Warning: Very strong language
The Brave little Toaster
The ceremony flowed without a hitch. Their personal vows exchanged. Neither one knew the others vows to be spoken until they heard them in the presence of the celebrant. Martin struggled to find the right words for days. Pen to paper, paper to bin, thoughts, and ideas escaped before pen had time to record them. Finally, he found what he wanted to say although he can’t quite recall them now, but he knew he had done o.k. as Kath had smiled and gave that imperceptible nod. A habit she has of doing when all is well in her world.
The party was in full swing. The 100 or so people were doing the usual talking, laughing, dancing, drinking, and eating. The noise was deafening. As Martin sat next to his bride, the mingled sounds blurred into a silence that Martin knows so well. It wakes him in the middle of the night. That lull before the storm silence. One volley of shots from snipers weapons then the silence of death.
That was the silence surrounding them. Their ears straining for something; anything to give them a clue as to what may be around them, near them, upon them….nothing; but they felt it. The lull before the storm of sniper fire.
Even the command to move forward was in silence. Six sweat riddled men winced at each step for fear of alerting the enemy. When all hell did break loose, three mates went down immediately, their heads spinning as death connected causing their sweat to fly from their faces into the jungle of murder and mayhem.
Martin lay dazed, no longer sweating with jungle heat, cool now. Cool for the first time in months. Invigorated with coolness he could go on and fight anyone that came in his path, he felt the strength of ten men surge through his brain like a burning fire. Lifting his head from the coolness, he felt wet. With a smile, he remembered the swim in the fresh water of the lake, it made him feel powerful, but when he tried to get up, reality kicked him with twisting pain through his body forcing him back down. He lay there, sweat returning threefold. There had been no fresh lake. The memory of the ambush came flooding back; that short rapid fire of snipers, the vision of his mates with their sweat flying from their faces, their blood; but why was he so wet. He gingerly felt his own body, the wet now was obvious; the same wet stickiness he knew so well from others, blood; it covered both his arms and his right leg. At least his chest and stomach were in one piece. He knew he was in trouble but how much was the scariest thing. Before he could make a proper assessment of his injuries, pain brought with it the curtain of unconsciousness.
He drifted in and out from behind the curtain of fog. Each time he woke, he tried to make some sort of plan, but pain, weakness and tiredness overtook him.
He felt the touch then someone started pulling him. He heard speaking Vietnamese, the enemy was still there. His weapon where was it, he must reach it but once again the heavy curtain of fog closed in on him.
A pungent smell took itself into Martin’s nostrils and sparked his brain into life. His eyes took the lead and opened to a dim light; they adjusted themselves to his surrounding whilst his brain connected the dots, he was alive at least. He looked around, he was on a make shift bed on the floor of some dwelling and next to him was his mate Brad, dirty, bandaged, bedraggled but his eyes were open, he was alive and smiling his big ugly smile.
“Bout time you woke you lazy bastard been out to it for three days. Don’t know if I am that happy to see you awake though. Jake and I took bets on whether or not you would pull through. Looks like you will make it so I just lost $50 bucks but I guess $50 bucks is not a high price to pay for a mate. Besides, I’m sick of hearing the words ‘fresh water’. Fuck man, you’ve rambled on and on about it for days.
They’ve all gone mate – dead. Jake lasted 24hours he copped one right in the chest. He knew he wasn’t going to make it but still had that ‘Jake’ humour wanting to take a bet. He’s gone but I am no welcher. When we get out of here I will take it round to his Mrs.
“Anyway mate, wait till you see who saved us; bloody miracle it is.”
Martin opened his mouth ready to ask a million questions but the entrance of a small Vietnamese boy who seemed no older than 8 or nine years old stopped him. He carried two bowls of steaming hot food that permeated the room with the pungent smell that had bought Martin to his senses. Smiling broadly, he handed each man a bowl; disappeared and returned with four coke bottles. “Flesh water mate” said the kid as he handed one bottle to Martin. “Drink good mending body”. Martin discovered it- was water but- it was so brown and murky with what he thought at first was bubbles but turned out to be; well, Martin didn’t even want to know what they might be. Brad laughed and said even the kid learnt the words ‘fresh water’. Martin realized how thirsty he was and guzzled it down. After all the things he has put in his mouth lately his stomach was used to anything Vietnam had to offer but after the delusion he had of fresh water, his brain had to work overtime to pretend this muck was fresh.
“Martin, I would like to introduce you to Anh Dũng (ain zoong) the best kid you will ever want to meet”
Ahn Dũng raised his coke bottle and in broken English said “Brave men of Aussie to help me live”. He repeated it each time he took a drink.
As the days rolled by and the men recovered from their wounds, young Anh raised his coke bottle to the men morning noon and night each time his English took a different turn. One of his favourites was “To Aussie you alive me alive coke alive you save me I save you.”
With the help of Brad’s knowledge of Vietnamese and Ahn’s broken English, they filled in the gaps for Martin.
Four months ago Australians had arrived at Ahn’s village when the Vietcong had just about destroyed it, murdered his parents, brothers and sisters and many others; some made it into the jungle never to return. The boys, possibly from the 9th RAR saved Anh and buried the dead. They wanted to take him with them but he wouldn’t move from his family’s graves. He had been on his own since. When he heard the gunfire 3 days ago, he waited until all was quiet and went to investigate.
His legs had been aching for days. The sores didn’t help, he couldn’t rub the ache without the sores flaring themselves into unbearable pain, but he ran. He could run because his Aussie friend Cam “He bury Mother, Father, Sister, Brother told me magic trick for real”. He lifted his hand to his forehead and twisted his thumb and forefinger clockwise. “This turn channel; turn channel from pain to music, my Father music on *Dan Doan”. (Brad interrupted Anh reminding Martin they tried to play the *Dan Doan (sun lute) one night at the club).
“Sometime channel turn himself to pain but I turn him back”.
He had learned so many things in the past months, how to get food, he learned to understand the different sounds, whether they were close or far, which direction they were coming from and he learned with great skill how to hide.
He ran with the music of his father until he came upon the scene all too familiar, blood, and death. Brad was conscious and partly helped drag Martin and Jake to the house but Anh was amazing. They roughly buried the others with vines and leaves. Brad promised he would bury them with dignity when he Jake and Martin were better but when Jake died Anh and Brad buried him with a small ceremony out back.
“My strong from spirit of Father and music. My Mother say Luôn cö́̈́ gang̈́ (always try) and taught me many things. I clean my pain, your pain and fan for all for cool”. Anh was their champion, their hero he was only a child. What a crazy world, what a crazy bastard of a war.
“Martin, Martin; MARTIN mate, they want to start the speeches. You o.k.?”
“Yeh Brad, by the way did I thank you for coming all this way to be my best man?”
“Shit man, so far about twenty times; sure you’re o.k.?”
“I’m, fine let’s get started.”
Both Brad and Martin stood and tapped their glasses with their spoons. No one paid attention but once Brad let out his raucous call to ATTENTION! Quiet spread itself around the room.
“Before we start on today’s speech’s, toasts, roasts and whatever else is in store for Kath and I. Brad and me want you to stand, raise your glasses for a very special person.”
As you all know, Vietnam is not a subject I am ready to talk about so don’t start asking me questions now or later, this is my wedding day. Please stand and raise your glasses high.
“To Anh Dũng. His name roughly translates ‘brave hero’. Anh Dũng, just a kid 8 or 9 years of age saved Brad and me so that we could be here today. He saved us; yet every day that we were with him, every time he drank from his coke bottle he raised that bottle and toasted us AUSSIES as heroes. We were bringing him back to Australia but a sniper’s bullet cut him down whilst he was trying to get us fresh water.
TO ANH DŨNG – THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER”.
*DAN DOAN (Sun Lute)
Dan Doan has a shape of the sun (bigger than the moon). Therefore, sometimes people call it – Dan Nhat (Dàn Nhâ.t). It has 2 strings, a very short neck, and the frets are right on the resonator box. Ahn Dũng’s Father crafted his own.