Open Arms

FROM Fields Of Fire by James Webb

A wounded sapper dangled in the wire wrapped up in the concertina where the NVA had first broken into the compound. He was clearly visible under the illumination flares, thirty meters out, dressed in shorts and banded with strings of ropes on his arms and legs that isolated his blood in eight-inch instant tourniquets.

Snake studied him. His left leg was off above the knee and his midsection had been pierced. Snake wondered absently what had hit him. They were inside the compound before anybody had a chance, he mused. Stupid shit prob’ly got in the way of his own bangalore torpedo.

The sapper appeared comfortable, not attempting to disengage himself from the jags of metal, occasionally wiggling an arm to ponder it movement, now and again lifting his head to examine the bunkers full of Marines who peered back at him.

And every now and then he implored the shadows, almost comically, “Chieu hoi,” uttering those magic words of surrender as if he had ventured all the way to that barbed stopping point in order to defect. As if he had been wrongly demolished while crossing the wired threshold over to the Other Side.

Chieu hoi!

Snake shook his head, laughing at Chieu Hoi on the wire. On the far side of the perimeter Chieu Hoi’s comrades fought fiercely, still controlling several artillery bunkers. There were booms, scattered bursts of weapons in the tent section; 106s and artillery boomed at clumps outside the wire; the 12.7 tore angry, ragged holes in the air.

Chieu-u-u-u-u hoi. Chieu-u-u-u-u hoi.” Illumination flareds dangled over him and he hung delicately from his bed of wire, the banded stump of leg quivering. Chieu Hoi managed a smile. To his right another fierce eruption as a reaction squad attemped to root his comrades from their bunkers.

Chieu hoi,” he said, with urgent logic.

Finally Snake could endure it no longer. He screamed over to Cat Man’s bunker. “Cannonball, shut that fucker up.” Thunk boom. Blooper. The explosion sprinkled the sapper with new holes. He rocked slightly on his bed of concertina.

He moaned now. It was worse. He began a mumbling argument with himself, perhaps cursing the lying pamphleteer who taught him the magic phrase that did not work. He decided to try again. He looked toward the bunkers, smiling hopefully, and instructed them once again. “Chieu hoi.” Then very quickly: “Chieuhoi.

“Shut u-u-u-u-p!” It was unclear who yelled it. Someone shot Chieu Hoi. Another rifle joined. Another. Finally they stopped. Down the perimeter the reaction squad still fought fiercely.

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[Chieu hoi (Vietnamese for “open arms”): A program whereby enemy soldiers could surrender without penalty; an enemy soldier who so surrendered.]

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Published in: on June 3, 2010 at 9:41 AM  Leave a Comment  
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