You never hear the bullet that kills you. That's what they say. Said, really. That's what they said. And they were right. I never heard it.
We were on patrol, walking the berms between the rice paddies on a night so black we had to feel for each step. Of course, we'd been at this kind of thing for so long the "next step" was almost an instinct. We had stopped falling into the paddies a long time ago.
Phan Hua Aradoc was the local VC leader. His people lived in the surrounding hamlets and we ran these patrols to cut him off from the money and supplies his people provided him, or that he extorted from those who were NOT his supporters He had 60 men in the hills up above the paddies and he needed supplies. Lots of supplies. He was angry that we cut him off from easy access to money and food.
The night it happened, we had taken the long boat down the river from the main village, out to one of the hamlets near the sea. The trips out there were rare. It was hard for him to get out that far and since most of his people lived inland from the main village, it was harder for him to collect stuff out there. So we didn't go there much. Once in a while, someone would come into the village from one of the seaside hamlets and complain that the VC had been by to demand money, or food, and we'd mount a patrol that night, or the next, to chase them fuckers back inland, and up into the hills.
That's why we were out there that night.
They were waiting for us. By the time the firefight started getting serious, we knew we'd been set up.
We had almost reached our target hamlet when we took a few rounds of fire from the embankment that ran alongside the river and kept the water in the rice paddies from running into the river and out to sea. That happened a lot, so we weren't surprised and we didn't panic. We beached the boat, climbed the embankment and laid some fire down the length of the embankment to clear the VC away. The Sergeant decided we'd walk the last half mile to the hamlet, so half of us walked out into the paddies on a crossing embankment until we came to the next one that ran parallel to the river, then we turned in the direction of the hamlet.
I remember seeing what I thought were fireflies. I was wrong. They were muzzle flashes. I never head any of the firing, though. Like I said, you never hear the bullet that kills you and I went early. I felt, briefly, a warm sensation in my chest, and then I just seemed to float away. I never felt anything else.
I hope my guys got through it okay. I hope they got that fucker that set us up. And I hope they found my body and sent me home.
I never wanted to fertilize no rice paddy.