Creative Writing: Instant


I\'ll always remember Instant. That was the nickname the men had tacked onto
the muscled giant that wielded the M60 in my unit. "Instant" was short for
"Instant Death." And I\'ll always remember the first time I saw Instant in
action.
I was a new Lieutenant assigned to Vietnam. Back then, the Army didn\'t try to
develop any "team spirit" within the corps; men were rotated frequently before
any friendships developed. Consequently, my men were a group of strangers united
only by the need to survive. They were eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds with the
eyes of old men. My first real assignment was to check a tiny hamlet, Dien Hoa.
Army Intelligence believed the Viet Cong were operating from Dien Hoa. Our job
was to determine if that was correct.
We rode in an olive-drab chopper. The whooping blades of the helicopter give
us a little relief from the relentless heat of \'Nam; the blades cut the thick,
humid air and pushed a breeze downward over the passenger compartment.
Soon, we circled the landing zone. The LZ looked cold. There\'s only one way
to find out if it is really cold, I thought as I double checked my M16. If no
one zapped us when we entered, it was cold. If they did, it wasn\'t.
"Lock and load," I yelled.
The helicopter circled low and slowed down until it almost hovered four feet
from the ground. The door gunner mashed the spade grips on his .30 caliber M60
machine gun. The gun spewed bullets over the field below us.
It was time to jump off the skids while we skimmed above the surface of the
lush, green valley. My stomach felt like it was turning wrong-side-out.
We dropped into the grass, stumbling under heavy packs and the weight of ammo
and weapons. I wondered about snakes and hoped the groan I mad when I hit the
ground was drowned by the noise of the helicopters. Though the helicopter gunner
continued firing into the heavy growth to the north of them, there was no return
fire. We were safe for the moment.
"OK," I yelled signaling with my hands the way you\'re not supposed to. Hand
signals are a good way to mark yourself as the leader. It\'s just the thing enemy
snipers watch for. But few of my twenty-seven men could hear me over the roar
and firing of the helicopters. I had no choice. "Move out. On the double," I
ordered. The choppers lifted. We were on our own.
The soldiers started with the usual complaining but then grew strangely quiet.
They knew we had to move quickly to leave the dangerously-exposed LZ. The
helicopters were lost in the distance; the only sounds were the usual clanking
of equipment and water sloshing in canteens.
It took nearly an hour to walk through the grassland and occasional wooded
section of the valley to the heavy jungle area at the foot of the hills. Our
speed slowed while we went up the slight incline and wove through the ever
thickening vegetation. At the ridge which overlooked Dien Hoa, we halted while I
inspected the village below them with my binoculars.
I searched for a warning sign, some hint of danger. Old men, women, and
children, with a few water buffalo, milled around; everything appeared normal.
But I knew that just because an area "looked" business-as-usual it meant nothing
in Vietnam.
"Call headquarters," I told my radio man as I lowered my binoculars. Moments
later, he had reached headquarters with his radio. I took the phone piece and
let my commander know what the situation was. As expected, we were ordered to
continue toward the village. I gave the radio phone-piece to the radioman, put
my helmet back onto my head, and stood.
"Sergeant," I said.
"Yes, Sir," Sergeant Nelson answered. The burley, middle-aged trooper
squinted at me. His face was wrinkles, sunburn, and peeling skin.
"We got bunched up on our way up," I said. "Be sure they keep spaced apart."
Sergeant Nelson nodded. I didn\'t have to tell him that it would be essential
to keep spaced in case of an ambush. I hoped the new guys would take his orders
seriously.
As the Sergeant crept down the line inspecting and giving last minute
instructions, I wiped the sweat from my brow with a dirty hand. Your hands never
stay clean for long in Vietnam and you never quit sweating. I wondered how I
would hold up in actual combat.
Eventually