Authors: Richard Herman
The Dinka jumped to his feet in victory and waved his arms in victory. A burst of gunfire cut into him. “Get the bastards,” Ford yelled as he squeezed off round after round. It felt good and he kept firing. Suddenly, a hand clasped his right shoulder.
“It’s okay,” Malone said. “We got ‘em all.” They ran for the destroyed BTRs and reached the Dinka teenager. “He’s still alive,” Malone yelled. “Let’s get him to the hospital.”
“LPs Four and Five report tanks are in the water,” Mercier told Vermullen. The big Frenchman studied the chart on the wall of the command post and pinpointed the two LPs that flanked the river ford on the southern bank. The telephone line to LP Four buzzed and Mercier pressed his headset against his head to hear. “
” he shouted. “Two tanks are across and eight more are in the water.” The two Frenchmen were speaking English so Allston and Williams could understand.
“Where’s Captain Bouchard?” Vermullen asked.
“The lines are dead,” Mercier answered. “He was on Charlie Ring opposite the ford.”
“I’m going forward,” Vermullen said. He would lead from the front. He picked up his FAMAS and waited as an artillery shell whistled overhead. A dull explosion reverberated through the command post. Then it was silent. Vermullen snorted in contempt. “Harassing fire only.” He motioned at Beck and darted out the entrance.
Allston analyzed the frequency and pattern of the shelling. As best he could tell, the SA only had two artillery tubes and, given the sporadic rate of fire, a limited number of rounds to waste on barrage fire. Only the airfield had been subject to aimed fire and only when a C-130 was on the ground. “Their spotter is at the airfield and doesn’t appear to be moving,” he finally said.
“He must be dug in,” Mercier replied. “He’s probably waiting for one of your aircraft to land.”
“We’ve got a security police team posted at the airfield,” Allston said. “Maybe they can find him before the next Herk lands.”
“That will not be easy,” Mercier said. The telephone line to LP Four buzzed and Mercier hit the toggle switch to listen. He looked at Allston. “All ten tanks are across the river. If they break through Charlie Ring, I will have to close the corridors through the minefield. Perhaps it would be best if you went to the hospital.”
“I got a better idea,” Allston said, fed up with being on the sidelines. “How many Shipons you got left?” Mercier replied that he had four launch tubes and sixteen missiles in the command post. “I need one launcher and at least four missiles. Get the rest to the cops.” He turned to Williams. “You know how to use one?” Williams shook his head, not sure what was happening. “Time to learn. We’re going to give Idi some close air support.”
Mercier broke out a launcher, loaded it, and again went through the arming and launch sequence. Satisfied the two Americans had the drill down, he handed them two fiberglass ammo boxes that resembled thick briefcases. “Two missiles are in each carrier,” he said.
“Get the rest to the cops,” Allston ordered, “and get the word out not to shoot at any low flying aircraft.” He picked up the two boxes. “Let’s go kill some tanks,” he told Williams. He disappeared out the entrance.
“What ever happened to volunteering?” Williams muttered, following his commander.
Beck’s NVGs gave him a diabolic appearance as he hunched over the steering wheel and reminded Vermullen of a gargoyle on a cathedral. They had barely cleared the minefield when a mortar barrage walked towards them. Beck stomped on the brakes and the two men bailed. Vermullen hit the ground and rolled under the Panhard. Beck was already there. Explosions rocked the truck. “They’re good,” Beck allowed. The barrage ended and they quickly crawled out from under the truck as steam poured from the radiator. Shrapnel from a mortar round had cut into the grill but missed them. “Better on foot,” Beck grunted. Without a word, he took the lead and Vermullen followed. The logic was simple: in the confusion of combat, recognition by friendlies was a problem and it was Beck’s job to take any friendly round. The private stopped when he saw what looked like a sandbagged foxhole. “
,” he said in a low voice. It was the recognition code.
,” a voice answered. They were cleared to advance. The two men ran forward and jumped into the DFP as another mortar barrage opened up.
“Where’s Captain Bouchard?” Vermullen asked the three legionnaires in the DFP.
One of the legionnaires gestured to his right. “In the next hole. He’s wounded.” The mortars stopped and the distinctive clank of a tank’s track grew louder. One of the legionnaires came to his feet holding a Shipon. He laid it across a sandbag as gunfire raked the night. A slug ripped into his helmet, killing him instantly, and throwing him back into Vermullen.
Beck never hesitated. He grabbed the Shipon and carefully sighted. “Clear,” he said, warning them he was about to fire.
“All clear,” Vermullen replied, confirming that no one was behind the missile. Beck didn’t move as the clanking tracks grew louder. Vermullen and the other legionnaire came to their feet and fired, emptying their magazines into the infantry following the tank bearing down on them. Beck depressed the fire control lever to the first detent, counted to two, and mashed the lever full down.
Allston gunned the truck onto the airstrip and slammed to a halt behind the shed where the Pilatus Porter was hangared. He motioned to Williams and they pushed the hangar doors back. Allston ran to the aircraft and kicked the wheel chocks free. He slid both cargo doors back along the fuselage and showed Williams where to sit. “When we see a tank, I’ll set up a pylon turn like we did at Malakal, and you take it out with a Shipon. Be sure to keep the launcher’s breech pointed out the other side or the blowback will fry us.” He rigged a tie-down strap to the deck. “Sit on the floor and strap in with this. It’s gonna get rough and we don’t need you falling out. Got it?”