The Vietnam War had been like a good television show. It had a nice long run, got renewed for few seasons, and then suddenly, inexplicably, the network canceled it.
Sean Deckard was out of the Army and back on the streets, coming home to find out there was nothing to come home to. After everything he’d seen and done there was no turning back. No going back to the way things were, the way thing had never really been to begin with.
Being a National Guard recruiter or stocking shelves at a grocery store just didn’t cut it after running recon with SOG. Even after they shit canned him over the fiasco with General Farnsworth, he had gotten to tag along with the Phoenix project. He’d spent the next year with them doing to the VC in South Vietnam what SOG had done to them in the surrounding three countries. Then the network execs pulled the plug and it was all over.
He snorted at bitter memories. The COSVN raid was supposed to end the war; instead it ended in a cover up.
Sean fixated on a point somewhere in the distance and began walking towards it. It was just a lump of a hill several kilometers away, barely visible against the night sky. The former soldier cursed himself in frustration. Looking down at his watch, he squinted to see the hands, knowing he would never make it in time.
Linking up with some old buddies in a dive bar back in the States, he’d heard stories. Stories about Montagnard refugees hung out to dry after Uncle Sam turned his back on them. Arriving in Thailand he heard more. Rumors of American POW’s sold down the river by Tricky Dick and his boys. He’d spend months walking the filthy back alleys of Bangkok with a suitcase full of gold coins, looking for answers.
Families of the missing soldiers had even gotten word to him that they were offering rewards, huge ones in some cases. Sean worked pro bono, accepting only what he needed to survive. Teaming up with a few other vets and some locals they had made several deep penetration patrols into Laos. Despite their best efforts, they never caught more than a whiff of the POW’s, just enough to encourage them to keep looking.
It had gone on like that, one long booze filled spiral. Meeting with informants in smokey bars. Fist fights in Singapore. Hung over in Chaing Mai. Plotting and planning on cocktail napkins late into the night. Eventually he had realized what was happening to him and knew he needed to get back into the action or he’d lose himself forever.
A few hundred meters from the hill, he took a knee in the African bush country. After setting down his heavy rucksack he pulled out his map and compass and plotted the next leg of his journey. He had already taken a wrong turn twenty kilometers back, going in the wrong direction for several hours. There was no way he could make up that kind of time, no matter how hard he pushed himself across the rolling terrain.
Hearing the gentle gush of a stream downhill from his position, Sean nodded his head. It matched with the topography on his map. He was in the right place, if not at the right time. His back cracked as he shouldered the ruck. He’d been going like this for several weeks, moving from point to point, day and night.
He struggled to set the azimuth on his compass. He was exhausted.
Next came the Spanish Foreign Legion, high in the running as the stupidest mistake he’d ever made. He’d heard some war stories about La Legion from a guy in Hamburg and signed up on impulse. The French government by this time had had enough of coup attempts by their Legionnaires and was screening anyone who showed up at Legion Etrangére looking for a hot meal. In Spain, La Legion had no such qualms.
As it turned out, La Legion was not an infantry unit or anything of the sort. They were shock troops plain and simple. Franco literally had them as his disposal to throw against the enemy, use them up, inflicting as well as suffering massive casualties. Intake and training was a combination of sadism, marksmanship, and military drills. It was an experience that some recruits did not survive. Deckard kept his head down and his mouth shut.
Training often consisted of live fire assault courses, crawling under and over obstacles while Sergeants fired machine guns over their heads, usually, and detonated explosives next to them. The last straw for Sean was an airborne jump they did one afternoon. They jumped at five hundred feet over a mid-sized city in southern Spain, training for urban warfare. Over a dozen Spanish Legionarios died, dozens more were critically injured.
Sean had quickly jettisoned his rucksack the moment his parachute deployed, watching it explode on the cobblestone street below before slamming into the side of a building and breaking his arm.
Like so many before him, he had deserted.
Sean forced one foot in front of the other, his canteens long since drained. He felt like the tin man, his joints creaking, each step landing heavy, dragging his feet. He’d lost three toe nails in as many days, his feet covered in blisters, socks soaked in blood. Each night, before getting a couple hours of sleep, he was terrified of what he’d find when he took his boots off. By now his feet were ground into hamburger.
Looking down at the needle of his compass he felt himself getting delirious. Little sleep, food, and constant physical exertion had taken its toll on his mind and body. Pointing himself on the right heading he pushed himself forward, head down, half asleep.
Hours later he stumbled onto a dirt road, dragging his FN FAL rifle behind him by the barrel.
“This bloody bloke is completely out of his head,” he heard a voice say.
Sean looked around thinking he was hallucinating.
“Your done number eight,” the voice said.
Finally he saw the man standing directly in front of him. He wore green and brown camouflage shorts and shirt. Behind him were several Range Rovers with a small cluster of soldiers wearing sand colored berets nearby, smoking and laughing with each other.
“This way,” the soldier turned around and led Sean to the vehicles. He trailed behind, slack jawed, barely hearing the words.
“Have a seat,” the man handed him a canteen of water as he flopped down and shrugged out of his rucksack.
Sean drank greedily, beginning to come to his senses. He was alone, not another recruit in sight. His detour had hopelessly sabotaged any chance he might have had. The others were already back at the barracks, racked out in their cots after a full meal.
“Get the bloody medic over here and cut this ouens boots off,” the instructor ordered. “The blood has soaked right through the leather.”
Emptying the canteen, Deckard hung his head. The sun was just cresting above the horizon, the brilliant red and orange hues lost on him at the moment. The medic came running and took a knee next to him, opening his aid bag.
“Congratulations,” the medic said smiling at the American. He passed something cold into his hand. Looking down Sean saw it was an ice cold beer. “You are the first one back.”
Sean’s mind skipped a beat, left him struggling to catch up.
“Welcome to the Rhodesian Special Air Service.”