My novel, VERY NARROW BRIDGE, is available now at the Amazon Kindle Store. Please go directly to http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005L652QU, check it out and read the favorable reviews. I hope you will consider purchasing the book ($4.99).
Above, click on the “Very Narrow Bridge” page for a book description, and on the “Videos” page for book trailer videos. Below, read the prologue of my novel.
On the morning of February 11, 1969, a platoon from Alpha Company was about to cross the Da Krong River, thirteen kilometers from the Laotian border. Hidden in the thick brush on the riverbank were the soldiers of the 3rd Battalion of the 9th Marines, known throughout Vietnam as the “Walking Dead.” They waited impatiently to begin their sweep of the Southern Quang Tri Province, at the heart of Charlie’s backyard, eager to put in motion Phase III of Operation Dewey Canyon.
The air was serene and the water still, when the soldiers of the platoon began negotiating their way on a narrow, bamboo-made bridge. They walked in formation of two columns, on both sides of the bridge, stooped low with their rifles pointing outward. A young Lieutenant, walking ahead in the middle of the bridge, led the way. He moved slowly and carefully for a while, then stopped and knelt down, the platoon following his lead.
The sun was invisible yet, though some light was penetrating through the thick morning fog, enabling the Lieutenant to see a few feet ahead of him. He got up and started walking again, signaling to his soldiers to do the same. All was clear.
He took only three steps forward when a booby trap went off. It threw him up in the air as if he were a rag doll. A barrage of small-arms, machine-gun and mortar-fire burst from the surrounding mist. The bridge became a pitfall, where men fell wounded and dead. At the same time, a savage hail of mortar shells and rockets began to pour down on the battalion, flowing steadily from the other side of the river.
The ambush by the North Vietnamese Army was so surprising, so meticulously executed by its soldiers, so deadly and disarming to the American troops, that in those early morning moments, the success of the Operation Dewey Canyon hung in the balance.
Then a lone soldier managed somehow to escape the inferno on the bridge. He made his way back to the riverbank, miraculously, running low and in zigzags. When he reached his disarrayed battalion, whose soldiers were trying desperately to return fire at the unseen enemy, the lone soldier rushed to an ineffective escort machine-gun carrier. He opened the door of the vehicle, pulled the driver out and threw him to the ground. He jumped in and drove the machine-gun carrier down toward the river, while a few soldiers who were sitting inside jumped out and ran away. One soldier remained, however, sending rapid fire from his heavy machine-gun, fixed on top of the vehicle, at the enemy on the other side of the river.
But the armored vehicle did not stop when it reached the river. The lone soldier found a shallow water pass and drove right through it. And as he was crossing the river with his vehicle, one hand holding the steering wheel, the other returning fire with his M-16 rifle, it was the turn of the army on the other side to be caught by surprise. As a result, all enemy fire was directed suddenly, by command or by reflex, at his vehicle; it was coming from fortified bunkers, hidden behind thick undergrowth and bamboo palms.
The lone soldier was undeterred, and managed to cross the river somehow, alive with his vehicle. But the soldier at the top, who kept delivering a steady stream of machine-gun fire at the enemy, was not so lucky. Just as they reached the other side and pulled out of the water, he suffered a direct hit and died slumping on his heavy machine-gun, as if trying to protect it.
This setback did not stop the lone soldier’s advance. He kept driving along the riverbank, just in front of the still invisible enemy line, diverting most of the attention and fire toward himself and his vehicle. And in spite the constant automatic-weapons fire and the rocket-propelled grenades, the lone soldier with his armored vehicle had managed to reach the bridge on the other side of the river.
At that time, a rescue operation was well underway on the bridge. Alpha Company, officers and soldiers, were busy helping the wounded and pulling the dead off the burning bridge. Free from direct fire for just a few minutes, they all had a chance to regroup. Enough time to regain their composure and reclaim their pride and courage, in order to try and save the lives of their fellow-soldiers.
Behind them on the riverbank, meanwhile, the whole battalion had received a temporary reprieve as well. Its commanders were in control once more, directing the return of fire and radioing for help. At the same time, some of the soldiers saw in disbelief how the armored vehicle turned somehow, upon reaching the bridge, and drove back the same way it came; under the nose of the enemy, and in total disregard of the enemy’s firepower and deadly threat.
But the driver and his vehicle paid a heavy price this time. A bazooka rocket-shell hit the armored vehicle directly, and the force of the explosion-upon-impact threw the burning vehicle into the river, where it slowly sank under the water in a blaze of fire, until the heavy machine-gun carrier and its driver were no longer visible.
By that time the fog had abated somewhat, chased away by the rising sun, appearing over the top of the jungle trees. In the background, overcoming the noise of the battle, the humming of the flying gun-ships was getting closer. And with it relief: a feeling among the soldiers that not all was lost. And a realization, too, that a singular act of bravery, by a fearless lone soldier, not only had saved the lives of so many of his buddies, trapped on the burning bridge; not only had saved the whole battalion on the riverbank from a complete collapse and devastated defeat; but probably had saved the entire Operation Dewey Canyon by the U.S. Marine Corps.