combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 04 Number 04 Fall ©Oct 2006

Into the Jungle


          Military field commanders, on both sides of the Vietnam conflict, acknowledge the importance of tactical intelligence. Without continuous monitoring of the enemy's movements, his strengths and weaknesses, their strategic plans for winning the war cannot succeed. Of the many ways in which combat intelligence is collected, reconnaissance teams provide each side with timely and accurate on-the-ground tactical information. Such tactical intelligence, however, can be costly. The jungle is a dichotomy, a world within a world, beautiful and abundant with living things. It is also an unforgiving place, where a misstep can have tragic results.

          Into the jungle six men walk. A recon team, clad in military issue, they seemingly fade into the jungle's growth and disappear from view. They move deliberately, and with design towards some known target, or unknown fate. Each man aware that up ahead, hidden in the jungles green cloak, the enemy waits.

          Muscles tense, weapons at the ready, senses acutely attune with their surroundings and its dangers. They move cautiously, measuring each step so as not to make noise with an unnatural sound. The jungle reaches out to caress each man as he moves through it. But, they dare not leave a sign that they've passed. Their survival depends upon their ability not to be seen or heard. They must be alert to the slightest movement, a rustle of leaves, or an odor adrift in the wind. For not only will it tell them that the enemy is near, it may well be their only warning of impending peril.

          It was just after noon, on a hot and humid day in mid-April 1970. The team was on the third day of its mission when suddenly, leaving its perch high in the over hanging branches of the jungle canopy, a bird screeched and took flight. Was it a warning, or nothing more than nature exercising its wings? Erring on the side of caution, the team stops. Crouching low to the ground, they take up a defensive position in preparation for an attack. Partially hidden by the jungle growth, they listen, and wait, unsure of what lies ahead. The moist heat of the jungle beats down upon them. Beads of sweat, a result of the heat, humidity, and fear, mix with the dirt and sweat of the previous two days of movement. With senses inundated by the perpetual movement and noises of their surroundings, they scan the low light environment of the jungle, for a yet unseen enemy. They search for something, anything that would alert them to the danger. But they're aware of nothing more than the soft rush of their own breathing and the adrenalin fed beat of their own hearts. Time seems to stand still as they await the attack that never comes. Unable to discern an enemy presence the team leader uses a hand-sign to signal the patrol to move on. The break, however, was a welcomed one. The men rise and, keeping their interval, begin moving once again. Although they are drawing closer, they have not yet reached their objective.

          Without further warning, the jungle suddenly erupts with horrendous noise. Explosions violently tear apart the serene tranquility and order that nature had taken so long to establish. The detonation of hand-grenades and anti-personnel mines throw bodies left and right as the men attempt to find cover in this impact area.

          Three of the six men suffer mortal wounds as shrapnel, hurtling randomly about, cuts through their flesh. The deadly sting of hundreds of steel projectiles tear through muscle, sinew and bone, leaving only a semblance of the men that once were. The remaining soldiers, deafened and disoriented by the force of the attack, fire blindly into the jungle.

          Still caught within the kill zone of the ambush, the grenades and mines are followed by machine-gun fire. The seemingly unending fusillade of fire is overwhelming. Bullets find their targets, punching into the remaining three men, only to burst forth from their bodies like festering boils. The gaping holes of the exit wounds give testament to their effectiveness.

          The ambush was precisely executed and chillingly effective. For those caught in its deadly embrace, an eternity passed. The echoes of gun fire, however, inevitably drift away to be replaced with a death shroud of silence. It dispassionately covers the six men as they lay unmoving amidst the jungle foliage. The air is still and thick with the acrid odor of explosives and gunpowder, of spilled blood and scorched earth. The attack has ceased. For the dead their horror is over. But, for the lone survivor of the ambush, he has yet to experience the desperation of his last breath.

          One soldier, barely alive, lies on a bed of jungle grass. In a twilight state of consciousness, he opens his eyes to see the enemy soldiers as they move out of their concealed positions. He frantically retrieves his rifle, deftly raises it to his shoulder and fires.

          Each time he squeezes the trigger, he feels the weapon dance against his shoulder from the re-coil. As the bullets find their marks, the painful cries confirm the dedication of the man and the accuracy of his shooting. But like the distortion of a nightmare, the hallucination suddenly turns against him, as he is hit with return fire. His minds eye watches as bullets pass through his shadowed image. His body falls slowly to the ground. In an attempt to ward off the pain, he screams. A scream borne deep within the recesses of his mind, heard by no one but himself, yet loud enough to yank him back to reality.

          Regaining his senses, confused and in shock, he remembers being hit and thrown to the ground by the force exerted as the bullets slammed into his body. He can feel his wounds and the dampness of his own blood as it soaks into his uniform. His legs have become useless appendages and his breathing is erratic and labored. Lying on the jungle floor, his head awkwardly propped against a fallen tree, he's able to see his rifle on the ground where it had fallen after being blown from his grasp. He attempts to rise and continue the fight, but his body does not respond. Paralyzed, fear and hopelessness invade his mind as he watches the enemy soldiers search the bodies of what was his team, for documents, for money and other souvenirs of the killing.

          As the enemy soldiers turn in his direction, he feels an inner coldness sweep over him, subduing the heat of the jungle. His heart, unable to withstand the onslaught of death, races to a stop. His mind, fighting for survival, uselessly searches for a memory to cling to. His eyes, focus fading, record their last picture. His lungs collapse as his last breath is caught in mid gasp. He dies.

          Leaving behind a scene too surreal to be believed, into the jungle six men walk. Clad in military issue, they vanish into the green darkness as silently as they came.


          In this story, six men entered the jungle and six men left. Soldiers who, rather ironically, wage war to attain peace. Few people knew them, or will remember them, but many owe them. It does not matter for whom they fought. Suffice it to say, they fought for something larger than themselves, for their way of life, for their country.

by Emmett B. Masterson
... who is a Special Forces veteran of the Second Indochina War, and a retired Treasury agent; this is his first published writing based upon his wartime experience.

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