Stranger things have happened during the course of love and war.

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Captain Theodore Browne was a quiet man, often aloof and distantly perspective. Those who didn't know him well didn't like him much because he always seemed to be reservedly judging them from behind half closed eyelids. Those who knew him well, however, understood he was not a judgmental person, merely a contemplative one. At the moment he was crossing the tarmac in a slow amble, bound for his Air Force C-130. Browne rarely hurried anywhere. Just to look at his broad shoulders and tanned face even a casual eye could see how the West Texas sun radiated lazy warmth from his very bones. When he spoke, his Midwestern drawl was sure to give him away as Texas born and raised if nothing else about him did.

His flight crew was assembling on the tarmac to board their 'Hercules' for the flight Stateside. Lieutenant Newbury was there, as were Airmen Stalwart and Price.

Browne's co-pilot for this mission was Second Lieutenant Roy Newbury. Newbury was fresh in-country. He had only just earned his wings, and was overly eager to trade the doldrums of his rear echelon transport duty for the allegedly romantic lifestyle of a fighter jock. Browne had flown with the young man on two previous missions, both of them toe tag details as was this one today.

His co was standing near the gaping maw of the 130's cargo doors, bitching to an airman who was busy loading their gruesome cargo. "God damn I hate hearse duty! Why can't they just bury these poor bastards out there in the jungle?"

The unknown airman paused to wipe a fistful of sweat from his glistening brow. "If they did, what would their mommas cry over back home, sir?"

"Fuck their mommas. And fuck this transport shit. I should be driving Phantoms!" Newbury flapped his elbows up and down a few times to air his armpits, which were widely circled with perspiration. Glancing around he noticed Browne, "Hot motherfucker today, sir. OP's are the same old usual. Gonna let me do most of the flying? I need the hours, you know." Roy didn't offer a salute.

"Lieutenant Newbury, there will be plenty of war left over by the time you get your transfer to a combat squadron. Until then just be glad the slopes aren't shooting at you. Much." Browne moved away to inspect his aircraft.

Newbury followed like an eager puppy, "That's the problem, Ted, they don't shoot at me enough. Hell, it's more dangerous for me to R&R in Saigon that it is to bus these stiffs back home. Sometimes I wonder if there's a war on, or what."

"If you're such a hotshot for combat, why didn't you join the Army to fly their rotors?"

"Fuck rotors. Too slow, too low. I want a Phantom I can call my own. Know what I'm gonna name her?"

"'The Rhode Island Pixie', wasn't it?"

"Naw, that was last week. Now it's 'The Memphis Belle'. You like it?"

"It has history, but don't you think it's a bit blasphemous? Or maybe optimistic is a better word."

Stopping near a set of giant landing gear, Browne and Newbury gazed up into the wheel well like a couple of turkeys drowning in a downpour. "Optimistic, yeah. I wish those armchair generals back home would get their heads out of their sphincters and just nuke this whole fucking country. What good is it anyway? Whoever heard of Viet Nam before the jolly green giant starting kicking ass over here?"

Satisfied his starboard gear had been recently serviced and thoroughly inspected, Browne proceeded to his next check point, saying, "If they nuked the place, where would you fly jets? Being junior, they'd just drum you out of the Force into the reserves."

"Maybe you're right. Guess I'll have to come up with another moniker."

"What happened to the Rhode Island Pixie, by the way?"

"You know, same old usual. She's got herself another old man is what I think. One of those long hair dopers, most likely. Fuck her, and him, whoever, wherever he may be."

"Amen." Browne had had some experience in this arena. He was career Air Force, a lifer. His wife had long ago given up on him returning home to lead a normal life. Hillary wanted him to fly for Pan Am, but Ted wasn't quite ready to resign his commission and start getting fat. Besides, he believed in what they were doing in Viet Nam. There was great need here for a fight.

Oh, there weren't any high ideals to defend, but it seemed to Captain Browne the communists needed to have their asses kicked again. Once hadn't been enough. And Korea had only been a portentous tremor compared to the conflict that had rapidly developed in Indochina. Browne wasn't fighting for Vietnamese peasants, or their right to vote. Most of the locals he had met didn't much care what flag they saluted. He wasn't fighting for the American way of life, either. It hadn't been threatened. The U.S. was secure behind its ocean barriers and its growing nuclear arsenal. No, the only fight worth fighting in Viet Nam was much purer than all that, much more primordial. It was a conflict between races, a war between opposing cultures to decide a planetary pecking order. The U.S. wanted to be higher on the teat than anybody else, and, of course, the Asians wanted the same thing for themselves, especially the Soviets. So here simply was where it was all being decided.

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