Streams of Mercy

This is a sample of the novel Streams of Mercy in the Valley of Shadows by author, William F. Powers.

Chapter 1 - The Nightmare

On a scale of one to ten this was at least a fifty. Sgt. Tom Jenkins was not sure how long it had taken, but it felt like eternity since the ambush started. It seemed like the whole war had just taken place in front of his eyes. Of all the nightmares Tom had experienced during his time in Vietnam, this one was by far the worst.

At any fraction of a second, there were dozens of bullets in the air, and it was just a continuous barrage. Pieces of pointed lead headed one way at twice the speed of sound and just as much traffic headed back the other way.

Explosions interrupted the continuous sounds of bullets hitting trees and rocks. There were also the repeated ticks and cracks as bullets ripped through leaves and twigs on their way to the next solid object. Every living thing at both ends of the fight was hoping it was not the next solid object.

They had been on a routine patrol when they were ambushed. Tom only stopped firing because his magazine was empty, but in that moment of personal silence, he realized that the sounds of gunfire and grenades had ceased. There were still noises off in the distance. Birds squawked as they continued their escape from the startling racket; the underbrush rustled as creatures scurried away, unconvinced that the noise had ended for good.

Tom was not convinced either. As he listened to the relative calm, he removed his empty magazine and installed a full one. He knew he should work quietly so the enemy would not be aware of his location. At the same time, the ambush had angered him, and he was tempted to bang the magazine into place as if to announce loudly that he was reloading and ready for round two.

In reality, he hoped there was no round two. But there was. Almost as soon as his fresh magazine snapped into place, the air was filled with lead again. Tom returned fire, and the battle raged on.

Before the brief silence, he had seen two of the squad, including the radioman, take hits. Now out to his right, the squad leader Lieutenant McDonnell went down. He looked over to his left just as “Moon-shot” dropped his M16 and crumpled to the ground.

The fighting continued for another eternity.

The Vietcong had surprised them, and the team didn’t have time to position themselves for an effective defense much less any 
counterattack. The VC had pinned them down and were taking full advantage of their upper hand.

There was a machine gun nest about two hundred feet up the path and a small village, a dozen huts on a small rise, just beyond the nest. The machine gun was responsible for much of the carnage inflicted on the team; the rest of the fire was coming from up in the shanties. Gunfire from both sources had seriously decimated the squad.

Tom had one grenade left. He crawled over and took two from Moon-shot who was covered in blood from a neck wound. “Hang in there, Moon; we’re gonna get you out of this,” he told him. Moon-shot gave a small grin of approval but then grimaced in pain as he coughed. Tom placed a cloth on his neck and told him to press it as firmly as he could.

Hand grenades were often lobbed short distances from behind a bunker; however, if he was going to keep his promise to Moon-shot, he was going to have to call on the skills he had developed as the center fielder for the Johnstown High School Tigers. He figured that to create as much chaos as possible, he needed two grenades to go off together as close to each other as possible and preferably right in the middle of that nest.

Larry Pullman was the only one Tom could see still manning a position. “Larry,” he shouted over the noise. “Larry!” When Larry looked around, Tom showed him the two grenades and motioned his plans. Larry nodded in understanding, motioning back that he knew what to do.

Tom put a full magazine in his M16 and pulled the pins on both grenades. He motioned a countdown to Larry, and then on “one”, he simultaneously threw one grenade high like a pop-up and released the safety lever on the other. Then in a quick motion, he threw the second one as if he were throwing out a runner stealing home. He had not lost his touch. Almost in the same instant, the pop-up landed right in the nest while the second one landed just short and bounced in. As VC started scattering, Larry began shooting.

Tom grabbed the third grenade and his rifle. Once his two hand deliveries had taken their toll, he began to run toward what was left of the nest adding his gunfire to Larry’s. As he advanced, he threw the third grenade as far as he could up toward the shanties on the rise. The third explosion, added to the realization that their first line of defense had been knocked out, sent the VC in the tiny village scrambling out the far end.

Tom was out of grenades and low on rounds when the firing tapered off to occasional reports. By now, he was taking his shots very carefully. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a shadow move in the doorway of a hut. The motion was followed by a glint off some shiny object. Tom placed a single shot into the darkness inside. There was a shriek and a clamor; then all motion stopped.

Several more shots rang out from the far end of the village followed by some commotion beyond the village that faded into silence.

Larry had been hit in his left shoulder during the final skirmish but was able to cover Tom while he cautiously retreated to where the team originally had been pinned down. Then Larry stood guard while Tom began to size up the situation. He checked Lieutenant McDonnell; he was dead. Tom began to call roll softly but got no replies. He went over to check Jerry, the radioman; he was dead too. Tom took the radio with him as he cautiously moved from one man to another, occasionally glancing up the hill from where the ambush had emanated. He found that he alone had escaped unharmed. Moon-shot was now unconscious from his neck wound, and Larry was the only other man still alive.

Tom radioed for evacuation choppers and then told Larry to start moving Moon-shot and the others to the clearing where the choppers would land.

Normally he would have moved to the evac location with Larry and set up a defense perimeter but something didn’t seem right. He carefully crept toward the village. A number of VC lay scattered on the ground. He checked each carefully before he went on to the next, constantly scanning the surroundings for motion or anything else that might suggest danger. As he approached the hut from which the shadowy motion had come, he could hear muffled sounds. He hesitated for a moment. With a careful eye on the hut, he checked the other victims of the action that Larry and he had unleashed. When he finally reached the hut, he peered in and found a frightened, sobbing little girl standing over an elderly woman who lay on the dirt floor. Tom’s shot had found its mark in her chest.

The little girl was probably eight or nine years old; the old woman was easily eighty, maybe older. They both wore tattered clothes, and the girl had no shoes. Cautiously, he went into the hut causing the youngster’s crying to increase in both volume and alarm. The woman was unconscious, but the child was painfully aware of everything. As Tom drew closer, she stood her ground, instinctively becoming a guardian for the one who had evidently been guardian to her until mere moments before. Her face was filled with panic but simultaneously steeled with determination.

The little one protested as Tom checked the old woman’s wound. He decided she might survive.

He heard the Hueys in the distance and picked up the woman as the child pulled on her arm and screamed something in protest. “Giúp!” Tom yelled, using the only Vietnamese word he knew for giving help. Then he repeated more softly, “Giúp. Giúp”. The child eyed Tom suspiciously and continued to hold onto the woman but no longer pulled against him. Tom carried the woman out of the hut and down the hill toward the clearing; the child followed closely holding tightly to the old woman’s dress.


They collected the rest of the bodies and got them onboard the choppers. The flight back to base seemed a lot longer than it actually was.

The frightened look on the little girl’s face spoke volumes. There was fear of being in this huge, loud, metal machine; fear of what was to become of her; and fear for the old woman who was probably a grandmother or even a great grandmother. The girl had no idea that she was sitting next to the very man who had shot her friend. She had no way of knowing that he had mistaken the old woman for a combatant.

For the first time during his tour, Tom found himself questioning one of his decisions. The intolerable noise of the chopper faded into the background of his mind as he agonized over his shot. The old woman might die, and he could have hit the little girl just as easily. Where were her parents? Was anyone left in the village? Had the VC run them out? Or killed them?

His thoughts drifted far away to Johnstown. Marsha was there; she was safe. He was glad for that but wished he were there as well. He had not spent much time thinking about her amidst all the fighting and other war zone activities. When he left for Vietnam, they were not as close as they had been when they married the year before. She wrote him letters, but he was not good at writing back. Even when he did write, it was short and usually on the more trivial and mundane aspects of his experience—the weather, some routine patrol he had been on, a poker game, or the food. He never had been good at expressing his feelings, and being in Vietnam had not changed that. Nevertheless, he missed being home—and he missed her. He promised himself to write her a letter after he made his report. He had made many such promises after skirmishes, but he usually forgot after the emotions died down. This promise was forgotten also, at least for now.


The report was hard to fill out. Moon-shot had died just as the choppers arrived, so everyone except Tom and Larry left their lives just outside that little village. His mind flashed back to another battlefield in a different time. The president’s words rang in his ears, “the last, full measure of devotion”.

Tom mentioned the old woman in his write-up, but he did not mention how she was wounded. Normally Lieutenant McDonnell would have filled out the report, but Tom was the ranking survivor so the duty fell to him.

When Tom turned in the report, Captain Upton skimmed through it. “Good job out there, Jenkins,” he said. “It is tragic to lose so many good men, but you stepped up to the plate. I saw Pullman in medical, and he told me what you did. I want you to know that I will be putting you in for a Commendation Medal.” Tom was not sure what to say; he just did what he needed to do.

“Thank you, sir.” Then after a pause, he inquired, “Permission to be dismissed, sir? I want to check on Pullman.” 

“Sure. I think he will be fine, but I imagine you guys have a lot to talk about.”

The two exchanged salutes, and Tom left. Moments later, the captain heard someone retching outside his window.


Tom went to medical where a nurse assured him that Larry’s injury was not serious. The doctors were busy with wounded from another battle further north, but they would take care of Larry as soon as they could. The two young survivors talked for several minutes. Eventually, the nurse came in. “One of the doctors is free now; I need to take you back, corporal.”

Tom walked out, sat on the ground outside medical, and leaned back against the structure. His mind played back the events of the day like a bad movie. The toll of the last several hours was starting to dawn on him. Tom had never found it easy to develop close friendships; he only had one really close buddy in high school. However, life and death environments develop strong trusts and deep bonds. These guys were his family here, and only he and Larry had survived this latest scene in “The Nightmare”.

As he sat there, he heard crying. It was not a man but not a woman either. It was the crying of a child. He looked toward the mournful wail. Twenty or thirty yards away, he saw a nurse trying to comfort the little girl from the village. Tom could not hear the nurse; it didn’t make any difference because he did not know much Vietnamese. He could only guess what the nurse was saying, but whatever it was, her words had set that precious little soul adrift on a sea of grief. Though he did not understand the words, he could understand the anguish in every sound that poured out of that sobbing, pain-distorted, little mouth.

“You and me too, little girl,” he sighed softly. “You and me too.” He had caused her pain, someone else had caused his pain, and in the tomorrows to come the story would repeat again and again.

Tom wiped his eyes, stood up, and headed back to his barracks.

{End of Sample}

Thank you for your interest in Streams of Mercy in the Valley of Shadows. Suitable for mid-teens and up, this book is available in paperback from and Barnes and, and will soon be available for order in bookstores everywhere. The Kindle ebook is scheduled for release in mid–late October, 2013.



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