Chapter 4

Baker lay in the spot Sarge had left him, with Sarah and baby Judd close beside him. He was burning with fever and delirious with pain. Though she was a trained nurse, Sarah was helpless to do anything for the ailing soldier. They had no water or food, and the enemy could be back any minute. Judd was quiet, having been fed back at the village. She was so thankful she had kept a can or two of her son's formula in her pack. Thinking of her son brought a wave of grief that she couldn't shake off. She saw so clearly in her mind that night a few months ago. She could smell the moisture in the air, could hear the gunfire and the screams of the villagers. She closed her eyes and held Judd lose and tried desperately to will the memories away. Just then she heard the sound of the chopper. She gently tried to wake Baker, but he had slipped into shock and was not responding. She pushed away the shrubs and started for the footpath when she saw two American soldiers entering the jungle from the open country. They walked about 50 paces, turned and looked into the underbrush directly at Sarah. The LT took aim at her, thinking she was a VC. Freezing in place, Sarah slowly raised a hand and waved them in.

The LT didn't know what to think—he was looking for Baker, not for a civilian with a baby. He climbed thru the thick jungle and approached the battered woman.

"I'm looking for a wounded GI. My sergeant said he left him in this area." Goldman kept his gun trained on the woman and continued to walk towards her.

"Private Baker is very sick and needs medical attention right away," she whispered. "He's over here…" She led the way to the pile of brush. Together, they uncovered the wounded private. Doc immediately accessed the situation and started an IV to help the dehydrated man. Myron looked around nervously as Doc finished up.

"You ok, Ma'am?" the LT asked, helping the doc load up the big Californian.

"Yes,sir, but the baby needs medical attention also," she said quietly, as the soldiers proceeded to carry Baker to the waiting chopper.

"I'll check him out on the way back," Doc replied, straining to carry the heavy private. They hurried to the waiting bird and loaded everyone up. Sarah climbed in and settled herself next to the wounded sergeant Anderson. He was unconscious but stable, as the chopper lifted off for the evac hospital at Chu Lai. Doc checked Baker, then took a look at the little baby in Sarah's arms.

"He looks dehydrated, but he should be ok. I'm out of IV's but we've got water we can feed him on the way. We'll be in Chu Lai soon. They can take care of him there," he yelled over the sound of the rotors.

He gave him back to Sarah, who hugged him close to her body. She took the proffered canteen and, ripping off a piece of her overshirt she soaked it in water and gave it to the thirsty infant. She leaned back against the co-pilot's seat and stared blankly out the door of the huey.

The LT leaned back against the pilot's seat and breathed a huge sigh of relief. He knew his sergeant and men were in bad shape, but they were alive. Johnson was awake now, and Doc was helping him to sit up. He head was wrapped in blood-laden bandages and his eyes were closed, but he was conscious, which was a good sign. Baker was on his stomach awake now but delirious from the high fever.

The LT's eyes came to rest on his sergeant. He quickly looked away and out the door of the huey. Seeing Zeke like this was too difficult—he had only known him a short time, but in that time he had come to rely on his strength and experience. They had been through a lot in the few short months they had served together and Myron had rarely seen him hurt, or weak, or not in control. It was then that the young lieutenant realized just how much he depended on the sergeant—not only for the leadership of his men, but as a friend.

Being in charge was a lonely position, and the LT was prepared for that when he came over here. But what he wasn't prepared for was the emotional strain and the exhaustion that left him feeling farther and farther removed from the person he used to be. And yet, his sergeant somehow seemed to hold it together—to hold them all together. He had this uncanny ability to move on—to put it all behind him, or put it somewhere, perhaps to be dealt with at a later time? Myron didn't know. But every morning he got up and did his job—better than any other sergeant Goldman knew. And it was that strength the LT drew from and counted on every day to survive.

The thought that his sergeant—his friend—might not be there to see him through gave him a sick feeling in his stomach. The last two days had been nerve-wracking for Goldman. At least now he knew that they were okay and on their way to get the help they needed. He just wished there was more he could do.

Baby Judd had started to cry again as they circled the Evac hospital compound. The Huey pitched to the right and Anderson, feeling the harsh movement of the chopper, opened his eyes. Startled, his eyes flew from one side of the Huey to the other—he saw Johnson on his left, with Doc net to him. He saw Baker beside him, but his face was turned the other way. He quickly turned his head to see Sarah on his right holding baby Judd.

He stared at her for a long minute, not fully comprehending what he saw.

She was staring out the door, lost somewhere far away. He squinted and picked up his good arm to rub his eyes, but was inhibited by the IV. Goldman saw his struggle and leaned over and took his arm. Zeke lifted his head and, seeing the LT, breathed a sigh of relief.

"Hey, we're almost to Chu Lai. You're gonna be alright" he said as he gently put Zeke's arm back down at his side and fixed the clear tubing of the IV. The sergeant put his head back down with a thump and looked over at Sarah and Judd. She leaned over and gently placed the fussing baby stomach down on the Sarge's chest. Judd immediately stopped his fussing. Sarge looked down at the warm bundle, who seemed to be soothed by the beating of Sarge's heart. He put his arm protectively over the little guy and held him close.

The LT looked on, not fully understanding the connection, but seeing that there was a bond between the little orphan and the big orphan. It was then that he saw a big tear trace its way down Zeke's dirty face. Sarah gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze as the chopper landed on the pad. Taking the baby, she climbed out of the flying ambulance. Zeke closed his eyes and surrendered again to the overwhelming weakness that engulfed his body. The LT took his IV and yelled to the orderlies to take Zeke first. He then walked along side as they brought him in, followed closely by Baker and Johnson.

As soon as they were inside, the triage doctor stopped the LT at the door. "You can't go in there, Lieutenant. We'll take it from here" he said in a rushed voice as he quickly pushed Myron aside to look at Zeke's wounds. The LT stepped to the side and watched as they ushered the sergeant quickly down the hall. Matsuda came up beside him as Johnson and Baker were wheeled by.

Lieutenant Goldman stood there silently, feeling utterly helpless. Doc looked up at his CO, noticing the bewildered look in his eyes.

"They'll take good care of them, LT. Let's go get some coffee. We can check in on them in a little while."

Goldman looked at the young medic, then down the hall. Resigning himself to the fact that there was nothing more he could do, he reluctantly allowed Doc to lead him away.

Sarah was taken to another room and the baby was checked out by the nurse on duty.

"He's a strong litte guy—for being only two days old," she said, wrapping him in a light blanket. "He's severely dehydrated, but a day or two on an IV should do the trick. We should see an improvement almost immediately."

The nurse looked over at Sarah, noticing the blood stains on her shirt. "Let me take a look at your arms" she offered, pointing at the soiled spots. Sarah looked down at her arms, searching her memory for the reason for the blood stains. It all had happened so fast—the baby was in her arms—or was it Tom….She looked up at the waiting nurse, confusion clouding her eyes. "Let me help you with that," the nurse finally said, reaching for her shirt.

Crossing her arms in front of her, Sarah found her voice. "Thank you, but I'm ok. Really. I'm fine. I appreciate your help with Judd. Can I give him something to eat? He had part of a can of milk a while ago."

The nurse backed off, not wanting to upset the woman and turned her attention to the baby resting in the makeshift crib. "I'll see if I can find some formula and a baby bottle." She turned to go but stopped, looking back at Sarah. Quietly, she tried one more time.

"Are you sure you're ok?" She asked with genuine regard. Sarah turned and looked into the younger woman's dark eyes. Speaking it will make it real, she thought. She had to concentrate on the baby, getting him better so she could take him to Cahm Rahn Bay—to the orphanage. She feigned a smile and shook her head in an attempt to chase away the memories that were starting to fill her mind.

"I'm fine, really. Thank you for your concern."

The nurse nodded a smile and left to find the needed supplies to feed the hungry baby. Sarah walked to Judd's side and held his little hand in her fingers. He looked so peaceful—his color was getting better and he was breathing more normally. She sat down next to him and, resting her head on the back of the chair, she closed her eyes and tried to sleep.

It was nearly two hours later when the attending doctor found the LT and Doc Matsuda in the waiting room. He filled them in on the status of the three men and told them they could visit them, just for a few minutes. Relief flooded over Myron as he walked quickly down the hallway, his heart skipping a beat as he found the room where his friend lay recuperating. He approached the door hesitantly, not really knowing what he was going to find. Randy came up behind him and, peeking around the LT, he gently slipped around him and into the room.

The room was crowded with five or six beds, all filled with wounded GI's. The beds were lined up around the perimeter of the room, with undrawn curtains separating the individual sections. Myron's eyes scanned the room, coming to rest on the good sergeant. He walked over to his bedside and stood there for a long minute. Zeke was asleep—or unconscious, he didn't know. He was pale and drawn, nothing like the Sergeant Anderson Myron knew. The LT awkwardly reached out and touched his hand, relieved to feel that it was warm—alive—he thought to himself. Just then Zeke's eyes opened and he looked up at the LT.

"Hey…" Myron started, choking back the lump that was growing in his throat and letting go of the sergeant's hand. Zeke smiled his lopsided grin.

"Hey, LT," he answered weakly.

"Doc says you're gonna be good to go for the mission tomorrow," he joked. Sarge closed his eyes and shook his head carefully from side to side.

"Skids up at 0600. I'll be there."

Myron chuckled. "I bet you would, too, if you weren't sedated. You heal up, now, Sergeant. We can't fight this war without you." He turned to go but the sergeant grabbed his arm.

"LT…..how's Baker and Johnson?"

The lieutenant looked across the room to where Doc was talking quietly to Private Johnson. "They'll be fine, Sergeant. You and Baker will be here a week or so, and Johnson can come back in a few days."

"And the baby, Sir?" Zeke asked, concern flashing in his piercing eyes.

The LT had forgotten about the baby, and the woman holding him.

"I don't know, Zeke. I'll see what I can find out."

"His name is Judd. We named him Judd." And with that, the sergeant closed his eyes and fell asleep.

The lieutenant walked over to where Johnson lay, wondering to himself where the civilian and the baby figured in. He knew the sergeant would fill him in on all the details when he was feeling better. Johnson looked up at his CO and smiled. He was sitting up talking to Doc Matsuda.

"Good to see you alive, Johnson," the LT said in his best officer voice.

"Thank you, Sir. You got there just in time. We really thought that was it up on that ridge."

"Get better, Private. We'll see you in a few days," He turned to see Baker, but noticed he was asleep. "Tell Baker when he wakes up that I was asking for him," he said with a nod.

"I will, Sir. Thank you," Johnson said quietly.

The lieutenant made his way down the hallway, looking for someone who might know where the baby was being kept. The smell of alcohol, bedpans and burnt flesh was making his stomach turn. Just as he was about to give up, he saw Sarah sitting outside on the ramp. Opening the door he walked out into the evening twilight. She was sitting alone, knees pulled up to her chest, staring blankly at the rapidly darkening camp around her. He folded and unfolded his cap in his hands, searching for something to say, when she quietly looked up at him.

"Lieutenant," she said, dangling her legs over the side of the ramp. "How are your men?"

Myron lowered his gaunt frame and sat down next to her. He pulled out his cigarettes and lighter and offered her a smoke. She waved a 'no, thanks'.

"They'll be okay. Anderson and Baker will be here a week or so. Johnson, only a few days." He deftly lit up and took a long draw.

"I'm glad to hear it. I'm Sarah Barns." She extended her hand in greeting. Myron absently put the cigarette back in his mouth and grasped her hand.

"Myron Goldman. 196th infantry brigade. Thank you, by the way, for whatever you did to help Private Baker. I know it meant a lot to him to not be alone in the bush." He took another long drag on the cigarette, then slowly exhaled the noxious smoke, watching it rise into the muggy night air.

Sarah pulled one knee up to her chin and hugged her leg, starring off into the growing darkness. She knew the young lieutenant probably wanted some kind of explanation about the events of the day, but she didn't know where to start. She was still trying to make some sense of it herself.

"My sergeant was asking about the baby….." Myron started.

Sarah smiled. "He'll be fine. He's a strong little guy. I met your sergeant when he came into our village this morning. The baby was very sick and needed medical attention," she said quietly. Myron took another drag on his rapidly shortening cigarette and thought about what she said.

"So the sergeant brought the baby to you," he said matter of factly, trying to clarify just where the baby came from.

"Yes. He said he was a Montagnard baby and his mother had been killed by mortar fire. The little guy wasn't more than two or three days old. He had a really high fever and was very dehydrated." Sarah stopped there and seemed to be lost in thought while Goldman tried to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

"What were you doing out there anyway? Didn't you know Charlie owns that valley" he said with a confused look.

"Our village, Van Doh, was a friendly ville. No VC, or so we thought. For the last five years we've gone into that village twice a month to bring food and medical supplies and help where we can. We were making real progress—and we thought the VC were leaving them alone." She looked down, the events of the day coming flooding back into her memory.

"Well, chances are that VC were moving in as soon as you moved out and they were probably taking any supplies you were leaving there. Most likely the villagers were afraid that their ville would be burned if they stopped giving up the supplies. That's just how the VC operates. You've probably been supplying the VC for quite some time."

Myron shifted his position so he could rest his foot on the steps. He didn't see Sarah quickly brush away the tear that threatened to spill down her dirty cheek. He shook out another cigarette and held it in his lips while he lit it. It was then that he realized what he had said and how it must have sounded.

"It's just—we see this all the time. I understand that the Peace Corp, or missionary agencies, or any number of 'do—gooders' think that they can make a difference in these villes, when the fact of the matter is, the VC hold most of them in their grip." He glanced over at the older woman, who was looking up at the slowly brightening stars.

"So my husband died for nothing," she said, almost inaudibly.

Myron felt his heart sink within him. He stared down at his feet and closed his eyes.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean…"

"Its okay, Lieutenant," she said, wiping a tear from her cheek. "The last time we were there, we stumbled on a tunnel system they had been hiding from us. There had been VC all along. I'd like to think the villagers benefited somewhat from the help we gave. I have to believe that. Or it will have all been for nothing."

They sat in silence for a long minute, the lieutenant taking the last drag from his cigarette before crushing it out with his heel. Sarah took a deep breath and wiped her dirty face with her shirt sleeve.

"Well, at least the baby will have a home, of sorts. Your organization must have a place where you and he can go," he said, sliding easily off the ramp and standing in front of Sarah. She looked up at him and noticed a look of resignation in his eyes—or was it just acceptance of the inevitable? For a long minute she looked into his dark brown eyes, trying to make some kind of sense out of what he just said. Well, at least the baby….

She furrowed her brow and stared back at him. Myron noticed the intensity of her stare and shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. He knew that this was probably the first time she had verbalized what had happened today and it was taking some time to sink in.

"Can I walk you back to your room?" he asked, anxious to get back to Zeke to give him the news about the baby. Sarah regrouped, shaking her head slightly and jumping off the ramp. "I'm sorry. I just haven't thought all this through yet. Yes, thank you," and they slowly make their way back to where the baby was being fed by the nurse. Acknowledging their presence, the nurse handed the baby and bottle over to Sarah, who sat down and continued feeding the hungry infant.

The LT looked down at the little guy and smiled, shaking his head.

"Your sergeant had a difficult time giving this guy up. I think he would have carried him all the way home if the boy wasn't so sick." She paused and looked down at Judd, who had temporarily stopped eating and fallen asleep. "He didn't seem like a soldier…" she said, caressing the bay's head.

Goldman smiled. "Oh, he's all soldier, Ma'am. He just has a real compassion for people that actually makes him one of the best sergeants I've ever worked with." They stared at the baby, sleeping peacefully in Sarah's arms. "I'll let him know the baby's gonna be fine." He turned to go, but stopped and looked back at Sarah.

"You gonna be ok?" he asked with genuine concern.

Sarah looked over at him and sighed inwardly. "Ya. Thanks. I think we'll go to Cahm Rahn Bay. Our organization has an orphanage there. And who knows—I may even see if I can take the little guy back to the states with me. I've got a lot of things to sort out. But we'll be okay."

Myron nodded his goodbye and left the dimly lit room. As he made his way back to Zeek's room he couldn't help but think how incredibly alone that woman must feel—how tragic this war was to so many people, even those who were genuinely trying to help. He shook his head, trying to chase away the thoughts that were clouding his mind. I'm a soldier, he thought to himself. It's a war. People die. He wondered just how many times he had tried to comfort himself with that cliché.

The LT stopped at Anderson's door and contemplated what to tell him. The good sergeant would feel responsible for the death of Sarah's husband. Not tonight, he thought to himself, and entered the dimly lit room.

Off in the corner of the sparsely furnished hospital room was a lone lamp, emitting a soft glow. Myron stopped momentarily, scanning the room. Johnson, Baker and two other Gi's were asleep, but Zeke was sitting up, staring at some point far away. He looked as if her were concentrating on something he couldn't remember. Myron quietly walked to his side, unconsciously folding and unfolding his cap in his hands. Zeke heard him approach and looked over at his lieutenant.

"Hey, LT." he said in a scratchy voice.

"You look like 30 miles of bad road" the LT said, softly, smiling. Zeke quietly laughed and shook his head.

"Well, LT, I FEEL like 30 miles of bad road. But I'll tell you what—I think I'll stay here as long as they'll have me, if those nurses will give me another bath…" He smiled, mischief dancing in his deep blue eyes.

Myron laughed. He was so glad to see that his sergeant hadn't lost his good humor.

"I heard that, Sergeant. You take all the time you need. The war's not goin' anywhere." He paused, fiddling with his hat. "I talked with that missionary lady and your kid's gonna be fine. The organization she works for has an orphanage in Cahm Rahn Bay and she's gonna make arrangements to take him there. She wanted you to know he's doing much better."

Zeke smiled and shook his head. "LT, I really thought I was dreamin, ya know? When we were on the chopper and I opened my eyes and she was there—holding Judd. How'd you find her anyway?" he asked, his eyes searching Goldman's face. Myron hesitated, not wanting to get into this tonight.

"She actually was with Baker, and we found the three of them right were you left them. You did the right thing leaving Baker. He was hurt pretty badly and would have never made it to the ridge." He looked over at the sleeping private.

"Doc says he'll be ok. Johnson too. I'll tell ya, LT, leaving him out there alone—I hope I never have to do that again." Zeke's voice trailed off as he slowly shook his head.

"Yeah, that was a tough call. But you all were lucky, and it worked out in the end." He looked down at his toilworn sergeant, noticing how he was struggling

to keep his eyes from closing. He quickly looked at his watch, searching his mind for an excuse to leave.

"Hey, it's getting late and I have to try to hop a chopper back to base. You take it easy and don't give those nurses too hard a time—that's an order," the lieutenant said, smiling.

"Roger that, Sir. I'll do my best…" Zeke said quietly, with that mischievous glint in his eye. The LT went to go, but hesitated, looking back at his friend.

"You did good, Zeke. You brought them all back alive. But I'll tell ya," he laughed an uncomfortable laugh. "I didn't like the feeling of you being out there without me."

Zeke looked up at the lieutenant, understanding full well the meaning of what he said.

"LT, not making it home was never an option" he said slowly, in a deep, quiet voice. The two soldiers' eyes locked for a long second, a mutual feeling of appreciation settling between them. "Besides, I pity the poor sergeant that replaces me…" Zeke said, grinning from ear to ear.

Once again, Myron was amazed at how Zeke could diffuse him—his worry, his concern, his feeling uncomfortable with being close to anyone.

"I'm that bad, huh?" Myron replied with a silly grin, looking down at his crushed hat.

"Yessir, you are. But I wouldn't want to be serving with anyone else."

In the dim light of that hospital room, Zeke could see that his comment meant the world to the young man.

"Goodnight, Sir," he said quietly.

Myron fixed his hat, at a loss for words. "Goodnight, Sergeant" he finally said, turning on his heel and leaving Zeke to his thoughts.

TBC….