This episode, though heartbreaking, was one of my favorites. I mean no disrespect to the original writers, but I just needed to see something different happen to these brave men and the baby they risked their lives to save. I hope you enjoy this alternate ending!

"Brothers, Fathers and Sons": An alternate ending

By 302pilot

This story picks up the morning after the night on the ridge, where Sarge sings "Baby Love" and grows more attached to the little guy they named Judd.

After a restless night on the ridge, the three weary soldiers and their small charge set off once again for Firebase Ladybird. They knew that the quick way out would be a signal fire, but there was always the chance that along with a friendly passing aircraft, the fire and smoke could also attract the attention of the enemy, and that could prove disastrous.

After an hour or so of walking in the semi-openness of the hill country Sergeant Anderson paused for a water break. He found a shallow alcove of rocks, sat down and reached for his canteen. As he looked up at his two traveling companions he carefully read their faces, wondering if they were feeling as utterly exhausted as he was himself. Baker was holding baby Judd, who was fussing more than he had been the day before.

"C'mon, man, you have to settle down—we're supposed to be quiet," he whispered to the now screaming baby. Johnson came over to him and extended his canteen to the tall Californian.

"Here, let me take the little guy for a while. Have something to drink, then give some to him," he said as he accepted the wriggling bundle of noise. Baker took a long swig and then tried pouring some into the crying baby's mouth.

"C'mon Judd. You have to drink something..." The water Baker poured ran down the baby's little cheek and caused him to spit and putter. Johnson tried to wipe his mouth and in doing so, brushed his hand across his crimson cheek.

"Hey Sarge—something ain't right with the little guy—he's burning up or something." Johnson felt the two day old's tiny forehead. A look of concern flashed across his face as he knelt down and handed the whimpering baby to the sergeant.

Sergeant Anderson put down his canteen and accepted the little baby ever so gently. He unconsciously shook his head back and forth as he felt the baby's face with his large, calloused hand.

"Oh, man, we don't need this Judd, boy. What's the matter, son—you not been drinking enough water?" He ran his beefy hands over the sick baby's body and held his little frame up to his ear.

"Damn it, Johnson, his little heart is beating so fast—he's really sick. We gotta get you some help, son. Gimme my canteen, Baker." Baker handed him his canteen and Zeke tried to get Judd to drink something-anything. Judd just spit it out again. He ripped a piece of his head rag and saturated it with water and stuck it in Judd's little mouth. This time the little guy sucked it dry.

"Hey—it's working! At least he's getting some of it!" Baker said, forcing a smile. He lowered himself to the ground next to his NCO and leaned back onto his side, groaning. Johnson took a long drink and passed the canteen to Baker, who waved it off.

"We've got at least another day's worth of humping, huh Sarge?" Johnson said, surveying the area around them. They were in the middle of nowhere, the vastness of the central highlands spreading as far as their eyes could see.

The sergeant looked up from tending to little Judd and saw the concern in Johnson's eyes. He knew that they had no food left and water was running very low. And he knew that Judd was dehydrated and getting worse by the hour. He let his eyes drift to the barren countryside around them. This was one of those times when he wished he wasn't the one making the big decisions. There was a certain amount of relief in knowing that the LT took responsibility for what they did and where they went. But the LT wasn't here now. And it wasn't that Zeke couldn't do it, it was just that now it involved a wounded soldier and a helpless child—and the odds were stacked against them.

"How you doing Baker?" he asked, his eyes scanning the exhausted private. He could see that his wounds were severely infected and that Baker, too, was showing signs of dehydration.

"Not too good, Sarge. My back is killing me and I really feel sick." Baker closed his eyes as he tried to make himself more comfortable on the rocky hillside. Sergeant Anderson's attention was drawn back to the sucking baby in his arms.

"Well, now, Judd-boy, we gotta get going soon so Charlie don't find us—so you drink up now—We gotta get you and Baker here some help." He continued to soak the little rag in water and let the baby suck on it. Johnson walked ahead a half a click or so to survey the area. He made his way back and settled himself down next to Baker.

"Sarge—there's an open space on the next ridge over—if we can get over there we could maybe make a signal fire and attract a plane or somethin'," he said as he wiped the sweat from his forehead.

Zeke stood up and looked in the direction Johnson referred to. "That would be a good place to head for, but I bet Charlie will figure on us goin' there too. We've lost him for now, but I bet not for long." He looked down at the two weary soldiers and then at the babe in his arms. He didn't have a choice. They would have to move on and get as far south as they could before nightfall.

"Saddle up—let's move out. Baker…" He asked, crouching down next to the big blond.

"Ya, Sarge?" He answered hesitantly.

"Now, Baker, I know you're in a world of hurt, son, but we gotta keep going—we don't have a choice. I wish I could call in a dust-off for you and Judd here but I can't. Baker?" He put his hand on Baker's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. The young private looked up at is NCO.

"I hear ya, Sarge," he said quietly.

"Alright then. Take my canteen and have yourself a drink and then let's di-di on outta here. C'mon now."

Sarge stood up and looked ahead to Johnson. He knew they were still a good two days walk from the firebase. He also knew that the baby probably wouldn't make it. He shook his head, as if to chase away the bleak picture in his mind and told himself to concentrate on moving on. It was his responsibility to get his men—and baby Judd—back home in one piece. And he wasn't gonna let them down.

"C'mon Judd-man. We can't let Charlie find us, now. You take a little nap so he don't hear you cryin'…" In his heart he prayed that the boy would sleep. His cries would carry across these hills like the screech of a hawk. He looked back at Baker, still on the ground.

"Baker…" he said, as he turned and started down the trail. Johnson helped the big private to his feet.

"Right behind ya, Sarge." Johnson answered for both of them.

"Alright, then. We're almost home," Sarge answered with his lopsided grin, hoping he could talk himself into believing it to be true. They forged on down the hillside with the sergeant in the lead trying desperately to calm the crying infant. The open hillside quickly became the thick, dense jungle of the valley and they were soon enveloped in the hot, humid world under the canopy.

They had traveled for over an hour when Johnson, who was now on point, went down on one knee and hoisted his right fist in the air. Instantly Zeke and Baker were both down, listening to the sound of the jungle around them. Judd seemed to sense the tension in the air and for a moment stopped his crying.

"What is it, Johnson?" Sarge asked in a whisper.

"Don't know, Sarge. Heard something—sounded like voices."

They listened for a long minute. The jungle around them was ablaze with the sounds of monkeys and birds and the ever present buzzing of insects. Sarge motioned back to Baker to hide in the brush along the side of the trail. All three instantly vanished into the thick underbrush. Baby Judd started to fuss again and Sarge quickly stuck a thick pinky into his mouth. Johnson shot him a worried glance as the sound of the hurried footsteps filled the air. Zeke wrapped his arm tightly around the squirming bundle he held, hoping to stifle the sounds the baby was making. He lowered his large frame down as far as he could into the thick cover and positioned his rifle with his other hand, using his knee for support. He knew, in the deep recesses of his mind, that if they were spotted, they wouldn't have a chance.

The encroaching footsteps grew louder and the sound of animals could be heard.

'Must be villagers' Zeke thought to himself. He knew if it were VC or NVA soldiers they wouldn't have heard them coming. The small group passed by without incident.

Johnson let out a sigh of relief as the sergeant motioned for them to stay put for a few minutes longer. He took his pinky out of the squirming baby's mouth and let him cry as he scanned up and down the trail. After a minute or so they slowly climbed out of their hiding place and met on the footpath.

"Man, we were lucky they weren't VC," Baker said as Zeke handed him the baby.

"Well, we don't know that now, Baker. They could be from a VC ville, which means we have to go around it. Keep your eyes and ears open—we don't want them to know we're here."

They started out again, Sarge on point, and worked their way thru the dense forest. They soon came upon a clearing. The three depleted soldiers crouched down and surveyed the area. Off to the south they saw what looked like the remains of a ville, some of the huts still smoldering from the fires that consumed them. There didn't seem to be any life evident.

"You think we did that Sarge—or the VC?" Johnson asked, methodically scanning the area for unfriendlies.

"Don't know, Johnson," Sarge said, shaking his head. "And we're not gonna find out. We'll cut around the north side of the clearing—it's farther away from the hootches. Baker—how you doin, son?" he asked, looking back at him for a brief second, then returning his eyes to the deserted ville.

Baker swallowed hard. "I really need a break, Sarge. I feel really sick…"

Recognizing the signs of dehydration, the sergeant put down his rifle and checked his canteen. Baker unscrewed the top to his and poured the last of his precious water into his parched mouth.

"Johnson, you take Judd for a while, give Baker a break. We'll take five here." He handed Marvin a piece of his head rag. "See if the boy will take some water."

Johnson soaked it in water and gave it to Judd, who sucked crazily.

"He's still so hot, Sarge, but I think the water's made a difference. He's not so fussy…." Johnson said as he held the slurping infant. Sarge glanced down at the little guy, shaking his head.

"You are something…" he said softly. Just then Baker noticed movement on the far side of the ville.

"Sarge—someone's out there-look" He pointed to the two or three huts that were still standing. It was quite a ways away, but they could see a man and a woman carrying an injured person to the other side of the ville. They all strained to see them better and all noticed at the same time that they weren't Vietnamese.

"Sarge—"Johnson start to say.

"I know—I see 'em. They must be Peace Corp or missionaries or something," the sergeant said, straining to see them better.

"Hey Sarge—they probably have medical supplies—they can help Judd—they might even have connections to an orphanage or hospital or something," Johnson said, eyes wide with hope for the little guy. Sarge didn't take his eyes off the two, who went back in the smoldering hooch and came out with another body. Baby Judd started to cry again and Johnson did his best to comfort him, but he wouldn't stop.

"I'm thinking he'd be better off with them, Sarge," Baker added.

Zeke knew that handing the baby over was the smart thing to do. Sooner or later his crying would attract the enemy's attention and probably get the all killed. But his heart was telling him to protect the little guy—to wrap his arms around him and just keep walking until they got home. Despite his better judgment, Zeke had already claimed the child as one of his own—and once Sergeant Anderson laid claim to someone, there was nothing he wouldn't do to protect them. Zeke Anderson was fiercely loyal to those he held close to his heart—his LT, his men and practically any child, orphaned or not, who needed him to champion their cause.

"Sarge…" Johnson started, seeing the indecision in Zeke's eyes.

"I know, Johnson. He needs help. And we need to get home. Just gimme a minute..." Anderson stood up and surveyed the layout of the ville.

"Ok, Johnson, you do what you can to keep him quiet. Baker, you keep your eyes open for Charlie. I'm gonna get a closer look at what's goin' on in the ville. I'll be back."

He picked up his rifle and crept out thru the underbrush. He circled around the north side of the ville, until he could see clearly what the two foreigners were doing. The ville looked to have been burned—by VC or US soldiers, Zeke couldn't tell. But the two volunteers had made what looked to be a small burial ground and were burying the dead villagers. There were a few children squatting by the dead, slowly rocking back and forth on their heels, crying. Zeke had seen this a hundred times before. He had even been the one to light the hootches on fire. He shuttered at the thought and told himself yet again that he was just following orders—he could hear the LT's voice in his head saying, "It's a war, Sergeant, people die", but Zeke Anderson didn't just see 'people' in these villes. He saw families. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children and babies. Real people who, after loosing everything time and time again, had to try and start over with nothing.

Damn this war.

Zeke shook his head and headed back to his men. As he approached their position he could hear the baby crying 100 yards out. This just reinforced in his mind what he needed to do. He whistled the signal and Johnson whistled back.

"What's it look like Sarge?" Johnson asked, rocking the baby to try to soothe him. The sergeant looked at Baker, then Johnson. He took a deep breath and sighed.

"Well, they're burying their dead. There's a few kids left and I'm hoping they're gonna be takin' them somewhere. I figure I'll just give them Judd and hope they do right by him." With that, he reached for the crying baby.

"Hey there, Judd boy—It's time for us to be moving out now so you gotta settle down so we make a good impression." He stuck his finger in Judd's mouth which quieted him for a bit as the three men moved thru the underbrush.

They finally reached the spot where Zeke had been. From here they could see the two people clearly. One was a man, about 35 or so, dressed in civilian clothes, burying one of the victims. He was drenched in sweat and black with the dirt from the job at hand. They watched as one by one he prayed over the bodies, then gently laid them to rest. The other foreigner was a woman, about 30, dressed in a tank top and cargos. She was holding one of the children, trying to comfort him.

"Looks like they're missionaries," Johnson whispered.

"I don't know, Johnson. But they are takin' good care of those villagers," he said as he turned his attention to the baby he held in his arms.

"Well, now, Judd, this is it, son. Baker, you go 10 meters to the right and keep your eyes and ears open. If anything happens, you run south and don't stop 'till you get to Ladybird—ya hear?" He looked at both men to make sure they understood. He knew this could be a VC ville. There could be enemy soldiers in those hootches. But he had to chance it for Judd's sake—and for theirs.

"Good luck, Zeke. We got your back." Johnson shook Judd's little hand and he and Baker turned and disappeared into the jungle.

Anderson watched as the jungle swallowed up his men. Looking down at the precious baby in his arms, he gently kissed his feverish forehead.

"This is your chance, Judd-boy. Let's do this" he whispered, and stepped out into the open field.

TBC...