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REDBALL MISSION by T. Patrick Devlin

Editor's Note: Redball Mission tells the fictional story of Tinker Fallon, a Vietnam veteran who is struggling alone to cope with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. The demons from the war still haunt his dreams. Surviving on the line between what he perceives and what is actually occurring, at times, becomes very thin. Click HERE to learn more about RedBall Mission. 


The worst defeat for American arms in history 

About a hundred years ago, after I got back from Nam, I wasn’t fit to be in civilized company. All the guys who’d signed up when I did were dead. The crazy gook war was insane. I was nearly crazy over there before I left. The shock of being out of the jungle and back in the States, in less than seventy-two hours, almost finished me. 

I was losing it. I had forgotten what life was in the world. This was the essence of the DoD’s readjustment plan for personnel returning from a war zone. It was the, “You’re on your own” readjustment plan. After learning and perfecting the techniques of slaughtering other human beings individually or en masse, the grunts were rotated out and sent home to reassemble the fragments of their lives as if nothing had ever happened. 

It is assumed that for the most part that the plan worked. It had to because there was no other plan. It had its successes. Graduates were rewarded with reunions, a chance to go back to school, jobs and real parties where the guests kept all the lights on and sat around real tables. No one sat on ammo cases under a plank roof and a meter of sandbags. The ones who weren’t so successful ended up in jail, the cemetery, or someplace in between. 

I was one of those “in-betweens” who went wheels-down on the West Coast with a form of combat-induced mental retardation. Officially, it didn’t rate. The condition was only considered life-threatening by the ones who had it. It was the kind of disability that kept me from realizing that bars and “normal” people were things best to be avoided for a long, long time. A low profile was a good idea. Invisibility was better. 

Getting back to normal wasn’t easy. The first round-eyed girl I was with since high school made the mistake of letting me doze off on her couch while she went out to pick up “a few things” for dinner. When she got back, she took a moment and put her hand on my shoulder. She was probably going to say something like, “Hey. I could use some help with the groceries.” She got as far as the “Hey” part. I was in the middle of one of those dreams dogging me ever since my first fire-fight a week-and-a-half after arriving in Vietnam. I woke up in a blind, cold sweat panic swinging with one hand and grabbing with the other for my .45 auto desperately hoping to get off a shot before Charlie slit my throat. 

The tactic was a favorite of the Cong when they were still called the Vietminh and the French still occupied the lion’s share of Southeast Asia. For its value as a weapon of sheer terror, it had no equal. Viet Cong assassins took hours crawling in total darkness, slipping past sentries and into the tents of sleeping GI’s. Going for the outposts away from the cities, they’d slice the throats of every man in the tent except one and then slither away leaving the sentries undisturbed. When the guy woke up to find everyone else lying in pools of their own blood, the shock of being the only one left alive destroyed his brain. From then on he was useless in battle or anywhere else for that matter.

The nightmare-dreams didn’t wait for dark. They were there every time I closed my eyes. How could she know that, when she tried to wake me in the middle of another one? Was there any way she could have known that it was Charlie slipping into my hootch? That it was Charlie who was putting his hand on my shoulder to steady himself to bring the knife down fast and with force enough to score the bone in the back of my neck? 

The delay would have been fatal for Charlie. It was almost fatal for the girl who only wanted help carrying groceries three flights up from the street. I hit her hard, almost too hard. I knocked her across the room where she hit the wall flat against her spine, her eyes wide open. She half stood, half leaned before her knees buckled and she slid slowly to the floor, sitting up too dazed to move, barely conscious. My muddled brain was too slow. She wasn’t VC. She was a pretty thing who I’d met downtown a couple of days before. She didn’t deserve to be put in fear for her life just because she let me fall asleep on her couch. 

Dinner was pretty much out of the question. I got ice for her cheek; gently lifted her to the couch, put the groceries away, and left without saying a word. I didn’t think that she’d understand. Saying “I’m sorry” wasn’t good enough. The look on her face still haunts me, as if I needed any more ghosts.  

If there was a lesson then, I missed it. Maybe a week later, I was in a bar in one of those one-horse towns up the coast when I bumped into a California-bronzed, draft-deferred, all-American college type. Actually, it was the other way around. The kid staggered back to the bar from across the room, looked at me, and started mouthing off, not to or about anyone or anything in particular. He was just being loud and a real pain in the ass.

I try to avoid it but trouble has a way of creeping up on me. Before I had a chance to pay up and haul out the punk backed into my elbow and slopped beer over the rim of my glass. Something about my appearance got him to making wise-assed remarks about “heroes and baby killers…” I didn’t wait to hear the rest. The little puke’s lights went out in mid-sentence. His slow moving and equally dim-witted pal should have started sooner and hit harder. He wasn’t quick at all, and he punched like a girl. After spending too much time in places where people died every day, I got used to the sound of things breaking deep inside a human body. When he went down, I heard sounds that were even new to me. 

Taking a semester off probably did’em a lot of good. It might have taken those boys that long to get breathing right and walking again. 

The owner of the place turned for the telephone. I thought he was calling the sheriff. He said, “About ten or fifteen minutes ago, I called a cab, no, not for you, for them. I saw it coming. It’s too bad things got out of hand before it got here. Now, those boys need an ambulance. Son...don’t you worry about your tab, and there ain’t no damages to concern yourself over. Those two’ve rubbed plenty of folks the wrong way. They were bound to run into a buzz-saw. I’m sorry it was you. Snoozing there on the floor like they are is the quietest I’ve seen ’em since they started coming in two or three weeks ago. Doing whatever it is they do all day then drinking hard most nights ’til we close...I just knew that it had to end in a bad way.

“You’d better run along now. We got a couple of hot-shot paramedics sitting around the fire hall just dying for a chance to get their new rig out on the road. They’ll be along directly. I’ll be tellin’ the deputies how these boys took to swinging at each other over ‘Who knows what?’ and got themselves hurt pretty bad this time.”

“I appreciate it.”

“Hey...before you go...You were in the war weren’t ya’, son?”

“Yes. Yes, I was…until the thirtieth of last month.”

“I figured as much. I never seen two men go down faster than they did tonight. There ain’t too many like you who come in; the ones who do are real quiet. There’s a look about ’em I ain’t seen since the Korean thing...the same kind of look I seen on you earlier when those boys started getting loud. Them others pay up and leave in a hurry before trouble starts. You never had a chance. I can tell you this. I seen folks coming home who are carryin’ an awful lot of pain, a deep in the heart, powerful hurting kinda’ pain. Their eyes tell the whole story. But something I never seen in their eyes is the look I saw in yours tonight. It was a purely wild “somebody’s gonna’ die right now” kinda’ look. It chilled me to the core. Until the day I die, I hope to never see it again. Young fella’ you got a long way to go, and I pray God keeps you safe ’til your soul finds the peace it lost and so rightfully deserves.

“I know you didn’t ask for this. No sane man craves the killing of another human being. Those boys are damned lucky to be alive. It’s still a shame though. 

“I have to make this call now. The deputies’ll be happy to hear that all of my customers left early tonight, right after we stopped serving dinner. When Mutt and Jeff here came in, the place had been empty for over an hour. Go on now. If you’re ever by this way again, you be sure to stop in...on the house.”

I threw a couple of twenties on the bar anyway. The man was running a business, not a charity. I thanked him and left. 

Heading back to my hootch with blurred, angry images racing through my mind, I tried to remember the first link in the chain that brought me to the point of almost killing a couple of idiot punks in a nameless beer joint an ocean away from the killing grounds next to the South China Sea.

I was eighteen when I took off. There was no reason to stay. I never worked anywhere big, never saved any money. The girls in school were okay, but nobody got too serious. So there was nobody left at home to come back to. Ma and Dad sold the restaurant they’d bought after WWII, retired early, and moved some place down south. Not long after I joined up, things got busier. I applied for Advanced Survival. Fewer letters went home, and things with the folks seemed to take up more of their time. Finally, the letters stopped altogether. The thoughts I had when I went in also started to change. In Basic we had long time DI’s. In Advanced our instructors had actually served their time in the bush. They weren’t the stateside pukes who’d never fired a shot outside the practice range. These guys had guts. They’d seen it all. They knew how to put real fear into a man’s soul. 

                                                                              Part 2

If there was a lesson then, I missed it. Maybe a week later, I was in a bar in one of those one-horse towns up the coast when I bumped into a California-bronzed, draft-deferred, all-American college type. Actually, it was the other way around. The kid staggered back to the bar from across the room, looked at me, and started mouthing off, not to or about anyone or anything in particular. He was just being loud and a real pain in the ass. 

I try to avoid it but trouble has a way of creeping up on me. Before I had a chance to pay up and haul out the punk backed into my elbow and slopped beer over the rim of my glass. Something about my appearance got him to making wise-assed remarks about “heroes and baby killers…” I didn’t wait to hear the rest. The little puke’s lights went out in mid-sentence. His slow moving and equally dim-witted pal should have started sooner and hit harder. He wasn’t quick at all, and he punched like a girl. After spending too much time in places where people died every day, I got used to the sound of things breaking deep inside a human body. When he went down, I heard sounds that were even new to me. 

Taking a semester off probably did 'em a lot of good. It might have taken those boys that long to get breathing right and walking again. The owner of the place turned for the telephone. I thought he was calling the sheriff. He said, “About ten or fifteen minutes ago, I called a cab, no, not for you, for them. I saw it coming. It’s too bad things got out of hand before it got here. Now, those boys need an ambulance. Son...don’t you worry about your tab, and there ain’t no damages to concern yourself over. Those two’ve rubbed plenty of folks the wrong way. They were bound to run into a buzz-saw. I’m sorry it was you. Snoozing there on the floor like they are is the quietest I’ve seen ’em since they started coming in two or three weeks ago. Doing whatever it is they do all day then drinking hard most nights ’til we close...I just knew that it had to end in a bad way.

“You’d better run along now. We got a couple of hot-shot paramedics sitting around the fire hall just dying for a chance to get their new rig out on the road. They’ll be along directly. I’ll be tellin’ the deputies how these boys took to swinging at each other over ‘Who knows what?’ and got themselves hurt pretty bad this time.”

“I appreciate it.”

“Hey...before you go...You were in the war weren’t ya’, son?”

“Yes. Yes, I was…until the thirtieth of last month.”

“I figured as much. I never seen two men go down faster than they did tonight. There ain’t too many like you who come in; the ones who do are real quiet. There’s a look about ’em I ain’t seen since the Korean thing...the same kind of look I seen on you earlier when those boys started getting loud. Them others pay up and leave in a hurry before trouble starts. You never had a chance. I can tell you this. I seen folks coming home who are carryin’ an awful lot of pain, a deep in the heart, powerful hurting kinda’ pain. Their eyes tell the whole story. But something I never seen in their eyes is the look I saw in yours tonight. It was a purely wild “somebody’s gonna’ die right now” kinda’ look. It chilled me to the core. Until the day I die, I hope to never see it again. Young fella’ you got a long way to go, and I pray God keeps you safe ’til your soul finds the peace it lost and so rightfully deserves.

“I know you didn’t ask for this. No sane man craves the killing of another human being. Those boys are damned lucky to be alive. It’s still a shame though. 

“I have to make this call now. The deputies’ll be happy to hear that all of my customers left early tonight, right after we stopped serving dinner. When Mutt and Jeff here came in, the place had been empty for over an hour. Go on now. If you’re ever by this way again, you be sure to stop in...on the house.”

I threw a couple of twenties on the bar anyway. The man was running a business, not a charity. I thanked him and left. 

Heading back to my hootch with blurred, angry images racing through my mind, I tried to remember the first link in the chain that brought me to the point of almost killing a couple of idiot punks in a nameless beer joint an ocean away from the killing grounds next to the South China Sea.

To read more about Redball Mission: visiting http://marketingnewauthors.biz/redball-mission/



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