Staff Sergeant Sean Deckard spun on his heel, taking a knee in the dense foliage and shouldered his CAR-15 rifle as enemy gunfire cut through the jungle to his side. Letting the rifle’s front sight post nose up into the center mass of a charging North Vietnamese soldier, he stroked the trigger, dropping his target with a single shot in a spray of crimson.
Behind him, Pao threw a fragmentation grenade, it’s flight path riding a lazy arc in the enemy’s direction before disappearing into the jungle.
Expending the rest of his magazine, Sean put suppressive fire down range, the carbine heating up in his hands as he fired on automatic. Screams sounded as Pao’s grenade detonated, shrapnel cutting through NVA flesh. With the enemy advance temporarily stalled, Sean grabbed the American crouched beside him by the sleeve of his flight suit and dragged him to his feet.
Now it was Pao’s turn to fire. Sean bounded back with the downed fighter pilot, their actions choreographed as they executed the well rehearsed battle drill.
Tom quickly extended a Claymore mine’s metal legs before sticking it into place in the jungle underbrush. With the command detonation wire back stacked onto a wooden spool he was the next to bound back just as Sean set down near a thick tree with his package in tow.
Vang jumped over a fallen tree trunk covered in slick green moss, his AK-47 in hand, taking cover behind it just in time.
“Fire in the hole!”
Tom squeezed the claymore clacker, detonating the mine. Hundreds of explosively propelled steel ball bearings ripped through the NVA skirmish line that had threatened to over run them for the third time in less than an hour.
Even as the front line was cleared out by the anti-personnel mine, Sean knew they weren’t going to make it. Loading his rifle with a fresh magazine, he shook his head. The dice had been loaded against his team from the beginning.
There were just too many of them.
Hot brass glinted as spent cartridges were ejected from his CAR-15. The sickly sweet smell of gun power wafted with the sour sulfur stench left by explosive residue, all combining with the ever present rot that existed in the jungle. Tracking from one target to the next, Sean squeezed his trigger in rapid succession, knocking the enemy down like bowling pins. As he burnt through magazine after magazine, the NVA kept coming. They were like rows of shark teeth, automatically replacing themselves by rotating into position.
Pivoting at the hips, a Chinese made bayonet ripped through the commando’s OD fatigues and sliced across the surface of his skin before burying itself in the bark of the tree he had taken cover behind. The North Vietnamese soldier yanked at his AK-47 attempting to free it. The khaki uniformed soldier had come out of nowhere, emerging out of the foliage from their flank.
RPD machine guns opened up, more lead tracing figure eights across Sean’s Recon Team.
The pilot jumped to his feet and tackled the NVA troop to the ground. As they wrestled each other, Sean was left pinned to the tree until he tore himself free with a grunt, his bloodied uniform hanging open where the bayonet had nearly killed him.
Finally, Vang stepped forward and pressed the muzzle of his rifle against the NVA soldier’s head. Sean turned to the disheveled pilot as Vang’s AK barked.
This time they ran together, with Vang close behind as Pao and Tom provided cover fire. The other two Montagnard mercenaries assigned to Recon Team Key West had been killed a kilometer back where the team had dumped their rucksacks. Weighted down with heavy loads, they would have been unable to maneuver as they attempted to break contact. Dropping their rucksacks, they had each initiated a short time fuse just as the NVA hit them a second time.
The time fuse detonated soap dish charges in the bottom of each team members ruck, destroying the excess military equipment, leaving nothing for the North Vietnamese to scavenge and exploit for intelligence value. They hadn’t had time to even consider recovering their dead comrades before the enemy was pouring over them.
Running light on supplies, Sean spoke into the hand mic trailing from the single radio they still carried, the long whip antenna wobbling behind him. For some damn reason command wouldn’t authorize close air support, Cobra gunships or Phantoms, but didn’t seem to have a problem with B-52’s carpeting bombing well into Laotian territory, the territory they currently occupied. After calling in a prairie fire, all he could do was hope for an extraction.
Sweat poured down his face, stinging his eyes, as the garbled voice came through the receiver. It was barely audible above the gunfire.
“-andby, five mike-”
Sean choked down his frustration, sweeping gunfire into the jungle as Pao and Tom bounded towards him. In between shots he could hear angry shouts in Vietnamese, they were still damn close. The pilots told him five more minutes but they would be lucky to last five more seconds.
With the Recon Team back on line with each other, Vang and Sean hurled smoke grenades between themselves and the enemy. With a hiss, the grenades began billowing clouds of high concentration white smoke. Now that the NVA’s line of sight was obscured, the team collectively picked up and ran further into the jungle, once again attempting to elude their pursuers.
Gunfire continued to crack behind them as the Vietnamese forces popped off random shots. Once they had moved a sufficient distance, the team moved into a file, cutting through the jungle as fast as they could. Sean muscled the pilot into the center of the formation to make sure he could keep tabs on him.
Good men had already died on the rescue mission, and Sean would be damned if he was going to lose the pilot now.
The Recon Team scrambled downhill, sometimes sliding down the slick undergrowth on their backsides, before combat boots broke their fall in the stream at the bottom of the gully. After the briefest of glances at his map, Sean motioned for the team to continue downstream.
He was known as being good in the woods among the operators who made up their covert paramilitary unit. Staff Sergeant Sean Deckard came alive out on patrol, instincts flaring and keeping him alert. Tactical decisions were weighed and acted upon in fractions of a second. He was the One-Zero, the team leader of RT Key West.
Reaching for his hand mic, Deckard raised the Huey pilots who were inbound to their position. Quickly, he made them aware of their situation and gave them new grid coordinates he wanted them meet them at. They didn’t have time to find a landing zone, but it would be a hot extraction, of that there was no doubt in any of their minds.
“Roger, One-Zero. Gator Three-Five, out,” the pilot’s voice crackled over the handset.
Sean gritted his teeth as the team continued to splash through the stream. He could hear more shouts and the occasional gun shots nipping at their heels. The enemy hadn’t reestablished contact with the team, but would shortly if they didn’t extract soon.
“That way,” Sean ordered, pointing up hill.
There were no clearings for the choppers to land. All they could do, was find some high ground and hope for the best.
As they slogged their way up hill, pushing branches out of their way, the radio came back to life. Their extraction was one minute out. Down below they could hear the NVA sloshing through the stream, looking for spoor they almost certainly left behind in their haste.
“I’m popping smoke,” Sean informed the pilots in between pants as he struggled to catch his breath. The bayonet had only opened a glancing wound against his side, but it still burned like hell.
Twisting and pulling the pin on another smoke canister, Sean tossed it to the top of the hill. When the grenade began to billow yellow colored smoke, he spoke back into his hand mic.
“Confirm my smoke.”
“I’ve got yellow smoke, One-Zero.”
“That’s us. Coming in hot.”
In the distance RT Key West’s One-Zero could hear the buzz of rotor blades.
At the summit of the hill the Recon Team dug in as best they could, taking positions behind dead fall and the fan rooted jungle trees. The Khaki clad NVA troops were now scurrying up the side of the hill, pith helmets bobbing up and down as they negotiated a path, following in the footsteps of their quarry.
Sean motioned for his men to stay behind cover and concealment. Wait for the enemy to come within hand grenade range.
Freeing his final hand grenade from his web gear, he yanked the pin with a index finger while holding the spoon down. Breathing shallow breaths, his uniform was now soaked through with sweat. His arm pits had gone soppy, grit gathered in the corners of his eyes.
Dropping his free hand, the surviving members of the team lobbed M33 frag grenades downhill. They detonated in quick succession, their efforts rewarded with screams of agony. Now that contact had been reestablished the NVA opened up, dozens of muzzle flashes lit up with staccato bursts of gunfire.
Suddenly a shadow appeared overhead, rotor blades beat at the jungle foliage, whipping broad leaves back and forth.
Tom moved underneath the Huey with their package, the Navy pilot. A rope ladder was kicked and dropped from the helicopter, uncoiling it’s way down to the ground. With the rest of the team burning through what little ammunition they had left, Tom got the pilot into a climbing harness and snap linked him into the ladder.
Next, he called the two Montagnards over from the defensive perimeter. Each team member wore a STABO extraction harnesses as their standard equipment, which magazine pouches and canteens were attached to. The short, indigenous tribesmen quickly snapped into the ladder. A nervous look passed between them before all eyes turned to their team leader.
Sean hammered another long burst downhill before turning and making a mad dash, darting under the helicopter. NVA were just cresting the hill as he got his snap link around the last strut on the ladder. Before he could even signal that he was hooked up he found himself yanked into the air, no longer moving under his own power.
With his CAR-15 hanging over his shoulder by it’s sling, he was lifted straight up and through the jungle canopy, Kalashnikov fire chasing them away as they made their extraction.
Undulating waves of green moved beneath them as the pilot banked hard, taking them on a heading back towards South Vietnam.
Sean strained in his harness. The STABO rig was uncomfortable as hell, but it was better than being dead. Feeling something wet dripping on the back of his neck he swiped a hand across the back of his head. It came back coated in bright red blood. In a moment of panic he ran his hand all over his scalp, fingers probing for a wound that wasn’t there.
Looking up, he saw Pao’s body slumped lifelessly in his harness. The corpse rocked back and forth in the wind as they were towed under the helicopter, bouncing off a terrified looking Vang every few seconds. Pao must have eaten a round on the way out. Half the team cut down to rescue one pilot.
It was a long flight, made longer by the straps digging into his thighs and the thought his dead comrade dangling above him.
* * *
Command and Control North or CCN headquarters was little more than a collection of oblong military buildings along the shore of the South China Sea and surrounded by concertina wire. The extraction Huey had thankfully landed at a Special Forces Camp after crossing the border, allowing the Recon Team to detach from the ladder and climb into the helicopter. Pao’s body was wrapped in a poncho and sat between the surviving SOG members.
The Huey, or slick, as the men called them, circled around the CCN camp, establishing radio contact before coming in for a landing. Peering down below at the landing area, Sean could see a half dozen slicks with rotors spinning.
They would have gotten word about RT Key West’s successful extraction. The only explanation was that another RT was in contract somewhere else. At any given time multiple teams were running operations in Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. In the past, they had inserted teams who never even established contact with HQ at their first comms window. Entire Recon Teams swallowed up by the jungle.
When the helicopter finally set down, a team of doctors and medics was waiting with stretchers. They led the fighter pilot away, his eyes reflecting the fact that his mind was still somewhere back in Laos. His psyche would be playing catch up for a long time to come.
Pao was carried away and Tom laid on one of the stretchers. He had suffered a grazing wound across his shoulder. The flesh wound would require some stitches but he’d be back on patrol in no time. Deckard knew from experience.
One of CCN’s medics, named Jim, came running up to Sean and pressed a bandage against his side where he had almost been skewered by the bayonet.
Looking over at the Montagnard mercenaries boarding the slicks on standby with their American advisers, Deckard leaned in and yelled in the medic’s ear.
“Where is Hatchet Force going?”
Hatchet Force was the quick reaction team composed of American SOG commandos leading the Montagnard tribesmen and South Chinese Nung mercenaries that responded whenever the smaller six man recon teams got in over their heads.
“We got two teams inserted over the fence a few hours after yours,” the medic yelled back. “Both are in contact and we’re just waiting for the green light from higher. Now, let’s go, we need to get that cut cleaned out.”
The team leader nodded his head, holding the gauze in place over his wound. Grabbing Jim by the collar he screamed over the sound of the helicopters.
“Hey, my boy Vang took a round through his shoulder,” Sean lied. “You better catch up with him and make sure the docs know about it. You know how some of these ‘Yards are about shit like that. Sometimes he thinks you can just suck it up or some shit.”
“Fuck yeah,” Jim grunted. “I’ll go take care of it. See you up at the aid station, okay?”
“Sure thing,” Sean replied patting the medic on the back as he chased after Vang.
Looking around to see if anyone was watching, Sean quickly tied the combat bandage around his abdomen to hold it in place before buttoning up his spray paint covered OD fatigues. Running over to a water basin next to the airstrip he refilled both of his one quart canteens and secured them on his web harness.
Dashing over to the helicopters, still on standby, he found Rogers, one of the supply sergeants, handing out bandoleers or ammunition. Grabbing two for himself, Sean flung them over his shoulder and jumped on the nearest Huey as the rotors cranked at a higher pitch.
Seconds later, Jim was left wandering the camp looking for the Recon Team leader as the olive drab colored helicopters shot over the camp, heading for Laos at full speed.