Point Man


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An Excerpt from "Point Man":



Before the echoes of the rifle shot died, all seven of us dropped and merged with the rocks on the dusty Italian hill. We were on the inside of a long, climbing curve and I was on the high side of the trail, up against the bank. That's why I couldn't see shit over the sights of my Browning Automatic Rifle--my BAR.

It was a real bitch hauling those sixteen pounds up and down these hills, but the firepower--it was a light machine gun in all but name--was a real comfort sometimes. Like now.

I eased another magazine out of my bandoleer and set it down beside the one already in the receiver--just in case.

"Anybody hit?" Sarge called.

"Dutch dropped," Padre said. "He isn't moving."

Dutch Boehm was point man, the most dangerous job in a patrol file. Usually it was Padre's, but Sarge had put Dutch there today.

"Anybody see where it came from?" Sarge was doing the next most dangerous job, calling attention to himself. I waited for another shot but none came.

"Sounded like it came from up and to the right." Russo was tail-end Charlie. He and Dutch were buddies. We called them the Axis twins.

"Okay, take New Guy and check it out."

"Right Sarge. C'mon." I heard rocks and dirt kicked loose behind me as they moved out. We all waited. Flies buzzed and walked undisturbed on our faces and hands. I squinted at the narrow view of shimmering rocks, leafless shrubs, and Shitter Jones' worn boot soles ahead.

Russo and his backup came clattering back down onto the the trail. He went over and stood near Sarge. The rest of us took that as a signal to relax--but not too much. I got up into a crouch, so I could see what was going on.

"They let out Sarge." Russo's words came between gasps. "Found this."

He offered Sarge a single dull brass cartridge. Sarge rolled in in his fingers and then sniffed it. He looked at New Guy. "What about you?"

"I d-didn't see nothing."

"Padre, you and New Guy go up and take care of Dutch. Don't dig him in, just cover him with rocks. Bring back his tag and personals... and his ammo."

"Why me? I just came--" I moved up behind New Guy and put a hand on a shoulder when he started to protest. He went off muttering. Padre followed silently.

"Fifteen minutes for water," Sarge continued. "Chick, you keep an eye out."

Chick, that's me. I climbed a little way up the steep bank and rested my ass against it. It was so steep, you couldn't call it sitting. The rest of the guys moved back down the trail, where the bank made some shade, and lay down, mostly.

I fumbled my canteen from its case on my right hip while scanning the barren hills for movement. The first sip was warm and metallic tasting. I swished it around in my mouth and spat. Then I chugged a good one, wishing it was a Pabst. I looked back toward the other guys.

Sarge was way down the trail, near where the tail of the squad had been when Dutch had bought it. He was leaning over and looking at something. Then he was picking it up. Whatever it was, it was shiny.

Shitter Jones was talking to Russo. He pulled out some Luckies and traded for some toilet paper from Russo's K-rations. The way K-rations were made, most guys got clogged up and couldn't go to the bathroom but every three, four days. This was a good thing, because it took you that long to save up the tiny packets of paper to make a decent wipe. Most guys excepting Shitter: He was always wandering off to find a bush or rock pile somewhere, and he was always desperate for paper.

Jones moved off on another privacy search and Russo started emptying his Garrand. Click-clack. He worked the action and round sprang out. Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack.

Unlike my BAR, the M1 Garrand rifle loads eight rounds through the top from a special stripper clip. When the last round is fired, the bolt locks to the rear and the clip springs out, You can't reload until the weapon is entirely empty, so if you want to make sure it's full, you have to empty it all the way first.

That's what Russo was doing. Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack. Ping! The clip jumped out. Russo pulled a full one from his ammo pouch and slid it into his rifle. He glanced over at Sarge before bending over to pick up the loose brass.

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