Gabriel Sauers of Two Squad is a soldier, newly arrived in Vietnam--a country too beautiful to invite so savagely unreal a war. But Gabriel won't be a New Guy for long. He'll go through incoming mortars, he'll see the enemy alive. He'll wander through a hell that will turn the green recruit lucky enough to survive into a death-hardened veteran, longing for nothing more than a return to the world of hot baths and cold beer, no bullets, and no noise. Now, 40
years later, he is grappling with an action on the verge of his grandson
Seth's deployment to Iraq that will change both their lives forever.
Critics Praise Don Bodey's F.N.G
"One of the most hard-hitting of all the vietnam novels" -- The Boston Herald
"A powerful social document and a well-written, deeply moving first novel...highly recommended" --The Library Journal
"Raw, profane...a candidly moving portrayal of the average American soldier in Vietnam, who often found courage when he did not seek it--but little of anything else." --Chicago Sun-Times
"The day to day grind, beautifully and touchingly rendered by...a Vietnam veteran, is told with an unrelenting accumulation of detail." --The New York Times Book Review
"Bodey packs considerable emotional freight...into a style that remains deliberately supple, cool, and declarative...An impressive novel." --The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"A harrowing vividly written account of hell with a leavening of light moments. A revelation for one who wasn't there. Painful for those who were." -Bob Mason, author of CHICKENHAWK
"All Quiet on the Western Front drives its readers to the front of World War
I. F.N.G helicopters its readers to a new front: Vietnam." -Bestsellers
More info at www.DonBodey.com
The Reflections of History Series from Modern History Press www.ModernHistoryPress.com
(an Imprint of Loving Healing Press)
|Publisher:||Loving Healing Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.59(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"I can forgive, but if you ask me to forget, you ask me to give up experience."
— Louis Brandeis
Flakes, snow saucers, amble down, like they have a mind and don't want to land. In the streetlight a hundred feet away they float like birds bobbing in small waves. But here, in the forty-watt garage light, they dither in dizzy scribbles, ten feet off the ground. Some hit the old dog's nose and some her filmed-over eyes, but she lies there and looks up as though she isn't missing a thing.
When I say her name, she raises her head and a few flakes coast onto her yellow brows.
Jesus, Seth could be in Iraq in a week.
Except, I'm going to give him a million-dollar wound. I don't want him to come back like I came back from Nam.
The refrigerator whines and the old-water smell of this place passes through the door I'm standing in. The snowfall is thinner. Mary's bathroom light stabs the darkness, a train whistles two miles away, a weak god blowing on a bottle. In Nam, when they asked me what I missed about home, I said a train whistle.
The sparkle of the TV turns nearby snowflakes purple and green for an instant, the dog turns her nose that way. How many times have Seth and I sat in the woods together, watching it snow? I lean against the doorjamb, watch, and rub the silver dollar in my pocket. The markings are all gone, it's thin. My dad was hoeing a potato field, seventy years ago, and got bit by a coral snake but didn't die, so the man told him he earned a whole dollar that day. He carried it forty years and gave it to me when I went to Vietnam. I flipped it for body-bag duty, sucked on it in fear, kept it in my boot for 400 days, and in my pocket ever since.
The transformer in the alley hums with a different tone through the flakes. Someone in the neighborhood is burning plastic. Mary's TV sends game show laughter out here. Everything I see or hear seems bad.
Everything depends on the hunt. I remember telling him about killing animals, explaining the reasons: him as tall as a fencepost when we packed cheese, crackers, radishes, and sat until he had a shot. Little female squirrel the color of dead leaves, in a limb crotch. The sun had broken through and he was asleep against me, gun beside him, cracker crumbs on his cheeks. Woke him up and pointed and he's ready. She tumbled and never moved. He held her by the tail all the way home. Mary cooked it for breakfast.
Taught him to shoot same way my dad taught me. Put a silver dollar on a fence post and use a rifle. He never hit it, but he learned to breathe and squeeze the trigger. They don't tell you that in Boot camp; they tell you to kill. They were right about that.
When the dog raises up and moves I know she hears Seth's car. I get my cane down and we meet in the driveway. Bigger and stronger than I've ever been, a smile that eats half his face. He picks the dog up like a pillow and her long yellow tail sweeps the air, her tongue searches for his chin. He lays the dog on the car's hood, sweeps the 'phones off his head.
"She lose weight again?"
"Must be down to eighty pounds."
"Getting ready for work. We still hunting?"
"Can't wait." Buries his face in the dog's stomach, lifts her to the ground.
Being in this garage is safe. A thousand nights in this chair, its broken spring pressed against my back. Seth'll be waking up in an hour, daylight another ninety minutes, and the hunt is on. What do I say? I'm going to shoot him for my own sake, but how do I explain that?
Electric heater like orange teeth, sound of buzzing flies. Enough warmth for my feet. Agent Orange. Millions of gallons into the jungles to eat away their hiding places. Then it got into the rivers we drank out of, into us, and after years began to eat us from the inside. Some guys' liver, stomach, prostrate gland. Mine, so now I wear a diaper.
Throw-rugs on the clothesline wave beyond the dog. Her head is tucked onto her forelegs and she lies there burbling. Each breath flaps the skin of her lips, a burble. I wonder what color prison diapers are? When I breathe and squeeze this trigger the bitterness will leave me as, sure as a round leaves a barrel. Forty years of regret in one shot. Emancipation, I'm sure of it.
Trembling a little, and when I get up to walk it off she turns towards me, flips her pancake ears up, quits burbling. A mouse dashes under the lawn mower, starts her nostrils twitching, she shifts her weight, rolling marble eyes.
There is a connection to ritual through guns. Dad and I had our rituals, Nam was full of them, all connected to guns. I was never away from my rifle, knew its serial number, trusted it, depended on it, guarded it. Seth and I have ours too. I didn't touch a gun for twenty years, until he was old enough to hunt. Then I wanted to kill something, or at least to shoot again.
The bathroom light goes off.
I carry my dad's Savage automatic, and when I pick it up, it's like shaking his hand. We hunted a lot when I was young. Never after Nam. It's weight makes me feel like he's here. I break all the rules and all the laws because it's been loaded for forty years. At times I've thought of swallowing its load, but today I feel just the opposite, I have plans for it.
I rack a set of rounds through it and they bounce off the concrete with a doink, bring her ears up like gallery targets. Its mechanism is loose and loud, but there's no slop to it. I load Seth's pump and run a set through it too. Tight and quiet, like a new M-16. Sometimes in Nam I wondered who carried mine before I did. There's a grip in that plastic stock that says it's been held, something psychic that says hello! You never get away from your gun, so when you come back to the World you feel its absence, and you still think you're going to get killed. What is that? Cowardice?
I don't hear him, but she does. Her head jerks towards the house, then her tail wags once, yellow Spanish moss. He's barefooted, carrying his boots, like there is no snow. Piano key smile, ruffled hair, he stands in the doorway and pushes his feet under the dog's belly "Here."
He catches it in his boot, dumps it on the dog's back.
"What? Why give it to me?" he says, pulling on a boot.
"In case you need it."
"You need," I say, and look at him quick, "to give it back to me someday."
"If I lose it over there?"
"Even if you don't go."
We load the gear, are hardly a mile away when he falls asleep against the window. The road is icing up. The snow, now fine and wet, and the ample moonlight, his rhythmic snoring, this smell of dog in the truck seat, it all seems like part of the ritual. We ride like that for twenty miles. I'll tell him at breakfast: You get back and know going was the wrong thing for you to do.
"Did you kill anybody? He leans his elbows on his knees, his forehead on the dash. "I mean, you know, dust 'em?"
He sounds like a boy and all of a sudden I'm calm. I'll hurt him a little bit and he'll be better for it.
"How much of the truth do you want?" It just comes out. "I tried to." I raise one finger, "And they tried to kill me. I didn't go over there to kill somebody. Maybe that's what's wrong."
We're at the restaurant. He bends to tie his boots. The parking lot is slushy and we lean into the wind. Inside is a bright box, a few tables of hunters. There's a din of talking, the overhead speakers, the dishes banging around, smell of dirty flannel and pancakes. He starts to sit down but I signal to give me that seat.
"Why?" he asks.
"I can see the door. I've got your back."
A chunky busboy begins cleaning the table behind him.
"Nam?" Seth raises his eyebrows. His lips look tight, he suddenly seems older.
"I guess. That's where it started. Anyway, we're going deer hunting."
"I want to know."
"It screwed me up."
"That's a long story."
The busboy moves to another table. He's a good-looking kid, maybe 15 years old. His mother runs the place. Our waitress is a woman as old as I am, who has never hurried in her life. Round face in a scowl, order book in her left hand and that elbow resting on the side of her stomach. She takes our order and goes through the kitchen door. Seth stretches out in the booth and blows smoke rings. My hand shakes when I fiddle a cigarette out. This is the time to talk to him.
"If I tell you about Nam, I have to start with being an F.N.G., when I was your age."
"Fucking New Guy. It's somebody who's never been shot at."
"That's me," he chuckles, "a fucking new guy."
"Well," I hold his eyes, "when I shoot at you out there today, you'll be done with that."
This place was originally a gas station. The front wall is big plate glass windows, and they are shaking in the wind now, snow coming hard, the faintest distinction of the horizon beyond the snow. Whenever the door opens there's a rush of cold that brings in some snow and blows napkins onto the checkerboard floor. Five guys at the other end of room are laughing, their orange hats like big fish bobbers. The busboy takes a mop to the tracked-in snow and he's smooth with it, like a dance. I'm waiting to see if Seth heard what I said. I get a smoke ring as big as a doughnut that we both follow until the heat draft scatters it.
"What's it like to get shot at?"
"Depends on whether you know it or not. Could be like hitting one of those homemade things in Iraq."
"Yeah. You'd live in constant fear of hitting one of those, if you went ..."
"Yeah." I act like I'm looking outside for the first time. "That wind is gonna cut us in two, you know?"
The whole room seems noisy when she comes with three plates on one arm, two saucers of toast in her other hand. The gravy sends up a plume of steam, my stomach rattles. This is part of our ritual, breakfast together.
If you go to Iraq, you take a chance on never being involved in love because nobody can love you if you don't love yourself. I'll tell him that after I shoot him. I'm shooting him for love, but I don't need to tell anybody.
My hands are shaking. I try twice before I can get the fork to my mouth. I breathe, look at him, wonder if he sees.
"How old were you when you went, Gramps?"
"Were you scared?"
"Sure. Are you?"
Since he was a baby, he's always been smiling, or ready to. But now the corners of his mouth are low. He glances at me, then lowers his face to meet his fork. It's odd, for him.
"How's your girl?"
"She's fine," he says. Still looks at his plate and chews. "She's scared too. She doesn't want me to go. She cries about it all the time."
His girlfriend for five years. I can see her round face, big eyes, perfect teeth, a scar the shape of a sickle by one eye.
Now the eastern sky over his shoulder has shifted color. The horizon is something like a TV screen the instant the set is switched off. Hunters from another table pull on jackets and leave, talking about who'll be sitting where. Their conversation fades. My thinking is loud.
"You don't have to go."
"You did," he says, real quick.
"That was a mistake I made. Most of my life since then has been tough because of that."
"I knew right from wrong when I was drafted. The Army changed all that–Basic Training, Infantry Training, they told me, everything my mom and dad taught was wrong. Told me, all day all night for five straight months."
Snow falls into the restaurant lights like a mass of dead moths. I want to get to the woods. I want to shoot him, so he can't go.
"Tell me about being over there, gramps."
"Hot. Rained all the time. Dirty."
He looks at me out the corner of his eye, gets into his jacket, drops a tip on the table.
We'll do the hunt. I'll shoot him coming out of the woods.
Ten miles to the woods, past barnyard lights, a dead buck beside the road, antlers in the air. Country music, heater fan whispers against the windshield. The horizon has begun to bleed gray, a line across the white fields like a moustache. Seth lights a cigarette, rides smoking with his window cracked. I can smell the gun oil from the back seat.
I wonder if the old farmer is awake.
The barn has a very small room in it, barely warmed by a kerosene heater we can smell when we pull open the door. He's there, waiting in a chair that looks like home to mice, beat-up faded fabric, it's missing most of one arm.
Wearing a dirty hat with a drawing of a tractor. There's a gap between two bottom teeth big enough to drive the tractor through. His whiskers are a week old. The hair growing in his ears is the color of smoke, but the rest of his hair is new snow. The two ratty coats over a pair of overalls look too new to be his.
"Seen 'em moving?"
"Not much, too warm to rut, I think. Who's this young fella?"
"My grandboy. He's been here before."
"I forgot. I forget everything but how to put my pants on, and mostly don't take them off at night anymore. Piss in a thunder jug like I did growing up." He smiles. "Saves my septic tank a little, wintertime. Lonesome, just me and my cats." Crusted face, think skin barely covering his long jawbones.
Walking towards the woods, the sky light is more than a line, less than a ribbon. No sound but our canvas pants legs and the crunch of boots on snow. He's just a silhouette, a guy walking with his gun ready.
I could shoot now. A twelve-gauge slug is the size of a roll of nickels, pure lead. If I get him in the leg somewhere it'll break the bone. The closer to the barn the better, but I can't let the old man see. I'll let him get ahead of me, halfway across this field, about where we are now. I'll trip, my gun will go off.
The first real color comes on a straight line through a break in the trees, pale blue. My dad was a big strong man but when I see that blue light I get the feeling that he's here, small, sitting in my lap. Like a cartoon where a guy's conscience is on his shoulder.
Seth and I have talked about how we watch the edge of daybreak spread along the ground. Red squirrels scurry, dance, chatter, bother the peace. A female cardinal moves through the tree tops, the coo of ground doves comes and goes like a mantra. Then, a doe and two fawns cross the creek. My heart races. She's big, the fawns are yearlings. If I shoot her they'll hang around awhile, then run away, on their own. She stands a moment, moves enough to put a tree between us, changes direction, stops. The snowflakes and the fawns' spots look about the same size. I tap my barrel on the stand and she's gone, short tail up, a white flag that the fawns follow up the hill.
Train whistle a mile away. The wind stings the tips of my ears, blows cold through my wet diaper. A few brown leaves lie on top of the snow, red squirrel trails scrawl dotted lines from stumps, downed limbs, burrows. I meet Seth's footprints a hundred yards from my tree: giant splotches, evenly spaced. Never leave perfect tracks again. He'll limp. If it's not a good shot, he might only leave one footprint.
He's sitting on a stump, orange hat puffed up on his head, gun leaning beside him. A hawk sails the wind at the tree line. The wind finds the hole between my hat and coat, makes my eyes water, bowls into my diaper, feels like my crotch is packed with snow. Agent Orange. I finger the trigger, check the safety. My hands are cold, legs shaky. I don't look at him. Fifty feet away I stop. He's looking at me but I don't look at him. I check my trigger housing, where I put my right thumb, the choke setting, the grain pattern in the stock. I feel the gun's weight, its shape.
Through one eye, through the sights, I see him smiling. Then he sits up straighter and his arm moves towards my gun. Left foot? Right? His trouser legs get fat above the camouflage boots. One is iced up, like a great big white earring. Target below, the end of his foot.
"What are you doing?"
"Million dollar wound. Hold still."
"Wait!" He gets up.
"Let me put my foot on the stump."
I let a breath out, glide the safety on. Then I switch it back.
"What?" I keep the gun up, but I look at him.
His face looks like it never had a smile. He points at me.
"I want to be the one to say I won't go."
He pulls the silver dollar out, flips it, catches it, repeats. I watch it turn in the air between us. I expect my dad to appear, to snatch it.
His scream comes from somewhere so deep there's no voice to it. From the air itself. I can't look at his foot, to see if I maimed him.
The impact blew it off the stump and the stump is between me and it. Blood coats the jagged top. Some splinters are siren red, blasted back. The snow looks like somebody flung red paint from a brush. He's screaming, trying to breathe so deep too, the scream gets broken into an echo. Arms crossed, he tries to get up from his waist, rolls from side to side on his shoulders, rocking. I throw myself across his arms and chest. He's swallowing his screams like a baby.
I work my way down his legs, still pinning him. Half his boot is blown away, the foot looks whole to the toes. Too much blood, but it isn't important.
I make a tourniquet, use my tracking arrow to wind it tight above the top of his boot. He's puking. I prop his head up; the silver dollar rolls into the puke on his chest, so I clean it in my mouth, then put it back between his chattering teeth.
Excerpted from "F.N.G."
Copyright © 2008 Donald Bodey.
Excerpted by permission of Loving Healing Press, Inc..
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.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 – Present Day,
Chapter 2 – Arrival,
Chapter 3 – Two Squad,
Chapter 4 – Bushwacky,
Chapter 5 – Jumping Off,
Chapter 6 – LZ Pansy,
Chapter 7 – Yes Sir, Yes Sir, Three Bags Full,
Chapter 8 – Point,
Chapter 9 – Baptism by Flare,
Chapter 10 – LZ Rain,
Chapter 11 – Peacock's Bird,
Chapter 12 – The Donut Holes,
Chapter 13 – The Yellow Brick Road,
Chapter 14 – Old Folks' Home,
Chapter 15 – D.E.R.O.S.,
About the Author,