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Another fellow, however, was willing. We found a bamboo pole and tied the dead man to it. I gave my grenade launcher to another man, and we moved out.
Five minutes later, the guy carrying the front end of the bamboo pole slipped off a narrow dike between two rice paddies and fell into two feet of water. When he did, he pulled the back end of the pole out of my hand, and the corpse landed on top of him. Rigor mortis having set in, that rigid, lifeless form must have filled him with a macabre sensation. He jumped back up onto the dike instantly, and looked at me with big, terrified eyes before we resumed our march.
We went only another 100 yards before hearing small-arms fire to the front of us, where our point men were attempting to cross a small stream. The NVA had set up a machine gun on the water's edge and were firing at us in the darkness.
We tossed the corpse into a ditch and rolled in beside it. I was exhausted to the point of nearly falling asleep. There was firing back and forth for an hour. We were too far back in line to see the NVA, but I could hear our guys yelling, "I see somebody over here. They're over here." "Throw a grenade over there." "Watch it, watch it."
Then the NVA ceased firing. We didn't know if they'd been wounded or simply decided to retreat. On our side of the stream, word filtered back, "Leave the bodies. We're moving out."
The others had crossed, and our 12-man unit was just entering the stream when the machine gun opened up again. We dived for cover. I lay on my side in a tangle of weeds, muddy water oozing and seeping through my fatigues. I unclipped the scatter round on my grenade launcher and, for 15 minutes, we returned fire. Then it ceased once more.
We crossed the stream without further incident, but on the other side we didn't know which way to go. We had lost contact with the 50 men ahead of us. Nobody could remember, for sure, if the night logger was to the right or left. Finally we moved cautiously along the path to the right. We strained our eyes looking for another ambush, either along the stream to our right or on the hillside to our left. We didn't know if we were headed toward our night logger or deeper into enemy territory.
Then, mortars. A salvo landed behind us with that distinctive, piercing report. Poom, poom, poom, poom. Right at the spot where we had crossed the stream not five minutes earlier. The NVA had pinned us down with the machine gun, then sneaked away to radio our coordinates to their artillery men. Those mortars were meant for us, and we knew it. The same 12 men who had been inching along so tentatively suddenly broke into a terrified run. I thought I was pretty fast, but guys were passing me on all sides. We hustled all the way back to our night logger, which we reached at about 3 a.m.
The next afternoon we moved out again. Nobody told us, but apparently our objective was still the same, to pick up the dead bodies of Bravo. Our platoon was joined by another company, which meant we now had enough manpower to handle almost anything—a company and a half, nearly 200 men.
We were crossing a rice paddy that descended and turned to the left when word came back: "Activity at the end of the rice paddy. Break up into two factions."