Excerpt from “A Rumor Of War” by Philip Caputo ~~Mine~~

picture-ARumorOfWar-PhilipCaputoAhead, I could see Pryor’s squad trudging up the ridge and the point man briefly silhouetted on the ridgeline before he went down the other side. “But this here cease-fire’s come along at the right time,” Allen was saying. “Could use a little slack. This here cease-fire’s the first slack . . .”
There was a roaring and a hot, hard slap of wind and a needle pricking my thigh and something clubbed me in the small of the back. I fell face down into the mud, my ears ringing. Lying on my belly, I heard an automatic carbine rattle for a few seconds, then someone calling, “Corpsman! Corpsman!” Because of the ringing in my ears, the shots and voice sounded far away. “Corpsman! Corpsman!” Someone else yelled “Incoming!” I got to my hands and knees, wondering what fool had yelled “incoming.” That had not been a shell, but a mine, a big mine. Who the hell had yelled “incoming”? You did, you idiot. It was your voice. Why did you say that? The fence. The barbed wire fence was the last thing you saw as you fell. You had fallen toward the fence, and it was like that time when you were six and walking in the woods with your friend Stanley. Stanley was nine, and he had been frightening you with stories about bears in the woods. Then you had heard a roaring, growling sound in the distance and, thinking it was a bear, you had run to the highway, tried to climb the barbed wire fence at the roadside, and caught your trousers on the barbs. Hanging there, you had cried, “Stanley, it’s a bear! A bear, Stanley!” And Stan had come up laughing because the growling noise you had heard was a roadgrader coming up the highway. It had not been a bear, but a machine. And this roaring had not been a shell, but a mine.
I stood, trying to clear my head. I was a little wobbly, but unmarked except for a sliver of shrapnel stuck in one of my trouser legs. I pulled it out. It was still hot, but it had not even broken my skin. Allen was next to me on all fours, mumbling, “What happened? I don’t believe it. My God, oh my God.” Some thirty to forty feet behind us, there was a patch of scorched, cratered earth, a drifting pall of smoke, and the dead tree, its trunk charred and cracked. Sergeant Wehr was lying near the crater. He rose to his feet, then fell when one leg collapsed beneath him. Wehr stood up again and the leg crumpled again, and, squatting on his good leg, holding the wounded one straight out in front of him, he spun around like a man doing a cossack dance, then fell onto his back, waving one arm back and forth across his chest. “Boom. Boom,” he said, the arm flopping back and forth. “Mah fust patrol, an’ boom.”
Allen got to his feet, his eyes glassy and a dazed grin on his face. He staggered toward me. “What happened, sir?” he asked, toppling against me and sliding down my chest, his hands clutching at my shirt. Before I could get a grip on him, he fell again to all fours, then collapsed onto his stomach. “My God what happened?” he said. “I don’t believe it. My head hurts.” Then I saw the blood oozing from the wound in the back of his head and neck. “Dear God, my head hurts. Oh it hurts. I don’t believe it.”
Still slightly stunned, I had only a vague idea of what had happened. A mine, yes. It must have been an ambush-detonated mine. All of Pryor’s squad had passed by that spot before the mine exploded. I had been standing on that very spot, near the tree, not ten seconds before the blast. If it had been a booby trap or a pressure mine, it would have gone off then. And then the carbine fire. Yes, an electrically detonated mine set off from ambush, a routine occurrence for the rear-echelon boys who looked at the “overall picture,” a personal cataclysm for those who experienced it.
Kneeling beside Allen, I reached behind for my first-aid kit and went numb when I felt big, shredded hole in the back of my flak jacket. I pulled out a couple of pieces of shrapnel. They were cylindrical and about the size of double-0 buckshot. A Claymore, probably homemade, judging from the black smoke. They had used black powder. The rotten-egg stink of it was in the air. Well, that shrapnel would have done a fine job on my spine if it had not been for the flak jacket. My spine. Oh God – if I had remained on that spot another ten seconds, they would have been picking pieces of me out of the trees. Chance. Pure chance. Allen, right beside me, had been wounded in the head. I had not been hurt. Chance. The one true god of modern war is blind chance.
 

Another Excerpt from a Rumor of War ~~Officer of the Dead~~

Another Excerpt from a Rumor of War ~~Barricade~~

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1 Comment

Filed under Literature, Military, Non-Fiction

One response to “Excerpt from “A Rumor Of War” by Philip Caputo ~~Mine~~

  1. Philip Caputo was born in Chicago, Illinois on 10 June 1941. He landed in Vietnam in 1965, being a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, then at the age of 23 years.

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