New Guinea, 1944.
The moon has gone down and they’re getting ready to come at us again. At the darkest
time of the night. I can hear them out there, moving around. But where are they?
The jungle can play tricks with sound. You really don’t know if they’re still far
away or right on top of you. So you have to be patient. The machine gun is set up.
Ammo cases are ready. The men are ready. My finger is on the trigger. We peer out
into the dark.
And we wait.
I’m sweating. But is it from this blast furnace tropical heat or from nerves? The
equatorial sun beats down on you all day, the rain soaks you to the bone, the mosquitoes
eat you up, and the enemy comes at you at night. You sleep with one eye open, as
they say. That’s when you can get sleep, that is. No wonder everyone is jumpy, including
me. I just hope that no one starts firing before they actually attack. That’s a sure
way to give away your position and get yourself and a bunch of other guys killed.
Movement off to the left. Maybe this is it. Or maybe it’s just an animal scurrying
through the brush.
Some of the guys look calm, collected, together. Ready for anything. Others look
like they’re about to break. We all know what’s coming, it’s just a matter of when.
I can see the tension on their mud-streaked faces.
But even that’s hard to do when you’re tired, on edge, dreading the coming chaos
of combat, and the humid air feels as heavy as a wet blanket. If there is such a
thing as hell, this must be pretty close. I was just a happy kid from Chicago’s north
side. The worst thing I had to worry about was passing my high-school math final.
What am I doing in this steaming jungle on the other side of the world, sitting in
this muddy hole behind a machine gun, waiting to use it to kill men who are out there
trying to kill me?
Movement dead ahead.
Here they come. Shouting, screaming, firing.
The whole line opens up. The squad springs into action. I pull the trigger and start
firing into the night. I’m the gunner and my job is to shoot the gun. I try not to
think about anything else. Shapes appear in the night. A lot go down, but more appear.
Just shoot the gun. The rest of the team is responsible for making sure there is
a steady supply of ammunition.
We have the gun set on free traverse and I spray the area in front of me with .30-caliber
rounds. Tracers streak through the darkness. My squad is doing their job. When one
belt of ammo is spent another gets slapped in with machine-like precision. Grenades
and mortars are dropping all around. Ours? Theirs? Who knows? Screams in the night.
I just keep firing. I am determined not to be overrun. Those bastards are not going
to get behind me.
Another belt goes in and the gun spits death out into the night.
But they keep coming…