The woman was the first to notice him. She slowly stood up and watched as Zeke boldly walked into the devastated ville. He looked dirty and exhausted but his steps were determined as he approached the young woman.

"Now Judd, you make me proud, son. You grow up and be a good man…" he whispered into his little boy's ear.

The woman quickly looked around and motioned for him to take cover against one of the nearby hootches. She then nervously walked over to him and knelt down beside the tired sergeant.

"You musn't be here—this is a VC village. They could be back anytime" she said quietly. "There are tunnels…"

"Lady, I just need to give you this here baby—we found him yesterday and he's, well, he's got a fever and ain't doing too good. We can't take care of him anymore and we gotta get back to our base…" He hesitated for a moment then handed her his charge. She took the wriggling infant from the reluctant soldier and stared at him, a look of disbelief painted on her face.

"I'll make sure he's taken care of—Sergeant…" She was looking for his name.

"Anderson. Zeke Anderson. 196th infantry. Our chopper went down…"

Just then the man spotted Zeke and started toward them.

"My name's Sarah. We're missionaries from Cahm Rahn Bay. Do you need food or water?" she whispered, looking around to see if anyone was watching.

"What's going on, Sarah…" Tom Barns asked, seeing the sergeant and the baby.

Sarah stood up and faced her husband. She held the baby close and with determination answered his question.

"This sergeant found a sick baby. I was telling him he must move on…"

"We can't help you, Sergeant. We're neutral in all this and we have to stay that way. Now you best be going," he said gruffly.

"Yes, sir, I will." He looked one last time at the little bundle in Sarah's arms. "His name's Judd. He's a Montagnard baby. His momma was killed by mortar fire." He stood up to his full height and took his rifle in his hands.

Sarah looked in to the baby's eyes and smiled. "Thank you, Sergeant. We'll take good care of him."

Zeke reached one last time for his little hand. For the first time since they found little Judd, Zeke actually felt a bit of hope—that maybe, just maybe, the baby would make it and be allowed to grow up.

"Thank you, ma'am. I appreciate that,' he said quietly. He looked up at the man and woman, nodded his goodbye then stalked off towards the jungle.

Tom looked sternly at Sarah holding the crying baby.

"If they come back, they're gonna wonder where a Montagnard baby came from! They could kill us or this!"

Sarah's gaze drifted towards the sergeant. She watched as he disappeared into the dense underbrush.

"This baby needs help, Tom. I can't just let him die." She stubbornly glared at him and headed for a rucksack by one of the hootches. She pulled out a baby bottle and a can of milk and soon baby Judd was drinking ravenously. Sarah stood up and turned to where she had last seen the sergeant, hoping that if he was still there, he could see that the baby was ok.

Anderson quickly ran back into the bush where Johnson and Baker were nervously waiting.

"Who are they, Sarge?" Baker asked, easing himself down beside Johnson on the soft jungle floor.

"They're missionaries from Cahm Rahn Bay. Her name's Sarah. She said she'd take good care of Judd. She also said this is a VC village and that they would be back. So we best di-di on outta here. We'll be able to travel faster now. And I know, Baker, you're probably hurtin' real bad, but we don't have much time before sunset and we've got to make it to the high country. Let's get it done."

With that, the three weary men started off again, skirting the ville and heading south towards home. Sarge glanced back for a last look at his boy and saw Sarah feeding Judd a bottle. It put his mind at ease to see him finally getting the care he needed.

The jungle around them gradually became thinner and thinner until eventually the ground became rocky and they were back out into the semi-open hillside. It was early afternoon when Johnson spotted a plane way off in the distance.

"Sarge—look!" He pointed to the south.

Anderson followed Marvin's pointed finger. "Baker, get your mirror!" he said as he pulled his from his pocket. All three started signaling at once, trying in vain to get the far off plane to take notice. The plane showed no sign that it saw them and continued on its original course.

"He's too far away, Sarge. And if there's VC in these hills, we're giving away our position," Johnson said, lowering his signal aide. They stopped and watched as the plane flew on.

"Well, at least we know we're getting closer," the weary sergeant said positively, scanning the area as best he could without binoculars.

"We'll try and make it to that ridge. There's some cover up there for tonight. Baker, you with us?" he asked, seeing that the young private was just about spent. Baker was leaning over with his hands on his knees, looking like he was going to pass out. Sarge saw his wounds exposed by his torn t-shirt. The angry burns were green and full of puss.

"Oh, man, Baker. I wish there was something I could do for ya, I really do, son." He put his hand on Baker's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. Baker painfully stood up and looked to where his sergeant wanted them to go.

"Which ridge?" He asked

Sarge pointed south.

"Maybe two or three klicks. Johnson, you take point. Baker, c'mon now, son. You can do this."

Baker shook his head slowly.

"I don't know, Sarge. I'm real….dizzy." Sarge grabbed his arm as his knees buckled under him. The big private succumbed to his weak condition and collapsed into the dirt. Sarge did what he could to keep him from injuring himself further and laid him on his side.

"He's burning up, Johnson. He's had it. We got get him some help." Sarge stood up and ran a dirty hand over his face as Johnson knelt beside his sick friend.

"C'mon, Baker—I thought people from California were tougher than this," Johnson joked. Zeke gave him the rest of his water and stood up.

"This is not good, Johnson. There's no way he's gonna make that ridge."

The sergeant looked around the desolate area, trying desperately to find another option other than the most obvious one.

"You go on, Sarge. I'll stay with him. When you find help you can come back and get us. If we can get him back to the tree line, we'll have some cover. We'll be ok," Johnson offered. While the sergeant was thinking on it, Baker pulled himself up and leaned on a rock.

"You go too, Johnson. I'll be ok by myself. If something happens to Sarge, no one will know where we are. You go with him. Just make sure one of you gets back here with a chopper before dinner. I'm really hungry."

Zeke looked at Johnson. He didn't like the idea of leaving one of his men behind. But they had no means of carrying him and there was no way they would get him up to the top of that ridge. The chances of staying put and finding help were next to none. There was only one thing for them to do.

"He's got a point Zeke. If you go down, they'd never find us," Johnson added, scanning the horizon.

Zeke unconsciously shook his head slowly from side to side. "I don't like leaving you alone out here, Baker. But we don't seem to have a choice. Johnson and I will be able to move a lot faster. We'll get up on that ridge there and make a signal fire and hopefully by tonight you'll be in Chu Lai flirting with those pretty nurses." The sergeant smiled as best he could, knowing in his heart that their chances were pretty slim.

"Get some rocks, Johnson, and make a pile here to mark this hill. We'll be able to see it better from the air."

They gathered rocks and made a mound about three feet high. When they were done, they each took a swig of Johnson's remaining water and Sarge carefully helped Baker up.

"Baker, how'd you get to be so big?" Sarge joked as he and Johnson helped him down a short ways to the stand of trees they had just come through. They went well off the trail and found a sheltered spot where Baker could hide. Johnson found some branches and covered Baker up so he wouldn't be seen from the trail.

"You've got one clip of ammo no, Baker. If you have to use it, pick your targets well, son. We'll get back to you as soon as we can." He stared at him, indecision written all over his face.

"I'll be alright Sarge. Just don't forget about me," he said as he settled back in the dirt. Sarge stopped what he was doing and laughed, shaking his head.

"Baker, if I live to be 100, and I plan to now—I could never forget about you! Keep your head down." He gave him a pat on the head and started back to the trail. He knew in his head that this was the only thing he could do. But in his heart, he did not like it one bit. He shook it off and stopped just off the trail to wait for Johnson.

"We'll be back, Baker. Don't you worry. You be cool now." Marvin shook his hand as Baker settled down farther into the sheltered area. Johnson made his way back to the waiting sergeant.

"How you doing, Johnson?" he asked, giving the young private the once over.

"I'm ok, Sarge. Really could use something to eat…" he said, rolling his eyes.

"I heard that," Zeke replied and started up the trail.

They walked for hours through the empty countryside. They saw no aircraft or any sign of a search party. After awhile, Johnson broke the silence.

"Hey Zeke—do you think they're looking for us?" Johnson asked as they finally came upon the ridge they were looking for.

"Ya, Johnson, I think they are. If I know the LT, he's probably making himself a royal pain in the butt asking for choppers to search the area we went down in. But this is a war—and he might have searched for awhile and then got called off for a mission. If it were up to him, I don't think he'd stop looking for us 'till he found us."

Zeke knew his LT. and he knew he wouldn't sleep until all his men were home.

Back at Ladybird, Lt. Goldman was camped out in the communications tent, awaiting any word from the roadrunners as to the whereabouts of Anderson and his men. He knew that they could still be alive—they had found the chopper and the burned bodies of the pilot and co-pilot. They also found the body of the gunner, dragged a few feet from the bird. The skid marks in the dirt indicated that he was dragged by someone away from the burning chopper. The LT just decided that it must have been Anderson. After an hour or two of no news, Goldman left the com tent for the sanctuary of his hootch. As he walked through the camp, he saw Percell and Taylor sitting on some sandbags, cleaning their weapons.

"Any news, LT?" Taylor asked as he jumped up from the damp resting spot.

"Naw, nothing. They still have a few hours of daylight left. They might spot something yet." He wanted to tell them that it would be ok—that the Sergeant was the best soldier he knew and he was sure they would all come out of it fine. But he just couldn't find the words—he was starting to have doubts himself.

"Hey, LT, maybe we could…" Percell started.

"Percell, we have done all we can. Just keep doing what you were doing and I'll let you know if I hear anything." The lieutenant pulled out his cigarettes and made a bee line for his tent. He knew the rest of Anderson's squad was feeling the same way—helpless. And he didn't want to have to answer any more questions.

He entered his dark olive drab tent and groped around his desk for his lighter. He found it and lit the long white tube, anticipating the calming relief it would bring to him in only a few short seconds. Smoking and Jack Daniels had become his only escape in this hell-hole they called home. He contemplated having a small drink—just to take the edge off—but he quickly dismissed it. He needed to be at his best if a call came in to go pick up his men. At the edge of his mind was this nagging thought that Anderson was not coming back. He kept telling himself that it was possible—his days of humping the boonies with his dependable, experienced NCO might be over. Then he told himself that it would be ok. He would get assigned another sergeant, one who may be as competent and easy to work with as Zeke. Reality set in as he slumped down on his bed, closing his eyes. With a hitch in his voice, he said to the darkness, "I can't do this without you, Zeke. Please, God. Bring him home."

TBC…..