I was nineteen in Vietnam, cloaked, at one with a bush, beside a rail line that cut a clear swath through the jungle. Poised should the enemy try to cross from one side to the other, I watched a lone VC soldier emerge from the jungle, crawling on his belly.
He dragged his weapon by his side and moved carefully, quietly to the nearest rail then looked in my direction. He was very close, a little girl's stone throw, my sights held squarely on the bridge of his nose. My training and my orders said kill. I was in awe. He looked so human.
He turned away to peer down the track in the other direction. He placed his ear to the rail. I admired his soldierly bearing: using stealth, carrying his weapon with him at all times, staying low, looking, listening. He was a professional, like me, and like me, he had a cowlick. His black hair-covered cranial melon filled my gun sight, a target I could not miss. He was mine, but there was time.
He looked nineteen. I paused. Did he have a girl? Did she write? Were her letters in a plastic bag carried near his heart? Could he stop the war from time to time and lift her fragrance from the pages? And, did she end her letters with a caution to be careful? I could assure her it was not his carelessness that put him in my sights; it was dumb luck, a good soldier's real enemy.
I felt no personal animosity. Perhaps he knew why we were killing each other, but I did not think so. Still, my duty challenged, "He is the enemy. Kill him now. He who hesitates...kill or be killed. Let him live and he may kill you or a buddy tomorrow. Duty." Another voice said, "No! Not now. Not today. Not him."
I relaxed my grip on the trigger and watched him withdraw into
his jungle sanctuary. I fought dumb luck that day. I like to
imagine my enemy soldier survived that war, built a home, raised
a family, returned to school, and wrote of the day an American
cowlick filled his gun sight, and he...