Headin' North...

By Michael W. Rodriguez

Two rows of Marines at rest. Crapped out, laying back on their packs, waiting for the choppers that will take them North. They are ragged, wore out after spending months chasing VC and dodging mines in the Badlands and the Go Noi Islands and the Mudlands and the Flats that make up their former AO.

They write letters: Dear Ma, we are headed North, to the DMZ. Dear Dad, War ain't what we thought, or what you remember from your war. This one's a bitch. Dear Sis, You'll be the prettiest girl at the prom. Dear Jefita, I'm fine; send tortillas and tell Rita she can't date 'til she's at least 30.

Parker comes along. North, he says.

Yeah, I say.

Fucken North, he says.

Yeah, I say again. North. We are going fucken North.

You got any peaches? he asks.

Fuck you, I say. I got 'em; I'm keeping 'em.

He grins at me. I'm going on R&R, homeboy.

No shit, I say. Get some! Where you going?

Who gives a fuck? he says, idly scraping dirt from his face with an equally dirty hand. I'll be gone from here.

When're you going? I ask.

Couple of weeks, he says. We get to where we're goin', then I make my hat. Gonna sky out, man.

There it is, I agree. You owe it to yourself.

Parker and I watch as squad leaders and corpsmen make their way down the rows of Grunts. Salt tabs and last instructions: the Word. The Word is North.

Parker lights a cigarette. Señor Carlos be a motherfucker, he says.

Yeah, I say.

Ain't like this shit down here, he says. Third Mar Div's been dying up there for more than a year...

Shit is shit, I say. We get hurt down here; we get killed up there.

I reach into a pocket of his jungle shirt, find his pack of cigarettes. I pull one and light it. Steadies my nerves.

We watch as Docs Moyer and Johnson move among us.

Lost Gallagher and Cochran this summer, says Parker.

.. Yeah, I say.

Don't want to lose them two, he says, nodding at Moyer and Johnson.

No shit, I say.

You gonna write a letter? he asks.

I grunt. To who? I say.

Whoever, he says, and I know he remembers Becky, who Jodie'd him.

The war isn't right, she wrote.

No shit, he thought.

We cannot go on like this, she wrote.

No shit, he thought.

I'm sorry..., she wrote.

You're sorry? he thought. What the fuck, over?

Fucken choppers be here soon, I say, to break his mood.

Parker looks up, looking for choppers.

Parker is a radioman; he always looks for choppers. He always listens for rifle fire and automatic weapons fire and explosions and the cry for corpsmen.

His head jerks up, listening.

How do you do this? I wonder. I don't hear shit. And then I do.

I hear choppers.

Big, lumbering, UH-34s begin to push the air around us.



Squad leaders move among us, shouting orders, hiding their faces from the sudden windstorm--

Saddle up! Saddle up!

Fuck, he says.

Yeah, I say, gathering up my gear.

We're going North, he says.

Yeah, I say. We're going North...

Copyright © 1996 by Michael W. Rodriguez, all rights reserved