Friday, April 6, 2012

One, two, left, right

Many years ago I remember listening to someone tell a story about an experience in Viet Nam.  It was so vividly told ... that I felt that in a sense, I traveled with him on his journey and could relate, in what was a more emotional or spiritual sense.  Maybe I can tell you the tale.  It might be just what someone needs to hear. 

During a long forced march that had lasted since early morning, this man, who was a medic, fell further and further back in the column of men.  Their goal was the top of a particular hill so they could camp safely for the night. 

Source (via Google Images):
They'd been trudging through napalm all day. Napalm (pronounced NAY-pawm) is what they called the burnt vegetation left behind when the air troops bombed an area - like a jungle, leaving nothing left, so as to not give the enemy anywhere to hide.  It left a fine, black powder everywhere and every step raised a little cloud of black ash.  The ash was in his pores, between his teeth, in all his crevices, grinding between his pack and his shoulder - and his feet were hot and blistered from the long hike through the napalm.  He was hot and sweaty, bone-tired, and gritty all over.  It was late in the afternoon. The sun had been relentless all day long. There was no relief. They hadn't even stopped to eat.  His company got more and more ahead of him.

Between him and the ascent to the final hill there was a beautiful valley, with tall, lush grass, a stream, and trees all around.  

It was like stepping into paradise. 

As he made his way through the water and to the other side of the stream, he decided to sit on the bank for a few minutes.  His 80-pound pack was made heavier by the 20-pound mortar plate he had to bring with him (the base of a large field weapon).  When he sat on the bank, he did so pack and all. It took some of the pressure off his back and legs ... such a relief. The march of the day, the black napalm dust up his nose, were all forgotten. The water soothed those blisters in his boots.  "I'll just stay here," he thought, as he dangled his boots in the water and felt it swish between his toes.

And then the sun began to set, and it began to get cold.  And for the first time, the very real danger of his position became clear to him.  The most likely place for the enemy to hide, to lie in wait for an ambush - would be in tall grass, or in trees.  He looked around him.  Tall grass ... and trees. They were all around him.  Whoa boy

He had to stand up and hitch up his pack - made heavier now by the water, and climb up past the bank of the stream and up that hill ... that ugly old hill covered with the same dust they'd been walking through all day long.  The water in his boots made the blisters feel like they were boiling.  The only thing that kept him going was just one thing.  Putting one foot in front of the other ... to survive.  

To stay focused, he said out loud to himself, "One, two, left, right; one, two, left, right..." over and over again as he struggled up the steep embankment where he knew his company would be waiting at the top. But he didn't dare look at how far he had left to go.  Only one thing mattered.  "One. ... Two. ... Left. ... Right...." through clenched teeth.

Just when he thought he couldn't take another step, he heard a voice - a voice calling his name!  He looked up and there was a guy he had helped out, earlier in the day.  "Here, Doc, let me take that mortar plate." Immediately his pack got 20% lighter.  His feet still hurt, but somehow they didn't hurt quite so much.  One, two, left, right.  Then he heard another fellow's voice.  "Let me take your pack for you there.  Least I could do ..."  And the pack peeled off him and lifted from his sore shoulders.  He felt like he was flying.  Before long, the hill was behind him, the ground had evened under his feet and he was surrounded by his buddies, who were slapping him on the back and congratulating him - he was the last one to arrive.  But he made it.

He made it.

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