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Medal of Honor - The Beginning
by Rita Ractliffe (lovpeppard)
Rated: R- Violence; POW Torture
Archive: Yes with the below credit to Nicole (Sockii).
Origin: Nicole Pelligrini zine "DEADLY MANUEVERS 2" 1998 - reprinted here with permission
Warnings: Yes. VERY graphic NVA torture sequence used on Montagnards. A stomach turner, approach cautiously. Main character ill. Many facets of this story make more sense if you've read "Nightmare" the novella (1990).
Disclaimer: A-Team characters were created by Cannell and Lupo and are owned by Universal. Any other original characters and story otherwise belong to me. Copyright: May/1998.
Okay, here's another relic dusted off and brought out for those of you who don't have, know or read fanzines. Came out in 1998 and was a followup flashback to "Nightmare" (the 1990 novella - there's so many of them all of a sudden!). Permission given to reprint by Sockii.
MEDAL OF HONOR - - THE BEGINNING
by rita ractliffe
Hannibal Smith and the Team had been requisitioned to go in and pull out a couple of downed pilots. With Ray Brenner, Larry Cummings, Peck and Baracus as the nucleus of the squad, he'd scored Johnny Blysyzki, the ranking squad sharpshooter, as door gunner. Hannibal felt fairly secure; it sounded simple enough ... with Murdock at the comm, and these guys at his back, he'd have the mission scooped in no time ... . It wasn't a particularly hot area right now; the VC were concentrating their efforts further east and north. Should be just a nice smooth routine pickup ... .
Things had been going as well as you could hope for in the damned jungle, considering all the hidden snipers and malcontents. They'd made the touchdown after pulling in the faint radio signals of the downed pilots. The humid, rank air rushed up and through the open doors of the Huey, wafting in the fetid jungle smell, enveloping them in its clammy embrace. Hannibal wiped his sopping face as he jumped off the slick. He waited silently for a couple of minutes, nerves on edge, listening to the jungle sounds around him-birds calling, small rustlings indicating an active reptile life, sighing bamboo groves and thick vines clustered around everything in a smothering chokehold. Hearing nothing else, he relaxed ever so slightly.
The two orphans tentatively ventured out of the shadows, damned glad to see the recon team. They'd spent the previous night out in the open, dodging VC patrols, and that was more than enough for one lifetime, thank you.
Once they were located, Smith wasted no time in rounding them up, while constantly peering over his shoulder as he herded them to the chopper. When he heard the distinctive whine that signaled attack, he bellowed "Incoming!" as he dove for cover. The explosion scored close to the chopper, spewing up dirt and leaves in a massive sulphurous cloud. It was too damned close and the moment the dust and plant matter had settled, he jumped up, brushing the sodden debris off him and scanned the terrain. "C'mon, guys, we've been made - we gotta get outta here - NOW!" He waved at and then directed the two pilots, who had dropped in their tracks, toward the waiting taxi. Hustling everyone aboard unceremoniously, Smith got them all situated in the slick, hanging on for dear life, as Murdock started lifting off. Blysyzki had his M-50 ready, watching the undergrowth keenly for any pajama-clad bogies.
As another whoosh whizzed by, further roiling the already turbulent and unsteady air around them, the rocket disintegrated one of the main rotor blades. Splintered shards of wood flailed about from the rotor bracket, beating the air uselessly. The mortally wounded bird floundered and flopped spastically, finally coming to rest at an angle nearly on its side. They were fortunate it hadn't gained much altitude or the crash would have been fatal. Still, with smoke and fumes rapidly rising, Smith knew they had to get away from that machine ASAP. He began tugging and pulling at the closest bodies to him, forcing them up and shoving them out the lopsided hatchway.
A groggy Murdock crawled over the damaged seats, trying to reach Smith. "Wha' happened, Colonel?" His forehead had a nicely swelling deep gash on it, and he seemed genuinely surprised at the blood gushing from his offended nose.
Smith answered him grimly. "I think we just got our wings clipped, Captain." He began pulling out tack and gear and started tossing it out doubletime on the heels of the rapidly disembarking men. "Go on, get out of here, Murdock ... this bird's gonna blow any minute!" Ignoring his own instructions, however, Smith was stubbornly staying until the bitter end, tossing arnaments and ammo out randomly, as fast as possible, determined to salvage everything he possibly could before the bird exploded. He reached for one last bundle - the battery powered transmitter - when a flash of flame rippled past his head, singeing his hair and eyebrows. The quick prickle, like a thousand ants scurrying across his head, stopped him short just as strong arms came out of nowhere and clamped themselves firmly around his shoulders, jerking him ignominiously backwards out of the doorway to hit the thick mulchy ground, *sans* radio. "Time to git out NOW, sucker!" B.A.'s voice brooked no argument.
"The radio ... dammit, B.A., we need the radio!" Twisting wildly, Hannibal wasn't giving up easily. But he was no match for Baracus' fierce strength. Yanking Smith to his feet, B.A. pulled the colonel away from the wreck and then threw him to the ground, hard, covering him with his own body as the chopper exploded in a fireball. They stayed down until the initial superheated conflagration passed over them in long tongues of amber flame and burned itself out. Smith cautiously raised his head, "Some fireworks."
Wriggling out from under B.A.'s bulk, he got to his feet and surveyed the scorched, smoking terrain surrounding them and appraised their situation. Now instead of two men down, there were nine, and their radio had just been blown to smithereens. "We gotta get outta here." His soft voice belied the urgent need to evacuate. He rapidly began picking up sacks and ammo; they all took his cue and gathered the rest of the stuff. Within moments, they were loaded up and headed out.
"Face, you take point." Smith shepherded the men in front of him, bringing up the rear. He cradled an M-16 in his arms, his finger resting lightly on the trigger. His gaze kept casting around, warily watching the jungle around them, listening for any unwarranted sounds as they started off. The silence was deafening; all the creatures in close proximity had fled en masse from the explosion. Deeply worried, Smith wanted to lay some seriously fast tracks down. No way the VC would miss that explosion.
Then he heard Peck's filtered voice coming back urgently. "Snipers, Colonel ... up ahead ... I..." He burst out of the smothering shrubbery and into their peripheral vision running as if the hordes of hell were on his heels. Without warning he was cut down, howling and grabbing for his leg as he tumbled over and over. In mere seconds, Smith heard the noises he'd dreaded most as black-garbed VC sprang out all around them, weapons drawn. They were surrounded.
Realizing discretion was the best part of valor at this point, Smith instantly tossed his M-16 down and raised his arms slowly. The men again took their cue from him and followed suit. The Vietnamese began checking the prisoners out. After taking one look at the wounded Peck, one of them pointed his AK47 down, ready to solve that problem. Face looked up helplessly at Smith. "Colonel..."
"No!" Putting every ounce of authority he had into it, Smith's strident voice pierced the silence. "We demand to be taken to your superiors."
The VC gabbled among themselves for a moment at this unexpected response from prisoners. One kept his rifle pointed at Peck while the others conducted a quick, cursory search of the others. Murdock and the two downed pilots were pushed to one side. As they cleared each man of immediate suspicion, Blysyzki, the gunner, was motioned to join them, then Cummings and Brenner. Smith and Baracus stood alone. The VC rifled through the looted belongings of the men, suddenly becoming agitated. "You - pilot! You - CIA! Move, move." They motioned to Murdock and the other pilot, separating them further from the other men. Murdock cast a fearful look back at Smith, not understanding what was happening.
Smith understood the lingo to some degree and didn't like what he was hearing. "*Khieu ... CIA khieu!* No. Not CIA." Not thinking, he lowered his arms to emphasize his point. It was a big mistake. Taking it as a threat, his watchguard suddenly bashed him on the side of the head full bore with the rifle stock. His world exploded in a hot white flash as Smith went down hard, stunned. He was still for a few brief seconds, then dazed, began to rise, his head buzzing. The NVA soldier stomped savagely down on his back, holding him there, immobile.
Peck, in abject misery, watched his commander helplessly while waiting for the bullets that would end both of them. The Congs' attention reverted back to the pilots. They tore apart the two pilots' ID's and then Blysyzki's. Finding nothing useful, they turned back, pointing the AK's randomly at the men. Blysyzki paled and raised his hand in supplication. Before he could utter a word of protest, a trigger was pulled and the bullets took off his head, sending blood and brain matter flying everywhere.
Smith's horror was reflected in his face as he attempted to get up again-reacting to the scene before him-trying to stop this carnage or at least die on his feet. Caught off guard by his rising quarry, his keeper took another poorly aimed swing at him. Smith couldn't dodge this one either and another hard crack slammed into his skull. He went limp and crashed down.
Baracus lost it then. Swinging out wildly at the small Orientals nearest him, he scattered them like bowling pins, as he went charging past to reach Smith. Highly motivated by all the sounds surrounding him, clamoring for his attention, Smith had come around again and struggled back to his knees. With his blurred vision and throbbing temple, he could barely see the shadowy figure of the huge man bearing down on him. "No, BA ... don't." his voice cracked. But it was too late-Baracus was taken down by another rifle-swinging soldier, crashing forward heavily, landing next to his C.O. Powerless to intervene, Smith held his pounding head with one hand, trying desperately to stanch the now free-flowing blood and to wipe it from his eyes. "Chu hoi ... CHU HOI!" He held out his other hand, palm open, appealing for mercy, hardly a threatening figure anymore.
The leader of the militia scanned the circus he'd just inherited, and making a decision, walked over to the two pilots and casually fired two rounds-one gut shot, then one direct to the chest-into the younger one. Murdock and the wing man reacted with stunned disbelief. He waspishly turned back to Smith who'd watched, dumbstruck. "You go now ... Didi ... didi mau!" The threat was unmistakable.
They pulled Smith to his feet, jerking his arms back to tie them tightly from the elbows down. Swaying unsteadily, his fingers began to tingle warningly almost immediately. His head was throbbing from the repeated blows and he desperately shook it, trying to get some equilibrium back and to propel the warm liquid away from his eyes-so he could focus on who was being taken and who else would be left there, dead, to rot in the fetid jungle. Other than the two dead men, the rest seemed destined to leave this place. Baracus was securely tied up before being brought around, while Peck was hauled to his feet, someone having tied a tourniquet of sorts around his thigh during the fracas. Murdock and the other pilot were kept segregated from their mates and were being escorted out first. He
saw Brenner and Cummings follow them. Given a hard shove, he then began to stumble numbly along after the others, following the dim, watery shadows his battered eyes could barely see in front of him.
Medal of Honor, Beginning 2/6
They marched for hours while the heat and humidity sapped whatever energy they might have had as they plodded on. Their sweat-soaked feet swelled against the ungiving boot leather, causing too much friction and soon their feet turned to solid masses of watery blisters, breaking almost immediately, leaving raw lacerated flesh in its wake-each step became a new burning, searing agony. Face was having a really bad time of it, and B.A. finally managed to communicate his willingness to carry the man. It grew tense again as the VC debated whether to keep Peck with them or just shoot him and be rid of the time-drag.
Smith's stomach churned into a tight knot of fear as he waited for the verdict, helpless to do anything about it. But they saw something in him they wanted to keep, so Peck won a reprieve.
By nightfall, they were all utterly exhausted. Stopping to make camp for the evening, they found conversation was totally forbidden. The men tried to sleep while still trussed up, but weren't very successful at it. Smith's concussion had intensified and the combination of heat, lack of nourishment, dehydration and post-adrenaline-rush nausea left him with gut-wrenching cramps, keeping him awake most of the night.
The faces of the dead men kept swirling around in his tortured mind. Determined to save the men left, he tried to plot out any options they might have, but kept coming up empty.
In the morning, the VC gave them a meager portion of water and kindly allowed them to relieve themselves, untying their bonds long enough to insure they would go through the fiery agony all over again when tied back up. Then it was a second day of non-stop marching with no breaks for food or drink or nature's calls. Smith grew so disoriented, he had no idea where they were or where they were going. It finally came down to the deadly monotony of putting one foot in front of the other, tramping down the razor-sharp barbed grass in places, while being stung by broken branches in wildly rampant bamboo groves or slashed by myriads of elephant grass spears in others. By the end of the second night, he had no idea what part of Vietnam they were in anymore-South or North.
They reached their destination the third day, all in bad shape, especially Face. When they finally came upon the perimeter of the ramshackle camp, they almost didn't care whether they would survive or be shot on their arrival. While waiting for the brass to come out, Smith painfully managed to work his way over to check on Peck; the kid was feverish and delirious. Smith's own pulsing migraine hadn't abated and he tried to draw his swollen tongue over parched lips. It seemed so absurd, somehow; his body was soaked in perspiration, running down his back and chest in long rivulets, filling the already saturated boots, yet he couldn't get a drop of it near his mouth.
Processing hadn't taken long. The two men in charge weren't pleased with the rag-tag prisoners brought to them. They did seem to perk up when Murdock was brought before them and the word CIA kept surfacing. Smith groaned inside <...god, if they think he's a spook, his life is gonna be hell.> He'd moved over to them - stiffly, painfully - the salty sweat newly excoriating his raw, blistered feet with each step. The Vietnamese commandant deigned to look up at the leader of this newest group of prisoners, observing him briefly with contempt.
Trying to bow presented a real problem with his arms bound so, but Smith made the attempt, knowing how very much the VIETNAM loved "face". "*Gaio, ong*," he whispered formally. The commandant's aide turned and finally condescended to acknowledge him.
His voice gravelly and hoarse, Smith tried to capture their attention so as to shift some of the curiosity away from the pilot and onto his own shoulders. "I'm Lieutenant Colonel John Smith, United States Army. These men are under my command. Under the terms of the Geneva Treaty, I ask for medical assistance, food and shelter for these men."
The little man came up to the American and stared up at him, curiously. Even with the heat and debilitated condition of his body, Smith's crystalline eyes bored steadily and resolutely into the officer's. Abruptly realizing such directness could prove fatal here, Hannibal willed his eyes to be wide and humble, trying to impart, nonverbally, his willingness to cooperate. The man walked around him slowly, humming. He came to a stop in front of him. On his last legs, filthy, reeking of sweat, bilge, blood and urine, nevertheless Smith still projected the image of a proud, strong man.
"I am Major Dien. I am second command of this camp. Our commander is Colonel Chao. You are war criminal. There is no leverage for you under the Geneva Code. That is for prisoner of war. You are criminal. NO mercy." Even as he spoke the words, he continued to gaze at the man, curious, sensing some deep inner strength hidden there.
Smith was straddling a real fine line here. His training included what to do in such a case, but it hadn't really covered the possibility of having this many men under your command at the same time. He'd have to wing it, to do whatever he could to offset the nasty rumor that had been started about Murdock and, by association, all of them.
"I humbly ask for your indulgence. My men are hurt; they need attention."
"What is your mission? What unit are you come from?"
His inner voice sighed heavily. . "My name is Lieutenant. Colonel John Smith, U.S. Army, serial number 844-345687B."
"His name? And his? And his?" Dien pointed to the men huddled together.
Hannibal ran off the list of names clearly and concisely. Names and ranks of those he knew. He didn't volunteer one other single fact.
Chao had joined the conversation by now. "You must realize, Colonel, you are in a bad position here. You will tell us what we wish. We are representative of lenient government of Vietnam. Our questions are fair. You are aggressor, you must be cooperate."
Hannibal's legendary temper was starting to rise, and he knew that spelled death for them all if he let it go. Biting down his reaction, he peevishly snapped at the little colonel. "I'll cooperate when my men are taken care of."
The commander looked at him coolly. "We can shoot them all, American, and they will be taken care of."
Hannibal groaned at the entendre, and tried his damnedest again to be reasonable (from their point of view at least). "What do you wish to know?"
"Your unit, your commander, your mission here. Why you have CIA man with you...."
"He's not CIA, dammit," Smith snapped, exasperated. "He's just a pilot who was flying the chopper for us. He's nobody special."
"Then perhaps you are someone special?" Shrewdly assessing the man before him, the Vietnamese made a decision. "Very well. We will give food and medicine to your soldiers. You, however, will come with us."
Hannibal's stomach gave a sudden sick lurch at the portent of the words. He tried to throw his motley crew a quick, jaunty look, meant to bolster their flagging spirits as he was led away. But they all read the deceit in his eyes, growing
fearful when they realized he alone was being removed.
B.A.'s stolid face was impassive as he watched his C.O., his only friend in this godforsaken hellhole (besides Peck, Murdock and Ray), being led off.
Murdock's visage was miserable. He still wasn't too sure what he'd done to be treated so "special" but it couldn't be good. And he sensed Hannibal had just sold himself to the enemy to buy them some time. The thought scared him shitless.
* * *
Medal of Honor, The Beginning 3/6
The men were ensconced in a dirty cage that had never been designed for the mass of bodies crammed into it. Some questionable bandaging and ancient antiseptics were thrown in to treat Face. Murdock and Ray had done the best they could with the negligible accouterments, but infection had already set in and Face was feverish and delirious. Using most of the scant water reserves they'd been rationed, they tried to keep him cool. Ray Brenner organized their acclimation and his steady, responsible nature helped greatly to keep their minds off the loss of their C.O., but as time crawled by and still they heard nothing, their turmoil increased. Finally, the lieutenant's cries and thrashings created enough of an annoyance that camp medics were dispatched to take him to the medical facility.
Hannibal had been kept incommunicado for nearly twenty-four hours. They'd heard muffled screams in the distance at one point but weren't sure whose or where they emanated from. He was finally returned to them, dumped unconscious in the overcrowded hootch. With scant space for one more body, they tried to lay him out to assess damages. They could see the obvious signs of abuse on him: bruises, cuts, swellings. Obviously there had been a lot of "persuasion" exacted, but what was the extent of it? Smith moaned in his daze, and kept curling up into a tight ball, hugging his gut. Murdock was terrified he might have life-threatening internal injuries they couldn't see. Having no other resources, they wet their own shirts with what drinking water they had left and tried to clean his wounds and keep his temperature down as they had with Face. He finally awoke, after many hours, choking and gagging.
They gave him some water, then waited for him to recover so as to hear his report. He said nothing for a long time, and the haunted look now resident in his eyes ground down any positive expectations they might've held.
When he finally did say something, his voice was flat and emotionless. "It's not good, guys. We've landed in a real pesthole here. They seem to be setting a lot more value to us than we're possibly worth."
Smith's persona was usually bigger than life, and this extreme reticence really shook them. They began chattering amongst themselves worriedly as to what the future would hold. It wasn't going to be good, obviously. But that it had so completely dispirited their C.O. fed more fuel to their burning questions.
"Murdock, we've got to talk later." Smith's mournful gaze, when it finally settled on Murdock, really freaked out the pilot. He saw the concern there, and real fear for him. He couldn't follow through, however, as the guards finally came over and ordered the men quiet.
They were kept together in the tiny hootch until some kind of permanent quarters could be arranged for them, while being most emphatically kept away from the other POW's across the camp, whom they could barely see. Communication with those men was impossible. Face was still in the medic ward, and as time went on, Hannibal increasingly looked to be badly in need of medical assistance himself. After nearly a day, he wouldn't say anything more to them, hurting mentally as well as physically, and dissuaded their efforts to get close to him. B.A. managed to get near with a damp rag, indicating he was going to play medic, and gently probed Smith's scalp, trying to gauge the depth of the two large, seeping gashes there. Hannibal grew irritated with Baracus' efforts, and pushed him away. He'd grown groggy, and they elected to let him sleep; time enough to plan what they were going to do from here. The colonel needed his wits about him, and that required he rest.
* * *
The next morning Smith seemed to be restored back to some of his old self. He elaborated curtly on his tenure with the commandant, pointedly ignoring their questions on just what Charlie had done to him, sidestepping their queries by warning the men they had a hellish time coming. He pulled Murdock over and quietly confided why all the interest in him.
Murdock pulled back, all color washed from his face. He couldn't have asked for a worse recommendation. "CIA? God, Colonel, that's a crime here ... execution for no other reason. How did they get that idea?"
"Probably 'cause you're a pilot ... and all pilots are s'posed to be CIA, y'know. I tried to tell 'em you were just one of the guys out of the rotor pool ... I really tried, but they weren't buying." Smith seemed to pull deeply into himself for a long moment. //When they'd grown tired of pistol-whipping him, they'd tied him up and beat him senseless, demanding the 'truth' about the pilot.. the 'truth' he couldn't provide even had he been so inclined.// He returned his attention to the man hunkered down next to him. His eyes were sorrowful. "I'm sorry, Murdock. I did my best, but I'm afraid they're going to give you some extra 'special' attention.'
Knowing Hannibal's endurance, Murdock didn't even want to contemplate to what degree the colonel's "best" had been tested. He swallowed hard. "It's okay, Colonel. Just a lousy run of luck, huh?"
Smith nodded back, tightly.
"Well, I guess we'll just hav'ta show 'em who's brass and who's not around here." And, from that point on, Murdock had gone strange, wrapping himself in fantasies, delving into his childhood memories to locate and hide within his favorite tv and radio shows. Not that it helped. The NVA were after him, nonstop, trying to break him, trying to get the top secret information he surely had to have.
Accepting their new situation pragmatically, Smith had done his best to rally them and force them to hang on, by example if nothing else. They managed to get a few messages across the camp to the other POWs. Unfortunately, it turned out Hannibal was the senior ranking officer in camp. It was a fearfully heavy responsibility and one the Team wished like hell hadn't occurred. Smith never flinched from the role he'd been cast but as time went on, and developments in the camp took a decidedly nasty turn, he never, ever, shirked his responsibility nor considered giving over his men to make life easier for himself. But having to watch Murdock constantly being tortured and interrogated ate away at him, in between running interference for Face and some of the other younger guys. Knowing there was a rat in the larger group didn't help his peace of mind any, either. Tommy Angel gave Smith more grief than he ever knew: having no moral compunctions, the little weasel casually gave away anyone the NVA wanted whenever they threatened him with punishment, knowing Smith would get the blame.
As life crawled on, stealing from the VIETNAM became a matter of survival, pure and simple. The trick was not to get caught doing it. Food, a bit of medicine, a scrap of paper and a stick or pen to write with - these were the prizes the prisoners sought. Being caught with any contraband brought an instant death sentence. Once recovered, Face's talents as a con artist, which had always served the Team so well in the past, now became a matter of necessity. He could do it better than anyone, although he ran a close neck and neck with Hannibal, who had the glibbest of tongues when it really mattered, with the expression of a choirboy to match. Face never lost his admiration for his mentor and the many lessons he learned from him. Unfortunately, Hannibal's status-being so much in the "public" eye in the POW hierarchy-ground him down, and as time went on, his patience and sly humor were replaced by boundless frustration at his impotent ability to assist the other prisoners. His Vietnamese language skills became very honed, again from absolute necessity-Hannibal wasn't about to trust any of their lives to the Cong translators! Murdock and B.A. both wisely kept out of the fray, allowing their counterparts to engage in the often aggravating, sometimes humiliating, seldom amusing, usually shattering, war of wills with their captors.
Hannibal at times became privy to information he would have rather not had, including several botched escape attempts by some of the other internees. As the figurehead, Hannibal and the actual guilty parties would be subjected to hours, sometimes days of agonizing torture to force them to give up names of other co-conspirators. Hannibal would not give in, one time even sustaining a broken arm for his efforts. It was a simple break, fortunately, and healed well, although it gave him much grief for several months. Escapees-to-be learned from the example, and never again burdened him with such advance knowledge. There was nothing he could do for them in any case, and by being made a part of it unwillingly, they jeopardized his own life; a fact which came chillingly home one late afternoon when a pair of successful escapees were brought back to the camp, tortured for many hours, and then later that night summarily shot in front of everyone.
Hannibal had been high on the list of suspected camp collaborators, so Chao and Dien had once again carted him off to their secret lair. Later in the night, the men heard heartrending screams, a gunshot, and then silence-for several days. The Team were paralyzed with fear that their C.O. had joined the others in the final solution. They'd been told nothing for days-not knowing whether he was still alive or so much worm fodder down at the garbage dump in the jungle. His sudden reappearance finally - dazed, hurt, feverish - was joyous to them, but tempered with the portent of how damned close it had been this time.
Some days, Hannibal would be brought back to the hootch beaten and bruised, his eyes so swollen he couldn't open them; so battered they could barely recognize him. At such times, only his trademark hair made identification possible. After such "demonstrations", Hannibal would be harangued and tormented for days afterward by the guards, whom he could barely see; being poked and prodded, tripped and knocked around to amuse the soldiers, and to bring home the subliminal point of the power the NVA exercised over them all.
But Hannibal never stopped fighting them by any means he had at hand. The Vietnamese knew it - and hated him for it.
B.A. was big, burly and mean; a prime target for the mayhem the two camp heads delighted in. But they recognized the damage he could return in kind, and so didn't torture him nearly as much as the others. Having no other recourse, the VC delighted in starving him, but could never quite break his spirit; however, they wounded him deeply, emotionally (and were never aware of it), by inflicting so much damage on his C.O., whom he idolized (although he would never admit to such a thing out loud.) He was never so gentle as when Hannibal was returned freshly tenderized from the "concerned" VC care. The big man held in his rage, sustaining himself against the day when he might, for one glorious moment, break free and give them the lesson they so roundly deserved, before he would be cut down. It was all he lived for-that and watching out for Hannibal, Faceman and the fool.
* * *
Medal of Honor, Beginning 4/6
Ray had been the lucky one. Only there for a few months, he'd been traded for some Cong spook back in Saigon. He didn't want to leave, relaying to Peck and Murdock that he was really afraid for Smith, with the new events that were rapidly unraveling. He begged them to take care of the Colonel, knowing Hannibal would never ask. "You've got to promise me this, Peck ... Murdock. They're gonna kill him soon, I just feel it in my bones. You know how he is ... please take care of him. Sometimes he's his own worst enemy." They solemnly promised to do so.
Hannibal watched Ray leave with mixed feelings. He was damned glad one of them was getting out of this hellhole, but a baser part of him wished it was him going. He didn't brood on it for long, however, getting back to the simple fact of survival. When Dien's mind games finally became intolerable, and it was obvious that Hannibal was marked to die fairly soon, they made their plans to leave.
Burnett had done the unthinkable - he'd tried to escape, and being clumsy at best, had killed a guard in doing so. Unfortunately, also being inept, he'd been caught almost immediately. Accidentally hearing Hannibal and the Team's escape plans had triggered a response in his own mind, compelling him to try it on his own.
They'd all been sick with worry knowing that Burnett was aware of their plans. What if he spilled it to the VC? He'd been held for two days, his nonstop screams piercing the air, driving the inmates to slow madness from listening to it. He'd finally been brought out to be executed for his crime. Hannibal was more wound up than usual, waiting for the proverbial "other shoe" to drop.
At dawn, Chao had the battered and nearly unrecognizable man brought out and stood at attention in front of the assembled camp. He was stripped naked in short order then roughly pushed to the ground to a kneeling position. His legs were bound individually, calf to thigh, so tightly he could barely move. Then binding his arms tightly to his side and wrapping the cords round and round him, they left him kneeling for a few moments, trussed like a goose, as they walked over to a small stand of green bamboo to the side of the square. They selected a stalk about 1-1/2" in diameter, slicing it down to about 2-1/2 feet high and then sharpened it to a point.
Smith's expression froze, suddenly aware, with a terrible certainty, just what was going to transpire. "God," he muttered. "Goddam sonsofbitches. God help him."
Face and Murdock glanced at him nervously. "What's goin' down, Colonel?" Murdock whispered anxiously.
Hannibal's strained voice matched the terrible expression he wore. "You don't want to know."
The muscles in his face were chiseled in stony rigor mortis.
The Team members looked at each other with fearful glances.
Chao watched the whole sick scenario with barely concealed avarice. He let the moment build. Burnett was beginning to lose it. He hadn't struggled much to this point, but the shock was wearing off; he knew he was going to die, but he wasn't sure how and he was terribly afraid. The protracted waiting had wired him to a hysterical edge, and he knew one thing with absolute certainty: the VC wouldn't do it quick.
Chao suddenly spun around and faced Hannibal. "You - Smith - over there." He pointed to a spot a few feet away from the newly sharpened stake. Hannibal stood motionless for a long heartbeat, swaying slightly, seeming not to hear the order. Chao motioned to one of the guards who shoved him roughly forward to the designated spot.
Smith cast one wary, hapless look back at the guys that chilled all of them. If so, then he was also a dead man, merely by providing Burnett with his inspiration.
Hannibal stood stock still, barely breathing for a heavy moment, waiting for the death knell to fall. Chao moved over to him, observing his reactions. He motioned again to the guards who jerked Smith down to a kneeling position, mirroring Burnett's, then tied his arms back tightly.
Hannibal's heart was thudding wildly in his chest, while his demeanor tightened further into an impassive mask.
Dien had come up behind him and stood expectantly. Chao turned his attention back to Burnett, addressing the entire camp as he did so. "This man has attempted to escape the benevolent custody of this camp of the Liberated People's Democratic Republic of Vietnam. This is not a progressive act. This action would be deplorable enough, but in his attempt, he carelessly took the life of a guard, Lin Hao On. This is an intolerable act and cannot be permitted to go unpunished. In this instance, a life for a life is the sentence. The guard Hao On did nothing to merit being killed."
A ripple of barely disguised derision flowed through the ranks of the assembled prisoners. Chao could feel it in every stare, every curled lip. "In the seeking of equitable justice, it is decreed that the prisoner Tom-mee Boor-net will likewise die, to satisfy kama. He will die more painfully and slowly than did Hao On so that you all may learn by example to harbor no further thoughts of escape from this place." At that he turned and gave Smith an exceptionally meaningful stare. Hannibal somehow gazed back, unflinching. Chao gauged his fearless reaction for a long moment, then continued. "For any of you who think to escape this place-watch closely and rethink."
He motioned to the three guards, who picked up the bound man by his thighs and arms, carried him over to the stake and set him down beside it, positioning him so that he and Smith were facing each other. Burnett looked at him piteously for a moment, his voice quavering, "I'm sorry, Colonel. I tried so hard not to say anything."
Hannibal swallowed hard and nodded at him, trying to impart some strength to him, desperately trying to keep the horror from his own eyes. "It's okay, Burnett ... nothin' we can do 'bout it now." It still hadn't fully hit Burnett what they were going to do. Hannibal closed his eyes for a second, mouthing a silent prayer.
Dien, seeing it, slapped him on the side of the face. "You will watch, Smith." Hannibal's eyes fluttered open reluctantly.
The guards lifted Burnett, and once they gained some sort of balance with their awkward bundle, began to awkwardly crabwalk again, finally stopping to hold him directly over the stake.
Burnett finally realized what they meant to do and lost it, twisting in their grip, but was bound too tightly to succeed. It was all they could do to keep from dropping him. He began to toss his head and scream the closer he got to that stalk of wood. The guards, keeping their grip with great difficulty, slowly lowered him down to the waiting point, spreading his legs slightly as they did so. As the sharpened spear entered his rectum, just inside the colon wall, the guards stopped. He was barely impaled on the stake, being held aloft by the guards; discomfort and some pain endured, but no life threatening injuries had been inflicted - yet. Burnett's eyes were bulging with sheer terror, his body stiff as rigor mortis. He knew he didn't dare move at this point or he'd impale himself.
Smith began to mutter to himself as the execution progressed. His hands were clenched into knotted fists by his side. He could do nothing but watch.
Chao oversaw the whole thing, feeding off the reactions and emotions like a vulture. He flicked his fingers upward and the guards began to lift Burnett off the stake.
A look of astonishment, and then hope, tangibly crossed his face.
Hannibal shut his eyes, sick to the point of nausea, waiting in impotent rage at what was being perpetrated in front of him. He knew Chao's sick sense of humor. Another hard jab at his back forced his eyes open again.
Chao made another imperceptible move and the guards in unison suddenly lowered Burnett several inches. The stake reentered the rectal area and then tore through the intestinal wall with excruciating pain. As Burnett realized, with a terror filled certainty, that he was going to die and just how painfully, he began to scream, "God ... God ... GOD! Oh, sweet motherfucking shit!"
The guards continued to lower his body slowly down, his howls unceasing the whole time. They went slowly, slowly, so that he would not be suddenly released from his agony by a chance jab of the stake against his heart.
Hannibal bowed his head, trying to blot out the muffled crunch as the stake tore through ribs, tendons and internal organs. Dien prodded the American beneath him into full awareness by taking a bayonet to Hannibal's back, jabbing him until he again raised his head to continue his witnessing.
After a certain point the weight and angle were too hard to sustain and the guards, no longer able to control a slow descent, finally just let go, letting Burnett's own body weight carry him the rest of the way to the ground. He screamed and screamed, staring at Smith in agonized disbelief the whole while, frothy blood starting to ooze out of his mouth past his distended tongue.
Face, Murdock and B.A. were devastated at what they saw. Face, especially, watched his C.O. with deep concern.
Chao moved over to the two men. "You will remain here as witness, Colonel Smith, until sentence has been completed," looking acidly at Smith. "When prisoner Boor-net has died, you may leave. Camp dismissed." As he turned away, he saw Face and Murdock start toward their C.O. He pointed his finger at them. "No one will interfere in this until it is done." Chao then stalked off.
Face and Murdock stood back helplessly - the dreadful scene before them acid-etched into their souls. Hannibal seemed out of it, not aware of anything around him, having gone into shock.
It was an interminable day and night. It seemed that Burnett would have died fairly quick from the blood loss, but the little bastards knew just how and where to pierce for minimal loss and a slow death. Burnett's cries had long since stopped. He'd fixed a glassy stare on Hannibal and remained like that - until he died.
Medal of Honor - The Beginning Pt. 5/6
The next dawn, the guards went to check the scene. Released from their hootch, the Team followed on their heels - straight to the square. The rapidly growing bamboo had begun to send shoots out of Burnett's mouth. The sight sickened them to the point of retching - then they saw Hannibal: Smith knelt catatonic with Burnett dead, pinned upright in front of him. The guys had never seen him lose it before. They waited until they were given the signal and then ran to get the colonel away from there. He numbly allowed them to untie him and lead him away, his eyes glassy and unseeing. The men were really scared. It could've so easily been him on the stake. Face and Murdock resolved to find out, but the primary need was to get Hannibal back to himself
In a final bit of perversion, Chao ordered the body be left where it was, to decompose in front of everyone, serving as a graphic reminder what cost any escape attempt would bring.
The next two days were really bad. Hannibal couldn't sleep; every time he fell into a fitful doze, he awoke screaming, unaware of his surroundings or the Team keeping vigil beside him. The guys took turns keeping watch on him. Finally, in desperation, B.A. clipped him on the jaw, sending him into a merciful oblivion. When he finally awoke the next day, he seemed to snap out of it, burying it deep in his subconscious.
He never said another word about it - not one. But when the Team tentatively asked him whether they were still going to escape, his answer was an emphatic yes - although his eyes were tortured as he said it. He'd seen what their punishment would be for the attempt.
There were no more surprises, now. He knew what he faced if he failed. He resigned himself to their credo that he was already walking dead. He did not expect the guys to go with him now, nor would he require it of them. But he was determined to leave. Face, Murdock and B.A. reaffirmed that they were with him, whatever the outcome. Hannibal bluntly stated that if they went with him and were caught, he intended to kill them all out in the fields - he would not allow them to be brought back to the camp to face Burnett's fate "...and did anyone have any trouble with that?"
Face asked point-blank, "How will you take care of yourself, Colonel?"
Hannibal looked at him squarely on. "Not your problem, Lieutenant."
Of course, then they all were worried sick in the knowledge that if it failed, Hannibal would ensure that they were beyond Chao's wrath, whether or not he could do it for himself. That thought tormented them. It was the only thing they were truly afraid of-Hannibal would sacrifice himself on their behalf. They prayed that it would not work out that way; that they would succeed.
Hannibal's steadfastness of purpose amazed all of them. But he did ultimately pull it off although by the time they made the attempt he had been tortured nearly to the point of no return. Combined with the debilitating dysentery and severe malnutrition, edema had set in, swelling his joints, ankles and testicles to a shocking degree, almost incapacitating him. The simple act of walking had become an excruciating exercise of willpower for the determined officer.
Hannibal was anguished at leaving the other POWs behind, but he couldn't take them all, and by escaping, perhaps the Team could lead forces back and rescue them. He'd been so ill at the time the Team were genuinely worried whether he would survive the attempt. <...and if it went sour, which one of them could kill him?>
The matter then became how to escape with any kind of an edge now that Chao was aware of their plans. Hannibal had cagily put out feelers, limiting his inquiries to the Team and Lin Duc Coo, the only other person he really trusted in the camp. As much as he would have liked to, he could not afford to trust any of the other POW'S, especially any of those near Tommy Angel. He knew the little worm would give them over in a heartbeat simply because of the leverage it would afford him. He regretted not communicating his plans, but his and the Team's survival depended on his silence.
The small cook had pondered the problem presented by the American colonel, and finally came up with a solution that was brilliant in its simplicity. One evening, surreptitiously crouching behind the bamboo cage that was home for the Team, he ran it by Smith, who, for all appearances, seemed to be merely lounging nonchalantly against a corner post. "What would make the guards release control over the prisoners? Some kind of accident or disaster ... an attack by your planes would surely cause it..."
Hannibal replied tartly that he didn't think he could summon the Air Force on short notice. "Believe me, Lin, if I could do that we woulda been outta here long ago." It took him a long moment to realize that the cook was way ahead of him.
"An accident, Colonel ... perhaps a flood ... or a..." his eyes twinkled, "a fire in the work quarters."
Hannibal caught on instantly. "Yeah, somewhere where there would be plenty of fuel...... He mentally scanned the camp's perimeter. "The fuel storage?"
Lin shook his head. "No, Colonel ... that is where they would NOT allow the prisoners any flexibility." He cocked his head, waiting for the American to catch up to him.
"The kitchen..." Smith's eyes gleamed. "Of course. They wouldn't want to lose all their food supplies up in smoke." He reached out and slapped the cook on the shoulder. "Great idea, Lin! Wish I'd thought of it." Smith leaned back against the thick comer pole, grinning, and shut his eyes, mentally conjuring up images of the camp running amuck. Then reality set in. "But how would we get there, Lin? We're not on the kitchen detail usually."
"Usually ... but Tet is soon. They will want a feast to celebrate. There will be more work. The pig will be killed, I think. But what if the pig got loose ... and knocked over a cooking fire? The tent would go very quickly. I suspect Colonel Chao would not hesitate a moment to save it. Now, if you and your men were already in the kitchen..." Lin's eyes held a conspiratorial light.
"Yeah, Lin ... if " Kitchen duty was more of a reward than a chore, and he and the Team were seldom allowed such perks.
"I can put you on the list to serve that day." He shook his head. "It would be most unfortunate if some of the usual staff found themselves ill that day. I would have to have replacements, no?"
Hannibal's mind, once massaged, was now racing along. "Sick, huh? Like planned sick?"
The small oriental shrugged and nodded. "An easy thing to do. A substance slipped into their evening meal, then a few hours later, much pain in the stomach."
"I like it. I like it a lot." Smith's eyes began to sparkle. "D'ya think you can pull it off, Lin?" He nervously chewed a tom bit of skin on his finger. "I mean, should we go ahead and make plans?"
"I will make it happen, Colonel." The small cook extended his hand to the American, taking it in a strong clasp. "Make your plans. You have ten days." With that, Lin rose up from his crouch and slipped back into the inky darkness.
Medal of Honor, the Beginning 6/6
And he did. The Team's nerves had been taut, nearly to the point of fraying as they made their plans and waited. On a couple of supervised forays into the jungle or while on latrine duty, each one had hidden small packets of essentials for the trip. Eking out the minimalistic supplies had been nerve-racking in and of itself.
Hannibal knew that even with the planned disaster, he would be the one watched, so arranged that the guys would slip out first and he would follow. They didn't really like that, but Smith was adamant. "If I try to leave first, that'll put a kibosh on everything. It won't work. Trust me guys ... I want to get out of here as much as you."
Unanimously in accordance with the plan, they watched the pre-dawn light of D-Day with trepidation. When the guards came to their hootch and ordered them up to report for kitchen duty, it was all they could do to keep from yelping with joy at Lin's accomplishing the impossible. Hannibal shook his head for them to calm down. Following his lead, they got up and shuffled dispiritedly behind the guards. Kitchen duty, normally, was a demoralizing chore, as they were not allowed to touch or eat any of the copious food being prepared for the guards.
Lin gave each of them an assignment, putting Hannibal in charge of the pig. "It must be cleaned and washed. Here is a brush. Scrub it hard."
Hannibal groused about the dirty job. "It's gonna be dead anyway, wash it then." The guard came over and insisted that Smith do the chore he'd been given. He didn't notice the manic light lurking in the American's eyes. As Smith passed Lin and was handed the scrub brush, he felt a small box of matches passed along as well. Persisting with his griping, he painfully limped behind the guard out to the pig sty.
"Do a good job, My and perhaps you will be given some of the meat." The guard was one of the less sadistic of the bunch, and Hannibal felt a moment of remorse that his actions would compromise the man, but this was war and you did what you had to do.
Bowing, Hannibal sarcastically murmured, "Thank you, kind ong." The guard moved over to the feed hut, to be clear of the messy bathing. Hannibal began washing and scrubbing the pig, which wanted none of it. He found himself chasing it clumsily around the sty, with the animal growing more agitated by the minute. In his journey around the enclosure, he'd picked up a handful of dry straw which he twisted into a solid strand, using it ostensibly to hit the pig to
corral it into the comer where he wanted it. At one point the wily pig slipped away from him and bounced heavily against the rickety gate. Never one to waste an opportunity, Hannibal followed it and tripped awkwardly, sliding full tilt into the gate, knocking it open. Rising, covered from head to toe in mud and muck, he turned around, ostensibly trying to locate the animal ... although the guard's location was his real objective. The guard, bored with the pig's scouring, had left for the kitchen to score some early breakfast.
Hannibal's manic grin was directed at the pig. He waved his arms at it, while pulling out a match and lighting his makeshift torch. Attaching it to the rope collar the pig wore, he shooed the hapless pig out of the corral and toward the kitchen. Watching the squealing, frantic pig with its fiery collar knocking over everything in its path turned his grin positively evil. Giving the pig plenty of leeway, he followed its line of carnage, appearing to attempt to catch the terrified animal.
Lin had been busy too. When he saw the pig heading toward the cooking area, he'd carelessly dropped a lit match being used to start a cook fire. It hit the straw floor and instantly began to smolder. With the pig running around and everyone suddenly scrambling to catch it, it was very easy to drop a couple more matches. In moments, the kitchen was ablaze and everyone was running around chaotically trying to figure out what to do.
During the mayhem, Face, B.A. and Murdock each slipped away, using the thick clouds of choking smoke to camouflage their exit. They stealthily retrieved their secreted parcels as they made their way to the check point. When they reached a spot where they could look back without being seen from the camp, they stopped, expecting to see Hannibal join them any moment. Agonizing seconds ticked by, however, with no sign of the colonel, while down at the camp, the ruckus continued with everyone was yelling and running around amidst the suffocating smoke, accomplishing nothing.
"He's not coming. They must have him." Face's voice constricted as he uttered it. He looked back at Murdock and B.A. "What do we do, guys? Do we leave him? Go back?"
B.A. planted his feet stolidly. "Ain' goin' without him, Faceman."
Murdock nodded his acquiescence. "If we're missing and Hannibal's caught, you know what they'll do. Can't let it happen ... can't." His anguished eyes entreated Peck and Baracus. They nodded back. Sighing deeply, Face turned to take the first steps back to the camp when the outraged pig came charging through a thick clump of brush, followed by a grinning Smith.
"Sorry, guys. Matilda, here, took a short sightseeing trip." Despite his flippant words, it was obvious the exertion had taken its toll. Leaning against a tree to ease his labored breathing, he stopped dead at the glum faces meeting him. "Uh ... somethin' wrong?"
In the time it took to utter the question, their faces split into wide smiles as it connected that Hannibal had indeed managed to escape. "Nothin', Colonel ... nothin' at all!" Face countered.
"Well, we better get movin'. It won't take them long to miss us." With that, Smith determinedly picked up a bundle and began limping off towards the breaking dawn. Without a word, the rest of the Team followed suit, and quickly moved out of the area.
Lin Duc Coo's crude maps and small food packets made the initial difference between life and death. They'd all agreed unanimously that if captured, they absolutely would not go back. They'd seen Chao's punishments for escapees; there were no options-better to be dead quick. Even death on the trail was preferable.
But somehow, by the grace of God and some really bizarre luck, they made it. While fleeing their pursuers for about three days, sometimes only mere hours ahead of them, at one point they came out into an open grassy field, just below a small hillock. By this time, Hannibal was supported in a crude sling they'd fashioned, feverish and totally wasted, having finally given out a day earlier.
They heard activity and choppers over the rise. Leaving Murdock and the colonel in a clearing just below the hilltop, safely snuggled in a bamboo patch, Face and B.A. moved as fast and quietly as they could to top the summit cautiously. Fully expecting a contingent of NVA irregulars to meet them, they were stunned to see instead a couple of American Hueys picking up battle-wounded.
Our guys! Peck started screaming his lungs out, trying to be heard over the roaring engines. B.A. took the simpler, more direct path. He began running downhill towards the thrumming birds, waving his arms and screeching. The soldiers were startled at the sight and almost mowed the big black man down. Dressed in Cong sartorial best, they had to assume he was a sapper. But one of them recognized Baracus and stopped the first round in the split-second of a heartbeat. B.A. reached the chopper and conveyed his message between great racking gulps of air-there were three more men back over the hill; they'd escaped a POW camp and had a badly injured officer with them. When he started calling off the names, the excitement around him grew.
"Peck? Captain Murdock?"
"Smith? Hannibal Smith?!"
"My God, they've been gone for months!"
Baracus nodded - with his adrenaline rush suddenly gone, his completely depleted body finally gave out. He went limp and passed out on them. But it was enough; the word was passed and the other chopper lifted up to go back for them.
Seeing B.A. accomplish his mission, Peck gave a wild whoop and went bounding back to his friends, yelling and flailing his arms wildly. Murdock had elected to stay with Hannibal and looked up expectantly, not wanting to say anything to get the colonel's hopes up needlessly.
Face bounced up. "C'mon guys, we got a slick coming over that hill any minute. We've got a ride home." The adrenaline pumping though his body wiped out any exhaustion he should have been feeling.
Murdock looked down sadly at the wasted man on the ground. He snaked his arm under his C.O.'s heavy head and raised it slightly. "C'mon, Hannibal. We're goin' home. Our taxi's gonna be here, right about...... he looked anxiously at the horizon, gauging its speed....... now," as the bird rose up over the horizon, bristling metal muscle, strictly business, heading right for them.
Smith's fevered eyes searched his friend's face. "F'sure, Captain?" His voice was faint.
Murdock nodded, not trusting himself to speak ... aching like hell that Hannibal had to be rescued this way <... flat out on his damned back, after all he'd gone through for so long.>
"Help me up, Murdock." Smith's voice was raw, as his hands groped for the pilot's arm to try for some leverage. "Can't have 'em find me layin' down on the job." Despite his efforts, he couldn't do it. His pain-filled eyes nevertheless held the minutest glimmer of mirth... the best Hannibal Smith could sum up at this point.
The pilot swallowed hard; with all he'd survived, Hannibal's humor still seemed intact. the pilot thought to himself with some relief.
* * *
It had been a downhill ride from there. They'd been evac'd and taken to Tan Son Nhut. A few weeks spent in the med ward had revived most of their spirits and health. Hannibal and Face obviously were well on the road to recovery when they started outdoing each other racking up points scoring with the nurses. Murdock, unfortunately, had gone weird on them and ended up spending a lot of time, far too much time, in psych ward. B.A. recovered first and was shipped home for a short leave.
After they got their health back, there had been the requisite debriefing. There was some real bad feeling when Hannibal was first interrogated by the brass, picking up a subtle inference that they were being accused of collaboration with the enemy. He'd lost it big time, intimidating the probing panel; the brass had backed away real fast at his explosion. The subject was never mentioned again. They'd had a fantastic reunion with Brenner, and a long, long leave in Hawaii.
Hannibal was ultimately given a Medal of Honor for the deed, although he protested with his every breath that he hadn't done it alone and wanted the guys to get equal credit. The brass had been adamant on this one - //he was the figurehead, like it or not// - and he'd had to swallow it, although it stuck in his craw. And in the light of later events, never being too thrilled with it seemed prophetic.
"Khieu! No, not!
Chu hoi Surrender
Didi didi mau Move move it quick
Gaio, ong Good day, sir (a form of respectful greeting)
kama justice, fate (as from a former life);
same as Indian karma
The execution of Burnett was not merely an indulgence in sadism. The NVA were very fond of using this execution ploy, but usually on Montegnard tribesmen or especially children (whom they looked down upon as sub-savage), especially those who aided the U.S. or ARVN. However, it is documented that any number of "round-eyes" were also put to death in this manner to serve as examples. Many American "atrocities" were triggered after GI's would come across a friendly village slaughtered in this manner.
Note: Bamboo grows at the rate of 8 inches a night.
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