Song For Irrawaddy


EXCEPT for the charred skeleton of a lone burnt-out tree still standing the flat hilltop was brutally bald. The crest of our hill was blanketed by the pale smoke billowing from the smouldering bunker logs. Cold northerly stream was carrying away the grey smoke as broken puffs as if the besieged hill was desperately sending a distress smoke signal.

Aware of the enemy already in our trenches I cautiously moved along the chest-deep trench towards the crest. As I was almost by the headquarters bunker atop the crest the prolonged hammering of many heavy machine guns came to an abrupt halt. Our Company’s futile resistance against the overwhelming enemy was ending. Save the sporadic popping sounds from their rifle shots the whole hill was almost quiet again. 

Just ahead round the curved bend sitting dead in the trench was the Company Medic. The Red Cross band on his left arm didn’t save him from getting shot through his chest. Leaving a skid-mark like wide blood trail on the loose earthen wall he appeared to have fallen backward and slid down the wall of the narrow trench. His body was in an almost squatting position with the grotesquely bent head between his knees as if he was taking a short nap. A large swarm of small jungle flies was feeding the flesh and blood from the jagged exit wound on his back. 

The overpowering stench of the day-old dead body under the bright midday sun was unbearable as I stepped over his body to get through. There wasn’t a single rain in last two days. Strangely abnormal for the usually rain-drenched highland here during the monsoon season. The flesh, blood, and guts stuck and dried on the sun-baked ground wherever the bodies lay dead. Everywhere I looked the hard ground was literally strewn with corpses from both sides.

From inside of the chest-deep trench I could clearly see the headquarters bunker on the bald hilltop even though a good part of it was still covered with dense grey smoke. Amidst low hanging smoke above ground I caught the glimpse of two enemy regulars standing just outside the headquarters bunker and firing madly at it. I then saw them entering the bunker through one of its side-openings. I impulsively ran along the communication trench into the bunker. A short moment later I was in the bunker but it was too late. Captain was sprawling dead near the entrance and the bastards were bayoneting the radio operator behind the radio in the far corner of the dimly-lit bunker. 

From the shock expressions on their dirty faces I knew that I definitely had caught them off-guard as I swiftly lifted my rifle and started firing at them madly at point blank. I emptied the whole twenty round magazine and both of them fell right where they were standing over the operator’s slumped body. As soon as the firing was over I could hear the crackling sound from the radio, “Base two? Can you hear me, Base two?” I rushed over the bloodied mess of just dead, picked up the handset, and hastily replied, “Base Two is overrun! I repeat. Base Two is overrun!” I heard some mangled reply from the other side but it went silent like someone had cut the wire off. The enemy might have just chopped down the tall antenna pole about 20 yards away from the bunker. Through the sandbagged openings at the front I could see many of them on the forward slope approaching the bunker.
Also not far outside a large number of enemy regulars and volunteers appeared to be searching the remnants of our bunkers and finishing the wounded and hidden. The terrifying thought of being the last one alive out of the entire 90 plus strong company had instantly crawled into back of my head and put me into a horrible state of panic. Realizing I didn’t have much time left I dropped my emptied rifle, picked up Captain’s 9mm pistol from the bunker floor, and ran back into the trench. As all our bunkers were connected through a maze of open and covered trenches I was desperately hoping I might find a way out of the fallen base. 
Into the curtain of smoke and the overwhelming stench of cordite and dead bodies I ran along the deep trench and ended up in the ammunition storage nearby. The storage was a huge bunker of at least twenty feet square and eight foot deep with a heavily reinforced roof above. It was still partly filled with stacks of grey metal boxes of assorted ammunition, hand grenades, and two-inch mortar shells. Then I crawled into a narrow tunnel hidden behind the wooden crates of mortar shells. One of many secret passages built into the complex system of trenches interconnecting all our bunkers, the tunnel would directly cut into another deep trench and eventually be taking me into one of our platoon bunkers. It was only wide enough for one man to crawl through and high enough to sit up. Inside was pitch-black.

Unfortunately I had crawled into the dark tunnel without knowing that part of it ahead was blocked by the collapse of ground above from the enemy shelling. It was too late by the time I hit the dead-end pile of loose soil and rock mass and discovered the solid blockage just after the first bend. The enemy was already in the ammo storage at the back and I was now trapped like a wild dog in the narrow and dark tunnel. When I tried to look back over my shoulder, only thing I could see was a pale spot almost a circle on the tunnel wall at the bend as the faint light from the entrance was trying to reach inside the tunnel. Only then I remembered that in my hurry I also forgot to re-cover the entrance with the crates and hide the tracks of me crawling into the tunnel. Nervously I lay flat on my belly and tried to lie in silence not to attract their attention, but to no avail.

They immediately found the opening and one of them fired a few guessing rounds into the tunnel. The wandering bullets ricocheted off the bend behind me and painfully stung me on both legs. I immediately curled up into a fetal position and started digging frantically into the loose soil of the blockage with my bare hands. I was almost out of the firing line in a short time but the digging gave me away. The noise certainly had alerted the enemy at the tunnel entrance. I could hear them arguing in wild hysteria. Some of them were excitingly yelling at the shooter to lob a hand grenade in. But one firm voice had stopped him. The same voice also decided that I should be taken alive and ordered the men to fetch the black hunting dogs used in dragging the wild pigs out of their burrows. They might have seen me running along the trench just before and correctly guessed that it was me now trapped in the tunnel. My ultimate nightmare had just begun. I would rather kill myself than taken alive by them.

I might be one of the reasons they wasted scores of their men to storm the heavily fortified Burmese army base camp of Second Company, 513th Infantry Battalion. Now their hated enemy was within their reach. Lying only about ten yards away inside the tunnel darkness I could feel their hatred and anger towards me. Wildly guessing it would give me some time while some of them were fetching the black dogs I turned over on my back, took a few deep breaths, and tried to figure out my slim chances of escape in the darkness. How could I have foolishly or recklessly put myself into such a horribly hopeless situation? I murmured to myself in desperation as I was now trembling with horrid fear.

I am Corporal Zaw Moe, turning 18 today, the Platoon Sergeant of First Platoon. Just a couple of years ago I was a first-year engineering student at Rangoon Institute of Technology and I could never have imagined then that I would be in such an utterly hopeless situation as I was right now here in this God-forsaken jungle.



Song For Irrawaddy - Chapter 1
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                              (This video is late Khin One's song "Irrawaddy" covered by Ringo.)
video
“At the end of the clouds, far away in the west,
      some place on the horizon, sun is still shinning.
  Beneath the hanging mist, in the shadow of Arrakan range,
      on the opposite shore, the river course is already dark.
  Against the cold northerly wind, small birds are still flying,
      as the day is fading, and night is approaching.
  Journeying a long way, tired and exhausted,
      with traveling companions, they are coming home for night.”
  (Irrawaddy, Irrawaddy, Irrawaddy, Irrawaddy)
Flowing steady, mature and vast,
      just look at him, majestic appearance, the natural great.”
  (Irrawaddy, Irrawaddy, Irrawaddy, Irrawaddy)
“Grayness of cold, some far away place in the roof of the world,
      a small silver star is twinkling.
  The color of sky is all blue, in the summer night,
       for his lonesome journey, the river king is traveling.”
  (Irrawaddy, Irrawaddy, Irrawaddy, Irrawaddy)

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Song For Irrawaddy - Chapter 1