The VC had their machine guns sighted in on the ridge, it would talk them more than a few minutes to reposition them for use against Hilson's squad. He had no fucking intention of being anywhere near here when they were ready. There was sporatic small arms fire from the gooks on the ridge but if at this range it would have a miracle shot. They moved like scalded hares, scrambling down the trail, sprinting whenever it straightened out for any significant distance. Marines have few common skills but running was one of them but Simpson who had been on point was exceptional. Hilson yelled to him "GO ON SIMPSON, GET AHEAD OF US, THEN COVER US TILL WE CATCH UP!" Simpson gave a quick look over his shoulder then seemed to accelerate so that it made the rest of the squad look like they were standing still. They made good progress for the first 30 minutes, Hilson figured it would take the slopes at least 10 minutes to get organized 15 if they were lucky. They were gonna make hay while the sun was shining.
The next hour was brutal. The oppressive heat, near 100 percent humidity and the constant fear drove the marines at an unbelievable pace. But even frightened men grow tired and they soon slipped into a more manageable run. But that didn't last long and his squad started to get separated so Hilson used the age old Marine Corps management technique, abuse. "MOVE IT YOU GOD DAMNED PUSSIES! RUN! PICK IT UP CARTER! GO GO GO! RUN OR DIE!"
By the second time he passed Simpson the marine had a pretty good idea of what was on their tail, perhaps a full rifle company, maybe more. A fourth of them on either flank and these rest on the trail behind them. But as adept as the VC were in the jungle even they had issues dealing with this breed of big green and instead of the flanks moving up like jaws to bite Hilson on the *****, they were more like smoke trails behind the bulk of the VC. He knew they were closing slowly, but steadily. They needed a distraction. Carter was hurting the most but Hilson knew how he could help Carter and let the gooks know they marines were nothing if not a bunch of sons of bitches. He yelled up ahead, "Carter", His reply was labored, painful, "Yeah?" "When next we pass Simpson, give him your ditty, the one with the claymore and the grenades." The relief from Carter was audible, "Fuckin A".
The crested a hill and drew a couple of wide shots from their pursuers. Carter gave the bag to Simpson then when Hilson passed he told Simpson, "no fucking around, set a trip and catch up asap" Simpson answered "Roger that".
When private Carter, the last marine to pass him, Simpson shoved his M-16 into his arms. "Take that for me for a bit Willie. I'll be right along." Carter looked a bit confused then quite a bit pissed but he took the rifle anyway and slung it over his left shoulder. "You better.." then he rumbled off after the others. Simpson took out his .45 and chambered a round then holstered it. Just in case. Simpson dug into the bag and slid the M18 and it's clacker out onto the ground. Looking around he chose a small, mostly rotten tree across the path about 10 yards from the crest of the hill. Simpson slowly shoved the mine under the log, he smiled as he layed a few leaves and twigs across the front until he couldn't see the best advice in the world;
"FRONT TOWARD ENEMY".
He ran the trip wire back up the hill, staying in the brush on the side of the path then hooked the clacker and set it in place. He then looped a second wire through the rings on two M61 fragmentation grenades. After fastening one to a thick stand of green bamboo he removed the jungle clip from it and loosened the pin. Checking up the trail to make sure it was clear he silently crossed the trail and did the same thing with the second grenade. The VC would have point men, by the time they reached the clicker, a fair number of the enemy would be in the claymores killing range of 50 to 55 yards. The gooks would get to say hello to seven hundred 1/8 inch steel balls. Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of guys. Then either the point men would hit the trip for the grenades or some other lucky pup would. Either way, he was pretty sure the gooks would be slowed right down for a bit. He moved over the crest, took out his pistol, then took up a position in the green. He could just see over the ridge and he waited.
Simpson was a patient man, and he was able to stay absolutely still for an exceptionally long period of time. He always thought he would have made a good sniper but long range marksmanship was an unfortunate requirement for that MOS. Oh well, he was didn't mind his job, point man carried a certain, well as his Acadian grandmere Marie-Rose would say "je ne sais quoi", although the generally rotated the job, he was able to get it most of the time, no one else in the squad wanted it.
Just wait and...."there they are" he mouthed silently. Four VC, all with AK47s, were working their way down the trail. They were checking either side for any sign the Americans had left the path.
The first one stepped over the tree, then the second and third. He could see indeterminant shapes of the rest of them some distance behind. The last one cleared the mine.
And almost there.
They stopped. " *****. What's going on? Come on you sons a bitches, the trip is just 3 more yards, come on God damn it. " he thought. Then one turned to face the jungle and started to take a piss. "SHIT" the lead elements of the VC will take almost all the pellets unless the point men got a move on. "God damn it"
He rose in a crouch and raising his .45 he started squeezing off rounds.
ONE. TWO. THREE.
Pisser was hit just below the left arm, dead meat.
Number two dove into the green.
Number three took a glancing hit on six, spun around and seven probably shattered his left shoulder blade. That is it. Time to go.
Simpson ran down the trail. The last VC scout followed and "CLICK"
A tremendous roar as the claymore went off, Simpson smiled as he heard the screams of the unsuspecting VC far up the trail. The cong opened up with his AK, rounds zipped all around him. Leaves and branches flew. Almost there.
"AHHHH" Simpson grunted as two rounds impacted his back, the first entered his back just below his right shoulder blade the second just a little lower got him in the kidney. He staggered a few steps more, then stumbled to the ground. He rolled onto his back and pressed the release on his colt, dropping the empty clip. He slipped a new one in and released the slide. Two more, smaller explosions as the last VC hit the second trip wire.
Simpson was coughing up blood but managed to whisper out loud "Got ya". A few minutes later his arm was trembling, barely able to keep the pistol up as a few gooks made their way slowly down the trail towards where he lay. He opened up with the automatic but they went wild and he return fire was silenced by a burst from a AK.
The running men slowed and looked back up the trail when the claymore went off. Carter jumped when the grenades followed, private Momon made the sign of the cross and Hendricks slapped his shoulder. "Wait...list" Carter started to say but a distant burst of automatic fire and all the marines froze. Silence was the telling voice, they all knew Simpson was dead. "Alright, let get going" Hilson said quietly and they all started moving again.
Hilson was thinking privately, Simpson was good, real good, probably the best fuckin soldier in the company. He would have made sure the claymore was effective. If he got lucky and killed, oh perhaps four gooks and wounded maybe a dozen more it would take a bit for them to get reorganized. They were going to get a break here, he just wished Simpson had made it. Shit.
"But now what?" he wondered, "we can't keep this up, the fucking gooks won't stop just because of few dead and wounded". Carter was already sucking gas. He wouldn't last long, Momon would be next. Then the phillipine marine Galleria. But they all would fall out eventually. It was getting late, the sun was directly in their eyes. They had to get off this trail, hell it probably linked with the Ho Chi Minh trail anyway. Hilson picked up his pace and passed the others, he spoke to them quietly, letting them know what he had in mind. "stay close, we are leaving the trail" "stay close, keep your eyes on the man ahead of you" "tighten up" "stay close, not much longer" Most of them could only nod or grunt their assent. Hilson took the point, he was scanning looking for a perfect place, after a few more yards the trail dropped precipitously and took a hair pin turn to the North. This was it.
There was a foot of stagnant water in the bottom of the dip. Covered in green slime. Their boots splashed one after the other each one coming away with a sticky coat of paint. On the other side, when at the top of the rise Hilson took a sharp left and began to work his way into the deep jungle. The bamboo leavers were sharp, they cut their hands, faces, arms leaving thin lines of blood that could have been made by razor blades. They had to thrust their arms through the stalks and high step through, careful not to step on a bamboo shoot, some of them could go right through the bottom of a combat boot. After about 300 yards Hilson stopped. The marines gathered around him. They were all breathing hard, Carter was retching into the grass. "Good, good" he said, patting them on the shoulder or helmet as he checked them out. He arched his back and fought to get his own breath. "Okay, I want you two on the right, just over there" he said pointing to a clump of young rubber trees. Galleria and Roosevelt Jones slowly headed that way. He pointed to a small rise in the other direction "Hendricks and Momon over there, just this side of the rock" The marines were drinking from their canteens, most were empty. He didn't bother telling them to ration it, if this didn't work they were all dead anyway. "You too are with me", Carter wiped the bile from his chin and nodded. Williams was silent, his eyes vacant, "Shit" Hilsom muttered. Looks like heat stroke. He put his arm around the young PFC and the three took up a position in the middle of the defensive arc. They slid down behind the rotting trunk of a paduck tree, beetles and grubs, hundreds of other bugs scattered. "Catch your breath fellas and pray the gooks don't see our trail"