Sunday, November 16, 2008

Viet Cong Tax Collector

I’m carrying the radio for my squad leader, the PRC-25 known as a “prick 25.”
It’s a gray day as we stand in a dry rice paddy. The large row of high bushes with long thin leaves next to us is brown and dry. Clumps of brown dead rice stalks dot the baked and cracked paddies that were in recent months green, lush and filled with water. One of our platoons has sent out a patrol to reconnoiter the surrounding area.

The static squelch of my radio handset indicating a transmission breaks the relative quiet. I begin listening to the transmitted interaction. The leader of the recon patrol, a young sergeant, radios in; “We’ve got a VC tax collector here! He was walking down the road with an old M-1*. He’s an old skinny little guy and he keeps talking in Vietnamese, smiling, and bowing to us. Where shall we take him for questioning.” The voice, an officer on the other end of the transmission, says, “he’s dead.” The squad leader radios back, “you don’t understand; I have a prisoner here. I need to bring him in.” The voice on the other end that’s flat, showing little emotion, and yet malicious says, “I do understand. “He’s dead.” Finally, the squad leader calls back, pleading, “He’s a prisoner, according to the Geneva Convention he deserves protection, where shall I take him!” The officer sends the same reply, “he’s dead!”

I’m feelin’ sorry for the old man, picturing him in my mind, and I’m wishin,’ “I hope they don’t shoot the little guy.” I feel sorry for the patrol leader whose received tacit orders to commit a summary execution and think; “I sure wouldn’t want to live with that guilt if he kills the man.” In a few minutes, shots ring out and I’m continuing to hope, “they shot in the air, broke up the M-1, and let the guy go.” Then reality sets in and I realize that someone, likely the patrol leader, is standing with his weapon over the body of an old skinny Vietnamese man who wanted to live. Now, the man’s dead. There’s a hole in his head and I’m hatin’ the voice and the man who gave the order.

In writing this anecdote, I realize how much anger and hate are still present in me. Moreover, I realize how much I need to forgive.

*The M-1 is a World War II vintage American military rifle.

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