Purple's Platitudes

nothing but words …

The Color of Surrender

22 September 2013

The Color of Surrender


I was almost eighteen, well I would have been in fourteen more months. My older brother was eighteen and once I got used to answering to Marshall instead of Michael, pretending to be him wasn’t all that crazy. It got me into the Marines.

If I had thought about it, I might have realized that lying about my age, just to get into the Marines, to run off and fight and try to be a hero was never really going to impress Cheryl Anne like I hoped, but, like many things in life, we find things out too late.

It wasn’t one of my brightest ideas.

Vietnam was a never-ending nightmare, a moment by moment ordeal. The horrors I witnessed were so surreal, unimaginable, perhaps even indescribable, at least if you wanted it to sound believable to someone who had never lived through it.

I was smaller than most of the other guys in my outfit. Unfortunately, that landed me the assignment of tunnel rat. I was the one that got lowered down into those dank, dark, death traps after we had dropped a couple of grenades down the hole. My job was to go in with just my sidearm and seek out and kill anyone still alive.

Some tunnels were nothing more than a tight crawl space. Others, a man could stand up in and walk through. Sometimes there were caches, storage rooms, or living quarters. I even found oddly abandoned command centers, their oil lamps still burning.

I learned quickly how clever and resourceful the enemy could be. They seemed to invent new ways to inflict pain and death on anyone whose judgment could be momentarily colored by distraction. You learned to always pay attention, to never let your guard down. Down there, your life depended on it.

There were Booby traps everywhere, bomb triggers, water traps, and landslides that could be set off by crawling into a certain tunnel, or past a specific point. You just never knew. These were only some of the goodies I ran into and learned to recognize, even in near total darkness.

She was only a girl, I thought, maybe ten years old at the most. Straight, long dark hair and dark eyes, sitting in that room, all alone, in the dark.

I found and shot one VietCong. I heard him breathing ahead of me as I inched forward down a freshly dug side tunnel. I emptied a full 15-shot clip into the darkness and hit him twice in the back.

Above ground, a mortar shell hit and caused the tunnel to collapse behind me, blocking my route back to the main tunnel. The tunnel was only dug out to allow one person to crawl through it, so I had to dismember the dead soldier in order to crawl past him and continue on. I guess I panicked a little, but I did what I had to do. I was a Marine after all. We did whatever had to be done.

The room was a surprise. An earthen door in the tunnel wall collapsed inward and I fell into darkness. I tumbled head-first onto the floor, and landed hard enough to knock the wind out of me. I knew better than to start firing randomly into the darkness, but I was terrified, trying to hold my breath, slow my pulse, and listen for anything sound besides the rapid beating of my heart. I heard nothing, no telltale noise, no movement in the darkness.

"Please don’t hurt me," a child’s voice whimpered.

My instincts failed me at the sound of her voice. I should have fired first and asked questions later as they say. But, I didn’t. My ears told me where she was even though I could not see her.

"Are you alone?" I growled, trying to sound as threatening as possible.


I reached into my front shirt pocket and flicked my lighter on. In the orangish glow I saw her sitting there, in an ankle-length, clean white dress, oddly out of place. I saw nothing else in the room and relaxed a little. She was only about three feet in front of where I had landed.

The light flickered across her face, illuminating her eyes, a solemn little girl’s face. So innocent, so young, oh so young.

Suddenly, I focused in on her hands and I saw what she held in each. I watched in horror as she pulled the pins on the two grenades and whispered, "I surrender." Her smile was the last thing I ever saw.

22 September, 2013 - Posted by | Fiction | ,

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