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A Helmet in the Grass

This is an excerpt taken from my short story, A Helmet in the Grass, inspired by and based on the experiences of a friend on his first day at Camp Evans in 1969

                      Anyway, they sent me to Camp Evans, Vietnam, in June of 69’. I was placed in the 44th med group which was attached to the 95th evac hospital there. When I arrived, some of the guys were clearing trees to widen the airstrip, making room for more planes and hueys.  The sergeant was pretty brief; told me where I’d go for mess, where I’d bunk, then took me to headquarters; a white canvas tent near some stumps. He told me to wait, then went in.

            I sat on a stump and picked up a branch about a foot long to mess with, then noticed a big worm on the ground next to my boot. It was dark-colored with light stripes and about eight inches long. I took the stick and flipped it about ten feet towards the tent and noticed its white belly as it flew through the air; a snake’s belly. Back in the states they’d given us directives on dangerous snakes, but this one wasn’t ringing any bells for me, so when it started towards my stump again, I flipped it back.

            We did this for a while, me flipping the snake, it scooting back to me. Eventually, the lead sergeant walked out of the tent and me do it. He pulled his pistol and fired four or five rounds at the snake’s head, then holstered the weapon. It was about three inches long now.

            “Are you stupid or somethin?” he was looking at me like he knew the answer.

            I stood up, “No, Sir.”

            His eyes were drilling into my own, trying to find the dumbest part of me so he could rip it out and stomp on it. “Do you know what that was?”

            “No, Sir.” I told him again, my face hot in the sun.

            He gestured at the snake, “That’s a Banded Krait baby.”

            “A what?” I forgot the sir, but he didn’t care.

            “A Banded Krait, dipshit, a two-stepper.” He held his arms out, “it’s the deadliest snake in the whole damn country, and you’re out here fucking with it; ya stupid mother fucker.”

            And that’s how the rest of the day seemed to go. We went inside HQ to fill out paperwork for five hours or so, then hoofed it to the supplies depot to get my kit. I wasn’t sure why I’d need it, I was supposed to be in the hospital every day where they’d have everything I needed, but they gave me a rucksack filled with the ins and outs of the trade, compresses, gauze, morphine shots, everything…

The full story is still in progress and is hopefully going to be part of a short story collection focusing on the motivations, costs, and rewards of military service for both those who serve as well as those who do not. The first draft of this story was read aloud at a Pittsburg State University event off-campus on 4-26-19 to great effect.

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