I’m with my friends BJ and Bradson. We’re in B Company, part of the 475th Infantry Regiment, also known as the Mars Task Force—a special long-range penetration outfit. We’re on our way to Namhpakka, marching up a narrow elephant trail through the Burmese mountains. The endless path switches back and forth and rises through rough rock until I’m dizzy. Our column pushes forward relentlessly, like a powerful train on a track carved from granite.
We’re about halfway up, and I gaze over the side. It’s a huge drop—further than three Empire State Buildings!
BJ trembles as he grabs my arm and franticly points a quarter-mile ahead where C Company is making their way up the steep incline. “Check out Silver’s mule!” he shouts.
I look up and see Private Silver struggling, anxiously grasping the mule’s tail, holding on for all he’s worth, but the spooked animal is in a crazed battle with the tight pass. It fights wildly, scuffling out of control on the cramped ledge. Suddenly, it charges ahead, pulling Silver behind like a tethered dog. The soldier hangs on desperately, as his panicked mule stumbles, plunges forward, then skyrockets right off the cliff.
I’m stunned. We’re left here standing in the quiet, listening to rubble scuttle over the bluff. The smell of hot, flying dust is thick in the air. None of us can speak. Then my heart flips to my gut as I realize Silver just fell 2,500 feet to his death.
“Mother Fucker!” Bradson croaks, his eyes wide with terror.
We stop to refocus. I grit my teeth and swallow the vomit that’s exploded in my mouth. I turn and look at my buddies—their faces ashen. It’s a few minutes before I can think. Silver’s gone. Any optimism I felt about victory in Namhpakka crashed down that cliff with him. I’m definitely up against two formidable foes: the Japs and this savage terrain. But there’s no time to mourn. We’re soon scaling the trail again. We move forward, braving the torturous switchbacks that crisscross the mountain in one long, monotonous train.
Got to make bivouac before dark, I think. Or I’ll be navigating blind. I can’t get Silver’s dying out of my head. It keeps replaying in my mind over and over. This place’s a swarming viper’s nest. But orders are clear: Keep going ‘til we reach Namhpakka—then crush those Nips and take Burma Road.
© 2019 Jeanne M. Halloran, all rights reserved
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