Read Fields of Fire Online

Authors: James Webb

Tags: #General, #1961-1975, #Southeast Asia, #War & Military, #War stories, #History, #Military, #Vietnamese Conflict, #Fiction, #Asia, #Literature & Fiction - General, #Historical, #Vietnam War

Fields of Fire

BOOK: Fields of Fire
5.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“In swift, flexible prose that does everything he asks of it—including a whiff of hilarious farce just to show he can do it—Webb gives us an extraordinary range of acutely observed people, not one a stereotype, and as many different ways of looking at that miserable war … Fields of Fire is a stunner.”
“James Webb has rehabilitated the idea of the Americanv hero—not John Wayne, to be sure, but every man, caught up in circumstances beyond his control, surviving the blood, dreck, and absurdity with dignity and even a certain elan. Fields of Fire is an antiwar book, yes, but not naively, dumbly anti-soldier or anti-American … Webb pulls off the scabs and looks directly, unflinchingly on the open wounds of the Sixties.”
—Philadelphia Inquirer
“Webb's book has the unmistakable sound of truth acquired the hard way. His men hate the war; it is a lethal fact cut adrift from personal sense. Yet they understand that its profound insanity, its blood and oblivion, have in some way made them fall in love with battle and with each other.”
“A rich, sweeping epic of a novel … an absolute winner.”
—Nelson DeMille
“Powerfully compelling and moving … historical fiction of a high order … hypnotic storytelling … mesmerizing.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“This compelling, fascinating exercise of historical fiction proves, again, that Jim Webb is as fine a novelist as he was a Marine. Enough said.”
—George F. Will
“James Webb offers it all … a page-turning tour de force that examines our morality and makes us question what we ourselves would have done.”
—Nicholas Sparks, author of The Notebook
and Message in a Bottle
“With The Emperor's General, Jim Webb cements his reputation as an extraordinarily gifted storyteller. He excels in mining the rich veins of history to invest his fiction with the drama of great events, and to set a grand stage on which his protagonist must reconcile the call of duty and the demands of his conscience. An engrossing, moving, and splendid book.”
—Senator John McCain
“A seamless tapestry of history and fiction … a truly enthralling work.”
—The Hartford Courant
“An insightful account of a part of history that … still lives with us today … An excellent addition to anyone's collection of World War II fiction.”
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

For the 100,000 Marines who became casualties in Vietnam. And for the others who became casualties upon their return.

A special thanks to three old pros, Ted Purdy, Oliver Swan and Oscar Collier; to three patient ladies, Barb, Amy and Pat; and to one hell of a friend (and not a bad squad leader, either), Tom Martin. In addition, I would like to reaffirm my undying pride in having been a part of that anomalous insanity embodied in the word Marine. While no unit such as is pictured in this work ever existed, and while all the characters involved are wholly fictional, the fuel of this fiction was, of course, actual experience.
Author's note: As many of the words and terms used by Americans fighting in Vietnam were unique to that place and time, I have appended a “glossary of unusual terms” at the end of this book.
Map of the An Hoa Basin by Gary Lee Webb
“And who are the young men we are asking to go into action against such solid odds? You've met them. You know. They are the best we have. But they are not McNamara's sons, or Bundy's. I doubt they're yours. And they know they're at the end of the pipeline. That no one cares. They know.”
—an anonymous general to correspondent Arthur Hadley
Hodges sat against a wet, grassy paddy dike and lazily stirred a can of Beef and Potatoes with a dirty plastic spoon. Raindrops popped and sizzled as they pelted the tiny stove in front of him, which he had made by punching holes in another C-ration tin. His eyes were sunken, his face gaunt and bearded. He dragged mechanically on a muddy cigarette, mindless of the stream of water that was pouring off his helmet down the back of his neck. There was no way to avoid the rain. His body was crinkly from it and he didn't care anymore.
Snake approached and sat on the dike, at Hodges’ shoulder. He took off his glasses and absently wiped mud off one lense, using his skivvy shirt. He put them back on without examining the wiped lense.
Across the paddy to their front, in the mist of a rain-drenched treeline, a group of dark-clothed figures hastened into a stone pagoda. The tank's turret followed the shadowed apparitions, its long 90-millimeter gun tube pointing toward the trees like an ominous finger. The turret halted and the tube exploded and in one quick moment a White Phosphorus shell erupted inside the pagoda, having been shot expertly through the door. Thick white smoke rushed from every opening of the pagoda, and mixed with the low rain-mist.
Snake nodded, lighting a cigarette. “Get some, tank. Half a dozen crispy critters in there, now.”
Hodges grunted. “Fucking tank.”
“Ahhh, Lieutenant.” Snake continued to stare absently at the shrouded treeline. “More gooners than I ever seen. We could really be in the hurt locker tonight.”
“That's what I mean. Fucking tank.”
Snake shifted his gaze to the treadless tank that had anchored them in such an indefensible position. It sat like a wounded mastodon in the middle of the exposed paddy. The company was digging a perimeter around it, to protect it. “Senator's pissed off again.”
“Is that all?” Hodges tested the juice from the Beef and Potatoes. “The man needs a baby-sitter. Do they have baby-sitters in the dorm at Harvard?”
“Kersey came down and told me to put a team in the treeline. The one on the other side. I sent Senator. You shoulda heard him bitch and moan.”
“I hope you tied a string to his arm, so he won't get lost.”
“Kersey told me to move my holes farther out, too.”
“Out where?”
Snake grimaced. “In the middle of that paddy. He's a hopeless case, Kersey. I ain't gonna do it, Lieutenant. Enough is enough.”
Hodges grunted again, with a sort of apathetic irony. “Old Kersey would like that. Then when you get blown away out there he can get another Silver Star.”
“You want me to do it?”
“Nah. Go back and dig in behind the dike and eat your chow. If scumbag comes back, tell him to deal with me.”
Snake allowed himself a small, appreciative smile. “I already told him that. Thanks, Lieutenant.” The turret moved slowly again, and the gun exploded. To the north, out of their vision, there were other sounds of another unit fighting furiously. Hodges began eating his Beef and Potatoes, holding the can by the half-opened lid. He ate slowly, impervious to the other fighting.
Snake measured Hodges from his perch atop the dike. “Senator been talking to you, Lieutenant?”
“Senator?” The 90-millimeter gun exploded again. Hodges grinned wryly. “No. I don't speak Harvard.”
“He ain't said anything about when you were mede-vacked and we lost Baby Cakes out on Go Noi?”
“Nope. Why? Was it his fault again?”
“No. No, sir. It wasn't his fault. But it wasn't our fault, either. You know how it is in the bush, Lieutenant. Sometimes things go dinky dau. You know that. But that Senator. He's got some weird ideas. He's been sulking ever since the Bridge, but he's been worse lately. Five months you and him been with the platoon. You'd think the man would get some bush sense in five months.” Hodges continued to eat, apparently uninterested. “Miss your woman, huh?”
Hodges grinned, suddenly awake. “Yeah, I do. Gonna marry me a Jap. Figure that one out, will you? I think we've all gone dinky dau, Snake. Senator's flipped out, you extended your goddamn tour, and I'm marrying me a Jap.”
Snake stood up. The tank fired again. Far to the north an artillery mission dug into wet earth. “Well, I better go dig me a deep hole. We're gonna be sucking wind tonight. I never seen so many gooks.” Snake turned to walk away, then called to Hodges. “Don't let that tank sneak off, Lieutenant.”
Hodges shook his head. “Goddamn tank. Goddamn Kersey. Goddamn Senator. You better dig a neck-deep hole.”
BOOK: Fields of Fire
5.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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