We were assigned to a fire base near the DMZ for a few days of R&R and to get ready to go back into the field. For me, part of “relaxing” was to grab a ride into Dong Ha/Quang Tri and the big PX there and stock up on Vienna Sausages and Ritz Crackers and anything else that looked tasty as well as a dozen cartons of Camels and anything that would fit in my pack for snacks in the field. I mean, you can only eat so many K-Rations and C-Rations that are ten years old.
Since we were at the far end of the road between Dong Ha and the DMZ there wasn’t a lot of truck traffic and almost zero helicopters so I knew it would be a long day and lots of walking. It was warm and humid, that day, and the sun was already hot at 6 in the morning. I stood by the gate with a couple other guys, Army and Marines, and eventually a dump truck driver told us he was leaving and to hop onto the fenders and into the bed. I got the right front tire cover, leaned back with my weapon pointed out and off we went.
The ride in was uneventful. One of the guys in the bed of the truck yelled something about a sniper but I didn’t hear the shot being fired or hitting anything and, well, my position was rather exposed and being beside a huge diesel engine was nearly deafening so I just scanned the distance but saw nothing. I did see one of my girls that sold pot pre-rolled so I had the truck stop for a minute while I bought a $10 bag. One of the guys in the dump’s bed got freaked out and started yelling that I would get us killed by stopping but the driver just shouted at him to shut the fuck up because his screaming was worse than my buying pot. I smiled back at the driver, flipped off the guy that was losing it, which just made him angrier, and off we went.
I banged on the hood when we got onto the base at Dong Ha near the PX and jumped off when the truck stopped. I thanked the driver and tossed him a couple of the joints. He smiled and waved and we parted ways. The idiot in the back said he was going to report what I did to his CO and so I told him to go right ahead and told him to get my name right and then tossed off the name of my CO just for fun.
I got what I wanted at the PX, stopped by the mess hall for lunch, thought about hanging out for the night but hated being in the rear since it was always crawling with officers so I walked back to the main gate to the highway to wait again for a ride with the bags of goodies I’d bought. I wanted a ride towards my unit but most were headed up to Khe Shan and Rock Pile which at least crossed the road I wanted. I grabbed a ride on another dump truck and ended up on the same right front tire cover as before.
When we neared my road, I again banged on the hood and jumped off. This time I just tossed a Milky Way bar to the driver and started walking. After a couple miles I met up with an army unit on patrol and just fell in at the end of the line. Just before we got to one of the first villes, the patrol took off into the bush for the circle back to their base so I kept walking north. There was zero traffic that day, for some reason.
After maybe 5 minutes I’d made it most of the way through the ville of twenty or so huts when it dawned on me that there were no people out and about. The quiet was eerie and quiet in a ville was always bad. I stopped, knelt down and took off my pack and put it in front of me. I crammed everything I’d bought into my pack, heaved it back onto my shoulders, chambered a round, and slowly started walking north again.
That’s when I heard the crying of a little girl. That was the only sound I heard, at first, so I slowly left the road and, using trees and bushes as cover, moved towards the sound. It was coming from behind one of the huts that looked like it had been blown down by a grenade or LAW because the poles that it stood on were blasted apart and the hut itself was leaning to one side touching the ground on one wall. The crying was still coming from that direction so I made my way towards the hut.
As I neared I saw a woman’s arm hanging from the front opening. The dried blood told me she was dead so I made my way to the side to look in a window. Just as I rounded the corner I saw where the cries were coming from. I also heard the unmistakable sound of a round being chambered just beside my head.
I slowly turned my head to see a .45 aimed at my forehead but held by another Marine. I looked back to the sound of the cries and saw her, bent over a wooden fence, with her small arms tied with something like wire around her wrists and through the fence and around her ankles. Her small dress was thrown up over her head and her bloody panties were around her feet. A breeze blew her dress up from her head and I could see that she wasn’t older than 6 or 7 years old and tears and snot were streaming down her nose and cheeks and chin. Beside her sat a medic on a tree stump, head down and sitting amidst five or six morphine needles scattered on the ground. Behind her was a line of 5 Marines, smoking and laughing, waiting their turn to gang rape her. On the far side of her were maybe 25 or more Marines, talking and laughing and smoking. As the one holding her hips pulled back from her I could see that he had been fucking that tiny little girl’s pussy and that her pussy and butt and legs were covered in blood. As he stepped back, the next Marine told the medic “Another shot for her ass” and the medic dutifully pulled another needle from his kit and jabbed her tiny butt just beside her little anus. The Marine pulled her up higher and inserted himself and started pumping.
I started to take a step towards her and opened my mouth to tell them to stop when the fellow holding the .45 to my head softly said, “One word or one more step and I fire. This isn’t happening. You don’t see a fucking thing. Dumb Gook flipped us off as we passed and then her dumb fuck mother got to yelling so we killed them all and now we’re just having some fun with the kid. That’s all. Turn around. Leave. My orders are to shoot to kill if anyone interferes.”
That’s when I saw the Lieutenant, sitting cross legged on the ground, leaning back against a tree, smoking a cigarette. Our eyes met and my mouth started to open again and the Lieutenant simply said, “One word and he shoots and we report we found you as a sniper casualty.” His smile as he said that froze my heart. He was enjoying this. He liked watching a tiny, defenseless girl who had just witnessed her entire family die being gang raped by his patrol.
The Marine beside me tapped me on the ear. I slowly turned towards him and he told me that I had two seconds to start back toward the road or he had to shoot. His hand was shaking so badly that I was stunned that he hadn’t accidentally pulled the trigger already.
I sighed, pointed my weapon at the ground and began to turn back. The Lieutenant shouted at me “If I hear a word about this I’ll know it’s you. All of us will look for you. Just shut your trap and forget this.”
I glanced again at the line behind that small body and saw that there were now only two more people in line. Time was passing and I wasn’t even noticing. The medic was giving her another shot. The ones that were finished were standing in a group, most were smoking, weapons at the ready, watching the other huts for any movement. The one that was inside her looked at me, smiled so wide I could see his teeth, then punched her in the back of the head and smiled at me again. I heard laughter, a very sick, self-conscious laughter from the group.
I backed away from the destroyed hut and slowly moved towards the road. I knew I had to do something for her but I also knew that I would be dead in seconds if I tried. From the distance I heard someone shout “Hey, you want to get in line? We’re almost done here.” I lowered my head, feeling a shame and a sadness that 3 months of war hadn’t once made me feel.
I made it to the road, turned back towards them but they were all out of sight again behind the bushes and huts. I started slowly walking, wondering exactly how I was going to live with that few minutes. With my head down and tears streaming from my eyes, I didn’t notice the Jeep that had stopped until I heard the horn and “Hey, need a ride?” I moved towards the Jeep and started to climb into the back on top of some sandbags that were stacked there. Sitting there, facing to the rear and the hell I had just walked away from, the Marine in the front passenger seat turned and asked, “Everything groovy? Got a problem?”
That’s when I heard the shot. One single shot from a .45. The soft sounds of the girl’s cries instantly stopped. The driver shouted “Oh, FUCK! Sniper!” and hit the gas. I almost bounced out of the Jeep as he went flying down the bumpy, partially paved road, trying to escape what he thought was fire from the huts.
After a mile or so the driver slowed again and it seemed to dawn on the other passenger that I had just come from the ville where he thought a sniper was hiding. He turned and looked at me but said nothing. Neither did I. They offered to take me all the way to my unit and I thanked him and settled in.
That night I had my first nightmare filled with those screams. I still have them. I’m so sorry that I didn’t have the courage to stop what was happening to her. Looking back, it would have been better to die trying to help than to walk away. I’m so god awful sorry. I can never make it better for anyone.
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