Rain poured down from the heavens and bounced off the tanks that rolled through the thick vegetation of the Vietnamese Jungle. Private Allen Ripley stopped in mid-stride and looked up at the sky, as he adjusted his helmet and lowered his M16. He swallowed past a lump forming in his throat as he looked around at the trees and bushes, one of his fellow soldiers walked up and clasped a hand on his shoulder.
"Hey, I wouldn't lower that thing if I were you. Never know when one of those Cong soldiers'll come up and shoot ya right in the back of the head." he said, making what looked like a gun symbol with his hand and putting it up against Allen's head. The Private nodded and returned his gun to its normal position. "So, which base are ya from?"
"Fort Rucker in Alabama." Allen replied. "You?"
"Fort Stewart, Georgia. Name's Mack Kemp. Private First Class." he said, extending a hand. Allen took it.
"I'm Allen Ripley. I'm just a Private." he said, with a slight shrug. Suddenly, about a mile away from Allen and Mack's position, an explosion erupted, sending part of the convoy scattering for cover. A group of about 10 or 12 Vietcong seemed to materialize out of nowhere through the confusion. Orders were shouted from both sides as bullets flew past the heads of both U.S. Army men and Vietcong troops.
"Shit! How'd those sneaky bastards get a mine over here?!" Mack shouted, pulling the trigger of his M16 and blowing the head off of one of his enemies. Allen could only stand and watch as the fighting continued. "Watch out!" Mack yelled, snapping Allen out of his trance. The next thing the Private felt was the burning pain of two bullets ripping through the calf and knee of his right leg. He screamed in pain as he fell onto his side, grabbing his wounded leg. He could hear the bullets whizzing past him as he was pulled out of the way by...someone. He looked up. Mack? Was it Mack? He couldn't tell...his vision was going dark.
Then Allen Ripley woke up with a start, flinging his bed sheets off of him and gasping for air. He coughed into his fist as he touched the stump of his right leg. With a sigh he fell back onto the bed rubbing his eyes before sitting back up slowly and turning so that his left leg hung off the side of his bed, grabbing the crutches that rested against the wall next to him. He pulled himself up and got dressed like he always did, before walking out of the small one room apartment.
Walking down the street always brought the same question to his mind. "What ever happened to Mack Kemp?" he whispered to himself, looking over at the park where he'd found himself living only 2 years before, after coming home from Vietnam. "Hmm...that was some welcome. All those protesters yelling and being angry at something that I was drafted into. The way they were carrying on, you'd think it was my fault that the war started." he muttered rather bitterly,
walking a little faster. He stopped to clear his head as the heat of the day started to surround him and he closed his eyes.
Allen woke up to the smell of sweat and blood after a few hours of unconsciousness. Blinking dizzily, he lifted his head slowly and looked around. He was on an old bed and he was surrounded by other beds full of soldiers like himself. Letting his head drop, he tried to remember why he was there. What had happened out there that was bad enough to get him into the hospital...then his eyes shot open. He'd been shot! Sitting up quickly, he ripped the sheets off and groped around. Where he had once had a perfectly functional right leg, there was now only a stump. He felt a cold sweat break out on his body.
"The bullets did more damage than we thought they had." someone said. Looking up, Allen saw a surgeon standing next to him, watching the Private as he gently touched the bandaged nub. "You're actually very lucky. You're one of the few who get to keep most of your limbs. See that man over there?" the doctor said, nodding over to a man on the other side of the tent. Allen looked over at him and nodded. "He's lost both his legs, an eye and both of his lungs collapsed. It's a miracle he's still around, but he is. Count yourself lucky." he told Allen, patting him on the shoulder as he started to walk off. Allen grabbed the end of his sleeve before he got too far.
"Wait. What...What about the guy who saved me? Where is he? Who was it?" he asked, swallowing as he tried to moisten his throat. "Was it Mack?"
"The man who saved you? I'm not sure. Whoever did might still be in combat."
"Then who brought me in?" he asked desperately.
"The medical staff. You were brought here by helicopter like everybody. And none of the pilots or anyone who was there said anything about a rescuer. Just calm down. In a few weeks, you'll be back in the U.S. with a heroes welcome." the doctor said, taking his hand and loosening the grip Allen had on his sleeve.
Allen woke from his daydream and blinked at the brightness of the day before continuing his walk. "Heroes welcome my ass." he said, passing a few homeless men on the street. One had a scraggily, dirty beard and one arm, and the other was staring down into his lap.
"Hey buddy." one of them said. Allen stopped and looked over at him. "You were in Vietnam, right? When did you get there?"
"Around the middle of April 1967." he replied, turning and walking over to them.
"Oh, three years ago, huh? How'd ya get out?" he asked, scratching his scraggily beard. Allen looked down at his leg and pointed. The homeless man nodded. "Ah, I see. When'd ya get out?"
"Two years ago. About four weeks after I lost my leg." he replied.
"I see. Goin' back?" he asked, scratching his beard again. Allen blinked at him.
"Am I going back to Vietnam? Hell no! Are you kidding me? Why would I want to go back?" he said. "Why? Were you two there?"
"Were we there? Yeah! We came back around the middle of last year. Right Mack?" he said, nudging the man in the ribs next to him with his elbow. The man looked up and nodded.
"Mack? You mean...Mack Kemp?" Allen said, walking closer to the two.
"Yup, this's Mack and I'm Jim Campbell." he said, showing Allen his toothless grin. Allen walked closer to the two, so that he was standing right in front of Mack.
"Mack... do you remember me? It's Allen Ripley. The Private from Fort Rucker. We met right before our convoy was attacked by those VC soldiers." Allen said. Mack looked up at him and Jim looked over at Allen.
"Don't bother talking to him. He won't answer you." he said, patting Mack on the back.
"Why not?" Jim looked over at Allen again.
"Because that's one of the reasons he got to leave. Ya see, we were in the same unit, so when we went to start looking for Vietcong hideouts and the civilians who were helping them, we were both pretty stressed. After we burnt down a few huts, Mack over here went sort of looney, so they took him out of service." Jim said in a matter-of-fact tone.
"He went crazy because you two burned a few huts?"
"Well, ya see, it wasn't just that. It was probably because we've both seen so much devastation over there, with all the ambushes and everything. When did ya say you meet Mack?"
"A few minutes before we were ambushed." Allen replied, adjusting his crutches so that he was more comfortable. "Why were you taken out of the service? You don't seem crazy."
"Well, I didn't go the way Mack did. See?" Jim said, lifting the stub of his arm. " Well anyway, you knew him before he started cracking. I met him right after you guys were ambushed. We were the back up." he scratched at his beard again. "So, where the hell were you going anyway?"
"Oh, I'm going to an anti-war rally. You guys should come too. You could help get the whole peace message across. There are a few people who served in Vietnam who are rallying with us." Jim thought for a bit.
"Nah. If Nixon won't pull the troops outta the war seeing all the devastation that's been caused already, then a few thousand protesters and some veterans won't persuade him to stop the freakin' war anytime soon. Guaranteed." Jim said, placing his index finger on his chin like an intellectual. Allen nodded.
"Oh... alright then. Guess I'll see you guys later then." he said, turning and adjusting his crutches before continuing his walk towards the Anti-War Rally. "So that's what happened to Mack...and Jim too.." he muttered to himself, stopping and turning his head to look at Jim and Mack. Jim grinned over at him and waved while Mack looked at him. Allen waved back at Jim and stared at Mack for a bit longer before walking off. Jim sighed.
"Allen Ripley huh... nice guy. Too bad about his leg though, huh Mack?" he said, nudging his friend with his elbow before scratching at his chin once more and leaning against the building. Mack stared as Allen walked off.
"...Yeah... too bad."