They each had their reasons for being a soldier.
They each had their illusions. Goodrich came from Harvard. Snake got the tattoo -- Death Before Dishonor -- before he got the uniform. And Hodges was haunted by the ghosts of family heroes.
They were three young men from different worlds plunged into a white-hot, murderous realm of jungle warfare as it was fought by one Marine platoon in the An Hoa Basin, 1969. They had no way of knowing what awaited them. Nothing could have prepared them for the madness to come. And in the heat and horror of battle they took on new identities, took on each other, and were each reborn in fields of fire....
Fields of Fire is James Webb's classic, searing novel of the Vietnam War, a novel of poetic power, razor-sharp observation, and agonizing human truths seen through the prism of nonstop combat. Weaving together a cast of vivid characters, Fields of Fire captures the journey of unformed men through a man-made hell -- until each man finds his fate.
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August 27, 2001
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Excerpt from Fields of Fire by James Webb
Snake February 1968 There he went again. Smack-man came unfocused in the middle of a word, the unformed syllable a dribble of bubbly spit along his chin, and leaned forward, that sudden rush of ecstasy so slow and deep it put him out. His knees bent just a little and he stood there motionless, styled out in a violet suit and turquoise, high-heeled shoes. He had the Wave and his hair was so perfectly frozen into place that he seemed a mimic sculpture of himself, standing there all still with skag. Snake peeped into the doorway one more time, still saw no one, and took a deep breath: I owe it to myself. He grabbed a sink with one hand and unloaded with a furious kick, perfectly aimed. Smack-man’s head bounced up like a football on a short string, stopping abruptly when his neck ended. Then he slumped onto the floor, out cold, breathing raggedly through a mashed, gushing nose. Nothing to it. Never knew what hit him. Snake quickly sorted through Smack-man, careful to replace each item as he found it. Two ten’s were stuffed inside one pocket. Whatta you know. Smack-man must be a bag man. Smack-man should be ashamed. Snake pocketed the money, laughing to himself: for the good of society, and little kids on dope. He stood, pushing his glasses back up his nose, and scratched his head, studying his kill. Well, I gotta go tell Mister Baum. What a bummer. And in twenty minutes he was on the street again, walking briskly toward nowhere under winter’s lingering chill. His shoulders were raised underneath the gray sweatshirt, guarding hopelessly against the wind. His head was tilted to the side and back. A sneer sat tightly on his face. What the hell. You gotta believe in yourself. It was the right thing to do. A gust of wind swooped down from the amber mist of sky and chased him, rattling trash. Next to him the door of an abandoned rowhouse swung open and banged. The boards over its windows clapped against the building. His eyes scanned the building quickly and his narrow shoulders raised against the biting wind again, but otherwise there was no reaction from him. Gotta be cool, man. Can’t let no empty building spook you. An old car clanked past him, spewing clouds of oil, and he eyed it also, not breaking his sauntering stride. Driving too slow. Looking for something. Hope it ain’t me. He was small, with a mop of brittle hair. The hair flopped along his neck, bending with any hint of wind. His face was narrow and anonymous but for the crooked memory of a broken nose and the clear eyes. The eyes were active and intense. He left the sidewalk, turning inside a rusted fence, and walked up to a rowhouse stairway. He climbed the outside steps, pondering each one as if searching for an excuse not to ascend it, and did a mull-dance on the landing, finally being chased inside by another gust of wind. Hell with it. Need a beer anyway. The black stench of air clung to him as he climbed the inside stairs. Sadie stuck her head out on the second landing and he jammed a ten-dollar bill inside her stained cotton robe. The bill never stopped moving. Sadie extracted it with a lightning stroke and ogled it as if it were an emerald. Her wild gray hair came full into the hallway and she called to Snake. He was three steps up from her landing now. “What you been up to, bad old Snake?” “Trouble. You know that.” He stopped on the stairs for one moment and gave her his ten-dollar sermon. “Now, go buy that dog of yours some diapers. Or a box of kitty litter. I’m tired of seeing his shit inside the door down there.” She slammed the door on him. He laughed, continuing up the stairs. Old bitch. Inside his own door, a vision on the bed. He blinked once at the greater light and focused. It was his mother, in her bathr