Excerpt from FALLEN ANGELS
by Walter Dean Myers
The ARVNs were the first to start to move out. Word had come that a second North Vietnamese battalion was moving toward the area. We had to get out and get out quickly. We made as many litters as we could to carry out the wounded. The question came up as to what to do with the dead.
Somebody said we should bury them.
"They'll just dig them up," Gearheart said. "We got to strip them and burn them."
Hell. Bodies still warm, limbs that fell as the bodies were moved. Some guys couldn't do it. Some of us had to. We began stripping the Americans. We took their tags, their gear, and took them to a hut. How many were there? There were too many. Everybody took care of their own. We got Dongan and put him in the hut. Some of the bodies were wrapped in ponchos, some weren't.
Guys from Charlie Company saw what we were doing and they got their people in. It was better than having the Congs get them, maybe mutilating the bodies.
"Make sure you get all the tags!" Gearhart was saying.
I was afraid of the dead guys. I saw them, arms limp, faces sometimes twisted in anguish, mostly calm, and I was afraid of them. They were me. We wore the same uniform, were the same height, had the same face. They were me, and they were dead. No one looked into the faces, into the often still-open eyes. We did what we had to do, and turned away.
The ARVNs who hadn't already left watched us impassively. They didn't want any part of what we were doing. They left their dead where they were. They stripped them, took the ammo, and the supplies. They closed their eyes.
"This guy is still alive, man."
Monaco was looking at a guy in the middle of a pile. The poncho he had been wrapped in came away from his face. He was unconscious, but he was still breathing. Two guys from Charlie Company, who recognized him, ran over and started pushing the bodies off him. I watched as the limbs flew off the pile until they reached the guy who was still alive.
When they uncovered his body, I could see bubbles of blood coming from a gaping wound in his throat. The flies around the pile, crawling over the bodies, into and out of the wound, buzzed in delight.
"Somebody get a medic!"
Jamal was outside and Monaco got him. Jamal looked at the guy and shook his head. The front of the guy's flak jacket was dark with either sweat or blood. When the sweat mixed with the mud it was hard to tell. Jamal opened it and saw another wound. The flesh was burned and puffed away from a wound big enough to put a fist into. I looked back at the throat wound, the bubble of blood still rose and fell rhythmically. How was he still alive?
"Do something for him!" The guy from Charlie Company's voice was menacing.
"He your friend?" Jamal asked.
"Yeah, he's my friend!" the guy from Charlie Company said.
"Then you do it," Jamal said. He stood and walked away.
A couple of us stood and walked out behind Jamal. A moment later we heard the shot. We went back in and piled the bodies back up on the guy.
They got a flame thrower and we moved away from the hut. The smell of burning flesh came quickly. I knew the smell wouldn't leave me quickly. Maybe it never would.
From Fallen Angels. Copyright © 1988 by Walter Dean Myers