Owning land is the American Dream, defending it against those who conspire to steal it from you, a nightmare.
In a compelling saga about a man who is determined to protect what is rightfully his-at all costs-the uniquely American Spirit of fighting insurmountable odds comes full circle, climaxing in an ending that is totally unpredictable and emerging as what many have called a "modern day classic" in the truest sense of the word.
From the action-packed first chapter, you will find yourself engrossed in a tale that will keep you guessing, as to the final outcome, until the very end.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.74(d)|
Read an Excerpt
By LAWRENCE KLEPINGER
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2013 Lawrence Klepinger
All rights reserved.
As soon as Manion saw the dog he knew it was a goner. It wasn't all that big—filthy and emaciated—like everything else in Vietnam. But the mottle-haired mutt was enough for a fair-sized meal, and that was all that counted.
A Vietnamese man clad in grimy shorts and torn T-shirt, racing through town in his dented, three-wheeled Vespa, spotted the dog, which had made it halfway across the dirt road, avoiding the ever-present, chaotic traffic. Drawing a straight bead, the driver headed for the doomed mongrel, plowing into it broadside, the front end smashing its back. The twitching animal lodged for an instant, then was jolted loose and run over again with the back wheels. The motorized tricycle slid to a stop. In haste, the driver half-stumbled, scrambling to the animal. He quickly grabbed the dog by its tail, flung it into the rear of the three-wheeler, and clamored back inside. Ripping the throttle wide open the road hunter sped away, a red cloud of dust veiling his hasty departure.
"Did you see that?" stammered Thompson, slapping the duce-and-a-half through a montage of beat up civilian cars and bicycles intermingled with U.S. military vehicles of all shapes and sizes. "He took that sucker out on purpose."
"His family's going to eat good tonight," replied Manion.
"I'd never eat dog," stated Thompson, curling his lips.
"You'd be surprised what you'd eat if you were hungry enough."
"But a dog? No way!"
"Shit, Thompson," said Manion with a bemused grin. "You've probably eaten dog meat and didn't even know it. Beef. Pork. Fish heads. Dog. No difference to the stomach, just the mind. Bet you even thought it was good."
The kid flashed an annoyed glance at Sergeant John Manion bouncing beside him. Soldiers always like to drive Army vehicles hell bent for leather and PFC Eddie Thompson was no exception to the rule. "Not me," he declared, "I'd rather die first."
"You might have a chance to eat those words if you don't get us wiped out first," said Manion. "Slow this truck down. I didn't come all this way to just to get killed in some stupid-ass accident."
"This whole fucking war's a stupid-ass accident," snapped Thompson. "If I slow down we're sitting ducks. Get blown away for sure."
"In Cam Rahn Bay? No one ever gets killed here. Now cut this truck some slack."
The boy reluctantly eased up on the gas. "What's wrong with this country anyway," he continued, "and why can't these gooks get their own shit in order?"
"This isn't a country," answered Manion. "It's just a place where people come to fight. And die."
Thompson was sullen. Barely 19 years old, and arriving in country only the month before, he wasn't ready to hear that kind of talk. Two fire-fights had convinced him that Vietnam wasn't the glorious undertaking he had been led to believe. "I wish I was going with you," he said, finality molding his tone.
"Going with me? Hell, you just got here."
"I know and that's what pisses me off."
"Pull up here," Manion said, motioning to a small cluster of roadside shanties. They were a familiar sight, nothing more than sheets of cardboard tacked to termite-infested wood, wired onto rusted corrugated metal. Yet, these huts had always intrigued him, conjuring up glimpses of his childhood when he used to build forts in his backyard. But people actually lived in them. How they managed to hold together was anybody's guess.
"What do you want to stop for?" asked Eddie. "I thought you were in a hurry to ETS."
"I want to buy you a beer."
Thompson eased the truck off the road, bucking to a halt.
"Hey, GI, you want short-time?" yelled a small Vietnamese boy, skipping toward the truck.
"No thanks," said Manion as he climbed down. It was the monsoon season, the air stagnant with a constant sewer smell, an invisible wet blanket that you could never get out from under. He tried to adjust his sticky, summer dress fatigues but it didn't help.
"Come on, GI," persisted the boy. "She my sister. Only 13.
Clean, too. For you, only three dollar, MPC."
"Is she a virgin?" joked Manion.
"No, but almost," answered the boy with a toothy grin.
"How about a couple of Balm de Balms?"
"Only beer?" the boy said in disbelief, tagging along behind Manion toward the small group of shanties. A rat, the size of a full-grown feline, scurried underneath the makeshift wooden pallet foundation, eyeing them both suspiciously. A young girl poked her head out between ragged curtains. Wearing a dingy, see-through blouse, dark-brown nipples beginning to protrude, she smiled an automatic money smile. The boy waved her back inside, as she frowned her displeasure in retreat.
"Two beers," demanded the kid to the old mama-san squatting behind an open Coca-Cola ice cooler.
She reached into the lukewarm water, retrieved two bottles of beer, setting them on a rickety, three-legged table. The boy signaled her to open them. She flashed a wide betel nut smile, the color of deep ochre, as she quickly complied. The youngster took the bottles, handing one to Manion.
"Fifty cent, MPC," he said, holding out his hand, palm up.
"That's kind of cheap."
"Each," clarified the boy. "I take this to friend in truck. Always collect myself. That way get money."
Capitalism with a capital C, thought Manion. "You'd better let me pay for them both then," he said. "It's my treat."
"OK, GI. You pay. I deliver. Fifty cent more."
Manion handed him the extra money. "Smart kid you got here," he said to the old mama-san.
The lady smiled again.
"She no speak English. Just dumb old woman," called the boy over his shoulder, running toward the truck, beer foaming from the bottleneck.
Manion shook his head. He never could understand why Asian women took so much abuse from their men. Then again, there were a lot of things about the Orient he still didn't understand. Probably never would.
"He's not a bad child," whispered the old lady in perfect English.
The statement caught Manion off guard. "I thought you couldn't speak English."
"That's what he thinks, too," she chuckled. "When we were under French control I spoke French. Now you Americans are here, so I speak English. But he doesn't know. That way it gives him a sense of pride. He needs that. He's the only man we have left."
"I'm sorry," Manion offered in apology, not quite knowing why.
She looked down, curtailing further conversation.
"You go home?" asked the boy, returning from the truck.
"How did you know?"
"Wearing khakis. No gun."
Manion felt foolish for asking the obvious.
"Better hurry or you miss plane." The boy turned to the woman, saying something in rapid fire Vietnamese.
The old lady held up two fingers signifying a "V" for victory and said in halting English, "American ... GI, numbah one. VC, numbah fucking ten."
Manion looked at her sad, brown eyes, fully aware of the fact that if it weren't for the women of South Vietnam the whole damn place would have gone to hell in a hand basket long ago. The mama-san, aged and bent, but by no means broken, was a living testament to their courage and durability. "Thank you for the beer, Ma'am," he said.
She bowed, knowing her secret was secure.
Manion headed in the direction of the truck, the little boy quickly scampering by his side. "Where did you learn to speak English?" John asked.
"From all GI. I be interpreter."
"Why an interpreter?"
"Because when Charlie win war I show I speak good English. Go to college. Be rich like American. Buy grandmother and sister real house. BIG LAND!"
"Big land, huh? And what happens if Charlie doesn't win?"
"He win," assured the boy, fully confident of his statement. "America too nice. If VC had your plane and gun he use them. But he beat you with bamboo. Give him time. You see."
"Got it all figured out," Manion said. He hauled himself back inside the truck shaking his head.
"Sure do," said the kid. "And one more thing."
"American trust everybody. Charlie doesn't trust nobody."
"Anybody," said Manion, playfully correcting the budding entrepreneur's English.
"That what I said."
"I suppose it was."
A jeep full of soldiers, eager to spend their money, pulled up from behind and piled out.
"More customers," proclaimed the boy happily. He waved goodbye and ran to the jeep, yelling, "Hey, GI, you want short-time?"
"What was that all about?" Thompson asked, edging the truck back onto the road.
"You got me," admitted Manion.
Thompson took a swig of beer and cringed. "I'll never get used to this shit. You know it's got formaldehyde in it?"
"Well, the next time you offer to buy, remind me not to stop."
"Hell, I paid for it, didn't I? Quit your bitching."
"My dying ass," retorted Thompson. "I'm the one who gave that little shithead fifty cents."
Sergeant Manion looked out the window and laughed. "Yep, real smart kid."
* * *
"That's it," Manion said, pointing to a long gray Quonset hut. He read the sign, "Out Processing," and smiled. "Those sure are sweet words."
"You got that right," agreed Thompson.
"Drop me off where those guys are standing," said John, pointing to a group of soldiers milling about.
Thompson nodded, winding the truck through the maze of soldiers. "Here you are," he said, stopping in front of the out-processing building.
Before Manion climbed down he looked at Thompson, then shook his hand. "Take it easy, Eddie. And remember, when you get back in the bush, keep your head down."
"You won't forget to call my mom and dad when you get home, will you?"
"No sweat GI," assured Manion. "Telephone number's in my wallet." He got out of the truck, went around to the rear, retrieved his duffel bag, then walked back to where Eddie was sitting.
"If you'd tell them there's nothing to worry about, I'd appreciate it," said Thompson.
"I'll do that," Manion promised, slamming the passenger door closed. He started to walk away when something prompted him to turn around. When he did, he saw PFC Eddie Thompson staring back at him. He was struck by how young the boy looked, almost as if he were a small child sitting behind the steering wheel pretending to be old enough to drive. Manion smiled one last time and waved. Thompson ground the truck into first gear and roared off.
"How do I get out of here?" asked Manion, facing one of the soldiers.
"Step inside and yell, SHORT! They'll take care of you," said a man with a thick southern drawl. "Then all you have to do is hurry up and wait."
"Take very long?"
"About eight hours but we just got our orders and we've been manifested for the next flight out. We are what you'd call mighty short."
"Hell, I'm so short I got to look down to see up," proclaimed another trooper nearby. They all laughed.
Manion thanked them, wished them good luck and stepped inside.
* * *
"Are you coming or going?" asked a gruff-voiced master sergeant, sweat rippling off his frowning forehead.
"Going," Manion said.
"Get a lot of guys who can't read the sign," snorted the sergeant. "OK, give that man your orders and 201 file." He gestured to a young kid furiously hammering away at a typewriter, wind from a big fan behind him rippling the papers on his desk. "Then go to the finance section, change your MPCs and Ps into greenbacks. When you're done go outside and wait until your name is called. And don't go—I repeat—don't go walking all over the area. Nobody fucks up my program. You got that, trooper?"
Manion wondered why lifers, especially the ones in the rear, always tried to act like such hard-asses. "Yes, sergeant," he replied.
* * *
Back outside, Manion found the mood somewhat strange, almost festive, yet oddly subdued. Locating an empty bench, he sat down. Two soldiers were talking behind him.
"I can hardly wait," said one.
"Yeah, man," returned the other, "Stateside and round eyes."
"You got it," said the first GI, "and I bet they'll be playing, When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again."
Manion smiled inwardly. He was just as anxious to get back, see the cheering crowds, flags waving, arms clamoring to give a hug and a hearty welcome home.
The wind shifted, sending the stench of a shit-burning detail further putrefying the already foul, tepid air. Opening his duffel bag Manion pulled out a fifth of Jim Beam. He'd planned on saving it until boarding the plane but decided that a little taste wouldn't do any harm. He drank almost half the bottle, curled up with his duffel bag as a pillow and fell asleep.
* * *
The blaring loudspeaker pried Sergeant Manion back to reality. It seemed like he had drifted off only a short while, but in fact had been out for nearly five hours. The 18:00 manifest was in full swing. He pulled himself up, listening as names reeled off.
"SP4 Chavez, Larry Avila, SP5 Abbott, Ronald." The list went on and on but his name wasn't called. Every once in a while a soldier would let out a whoop when his name came up. Manion waited and listened. "Staff Sergeant Montgomery, Oscar."
"Oscar Montgomery," repeated Manion in disbelief. He started to scan the sea of unfamiliar faces.
Soldiers were gathering at the out-processing window to receive their DD 201 files and the long-awaited orders sending them back to CONUS. Manion didn't see anyone he knew.
The whole place was now a mass of semi-controlled confusion as returning soldiers crowded the window to secure their papers and load their belongings onto the waiting buses that would take them to the airfield.
"SP4 Hernandez, Ricardo, Sergeant Manion, Jonathan," continued the roll call. More names rattled off before it struck Manion that his name had been announced. He flipped his duffel bag closed, stuffed the whiskey bottle under his belt and tucked his shirt in. Readjusting his green beret he stood up and looked around once again.
"Hey, Manion, what's happening?" came a voice from behind. He turned to see Staff Sergeant Oscar Montgomery strolling toward him.
"Sarge!" yelled Manion, "I heard your name called. I was looking for you."
"I was in the latrine," said Montgomery with a broad smile. "Bad case of the GIs." They shook hands and laughed.
"We made it," said Montgomery.
"Almost," replied Manion.
"Uh, huh. Almost."
"Getting out?" Manion asked in disbelief.
"Think so," replied Montgomery, only half convinced that he had made the right decision to leave the Army.
"I ETS the day I get back," said Manion. "Let's sit together on the plane."
Without saying anything further they collected their 201 files and boarded the lead bus.
* * *
Riding out was eerily quiet, as if everyone was recalling all the things that had gone down during their tour of duty. For John Manion, the war had been a kaleidoscope of unrelated events, totally confusing, yet still oddly interwoven into his very being. He didn't have an inkling as to how much he had changed.
After being wounded during the Tet Offensive, he had been evacuated to Tripler Hospital in Hawaii. When sufficiently recovered, he was informed that he would be sent to Fort MacArthur, about 10 miles from where his mother was living in Torrance, California. Not wanting to serve Stateside duty while the war was still going on, John had requested for his third extension in Vietnam.
He had been assigned a position at Headquarters Company with the Staff Judge Advocate, a job he soon grew to despise. It was in the rear that Manion had gotten a view of the war from a totally different perspective, and what he saw disgusted him to the point of not even considering re-enlistment. He slowly began to alter his plans as he observed first hand the graft and corruption so prevalent in the rear echelon.
Manion received the Purple Heart, CIB, and VN Jump Wings for what he did in the field and the Army Commendation Medal for the job performed at Headquarters. But what he had done was miniscule compared to his friend sitting next to him.
Staff Sergeant Oscar Montgomery had over 40 missions, some of which entailed going "over the fence" into Laos and Cambodia. Besides being an explosives expert he was also well versed in light weapons and better than average in martial arts.
As with most heroes, they just happen to be in the right place at the wrong time and either rise to the occasion or don't. Montgomery had risen.
Having just completed an eight-day mission into Laos he was taking a short rest before returning to his unit when the first barrage of mortars hit the Special Forces Command and Control Detachment on the outskirts of Da Nang. Montgomery instinctively grabbed his weapon and ran outside to assess the damage. The officer's barracks had taken a direct hit and was on fire. There were close to 30 Americans and ARVN troops in the compound when everything came down, but the element of surprise had worked against them.
Montgomery, assuming command, set up a perimeter of defense and started concentrated fire at the advancing NVA who were staging a simultaneous three-pronged attack. He directed machine gun and mortar fire on the ground, calling in artillery from a dead radioman's equipment pack.
Excerpted from LAND by LAWRENCE KLEPINGER. Copyright © 2013 Lawrence Klepinger. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.