In the increasingly divided Juliet Company, racial tensions are running high and morale is at an all-time low. Combat readiness seems tenuous. Captain Jim Hollister’s first order of business is to bring his company back into fighting shape. To survive hot LZs, sleepless nights, and a tireless enemy, the men of Juliet Company have to train hard and then fight harder—and watch out for their brothers in arms.
New commander Captain Jim Hollister makes extreme demands on his Rangers to enhance their combat expertise and survivability through rigorous training and preparations for each operation. As the US begins its withdrawal of troops, Hollister and his men are entrusted with gathering the critical intelligence needed to save American lives while attempting to eliminate or capture as many enemy soldiers as they can with their small teams of Rangers.
From infiltration patrols into Viet Cong camps deep in Cambodia to critical oversight by a chain of command without much understanding of ranger patrol techniques, Hollister even has to protect his men from higher headquarters. The operations he oversees reveal the physical and psychological wounds of a war that can never be forgotten.
Take Back the Night is the searing final chapter in Dennis Foley’s acclaimed Jim Hollister Trilogy.
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Take Back the Night
A Novel of Vietnam
By Dennis Foley
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 Dennis Foley
All rights reserved.
The worn bearing inside the left hub on the wheelchair squeaked. At the top of each revolution, the chair crossed over a floor joist under the covered ramps connecting the hospital wards.
Hollister first became aware of the precise placement of the aged joists the night he was admitted to Letterman Army Hospital. They sent him there after six weeks in a hospital in Vietnam, five more in Guam, and a long medevac flight to San Francisco.
Each time they wheeled him from one ward to another—and to and from the operating room—he heard the hollows, then the joists, then the hollows again. That and the smells of disinfectant and hospital alcohol formed his mental picture of what the hospital looked like. He wondered if he would still notice the sounds when the bandages came off his eyes. Or if he would even care.
A medic pushed him through the swinging doors, into the conference room, spun his chair, and set the brakes.
"Thank you, young man," a voice said to the medic. "We'll call you when we're finished. You can go now."
Someone in the room reeked of Aqua Velva.
"Captain Hollister, I'm Colonel Nickerson."
Hollister could only imagine what he looked like. He wouldn't be surprised to find the man to be balding, thick around the middle, and void of even the slightest evidence of combat experience on his uniform.
"Yes, sir," Hollister said.
"With me—here in the room—are Specialist Peterson, who will be recording our words, and Captain Sharpe from the Staff Judge Advocate's office."
Hollister didn't respond. He just listened to the soft pressure of Peterson's fingers against the plastic keys on the court recorder's transcriber.
"I have been appointed as the Article 32b investigating officer in the matters and events surrounding the actions of Brigadier General Jarrold T. Valentine on or about 11 June, last.
"Before we begin it is my duty to inform you of your rights under the Uniform Code of Military Justice."
Hollister tried to listen as the uncomfortable colonel stumbled over the words from the red book that explained his rights before being questioned. But all Hollister could hear was the sound of the keys on the recorder's machine.
He thought of how many times he had read the same words to soldiers facing courts-martial and nonjudicial punishment. He didn't need to hear them again.
"I know my rights. What is it you want to know, Colonel?"
The headlights of Hollister's car splashed onto the curb stop next to the large Fort Benning cinder-block building that housed Charlie Company. The concrete stop had been hand-lettered in Fort Benning's trademark blue paint. It read: COMMANDING OFFICER HONOR GUARD COMPANY.
"Sir—let me help you with that stuff," said a soldier's voice from the dark.
Hollister recognized Private First Class Lewis, his driver. "Mornin', Lewis. No problem. I got it," Hollister said. He hung the coat hangers through his upturned fingers and grabbed his boots with his free hand. He nudged his car door closed with his knee, and the two walked up the sidewalk to the yellow pool thrown by the bug-repelling fire light over the double doors.
"You takin' a burial detail out, sir?" Lewis asked as they stepped onto the gleaming surface of the brown-speckled asphalt tile in the hallway outside Hollister's office.
"Yeah, I think we've got one that needs a little mothering."
In the orderly room, the first sergeant and the company clerk snapped to attention. They gave Hollister his customary first salute of the day.
"Good mornin', Cap'n," First Sergeant Perry Mann said. Not waiting for a returned salute, he followed Hollister into his office.
"Mornin', Top. How bad is it today?"
Mann handed Hollister a list on a clipboard. "No better, no worse than yesterday or the day before. For my money—they're all only a bit better than a sharp stick in the eye."
Hollister hooked his uniform on the coatrack and set his parade boots on top of his desk. He took the list and scanned it. "I never thought there were shittier jobs in the States than in Vietnam, but this is no goddamn contest."
The page contained the destinations of five burial details and the names of the NCOs and officers in charge.
"I'm happy to say that your ol' first sergeant here has to go to a meeting with the brigade command sergeant major. I'm much happier facin' that old bear then goin' with you to bury another fine American boy."
Hollister looked up from the page to see Mann walking back to his desk in the outer office. It struck Hollister that Mann, a black soldier with two wars under his belt and twenty-six years of service stripes on his sleeve, would use the word boy without it registering on him as a word offensive to the blacks demonstrating in the streets for greater civil rights.
Hollister pulled his chair away from his desk and became conscious of the pain in his head and his hip. He knew the throbbing in his head would go away before the morning was over, but the burning in his hip, from a wound he picked up in a chopper crash in Vietnam, would only get worse as the day went on. He pulled the center drawer of his desk open a few inches and let his fingers search for a small tin.
Inside it was a handful of aspirin. He threw three into his mouth and swallowed them, dry. "Well, First Sergeant, I'd rather be beaten with a pipe than do this one more time. I don't know what ties my gut up tighter—getting shot at or trying to console a mother at another military funeral," Hollister said to an unseen Mann in the outer office.
"You can heal from a bullet wound."
Hollister nodded in agreement, unlaced his boots, and slipped out of them.
He took off his fatigues and hung them in his closet. He then pulled his service cap off the shelf and inspected the large officer's eagle and the condition of the spit shine on the black leather visor. He blew on the visor to scatter any unseen dust.
Satisfied, he put the hat back and pulled his trousers out from under his blouse and stepped into the legs without creasing them.
He sat down with his fly open, allowing him to bend enough to put on his fresh set of boots without wrinkling his trousers.
The peach-colored glow on the horizon promised a clear day. Hollister put his coffee cup down and headed out of the mess hall to the adjacent parking lot.
"'Tench-hut!" a voice yelled in the poorly lit concrete apron, designed for trucks to unload foodstuffs.
"As you were," Hollister replied, allowing the five fifteen-man burial details to finish last-minute preparations.
Lieutenant Sandy Garland slipped to a point in front of the assembled details and saluted. "Mornin', sir."
Hollister returned the salute. "We on time?"
"Yes, sir." Garland fell in step with Hollister and followed him to the start of the first rank.
The NCO in charge of the first burial detail called his men to attention. "Sir, detail ready for inspection," he said, looking straight ahead.
Hollister returned the sergeant's salute and began his inspection at the soldier's headgear.
The sergeant, a boy no more than twenty, wore his uniform proudly. He demonstrated how seriously he took his duties by the attention he'd paid to every little detail. His metal insignia gleamed. His blouse and trousers were perfectly pressed. Nowhere on his uniform was there so much as a loose thread or a worn item.
Hollister looked down. The soldier's boots gleamed from hours of spit shining. "Outstanding, Sergeant Elliott. Follow me. Let's see how your folks look."
Elliott stepped into place to the left of Lieutenant Garland and followed the two officers.
It was Hollister's policy that every funeral detail would be inspected as if it were the most important thing they would do all year. At first, the troops in C Company thought it was just chicken-shit, but they quickly realized it was Hollister's way of showing respect to the soldiers they would bury. Every man in C Company knew the fastest way to get on the wrong side of James Hollister was to take one of the burials lightly.
Hollister moved down the line, found two ties that needed attention and one insignia with polishing cloth lint stuck to it.
The other four details were in about the same shape. While Hollister would consider them a shade below the standards he had mastered while going through the Seventh Army Noncommissioned Officers' Academy in Bad Tolz, Germany, almost six years earlier—they were perfect by contemporary standards. Almost every man in his company had been to Vietnam and was serving out his remaining months of service at Fort Benning. Even the least motivated among them was better than most of the others at Fort Benning.
"They look good, Sandy," Hollister said. "Have they eaten yet?"
"Yes, sir, those that wanted to."
"All right, let 'em grab a smoke, and then let's get 'em on the road.
"I'll be going with Sergeant Elliott's detail."
"Where to, sir?"
"Calumet—on the road to Savannah."
"I'm headed for Mobile."
"Okay then, have the mess hall put some coffee on your bus. You got a long ride. And you'll let me know if you run into trouble in Mobile?"
"Yes, sir. But how much trouble can I get into in Mobile?"
They both looked at each other, knowing almost anything could go badly on a funeral detail.
Back at his desk, Hollister unfastened the four large brass buttons on his blouse to avoid creasing it. First Sergeant Mann handed him more papers to sign, flipping the pages and pointing at the signature blocks for him to initial or sign. While speaking to Hollister, he still carried on the business of running the headquarters by firing off instructions to the company clerk who was relaying phone calls and trying to organize the sick call roster for three soldiers headed to the medics.
"What the fuck's their problem?" Mann asked.
"Got one with swollen tonsils, one with a twisted ankle from PT this morning, and the other one says it's personal," the clerk typist said.
"Personal? Personal my fucking ass! Get that sick, lame, and lazy som'bitch in here. I'll tell him what personal is." He then turned his attention back to Hollister and changed his tone. "Ah, sir, that needs to be dated the day before yesterday—in your handwriting."
Hollister knew they were late submitting the document and hated fudging dates, but he also knew it was absolutely impossible for an infantry company commander to accomplish all of the duties assigned to him, counsel all the soldiers he was required to counsel, read all he had to read, write all he had to write, and make all the suspense dates that were on his back. He wrinkled his brow and looked at Mann. "So, what was the date, the day before yesterday?"
"February thirteenth, sir," Mann replied. "Far too late for you to do your Christmas shopping."
Hollister looked back up at Mann. "You really know how to remind a guy when he is backed up, Top."
Mann smiled broadly. "For us folks, every day's a picnic. Hell, we get three squares a day, spiffy uniforms, and high-top corrective shoes. Yes, sir, Captain, every day's a holiday, and every meal's a banquet."
A soldier appeared in the doorway in front of the first sergeant's desk. "Private First Class Rameriz, reporting to the first sergeant."
Mann looked up from the paperwork and hollered out into his office, "Stay right fucking there, you sorry excuse for an infantry fighting machine." He then dropped his tone again. "'Scuse me a minute, sir, while I take care'a this boy."
Mann straightened up and pushed his chest out before stepping back into his own office. Hollister raised his pen and watched Mann work.
"Boy! It is my understanding you have a problem that you want to take to the medics but you can't share it with your own first sergeant. Is that right?"
The private looked nervously around the office and then back to the first sergeant. "Yes, Top. It's sorta personal."
Hollister watched the expression on Mann's face turn from mock surprise to mock anger. He had spent so much of his life around soldiers like Mann. Soldiers who had it down pat, were solid, predictable, and reliable to a fault.
"Sorta personal?" Mann bellowed.
"Yes, First Sergeant. I don't have to tell everyone, do I?"
Sergeant Mann leaned forward. "No, mister, you don't have to tell everyone your problem. You just have to tell your kind, old first sergeant."
"I don't wanna be disrespectful. But how does it help things if you know, Top?"
"You think that I'm not concerned about your welfare, young soldier? Don't you think it's important for me to know if you have a problem that might affect the others?"
"Yes, First Sergeant, I'm sure you're plenty concerned, but—"
"You got yourself a sneezin' peter, don't you now, boy?"
The soldier tried to absorb the question and reply, but Mann interrupted him again. "It's much the same as if you had yourself leprosy or food poisonin' or something. I'd have to make sure the other troops don't get into the same mess. Now tell me, did you go on over to Phenix City and get yourself some of that rotten civilian poontang?"
"No, First Sergeant. I don't have the clap or nothin' like that."
"Well, what the hell is your problem?"
"I got them hemorrhoids, Top."
"Piles? You have piles ?" Mann asked, his eyes bulging.
The soldier dropped his voice and mumbled, "Yes, First Sergeant."
"Hell, boy. That's an infantryman's occupational hazard," Mann said as he stepped closer to the soldier and patted him on the back. "Means that you are doin' the hard work, lifting the big loads, making the morning PT runs, and soldiering through it all.
"Now you don't need no sick call, and I don't need to send you over to waste the time of some important doctor. You just get yourself up to your latrine and fill the mop sink with all the hot water you can stand. Then you drop your trousers and soak your ass."
Mann looked at his GI wristwatch. "You got twenty minutes, boy. Now get to it."
All fifteen of them stood, holding on to the overhead handrail in the small bus. No one in the honor guard sat down on the way to a funeral. To do so would guarantee a wrinkled uniform.
The rural Georgia countryside flew by the bus windows. Some on board talked about girls and cars. Hollister gazed out the windows, not really seeing anything—thinking about his wife, Susan.
"Kudzu," Sergeant Elliott said.
"Never seen anyplace that had as much of this stuff as Georgia. Look. Look there, sir," Elliott said. "It's eating up that telephone pole."
It was completely covered with the native vine. Hollister chuckled. "I remember Ranger School. I've walked through, slept in, and untangled enough kudzu to cover two states."
"Bet you don't miss that."
Hollister paused. "Actually, I kind of feel like I'm ghosting here in C Company. We pull so little field duty, we ought to be backing up to the pay table."
"I'd say that's lucky. At least we're back from Vietnam. I haven't even been back long enough to get completely unpacked. 'S gonna take me a while to get used to all the comforts of home."
"You like being back, huh?"
"Like it? Sir, how long since you been back here?"
Hollister thought for a few seconds. "Goin' on a year now."
"It's bad, sir. I don't mean the combat V stuff. I mean the other shit ..."
"Like them starting to pull the troops out."
"That's not good?"
"It's good for them goin' home. It's real bad for them still there. Everybody's spooked. Nobody wants to be the last American wasted over there. And the drugs and the race shit."
A black soldier standing next to Hollister and Elliott, a combat veteran himself, heard the comment "I hear that shit, man. Nobody needs it—nobody."
"What do you think we should do?" Hollister asked Elliott.
"We either got to do the job and get it done or pack up and get out in a New York minute. This drawdown and Vietnamization shit is bad news."
Hollister let Elliott's words sink in. He had always found the line soldier's take on things to be somewhat exaggerated or oversimplified, but almost always solidly based in the reality that the soldiers felt. They never came up short of opinions when asked. "Well, maybe we can still come out of there having done some good."
"Not as I can see, sir."
Hollister flipped the pages in his small army-green notebook and refreshed his memory—the name of the deceased, next of kin, and the name of the church. He didn't want anyone at the funeral or the cemetery seeing him checking his notes. He wanted them to think that he was almost as familiar with the key names at the funeral as the family was. But he knew better. He had been to almost seventy-five such funerals since he had assumed command of C Company, and every one tugged at his heart and his gut. He knew Sands, George A, E-5, 4th Infantry Division, Vietnam, wasn't going to be any easier to bury than the others had been.
Excerpted from Take Back the Night by Dennis Foley. Copyright © 1996 Dennis Foley. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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