The small arms fire was the first warning the fire-base was going to be hit. Doc looked at his watch, “Cripes, zero-thirty dark still.” He tried to blink the sleep out of his eyes. He had only been down for a couple hours.
The infirmary phone rang and he picked it up. It was the Major, “Expect incoming casualties.” His thick Australian accent was ripe with frustration.
Moments later the flap to the bunker flipped open and in came the stretchers carriers. They lifted the wounded man off of the olive drab canvas and gently placed him on the olive drab operating table. Then they fold up the stretcher, un-slung their rifles and headed back outside
The man lay there. His chest covered with blood. The sticky fluid oozed from a gaping hole in his left chest wall. The field trauma bandage was saturated and his fatigues appeared darker than natural. Black as sin and no brighter than Doc’s mood.
The young NCO cussed to himself as he took a quick check of the man’s pulse. The end had come for this soldier man and Doc could do little more than hold his lifeless wrist.
The flap popped open again. It was another body for the Doc, which was Doc’s nickname. This one cried and struggled against the hole in his belly. The bullet had entered just under his navel. Doc went to work.
Two and a half hours later the dawn started to come. Doc had worked on the fifth casualty for that morning. Four young men would live; one was on his way to Graves Registration. That’s when the mortars started coming in. The small arms fire became artillery. The enemy was cutting up the ground they held.
Blam! Blam! Blam!
Dust filled the air while the earth heaved under Doc’s foot. All four young men lay dead under the pile of rubble he had called the infirmary. Doc was thrown out the door, and through the flaps. When he could stand he found himself looking at the morning light filtering through the distant jungle.
His body had landed with a violent thud some twenty paces from the doorway. The breath was knocked out of him as he scrambled to get back to his post. That’s when the Doc found the four soldiers he had worked so hard on were now dead.
Just then another mortar slammed into the infirmary. Again, Doc was blown clear of harm. He crawled to the nearest hole and curled into a ball, hoping to catch his dust-filled breath.
Over the constant pop, pop, pop and the explosions, he could hear the Major issuing orders. Doc stood up to see him walking between fighting holes urging his troops to fight. The ground around him erupted in constant spits of dust as the enemy attempted to zero in on his person. As he yelled for his men to fight, he would raise his standard issued pistol and fire off a round. Then he’d move again.
“Doc, get out of that hole,” someone said. Without hesitation Doc rolled over the berm. Just as suddenly a mortar thundered into the place where he had just been standing. The impact was so close that it lifted him from the ground. Doc saw the blue of the sky and the green of the jungle and the red of the dirt as he spun through the air. He managed to land on my back and was able to keep a rolling momentum until he got to his feet.
The young sergeant dashed off across the open compound. Puffs of dust jumped up in front and behind him. He zigged and then zagged and dove headlong into another hole.
Three others were in the hole before him. One was critically wounded. Part of his jaw had been shot off. Doc placed more field bandages on him, picked up his rifle and started firing into the enemy positions along the tree line.
Doc could see the enemy as they massed below his unit’s hilltop defensive position. He could tell his unit was out numbered now and the enemy had the superior firepower at the moment.
Doc’s mind was a whirl of thought. He had no plans to be taken prisoner so he ejected one shell and put it in his fatigue pocket just in case. Then the ground began to shake. It was the big push. The enemy was coming at them head on.
The Major continued to urge his soldiers to fight.
From somewhere in the distance Doc could hear a steady hum and an adjoining thump-thump sound. He recognized the sound better than most. He just couldn’t tell where they were coming from.
Suddenly several helicopters appeared on the horizon behind the nearly overwhelmed unit. They cheered as the enemy retreated back into the jungle. Doc was the only man left standing and able to fight in his hole. He had not noticed this until the helicopters arrived.
“Hey, where’s your right boot, Doc?” one of the guys in Doc’s fighting hole asked him.
He looked down only then to realize it was gone. He looked back across the compound from where he had run. There were the smoking remains of the boot. It was fully laced up and sitting up right. He never got the chance to answer the question.
The jungle erupted in front of them and Doc looked to see the helicopters throwing everything they had at the enemy. They may have retreated but they were not going to get away completely. Fireballs of orange, yellow and red lit the morning sky. Black thick clouds of napalm and smoke rolled over the remains of the now charred jungle.
Doc climbed out of the fighting hole he was in and walked over to his lone boot. He sat down next to it and unlaced it, pulled it on and thought back to the death he had witnessed. Then his mind thought of the one miracle that he had heard; the voice that calmly told him to get out of the fighting hole before the mortar shell blew it up.
That day, Doc decided that angels appear anywhere, even on firebases.