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Author's note: This story was an entry in Koromo and Empy's Song Competition. This story was inspired by the Redgum song "I was Only 19".

Shellshocked-soldier-001 (1)

Four men wandered the woods of Vietnam, all armed with M16 rifles. The group of men were of Australian origin and were very proud to serve their country, even more proud of their mission to bring peace to Vietnam. Although armed with M16's, the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment were resolved to only use them as a last resort. The 3rd Battalion were to merely patrol and search villages - without destroying them - and to attempt to convert the villagers through peaceful means.

This band of four comprised of twenty two year old Private Hayden Edwards who was quite the stout, but well groomed fellow with a thick Australian accent; nineteen year old Private Fynn Lucas who was tall, thin and wiry, with an ever present 5 o'clock shadow; twenty one year old Corporal Frank Dylan who was of average stature and typically level headed, quiet, and reserved; last, but not least was twenty five year old Sergeant Bailey Macoroy who was humble and could be mistaken for a bodybuilder due to how fit he was.

The band of brothers walked single file with Sergeant Bailey Macoroy leading the group. The woods creaked eerily as the group walked, and Fynn felt as if they were being watched which made him nervous.

"Is this the last village before we head back to camp and meet up with the rest of the 3rd Battalion, Sarge? Cause I'm getting hungry," Fynn Lucas said in a hushed voice trying to calm himself.

Bailey Macoroy opened his mouth to reply, but shut it when Hayden Edwards spoke first.

"Same 'ere, Fynn. I don' understand why we don' just bomb the northerners with chemicals. It'd save us a 'ole lot of fightin and we'd be at home eaten right about now."

Bailey shook his head as he trudged on through the woods which were becoming more and more scarce as he advanced.

"That's enough... wait, didn't there used to be foliage here?"

Sure enough, the area ahead of them was bare.

"Yeah, there definitely was," replied Frank Dylan.

A feeling of unease took Fynn as his mind tried to provide a solution for what could have destroyed the foliage.

"Surely the Yanks didn't use-" Frank began, but paused out of shock when he saw the village.

A dozen bodies of various ages, sizes, and sex lied on the ground. All of the bodies were bald, red, and blistered. It was as if the fires of Hell had swept through the village itself - arguably, they had.

"Agent Orange," Bailey stated with contempt in his voice. He unknowingly finished the sentence that Frank had started. Fynn's stomach turned and the contents of his last meal were at stake. As they tried to exit his mouth, he managed to fight it back down.

"Oh god, were being exposed to this stuff. Are we going to end up like them?" Fynn managed with a shaky voice.

Bailey shook his head. "No, not unless the Americans use more. We're going to split into two groups and search for survivors. Fynn, I want you with Frank; Hayden, follow me."

Fynn and Frank happened upon a small and ominous shack. Fynn wasn't sure why, but he had the distinct feeling that something alive lurked inside. Fynn slowly pushed open the door and cautiously stuck his head inside hoping that whatever was present wasn't sinister and didn't take off his head. A bald, red, blistered woman was laying on a bed; she was nude and alone. She was giving birth.

"Oh god. Go get Sarge," Fynn managed to Frank.

Frank bolted out of the humble little shack calling out for Edwards and Macoroy. Hayden and Bailey peeked out of the shack they had just searched, they ran to Frank after they saw that the coast was all clear.

"Where's Fynn?" Bailey asked in a panicked tone.

"He's fine, Sergeant. Fynn's with a survivor, she's giving birth," Frank replied with a combination of worry and excitement ebbing out of his voice.

"God help me, I'm only nineteen," Fynn muttered to himself as he coached the crowning woman.

"Push, come on, push!"

A head and shoulders popped out, the skin was normal and not blistered or red as Fynn had feared it would be. Fynn gently grabbed the baby's shoulders and began to pull. The door to the shack opened and Frank, Bailey, and Hayden entered just in time to see the rest of the baby come out. The torso slid right on out followed by another set of shoulders and a head. Fynn tearfully and carefully handed the fused deceased baby to its mother. Both tears and hatred filled the woman's eyes as she looked up at Fynn. Her mouth opened as if to say something, but the words never came. Fynn reached down with his hands trembling and closed the dead woman's eyes.

Although the woman hadn't spoke, Fynn knew that she had blamed him and the company he kept for the Agent Orange. This did not sit well with Fynn who let tears flow forth from his eyes. The four men stood there giving the deceased a moment of respectful silence.

Bailey eventually broke the silence when he turned to Hayden, "This is why we don't bomb anyone until they surrender."

Hayden nodded in understanding as he wiped away a couple of tears. Rain fell from the sky as the men exited the shack; it was as if the sky was weeping too. The group hurried back toward camp in the hopes of getting out of the rain and receiving hot meals. Those hopes were dashed for Sergeant Bailey Macoroy when he was struck down by a loud, but unseen assailant; a bullet. The bullet entered and exited through Bailey's neck.

An ambush that consisted of seven well armed North Vietnamese had made it behind the Australians. Unbeknownst to the band that was once four, but now three, the Vietnamese had seen them leaving the village and had assumed that they were responsible for its destruction by Agent Orange.

"Bailey!" Fynn exclaimed in a panic as he saw his comrade hit the mud with blood spurting from his neck.

"There's nothing we can do for him, Fynn. We need need to high tail it back to camp or we're going to get slaughtered," Frank shouted over the gunfire. The three raced for the camp and their lives; Edwards had a considerable lead followed by Lucas and then Dylan. The men hadn't made it far from where Bailey had died when Frank Dylan's right foot landed on a mine. The landmine exploded tearing through and incinerating Frank's right leg as it spat shrapnel in all directions. Shrapnel from the landmine struck Fynn square in the back causing him to fall to the ground in pain.

Hayden turned around upon hearing the explosion and saw his comrade's predicament. Fynn picked himself up off the ground trying to ignore the pain and pieces of shrapnel in his back as he advanced to Frank while firing his M16 wildly. Hayden followed Fynn's example and doubled back toward Frank while firing his M16 at the North Vietnamese as well.

Two of the Vitnamese were hit by the random spray of bullets which caused the rest to back off and seek cover. Fynn and Hayden took advantage of the ceasefire and helped Frank to his leg.

"Frank, can ya use your gun as a crutch," Hayden asked.

Frank's response was nothing more then a series of pained wails.

"Don't be daft, Hayden. He's going to bleed out if we don't get him back to camp quick," Fynn replied.

Hayden reached into his left pant pocket and pulled out a handkerchief.

"Hayden, that's not going to work."

"It's better than nothin', ought to slow it down."

Hayden quickly wrapped the handkerchief around Frank's stump and tied it off. No sooner had Hayden finished when the firing resumed. Fynn dropped his M16 in favor of Frank and slung him over his shoulder as he began to travel back to camp as fast as he possibly could, while Hayden laid down more oppressive fire. Every step was grueling for Fynn, every step felt as if it could be his last. Fynn, Hayden and Frank's struggle bore fruit as the camp came into view. The fruit became forbidden for Fynn as a bullet struck him in the head causing him to collapse and drop Frank. Darkness approached and despite Fynn's best efforts to fight it off, he blacked out.

"And that's how I lost my ear and got discharged, Doc."

The thin, bald, glasses wearing therapist nodded and cupped his chin as the sixty four year old veteran of Vietnam, Fynn Lucas, finished his tale. The therapist, Troy Lawton, had a long history of providing a listening ear for war veterans.

"Did Frank survive?" inquired Troy Lawton.

Fynn scratched his patchy white beard in thought.

"It's hard to say, Doc. I mean he didn't bleed out and he got discharged, but he's a completely different man. He's spent most of his time since Vietnam kicking back tinnies. I'd argue that the Frank Dylan I knew died the moment he kicked that landmine. But then, I'd say that no one that participated in Vietnam survived. We all suffered and lost one thing or another, sometimes multiple."

"What about Private Edwards?"

Fynn shook his head.

"I've no idea. When I was blacked out, the rest of the 3rd Battalion came out of the camp due to having heard the commotion and they repelled the Vietnamese away. During that period of time, Hayden got hit and dragged off. Whether the bullet killed him, he lives, or was tortured and freed or executed, I do not know. Hayden was never found and is MIA to this very day."

The two men sat in silence for a couple of moments as Troy Lawton digested what he been told. The only sound that could be heard was the ticking of the grandfather clock.

"Have your sleeping habits improved?" Troy finally asked breaking the silence.

"No, I still don't get much, maybe four hours. I hear M16's without fail when I shut my eyes. Rainy night are particularly bad, but thunder is just the worst. I take that back, news choppers, any choppers are. Every time that I hear a chopper I automatically flinch and start to lift my M16 only to realize that it isn't there."

"You aren't alone in that, Fynn. Many who come back from deployment experience feelings similar to yours. Tell me, do you feel any hatred toward the Americans for using Agent Orange?"

"Hatred? No. I was very angry at their military for the longest period of time; years. I eventually came to realize that they weren't the monsters that I tried to make them out to be, rather they are just people who made a poor decision. Granted, that particular poor decision had consequences far more serious than most poor decisions."

An alarm went off signalling that the therapy session was over.

"Oh, I guess our time is already up. Will I be seeing you again, Mr. Lucas? I know you've had trouble finding a therapist that you've found satisfactory over the years, but-"

"Yeah, Doc. I'll give you a few more sessions to see if you can heal me," Fynn cut him off as he lifted himself out of his seat.

Fynn made his way across the room, put his hand on the door knob and paused.

"Something wrong, Fynn?"

"That incident with Agent Orange was forty five years ago and that just got me thinking about what sort of weapons must exist now."

Fynn opened the door and walked out.

Written by Doom Vroom
Content is available under CC BY-NC

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