Cowboy—we never called him by any other name— stretched beside me on the pine-needled floor of a forest in the Central Highlands. He nestled close as if somehow to draw strength from the magic of the M-40 sniper rifle with its powerful optics. He was a Kit Carson Scout—a former Viet Cong soldier who changed sides when he was captured. As it is with many converts, he became a zealous supporter of the Saigon government, and a hater of Communists of all stripes.
“You see Cong, dai ui?” He addressed me with the Vietnamese words for Captain. To Cowboy, all American soldiers were dai ui. I was a twenty-one year old Lance Corporal, and since I had the M-40, there was no way to convince Cowboy that I was not at least of demigod status.
“Yeah, they’re milling around over there on the edge of the trees.” We sprawled on the side of a steep escarpment looking down to the Northwest at a main spur of the Hochiminh Trail running out of Cambodia. I still felt surprise at the pines of Vietnam. I was mentally spring-loaded for palms, but we were hundreds of meters above the highest stands of palms.