Bob and Jim's Last Meal

by David N. Muxo

I can't say that I knew what Bob and Jim ate for their last meal, except that we were all eating "C's". It certainly wasn't steak and potatoes smothered in onions, and it wasn't even hot. But it was their last meal.

That day our platoon had moved out early. I seem to remember rice paddies, which was rare for us. We hardly ever traveled in the open like that, and we were probably nervous. We had just moved back into the bamboo cover on the other side and LT called a halt for lunch. My squad was on point that day, and as we settled into the bamboo I sent Bob and Jim up ahead about ten yards for security. We dropped our gear and started to eat. LT decided to do a recon by fire up ahead. I guess he thought he'd clear out anyone who might be waiting to ambush us after seeing us cross the rice paddies.

It was probably a good idea, except for one thing. It just so happened that we were sitting on the gun-target line (for non-military types, that meant that the shells would travel over our heads to the target). Well, LT was going to be extra careful because he knew where we were. He was the only LT that I knew who could read a map. He called for the first round. Smoke. Shot. Shot out. We heard it go over and pop well in front of us. We couldn't see it because of the bamboo, but none of us were worried because it was a good ways out. Add 100. Second round smoke. Shot. Shot out. Again we heard the round (they say you can't hear the one that gets you, but I think Bob and Jim did), which popped well out in front. No sweat. I took another bite of cold beans.

I heard LT add 100 and call for HE, which again for you non-military types meant to add 100 yards to the range and make this one count, high explosives. I wasn't worried, it would fall way out there. I heard the round come over, a funny sort of sound like a swish and a jet sound rolled into one.

The next thing I knew my ears exploded. The pressure of the explosion was intense, and the loud bang left my head ringing. The sun was blotted out by the heavy smoke, and the smell of sulphur was so sharp that I thought I was going to suffocate. We sat there stunned for a short while, maybe just seconds but it seemed like a lot longer. Then we heard the moans up ahead. I remembered that Bob and Jim were there. We moved as quickly as we could through the smoke, but it didn't really matter.

The medic was there before me. Bob had been sitting with his knees up to his chest, and the blast had torn up his crotch badly. I think that Jim had lost most of his face, and was probably already dead. I can't be sure because for years I have blocked the incident from my mind, and now it's like pulling teeth to remember. I was scared to death, and I couldn't look at them. I stumbled away while the medic and another guy worked on them. We started clearing an LZ while the LT called for the medivac. It was just a few minutes, but it seemed like hours before they were carried out. I was standing close to the chopper when they carried Bob toward it. The wash from the rotors blew the poncho off of his face right in front of me. I had nightmares about that for a while.

I think LT was crushed. He couldn't show it, of course, but we knew. For the next couple of days we all asked ourselves, why? Why had LT called for the artillery at all? Why had I put them out so far/in so close? Why had the HE traveled a shorter distance than the smoke, when it was always the other way around? Well, there weren't any answers, or maybe there were too many.

We dug in that night, and I could almost hear Bob complaining about having to dig the fox hole so deep. He hated to dig, and I could always count on having to push him to do it. Everything I did reminded me of them, and I couldn't sleep at all.

Back at Camp Enari one day we fell in and the CO read a letter that had been sent home to their parents. It said that their gallant sons had died honorably in battle. For a long time I was angry about that, because I thought that it was a lie. I blamed LT and myself and the gunners. It took me years to realize that it was true. They had given their country their last full measure of devotion, as Lincoln said. They had chosen to live honorably, and they had died with honor. They will never be forgotten.

I have since talked to LT, and he has informed me that a Board of Inquiry found that defective ammunition caused the round to fall short.

The Telegram
by David N. Muxo

Dear madame, we regret to say
Your son has died today,
Your valiant son has died.
We've cried and cried
(We'll bury him
And heave a hollow sigh,
And then we'll dry your
Pleading eyes.)

We've cried and cried.

I feel so light.
Can I come home?
Oh please, don't lock the door.
I feel so light.

Dear madame, we regret to say
Your son has died today.
(The earth around his grave
Will cry for us.)