he'd secured the pins with off and pulling out the pins he'd pre-weakened with a pair of pliers. He fired off another magazine from his pistol whilst trying to reload his rifle one handed. He was dismayed to see a sudden wind pick up and blow their smokescreen to one side. It was only when the same wind started whipping his hair that he realised its' significance.
The Cobra pilot took one look at the situation and decided that the guys at the Humvee were likely to be friendly and everyone else wasn't. A single, long, lazy burst of minigun stopped the enemy fire in an instant, the red hot cartridge cases raining down on Myron and Carlisle. A couple of rockets into the buildings behind them finished matters.
Myron slumped down to wait for the Quick Reaction Force. Carlisle sat down beside him and offered him a canteen. He accepted it gratefully, the nervous excitement of combat more dehydrating than any marathon. He remembered that Carlisle and Howard had been best friends, practically inseparable ever since basic training. For now Carlisle was too busy to mourn him, that would come later.
He noticed Carlisle's trousers were soaked in blood. "You're hit"
"Just little stuff, just fragments. Get a Purple Heart for it though"
Myron nodded. "Go with your Silver Star"
"You mean it sir?"
"You earned it" It seemed strange to be talking medals at a time like this but why the hell not? Myron had more than enough to go round.
Carlisle dropped the canteen, his face transforming from the normal dull shock so familiar to combat veterans to a mask of horror. Myron followed his gaze.
Private Moore was staggering in the centre of the road, his arms flailing about him. He'd been in the driver's seat of the Command Humvee when it had been hit. The concussion had ripped his helmet off and taken the side of his face with it, leaving a slab of raw meat in its' place, the skull bones clearly visible through the shredded flesh. It had travelled through his skull and popped his eyeball out of its' socket. It hung now over his cheek, still suspended by the optic nerve like some Halloween fright mask.
"I can't see" he whimpered.
Carlisle threw up.
Myron grabbed Moore and sat him down. He pulled out a field dressing and pressed it on his wound, wetting it with his canteen. "Keep still!" he implored him.
Carlisle sat frozen beside him. "Keep him talking" Myron commanded but Carlisle was just speechless with fear and revulsion.
Moore screamed his heart out as Myron tried to apply pressure one the wound. Myron pulled back, the shell dressing taking a two inch sized piece of Moore's skull with it. In the half light it took a moment or two for Myron to work out he was actually looking at his exposed brain.
"Hold him" he ordered Carlisle. The Corporal still couldn't speak but had enough of his wits about him to grab Moore and pin him down.
Gingerly Myron took the exposed eyeball in his fingers and tried to slide it back into the socket. Moore screamed his heart out, Carlisle struggling to keep him still. "Fuck it" thought Myron and grabbed a syrette of morphine from the dogtags around Moore's neck, jamming it into him. You weren't supposed to give it to headwounds but he couldn't leave him in agony like this.
The drug calmed him down, reducing his screams to a pathetic whimpering. Myron tried again. This time the eyeball slid back in. It trembled for a few seconds, as if readjusting to it's new home then turned upwards leaving only the white exposed.
He'd blinded him.
"Sir, you should really get back, have the doctors back at HQ check you over"
Myron nodded, accepting the wisdom of his aides' suggestion. There was nothing more to do here. The Humvee wasn't salvageable so they'd destroyed it with thermite grenades. They'd policed up the bodies and taken the two surviving members of the ambush party to the hospital under guard. When their wounds were better they would turn them over to the Iraqi authorities who would then torture the shit out of them.
They'd abandoned the search for Howard's head, the scavenging dogs that plagued the area had probably already made off with it. The medics had already pumped Moore full of drugs and loaded him on the rescue chopper. They could do a lot nowadays at the field hospital but Myron didn't need a medical degree to tell him that he was blind and disfigured for life.
One man dead and one man maimed. Carlisle probably going to suffer guilt and nightmares for the rest of his life. And all Myron could do was write some letters to their families. It was all such a terrible waste.
He turned, half expecting it was his aide again. Instead he was surprised to see a girl, a young Western girl approaching him in a volunteer nurse's outfit, one of the international humanitarian outfits that was treating the civilian casualties of the war. She was carrying a bundle of bloodied rags in her hands, caked in the dust from the building the Cobra had destroyed.
"Can I help you miss?" he actually asked a moment before he realised what it actually was she was carrying.
"BABYKILLER" she yelled at him, slapping him in the face.
His aide went to go after her but Myron stopped him. Another hand took his elbow and he turned around to see who it was.
"Address him as General!" the aide insisted trying to impose himself between Myron and the man dressed as a volunteer medic.
Myron brushed him aside. "That's ok." He extended his hand towards him and the man grasped it firmly.
"How you been Doc?"
They made their way through the hanger, filled with muted noise and the earthy aroma of a hundred different kinds of toiletries, coffee, gun oil, boot polish and cigarette smoke. It was utterly stifling but you got used to it.
No one snapped to attention but everyone at least braced up as Myron passed, the general taking pains to acknowledge each as he went.
Most of the guys were asleep. Those on the QRF were still in their uniforms, boots on, body armour worn but unzipped, rifles at arms reach all the time.
Guys sat on their bunks and played video games, read books and magazines, surfed the internet and wrote and read letters the old fashioned way. A set of tables in the middle of the room were set up with board games, Dungeons and Dragons, Risk, Monopoly, Scrabble, Chess, Checkers. In many ways it was a nerd's paradise. Even the most hardened macho cynic gave in after a week or two and sat down like a 10 year old at a sleepover party to play the games as though life itself depended on it. One second tour veteran had informed Myron that his kids had refused to play with him when he'd gone back because he was just too good with all his practice and always played to win.
No booze, no women, little opportunity to play sport except for the dartboard, weights and table tennis table which were always booked solid. Besides, they were all combat soldiers, even the cooks, clerks, drivers and mechanics taking their turns at sentry and perimeter patrol, no second line in guerilla war zone. No one had to prove their bravery or masculinity. One guy had adopted a litter of kittens and their mother on the excuse that they would keep the numerous rats down. Not one single hard-as-nails, combat knife festooned iron pumping soldier walked past without petting them.
Fortunes were won and lost at the poker tables and floating crap games that seemed to proliferate. It was like Vegas without the cocktail waitresses. It wasn't just money being gambled. More than once Myron had caught soldiers asleep on duty and after bawling them out had heard the excuse that they'd gambled for extra guard duty and lost. He'd clamped down on the practice hard, punishing both winner and loser. But there was a limit as to how far discipline could go in a field enviroment. After all, what could he do to people, send them to Iraq? The stockade was hardly a punishment, the living conditions were probably better and no one was trying to kill you all the time. You could fine them but there was nothing to spend your money on. You could send them to KP but someone still had to do their job. Sometimes he wished he could still have his men flogged, it would be simpler and take less time.
There were two large video screens set up on one side, one showing satellite TV, the other for DVD's which were largely although not exclusively pornographic. The satellite screen was most often watched for sports and news, huge guffaws generated by the mistakes of the latter and rousing cheers and jeering from the former. When the DVD screen wasn't porn it was largely a mixture of movies and old TV series decided upon by popular vote and sheer bullying. Myron had been puzzled by how often Xena; Warrior Princess was featured until he was informed that it was the favourite series of the divisional Sgt. Major. Why this ferocious bear of a man with decades of combat experience and more decorations than a Christmas tree liked the series was something Myron had never had the nerve to ask. Still, few men really complained about a show where gorgeous women in leather fought each other before jumping into the hot-tub together.
Pin ups and porno magazines and books were everywhere. The guys were generally older than they had been in Vietnam but boys would be boys.
The queue for the satellite phone parted as Myron and Doc walked through then closed again as they went past. Instant communication was both a blessing and a curse, whenever someone was killed it would be on the news more or less within minutes. Every single guy would then try to ring home to say it wasn't him.
Music floated through the air, hard core gangster rap fusing with white guitar based rock and C&W. Sometimes Myron missed Taylor's collection of Motown tapes. One of his great regrets from Vietnam was that he'd never managed to get a picture of Zeke and the boys when they'd done their impression of Jame's Brown and his band to entertain a tribe of Montgnard's.
"Never changes, does it?" Doc asked, voicing Myron's own thoughts.
"Yes it does" Myron suggested, tapping his nose. Doc took a great sniff of air and looked around startled. His question was answered when two young women walked past in their bath robes, opening and closing the door to the female quarters which had been carefully placed beyond the NCOs station and Military Police post.
"The undiscovered country" Myron declared leading Doc past it to his own quarters.
There were broom closets bigger. Myron's room consisted of his bunk, a table, a locker and one chair. That was it. In one corner was a small civilian air-conditioner he had purchased with his own cash. On the table a small stereo and some family pictures.
"How luxurious" Doc observed and meant it. At least Myron had some privacy. General Goldman beckoned Doc take the chair and produced a bottle of Cutty Sark and a single glass from the rear of the air conditioner. He poured Doc a glass and filled his own canteen cup.
"Sorry, no ice" At least it was reasonably chilled.
"No problem. What shall we drink to?"
They chinked their cups together and took long greedy swallows. Doc fished in his jacket for a battered packet of Camel cigarettes with exactly three left in it. As he lit one Myron fished out an opened 10-packet carton of Lucky Strike from his desk and offered them to him, Doc accepting two packets and placing them in his pockets, leaving Myron five. He noted they were all silver foil packets, much more durable than the cardboard ones and waterproof.
"I thought you smoked Marlboro?" Myron asked taking one of Doc's Camels' and a light in return.
"Can't get them"
"Remind me to give you a note allowing you to shop at the PX"
Doc grinned. "Good to have friends in high places"
"You know I quit for years before I came here"
"You and everyone else"
"How come you never came to any of the reunions?" it was the question Myron had been dying to ask ever since they'd met.
Doc shrugged. "I guess I wanted to put Vietnam behind me. And I joined the Peace Corps. Been all over the world, Africa, South America the whole deal. And I was in the anti-war movement. I didn't know how that would go down with the guys" He looked at Myron warily trying to gauge his reaction. "Even threw my medals away at the Washington peace rally"
"As long as they were your own medals you chucked, Doc" Myron waved a reprimanding finger at him. "As long as they didn't belong to somebody else'"
They both laughed. "Yeah, they were mine"
"Fine, you earned them fair and square, do what you like with them. But you should have come"
"Kept this" he showed Myron the battered and chipped Zippo lighter he had used to light their cigarettes, still faintly bearing the 196th infantry brigade crest. "Got me some odd looks in some circles, I can tell you" Doc took a deep breath. "What happened the guys?"
"Taylor died" Myron let his pronouncement take a moment to sink in, wondering how the death of a man whom Doc hadn't seen in 37 years would affect him. Doc closed his eyes for a second trying to comprehend it.
"How?" he asked eventually.
"Sniper shot him in the chest on patrol one day. By the time I go there he was already in the body bag. Took me years to accept, I sometimes think I should have just ripped open the bag and seen the body myself, might have helped me cope"
They sat in silence for a little while. "Sarge?" Doc asked.
"One of the FNGs stood on a mine one day. Zeke reached over to pull him clear when it went off. Killed the new guy, took Zeke's arm off at the elbow, blinded him in one eye, took his leg off above the knee"
"He made it though?" Doc moved to the edge of his seat.
"God yeah, little thing like a mine ain't going to stop Zeke. He went home, took disability, married Doc Seymour, became a social worker at an orphanage"
"YOU ARE KIDDING!"
"No shit. Guess he's just taking care of a different bunch of boys now. Got some of his own too plus a daughter. He retired a few years back but still runs his own Scout troop"
"A one legged Scoutmaster?"
"That's nothing. When Gulf War One happened he phoned me up and asked if there was anything he could do to help"
"What did you tell him?"
"I got all his kids to write letters to my guys. Six months sitting in the Kuwaiti desert can be a long time"
"Nothing like a letter from home" Doc agreed.
"Now he's got some of THEIR kids writing for this one" he picked up a letter addressed to 'Any Soldier' in child's scrawl from his desk "Always nice to know how Spongebob Squarepants is getting on, doesn't tend to get on CNN"
"What do the guy's think?"
"They were a bit cynical at first but we have a sixty, sorry, gimpy gunner in one platoon, hard as nails, Ranger qualified, Scharwzeneger lookalike, 'Death before Dishonour' tattoo the works. One time everyone else gets mail and he doesn't. So he bursts into tears. We gave him the entire sack from Zeke's kids that day"
They shared a smile. "Danny?"
"Still working construction. Got married. Got divorced. Got one of his sons in one of my company's"
"What are the odds?" Doc wondered.
"Pretty good considering Danny wrote to me and asked me to put him there"
Doc raised an eyebrow but Myron just shrugged. "He's still a combat soldier. Insisted on it"
"Like father, like son"
Myron nodded "Wrote to Danny and told him, he said that was okay, he was just glad he was under the command of someone he trusted"
"Hell of a responsibilty!"
"Yeah, like I don't have enough of that already. Johnson's daughter is here too, she fixes choppers just down the road"
"How'd he make out?"
"Became Mayor of his hometown. He stayed in the National Guard, I bumped into him during the first Gulf War, he was a Captain but he's out of it now"
"I'm glad. How are things with all these girls around?"
"The girls are fantastic, I mean really terrific but they sometime cause a few problems. They keep getting pregnant for one thing"
"Isn't that what you might term a self-inflicted injury?" Doc asked only half kidding. He lit the last of his Camels from the stub of his existing cigarette. Myron took the stub from him and lit up another Lucky Strike.
"You might have noticed this ain't Saigon, there is no Mama-San and her girls on every street corner. You'll see guys who look like Greek Gods walking out with girl soldiers who sure as hell never made the cheerleader squad. Technically speaking it's a disciplinary offence but the media give us a hard enough time as it is so we let it slide and pack them off home"
Doc grinned but Myron's face turned grave. "Ruiz died"
"Oh fuck it LT, no, don't tell me that"
"Never readjusted to being back in the world. After his mom died he got involved in drugs and gangs. Got knifed in prison"
"Aw, fuck it LT, fuck it, don't tell me that. After all he'd been through" Doc got up and paced up and down anxiously. "Jesus Christ, I mean, after that time he helped us wean Percell off the stuff, Jesus…"
There was no justice, none at all.
"Pop's dead too, cancer"
Doc sat down again. "I'm sorry about that but I mean, he wasn't like Ruiz, he was an old guy, fought in World War 2 for Christ's sake, he'd had his time"
Myron tried to make some humour out of the situation "They'll say that about us Nam vets soon"
Doc actually raised a smile "Yeah, sooner than we think"
"Pop bought a fishing boat with his pension, lived down in Florida, we had a reunion on it once"
"I wish I'd come" Doc confessed. "What about Billy Grinder?"
"Still working on his folk's farm. Got a cornea transplant, got some vision now in one eye"
"That's terrific, wonderful what they can do today"
"You bet, I'll get them to show you around the med-tents if you'd like, they can save guys now that wouldn't have had a prayer back in Nam. We got night vision gear now, lightweight body armour, the works"
"I heard you're still scrounging scrap metal to armour your Humvees?"
Myron nodded. "Same old, same old. Remember my radio back in the day, handset kept falling to pieces all the time? Hell, back in World War 2 all the German tanks were far and away superior to our, we relied on weight of numbers alone"
"Kinda tough if you were a tanker" Doc pointed out.
"No disagreement here"
Doc adopted an odd expression "Bumped into Fontaine when I was down working with refugees in El Salvador"
"Still a charmer?"
"He was a big hit at the Iran/Contra hearings. I heard he shot himself in the head a few years back"
"Good. Although I'm sure he'd be sorry he missed all this" Doc gestured to the assembled troops in the hanger.
"Yeah. With what happened on September 11th and some of the guys we're fighting nowadays I sometimes wonder if he had a point. Besides, he pretty much singlehandedly saved Doc and Colonel Brewater on the POW mission. Did you run into Johnny McKay down there?"
"He's dead too. His plane crashed running guns to the Contras"
"God, we're just piling up the corpses aren't we?"
"Horn's okay. Became a teacher, even writes for his local newspaper"
"I didn't know him"
"No, course you didn't. You met Baker though?"
"Once or twice"
"He and his brother opened a surf shack. Still catching those waves"
I met up with Colonel Brewster, he was 'advising' the Croation army for the CIA back when I was peacekeeping in the Balkans. He's retired now but still writes the occasional article, lot of stuff about here"
Myron leaned forward and poured them both another tall drink. Doc accepted another Lucky Strike and Myron lit himself another. His Zippo was brand new, shiny and bearing the crest of his current unit, the 1st Infantry Division, the Big Red One.
"What do you think of us being here Doc?" Myron asked.
Doc took another puff. "You really want to know, LT?"
"I think we shouldn't be here. I think we're trading blood for oil so some rich guy behind a desk somewhere can get richer. I think there weren't any Weapons of Mass Destruction, we knew there never were and it was just an excuse to get rid of Saddam. I think this is turning into another Nam and we should get out now before anyone else dies" He sat back and waited for Myron to respond.
"Just give it all back to Saddam huh?"
"I didn't say that. But Jesus LT, look at what's happening here!"
"In two years we've lost maybe 2000 guys between us and our allies, the Iraqis maybe 25,000. But when Saddam put down the Shias in the 90s he killed 300,000 in one year. And that's not counting on him gassing the Kurds"
"Look LT, everyone I've met is happy Saddam is gone, OK? I remember the night after our guys killed his sons, I haven't seen such a display of fireworks since Tet. But do you honestly think things are better now?"
"Do you object to us being in Afghanistan, Doc?"
"I don't think we should be but I can see the reasons. The Taliban were the scum of the earth and they sheltered Osama and his boys. We needed to take them out. But Osama used to be our boy, as did the Taliban as did Saddam, we were funding their operations, we put them in power, Fontaine and his buddies from Langley were behind everything. Just like them and the opium trade back in Nam, just like them funding Samoza and the death squads all over Central America"
"You didn't object to some of the characters we funded in Nam, Doc, not if it meant we lost less of our guys. Stalin was monster, killed more people than Hitler ever did, enslaved Eastern Europe after the war. Should we not have helped him back in World War 2?"
Doc paused. "Better the devil you know? What choice do we have? You're going to tell me next that Nam was worth it"
"I was in Berlin when the wall came down, Doc. You can't tell me that the end of Communism wasn't a great thing. Did you not notice how all those rebel groups faded away once Moscow stopped paying the bill? You've worked in the third world, aren't people happier now we're not fighting the Cold War by proxy on their front doorstep?"
"Yeah, they're free to slave in sweat shops making trainers"
"Better than slaving on a collective farm for the state and never seeing any money. Better to have the choice"
"Because the guys we keep in power are such saints"
"No, but nowadays we don't have to keep Noriega and folks like that around"
"We need the Pakistanis to fight the Islamists. If he was to fall the guy who would replace him might start shouting death to America from the minarets"
"Isn't that their choice?"
"Maybe, but it's like Iran, it's the last choice they'd ever get. And that would be an Iran that already has nuclear weapons. It's a gamble the world can't lose. Besides, we had to get rid of Saddam. He hated our guts over kicking him out of Kuwait, imagine if he'd decided to give Osama and co a suitcase full of anthrax or hydrogen cyanide?"
"There were no WMDs" Doc spoke emphatically.
"We didn't know that"
"Aw c'mon LT!"
"Doc if we didn't know about Pearl Harbour, didn't know about Charlie breaking the Tet ceasefire do you really think we knew there weren't any WMDs? And Saddam acted like there were, denied the inspectors and everything. Imagine you're a cop and you're confronting an armed robber who says he's got a gun in his pocket. You know this guy has not only carried a real gun before but actually used it and he won't take his hand out of his pocket. You going to give him the benefit of the doubt?"
Doc lit another cigarette.
"You ever heard of Point-du-Hoc?" Myron asked.
"I get the feeling that's a rhetorical question, LT"
"Back on D-day there was a huge artillery bunker overlooking Omaha beach. So what do we have to do?"
"Take it out!" Doc didn't consider himself a military expert but this seemed obvious.
"Sure, so the navy blast it to hell, the air force hammer it with bombers and a company of Rangers scale the cliffs under heavy fire and take it all at bayonet point. Only when they looked they found that there were no guns there, they hadn't been installed yet. Does that mean the it was wrong to attack?"
"We should have known!"
"How? Closed society. It's not like back home where you can walk into the Pentagon and wave the freedom of information act. You stormed Point-Du-Hoc because you couldn't afford to take the chance that there weren't guns there and all the info pointed to the fact that there were. Same here"
"But by putting us here Bush is creating more recruits for Al Quaeda!"
"Figure of speech"
"Don't know if you've noticed but they were attacking us long before Bush was Pres, bombing the World Trade Centre, attacking the USS Cole, blowing up our embassies in Africa, all whilst Clinton was in power and he didn't want to do anything more than offensive than screw the interns"
"But now they're all coming to Iraq"
"Fine by me. I love my boys but better that they come here to attack us where we can get at them than come to New York or LA or Chicago and hide behind the bill of rights until they're ready to make their move"
"Oh come on LT!"
"Did you ever hear of Admiral King?"
"Are we going on another history lesson?"
"King was the naval officer in charge of the East Coast during the opening days of World War 2. The Brits kept putting pressure on him to put the merchant shipping in convoy but he thought that warships should go out and fight the enemy not nursemaid a bunch of merchantmen"
"Good to see that the army doesn't have a monopoly on stupidity" Doc observed.
"No argument here" Myron agreed. "But to be fair they also worried that by putting the ships all together in convoy they'd actually make them more vulnerable, like a row of ducks in a shooting gallery. So about half a million tons of merchant shipping was sunk before the first U-boat was destroyed, things got so bad sailors were deserting their ships in port. Eventually the Brits prevailed and the convoy was instituted. They found that not only did they lose less ships but they actually sank more U-boats because in order to attack the convoys the enemy HAD to go up against their escorts, it forced them into conflict with our warships that they'd otherwise seek to avoid at all costs"
"So you're saying Iraq is one big convoy?"
" In a manner of speaking. Us being here is like flying a red flag to a bull to them. So they all forget about attacking the US and come here. Suicide bombers are very seldom Iraqis, we're scooping up guys from Lebanon, Algeria, Pakistan, Saudi, Syria, all over. I don't like the fact they're here but better here shooting at us than back home, hundreds of little Timothy McVeighs, making bombs in their back garages, ready to die for Allah and go to heaven for their 92 virgins or whatever"
"So what now? Do we stay here forever?"
"Christ no! We train up the Iraqi security forces until they can manage by themselves and then gradually withdraw"
"That sounds a lot like Vietnamization to me LT, the one good thing Nixon ever did"
"Don't know about you but I had no problem with him bombing Cambodia"
"No, me neither" Doc grinned. "I've gotten into some deep, deep arguments with folks over the years over that one"
"If he hadn't done it we might not be sitting here"
"That's normally the clincher" Doc agreed. "But these Iraqi guys, they make Marvin Arvin look professional" Doc used the derogatory nickname for the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, the pro-American South Vietnamese army.
Myron shrugged. "Hey, we destroyed their country and government within a matter of weeks. That's like expecting the Germans to establish a perfect society after being beaten in World War 2. We had to occupy them for decades and they're a first world European power. Took years for George Washington to establish order after the American Revolution, the first thing he had to do was crush the brewers' revolt from a bunch a guys who'd already fought a war against taxation and were now being force to pay it again. Things got so desperate he actually asked some Austrian Prince to come over and become King of America"
"The guy pointed out that they'd toppled his cousin and declined"
"But we made so many mistakes. We should have been prepared for the aftermath"
"Victims' of our own success. We never expected to win so quickly. Besides if we'd kept the Iraqi Army and government intact all the liberals would have whined that nothing had changed, that we'd kept Saddam's henchmen in power. As it is they're whining that we didn't. You can't please people"
"So what's the future?"
"The Islamists keep coming and we keep killing them. These motherfuckers have to be seen to be believed Doc. They kill barbers because they think it's un-Islamic for people not to have beards, chuck acid in women's faces for not wearing the veil. Not even Charlie would do that. The Shias and the Kurds keep supporting us and we help them establish a working democratic government. We win the Sunni's over and convince them that they can still be a part of the country and that they're not going to be oppressed as Saddam did to the others for decades. Most of the casualties nowadays are from suicide bombs and they're almost never Iraqis, the Sunni's are far too sensible to do stuff like that"
Myron took another sip of his drink. "What you have to understand Doc is that this isn't like Vietnam where you have the NVA and the VC and they're all one. In Iraq we've got loads of different groups. You've got the Islamists who come from all over the world, you've got the Sunni nationalists who want to be back in power again and you've got every facet of tribal and religious terrorist groups and priests with their own militias. Also you've' got the brigands who are just taking advantage of all the lawlessness. Some groups get backed by Iran and Syria, most don't. It's a whole mishmash"
"Why not just withdraw, leave them to it?"
"We helped create this mess, it's our responsibility to try and help solve it, create stability. We've done some great things already, kickstarted the Israeli/Palestinian Peace process, forced the Syrians out of Lebanon, made the Libyan's play ball over their nuclear programme and stop funding terrorism. But again, it wouldn't matter. We can't just pack up and go home and hide under our beds. Can't cut and run like Nam, like Clinton did in Somalia. They'd find us wherever we went. The enemy isn't separated from us by oceans anymore, they can just hop on a jet plane and be in the US in a matter of hours. They're already living among us"
Doc made a face. "Just stick them all in a concentration camp, huh LT? Like we did with the Japs in WW2? Like McCarthy persecuted people in the 50s?"
Myron looked Doc in the eye. "Damn right. A number of those internees were spies and sabotuers. A few guys who could have done a lot of damage, just like the terrorists now. Besides which it was partly for their own protection, just like Bush evacuating all the of Osama Bin Laden's relatives from America after 9/11 before they were lynched. As for seizing their property that was a heinous thing but they say German prisoners in WW2 were always shocked at how badly white people treated the black soldiers guarding them. Christ Doc you're from Memphis, I don't need to tell you this. As for McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover gave him access to classified signals intelligence. The people he went after really were Soviet spies, there were reds under the beds. If they'd been secret Nazis would you have minded?"
"I remember a time you were against torture"
"Doc if you knew someone was planning another Sept 11th and you knew that by depriving some guy of sleep or threatening to destroy the Koran or menacing him with a dog you'd could stop it, would you?" Myron laid his palm open in a conciliatory gesture. "Don't get me wrong, I don't blame Bush or Clinton. If they'd done what was necessary to defeat Osama and the boys before Sept 11th they'd have been impeached as war criminals. But now the gloves are off. And we can't afford to be wrong, even once"
Doc finished his drink and his cigarette. "Sometimes I wonder what separates us from them?"
"Tolerance" was Myron's simple reply. "We'd leave them alone if they'd leave us. But that ain't going to happen"
Both men turned their heads at the dull crump, crump of incoming mortar shells. Neither stirred, both knew from long experience that the rounds would land nowhere near. Myron turned and wrote on a piece of paper on his desk before handing it to his old friend.
"I need to get some sleep Doc, I've got some letters to write tomorrow. That's permission to shop at the PX and the website for the Brigade reunions. Don't be a stranger Doc, I'm sure everyone would be glad to see you"
Doc took the piece of paper then took Myron in his arms, both men fighting back the tears. "God it's good to see you" Myron stuttered.
Doc broke the embrace and took his hand. "Good to see you Myron, good to see you"
Old soldiers never died. They lived forever through their deeds and in the hearts of those who loved them.
They went out into the hanger. A patrol was just gearing up to go out. They watched them go, young men, burdened down with weapons and body armour, marching in single file onto the streets of Baghdad, silhouetted against the bright red evening sunset.
Somewhere, sometime, there would always be such a patrol