Taz and Kodak

by Rick Beck

Chapter 10

Bring Them Back

Sgt. Jacoby had his map out. It looked old and weather beaten and faded from the sweat, heat, and humidity. He pointed at a spot and Washington, Hale, and the pilot from the aborted mission stood at his elbow.

The other helicopter pilots studied the position of the LZ and marked the closest LZ to that point. This would be where the squads would be set down in the jungle. They'd head south and west, marking the LZ that would allow runners to bring out messages to be sent back to base if they found something to report.

"This is it. I marked it before we came back. Can you get us in there?"

"I can get you in there. It's a big jungle. It's been awhile," the pilot said as a matter of fact. "Your boy Taz smart enough to stay put and wait?"

"No, he's not," Jacoby answered honestly. "He'll distance him self from Charlie if he can. But we left him and I'm going to bring him home. They couldn't have made it far. He's careful and they'll move slow."

"Too bad that camera guy picked that day to get out first," the pilot lamented. "I keep running that through my head. What made him do that?"

"Kodak," Hale objected. "He's on the job. He was determined to catch us doing our job. He's okay."

"I'll take your word for it, but if he hadn't gotten off, Taz would have gotten back on at the first sign of an ambush," the pilot assumed. "it's why we're here."

"Taz hadn't put down that fire and made Charlie put his head down, we'd still be in that LZ," Washington explained to the pilot.

"You may be right. I didn't think about that."

"Taz wouldn't get back on your helicopter so you could get it out of there. He gave himself up for us," Hale said. "Kodak being out there was Kodak doing business."

"War is never easy, gentlemen," Jacoby said. "It is what it is and now we're going to do what needs doing. I want 2nd squad put on the ground here, 3rd squad here, 4th squad here, we'll all move toward here," Sgt. Jacoby said, putting his pen down in the middle of where the four landing areas were. "That's a ten mile radius in all directions. Can your pilots get it done?"

"Sure," the two pilots agreed.

"It's a go then. Let's get moving," Sgt. Jacoby said.

There was universal agreement among 1st squad. The pilot who lost his chopper the day of the ambush wanted some kind of redemption. He'd made the decision to get the chopper into the air at Taz's signal. He didn't regret it but the outcome stuck in his craw. He wanted the men he left behind rescued as badly as Jacoby and his squad did.

Taz woke up slowly, listening for the rain. It wasn't the rain that alarmed him. Rolling over carefully he put his hand over Kodak's mouth.

Kodak's eyes flashed opened wide.

"Shhhh!" Taz whispered in his ear. "Vietnamese are right next to us."

Kodak had known he'd wake up to a better day, once he got enough to drink and caught up on his sleep. They'd gone from the frying pan into the fire and his heart pounded in his chest as the sound of Vietnamese came in a constant chatter.

Taz eased himself to a place where he could create a small opening in their shelter. There, ten feet away, were a dozen soldiers. Their AK-47s were leaning against any suitable surface as they chatted around several small fires that heated water and something that looked like small ceramic pots on small frames with fire licking at the bottom.

"I smell food," Kodak said.

"Yeah, well, there isn't anything I can do about it. They won't stay here all day. It's barely daylight," Taz explained.

"I'm hungry," Kodak complained.

"You want to surrender? They might feed us before they shoot us."

"Very funny," Kodak whispered, not remembering ever going three days without a meal.

The chatter kept going as the talk went back and forth around the circle of soldiers. One man stood eating out of a bowl he filled from one of the small pots. Other soldiers ate from their own bowls as the conversation slowed.

Taz leaned back and listened to the rhythm of their words. It was almost lyrical. They were talking about home, wives, children, and things Taz knew little about. Of course he didn't understand a word but he supposed he did.

It was a few minutes later one of the soldiers came excitedly from outside the clearing. Everyone stopped and listened to his alarm. Bowls of food were set aside as they all stood, grabbing their weapons, heading off into the direction the first man came from.

"Shit," Taz said. "No time like the present to get shot."

With that he separated the leaves he'd been peeking through and crawled on his belly with his canteen cup in his hand. He moved up to the closest log, peeked over top and then slithered around it, moving up to one of the small pots, he knocked it over and the rice inside came spilling out on the ground. In one quick scoop he filled the canteen cup, grabbing a grenade as he passed the log, slithering back to safety and handing Kodak a fresh cup full of Vietnamese rice.

He carefully slid the leaves back in place.

"You asshole," Kodak whispered. "What if you got caught?"

"You'd have had to rescue me, I guess."

"That isn't funny, Taz."

"Eat," Taz said watching Kodak's polite fingers dig into the overheated rice.

Kodak smiled and forced more rice into his mouth before he chewed. It was too hot. It was too good. It was glorious. He didn't realize he liked rice so much.

"You can say what you want but they sure do know their way around rice," Taz offered, dipping his fingers in for a scoop.

As the cup of rice slowly dwindled the soldiers came back. There was chatter and something that sounded like anger as the owner of the pot righted it, while looking for the animal or creature that had dumped over his meal.

The other soldiers laughed and made fun of him losing a portion of his rice. Someone else offered him some of their rice and they laughed more about the theft, never suspecting the enemy was only a few feet away.

As the Vietnamese prepared to leave, one of the soldiers became agitated. He looked at his pack and under everything. They were a little more alarmed by what else was missing. The soldier had misplaced, dropped, or managed to lose a grenade. It was the same grenade Taz had brought back with the rice.

As the soldier was looking behind the log and coming closer to the hideout, one of the other soldiers called to him. He sounded angry and didn't want to come, but the other men began leaving and he fell into formation with them, leaving the mystery unsolved.

"We need to stay put for awhile. No telling how many groups of soldiers may be nearby. We're safe here and I'm full as a tick. Kick back and rest a while and if no one else comes along, we'll get moving."

The rains had ended during the night and they drank from the canteen to wash down the tasty rice. Both of them smiled and began to nap before the sun had shown through into the bottom of the jungle.

The helicopter carrying 1st squad leaped into the air turning northeast as it raced along the treetops. The first rays of sunlight had begun to shine on the ground at camp. The helicopter windshield captured the brilliant light of the sun easing itself up above the horizon.

Hale and Washington sat across from each other, not optimistic about bringing their friends home. The night before they kept getting up to look outside, thinking it was time they had made it back on foot if they could.

Both Hale and Washington had preceded Kodak as nanny to Taz. This meant they steered him clear of trouble and by-the-book officers. This gave them a responsibility they still felt for Taz as well as sharing a comradeship with Kodak as latest in a line of babysitters to the admirable, unorthodox soldier.

They were going to begin their search from the place where they'd left them. The first order of business was to look for blood or any evidence that their guys were wounded or worse. This would dictate whether they were on a rescue or a recovery mission. The last view anyone got of the pair was of Taz firing the B.A.R. and Kodak shooting pictures of Taz shooting the B.A.R.

Once they were sure Taz and Kodak left the LZ under their own power, the search would have a direction, south by southwest with the other squads landing in LZs at five mile intervals. They'd all move toward the center of the zone, and if they hadn't found the two men by the time they'd met up, they'd push south toward the camp.

The company was exposing themselves in a way they'd never done before. With increasing sightings of Charlie, closer and closer to the wire at camp, the likelihood of a firefight or two or even more was to be expected. Each squad would be listening for any such fire so that they could aid any squad under attack.

The chopper flashed over the search area, heading for the proper LZ. It was possible they'd fly right over top of the missing pair, which would alert them that troops were in the area. This might encourage them to move into an accessible area.

"There. That's it. I remember it," the pilot yelled, pointing down as Jacoby looked at the bare spot carved out among the trees.

The helicopter landed, once making certain there was no reception committee this time.

The pilot cut the engines, after alerting the base that they were on the ground. 1st squad filed out and stood with rifles at the ready as Jacoby looked at the terrain. The jungle ran right up to the LZ without thinning whatsoever.

The spot where the enemy soldiers had been waiting for them was easy to find. There was a small place where they'd been cooking and there was a bag of rice and some seasonings left behind.

"Okay, what we want to do is look for any signs of our guys being wounded. Taz was fading back toward Kodak at the rear of the LZ the final time I had a visual. That means we give the most attention to the rear portion of the LZ leading away from the incoming fire. We want to cover every inch of ground. Look for anything that will confirm our guys were here."

Most anything they might find would be bad news. Neither Taz nor Kodak was likely to willingly leave any of their gear behind. The area where Charlie was waiting was less than a couple of dozen yards from where Taz stood firing at them. Taz putting down fire meant they might keep their heads down for long enough for them to reach the jungle, at which time the search became far more complicated.

It was all reconstructed as the men spoke of the smoke, the fire, and the position of the players before moving out to where Kodak was last seen.

"Hey, Sarge, come look over here," Thompson said, looking at the falloff that was only visible from where he stood.

Washington and Hale were immediately scrambling down the slope, knowing this was the only escape route. They crossed back and forth to cover the entire area before moving on.

The area where Charlie was camping when the helicopter landed was also on a slope falling off in the opposite direction, allowing them to fire up at the helicopter without being seen from the ground. Taz knew where the fire was coming from but he couldn't see them or get a fix on them to cut them down. They likewise didn't have a clear shot at him.

Parts of the jungle that snuggled up to the LZ blocked the view at ground level, which was hopeful. It was difficult to get down from the top except in the one almost hidden spot that Thompson located. The grass was high and only standing right above it gave you a view of the jungle breaking away sharply.

Jacoby stood above the slope and watched Hale and Washington inspect the grass and brush that showed some signs of being only slightly disturbed with broken branches consistent with someone moving down through there but not enough to account for a large number going that way. If they went this way Charlie didn't follow.

"Sarge," Washington yelled, picking something up and holding it high in the air.

"Shit!" Jacoby screeched in an uncharacteristic display of emotion.

Washington scampered up the hill with his prize and Hale followed.

"How many did he have with him?" Jacoby asked.

"One in the rifle one in his pocket. We'd just been out and I hadn't filled the empties. I've got two on me right now. Hale has two."

Jacoby looked over Washington's head at the jungle as if he was hoping to see something off in the distance.

"He's out there and he's out of ammunition. It'll be a miracle if we find them alive."

Washington handed the clip to Jacoby, who pocketed it. It was obvious they fell down the hill and that's how the clip got out of Taz's pocket. It was Taz's style to empty the first clip as quick as he could to overwhelm the enemy. Once 1st squad was picking up the slack, he reloaded.

The pilot clicked on the ignition and wound up the chopper, sending a message out to the other units that they'd found evidence that Taz and Kodak were in the bush, heading southwest toward the base, and 1st squad was going to attempt to follow their trail.

"Why didn't you shoot those guys this morning? You could have blown them all away before they knew what hit them. It's not like you to just leave well-enough alone."

"How many other rifle squads do you think Charlie has out here?" Taz asked.

"I don't know. A few dozen. What's with Charlie's grenade? You collecting souvenirs? You don't carry grenades. You hate being weighed down."

"No, but I don't know what we might run into out here, babe. I figure I want to have a little extra firepower."

"That's all well and good, but do you know where the hell we're going?"

"See the sun?"

"How can I miss it. It's been baking my brain since we got going."

"Where does it shine in the morning back at camp?"

"It shines in the back of our tent on the card table."

"We keep walking in this direction we'll end up walking right into that card table," Taz smiled confidently.

"How far have we come?" Kodak asked.

"Not nearly far enough. That rice won't last long and we're not even putting a dent in the miles we've got to go yet. We've made maybe five or six miles."

"We've been walking forever,"

"No, we walked about a half mile yesterday. We walked maybe four or five miles on day two. We were in really dense jungle and we were barely going south at all. We only went a couple of miles that first day. We're maybe a mile in today. Put it all together and we've got three times that far to go."

"We've walked a ways today," Kodak figured.

"A mile at least."

"We've been out here a week and we've walked five miles?" Kodak objected to this distance. "Three days. Five miles. We spent a day and a half in a shelter. That was day three. This is day five, Taz."

"Why are you so negative all of a sudden. What difference does it make how many days? We got plenty far enough to go."

"I know."

"I don't want you thinking it won't take a hell of a lot more walking than we've done. We're in the shit, Kodak. We've got to be way careful," Taz said, stopping in mid-stride as if something just stung him. "Let's move back off here right now. Back in the shadows. Just move. Don't even breathe."

Taz pushed Kodak back ten feet and then they stood in a clump of growth that licked up the single tree trunk. Kodak listened but he didn't move. He breathed ever so quietly. Taz's back was pressed into Kodak in an uncomfortable pose. Kodak didn't dare move.

As he was about to ask Taz what they were doing, he heard it, the singing language that Charlie used when he was relaxed. They were taunting one of their own and they laughed. There were protests, more laughter, and the sound of metal and equipment clanking together nearby.

As the eight men passed, one of the men in the front tossed something in the air. The last man in line went scurrying for whatever was tossed back in his direction. The object landed three feet from Taz's boots. They weren't hidden by the undergrowth.

The enemy soldier saw the boot laces and as he picked up the metal object he was after, he looked up past Taz's rifle into Taz's face. The dark eyes were looking right back into his eyes, and as the soldier's life flashed before his eyes, he watched Taz move his trigger finger into place on the B.A.R. The man was hypnotized by the specter.

Some one yelled, other soldiers laughed, the enemy soldier swallowed very, very hard as Taz moved the B.A.R. in a motion that told the soldier he should walk away. Backing up toward the path the soldier had turned totally. He couldn't be sure why he was still alive.

The yelling that was becoming further away began again and the soldier scurried out of sight, going in the direction of his comrades.

Taz let out a big sigh and then he spoke very fast.

"Move. Move. Go back into the jungle. Come on. That asshole might be telling his buddies right now. He won't remember where we were. Move. Move," Taz said, pushing the B.A.R. against Kodak's back as they passed more clumps of trees and finally dropped down in a natural depression that put them below the level of the jungle floor.

They were both breathing hard and at the same time listening to the sounds around them. They'd moved fifty yards off the trail they were on and the likelihood of that squad finding them was slim. Odds were that soldier saw death and had no desire to come back to take another look. He should have kept his mouth shut in Taz's mind, but it was difficult to know what a man might do at any given time under such circumstances.

Kodak looked at the B.A.R. lying between them and he looked at Taz holding the stolen grenade. There was something wrong with what he'd witnessed. For the second time Taz could have easily wiped out the soldiers that had come in contact with them and for the second time he'd given them a pass.

"You okay?" Kodak asked without knowing why.

"Yeah, how are you?"

"Fine, but I can't figure you out. You usually are willing to shoot at anything that moves. You've become a pacifist? If you're trying to impress me you did that the first time I saw you in action. This I'm not so sure about."

"No, not hardly. We don't know how long we're going to be out here. I have no desire to fight all the Vietnamese in Vietnam. We need to keep a low profile. We start leaving bodies everywhere, someone's going to notice."

"You're serious," Kodak said, thinking it over and trying to subscribe to it.

"Have I ever lied to you?" Taz said, looking into Kodak's eyes and leaving him feeling a bit weakened.

"Why didn't that guy try to shoot us, or yell for his friends?"

"He didn't have the feeling this was a good day to die."

"You could have shot him. How'd he know you wouldn't?"

"He was still alive after he saw me standing there staring at him. If I was going to shoot him he knew he'd have already been dead. It took him a minute to process it."

"You're one cool customer. I don't know anymore. I thought I understood what we were doing all this time. Now I'm not so sure. I guess I'm tired. Can't you call for a helicopter to come get us now?"

"Shit, why didn't I think of that. I bet that squad of Charlies had a radio with them. Why didn't I stop them and ask if I could call my buddies to come get us?"

"Very funny. We'll never get back at this rate," Kodak said wearily.

"If we don't watch it we'll never get back at any rate. I heard a helicopter this morning," Taz revealed.

"You did? Where?" Kodak said, seeming to be buoyed by the news.

Taz pointed up at the sky.

"Very funny. It could have been going anywhere. Let's go. We can't stand around here all day."

"This is our grid. It's one of ours. It flew past, heading to where we'd come from. It rained yesterday. They couldn't get in the air. They might be looking for us."

"What do we do?"

"Keep doing what we've been doing. They are heavily armed and can cover ground a lot faster than we can. We need to keep moving."

Taz was telling the truth about the helicopter. He had heard it passing to the west not far from the shelter where they'd spent the night. Taz saved it for a time when Kodak needed something to keep him moving.

The thing Taz didn't mention was what happened if the chopper crashed and there were no survivors. No one would know they were out there. It had crossed his mind more than once. Jacoby wasn't the kind of sergeant who would leave a soldier behind. It was war and sergeants like Jacoby didn't always get their way.

It was hard to know the sequence of events that might surround them being missing. The weather was a factor. The unknowns were why Taz wanted to keep moving.

There was a kind of desperation in the pace 1st squad employed to close the distance between them and the other squads in the field. Having an unarmed soldier in the midst of the enemy didn't agree with any of them, even the guys who didn't know Taz or Kodak that well. Taz with a full clip in the bush had a better than even chance of coming out alive. Taz in the bush and out of ammunition was a sitting duck.

As 1st squad moved southwest in a hurry, 2nd squad was coming from the west and 3rd squad was moving in from the south, closing in on a spot they'd circled on their maps. Jacoby was almost certain the two men were within the search area.

Once the other three squads met them, if the men hadn't been found, the three squads would spread out and move southwest toward the base. The jungle was dense and it was possible to miss a couple of bodies off the trail, but that wasn't the scenario Jacoby had in mind.

Taz felt secure that he was staying as close to the middle of the area that would be leading them in the direction of camp. He felt this was the best route, even if no one came after them. It was taking them longer to make progress, but the zone he was traveling in would be predictable and he was now using a trail 1st squad had previously used on missions. He recognized it a few clicks back, but he hadn't told Kodak yet, saving it to perk him up if he got depressed again.

The jungle easily hid the rescue that was underway. They stopped to rest each hour, moving off into the rich shade and drinking from the canteen. The rice had worn off by early afternoon and both of them were feeling the weakness coming back into their legs.

The water kept their stomachs quiet for a while. It wasn't food but it was something,and having drunk plenty of water in the past twenty-four hours meant the deficit wasn't as acute yet.

"I'm really tired," Kodak said, leaning back on a fallen tree trunk.

"Yeah, me too. We're on a trail I recognize. We're going in the right direction."

"There was some doubt?" Kodak snapped.

"We're in the jungle. There's always doubt. We were on this trail a couple of times the month before you showed up. I recognized some of the cleared spots from before. We need to make a little more distance today. Maybe we'll find some roots and berries tonight."

"Yeah, maybe," Kodak said, pushing himself back up.

It was Temple who stood astride the trail as Jacoby came to him. Temple pointed and turned his ear toward the west. It took a minute for Jacoby to hear it.

"Shit, it's a firefight?" Jacoby said.

"I think so. There's a cross trail less than a click up ahead. We can hit that and make our way west."

1st squad tightened up as they moved even faster to the trail Temple knew to take. Once they took turned toward the firefight the sound was more definite. It was no more than five minutes before they too were engaged by a small force that was caught flatfooted by their approach. In another minute or two the firing ceased and peace returned to the jungle.

"You hear that?" Kodak said, turning his head to face behind them.

"I hear it."

"Those are M-16s," Kodak observed.

"Yes, they are," Taz smiled. "Those are our guys."

"It's our guys," Kodak blurted.

They walked in the direction of where they'd heard the fire. Taz was in no hurry. He moved cautiously and kept Kodak behind him.

Kodak wanted to run. He wanted to shout, but he sensed he shouldn't. He let Taz lead and the smell indicated they were nearing the battlefield. The shouts in English were welcome. Not only that the voices were familiar. How totally exciting those voices were.

Seeing Taz and Kodak walking toward them out of the drifting smoke was like seeing an apparition. At first the men weren't sure, but everyone was almost immediately aware of the lost soldiers being found.

The uniqueness of the gathering was that Taz was at the center of 1st squad. Guys patted him and Kodak reminded them how much they were missed. Sgt. Jacoby was the most unexpected greeter, hugging Taz like a son he hadn't seen in too long.

1st squad forgot they'd just been in battle. 3rd squad watched before joining the recovery celebration. A 3rd squad runner was sent to the closest LZ to announce the recovery of the pair they'd gone in search of. Guys wanted to hear how the missing pair had survived out in the bush looking none the worse for wear.

Neither Taz or Kodak had come to appreciate the joy of shaving every day as of yet, so their boyish faces appeared fresh. Their clothes had gone from damp to drip dry in the few hours that morning. They had survived remarkably well without explaining themselves.

"Hey, dude, you need a refill?" Washington asked.

"Here," Jacoby said. "Take the one you lost out there. You ought to save that as a souvenir. You're lucky to be alive."

Immediately Taz ejected the empty clip from the B.A.R. as Kodak watched the operation, unaware as of yet what he was watching, but he was thinking about it.

Washington reached in his pocket to withdraw the clip he'd loaded for the B.A.R. while Taz was missing. He often kept the extra clips loaded in advance but he'd grown slack in this chore, but over the past two days he'd loaded all the clips from the crate of ammunition Sgt. Jacoby kept under his bunk.

"When did you know?" Washington asked, handing Taz the extra clip for his pocket.

"First time I put my hand in my pocket," Taz took a long breath, realizing the harrowing nightmare was over and somehow he'd survived with Kodak never suspecting how desperate things were.

Taz slid the extra clip in and out of his sleeveless fatigue jacket pocket, thinking of how he might secure it so he never lost his extra clip again. He thought of strapping extra clips to his legs, but he knew, like the weight in his pocket, he lost mobility by adding that extra weight. It wouldn't stop him from keeping two extra clips here after.

The B.A.R. was built to fit in his arms and any weight was worth the feeling of confidence it gave him, but keeping ammunition for it on hand and loading the clips created a lot of extra work. It was work the other squad members didn't mind doing to keep Taz happy and in ammo. Many of the men of 1st squad regarded Taz as their guardian angel, and there was no length they wouldn't go through to keep him ready to rock and roll.

"You were out of ammunition," Kodak said and understood at the same time.

"Yep," Taz said confidently.

"We were almost in an enemy camp and we were unarmed," Kodak asked Taz.

"I noticed," Taz said, not wanting to discuss it.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Kodak needed to know.

"One of us being scared shitless was enough," Taz said, still not wanting to talk about it.

No one knew the entire tale. Taz wasn't going to talk about it and Kodak couldn't. This was for the book. Kodak would save the story of being lost in the jungles of Vietnam for a time when he wanted to talk about it. The knowledge of how much more desperate their situation was than he thought was hard on him. He felt close to and fond of Taz without feeling like he knew him at all. Taz had known it all and never let on.

4th squad met up with the rest of the company and everyone celebrated again. It was already getting old for Taz, and so Kodak was surrounded, patted, and welcomed home, even if he wasn't in this man's army.

It was only the beginning. Taz could face the enemy and never blink, but facing two dozen journalists and even more cameras, once they landed at camp, was more than he could take.

Neither Taz nor Kodak knew about the photograph that had traveled around the world. No one bothered to mention it, or the chaos that would surround them from that day forward. They were so happy to have them back, 1st squad forgot about the circus.

It was good to have Taz back where he belonged. The company kept him to themselves for the hour before the helicopters came to take them all home. 1st squad took the first helicopter out this time. Taz didn't need to stand guard or watch over his squad.

No one thought of what might come out of their successful recovery. Sgt. Jacoby knew but didn't say what was planned for the missing heroic soldier and his photographer. Sgt. Jacoby knew this was not how his best warrior would want to leave 1st squad, but he'd get no say in the matter, just like Taz wouldn't.

Being blinded by the flashbulbs was Taz's first hint that things had changed. He stood down from the helicopter first, as usual. He cradled the big rifle.

His eyes were the size of saucers. The people surrounding the LZ blocked any possible escape route. He stood as the cameras clicked and the reporters yelled at him. The helicopter rotors still turned and the noise made hearing impossible. Taz had stepped out of a primitive world of war and into the civilized world's need to know. He preferred the war.

Taz's personality was greatly influenced by his time in Vietnam. He had no real identity back home, never feeling he had a home. He had found a home with 1st squad, because of what he brought to a battle. Becoming a perfect warrior in war was a certain path to acceptance. The rest of his life was a train wreck, but this was Vietnam and people noticed and appreciated what he did. He'd never given a minutes thought to what he'd become once he went home, but all warriors went home sooner or later.

A prototype for a Spartan or Alexander, also perfect warriors, but they never went home. Being a perfect zero when he arrived in-country, he would leave the perfect hero. He feared nothing and didn't know the word retreat, except in that moment. The camp had been overrun and the odds were against him. He kept his trigger finger at the ready and the B.A.R. in the proper position.

A jeep was employed to deliver Taz, Kodak, and Sgt. Jacoby at the mess tent. The mess tent was pandemonium, but with the usual ravenous young soldiers seeking nourishment. The frisky journalists applauded, yelled questions, took pictures, and in general acted like children with lousy manners.

Kodak immediately suspected they'd somehow become the story, but he couldn't figure out why. He'd come to Vietnam to see what a war was. He sought to tell a story with pictures. After months and months on the job, he accepted what he did, he first did for 1st squad. He loved and found a family in the men who fought the war.

Sgt. Jacoby knew this was more than a recovery and a welcome home. It was goodbye. The heart of his squad was going home. He was both happy and quite angry about it all. He wasn't talking, because his men deserved this moment in the sun without knowing the sun was setting on their squad. It would never be the same without Taz and Kodak.

It was the merging of events creating its own story. It was what Sgt. Jacoby had told his colonel, it was a small event that got out of control. At first a squad affair, made into a camp concern before becoming an army mission, because of a picture that went around the world the day Sgt. Jacoby reported that the brand new US Army cover boy was missing.

A life and death epic created out of a combination of minor events not unusual in a war zone. How does anyone know what will catch the eye of the world? For some reason a soldier, like a million other soldiers, has a picture taken, and months later someone somewhere decides to publish it in a way that alters everyone's view of war. Luck, chance, or fate coming to the rescue of the lost.

A few dozen men yelling questions after you've been lost in a jungle for days might seem like a logical sequence of events, except it wasn't. Neither Taz nor Kodak could take it all in. Kodak was as big a part of the story as Taz by this point, which made no sense to Kodak, a mere photographer. He was there documenting the soldiers who were fighting the war. He wasn't part of the story, or shouldn't be.

Without Kodak, Taz may have assumed his best fighting pose and simply eliminated the annoyance, but with Kodak taking over the interview, Taz simply stood behind him so he couldn't see the agitated mass of men, who ruined his idea of a quiet meal and some bunk time.

Kodak was still confused but better adapted to the ways of the civilized world than the soldiers there. Even as young and inexperienced as he was, he took upon himself to speak up for 1st squad.

"You'll need to give us a few minutes to decompress. We've, Taz and I, have been in the bush for a few days. Last night we slept with Charlie as neighbors. This is somewhat of a shock. I don't suppose we can do this tomorrow? We're tired and hungry."

"You're Paul Anderson," an astute reporter surmised.

"I'm Kodak," Kodak said.

"Charlie who were you sleeping with? He one of the soldiers? There was another soldier? No one said anything about another soldier."

"A Vietnamese rifle squad," Kodak explained, as guys countered, recountered, and corrected the questions.

The buzz ended the first press conference. Washington, Hale, and Temple had already cleared the way for Taz and Kodak to exit out of sight of the yelling journalists, objecting and wanting more.

"They've been without food and water for days. They've got to rest, relax, and clean up. We'll have to do this again soon," Sgt. Jacoby said. "That's all for today. Go file your stories. We brought them back alive."

A man from 2nd squad and another from 3rd squad set up a perimeter to guard the three exposed sides of 1st squad's quarters. Reporters were discouraged from approaching. There were platters of food delivered via an alternate route to 1st squad as Taz and Kodak fell into familiar confines. It didn't even matter that they were in Vietnam, but the food mattered, the comrades mattered, and the reunion was private and kept that way.

This turn of events sprung a leak in the mess tent as the reporters, photographers, officers, and dignitaries of all stripes and descriptions sped off to report to the outside world and the people who needed to be alerted to the happy ending to the story,

It was a reunion and a farewell party. This hadn't been revealed and Sgt. Jacoby didn't feel comfortable telling either Taz or Kodak that they'd soon be departing, returning to the world. Taz and Kodak hadn't figured it out and the men of 1st squad didn't know, so everyone laughed, enjoyed life, and watched the returning heroes who were shown the picture that had made both of them famous.

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