We crawled down the hedgerow, then turned along the left edge of the rice paddy. We did not stop or swerve for anything...thickets, briars, mud. We went directly through them all. The other men were hollering to us, checking our condition. But we didn't respond, for fear of indicating our position to the NVA.
If we'd met so much as one enemy soldier along the way, we'd have been helpless. Neither of us had a weapon. But we met nobody. We scrambled across a little road. Then we came to an open field. Doc went first, I hobbled behind. It was about 150 yards from the hedgerow to the wooded area where we had taken the morning smoke break. There we found Tom Murphy, the commanding officer. He had tried unsuccessfully to flank the NVA, then fell back with his squad to wait for the others.
"How you feeling, Rock?" Murphy asked.
I couldn't have communicated it. I felt relieved beyond anything I'd ever known. And protected, like I was back in my mother's womb. But I kept the stiff upper lip.
"Fine, sir," I said.
"Do you think you can hang on for a while?"
"Well, good. I think you're lucky. It looks like you've got a million-dollar wound there. It'll get you out of the field for a month or so."
I was kind of pleased about that. I took a quart canteen of water and inhaled it in 20 seconds. I bummed a cigarette and lit up. I had stopped smoking three weeks earlier, but now I felt I deserved a cigarette.
The rest of the platoon, including the four men out front, returned, low-crawling in a row. There was still one problem. Most of us had left our packs in the rice paddy. In some of them were special self-contained rockets that had been issued to us recently. They were deadly accurate at long range. We could only hope that the NVA wouldn't find them and use them on us.