Burial Detail

The company has set up a night perimeter. In the command platoon,a large brown dog, half Lab, half Shepard, turns round twice, heaves a sigh,settles next to its master. Both are exhausted from today’s march. Animal and master have spent months together learning the art of finding the enemy. The dog is trusting, loyal, obedient. The handler, in spite of his sternness, loves the dog, which stares at him constantly.

“Tomorrow,” he says,”The moment she picks up a scent I’ll let her loose.”

That’s good to know. We’ve never worked with K-9s before.

At first light second platoon saddles up, slips out the perimeter. The excited dog pulls at its long leather leash. Soon the platoon disappears into the lush triple canopy. The rest of company lounges about, waits for the clover leaf patrol to return.

Not ten minutes later we hear the crackle of M16s, the staccato popping of AK47s, a chorus of shrieks and howls.

The platoon returns with a blindfolded POW. Shot in both arms, she groans in pain. The Kit Karson’s threaten her but she will not talk.

“Hard core to the max,” we say.

Crazy Frank kicks her twice in the face. In the belly. She drops like a sack and moans pitifully. But elsewhere things are not right.

“Got five confirmed kills,” says a new man trudging in.

“Better make that six,” says an old timer.

Now we see why. The K-9 handler, head lowered, is spattered with blood. Behind him, two GIs carry the lifeless animal, trussed by its legs to a bamboo pole.

“Goddamn…” someone whispers. “Goddamn.”

A sergeant approaches the grieving handler.

“Sorry,” he mutters. “The pointman heard something. He fired. Then everyone opened up.”

But the grieving man cannot be consoled.

On the chopper back to base he sits silent near the dead thing, strokes its head, stares at the bullet flecked fur, the still-pink tongue dangling from the slack-jawed mouth.

The cool wind turns his bloodied uniform stiff.

After we land,  we dig a hole for the dog, lay it to rest, unlike the prisoner, who is not human.