September 1972
Sean Dugan was beyond excited; his son Michael had been discharged from the Army, having done two tours in Vietnam, and was now sitting beside him as he drove home from the airport. After a couple of minutes of standing in the airport, hugging him tightly, they retrieved his bags and went to the car.
The first thing Michael asked was, "Where is mom?"
"She wanted to make you your favorite dinner, so she sent me to pick you up. Are you tired?"
"No, I slept on the plane. How is everything here?"
"Not bad; the plant has been running seven days a week. Your cousin Mickey is working there, now."
"Really? When did he start?"
"About a year ago. He came home after his tour and applied first thing. He’s doing pretty well."
"I tried to catch up to him while he was there, but it never worked out."
"Yeah, well, there was a war on and all." Michael smiled at that.
"So, I wanted to ask you something, "
Here it comes thought Michael.
"How, exactly, did you end up in the Infantry? I thought you were going to be a Truck Driver?"
"Yeah, that’s what my recruiter told me. I believed him right up until I ended up at Benning. About the time I saw the signs about being an Infantry Training Center, I knew I’d been had."
"I don’t think He had anything to do with it."
"Right. Anyhow, we can talk about that later, I guess. In the meantime, do you have any ideas what’s next?"
"I’m thinking school. I’d like to own my own business, something like that."
"Good idea. You know we’ll help in any way we can."
They drove along in silence for a while, Michael staring out the window, while Sean concentrated on the road. Finally, Michael looked over, "You can ask me if you want."
"Ask you what?"
"About being a Sniper."
"Okay, how did that happen?"
"Well, I arrived in-country for my first tour and got assigned to the 9th Division. About half way through my tour, I got a visit from my Platoon Sergeant. He had read my file and discovered that I had done some competitive shooting. He suggested I volunteer for Sniper School. I figured ‘what the Hell, I’m already here, I may as well.’ Next thing I know, I’m being sent to Dong Tam and going through Sniper Training."
Sean just nodded and kept driving.
"It’s okay Dad. I know what’s next."
"What do you mean?"
"This is the part where you ask me what it felt like to kill people."
Sean said nothing, just stared straight ahead for a few seconds as if he were remembering something. Finally, he spoke, "When the Krauts broke out of the Ardennes, what everyone calls The Battle of the Bulge, we got hit hard. They threw everything they had at us. We had a lot of casualties, to the point where a lot of units were seriously understrength. My CO comes up to me and tells me that my company is being sent to the line as reinforcements. The next day, I’m in a foxhole next to a guy from the Air Corps, defending some bridge. I’ll tell you, I wanted nothing more than to get back to my truck and leave. Next thing I know, there’s an artillery barrage, followed by all of the Krauts in the world coming at us. Hell, I pissed my pants when the first shell hit us. When they attacked, I decided that the only way to get through this was to shoot as many of the bastards as I could. It was strange; I just settled in, just like at a rifle match, and started putting rounds into the targets.
I spent two weeks on that line. I have never been so scared in my life. When they finally sent me back to my unit, I was just happy that I hadn’t gotten hit. I never really thought about who I killed until later. By then, I just chalked it up to ‘them or me, and it ain’t gonna be me.’ So, no, I don’t need to ask."
Michael just stared at him for a while. He shook his head, "You never said anything about that. All of the stuff I’ve ever heard you say about the war, you never mentioned that."
"I’ve never told anyone. It was one of those things that I’d just as soon forget."
"But you still shoot and hunt?"
"I didn’t for a while. But, like I’ve always told you; the gun isn’t at fault. It’s the guy holding it. We’re almost home. We can talk more after dinner. Right now, you’re mother has a Beef Roast and a mountain of Mashed Potatoes with your name on them."
"That’s wonderful! I dreamt about this the whole time I was over there."
When they arrived at the house, Michael noticed all of the cars, "Who all is here?"
"Your uncles, aunts, and cousins. They all wanted to welcome you home."
"Is Mickey here?"
"That looks like his truck. And there he is."
Michael saw a man, who obviously was related, step out of the side door of the house, accompanied by two younger versions of himself. The two younger boys were his brothers, the older one was his cousin Mickey, holding two beers in his hand. Michael got out of the car and hugged each of his brothers tightly, "Jeez! You guys get bigger every time I see you!" He walked over, shook hands, and accepted the proffered bottle from his cousin; it was ice cold. Mickey said, "Glad you’re home. I brought plenty of those for later."
Michael fake-punched him in the stomach, "Looks like you’ve got a head start on me! No PT since you got home?"
"I haven’t made my bed or run anywhere since I stepped off of the plane!"
Michael laughed, glad to be home. Mickey and he had always been close. He put his arm around
Mickey’s shoulder and they went inside.
Later that evening, Sean, Michael, his brothers, his uncles and cousins went into the basement, a comfortable family area that was paneled, had indoor / outdoor carpeting on the floor, and several couches and chairs arranged in a semi-circle, facing a console television. Next to the TV was a gun cabinet holding a dozen rifles, including the 6MM his father had given him before he shipped out. Graciously, while the menfolk gathered downstairs, his mother and aunts cleaned up the dinner dishes. They all spent a few minutes catching him up on all of the family gossip, and then his cousin Ray stood up, "Okay Mike, we know that you’re fresh from your Southeast Asian vacation, but we have got to make some plans now, so we can all put in for vacation."
"What kind of plans?"
"Well, Uncle Tim bought another piece of land out in South Dakota. He plans on retiring there. In the meantime, we figured it would be a great place to go for hunting, or shooting, or just getting away from it all."
Mickey chimed in, "And it’s all wide open spaces. Beats a stinky, steamy, jungle any day."
Michael raised his beer in agreement, "Okay, when are you all thinking of going?"
Sean looked towards a calendar on the basement wall, "Late May, early June. We wanted to wait until you were home to make plans."
"That’s a few months away; I don’t even know what I’m going to be doing yet."
"No problem. We just wanted to plant the seed. Let you give it some thought."
Mickey spoke up, "Ya know, it’s possible that he’s had enough of guns and shooting for a while."
That remark cast a pall over the room and everyone was silent, until Michael spoke up, "Are you kidding? I’ve been professionally trained in long-distance shooting. This will be a chance to dazzle all of you with my superb marksmanship!"
There were groans and insults in response to that. The raucous conversation was interrupted by the sound of feet on the stairs. They all turned to see Michael’s mother, Delores, standing there, "If you manly men can interrupt your manly meeting, we’ve got coffee and cake upstairs."
Michael stood up, "You don’t have to tell me twice!" It truly was good to be home.
That night, after everyone had left or settled in for the evening, Michael went into the basement and pulled the old Mauser out of the gun cabinet. After checking to see that it was unloaded, he shouldered it in an offhand position and peered through the scope. The magnification was too much to see the wall clearly, but he ‘snapped in’ and dry fired anyway.
He heard someone behind him and turned to see his Cousin Mickey standing by the stairs, "I thought you went home?"
"Nah, I thought I’d stick around a bit. Make sure you’re okay. The family means well, but they can be a bit overwhelming."
"Is that what happened for you?"
"Kind of. My situation was different; I DEROS’d on a Tuesday, and I was home by Saturday. Hell, I got pulled out of a convoy to go home."
"Really? That was lucky."
"Yeah, I guess. Ironic huh? You joined up to be a truck driver, and you ended up a sniper. I got drafted, scared to death I was going to be in the Infantry, and I ended up on a truck."
"So you were a truck driver?"
"At first. Our convoys kept getting ambushed, so they mounted a bunch of 60’s and .50’s on a few trucks.
The idea was, if the convoy got ambushed, we would drive into the Kill Zone and spray the enemy with machine guns. They asked for some people to man the guns and I volunteered. I spent the last 9 months of my tour on an M2."
"Holy shit. You were a rolling target!"
Mickey smiled, "No, I was the guy that protected the rolling targets. Charlie generally unassed the area when the gun trucks showed up."
"Damn! At least I got to hide. The guys I shot never even knew I was there. I’d take my shot and I’d book on out of the A-O."
Looking down at Michael’s rifle, Mickey changed the subject, "You think that would have shot as well as your M-21?"
"No contest. My M-21 shot pretty well, but I don’t think it grouped as well as this. Plus, I was using issued ammo over there, I use my own handloads with this."
"I hope you make it to South Dakota next Spring, but I get it if you don’t."
"I’ll make it one way or another. I’m not promising I’ll do any shooting, but I’ll definitely come to hang around with you guys."
"You’ll shoot; you’re a shooter."
Join us next week for Part 2 of this adventure…