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A US Army Long Range Recon Patrol is ambushed by the Viet Cong. Three members are reported as killed in action but have actually been captured and taken to a jungle prison camp.
It was almost dark when they finally stopped. The guard motioned them to sit in the middle of the trail. When they were settled, the VC made themselves comfortable along the edge. They passed out the captured rations among themselves and started eating, offering none to the prisoners. The leader said something, pointing at the Americans, and they all laughed.
“The bastards,” Hefley hissed in a low tone.
“Just relax,” Jeff cautioned. “Conserve your strength. I’ve got a feeling you’ll need it.”
“What the hell, Sarge,” Hefley protested. “We’ve got rights as prisoners.”
“Tell Charlie that,” Jeff said pointing to the grinning VC leader. “I’ll bet he never heard of the Geneva Convention. Besides, I doubt if we are POW’s officially.”
“What’d you mean?”
“Well,” Jeff said. “Do you remember the gook shooting at the chopper just before they marched us out?”
“I’m just guessing, but I think they were trying to make sure the bodies in that wreck weren’t identifiable.”
“Hell, who knows? But just think about it for a minute. Our forces are going to recover that wreck and pick up what’s left. Charlie switched our dog tags with the two door gunners from the chopper and Skip Douglas. The pilot and copilot were still strapped in their seats. I saw them do it. The bodies will burn so thoroughly in that hot fire that there is no way they can identify the corpses. They’ll collect the dog tags they can find and list them as killed in action. They’ll figure the chopper got bought it during the ground pickup, and the gunners and Skip were captured.”
“Yeah, man,” Mayhew said. “The Army will report us killed and those other dudes missing.”
“But why?” Hefley asked. “Why would Charlie go through all of that hassle?”
“Just think about it,” Jeff answered. “The confusion, Army records, next of kin, insurance. Man, the whole orderly system is going to be all screwed up. Three families are going to receive death notices and three are going to get missing in action reports. Even after we get back,” Jeff purposefully avoiding the fact that they might not ever get back, “just think of the effect it will have on morale when the story gets out. Everyone would have doubts if there were any question of identification. How many times has this happened before? For all we know, this isn’t the first time a switch like this has been mad. It’s going to be one hell of a mess to straighten out. Just think about your own folks. How are they going to react to news of your death? Then later you show up alive! Man, think about it. They’ve already had your funeral, collected your insurance, and probably adjusted to the fact that you’re dead. Sure, they’ll be glad you’re back and alive, but Christ, what a fucked up hassle it’s going to be.”
Now I’ll know, he thought silently to himself. P.O.W! Prisoner of War! He never thought the term would apply to him, but it did now and he was scared. He knew this would be his test. This ordeal would be the ultimate test of his life and somehow, some way, he vowed silently to himself, he’d endure it as a man.