Men, forgotten remnants of boys, pass by you with shrunken faces pale and bled of life. They look down, transfixed, at the ground as if bewildered at the sudden loss of their youth. A wounded sergeant limps ahead of the squad, leading his somber men as if on some imaginary leash. As they pass you, the pungent musk of sweat and the sad odor of body waste accompanies them. They are long impervious to the smell.
The air is heavy and fills your lungs with the heat and thick humidity. The slightest drift of a breeze brings the arid smell of scorched polystyrene, the main ingredient of napalm. Then there’s the wafting scent of cigarette smoke which comes from every other man, most new to the habit, which will now burden many for most of their lives.
Then there’s the one, overwhelming stench that envelopes you and saturates your depleted uniform and webbing. It crawls into your sinuses and gnarls it’s way into your brain....the smell of blood and death. No one, no one....can describe it. It’s heavy in the air and lays over you like an old carpet soaked in bile. The blood has a metallic scent, some copper, maybe iron, maybe something else. Then there’s death. A sickening smell of sour, yet cloying sweet grease. Rancid waves come and go as the warm wind shifts this alarming and unnatural fragrance known only in nature. Then there’s the residue of burnt flesh....lost to words.
Combat is shrouded in the essence of fatigue and filth and the permeating aura of death. It hangs and bellows like incense over the battle field. But, I soon learned that there was one smell far more toxic and disturbing than all the rest....the smell of fear.