Khe Sanh Marine Base, February, 1968
Adam jerked awake. Soaked in sweat after another night of tossing and turning, he felt like it'd been weeks since he'd really slept. When he did sleep, it was in short snatches. He was rigid, afraid if he really slept he wouldn't wake up, blown to bits by a well-placed mortar. He waited for the end. The end of the shelling--or the end of his life.
The distant sky exploded with artillery fire. Today the bombs lit the skies over Lang Vei, a camp six miles southwest of Khe Sanh.
Adam joined the hushed crowd of men listening to the disembodied voice crackling out of the radio, relating details of the bombardment of Lang Vei. The North Vietnamese Army was overrunning the base.
His skin crawled. In days, or even hours, it could be their base teeming with thousands of slant-eyed, two-legged ants racing through camp, killing, maiming, and destroying everything in their path.
But the hours passed. So did the days, along with the daily shelling. By February 23rd the siege had been constant. Adam and the other men existed in dreamlike states, hoping for rescue--waiting for the end. If help did come, would it be too late? Adam drifted in and out of reality as artillery and mortar rounds pounded the base. He yearned only for silence. Scanning the sandbag bunker surrounding him, his only protection from the bombs, he felt the sharp stab of fear.
How long had he been holed up? He couldn't remember. The days ran one into another. The lunacy of the situation attacked his senses. How long had the shelling been going on? Was it twenty-four minutes, twenty-four hours, twenty-four days? Twenty-four years? How much longer could it go on? How much more could they--he, endure?
In the short silences between barrages, Adam stared into space and let his mind wander. He longed for the whir of the chopper blades of the C-130 Hercules, affectionately known as Herks, and the C-123 Providers that dropped provisions to the base then quickly air-lifted the wounded to safety. But sniper fire had gotten too hot and forced them to abandon their re-supply efforts and evacuation of the wounded.
The green fields and hillsides of the once lush coffee plantations around the base were now burned out, black and dead. And while the countryside around Khe Sanh burned and smoldered, the constant bombing made it impossible to mount a rescue for the men trapped inside the walls of the base. So they waited, fought an invisible enemy, hoped, and prayed.
Adam tried to stay in touch with the reality of a world that no longer seemed to exist as the bombings continued. A world thousands of miles away. Belinda's world. A place he feared he'd never see again. His mind wandered. He stared off into the smoke-blackened sky, tried to get a breath through the acrid, heavy smoke that hung around him. Tried to see a trace of blue in the sky. He imagined himself and Belinda running hand in hand along the beach, the sun low over their shoulders. They fell to their knees and kissed as the sun set behind them, an orange, flaming ball. He curled up tight as another mortar exploded close by. Dirt and metal sprayed through the air around him.
"Damn it!" he yelled. "Why don't they stop? Why don't the bastards stop?" He covered his ears against the next explosion. He stayed with his ears covered, his eyes closed, curled in a ball, trying to shut out the horror of everything around him.
He heard shouting. It was muffled and indistinct through his hands still tight against his ears. It was distant and faint. There was always yelling and screaming, though, all day every day.
Pulling his hands from his ears he forced his eyes open into little slits to see what was happening.
The world exploded. The ground was torn out from under him, from beside him and in front of him. A crushing blow drove the breath out of his chest, searing his lungs as he gasped for breath. He was thrown up, suspended in mid-air, before he crashed to the ground.
He tried to fill his empty lungs with huge, chest-shattering gulps and gagged. Another mortar, just like the one when Ham had been hit, he realized through the haze. He felt as though his body was being crushed between the front bumpers of two colliding cars. The earth spiraled around him and every part of his body hurt, even his toes. He was dazed; he tried to focus, heard muffled voices coming closer, but the blackness was coming too. He remembered this feeling all too well. It meant the mortar had hit close. Too close.
He couldn't think about that any more. Darkness was coming and this time he surrendered happily to the black unknown beckoning him.