"Some of the critics viewed Vietnam as a morality play in which the wicked must be punished before the final curtain and where any attempt to salvage self-respect from the outcome compounded the wrong. I viewed it as a genuine tragedy. No one had a monopoly on anguish." - Henry Kissinger, 1979
He's curled up in the back of the cave, one last clip of ammo in his pocket, an almost empty gun clenched in white knuckles. His other hand is open, fingers curled limply back against a handful of dogtags, the medal resting in his upturned palm. His legs are drawn up, pulled to his chest, back propped against the cold wall, head resting against the stone.
His eyes are open, focused on empty space, on unseen phantoms, lingering memories, ghosts of dying men. A lighter is propped against one shoe, the tiny flame the only light in the cloying blackness.
He's far back in the cave, so far he isn't sure he'll ever find the way out, but he knows the V C could find him.
It's been silent for three hours now but he doesn't have any concept of time. Infinity could pass without his awareness, the world could end and he would never blink.
He doesn't know if there are any of the enemy still alive out there, only that all of his men are dead, bodies strewn around him, twisted and broken, blood splashed across his muddy uniform. Impossibly he still feels wet from the river they swam through to come here, trails of rain tracking a path down his cheeks and dripping soundlessly into the blood around him.
The radio is smashed at his feet, lost amist the bodies and empty shells. Dead V C litter a path from the front of the cave all the way back to this tiny room, a box at the very back of the cavern.
The lighter flickers once, like the fireflies he used to watch back home on a summer night, draining off the final drops of its fluid.
Somewhere from the back of his mind he finds words, a meaningless string of insults, the only words he knows in the language of his enemy. He screams them into the cavern, each epithet bouncing against the hollow walls and striking the ground with a dull echo, each one carrying the name, the face of a man he saw die, a man he couldn't save.
His head drops to his crossed arms, sweat running down his face and dripping onto the gun smashed against his chest as he waits.
Next to him the lighter twitches once, sputters weakly..and goes out.