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"In every way this novel stands head and shoulders with the best books written about the American war in Vietnam."

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A Matter of Semantics

Excerpt From Chapter 15

Officers stood and shuffled toward the doorway bottleneck and chattered excitedly. While they waited for room to move, Brandt said to McKnight, “At least nobody will get wasted in this operation. I can live with that.”

Brandt inched forward, followed the press.

“Lieutenant Brandt.” Alexander’s tone was magnanimous. “May I have a word with you?”

May I?

Brandt squeezed between the man in front of him and McKnight. Brandt jumped. McKnight had goosed him. He flashed McKnight a dirty look as he walked toward Alexander.

Brandt stood at attention. “Yes, sir?”

Alexander put his arm around Brandt’s shoulders and led him aside.

What the—?

Brandt glanced over his shoulder. McKnight shrugged, gave the victory sign, and darted out.

“Lieutenant, I’ve directed Captain Parker to give you a very important role in this operation.” He leaned in close and spoke conspiratorially. “TV networks are interested in filming this attack. I will be coming in on the lead chopper with the rest of Bravo Company. I want you to be on the ground to secure the LZ.”

Uh oh.

He pulled back, eyes narrowed, but said, “Yes, sir.”

Alexander nodded. “Good.” He moved to the map board. “Intelligence informs me that this village,” he jabbed a pudgy finger into a red circle on the map, “is a VC headquarters and likely reinforced with North Vietnamese Army regulars. I want you to have your platoon lay down a base of fire as we disembark the helicopters.” He paused and scrutinized Brandt. “Any questions?”

Brandt pulled back a half-step. “Sir, I went through that village last week.”

Alexander cut him off. “Precisely why I want you to secure a possible hot LZ, lieutenant.”

“But sir, that village. There’s nothing there. We searched the root cellars. Kids climbed trees to pick coconuts for us. My medic treated sick people. The mamasan even told us not to follow a certain trail out of the village.”

Alexander’s face glowed crimson. His eyes narrowed. He jabbed a fat, crooked finger in Brandt’s face. “Goddammit, lieutenant. I don’t remember you having any compunctions about firing artillery into friendly villages. Call in a fucking airburst if it makes you feel any better. That area is at the end of a major spur off the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Enemy patrols are moving through there all the time. You’ve ambushed a few yourself. Intel says a VC headquarters is out there somewhere. That’s why this village is in a Free Fire Zone. You can shoot anything that moves. This operation is the beginning of a big push toward that hospital you located.”

Alexander paused in his tirade and took a few deep breaths.

In a more controlled voice, he continued. “Not you, nor any fucking mamasan, is going to screw this up for me. When those choppers land, I want your machine guns blazing. Do you understand that, lieutenant?”

Alexander’s nostrils flared. He leaned into Brandt. “Brandt,” he said in a low, deliberate voice. “You’ve stepped in deep shit more than once. You’ve got a chance to redeem yourself now. I haven’t written your Efficiency Report yet.”

Brandt stepped back again.

Just keep your mouth shut and get out of here.

Brandt snapped to attention and saluted.

Alexander smiled and returned the salute. “I’m counting on you, lieutenant. Dismissed.

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