James W. Wal­ley, Jr.

The Iowa Review - - FRONT PAGE - Terry hert­zler

The ham­let sat at the north end of a long val­ley, squad tak­ing a break, LT talk­ing to the vil­lage head­man. A young ra­dio op­er­a­tor stood near the lieu­tenant, watch­ing the ridge­line, half-click away, a dozen shades of green bro­ken near the top by tan and black of shad­owed rock faces, in­di­vid­ual trees crown­ing the canopy like camel humps, edges sil­hou­et­ted against a sky the blue of old jeans. A papa-san squat­ted near him, face wrin­kled and im­pas­sive, black mar­ble eyes re­flect­ing ev­ery­thing. The soldier won­dered what the old man had seen in this small Vietnamese ham­let in his 70 years, what changes in­scribed the map of his face, what vic­to­ries and sor­rows etched those lines and fash­ioned the pa­tience of his pos­ture, squat­ting but­tocks-to-heels in the red dirt, arms re­laxed across his knees. He’s seen this sun rise 25,000 times. Sud­denly, the soldier felt ab­surd—19 years old, dressed in olive-drab fa­tigues, jun­gle boots, web gear, ban­doleers of am­mu­ni­tion, can­teens, M16, PRC-25 ra­dio on his back, code words and call signs echo­ing through his brain, a trained com­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­pert who spoke only one lan­guage, but who on the LT’S com­mand could call in ar­tillery, gun­ships, air strikes, could turn this vil­lage to smoke and ash. He won­dered how many lan­guages the old man spoke: Vietnamese, pos­si­bly French, Chi­nese, some of the dozens of di­alects spo­ken by var­i­ous Vietnamese eth­nic groups, maybe even English. But he’d prob­a­bly never driven a car, flown in a jet, watched a sitcom. And the young soldier waited for some epiphany, some­thing to jus­tify the air he was breath­ing, the sun on his face— but then Sergeant Jaines walked by, cig­a­rette dan­gling from the cor­ner of his mouth, won­der­ing out loud if there was any gook pussy to be had in this shit­hole, and the young soldier turned his back, em­bar­rassed, moved away from the old man, miss­ing his quick glance, those eyes filled for a mo­ment with an emo­tion the soldier might have al­most rec­og­nized had he still been look­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.