The Sad Young Sergeant (A Short Story, Concerning Agent Orange)

((… Agent Orange) (1971, Fort Rucker, Alabama))

His dull face showed a shade of vengeance by some inward self-satisfaction needed, a smugness almost that appeared to offend him, yet gave him content, if not joy-it wasn’t in his nature, but it was there nonetheless, that he found something out of nothing, and now could utter what it was, he had learned the name for it, ‘Agent Orange.’

“They fired bombs and guns I thought,” he told Lee, adding, “I never expected to live through the war, only to die at the hands of some mysterious, infectious chemical agent called ‘Agent Orange.'” He told Lee Evens, his back against the wall, chair up on its two hind legs, Joe Montgomery, from Fayetteville, North Carolina, it was the summer of 1977 (furthermore he added, ‘It had a delayed reaction, somehow’), nine-years, then buff, all of a sudden it was there’).

“It was Lee, to me, the final boom! And now it is the last part of the war for me, which I thought was over nine-years ago, evidently I was wrong. Yes indeed, a lost war, that I forgot was still embedded in me, to my death do I part with it.”

Furthermore, added Joe (in a voice of discontent), “they all fell dead around us, when we went to pick them up, to check out their pockets for papers, and so forth, they were silent, discoloured; the dead are smelly, and ugly, and discoloured, and bloated, and just awful.” He said to Lee, at the mess hall.

Then Joe’s hand started to shake, I mean really shake, as if it his system was on automatic, like someone under electric shock, his left arm, dancing in the air, as he looked at it, then Joe looked at Lee, looking at him, “You see, I have no control over it,” and his face started to pulsate, and his legs seemed to tap, and his back arched. He had to let go of his coffee, and his spoon, he had to wait for his system to cool down. He no longer was in control.

After a moment’s agony, he smiled again, “Everyday now, it gets worse,” he tells Lee, Lee looking, unable to speak, and if he could what would he say, so he told himself.

“No kidding aside, I’ll be dead in two months, so the doctor tells me, and my lawyers say, this substance was used by the army for experimental purposes in several areas in Vietnam, during the time I was there, and I was in one of those several areas, and they are unsure of the effects, but here they are, in full motion, yet I fear my family will not see any money from this for years, it’s under investigation, and you know what that means in the Army. Listen up, you need to check out and see if you were in any of these areas, I mean it lays dormant for years, and then like an eruption from a volcano, it explodes one day.”

“How long you been in the Army?” asked Sergeant Evens.

“Going on fifteen-years, I won’t live to get my pension; perhaps now you understand Sergeant Lee (right then the spoon fell out from under his fingers).”

Under the stringent circumstances, Sergeant Joe Montgomery, still had remarkable agility, and his large black frame, bruised here and there, kept a smile on his face, knowing somehow, there was no escape from his fate, yet, with the brief time he had left, he was not going to ask for pity, or any such thing, and let it imprison him, he committed no crime, he was the victim, and said, sadly, “Too bad I loved the Army so, and it would have been great to get to know you better Lee,” and then I noticed across his arm he had a tattoo of the American Flag, underneath it, it read, “The American Flag, with all its Glory!”

1-4-2008 (Written in Lima, Peru)