. . . His first days in-country have been spent humping through a vast sea of grass known as the Plain of Reeds. There are open fields where there is nothing but the green grass and the blue sky. Sometimes the stalks are taller than him, and seem to close in around him and pluck at his clothes like grasping fingers. Always the sea is alive with the buzzing and chirping of insects. Where the grass ends, the jungle begins. The vegetation is thick, and every inch of ground must be earned with sweat, blood, and machete. Tommy can only see a few feet in front of his face. He could walk headlong into an enemy and never know until it’s too late. It’s monsoon season. The rain starts in the evening and comes down all night long. There are mud-holes and filthy stagnant pools; the breeding grounds for malaria.
He’s sleep deprived and exhausted. The days are scorching, and the earth itself seems to ache beneath the burning sun. The terrain is foreign and unforgiving. The pack he carries on his back seems to grow heavier as the agonizing hours pass. His fair skin is red and blistered and itches from hundreds of mosquito and ant bites. He’s dehydrated, and longs for a cold glass of water to quench his thirst. It feels like the land itself is an enemy. He has survived basic infantry training, but even that rigorous trial of mental and physical toughness has not prepared him for the brutal climate of Vietnam. Each day is more miserable than the last. . ..