Flare Parachute in Vietnam Narrative

Parachute Flare

Michael W. Rodriguez
Copyright 1996-1998

For Daniel F. "Dee" Carter. Thanks for the memory.



Whoop whoop whoop whoo--

I shade my eyes in time to see the flare pop free from its small aluminum tube. Bright white light bathes the west end of the perimeter and we hunker down deeper into the bush and fighting holes that provide our cover. My eyes and the top of my head are the only exposed parts of my body; I use the flare's light to quickly scan the bush and rice paddy to my front for gooks. I see nothing but shadows; nothing moves. Good, I grunt to myself.

I adjust my position, trying to make myself comfortable. Chingada madre!, I think. What I would give for a smoke, a beer, a tamale and a Chicanita, right here; right now. I grin to myself. Why not wish you were back home in East L.A., while you're at it? No shit. Don't I wish?

I hear a soft movement behind me, the whisper of cloth on leaves. I turn quickly, easily, shotgun out in front my body. I see his eyes and face long before he sees me. Carter.

He's looking for me, sees me, and heads in my direction. He crawls into my hole, softly panting with the effort he's made to get here.

"Hey, homeboy," I whisper to him. "What's up?"

His panting slows, his eyes never leaving the front of my tiny piece of perimeter. "Hey," he says.

Our eyes stay on the perimeter. I don't rush him; Carter will tell me what's happening when he's ready.

"I wanna go get it," he says.

"Get what?" I ask

"The parachute," he says. "I wanna go get the parachute from that flare."

I turn to stare at him. "Are you shittin' me, Dee?" I ask.

"I crap you zero ounces, man," he whispers. "I wanna go get the parachute."

I look at his face. Carter is a Corporal, a team leader of Marines. He's got nine, maybe ten months in the bush as a Grunt. He knows better: We do not leave the fucken perimeter unless we are told to leave the perimeter. And no one has told us to leave the fucken perimeter.

"No one has told us to leave the fucken perimeter, I say to him. Are you nuts?"

He grins at me.

The flare's light has all but disappeared, gently returning the Vietnam night to its former inky black. Our perimeter is platoon-size. Third Platoon is over there on our flank, and Second Platoon has got the duty as security at the river, watching our backs. We are ass-deep in the Badlands.

I do not want to be here, and I know Carter does not want to be here, so what is all this bullshit? Fuck it, I think.

"Fine," I say. "Whatever. You want the parachute, go get the damn thing."

"Ah Yeah, well," he says.

I turn to face him, immediately suspicious. "Ah yeah well, what?" I ask.

"Ah You know I got to have some backup," he says.

My eyes grow huge! What the fuck, over!

"Are you fucken nuts? You are fucken nuts!" My voice is a low and savage whisper, scraping its way past my throat. I stare at my friend, then let a soft, throaty chuckle make its way into my face. "Fuck you."

"C'mon, man," he pleads. "What's the problem? We slide out; we get the 'chute; we get back. Piece a cake."

"Fuck you."

He leans back in my fighting hole. I know his eyes have marked the parachute's fall. He knows where it is.

"I'm gonna go get it," he says. "You gonna come with me?"

I am exasperated beyond belief. "Wait 'til morning. We'll get it then."

"No. I want to go get it now," he says.

Shit, I think. Oh, goddamn

Carter lets a smirk start its way across his face. "I remember," he whispers, "just this past summer . . .."

"Yeah, yeah," I say.

"Wasn't for me . . ."

"Yeah, yeah," I say again.

We pause to listen to the night. Our eyes are almost useless in the dark, so we trust to other senses: Smell, and hearing. We smell nothing.

We hear exactly what we want to hear: Nothing.

"I don't wanna call in old debts, or anything," he says.

"Hell you don't," I retort.

"You coming out there with me?" he asks. "If not, I'll go alone"

I stare at him, knowing I am going to go out there. Ah, goddammit!

The last couple of nights have been quiet, or I wouldn't even consider it. I glance at Carter; not that he'd give a shit if I considered it or not. He just wants that damned parachute. And he knows that I'm going along.

"Who's got your right?" he asks.

"Sanderson," I say, exasperation plain in my voice. "And some new guy; a Chuck dude."

He nods.

"McCleary's on the left," I tell him. "You go tell the guys on the right that we're going out. I'll go tell McCleary." Shit, I think.

I slide left, outta my hole.

I am a shadow, sliding silently across the deck of a dried-out rice paddy toward McCleary's position. I hear the soft snick of a weapon coming off safe.

I whisper, "Mac?"

"Here," he says.

I crawl two more feet.

I come to Mac's fighting hole and stare into the eyes of a man with whom I have served for the better part of six months. McCleary keeps to his own counsel. Whatever he thinks and believes, he keeps to himself. He does not share whatever drives him in this fucken war. He is good in the Bush. Good enough for me.

"What's happenin'?" he asks.

"Carter wants the parachute--"

"-- from that flare," he finishes. Somehow, he's not surprised.

"Yeah," I whisper.

He grins at me. "White boy gonna get you killed, man. Know that, don't you?"

I shrug. "Maybe. Still gotta go with 'im."

I see his hand move, a small arc in front of him. I know what it means: Fuck it. Don' mean nothin'.

"Go. I got your back."

"Rodge'," I say, and turn to head back to my hole.

"Hey," he whispers.

I stop and turn on my belly. "Yeah?"

"You get killed out there; can I have your shotgun?"

I grunt, enjoying the moment. "Yeah," I say. "You can have the shotgun." In the half-light of a low moon I see that he grins again at me.

"Little people find you, bring 'em back this way." He gestures in the general direction of a small foot trail just outside the perimeter. "I'll fuck 'em up," he says.

"Rodge'," I say again.

I crawl over to my hole.

Carter's back from visiting Sanderson.

"McCleary okay with this?" he asks.

"He thinks you're gonna get me killed."

"Fucker's weird," says Carter.

I shoot a side glance at my friend. Carter is a white boy -- Chuck dude, in McCleary's terms -- so he don't know about being black or brown in the Marine Corps.

Fuck this, I think.

"Let's go get your fucken parachute," I say.

"Let's go."

We leave the safety of the perimeter, low-crawling on our bellies. Carter knows exactly where the flare dropped, so he heads steadily in that direction. My head is on a swivel, looking this way, then that way. I am on my elbows, shotgun held firmly in my grip. Carter's got his M-16; selector set to full-auto, safety on.


We freeze.


Carter's eyes are this big. I put a hand on his arm. Wait.


I begin to breathe again. The slightest of breezes has made its way through the trees. "Go," I whisper, nevously.

He crawls, headed to that goddamn parachute.


We freeze again.

Carter looks over at me.

This time, I hesitate.

I feel a worm start to slide through my belly.

I know the worm for what is: Fear. This little worm and I are friends. He has visited before, other times and other places. I know this little fuck; I know what he does. Fear and adrenaline begin to seep through my system. My eyes strain from the pressure and my jaws clench tight. I want to scream.

I don't. The worm loses this fight and backs away, but he doesn't leave.

Carter and I hold ourselves completely still. What did we hear?

Carter turns his head, looking for whatever disturbed the night a moment ago. Where's McCleary, I wonder.

I turn my head -- slowly, slowly -- until I have the perimeter in peripheral sight, or where I think it should be.

McCleary's over there, I decide; the small foot trail to his right front, my left. Good, I think. We won't have so far to go if we gotta run for it.

Carter moves forward an inch, then stops. My heart is in my throat and my blood is pounding in my head! I know everybody in the whole fucken world can hear it! Carter moves forward another inch; stops again. That fucken parachute!

I listen, trying to identify everything I hear. I sniff the night breeze. Nothing. I smell nothing that's not supposed to be here.

Whatever I heard, or think I heard it ain't here anymore.

Carter glances over at me.

I nod at him: Go.

We crawl steadily, slowly, toward the parachute. We're maybe twenty, twenty-five meters from the perimeter. Maybe another ten or fifteen meters to the parachute. Man, I think to myself, you have done some dumb shit in your life, but this one's gotta be up there with the dumbest!

What in the hell am I doing out here?!

Ah, shit. No le hace. Let's get the damn thing and go home. We are bathed in sweat; I'd forgotten how cold it gets here at night. I feel my body begin to itch from the dirt we crawl in. We pause--

Carter looks for the parachute. I look for gooks. He sees the parachute.

I see no gooks.

We inch our way to the parachute.

We pause again.

Now's not the time to get stupid. I tap Carter on the arm; he nods, knowing what I am telling him. He slides right and I go left. We make a circle, a small perimeter, around the parachute. We slowly close in around the parachute's location.

Be like the little people to sit back and wait for a couple of dumb Americans to come diddy-bopping out here, looking for a cheap souvenir: They sit there; we show up: Bang-bang. Two dead Grunts.

Not me, man. Gonna check it out before I get too close to that little piece of white cloth.

We are five meters past the parachute before I decide we're the only people crazy enough to be up this late at night. We fall back, crawl back, to the parachute. I nudge Carter. Get the fucken thing and let's get outta here. He nods and reaches for the parachute.


Whoop Whoop Whoop Whoo--

I want to laugh.

Another flare has popped free of its tube. Carter and I have our faces in the dirt. I want to laugh.

We are caught out in front of the goddamn perimeter; we are flat on the deck, hugging what little vegetation is left out here. Some little rice-burner come along, he's gonna blow us clean away. I want to laugh.

No, not laugh.

Giggle. I want to giggle. I want to giggle my ass off. I bite down hard, trying to keep the giggle down. I write this letter in my head: Dear Jefita, Your son got killed 'cause he got stupid. Went chasing after some fucken parachute, the kind we use for flares at night. He knew better, but he did it, anyway. Your son is hereby posthumously busted to Private No Class.

The little worm has returned.

He wants me to giggle, get both me and Carter killed. I know what he's doing, but still I want to giggle. I hear the flare

Whoop Whoop Whoop Whoo--

Who's throwing up the goddamn flares!

I know, but who cares?

Hell, I care.

I got my face in the dirt, all because Carter has to have a goddamn parachute! We get back, I am gonna kill his ass!

The worm backs off, just a bit.

I turn my head, feeling dried rice paddy against my cheek as I crack one eye open. Away from us, over by the south side of the perimeter, closer to the river than to us. I am not reassured. Still a lot of goddamn light!

Wait . . .

Wait . . .

Damn flare.

Damn Carter.

Damn me for being stupid.



The flare hits the deck, somewhere away from me and shit-for-brains Carter. I know Perez, over in Second Platoon, got more sense than I do, not go chasing after some dumbass flare like I am.




Well, hell.


I stretch a hand out to Carter. I find him. We look at each other and his eyes are this big! The worm has found him, too. No, I say, using my hand on his arm as a warning: Let's not get stupid.

We wait some more.

I use the time to let my senses wander all over the paddy. I listen for movement and sniff for gooks. I feel nothing and hear nothing.

My hand tugs at his arm: Go.

We crawl, making our way back to the perimeter, to home. I know McCleary has us in his sights; has been watching us since we left the fucken perimeter.

McCleary's hunkered down. Fucken little beaner, he thinks. He gonna go and get killed. All for a fucken parachute. He grins to himself. Naw, he thinks. Won't get killed. Maybe get cured, though. Not be so stupid, from now on.