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ripped and shaken by the grip of some dark hand, which was reaching up from a hellish realm to rob him of feeling at ease. Try as he may, Jason had a hard time shaking off that dark hand.
As time went by, Jason came to see that the entire stage of the war, with all its bombings, napalm and widespread scenes of carnage and terror, was encompassed by the same darkness that clutched so tightly to his chest. It was as if a black smoke had risen up from a hellish realm, escaping through the cracks in the Earth to permeate the atmosphere and strangle the life force out of everything in its dominion. A demonic force had reached up from hell and was holding the entire country in its merciless grip. Jason and everything around him was relentlessly strangled by the same cruel black smoke, which when inhaled made it forever difficult to breathe freely again. He was losing the will to move such poisonous air in and out of his lungs. Jason realized there could be no winners in this war, save that obscene darkness, which had infected and overcome all those within its reach. Thus, Jason had learned that by the killing of even one man the whole world is forever changed.
Luke had joined the Army at the same time as Jason, and they had shipped out on the same Greyhound bus from Pleasanton to Fort Ord. They had been casual friends in high school, and sharing the experiences of basic training drew them closer together, in what seemed to be an unspoken brotherly instinct to survive. And they were always drinking buddies when venturing into town to visit the Seaside Tavern. On those occasions, Luke was more drawn to flirting with the girls, while Jason was more inclined towards ordering another beer. I either case, the relief from fear and worry was temporary and gladly received.
After eight short weeks of boot camp they were separated by the needs of advanced training. Luke was to become a door gunner on a helicopter gunship and Jason would train as a marksman with the infantry. It seemed that growing up in the country, which afforded many opportunities for hunting with a rifle, had covertly prepared both young men to become warriors. Opportunity and fate are sometimes intertwined in a way that only becomes discernible after events have become history. And so it came to pass that the seriousness and finality of war would be thrust upon them, in ways young warriors cannot imagine.
Although they did not fight together in the same squadron, Luke and Jason were destined to meet in Viet Nam. Oftentimes, when Jason and his squadron were being deployed on a mission, they would be transported via helicopter to a remote location. On one such occasion, as Jason and his squadron were loading into the belly of a Huey, he recognized his high school friend seated at the position of the door gunner, casually leaning on his minigun.
“Luke!” he cried in unexpected joy. Luke looked up in surprise and grinned widely at the sight of Jason. In the midst of a sea of men in khaki and gear, they stood gazing at each other in wonder and amazement. “How have you been, man?” Jason asked, bouncing on the balls of his feet with excitement. “I’m alright, as long as I can keep sitting behind this minigun and shooting gooks!” Luke exclaimed, while patting the top of the high speed machine gun mounted to the floor of the helicopter. “Man that is one powerful looking gun!” Jason replied. “I hear Charlene is pregnant and about to have the baby!” Luke said, smiling broadly. “Yep, I can’t wait to get home and see my son!” Jason beamed with pride.
They were both proud of their accomplishments as soldiers. Jason had many stories to tell of his successes as a marksman. Likewise, Luke was wild with stories about mowing down Viet Cong soldiers with his high speed machine gun. He said the number of Viet Cong soldiers he had killed was beyond counting. He got a little excited, like getting an adrenaline rush, when talking about the missions and the scores of enemy killed. Being soldiers, neither of them ever knew the objective of a mission until they were underway. At the last minute they would be told the objective was to seek out and destroy an enemy bunker on a certain hill, or to burn down an enemy stronghold, which to their eyes was indiscernible from the straw huts in any other mountain village.
Soldiers have no time for remorse or doubt. They are face to face with death every day, and they must fight to stay alive. Throughout their ranks, soldiers believe they are doing the right thing for God and Country. However, truth be known they spend little time thinking about the purpose or reasons for the war. The only things they need to know are what they are told to do and when to do it. They quickly learn to respond to the voice of a Field Sargent and complain about the strenuous work. When they are in the field it is all about winning or losing, living or dying. They blame the enemy for everything that is wrong in the world, and they are more than willing, in fact eager to kill enemy soldiers. The enemy becomes like unwholesome vermin that must be eradicated. And with each enemy soldier killed, the day of victory and returning home gets a little closer.
At home, watching the news of the war on television, most Americans do not understand the soldier’s thrill and bravado, experienced as part of a successful killing spree. Only a warrior in the glorious midst of victorious battle can understand this primal accomplishment, which makes him feel like he is standing a foot taller and that much closer to total triumph over the enemy. Within the pretext of war the primitive urge to kill is unleashed and encouraged. Hideous scenes of bloody death and mangled bodies become the norm for soldiers fighting on the ground. What is considered correct behavior on the killing fields would not be considered correct in any other context of life. In fact, warlike behaviors are condemned in every other setting of human experience. For humanity, the irony of war cannot be easily reconciled. After all, what other animal besides mankind kills so many members of its own species?
The Huey slowly lifted off the ground with a thundering noise and a calamity of dust and debris. It seemed like the Earth and the surrounding air gave a great heave and pushed the helicopter skyward. The men in the belly of the Huey settled in for the transport. Luke and the opposite door gunner kept a watchful eye on the countryside below. Helicopters were essential to the war effort in terms of moving troops and providing aerial support to soldiers already on the ground. Unfortunately, helicopters were notoriously vulnerable to enemy attack. Even simple enemy rifle fire could bring down a large helicopter if a bullet pierced a strategic point in the engine or otherwise defeated the metal bird from flying. Many helicopter gunships were lost during the Viet Nam war. A helicopter crash was always catastrophic and not a survivable event.
Jason and the other men in his squadron were being transported by four Hueys flying in tandem. As they approached the drop off area, Luke fired several bursts of machine gun fire into a group of trees where he thought he had seen movement. There was no return fire, so the choppers slowed to a standstill in midair, and then slowly lowered to the ground, onto a clearing just past the group of trees. The choppers were extremely vulnerable at this point, like sitting ducks in a pond, so they kept their engines running and blades turning at idle speed. The soldiers came pouring out of the belly of each helicopter, with their heads held low and running for cover. Having accomplished the transport it was best for the choppers to drop off the men and leave the area as quickly as possible. All four Hueys were now powering up and slowly lifting off the ground. At about 8 to 10 feet off the ground the enormous choppers turned 180 degrees on their center axes like graceful dragonflies, and headed back in the direction from which they had arrived.
At that moment there was a volley of machine gun fire from the group of trees just ahead of the choppers, which were gaining altitude with a great roaring of engines at full throttle and blades spinning furiously. The choppers were being ambushed by a small group of Viet Cong soldiers hidden in the trees. As the choppers cleared the trees, the rearmost bird took a heavy beating from an AK-47 to its tail section. The rear rotary blade was damaged, causing the great metal bird to lurch and roll forward. No longer in control, the tail end of the chopper swung wildly around its center axis before losing all ability to stay aloft. The helicopter had actually started to crack up and break apart before it ever hit the ground.
Finally, gravity took its toll and pulled the broken machine to the ground with a great crashing force. The momentum of the impact caused the ground to shake, as the remaining fuel in the ruptured tanks exploded in a massive fireball. At that moment, hell had exploded on the surface of the Earth.
The chopper had crashed into the group of trees from which it had received enemy fire. There was smoke and the smell of fuel everywhere. Jason and some of the other men ran towards the burning debris, which moments earlier had been a glorious bird lifting away from the shackles of gravity, only to return to Earth’s hold in a terrifying crash of metal and exploding fuel. By an irony of fate, the Viet Cong soldiers that had fired upon the helicopter were smashed to destruction by the crashing of the Huey and the ensuing explosion. The helicopter had crashed into the spot where the enemy had been hiding. The Viet Cong soldiers were the immediate victims of their own violence. For them, the razor’s edge of cause and effect cut quickly through.
Jason sensed the worst as he ran towards the wreckage. He found Luke’s body, which