Going Feet First Ch. 01byDarkPulse©
Chapter 1: Getting off track
It was the perfect start to the worst day of her life. She just didn't know it yet as she sipped from her cup of warm morning coffee at her kitchen table. From the speaker of the radio beside her played an age old piece of classical music to which she hummed along to while enjoying her morning brew. Soon she gave in to the violin symphony and the low brass that joined it and started fingering imaginary violin strings on her coffee cup.
A heavy thud sound pulled her from her musical trance as she registered what she had just heard. Rising from her chair, she smoothed over the hems of her yellow sundress and took another quick sip of her daily delight. As she went to grab the newspaper that had just landed on her porch, the signature jingle of the newspaper boy's bicycle bell caught her ear as he continued on by.
A smile crossed the woman's face as she approached her front door, opening it up to a warm spring morning. In the tree beside her driveway sang a small bird as kids waited for the school bus to arrive. A small breeze plucked at the American flag flying off the front of her house and blew a lock of her long brown hair across her face. She brushed it aside as her chest swelled to take in the smell of fresh cut grass and spring flowers hanging in the air. With a contented sigh she knelt down to pick up her morning paper up off the stoop.
The whirr of an engine coming to a stop in front of her house drew her attention toward the street. She stood up with paper in hand to stare in wonder at the jeep that had just pulled up. The vehicle rocked slightly as two men in Army class-A uniforms climbed out and donned their service caps. One of them holding his head low as he walked with his fellow officer up her driveway with a letter and a folded flag.
At first she couldn't believe the sight of the two men. She flatly refused to believe that they had come for her. A terrible tremble rattled her knees as her tongue turned to a gritty piece of sandpaper. Her mouth was moving, but dry tears seized her throat in a stone grip to keep the words from coming out.
By the time the officers came to her doorstep she was struggling to keep herself up on her own two feet. Her left hand was braced against the door frame while her right was held against her mouth. It took everything she had to hold in her scream as the tears streamed down her face. One of the officers stepped in and caught hold of her just in time before she fell, holding her up and allowing her to unleash her horror into the breast of his jacket.
For several long minutes the officer held her there as she cried. Doing so until her legs could finally support themselves enough for him and his subordinate to assist her back into the house.
An hour later, when her tears had dried and her coffee had long since gone cold, the officers turned for the door and gave their final condolences for her loss. They tipped their hats and returned to their jeep parked at the end of her driveway. In her still-quaking hand the woman held up the letter that they had left with her. Holding back a fresh wave of tears, she slowly re-read the final words from her boy.
A young soldier in Vietnam who had written one last letter home the day before he was declared killed in action, body not recovered.
March 2nd, 1966
Happy birthday. I'm writing you this letter because I'm shipping out on my first operation tomorrow morning. The Major says I can't say nothing about it, only that we are moving to free some Vietnamese from communist forces. I know what we're doing is right, so don't bring that argument up again in your next letter please. Captain says we gotta keep the reds out of South Vietnam otherwise they could be looking at Thailand next. He says that if one country falls to the commies, then it'll go like dominoes and next thing we know, T-55 tanks are rolling through downtown Tokyo. So we're heading off to kick the reds outta these jungles and send them back to Hell where they belong. It's what dad fought for in Korea. Could you put some flowers on his headstone for me? I want him to know I still miss him. Command is calling lights out, so I gotta go. I'll write again as soon as I'm safe.
Love you ma, always will.
Your Son, PFC Galen Martin.
The roar of the C-130 Hercules' engines thundered in Galen's ears almost as loudly as the Sergeant's voice up front. He tried to listen to the words of wisdom and motivation the NCO was conveying, but even at a yell he was hard to hear at the back of the plane. So Galen sat with butterflies fluttering around in his belly and a death grip on the M14 rifle strapped to his front. Every instinct and muscle he had clung to the weapon as though it were his own life. Where he was going, this lethal piece of steel and wood was going to be the only thing that was going to get him out alive.
Well, that and the sixty three other men loaded onto the aircraft with him. His brothers-in-arms. Each of them boasted the patch of the 101st airborne division on their shoulders just as Galen did. The badge of honor that was the screaming eagle sewn to their olive drab uniforms giving them a sense of invincibility. Like that lone piece of cloth emblazoned with Old Abe made their tunics bulletproof and their skin as unbreakable as their pride. That as long as they wore it, not a force in the world could touch them. And with every minute that passed by and each mile that brought him closer to his first combat drop, the private wished that were true.
Sitting in nervous silence among his more vocal comrades, he tried to maintain his calm as best he could. He let the noise around him drown out and focused on simply breathing. Making each breath slow and deliberate while he mentally reviewed everything he prepared in his pack for his first combat jump; his ammo, food, water, grenades, his Colt 1911A1. Each rucksack onboard was packed to a standard, then inspected to ensure that standard was met, so Galen knew he had everything he *would* need. Though he wondered if he had everything that he *might* need.
Galen looked up to the soldier who had called his name, a corporal in his squad. "Yeah?"
"You okay, kid?" he asked.
The adjective immediately made Galen sigh as he hung his head. He was only a few weeks away from turning twenty, but until those weeks passed he was still a teenager. Until then he was still a kid.
Lifting his head back up with a weak grin, Galen answered, "Yeah, just a bit nervous is all."
"Yeah, so am I. Just keep your head down and your rifle ready, and we'll be back at base before you know it."
"Thanks, Isles," Galen said before his gaze went back down to the floor.
Truth was that his feet were rattling in his boots. Corporal Isles' words couldn't stop the thousands of scenarios from running rampant through his imagination. What if his parachute failed? What if the AA got him? What would happen if a dozen NVA troops got him the second he landed? Or if he got separated from the Company? A thousand things could kill him before he was even on the ground. Each one of them becoming another reason to hold his weapon tight and hope for the best.
"Glory, glory, what a Hell of a way to die!" one of the troopers out front yelled, his voice loud above the roar of the engines. Without delay, the rest of the men on the aircraft joined in on chanting the ceremonial song.
"Glory, glory what a Hell of a way to die! Glory, glory what a Hell of way to die, and he ain't gonna jump no more!"
Galen's fingers dug into the stock of his rifle as he listened to his brothers sing. Most of them knew how much he hated the tune as he was one of newest privates in the company. Some of the men around him had seen action in Korea; others had fought the NVA already on prior missions. Galen, however, was green as the jungle below and as jumpy as tumbleweed. His lack of experience was the joke of every other soldier in the plane and with the singing of "Blood on the Risers," they were sure to get one last laugh out of him before they arrived at the drop zone.
Sitting at the back of the plane put Galen at the end of the line of paratroopers, which meant he was one of the last ones to jump. This also meant he was one of the last ones to touch the ground. In the event his chute did fail, one of the other men in his squad would be right there to collect his dog tags.
After they decided whether or not to mop him up of course.
"He was just a rookie trooper and he surely shook with fright!" the men chanted at the top of their lungs, some of them smiling as they were staring directly at Galen and some of the other privates aboard. "He checked off his equipment, made sure his pack was tight!"
To the delight of many of the others, Galen did double-check the straps of his parachute, rucksack, and combat gear, making sure nothing was going to snap off or come loose.
"He had to sit and listen to those awful engines roar! You ain't gonna jump no more!"
By now Galen wanted to bury his head in the sand as the rest of the men went through the chorus. He pulled off his helmet and ran a shaky hand through the brown stubble on top of his head. Feeling something trail his forehead, he quickly wiped his sleeve across his brow to catch the sweat that nearly ran into his ocean blue eyes. Last thing he wanted to do is make himself look too nervous to hold it together when the time came to jump or do something for the others to lose faith in him. He felt that he was unimpressive enough as it is.
He wasn't big and stacked full of muscles as some of the other men were, but at the same time he knew he was no cornflake. It was well within his ability to pack his one hundred twenty pounds of gear all day long without griping at the end of the day. He rarely failed to keep up when they had all done their training. Whether it was ten miles with two hundred pounds of gear going nonstop before breakfast, days out in fox holes while it rained sideways, or hours in the fighting ring going hand-to-hand against other soldiers, he never gave up. Each one of the men aboard was a tough soldier. Each one was trained to pull their weight and survive when everything was against them. And Galen knew he was no exception, he just also knew that he wasn't exceptional.
Before the Company could reach the next verse of their song, the engines of the C-130 throttled back. Not an order was given yet the inside of the aircraft went very quiet, much to Private Galen's relief. At the front of the plane the jump master stood up and took his position by the door. The ominous, red jump light coming on signifying he was ready. When the jump master was ready, you were ready.
"Everyone, STAND UP!" he ordered.
At once, the whole of Charlie Company released their safety harnesses and stood up from their seats, turning to face the front of the plane.
There was a long series of clicks as everyone attached their parachute cables to the static line. Galen's hands fumbled for a solid grip as he shakily clipped his into place. Several seats forward, one of his fellow paratroopers passed a glance back in his direction and made eye contact. The shake in the private's hands settled when that sergeant gave him a nod and a stern look. A simple gesture that told him everything would be okay.
Sergeant Michael Polson, Galen thought, trying to distract himself from the impending jump.
He had joined a few years before him, and was one of the better known NCOs transferred into Charlie Company simply because of his personality and abilities as a soldier. He had been in country since January, and had several kills already credited to his name. Those who worked with him in the field said he was brutal in combat, as he raised out in the bush by a hunter father. His eyes were green as the grass in which he prowled, his hair black as a moonless night sky.
Rumor had it that he had Blackfoot in him, and Michael played on it by shaving his hair into a thick bushy Mohawk and painting black lines down the side of his face before he went out into the field. Nobody minded it much, but they never had the heart to tell him he was emulating the wrong tribe. Nonetheless, he was one of the few men of higher rank Galen managed to get to a first-name basis with.
Sure, every man in this plane was his friend and brother. They'd all gone through training and exercises together, all done the practice jumps as a team. But out of every man aboard, Galen was part of the group that was without any actual combat experience. And Michael was among the few who didn't haze him for it.
The door opening and the air pressure in the cabin plummeting brought Galen out of his thoughts and back to reality. A violent breeze came rushing in from the outside and whipped around between the troops to cool any sweat that dampened their skin. The jump master turned to the red light beside him, staring it down as explosions started to go off below. Galen nearly jumped right out of his boots as a flak round detonated beside the plane. Flying bits of shrapnel tore through the hull and pelted the paratroopers but Galen couldn't see anyone get hurt beyond the surprised yelps.
When he pulled himself together, Galen hunched down slightly and looked to the fresh holes in the aircraft. Predawn light dimly glowed through the slits in the plane's fuselage, and a moment later came another burst that caused the floor plate to rumble under the soldiers' feet. Everyone could tell the anti-aircraft guns were zeroing fast.
Then the jump light finally went green. With lightning hands the jump master grabbed the first troop in line and shoved him to the door, "GO, GO, GO!"
The men began piling out the door, jumping free of the plane and into the eruption of flak and anti-aircraft fire below that ripped into the skies. The craft rocked as more projectiles and detonations impacted it on either side. Just as the first half of the paratroopers were off the craft and in the air, an explosion tore open the side of the plane.
Galen was thrown to the rear of the craft with several other paratroopers. Those who were not sucked out the new hole on the starboard side had begun to run for the door. Galen slid across the floor as the whole the aircraft began banking toward the side that had been torn open. Without warning, a huge bolt of lightning struck down from above. Where he saw a starry night sky only a second before, he could now only see blindingly bright light where the superheated bolt narrowly missed the wing.
A line of bullets tore through the floor around Galen to pepper him with sparks. Instinctively he scrambled backward to get away from the gunfire while crying out for help. When he got caught up on the static line and was stopped him from going any farther backward, he just buried his head between his knees. Then the lightning flashed again. Only this time it struck the starboard wing of the C-130 and set the fuel leaking from it ablaze.
Watching the trail of liquid fire pour out the side of the aircraft, Galen held nothing back as he let out a terrified scream at the top of his lungs. And that was before the plane started rolling to the left at a dangerous angle. The other C-130s that had been flying alongside them had dropped their troopers and were now breaking off. With the other targets getting out of range, the anti-aircraft guns were free to focus on his plane.
Bursts of shells exploded alongside the aircraft, tearing more holes in the plane until it became more of a giant cheese grater with wings than a transport. With all the projectiles whistling around him, and with his ride literally falling apart, Galen knew he was in his last moments. His gut wrenching inside him, he looked up toward the front of the plane, toward the last few of his brothers who were stuck on board. Those who weren't dead or had any common sense had already leaped from the plane and tried their luck with their parachutes. Of the sixty-four troopers that had come aboard, seven remained.
One of them was Michael. He was holding desperately onto the safety harness of his seat as the great vacuum tried to suck him out the hole in the plane. Galen could only watch in horror as the Hercules neared the ground, the G-force of their descent pressing him against the rear hatch of the craft.
Right then, right in front of the cockpit window, three lightning bolts collided midair. From that strike erupted a cascade of fire that completely engulfed the plane. The bursts of flak outside instantly ceased, which Galen figured to be because the burning wing was brushing against the top of the jungle canopy. The great steel beam tore through the trees until a deafening snap rattled the plane. Just like that, the burning wing was bouncing along the ground and the plane was banking hard toward the heavier side.
It was then that Michael's grasp on his harness was lost. Desperately, the sergeant reached for any sort of surface he could. For as long as possible he fought for something to hold onto before he was at last sucked out the side of the C-130.
The last words to pass through Galen's mind before the crash was the line, "And he ain't gonna jump no more."
The C-130 Hercules transport came in at a light angle down a hillside, tearing out a wide scar as it mutilated the forest and sliced through hundreds of yards of forest canopy. Trees of all sizes were shredded and ripped apart right down to the heart wood by the razor-like wing. When it slammed into the forest floor, huge plates of aluminum were flung off the body in every direction and littered across the landscape. The severed wing cartwheeled for a several dozen yards and sliced several more trees in half before coming to rest a few hundred yards short of where the craft itself finally slid to a stop.
The plane had ground to a halt in a wide clearing at the bottom of the hill. Over half of its outer hull was missing and its remaining wing was buried in the ground right up to the outer-most engine.
And the moment the dust settled, the sun broke over the horizon.
Warm light cast itself on Galen's face, stirring his mind as the first breath of life came back into his body with a gentle inhale. There was a haze over his mind, and when he began to sit up he realized he was sitting at the front of the plane. His back being up against the door that led from the cargo bay into the cockpit. Pain surged through his left arm as he tried to move it, his neck giving audible cracks as he turned his head to see what pained him so much.
A glass shard the size of his thumb protruded from his left bicep and was sunk at least half an inch into his muscle. Gritting his teeth and letting out a short cry of pain, he grabbed hold of the glass and eased it out from his body before letting it clatter to the floor. He gave long sigh as his arm gained instant relief and full control over its motor functions.
Next thing on his recuperating mind was the wound left over from the shard. It had begun to bleed into his uniform and if something was done about it, then infection was bound to set in. In the jungles of Vietnam, who knew what other kind of disease he would contract?
With the world still lightly spinning in his eyes he had to rely less on his brain for what came next and more on automatic responses drilled into him in training. In slow, mechanical movements he pulled the emergency field medical kit from the shoulder strap of the ruck sack hanging off his front and started undoing some of the straps wrapped around his body.