Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day: Remembering Ruggles

It was an operation against the North Vietnamese Army near the demilitarized zone when I was with Company C, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. We’d humped to a clearing near a large clump of trees and the lieutenant sent out two patrols to check for gooks.

Our squad approached the trees and I was at point.

Now I smelled it, and motioned everybody down. “I smell pot,” I whispered to the squad leader.

“Pot?” he answered incredulously, motioning us forward.

We pushed on and hell erupted.

They fired from behind trees and instantly Ruggles flopped backwards on the ground, his jaw ripped off by an AK-47 round he had sucked right into his mouth.

My right calf suddenly burned, and I opened up my freshly oiled M-16 on the NVA who killed Ruggles. Charging at me from behind a tree, my furious quiver of fire caught him dead in the chest and guts. He reeled back, dropping.

Rounds whizzed by like I was in an Audie Murphy movie and Marines were now laying down enough fire to take Iwo Jima all over again. Smoke was thick, and all I could hear was popping AK’s and zinging Sixteens.

From behind the same tree another NVA charged at me, jumping over his comrade’s body and firing, wildly. I pumped my clip into him and he fell awkwardly forward, like he tripped. As I slapped in a new cartridge clip he sprang and rushed me. I hit him with three rounds, pointblank. The wicked fusillade mangled his young face. He fell, his head thumped on my boot.

Hearing the crack of branches above me, I shot my head up. Flailing his arms like disjointed windmills a gook was falling towards me. I rolled into a crouch and shot. He hit the ground, stumbling, and leapt at me with a machete. He swung it viciously, missing my cheek by centimeters, and I smelled the harsh odor of opium on his breath.

I violently pushed him away, and now my hands felt wet with blood. I realized I had shot him in the chest. I smashed my empty M-16 against his face, and he tripped backwards, dropping the knife. But the precious rifle slipped and flew from my grasp like a broken baseball bat. He wobbled to his feet, as I grabbed my e-tool, a small pick for foxhole digging. Raising it like a scimitar, I crashed it as hard as I could into his skull. It embedded deeply with a whack. The NVA fell, his body writhing, and for a moment the pick ax jittered in his head.

Now the other squad of Marines, answering the shots, unloaded on three NVA that had jumped from the trees behind me. The clash lasting less than a two minutes was over. Only then did I noticed I had been hit in the leg.

Before us lay eight NVA, and my buddy Ruggles.

From “The Detective’s Vice,” ©2012 R.D. Byron-Smith & Pilar Publishing. Available at Barnes & Noble, iBooks and other booksellers. See his Author’s Page at Amazon.

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