James Webb Fields of Fire

ISBN 13: 9780553256796

Fields of Fire

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9780553256796: Fields of Fire
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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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About the Author:

James Webb, who has worked and traveled in Vietnam extensively since 1991, was one of the most highly decorated combat Marines of the Vietnam War. An attorney and Emmy Award-winning journalist, he has served as secretary of the navy, assistant secretary of defense, and full committee counsel to the U.S. Congress. He lives in Virginia, where he has authored five critically acclaimed, bestselling novels.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

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 bathrobe. She dangled imaginatively on the bed’s edge, her chubby legs crossed, neither of them quite touching the floor. Her arms were up behind her head, pushing her hair over the top so that it fell down around her face. She looked as if she were carefully attempting to re-create a picture from some long-forgotten men’s magazine. She watched the door with expectant eyes and dropped her hands in disappointment when she saw Snake. He shook his head slightly, then pulled out a cigarette and leaned against the doorway.

“Uh huh. What are you doing? Paying bills?”

She smoothed a wrinkle on the bed, studying it for a moment, not looking at him. Then she gave her hair a flip. She had bleached it artificial gold again, and she smiled her sugar smile and her sad, remembering voice came across the room on a puffy little cloud, floating lazily to his ears.

“You’re home early, Ronnie.”

“You noticed that.”

She was naked underneath the robe. She leaned forward on the bed, finding the floor with her dangling feet, and the robe fell loosely away, revealing her. Snake shrugged resignedly. Something’s going on. Again. He walked to the refrigerator and searched for a beer but they were gone. There had been two six-packs that morning.

“Old Bones out on a job?” She nodded, watching him from beside the bed.

“You sure he’s working?” She laughed a little. He did, too. The old man’s antics were legendary and unpredictable.

“Man came for him in a truck this morning and he left with his painting clothes on, carrying a sackload of beer.” She shrugged, then looked at Snake with an insightful stare. “From the beer I’d say he’s working. If it was hard stuff...” She made a funny face and shrugged again. “I think he’s working.”

There was nothing else to drink in the refrigerator. “Any coffee?”

“Instant.”

He put some water on. She eyed him closely, walking from the bed into the kitchen. “Why are you home so early? Did you get fired again?”

He spooned the instant into the cup. “Yup.”

She grinned, half-amused and half-curious, her eyes lingering on his wiry body. “Was it another fight? How can you stand to fight so much? You’re so blind without your glasses! Was it another fight?”

He checked the water. Hot enough. He poured it into the cup. “Yup. Sort of.”

She sat down and leaned over the table, admiring him. “How can a man be fired for ‘sort of’ being in a fight?”

He joined her at the table and sipped his coffee. Perfect. Then he lit another cigarette. “Well. It all started when I had to clean the women’s room.” She nodded eagerly, already knowing that he would make it into a great story. She had always told him that he shouldn’t fight but she cloyed him with attention when he did. She had always admonished him to be civil but at times like this he was John Wayne, straight out of Dodge City. He casually sipped his coffee.

“I put the sign out in front of the door, you know, so nobody will walk into the room when I’m cleaning it. Then I wait until all the girls are out of there, asking each one when she leaves if there’s anybody else still in there. I don’t want to get into that kind of trouble, moral turpitude is a bust, you know that. Finally I go in and clean the toilets and the sinks, and I’m starting to mop the floor when this nigger dude stumbles in. Got a Jones on, I can tell the minute he walks into the room. He’s just shot up, too. Don’t know where the hell he got off, maybe right there in the movie room. Don’t know if he could cook up without being caught but I guess it’s as good as any other place. Nobody ever gave a damn when a match was lit that I ever saw. Maybe he was snorting. Who knows. He looked too out of it to be snorting. He was out on his goddamn feet. You know he’s out of it if he walks into the wrong bathroom. Moral turpitude and all.”

She reached over and took one of his cigarettes, ogling him as if he were telling a bedtime story. Really grooving on it. “Yeah. O.K. So what did you do?”

“Take it easy. Don’t steal my lines, all right? The dude walks into the bathroom, taking a couple steps and then stopping, nodding out right on his feet, leaning all the way forward at the waist, all the way out. Then he wakes up real quick and goes ‘whoooeeee, whooooooeee,’ like that, and then falls asleep again, there on his feet. I don’t know how the hell he made it to the bathroom. Well. I watch him do that a couple times. He smiles when he wakes up like everything’s O.K. I try to check his fingers to see if he’s got the poison but I can’t tell, and he’s pretty strong when he wakes up. Figure he’s just got a strong shot in him.

“He’s dressed pretty good. That don’t always mean anything, I mean, why the hell would he be in a movie in the afternoon if he’s worth a shit, it’s a lousy movie anyway. But you never can tell.”

He flipped his cigarette into the cluttered sink and slowly lit another, enjoying her eagerness. “Didn’t know what to think, to tell you the truth. Coulda been anybody. But I watched him dropping off like that, and checked those clothes out, and I figured it was worth a shot.” She nodded quickly to him, smiling, enraptured by his logic. Snake laughed ironically. “It was like the Lord his-self delivered him to me. Here we are in the girls’ room, with a sign out front that says ‘CLOSED,’ ain’t nobody coming in, ain’t nobody there to say what happened, this dude is so far gone he could take a picture of me and still not remember me. Well. Just had to make me a play.”

She was still smiling. She leaned forward in anticipation. “So you punched his lights out.”

He laughed a little. “Well, I thought about it. You kn...

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

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