Sean McBride, or Mac, as he was called in Vietnam, had a very bad feeling about this patrol. The company moved through the rice paddies and villages all morning with no enemy contact, but everyone felt the Vietcong were there, someplace. It was a very hot day, and most of the marines had already used up their water. The captain stopped the patrol for a rest at the edge of a village near a well. Some of the marines were beginning to gather at the well, filling their canteens. The area was surrounded by hills, and Mac knew what the Vietcong could do with a mortar. His men pulled out canteens and headed for the water as the Willie Peter round came whistling in and landed near a group of young marines.
Men screamed as the white-hot phosphorus seared through their uniforms and burned into their flesh. They heard the high-explosive rounds being dropped into the mortar tube. Everyone dove for cover. The air was filled with singing steel and death.
Mac was as close to the ground as he could get, but he still felt vulnerable and scared. He wished he could somehow make himself invisible or burrow under the ground and hide. Then he heard his friend.
“Help me, Mac. Oh God, please, someone help me. I’m hit and I can’t see.”
Mac did not want to look up, much less move. The mortars would be coming again, soon. He didn’t want to die. Where are your guts, man? Your friend is hurt. You know he is there, but you’re scared, lying here on your belly like a worm with your face in the mud.
Then, to his own amazement, Mac was up, running through the exploding shells to his wounded friend. So this is what it feels like to die, Mac thought as he reached the wounded boy and knelt down beside him.
“Don’t worry, Utah. I’m going to get you out of here.”
As he spoke, Mac noticed the boy’s body was completely riddled with shrapnel wounds. There was blood flowing from the holes where his eyes had been.
“I can’t see, Mac.”
“You’re going to be okay, man.”
The mortars stopped crashing in, but Mac could hear more shells plunking into the mortar tube. Damn, they’re good with that thing—and fast, he thought. As the next barrage of mortars began to explode around them, Mac grabbed the wounded boy and started dragging him to cover. They reached a ditch, and Mac shoved the kid in and fell on top of him. The ground shook above their heads. Mac reached down and felt the boy’s neck for a pulse. There was none.
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