Thursday, December 13, 2012




He pulled on the drawstrings to the poncho’s hood tightening it around his face blocking the rain from getting under it. The M-16 under his poncho was strapped over his right shoulder, its muzzle pointing down keeping any rain from entering the barrel.  Making sure the fatigue cap keeping his head warm did not interfere with his lateral vision he quickly glanced outside the doorway both to the right and left, seeing no one he stepped out of SeƱora Marcos’ one room house.  He began walking at a brisk pace as he tied the drawstrings daylight was disappearing fast. Remembering to let his eyes purple vision distinguish shapes he didn’t focus directly on one object but remained alert to any movement or sound. Hispaniola the coral island his boots sank into was located five hundred miles southeast off the coast of Florida. The monsoons were hitting hard this year. The rain’s assault on his poncho played a staccato driven by an angry wind. It was the last week of May ‘65 he had been in country for two months now just a few more till October and his obligation to Uncle Sam would be over. Uneasy at spending any more time in a combat zone he wondered why no one had ever told him these god damn feelings would rag him the last few months left in the service to his county.

   Fuck that! Why, the hell had he done it in the first place?

On the contrary Cruise knew too well he had been sold on it.  Both he and his brother had heard it most of their formative years.  Their old man along with uncles on both sides of his family most of them having served in WWII had drummed “You have an obligation to your country!” into them.

“Stay alive,” echoed through his head, no words just the strong intention of remaining alive and returning to California. He continued walking making his way back to Headquarters Company. Unconsciously he began moving his left hand under his poncho snatching the muzzle guard removing the M-16 off his right shoulder.  Instinctively his right hand caught and formed itself around the hand grip his right forefinger inserted itself inside the trigger guard as his thumb released the safety.  Sgt. Syke’s voice repeated again in his head, “You got a fucking gallon of oil to clean this weapon with Cruise. Keep the motherfucker out and ready, after it protects you then you can clean and protect it. That’s if you live through this.” That was it, he smiled, I’m not scared shit less; just surviving by following what I’ve been trained to do.
President Johnson had sent twenty thousand United States troops into the Dominican Republic to put an end to this armed revolt. It had been started by Officers of the Dominican military still loyal and determined to return deposed president Juan Bosch to power.  Johnson had informed the nation his purpose in sending troops was to protect US citizens; however during their briefing the team had been informed the underlined cause was preventing an alleged communist takeover by Cuban insurgents. There was no doubt that Johnson was afraid of another communist government like Cuba’s coming into existence on this hemisphere. Johnson’s intervention would be called “Operation Power Pack” the Sixth Marines Expeditionalry Brigade and the 3d Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division would provide the Power and the 504th Airborne Operations Recognizance Team would go in covert as the (Wolf) Pack that would be dropped into the mountains.
The rain’s onslaught pelted his face bringing him back, the rain was unrelenting it had started and continued in torrents and drizzles for the last three days. As a result any exposed earth had been turned into sticky black mud. The white coral road to his right offered a hard path free of any complication or mess; he continued to walk to one side not wanting to be silhouetted.
His head tuned immediately upon hearing a faint sound of voices in the jungle to his left. He stopped instantly taking a kneeling firing position in the middle of some thick bushes, hoping the white coral path he had been walking beside had not silhouetted him. Too dark now to see any shapes within the jungle he focused his eyes trying to catch any movement in that direction. 
He remembered what he had been taught and forced himself to breathe through his nose.  He concentrated on slowing down his heart the throb of it pulsating in his ears. It slowly subsided the only sound now was the wind driven rain beating against his poncho in irregular waves, gradually the barrel of his M-16 protruded from under his poncho. Overhead the storm clouds rolled north off the East Indian Ocean. They moved inland rapidly obscuring the moon turning the Dominican night pitch-black. Cursing himself for taking the risk tonight, quickly he glanced back down the path. Dark as it was the path still shown an eerie white easily silhouetting anyone or anything that might be traveling on it. Had he been seen? No, he wouldn’t have had a chance to hide. He heard the sounds again. Someone, no there was more than one person walking through the dense jungle to his left. Hoping the bushes he was knelling behind were thick enough to conceal him in this darkness he concentrated on listening for any sound of movement.
“Fucking idiot,” he admonished himself; as if by just acknowledging his stupidity for having taken the risk tonight would somehow separate him from his circumstance. Pushing everything out of his mind he listened to every sound being brought to him as the rain broke against his poncho sending spurs of water over his brow. Slowly he brought his left hand the three inches from the muzzle of his weapon to his face leaving his right hand on the hand grip and trigger of the M-16. He wiped his face and eyes with the palm of his left hand straining to focus his eyes on any movement within the jungle to his left.
The rain persisted wetting his brow and running down his cheeks like tears. The sounds of the over growth being brushed aside reached him.  Uncovering the M-16 sights he laid his right check on the stock focusing the sites on the over growth of jungle foliage extending out to the path. His mind began racing he knew the Cuban backed rebels had been pushed back and boxed in by the 3d Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, preventing armed rebels from leaving their stronghold in Ciudad Nueva and also preventing Loyalists from venturing into it.  The rebels now occupied only a few blocks of Santo Domingo the capital city.  But were all the rebels in fact boxed in?
It didn’t matter now only the fact that the jungle palms and bushes were moving.  A hand appeared, a thin arm appeared next attached to the hand. The safety was off the M-16 his right thumb assured him of it. Now there came the sounds of voices, laughter, and Children’s squeals.
The arm was attached to a small Dominican girl no more than six or seven years old, behind her appeared a boy that looked a little older, and then came another girl older then the first.  Subsequently they all walked out almost tumbling out of the jungle eight of them all very cold, wet, and shivering in the rain.  The entire bunch started yelling at a necked urchin still running to catch up, his distended belly making his little child’s body look grotesque. Cruise remained motionless part of him reached out to the children but for the last two years he had been assigned to recon yielding to emotions had proven fatal inside combat zones.
The children soon made their way down the path and across to the opposite side disappearing into the jungle trail leading to the mud huts and clap board houses Cruise had just left.  He sat resting not wanting to move or make any unnecessary sound just yet.  He wanted his mind clear before making his way back to the battalion perimeter. Rebels don’t just stay put he reasoned.  Under the cover of darkness anyone could go anywhere.  He was 82nd Airborne Recon what was to say some crazy fucking machete wheeling rebel wasn’t out here on recon as well. 
His fatigues were damp from perspiration; rain had not penetrated the poncho. The poncho kept him warm and dry the only discomfort came from it touching his neck, it always felt wet but he knew it was only the cold material of the poncho touching his skin. He mulled over why he was out here investigating on his own. He would research the facts, the facts reviewed; questions would be asked and answered directly.  Just punishment would be strived for and doled out with unfeeling objectivity.  All with an air of finality that would leave him again perplexed with his role in it.  Not that he gave a damn for the unfortunate son-of-a-bitch that lost his self-control and threw his life away.  If some trooper couldn’t understand that the government owned their ass now, moreover that he would need to control as much of his life as possible until Sam gave it back, then there was not much you could do for him. Honesty was nobody’s best suit not when they were in trouble unless they were innocent bystanders and he had found out that too few were.
He stayed kneeling as the jungle foliage swayed and dipped under the onslaught of the monsoon. The smells of the wet earth entered his nostrils, he breathed deeply he loved the smell.  The aroma of wet earth would make a child want to eat a little dirt at times. He remembered having done that. Reflecting on where he was now in the middle of the Dominican Republic taking this risk involved in the investigation of violent crimes for 2nd Battalion Headquarters, a far cry from the three year old that had been captivated by the smell of wet earth so much he had tasted a chunk of black Texas dirt.
It still baffled him that Spanish-speaking Special Forces troops had been sent to Vietnam and for some reason had not been deployed to the Dominican Republic. Units that had Spanish-speaking troops from Puerto Rico or elsewhere kept them hidden to make sure they were not transferred to headquarters, wanting to keep them for their operations.
For Cruise as well as the others on his team being recalled from the expedition in Cambodia and deploying into the Dominican Republic had been a disappointing surprise. Everybody expected to return to Ft. Bragg.  The only team members upset at leaving the Asian jungle had been Sgt. Syke and Colonel Holbrook.
Cruise had welcomed the team’s removal. Getting out without being captured or killed in a firefight during the three months the reconnaissance team was in country had been in great part attributed to Sgt. Syke’s experience and expertise in keeping them out of sight and undetected.  Had they had the misfortune of losing any of their skirmishes and surviving they would have all been shot as spies? Well maybe not, Special Forces Logistics had briefed them thoroughly that February of ’64 before jump off.
Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge had taken to the jungle a year ago back in ’63. Prince Sihanouk had sought to maintain his country's distance from the war in Vietnam through a policy of neutralism. He refused to act against Vietnamese supply lines along the Ho Chi Minh trail, which ran through eastern Cambodia. At the same time Sihanouk kept silent about US military actions against Vietnamese forces operating on Cambodian soil. Sihanouk’s army had been instructed to bring in any Khmer Rouge heads as proof for collecting a bounty.  Speechless heads carried by the locks of their hair may well have been their fate.  But possibly not, not until they had been given some kind of unreasonable trial and paraded in front of the world media as pawns used for proving America’s act of war against Cambodia a peaceful country said not to be involved in the Viet Nam conflict.  It had all been proven otherwise however with the exact location and coordinates of the Parrot’s Beak, as it was later to be called.  The region of where supplies were entering South Viet Nam together with the roads and trails used to re-supply the Viet Cong in South Viet Nam, all of it had been detected by aerial photographs months before the six men team repelled off the helicopter in their rush to disappear into the Cambodian jungle.  The proof the team had gathered and obtained confirming the use of the eastern Cambodian border roads was now in U.S. Government hands. Sgt. Syke had brought them safely through that.  But Sgt. Syke was not here now; Cruise was alone facing what ever there was out there in the Dominican jungle. 
He felt confident he would be able to respond to anything quickly, decisively, and return to 2nd Battalion Headquarters. An adrenaline rush from the children’s jungle exit was still there dominating any apprehension. Battalion Headquarters was billeted at the Dominican Orphanage just a few clicks down the road. Keeping to the edge of the jungle he could cover those few hundred yards in less than twenty minutes. Having gone through the children’s surprise intrusion into his state of combat vigilance Cruise understood what would be waiting for him upon reaching the Battalion perimeter. His ability to understand and speak Spanish fluently wouldn’t help him; he’d be dealing with scared trigger-happy troops.  Hoping Sgt. Ardis would be waiting for him at the perimeter he rose silently and started a cautious pace back to Battalion his mustache dripping rain on to the front of his poncho.  Holding the M-16 at port-arms approaching the perimeter of Headquarters Company he concentrated on remembering the password and the alternate.  He began walking slower not wanting to move into the guards view too quickly.  Lieutenant Larson had already been shot at and had come away shaken and unwilling to leave the perimeter again, leaving Cruise to take the risk un-partnered and unable to report Lt. Larson’s dereliction of duty to upper echelon. Sure, Cruise thought to himself, make a fucking enemy of some West Pointer that’s what you need Cruise; West Point brass within the compound after your ass. Naw, he answered himself I’ll fight Cuban rebels, maybe I can collect a favor from Lt. Larson later, if Hell doesn’t freeze over first.
“Halt, who goes there?”
“Spec. 4 Cruise.” He shouted back.
“Overland!” the challenge was shouted at him.
“Stage!” Cruise shouted back.
“Step forward and be recognized!”
The voice belonged to private first class Jerrold Johnson one of the black enlisted men in B-Company. Cruise didn’t sweat showing himself.  He walked out of the bush M-16 at port.
“Hey! Cruise, they know you out man?” Johnson lowered his weapon’s muzzle to about chest level still pointing it at Cruise. Cruise wondered where Sgt. Ardis was; he now had a decent guess at why some officers might be shot at, rifle company troops did not impress him much with their mind-blowing intellect.
“Yeah! What you think Jay-Jay? If I was out tail chasing I wouldn’t be walking in the front gate, would I?” Cruise walked forward disregarding the weapon pointed at him knowing Johnson had been scared confronting anyone approaching his post. Ardis had forgotten to brief Johnson on what to expect tonight and had not shown up to assure Cruise a safe entry. He patted Johnson on the shoulder as he walked by; showing he was pleased with Johnson’s performance in holding the perimeter.
“All business, eh Cruise?” Johnson chuckled self-assured the hood of his poncho covering his helmet.  Helmets were required equipment during monsoon season if troops were posted on perimeter watch along with eight full magazines of live ammunition Johnson fortunately had not used. 

Just a few clicks down the road.

Cruise walked past disregarding the urge to find and confront Sgt. Ardis on forgetting to brief his sentries. He continued walking over to the veranda of the Orphanage. Stepping over to where the rain cascaded off the roof, keeping the M-16 under his poncho, he stepped under it letting the water wash over his poncho and boots taking the mud and grass along with it. Finished showering his boots and poncho he stepped away from the downpour of rainwater and over to the steps leading to the shelter beneath the veranda’s roof.  He walked up the steps pulling off the poncho dragging it into the small room he’d been assigned, it served as office and sleeping quarters. Placing the M-16 on his bedroll he turned and opened the top draw of his field desk grabbed one of the wooden matches and lit the Coleman lantern.
On the south cost of the Dominican Republic fifteen miles west of the Dominican Capital City of Santo Domingo under tall palm trees sits the Sangre de Christo Orphanage.  Built by Spanish Jesuits with funds donated by the Dominican elite it was an equitable undertaking Christian and practical. The red brick school buildings and white Spanish stucco dorms are surrounded on all sides by large green lawns with even larger well-kept playing fields. Fields that welcomed little children streaming out of the six dorm buildings on sunny days now long past.  Now the playing fields lay drenched under the constant pounding of tropical rains.  Now it was the orphans of the 3rd Brigade 82nd Airborne sitting in the humid dorms dressed in wilted fatigues.  Perspiration rolled down faces dripping off the end of noses only to be caught by forearms momentarily before continuing to run down hands and ending up soaking cigarettes and damping poker hands.
The orphans of the 504th 82nd Airborne Headquarters Company sat depressed, miserable, and ignorant of what the next hour might bring. They had been the spearhead in the house to house fire fight that had pushed the rebels back allowing the rebels only a few blocks of the city securing Santo Domingo in Operation Round-Up two months earlier. Under the guise of R&R (Rest and Recuperation) the battalion was deployed out of the city after the operation was a success. The troops had been primed for combat but now were having a terrible time trying to stand down. They knew only and were resigned to the constant waves of cold tropical rain, a continual reminder of where and what they were.