The time was 1969, the place Vietnam. That's where the story began.
|Delayed Justice (Prologue)
By Marvin K. Perkins
Near Bon Son, Vietnam, summer 1969, a Huey helicopter pounded the air over rice patties where Vietnamese women and children worked. Their straw hats blew in the wind as the bird lumbered overhead. A man plowing a new row behind his oxen looked up apathetically. It was a sight he was used to seeing. He continued with his plowing, not knowing that this bird was different. On this hell-bound bird, the Grim Reaper himself rode as passenger.
As the giant machine settled down in a hot landing zone, machine gun and small arms fire peppered it from every direction. 2nd Lt. Frank Desio and his men hastily scattered in standard Marine Corps fashion. After the last man was clear the bird began to rise thrumming like mad thunder. The tropical air shattered with a loud explosion. Just forward of the rotors, artillery fragments tore a ragged opening in the chopper’s hull. The bird spun, rotors whining and straining, in an effort to rise. Smoke belching out of the starboard engine, it staggered up and disappeared over a green hill leaving only a writhing trail of foul black smoke across the blue skies of Vietnam.
The marines returned fire and scrambled into the jungle outgunned. The thick jungle underbrush whipped them furiously, as they narrowly escaped a barrage of enemy fire in their retreat. Bullets whistled by their heads, mortar rounds exploded blowing up large chunks of earth as the Marines literally ran for their lives.
After a painstaking hour of evasion the platoon finally managed to maneuver themselves far enough into the lush green jungle as to be clear of the murderous barrage. The sky that had been clear all day suddenly darkened and out of nowhere started to piss huge sheets of tropical rain all over the Marines. They pulled their helmets down and their collars up to shield themselves against the unexpected inclement weather.
“Looks like we gave those fuckers the slip,” Frank said to his platoon sergeant Roy Harris. “Those bastards had us zeroed in there for a minute."
“You ain’t shitting LT. I thought we was goners for sure a couple of times,” Harris said pulling his own helmet down tighter.
“Time to get to work. We ain’t out here for our fucking health. According to intel there’s some scattered villages out here somewhere giving aid to the VC. We gonna find those fuckers and when we do, there’s gonna be hell to pay. Get these assholes ready to go.”
“Roger that LT. All right third platoon. Mount up. Time to go to work. Let’s go.”
The jungle swallowed them up leaving them virtually invisible as they stealthily combed the area inch by inch in search of the enemy villages. Hidden in the bush somewhere was a safe haven for the Viet Cong. Miles of endless green virtually drugged them into doldrums. They were hypnotized as their search continued to what end and when they did not know. And then it happened…
A pungent odor suffocated the air with a stench that proceeded a horror even these battled hardened troops had never seen or imaged in their worst nightmare. Birds circled above as the platoon came up on a group of large wooden stakes stuck in the ground. They all stopped frozen in their tracks and peered up at the horror.
“Oh, sweet Jesus,” private Harris exclaimed, bending over tossing his guts on the ground.
“Those mother fuckers,” Frank said not able to say anything else.
There was silence, even reverence as they tried their best to process the horrific scene they witnessed. Five soldiers were hung up on the huge wooded stakes, their balls stuffed in their mouths. Their bodies were partially devoured presumably by wild animals, entrails hung out from the broken bloodied bodies.
“God what a stench. Those poor mother fuckers. Son of a bitch. Somebody’s gonna pay for this, I shit you not. Get ’em down! Get ’em down right fucking now. Mother fuckers. Sarg get some men together and give these soldiers a decent burial. Jesus Christ,” Frank yelled and stormed off to be alone for a few minutes.
The soldiers properly buried, Frank ordered the Marines to move out again and continue their sweep of the area.
They came across the village around mid-afternoon. It wasn’t really even a village but just a few shacks with two dusty roads intersecting at an old well in the middle. The occupants of this little speck of earth weren’t aware that hell was heading their way in the form of a platoon of pissed off, tired, dirty, vengeful marines.
Lt. Desio and his radio operator, Fred Sanders, watched the activity down in the village along with the platoon sergeant and corpsman. They were at a vantage point above where they could see the entire little village. A man was struggling with a big wooden cart filled with straw. This in itself was not unusual but they watched the man a little longer. Damn if he didn’t stop the old cart in front of one of shacks. Another man came out of the shack and they pulled a big wooden crate out of the cart and took it in the shack.
“Holy shit“, Frank exclaimed. “Did you see that? These fuckers are up to something.” He turned to his radioman, Fred Sanders, and said, “Radio our position and tell HQ, we’re going to go down to the village and take a look.” He held up his hand and made a fist. “All right, let’s move out.”
They entered the village with their M-16s at the ready. A pen of pigs squealed loudly as they walked by, a lady was drawing a bucket of water from the old well. When she saw the marines, she dropped her bucket and ran, disappearing into one of the old shacks. She peeked out of a dusty window, yelling to someone inside the shack.
The marines rousted the villagers out of their shacks and herded them into the middle of the dusty road by the old well. They pushed them around, taunting them and even knocking a few to the ground that didn’t want to cooperate. They hated even the sight of these zipper heads, burning, deep down murderous hatred. Anger had began to grow, the seed had taken root. With each passing minute the tension escalated, like a ship’s line taking heavy strain in a storm, waiting to snap.
They searched the shacks one by one for contraband. When they got to the one where the men had carried the box, they found what they were looking for.
“Looky here, looky here, what I found,” Frank said excitedly. He had opened up the crate and found a whole stash of AK-47s. In another box was grenades and yet others were a stash of rice large enough to feed a whole regiment of VC. That meant that a whole butt load of the enemy was nearby, waiting to kill unsuspecting Americans. Frank had to find out where they were camped. It didn’t matter what he had to do, he was going to find out . And then payback was going to be a mother fucker, as they say.
First he needed to find out who was in charge. He shot one of pigs and grabbed a little girl by her hair and put his service revolver to her head. “All right, who’s in charge? We know you’re VC. If you don’t come forward, I’m going to start capping mother fuckers, starting with this little girl.” Frank wasn’t going to kill anybody, he just wanted to bluff the honcho into coming forward.
His ploy worked and before he knew it a man in his thirties, hard as leather, and thin as a rail jumped out of the group. “No kill, no kill, I’m honcho. We not VC.”
Frank not at all happy with his answer said, “Bullshit, you’re VC. If you ain’t, who’s all the weapons and rice for? You better tell me or I’m gonna put you in a hurt locker, I bullshit you not.”
The honcho still stuck to his story. “We not VC. No VC.”
Frank was really getting pissed off now. “Bring that asshole over here.” A couple of his men dragged the headman over. He spit in Frank’s face, which was not the right thing to do. Frank banged the man in the head with the butt of his rifle, the blood squirted out and the man fell to the ground. Frank yelled at his men, “Get that mother fucker up. Bring him over here and tie him up on this old fence .” His men did as he requested. Frank asked one more time, “I know you’re VC, where’s your buddies at?
The honcho was still defiant and refused to talk. “We not VC, no VC. Go, and leave us in peace, Yankee dogs. No VC, no VC.”
Frank pulled up his blade and stuck it up near the man’s eye. “I’ll cut that mother fucker out, if you don’t start talking.” He pretended to stick it in his eye but instead cut a big chunk out of the man’s face, blood poured down, the man yelped loudly. “I can do this all day, you better get to talking. I’m gonna cut your balls off next. Where is the VC regiment camped?”
“Fuck you,” said the headman, “ I not scared to die.” He struggled with the ropes that were restraining him. He spit at Frank again.
Frank grabbed the headman’s right hand and tied it securely to the old fence rail. “Tell you what I’m going to do. I’m gonna start with this little finger and I’m going to start cutting. When I run out of fingers on this hand I’m going to start on the other one. Then I’m gonna start on them balls, the left one first. Now do you feel like talking ?”
The honcho just shook his head, so Frank began cutting off his fingers, first the little one then the ring finger. Blood squirted everywhere and the man yelled in pain. He again asked the man, “Got something to say.” No answer. The man was struggling to free himself from his torment but he was tied too securely. Frank was just about to cut off a third finger.
Little did Frank know that a storm had been brewing while his attentions had been diverted . Several of the marines were getting pissed off and frustrated by the way the whole thing was going. Corporal Willie Reynolds, said to another marine standing in a group next to him, “I bet if we start capping some of these dinks they’ll get to talking then.”
One of the other marines answered, “You damn right, let’s do it“
And just like that it began. It was like something out of a surreal dream, happening in slow motion. The marines opened fire on the villagers who were standing in the street. They tried to run as the shots rang out, but they could not escape their fate. In a few seconds ten or a dozen lay dead in the dusty street. Smoke filled the air and blood ran like water, screams and cries suddenly permeated the silence.
It took a few seconds for Frank, who was busy at his work, to realize what was happening. He was momentarily stunned into inaction by his disbelief at the scene he witnessed. He came to his senses in moments and lowered his M-16 that was on his shoulder. He yelled, “Cease firing, ceasing firing!” But the marines could not hear him over the birage of gunfire. So he did the only thing he could do, he starting firing, on his own men.
Before it was over five of his marines layed dead on the street, intermingled with the Vietnamese villagers. Frank yelled at the marines still standing, “Drop your weapons, drop ’em. Hands in the air.” The murderous marines complied, dropped their weapons, and held their hands in the air, dazed as if waking up from a bad dream.
About then the platoon sergeant, Roy Harris, showed up, looking like he’d been out for a stroll. Frank snarled, “Where the hell have you been? You didn’t do anything. What the fuck Sarge? “
Truth was he had seen the whole thing go down and and just stood and watched, secretly wanting it to happen. “Police the weapons, and help me keep an eye on these fuckers.” Harris complied and together they gathered the weapons and formed the surviving participants into ranks, so they could keep an eye on them.
The scene was something out of a nightmare, bloody bodies lay everywhere. The smoke and dust was just beginning to clear. Frank stood awestruck surveying the damage in disbelief and horror. He felt like he might puke, a knot as big as a basketball had formed in his stomach. He had seen many horrors in this terrible war, but nothing that even remotely compared to this.
He began to shake uncontrollably and fell to the ground on one knee and prayed to the good Lord to give him strength to deal with the consequences of what had just happened. A thousand things ran through his mind. What was the right thing to do? How were they going to explain this to their superiors? What would the rest of his life be like? What the hell was he going to do? He was the man in charge, it was all up to him.
He called his corpsman, Bill Riley over and told him, “You and Sarge tag and bag our dead. Sarge I want the platoon in formation in five minutes over by the old well. Move it!”
Five minutes later, Frank paced back in forth in front of what was left of his marines, still trying to decide what course of action to take and what to say. He spoke slow, calm and clear. “This whole thing never happened. We were on routine patrol when we ran across this village. We met heavy resistance from a platoon of VC and we took five casualties in a major fire fight. In the course of the battle several villagers were killed. We took the VC prisoners and blew in place the weapons, ammo, and rice we discovered in the village. We will never speak of this day to anyone. Sarg, blow all contraband in place and take all the men prisoner. We move out in five minutes, let’s move people.”
And that’s what happened on that day in 1969, in Vietnam, in that war far away. That was the story Frank and his men would tell, and they stuck to it, no matter what.
Frank, having many times through the years been awoken by the sound of his screams in the