By: Wayne Brown
“Who is in charge here?” Gunnery Sergeant Winslow asked as he set his gear on the decking of the pier.
“I am, Gunny” came the reply from the young boatswain coming up from the engine compartment of the boat. “Boatswain 1st Class, Jeremy Wade, at your service. We takin’ you boys up the Mekong to get that sniper, are we?” Wade added as he gave his new passenger the once over.
“Tell me something, Wade” Winslow replied, “Have you been briefed on this mission”.
“Well, I know that I am suppose to take you and that fella there beside you up river. I just assumed you were going after that sniper.”
“Well, then you know what you need to know but I am not here to confirm your assumptions. Now show me where we can store this gear and let’s get this thing moving,” Winslow snapped while staring back at Wade with his piercing dark eyes.
Gunnery Sergeant Charles L. “Chuck” Winslow was indeed a sniper. He had graduated from the Marine Sniper School at Camp Pendleton with honors and soon found himself immersed in this hell-hole of Vietnam. That was a while back and he had learned a lot since arriving here in these jungles. He had killed a lot of folks too but that was no big deal. He didn’t think of them of folks. They were the enemy and they had a gun. The sniper skill and presence in military strategy extended back more than 500 years. He was just another regular-guy type sniper the way he looked at it.
Winslow was working with Marine Corporal Casey Handley. Casey was his spotter and his backup if things got out of hand. Chuck had worked with Casey now on four assignments. He did good work and pretty much kept his mouth shut while he was doing it. Casey was a good kid but he hated getting too close to these guys. If things went sour and the spotter took a bullet, it was really hard to function when emotions were involved. At the same time, Winslow was a Marine and Marines do not leave their own behind.
Wade fired the boat’s engines, untied lines, and turned northwest up the river. Wade was at the controls and quickly got the boat up to its full speed. It was night and the overhanging jungle shut out most of the light coming from the sky. The only illumination was a signal light at the front of the boat that allowed the pilot to stay in the river channel. This boat was a fortress within itself sporting a 50 caliber machine gun on the front and rear deck. The three-man crew patrolled the river looking for targets of opportunity and checking out the local fishermen along the river. Tonight, they were on a special mission but only Winslow and his spotter knew the details.
“I dropped a package up the river here about ten clicks last night” Wade yelled over his shoulder as Winslow and Casey squatted low on the rear deck of the boat. “I reckon you’ll want out up there, huh? He asked.
Winslow walked over to the pilot position and stood beside Wade. “Look, I have no idea what you are talking about.” He pulled a slip of paper from his pocket and passed it to Wade. “You just drop us here at this spot and we will take it from there. Got it?” Winslow asked.
“Sure, sure, Gunny, we can do that.” Wade replied.
The boat hastened up the river on its appointed mission. There was no wind and the surface of the water was like glass in its stillness. Winslow sat down beside his spotter in the rear of the boat and began to discuss their first movements once they were off the boat. As they talked, Chuck reached into his pack and pulled out some smear. He began to work it into areas of his face occasionally stopping to survey his work with a small mirror. Once he was happy, he past the stuff to Casey and motioned for him to get it on.
Winslow watched the shoreline as they progressed up the river constantly looking for anything that seemed out of place. It was instinctive to him as a sniper; he could do it without any conscious effort. This was not your average sniper mission they were headed out on and he was well aware of it. Usually they went out for a few days at a time and harassed the enemy, struck terror in their hearts as they silently killed the man standing beside them and threw the entire operation into a panic. That was the old saying on the wall at the sniper school “kill one man, scare a thousand.” No, this mission was different. They were going to hunt a man who was trained to do the same job…hunt men. This would be a tough one. A war of wills for sure. There could be no mistakes. One mistake could be deadly on this run.
“Comin’ up, Gunny!” Wade yelled indicating the arrival at the drop point. Wade pulled back the throttles and directed the boat into the cover of overhanging trees on the right hand bank of the river. Winslow and Casey gathered their gear and slipped silently over the side of the boat near the bank of the river without so much as a word. Wade waited a few moments and looked around. Nobody there.
“Jesus” Wade sputtered, “let’s get our asses out of here before that sniper comes gunning for us.” With that he hit the throttles and wheeled the boat around in the river and headed back to the operating base downstream.
With the boat gone, Winslow and Casey eased themselves out of the water and into the vegetation along the banks. They quietly went to work getting the guns out of the bags and taking off the protective plastic wrap. Winslow was using a Remington 700-Series equipped with a low-light scope for night operation. Casey had his spotter scope to help find and fine tune the targets. Casey also carried an M-14 Automatic Assault-Rife as their back up gun if things got too intense.
“Okay Casey” Winslow whispered “We are going to work ourselves back down the river about two clicks and retrieve that supply bundle they dropped off the boat last night. If Wade followed directions, it should be there. I just hope the bad guys are not watching it. Once we are there, we will have to be careful and check things out before moving in to get the stuff.” Casey nodded his understanding as Winslow gave the nod to move out.
The dark figure moved silently in a crouch position through the jungle floor vegetation occasionally stopping to check the surroundings, sniff the air and listen. Moving to his next position was a slow deliberate process but any other approach was sure to end in death. Boa Anh Dung had no plans for his early death. He found a spot under a tree where the roots had grown out in all directions above the surface of the ground. He quickly pulled himself in among the root structure. This would be a good place to rest a bit and eat some rice. He dug into the bag slung from his waist-belt and pulled out a hand full of the dried rice. He ate at it slowly savoring each morsel. His name, translated into English stood for “protection, heroism, and strength”. The Boa family name had been honorable for many generations. His work here in the jungles as a sniper would insure that legacy for another generation to come. He downed the last morsels of rice and moved on along his way to his chosen position along the river.
Winslow held up his hand to signal a stop to Casey. They operated in silence now using only hand signals to communicate. They were nearing the drop point on the river where the boat had delivered the supply bundle and tied it up to the undergrowth along the shore line. From this point forward, they would get on their bellies and crawl to the location as silently as possible. Then, it would be a waiting game for a while as they looked over the surroundings to make sure there was no ambush built around the bundle. Once they retrieved the supply bundle, they would have food, extra ammo, and a few various other items that made life in these wilds slightly more pleasant. The package also contained their radio-pack which would be their communications lifeline with the outside world. They could make it without the bundle if it came to that but not for long.
Anh Dung sat high in the branches of a tree overlooking the Mekong River. Green foliage concealed his position well yet still afforded him a good view of the river. He had seen the boat drop the bundle by the river bank the night before. He knew what it was. The time was right. They were finally coming for him. He had made a pest of himself moving silently up and down the river banks. Killing from the darkness. The river-boat crews were losing men one by one thanks to his work. He was slowing their dominance and control of the river. Anh Dung was living like an animal in the jungles bordering this river but he was doing it so his people might be victorious over the imperialistic Americans who came to this land and joined a fight they did not understand. He would make them pay as long as there was shot in his rifle and air in his lungs. He would make them pay. For now, it was time to tend to the business at hand and trap those who would come for this bundle staked into the river bank.
“Do you see anything, Casey?” Winslow whispered as he also scanned the area with the rifle scope. Casey would have a much better chance of finding things with the spotter scope but he could help. The bundle was anchored off the bank about 20 yards to their left. Winslow could see it floating at the surface of the dark waters. The sun would be up in another hour and retrieving the bundle would be all the more dangerous in the bright light of day.
“I think we’re okay, Gunny” Casey whispered putting down the spotter scope and looking over at Winslow. “I will crawl down near the anchor point and try to pull it in while you remain in the cover. Light is already showing above the jungle tops, we need to do this,” Casey added.
Winslow pondered the point for a second and then nodded his agreement. Casey slowly moved out crawling toward the anchor point on the shore line. Winslow continued to scan the area on the other side of the river with this scope.
Anh Dung slept with his back against the tree trunk. He sat straddling a large limb about 20 fleet up the tree. He braced his position as he rested his rifle horizontally between limbs. H was resting and only sleeping momentarily. Falling out of this tree would be fatal for him at this height. It would also be a rather stupid end for a sniper of his caliber who was know for his cunning. This was not a choice position for a sniper. Trees did not provide alternate escape routes. At the same time, it was the last place a trained eye would look for him if they subscribed to the same principles. The position did give him a clear shooting path to the river that he could not otherwise get on the ground. It was the only way. The light was growing now. He pulled the rifle up and scanned the river with his scope. Checking the banks near the bundle anchor point, he detect some movement in the reeds growing there. He continued to stare at the point through the scope.
Casey lay along the river bank hidden in the reed growth. The anchor rope was within his reach. This was the critical point. When he reached for that rope, it might be the last thing he ever did in this life. He could not dwell on that thought. Each minute he waited raised the odds of being spotted in the early morning light. He extended his left arm out over the reeds and grabbed the rope giving it a tug toward his position. An immediate white hot pain passed through his left forearm as he simultaneously let go of the rope and pulled back into the reeds. He instinctively rolled and crawled to a point to the left of his position in the reeds. Pulling his forearm up, he could see that his sleeve was already soaked in blood. The pain was shooting up his arm. He rolled the sleeve away to reveal a ragged wound through the muscle of his left forearm. The bullet had passed through the muscle but apparently had not hit a bone as he still had movement in his left hand. He had to get the bleeding stopped. He tore at the tail of his tee-shirt to get enough to form a pressure bandage to wrap the wound and worked frantically while he was still conscious.
Winslow saw the blaze from the suppressed rifle barrel high in the tree. He scanned the area with his scope. Nothing. He could throw some lead into the area and take a chance on giving away his own position. Damn! No shot here. He needed to move to Casey’s position and check him. If the sniper had scored a hit on Casey things would get complicated rapidly. He secured the rifle to his back and slowly crawled out toward Casey’s position.
Anh Dung slowly climbed down the tree with his rifle strapped to his back. He had to move. A shot that should have been a kill had resulted in a wound at best. His position was now compromised and he had lost the element of surprise. Until that last shot, he had been the hunter. Now the role would shift. He had stayed in the tree hoping to get a second shot if the sniper on the other side committed to return fire. That did not happen. He was dealing with an experienced sniper well-trained in holding his concealment. He must move down the river and cross to the other side and try to establish a new position for an ambush. He was nearing the ground now. He released his hands from the low limb and fell the short distance to the ground. As he landed he crouched and rolled into the foliage for concealment. He lay there listening for his hunters in the quiet of the morning. As he began to get to his feet he felt a stinging sensation on his left ankle. Looking down, he saw the shape of a small black and white banded snake rapidly crawling into the foliage. He quickly crushed it with his rifle butt. A closer look confirmed his worst fears. He had been bitten by a Krait, one of the more feared and deadly snakes in Vietnam. Anh Dung stared down at the dead snake and considered this turn of events.
When Winslow arrived at Casey’s position, he could hear him moaning lowly just the other side of where his pack was laying in the reeds. Winslow spoke in a light tone, “Casey, can you hear me?” “Yes, over here,” came the whispered reply. Winslow moved toward the voice and found Casey nursing his wounded arm. He had slowed the bleeding but he was still losing blood. Winslow went to work constructing a better pressure bandage from his own tee-shirt. Things were really getting complicated now he thought as he worked. With Casey in this condition, they would lose their mobility. They would remain in the role of the hunted prey. With the bundle still in the water, there would be no food, radios, or the medical supplies that he needed to keep Casey alive. He had to have the bundle now if he and Casey were going to survive this mission.
The Malaysian Krait snake killed hundreds of people each year throughout the country of Vietnam. The victims were mostly farmers who inadvertently stepped on the snake as it languished in its chosen spot. Generally, they avoided humans but when confronted, they were grumpy and quick to lash out, sometimes striking without so much as a hiss. The venom of the snake attacked the neurological system of the victim. People reacted differently to the bites. Some had survived it but in most cases it was deadly. The toxins in the venom worked on the neurological system of the victim. It could cause partial or total paralysis as it made its way through the blood stream. Anh Dung had seen the death caused by this snake and knew of the pain and suffering. If only he had waited until morning to come out of the tree he probably would not have encounter this nocturnal viper. The deed was done now so he must deal with it. He moved slowly to a rotting log to sit and contemplate his alternatives.
Winslow had slowed the bleeding from Casey's wound. Now he covered the bandage with the wet mud from the jungle floor to create a thick covering. He had to get to that bundle and get some help here for Casey. There was no other way. Otherwise, he was going to sit here and watch this Marine die little by little or worse yet, the sniper would get both of them while they dealt with this distraction. No, it was time for him to move and retrieve the bundle from the river. Casey was resting so he crawled away quietly in the direction of the bundle’s anchor point in the reeds.
Anh Dung could sense the nausea beginning to take over his body. Soon he would be racked with tremors and cramps. Then slowly, the paralysis would begin to set in and he would begin to lose control of his legs and possibly other parts of his body. This snake bit could leave him helpless to die here on the jungle floor only to be found by the maggots. He did not come here to die, not like this. If he was to die here, he was to die a hero. His family name Bao would stand in time and he would honor that name with every breathe left in his body. There was no moving down river now. He had to make a stand here and he had to do it quick while he still had some of his physical ability. Grabbing his rifle, he moved off quieting in the direction of the river bank. He had to get in a position with a clear view of the bundle. If it was still there, maybe he had a chance to still die as a hero.
Winslow peered out of the reeds at the rope anchoring the bundle. There was no way but to grab it with both hands and yank it in with all his strength. Hopefully, he could do it fast enough to avoid getting shot in the process. Obviously, this package could easily still be the bait the other man was betting on to win the prize in this match of wits. Winslow thrust himself out of the reeds, grabbed the rope in both hands and yanked as he dived back toward the cover of the reeds. As he landed in the growth with the bundle following closely behind, the familiar sound of a bullet zinging just over his head ripped through the air. He held on to the rope and continued to move pulling the bundle behind him as he moved quickly from the reed growth and into the hiding cover of jungle undergrowth. He pulled the bundle close and lay still listening, looking, checking for any cues that he had given away his new position. Satisfied that he had avoid further danger, he crawled toward Casey’s position with the bundle in toe. At least, he thought, the man he was looking for was still there. He didn’t have to hunt him.
The first steps of Anh Dung’s plan were working. He had waited in the foliage along the bank and watched for anyone attempting to retrieve the bundle all the time fighting the spasms that girded at his stomach and the cramps in his left leg muscles. Finally, he had seen the man leap out of his concealment to grab the bundle. He had fired his rifle without any intention of hitting this man. He had fired his rifle to simply to send the message that he was still here. He had fired it close enough to convince his opponent that he was still in the hunt but he had no intent to kill him. That would spoil the plan. He had to accelerate this encounter and use the daylight to his advantage.
Winslow worked steadily with the medical kit to treat Casey’s wound. He had the bleeding controlled now and Casey was still conscious. But he was weak; too weak to change positions. They were stuck here until help could come. At the same time, how could he possibly call for help when there was a sniper in the tree line across the river. He could not chance it. He had to draw this guy out and finish this while Casey still had some time.
The first round ripped through the jungle foliage some ten feet from their position cutting into plant stems and careening of a tree trunk. The next shot was closer but still well off the mark. Damn! Did this guy see them or was he just throwing around lead to scare them. Winslow grabbed his rifle and pulled it close. He reached across Casey and picked up the spotter scope. Grabbing the rifle, he pulled himself further toward to river bank until he could view the opposite bank without exposing himself from the cover. The sun was beginning to penetrate the jungle canopy in areas and he just might get a shot at this man who seemed bent on breaking all the rules of good sniper work.
Anh Dung fired the last round from his rifle then turned to vomit. The nausea was worse by the minute. Both legs were cramping now and he could barely move them. His ammunition was very low now. He needed to get this last step accomplished while he had their attention on the other side. He would fire three more rounds and then try to move to a spot near the sunlight beaming in through the jungle canopy.
Three more rounds came ripping into their positions in a quick, random pattern. The last one had been close. Could he be zeroing in on them? Winslow had decided this guy was insane; not like any sniper he had ever seen. He fixed his eye in the scope and slowly began to scan the river bank on the other side. Moving slowly left to right and then back looking for anything that changed in the shapes and patterns. It was then he saw what looked like maybe the shoulder of a man who was huddling in the foliage near a large tree. The shadows were hiding him for the most part but the sunlight was catching that one area of his body. This was a fatal mistake on his part. Winslow gauged the distance and cranked the scope of the rifle. Sighting the crosshairs of the scope on the exposed shoulder, he followed the line of it on an invisible path to where the head would logically rest in the darkness of the shade. Steadying the rifle he slowly squeeze the trigger with a light gentle pull sending the round on its intended path of death.
The bullet from Winslow’s rifle arrived at its intended mark perforating Anh Dung’s skull and exploding it into a multitude of fragments that flew in a spewing rainbow of blood across the jungle foliage. Anh Dung, in a crouched position by the tree, stood momentarily in that position as all life departed his body and then he crumbled to the jungle floor proud to die an honored death of a hero sniper as opposed to the slowing suffering death of a snake-bite. His family would remember his as the death of a hero.
"Go help the Gunny!" Wade yelled as he idled the river boat near the river bank. The other crewmembers jumped to the bank to help Winslow move Casey to the boat. Once Casey was safely in the boat, Winslow threw their gear in and boarded the boat himself.
“Ya’ll get that slope-headed gook sniper, did ya, Gunny?” Wade grinned as he moved the boat away from the river bank and out into the channel. Winslow sat down at the back of the boat and stared back at Wade.
“We damn near got our ass shot off, Wade. Now get this damn boat moving and let’s get this Marine some help. For all I know, that damn sniper is still up here waiting for you.”
Wade’s smile disappeared and he quickly accelerated the boat back into the river channel headed south to base. Winslow took a deep breath, glad to just be alive.
(C) Copyright WBrown2010