This is a rematch of the Deadliest Warrior season 2 episode "Viet Cong vs. Waffen SS." I intend to present a matchup that offers a superior degree of historical accuracy, which will, in turn, hopefully inspire an informed and lively analysis from the voters in order to determine if Deadliest Warrior got it right. Did the Waffen SS deserve to win after all? Or was it the Viet Cong that should have emerged triumphant? Let's find out.
- 1 Viet Cong
- 2 Waffen SS
- 3 X-Factors
- 4 Battle
The Viet Cong was the South Vietnamese guerrilla movement that supported the North Vietnamese military in its war against the South Vietnamese government and United States. It waged a protracted campaign of insurgency against its opponents, demonstrating its battlefield capacity through irregular warfare. For more information on the Viet Cong, check out this documentary I made specifically for this blog.
Type 56 Assault Rifle
- 300-400 m effective range
- 30-round detachable box magazine
- 650 rds/min
- 10.5 lbs.
- 16.3 in. barrel length
RPD Machine Gun
- 100-1,000 m effective range
- 100-round belt
- 650-750 rds/min
- 16.31 lbs. (unloaded)
- 20.5 in. barrel length
MAT-49 Submachine Gun
- 9x19mm Parabellum
- 100 m effective range
- 32-round detachable box magazine
- 600 rds/min
- 9.3 lbs.
- 9.1 in. barrel length
- 7.62x24mm Tokarev
- 50 m effective range
- 8-round detachable box magazine
- 854 g (30.1 oz)
- 4.6 in. barrel length
The Waffen SS was the politicized military arm of the Nazi party. It established itself as a fearsome enemy of its Allied opponents, but its reputation is permanently tarnished by its wholesale participation in war crimes and genocide. The Waffen SS remains unique as one of Nazi Germany's most dangerous fighting forces, but also represented the very worst of Hitler's regime. For more information on the Waffen SS, check out this documentary I made specifically for this blog.
(EDIT: As of 7/28/18, my Waffen SS documentary was falsely flagged as hate speech and may not be viewable in certain countries. I submitted an appeal, but YouTube adamantly refused to remove the restrictions, so some of you will be unable to watch this video. I'm really sorry everyone. This is incredibly frustrating for me, but YouTube has made their decision.)
StG 44 Assault Rifle
- 7.92×33mm Kurz
- 300 m effective range
- 30-round detachable box magazine
- 550-600 rds/min
- 11.3 lbs.
- 16.5 in. barrel length
MG 42 Machine Gun
- 7.92×57mm Mauser
- 200-2,000 m effective range
- 250-round belt
- 1,200 rds/min
- 25.57 lbs.
- 20.9 in. barrel length
- 9x19mm Parabellum
- 250 m effective range
- 32-round detachable box magazine
- 500-550 rds/min
- 8.75 lbs.
- 9.9 in. barrel length
- 9x19mm Parabellum
- 50 m effective range
- 8-round detachable box magazine
- 800 g (28.2 oz)
- 4.9 in. barrel length
Viet Cong: 50
Waffen SS: 75I don't think it's controversial to say the Waffen SS have an advantage here. The Viet Cong did have rudimentary training, such as in stations along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but they were not a standing military and did not have the same access to resources as Nazi Germany did to train their soldiers. The Viet Cong were still better trained than a random civilian, but the Waffen SS actually underwent training before being sent into battle. It is worth noting that, as World War II went on and Germany's situation grew more dire, the quality of Waffen SS training drastically declined since the Germans needed to send men right to the front. That's why their rating is only a 75.
Viet Cong: 80
Waffen SS: 80I'm actually calling it a draw here. The Waffen SS fought throughout World War II in all theaters of war, both on the Western and Eastern fronts. That's six long years of brutal misery and bloodshed. However, the Viet Cong operated for a considerably longer period, from 1954 to 1975. The reason this makes for a draw is because the Waffen SS would have pretty much operated under constant combat conditions during their relatively short time in battle, whereas the Viet Cong engaged in long-term, low-intensity warfare for over two decades. It's hard to say that one combatant's experience is qualitatively superior to the other's when their wartime experiences were so different, so I think it's fair to recognize that they both were well-versed in battle and call it even.
Viet Cong: 50
Waffen SS: 75The Viet Cong struggled to supply themselves and relied heavily on the Ho Chi Minh Trail to transport vital materials from North Vietnam. This proved to be effective and withstood dedicated US bombing campaigns, but can't compare to the logistical capabilities afforded the Waffen SS by the Nazi government. To be sure, once the Germans started losing the war and the Allies started bombing factories, the German military suffered logistical strains, but never to the extent where they were operating under similar conditions to the Viet Cong.
Viet Cong: 80
Waffen SS: 70The Viet Cong had to be creative in their tactics if they were to survive. Their methods of irregular warfare meant that they excelled in the type of squad-based combat seen in this battle. Of course, they weren't always successful, but the Viet Cong distinguished themselves through their tactical operations and their responses to American and South Vietnamese efforts to counter them. The Waffen SS was part of a standard military force and so their focus on tactics was mostly dependent on the strategic situation that was determined by high command. Additionally, much of their time in the field took place in extermination camps and at other massacres, where absolutely no tactical thinking was required to accomplish their barbaric missions.
Viet Cong: 85
Waffen SS: 70The Viet Cong displayed a remarkable ability to persevere in the face of determined opposition. Not only did they resist the South Vietnamese government and the United States for two whole decades, but during this time they hid in jungles, retreated into tunnels, and survived on meager rations while enduring debilitating diseases. The Viet Cong took a beating but, generally speaking, maintained their cohesion as a fighting force. The Waffen SS score more or less the same as any ordinary soldier in this category. Thanks to their training they could march and fight for above average durations, but they definitely don't hold a candle to the Viet Cong in this category.
Viet Cong: 75
Waffen SS: 40The Viet Cong were mostly normal people who underwent significant wartime trauma, which lowers their score to 75. Some Viet Cong participated in atrocities, and some were the victims of atrocities, but the type of trauma that would result from their wartime experience isn't necessarily anything that would set them apart from other regular troops. The Waffen SS, on the other hand, had high rates of alcoholism and psychiatric casualties as a result of their near-constant participation in massacres and other genocidal war crimes. One can only shoot innocent victims so many times before it messes with your brain. The Waffen SS suffered not only from the regular trauma experienced in combat, but also from their participation in a full-blown genocide.
Viet Cong: 70
Waffen SS: 95There's no contest here. The Viet Cong could and did behave brutally, and killed innocent civilians and conducted terorrist attacks during the war. But the Waffen SS willingly participated in a prolonged campaign of genocide and murder all across Europe, slaughtering hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of victims as they assisted in the carrying out of the Holocaust. The Waffen SS genuinely believed that other human beings deserved to be exterminated simply because of who they were. It would be hard to find an example of another historical warrior that was as remorseless and brutally violent as the Waffen SS.
I want to stay as close to the spirit of Deadliest Warrior as possible for the rematch. However, given the nature of the weapons involved, I think a 5-v-5 is too small. Consequently, this match will be a 10-v-10. With that in mind, I would also like you to consider the winner after a simulated 2,000 battles (since I doubled the squad size, I'll also double the number of simulations that are taken into consideration). Of course, my primary concern in this rematch is a greater degree of historical accuracy to make up for the shortcomings of the Deadliest Warrior episode. After careful consideration, I have decided to have half of the battles take place in the jungle and half of the battles take place in the South Vietnamese city of Huế. The reason I didn't have half of the battles take place in a European city is because, realistically, and with as much historical accuracy as can be maintained in an alternate history like this one, the only way that the Waffen SS would ever fight the Viet Cong is if they invaded Vietnam. The Viet Cong fought a defensive war, while the Waffen SS helped initiate invasions. For this reason, half of the battles will take place in the jungles of Vietnam, while the other half will be in Huế, where the Waffen SS will perhaps be more in their element with urban combat.If any of you have any concerns regarding fairness or historical accuracy, please let me know as this is my primary concern.
My Love, the Phoenix
1. Une mise en scène colonial
Heurtebise Vigot sat up in bed, squinting at the morning light that filtered white through the curtains and onto his bedsheets. He yawned, rubbed his eyes, and looked over to find vacant the spot where Phuong had slept the night before. Though he expected it—it was par for the course at this point—he still felt a jolting twinge, disappointment mixed with that bitter longing that only the touch of a woman could satisfy.
Vigot swung his legs over the edge of the bedframe, kicking over his worn black jackboots that sat expectantly on the wooden slats of the apartment floor. He took a deep breath, looking out the window into the city of Huế, across the Perfume River where the majestic walls of the venerable Purple Palace proudly stood—a symbol of the old imperial capital, rich with a history that continued to unfold as trucks bearing swastikas rumbled down the pockmarked, battle-scarred streets.
A low touch on his shoulder made Vigot jump. He turned to find a small, unassuming woman, her arm outstretched, holding a peaked field cap with a skull insignia. Her waist-length black hair was pulled back and tucked over one shoulder, draped over her áo dài tunic. Her dark eyes sparkled with playful mischief as she pushed the cap into Vigot’s rough hands.
“Phuong,” he managed after a pause. “I thought you’d left.”
“Heurtebise,” she chided. “I cannot stay in bed as late as you, my dear. Not even on a Sunday.” Her French was very good—to be expected of a petit bourgeois girl, educated in the lycée system of the colonial yesteryear. “Besides, I had to visit my mother before it got too late. She’s ill. And I don’t want people suspecting.”
Vigot allowed his gaze to soften momentarily as he looked down into Phuong’s eyes. His hands dangled limply at his waist, his fingers playing with his field cap as he watched the late morning light dance across her face. But the moment passed—fleeting, transient, like every night he was able to spend with her. His days of leave tended to be spent alone with Phuong, him sitting up in bed in the small apartment while she brewed tea on the stove or read him poetry, vestiges of Vietnamese greatness from the old imperial time. Vigot felt a stirring sense of latent pride, what pride remained as a Frenchman, when he detected traces of his battered national image still present in a diluted form here, in his old Indochine.
“When will you be back?” Phuong asked, sitting down on the bed, swinging her legs back and forth as she watched Vigot dress into his uniform.
“It’ll be hard to say, dear,” he answered idly, pulling his boots on. “The Standartenführer wants us to report for inspection. That probably only happens if we’re moving out for operations.”
Vigot finished readying himself in silence while Phuong simply watched, peering at the Frenchman with wide eyes that he perceived as childish in their curiosity. “Don’t you worry,” he told her, laying a heavy hand on her shoulder. “I’ll write. I’ll see you soon.” He kissed her, straightened himself, brushed his calloused hand across her cheek.
Unterscharführer Heurtebise Vigot’s heavy, jackbooted steps clunked down the wooden floor and out the front door. He stopped and turned, giving Phuong one last glance, one last wave, one last weary smile, before he marched dutifully to report in.
Phuong stood watching in the doorframe. Once Vigot had rounded the corner, and after a few minutes had passed, she, too, shut the apartment’s front door, stepping out into the yard. Giving a quick glance over her shoulder, Phuong bent down to the low brick wall that lined the perimeter of her apartment’s patio. There was a loose stone—the bottom row, fourth brick from the corner. She pried it loose and unearthed a small divot, a little semicircle scooped out of the dirt where an old Tokarev pistol lay patiently. It wasn’t loaded… not that it was supposed to be, at least, not yet.
Slipping the gun into the back of her áo dài, so that it went behind her tunic and into her baggy black trousers, Phuong replaced the brick and slowly stood up. To any casual observer, she may as well have stooped to pluck an errant weed or check for the morning newspaper. Such was the art of her war.
2. A Catalyst
Heurtebise Vigot stood at attention in line as Standartenführer Kammberger inspected his motley unit of Waffen-SS soldiers. The early afternoon heat was oppressive, to say nothing of the humidity that seemed to sit on Vigot’s shoulders and tug at his hairline under his cap, which was by now drenched with sweat. But obediently he stood, his chin pointed up and out, his eyes focused on a spot far in the distance as Kammberger’s face loomed into his field of view.
“It’s a pity there weren’t more Frenchmen like you, Vigot,” Kammberger commented, bored but unmistakably haughty. “Perhaps, then, we’d might not have run through your lot in six weeks.” This was nothing new, but Vigot’s ears burned nonetheless. Kammberger continued his lazy inspection, as if the Vietnamese afternoon with its rolling haze and relentless mosquitos conspired to pass him over and pile on to his troops.
He swept down the line of his men. They stood in front of the SS headquarters in Huế, an old French colonial building repurposed for the German occupiers. Kammberger’s unit was a motley, disorganized, piecemeal crew, a patchwork of nationalities and ethnicities that in no way represented the vision of pseudoscientific racial purity that Hitler’s Schutzstaffel was purported to promote. There was Bogdan, a massive Ukrainian with a leering grin that sported fewer teeth than women he’d raped on his own personal warpath while attached to his unit. There was García Fernández-Trujillo, a Spanish Francoist who had initially fought in Russia with the Blue Division at Leningrad. There was Ståhlberg, a Finn and a veteran of the Winter War with the Soviet Union, who had probably attained more legitimate kills in combat than the rest of the unit combined.
But Kammberger had made sure to mold his multinational force into an entity that obediently carried out the whims of the Nazi racial project. For all their oddities and quirks, when it came down to putting a bullet in the head of a target, these SS troops were experienced. They all had their own ways of dealing with it. Bogdan took to the bottle, making him even more lecherously dangerous, an effect that seemed to last even after he sobered up. Ståhlberg would simply shut down after the violence had stopped, lost in some dark place that he had first seen fighting the hordes of uncamouflaged Soviets that traipsed their way into ambushes—machine guns with overlapping fields of fire and a rain of smoldering Molotov cocktails that chopped men into pieces and sent their tanks bursting, melting in on the crew like a steel casket.
Kammberger’s inspection carried on for more than an hour, an exercise that he seemed to relish with sadistic delight while he whittled away the Sunday afternoon. Finally, though, he dismissed his men, tacitly letting his troops loose to vent their frustration and pent-up energy across the streets of Huế. Vigot would have liked nothing more than to nestle back into Phuong’s embrace at her apartment, but he dared not call attention to her with his unit around—particularly not with that oaf Bogdan’s ears always perked for news of a new "friendly" face to meet. Besides, the Standartenführer was inviting his men to a bar for drinks, this time on him, a rare occurrence that must have been the product of his good mood from the pointless drilling.
“Vigot, you know what I like, just order me a cold one this time, will you?” Bogdan’s breath reeked of alcohol even as he crashed down at the bar stool next to the Frenchman, his massive arm thundering down on Vigot’s shoulder. Vigot had always been popular, but in Huế, his native French meant he could converse easily with some of the more educated locals, something that not even Kammberger could manage with his broken, stuttering excuse for the language. The SS men crowded around the counter, clamoring for their drinks. They left their rifles leaning up against the wall in the corner, mostly relaxed. The bemused bartender, a short Vietnamese man in his fifties who went by Jacques, though that was certainly not his real name, arranged the orders and made small chat with Vigot.
“Nothing for you today, monsieur?” Jacques asked, laying it on quite heavily with the slavish obeisance to the occupying troops. Vigot ignored the insincerity, though Kammberger picked up on the intonation and grinned smugly to himself. “No, Jacques, thank you,” Vigot replied. He cast a dark look in his commander’s direction, careful to ensure the Standartenführer didn’t see. Men like Kammberger reveled in that type of self-serving postulation, though Vigot thought it little more than one weak man bending his spine before another even weaker still.
The troops loosened and opened up after a couple of rounds of beer. García belted out his wartime favorite, “Primavera,” a song that the rest of the men enjoyed despite not understanding the lyrics. Vigot had been the only one who had bothered to ask García what the words meant the first time he sang the song, and hearing it again, his thoughts turned again to Phuong.
“Springtime, far from my homeland, springtime, far from my love…
“Springtime, without flowers and without breezes…
“Springtime, on the banks of the Volkhov, and its waters that flow to Ladoga…
“Flow on singing this saddest of songs, a sad song of love and of wartime…
“A sad song of wartime and of love.”
Vigot had always liked García better than the rest of his squadmates. Maybe it was because they came from similar parts of Europe, similar “cultured” cultures. Maybe it was because most of the rest of the squad bordered on psychopathic even at the best of times.
Bogdan was shitfaced drunk, tears pouring down his face as he listened to the Spaniard croon. Ståhlberg was already staring off into the distance, hunched over his bottle, his hands clasped tight so that his knuckles shone white.
Down at the corner, two of Vigot’s comrades—a couple of Germans, a pair that made it a point to berate and look down on squadmates who weren’t fellow Deutsches Volk—sauntered over to a young street urchin hawking sodas. The common language was French, the boy speaking it considerably better than the Waffen-SS soldaten.
“Five marks! Five marks! I can get you the coldest Coke on the street!”
“Five marks? Look at this enterprising pip, Karl!”
“Where are your parents?” Karl asked, sternly, but trying to warm up to the kid.
“Come on, you’ll make five marks back fast! Five marks! For two Cokes!” The boy reached up and started to tug on the SS man’s tunic.
Vigot tuned out and turned his attention back to García, who was getting to his favorite verse in the song, the verse that extolled the virtues of the Spanish forces at Leningrad and their courage in the face of Soviet counterattacks.
“But, when the enemy advances, drunk and without a drop of valor…
“The stanzas of Cara al sol rake through the air more fiercely than our shrapnel!
Cara al sol, that song, ancient and yet new, Cara al sol is the best of all hymns!
Cara al sol as we fall in battle, just as our country asked of us!”
Vigot turned to ask Jacques a question, maybe some small talk or pleasantry, but saw the barkeep cast a long glance out the open window to the street corner. Not realizing that Vigot had seen him, Jacques quickly ducked out behind the bar and disappeared into the back of the building.
Suddenly, there was a scuffle at the corner where Jacques had been watching. The child was struggling with the Germans, who had their hands clamped tight around his arm as he fumbled with a small, dark, round object. The two Germans were pushing the kid away, who tripped, turned, then lobbed the thing at them. It bounced a couple of yards into the bar. Vigot turned to face away, trying to shield himself—Jacques was now nowhere in sight—a second before a massive wave of heat and pressure literally forced his head down onto the countertop with a thud. An instant later, there was a deafening boom, the sound of glass shattering, bodies and furniture flying through the air.
An instant later, there was a deafening boom, the sound of glass shattering, bodies and furniture flying through the air. The pressure waves crashed across Vigot, reverberating through his chest and making him feel sick. He was halfway across the living room, covered in glass, bleeding, panic-stricken. He could hear nothing except the incessant explosions raining down overhead, but he knew that he was screaming Colette’s name at the top of his lungs.
He crawled, unable to stand, each motion a taxing effort, a battle against that fear that left his legs without function. He dragged himself across the floor, his sleeves ripped away by the debris, slicing his arms on the glass and splinters of his home now cast across the ground.
It was a strenuous journey. He had trodden that same path just the night before, with their blackout curtains drawn shut. Colette was afraid, but she clung to Vigot as they sat and held one another on the sofa. The war with the Germans had a quality of unreality that had endured through to that night. After all, who really could have processed the swiftness of the German advances, the magnitude of the French collapse? Was this not the same Germany that wasted years in its futile incursions across mud-soaked trenches in the last war? Vigot rationalized this to Colette, who reached her hand up to his lips and whispered, “Just sit.”
“I’ll protect you,” Vigot murmured, grasping her finger in his hand. “We’ll be all right. We’ll figure it out. We always do.” They endured the oppressive silence of the blackout as long as they could, but the summer night was tempting and they were young. That last night out in the open… that was the last night where Vigot really found himself his own man, his own person.
But that had been last night. The falling bombs sliced through time, forcibly separating Vigot from his memories as if they had passed centuries before. His painful odyssey across the twisted, burning remnants of his house ended when he saw Colette’s broken form limp at the foot of the staircase. Her head was tilted back with her black hair sprawled across her face, but he could tell from her pose that she was dead. Still, he pulled himself across the floor, reaching his tattered arms out until he grabbed her, unresponsive, and gingerly pulled her pale blank face up to his.
“Colette… Colette…” he repeated, choking. It still hadn’t quite registered as real, but Vigot nonetheless found he couldn’t breathe. A nearby bomb, spiraling down from one of the metal German beasts buzzing overhead, shook the house, throwing Vigot and Colette hard into the wall. The banister on the staircase snapped, the wooden beam crashing down and bringing Vigot’s misery to a merciful, if temporary, end.
4. Tit for Tat
Vigot lay stunned in a puddle of liquid. There was a lot of screaming, a lot of stamping about.
“Get up, Frenchman!” Kammberger’s face suddenly swam into view, his stiff grip roughly hauling Vigot to an unsteady stance. Taking stock of his surroundings, Vigot found the bar in a state of ruin. The tables and chairs were overturned, the walls painted with scorch marks and dotted with dimples from fragmentation. Bogdan sat in the corner, looking unharmed, incredulous at the display before him. García was clutching his head in his hands. Ståhlberg the Finn was out at the street corner, looking down at the tattered corpses of the two Germans. x8 The blast had scooped them up and riddled them with shrapnel.
Kammberger fumed as he rushed out onto the corner. Most of the men were at least slightly wounded, with the exception of Bogdan, still slumped in his seat. Kammberger himself sported a gash across his chin, which dripped blood down his collar, but he seemed to take no notice as he ranted. “Partisans! Terrorists! Beasts with no mothers!”
He spun on the spot, his eyes rolling across the scene. “The windows were left open!” he shrieked, pointing a vindictive finger to the bar. “That bartender didn’t want them damaged! He knew they were planning this! He knew we would stop by!”
Vigot instantly recalled Jacques ducking out. But he stood silent, unwilling to provoke the Standartenführer into action born of anger. It gave Vigot a small degree of power, a small sense of control, to withhold the information from his commander.
It mattered little. Kammberger was beyond furious, spluttering in his attempt to take stock of the situation. By now, the majority of the unit had arrived to inspect their fallen comrades. Many, especially the other Germans, were ready for revenge.
“Unit! Fall in! We’re doing an inspection now! I want any subversive elements, any partisans, to be dealt with on the spot. You have my authorization.”
Their rifles and other armaments at the ready, the Waffen-SS troops dispersed. The crowd of Vietnamese civilians who had come out to see the aftermath of the explosion scattered, fearful of the soldiers and well aware of what treatment to expect. Vigot reluctantly fell in alongside García and Ståhlberg, their rifles up as they corralled those too slow to clear the area in time. Bogdan and the Germans fanned out down the street, pounding on front doors and barking orders at the bewildered people stumbling out.
Within a few minutes, Kammberger had before him a few dozen civilians standing, hands raised half-heartedly behind their heads. “Frenchman!” he growled at Vigot. “I want you to let these people know that we will not tolerate banditry. We will not put up with partisan operations in this city. And if these activities do not cease, they can expect reprisals.”
The shock that had clouded Vigot’s mind dissipated in surprise as he realized what his commander meant. He cast a hesitant glance over at the group of people huddled about, crouching submissively, coughing, with silent tears streaming down their cheeks. “Reprisals? I… I don’t think they even speak French, Standartenführer, how—”
“It’s just as well. No need to waste our words on them. They’ll learn their lesson the hard way. What else can one expect from these people, really?”
Kammberger unholstered his Walther and briefly surveyed the assembled crowd of civilians. He pointed the pistol at an old man with a child clinging to his knees and fired. The man dropped, buckling like a stone tossed down a well. The crowd shrieked and started to run, prompting the rest of the SS troopers to open fire. The staccato reports of rifle fire overlapped with the rapid chatter of submachine guns as the SS men vented their frustration and rage, letting loose in a cathartic display of unbridled brutality. Kammberger was so beside himself that he resorted to firing his pistol directly into the air, then at the facades of buildings lining the streets. Those who were at the periphery of the group disappeared down alleyways, into buildings, trying to hide from the ongoing massacre.
Vigot found himself staring down the barrel of his rifle into the face of the street urchin who had thrown the grenade, now wide-eyed, his face streaming with tears. The child trembled, his eyes swimming as they peered out into Vigot’s hesitant gaze. The echoing cracks of his comrade’s weapons suddenly made him flinch. He lowered the rifle. Vigot didn’t have long to contemplate his dilemma though—his mind flying back to Phuong, back to Colette—when Bogdan muscled his way over and pushed Vigot aside. “You’re the little devil that caused all this, weren’t you?” he snarled, stamping his boot down hard on the boy’s chest. The kid coughed, his head shooting upwards in a spasm right into the barrel of the Ukrainian’s rifle.
“No!” Vigot suddenly found himself shouting, putting his hand on the rifle and pushing it down. Bogdan stopped and shot Vigot a deeply suspicious glare, rife with mistrust. “No,” Vigot repeated again, subdued, as Bogdan shook off Vigot’s grip and readjusted his aim. Vigot looked up mutely at Bogdan, watching the kick of the rifle jerk up into his shoulder with the fatal shot. x9 Bogdan’s hand worked the bolt, ejecting the spent casing of the fatal round and chambering the next, intended for another victim as of yet unknown.
All around them, their fellow soldiers were carrying out similar coups de grace on the poor wounded civilians who had the misfortune to survive the initial volley. Kammberger had composed himself, more or less, so that his sadistic violence took on its usual form of impassionate, surgical precision rather than the manic frenzy that had gripped him at the onset of the shooting. Vigot looked up at Bogdan, who was turning away from the boy, ready to move on to his next victim. Something seized him, something instinctive, and he let out a cry of anger as he swung his rifle butt at the Ukrainian’s head. Bogdan ducked, wordlessly spun on the spot, grabbed the butt of the rifle and shoved hard, driving the barrel into Vigot’s neck and pushing him to the ground. He dug harder, his face contorted into a manic picture of demented fury as Vigot spluttered for breath, his eyes bulging out and his head tilting down to look at the pavement as he suffocated. He looked down at a sight he had seen dozens of times before, of his own reflection shimmering in the rivulets of blood that streamed down the street and into the gutter. His gaze mechanically followed the flow of the liquid, flashing back an upside-down reflection of the city’s roofline.
At the end of that stream, still calmly bubbling its way down the road, with her face fixed in an expression of horror and a Kalashnikov rifle slung across her back, stood Phuong.
5. The Self, the Family, the Party
Half an hour before the explosion at the bar
Phuong sat on the floor in her small apartment next to the rest of her cadre, facing Brother Kien. He had organized a session of self-criticism, that old Marxist practice where the cadre members took turns admitting their ideological failings and asserting a promise to do better in the future. But Kien, a low-level party official from the North, sent across the Ho Chi Minh trail to assist in the politicization of the guerrilla movements in the South, found himself frustrated with the Southerners and their cultural differences.
“You do not have a monopoly over the revolutionary spirit!” Phuong had spiritedly protested.
“Sister Phuong, you must reflect on your own shortcomings before the party,” Kien responded, his brow furrowing under his tan pith helmet. It was large and conspicuous, with a red star at the center, but Kien liked to wear it for clandestine occasions such as this—he felt it lent him an aura of revolutionary credibility. It seemed to help little with Phuong though. “Please remember, dear sister, that not too long ago you were part of the imperialist system.”
Phuong almost exploded with indignation. “So I was educated in the lycée as a girl! Are we to say that such histories cannot be cleansed with the revolutionary spirit, Brother Kien?” Kien frowned, chewing on his lip as he contemplated her challenge. When no response proved forthcoming, Phuong pressed on the attack. “You Northerners may feel that we in the South have much to answer for in the way of a betrayal to the party’s ideology. But keep in mind that this type of monopoly is an integral part of the imperialism against which we stand united!” After a pause, she belatedly added, “Brother Kien.”
“Very well, Sister Phuong, your input has been noted,” Kien finally answered. “Thank you all for participating in today’s self-criticism. Now we will briefly adjourn—I am expecting a guest, but we will convene within the hour.”
Phuong stepped out to the front yard. As she gazed out across the low wall of her apartment’s yard, a small, wiry boy of no more than sixteen shyly approached her. “Sister Phuong,” he muttered, unable to meet her gaze. “I think you have the revolutionary spirit.” In spite of her frustration with Kien, Phuong couldn’t help but smile at the boy. “Thank you, Brother Bao,” she responded, kindly. She reached out her hand and let it rest on his shoulder.
“Sister?” Bao asked. “You know how Brother Kien says that we all share a revolutionary love, as brothers and sisters in the struggle? Well… do you think… I mean, that is to say… do you think that extends to us as well?”
“I think you should go back inside and join the others,” Phuong said, smiling patiently. “I don’t think it’s the revolutionary love you’re worried about, brother. But you are very young still. It is best to focus your energy on the cadre’s operations right now.” Bao’s face flushed red and he nodded, looking timidly down at the ground.
As Bao slunk back in to the apartment, Phuong looked up to see someone hurriedly pedaling a bicycle toward her unit. Reaching back hesitantly toward the Tokarev holstered in her áo dài, she relaxed when she recognized Truong, an older cadre member—an undercover operative who worked as a bartender, alias “Jacques.”
“Sister Phuong,” Truong nodded in greeting as he slid the bicycle to a halt and leaned it against the wall. “I must speak with Brother Kien as soon as possible.”
“Brother Truong,” Phuong replied. “Please, come in. He is expecting you.”
Phuong stepped in first, making eye contact with Kien. As Truong followed her, Kien led the way into the apartment’s small bedroom while the rest of the cadre members conversed quietly in the main room.
“Brother Truong,” Kien said quietly, sitting down on the bed where Vigot had dressed just a few hours earlier. “Did you see the operation through?”
“Yes, Brother Kien,” Truong answered. “I was there to ensure that Cu had the grenade.”
“And is he okay?” demanded Phuong, concerned.
“I saw him scamper away after throwing the bomb,” Truong assured her. “Besides, he’s a resourceful little one. You shouldn’t worry about these things. The soldiers were completely off-guard. They thought they were buying Coca-Colas from him.”
Kien laughed but Phuong shot him a look. “For shame!” she said reproachfully. “Revolutionary spirit is one thing, but Cu is only a child. He does not know right from wrong, never mind what revolution means.”
“Well, look, I think it’s best that we go down there and see if we can survey the situation. Who knows? Maybe we’ll even be able to repurpose some leftover weapons for the party!” Kien waved his hand as he stepped into the main room. Phuong hesitated and grabbed Truong’s shoulder.
“You’re sure that Cu is okay?” she demanded.
“Look, Sister, I didn’t see where he went, but I know that he got out of there right after throwing the grenade,” said Truong. “I’m sure he will be able to take care of himself until we get down there.” He shrugged her hand off his shoulder and followed Kien, who was assembling the rest of the guerrillas.
Bao looked up at Phuong as she entered the room, realized he had made eye contact with her, and hurriedly snapped his gaze down to his knees as he sat hunched on the floor. “Get up,” Kien told him, as he distributed rifles and pistols to the group. “We shouldn’t need to use these,” he assured them, “but it’s best to have them on us, just in case. You all know your routes. Let’s get moving.”
Truong was already pedaling down back the way he had come on his bicycle as the rest of the cadre spilled out the doorway and took their different routes. Phuong hastily slung the Type 56 Kien had given her over her shoulder, the Tokarev still tucked into her trousers. Slinking down the alleys towards the bar, she didn’t slow down for the homeless children peddling their mismatched wares, nor did she offer any explanation or assurance at the curious and frightened faces that peered out from back windows at the young woman with a rifle as big as she was. Once the sound of gunfire erupted into the afternoon stillness, Phuong broke into a run. Hurtling from the alleyway, she nearly collided with Truong, who had been standing in shock next to his bicycle.
The bar had suffered evident damage from the grenade’s explosion—there were blast marks on the wall and part of the roof had come down, but Phuong swept her gaze immediately to the mass of corpses piled in the street. A group of occupying soldiers walked about, abusing the bodies and shooting anyone who stirred. She watched in horror as she spotted little Cu, splattered in the blood of the adults who had fallen around him, looking up at one of the troopers, who pointed a long rifle down into his face and pulled the trigger. Phuong gasped—choked, gagged, but couldn’t pull her face from the scene.
The trail of blood puddling from the bodies had snaked its way over to her and Truong. The soldier who executed Cu grabbed the rifle of a fellow trooper, pushed him to the ground, and started to attack him. The pathetic figure squirmed, slowly losing energy as the life was squeezed from its body. Its head flopped, tilted, then looked up and over at her.
It was Heurtebise.
Before either Phuong or Vigot could quite make sense of seeing the other at that precise moment, in the precise social roles they were currently performing, Truong raised his own armament, a MAT-49 submachine gun, and opened fire on the Waffen-SS soldiers. He hit one of the German soldiers across the midsection, dropping him. x7 Kien, Bao, and the rest of the cadre emerged on the scene and quickly provided supporting fire as Kammberger screamed orders at his men. García dropped to the ground and propped the body of one of his victims up in front of him, just in time as a barrage of small arms fire descended on him. Bogdan dropped Vigot’s rifle and let him go. The Ukrainian swung up with his STG-44, and returned fire, forcing Truong to abandon his position out in the open and scramble for cover.
“Frenchman! Vigot!” shouted Kammberger. “Get your ass over here! On the double!”
Vigot was grabbing his throat and stooped, frozen in the center of the crossfire, his eyes still glued on Phuong’s horrified gaze.
“Phuong! Don’t just stand there!” Kien yelled as he rattled off a burst from his rifle. “Help us!”
Vigot reached his arm out to Phuong, his fingers stretched out. He stumbled, lurching forward unsteadily, his boots splashing in blood. Phuong flinched, turning on the spot and disappearing back into the alley. Vigot took off bolting after her, no weapon, no coherent thought in his head as the live rounds buzzed back and forth between the two skirmishing sides.
“Vigot! Vigot!” Kammberger howled, bellowing over the din of the fight. “Deserter! Traitor!”
Kien had noticed Phuong’s flight as well, but turned his attention to one of his guerrillas as the man took a round to the forehead. x8 Three of the Waffen-SS soldiers emerged from behind a corner, where their unit’s truck had been parked behind the bar. They carried the body, belt, and barrel of an MG-42, respectively, and hit the deck mid-assembly.
“Focus on the machine gun!” Kien shouted, but no sooner had he given the order than the weapon opened fire, belching a path of metal that chewed up two of the Vietnamese guerrillas who stood up to aim with their weapons. x6 Kien reached his arm up around Bao’s neck and pulled the young boy to the ground, moments before the terrifying buzz of the machine gun’s fire traced a path over their heads.
“Fall back! Fall back!” Kien’s orders were wholly unnecessary, as the rest of the cadre had already fallen back to defensive positions further down the street. He scrambled on his elbows and knees behind a car, then chanced a sprint into a nearby house’s yard with Bao. The MG-42 chased them but proved to be slightly too slow, licking the pavement at their heels and sending bits of the cobblestone road flying up at their faces.
Kammberger had snatched up an MP40 from one of his fallen men and was letting loose, fully automatic, in the direction of the retreating guerrillas. The shooting petered off and Kammberger gave the order to cease fire.
“I want you all to hunt them down! Use your trucks, your motorcycles, don’t let them get away!” Kammberger yelled. The Waffen-SS unit sprang into motion, around the corner of the bar where their vehicles sat, idle.
“Standartenführer!” Bogdan stepped to the side and placed a meaty paw on his commander’s shoulder. “Vigot took off running into the alley. He was refusing to shoot, too. And he tried to stop me from shooting during our operation. He attacked me with his rifle.” Bogdan’s face shone up with glee as his commander’s face twisted into a scowl.
“Follow me. We’re going our own way. We’ll catch that little rat.”
Kammberger motioned to his staff car, not bothering to wait for Bogdan to open the door for him. “Just drive, drive!” he shouted.
The staff car peeled down the road, moments before a motorcycle with a sidecar and a troop transport truck barreled out and after the guerrillas. Ståhlberg drove the motorcycle, García bouncing alongside him in the sidecar. The rest of the German troopers followed in the truck.
Truong was pedaling furiously on his bicycle, nearing the entry to Phuong’s apartment, when he heard the roar of oncoming motors. He panicked, swerved, and crashed the bike on the curb, scraping open his knee and leaving a nasty, raw, bleeding gash. He recovered his submachine gun, which had skittered into the street, and hopped over the low wall of her patio. He found the font door unlocked—he could have sworn he saw Phuong ducking out the back door, her long hair swirling in the air behind her. But Truong didn’t have long to dwell on that.
The sound of the vehicles slowing down gave away his misfortune. There was a pounding on the door—too sudden to be the occupying soldiers—and rapid Vietnamese begging to be let in. Truong froze for a moment before he scrambled, recognizing the voices of fellow cadre members. Two of his fellow guerrillas pushed past him into the apartment right as angry shouts in German chased them, followed by a hail of bullets that scythed through one of the partisans. x5 Truong popped up from the window and rattled off a burst from his MAT-49.
Outside, the two German SS troopers formed up alongside the perimeter of the wall. Ståhlberg and García went around the back of the troop transport and struggled to lug out a heavy Panzerschreck. One of the German soldiers readied a stick grenade, sharing a brief nod with the point man, and lobbed it through the front window seconds after the point man shattered it with a heavy blow from the butt of his rifle.
A shower of glass shards cascaded over Truong’s back and shoulders, moments before a heavy thud announced the entry of a grenade. He scrambled, hands and knees over the broken glass, fumbled with the grenade, and tossed it back outside into the patio. There was a brief shout of alarm before a concussive blast stunned Truong and threw him onto the floor.
One of the Germans had picked up the grenade to toss it back again, but the fuse had run out right as he lifted it next to his head. x6 His fellow trooper had dived to the other side of the patio wall, right as Ståhlberg and García loomed up with the Panzerschreck across the street. Truong had already determined his position was untenable and was in the process of fleeing, one foot already out the back door. Then a massive explosion—bigger still than the grenade—consumed Phuong’s apartment, as the Panzerschreck’s warhead surged forth and slammed into the living room’s back wall with a boom. Covered in blood, Truong didn’t even wait to check for the other cadre member, who had effectively been incinerated, charred, and battered beyond recognition in the blast. x4 As the echo of the boom swirled into an uneasy silence, the SS unit burst into the house. They found the corpse of their victim, but bloody footprints led out the back and painted a path out through an alley.
Truong stumbled, wounded, knowing that the occupying soldiers were hot on his trail. There was no way he would make it to their encampment past the outskirts of the city. He only hoped that Kien, Phuong, and Bao would make it. He hauled himself over and propped himself up against the low patio wall, grimacing as he checked his injuries.
Ståhlberg and García slowly followed the bloody footprints, halting as they disappeared around the corner. The German SS trooper stacked up behind them. They readied their MP40s and confronted Truong, who looked up at them with his last vestige of strength.
His eyes were glassy, losing focus as he managed one last vindictive grin. The German trooper instinctively turned, far too late for it to make much difference. García’s face contorted in shock, unable to move before the grenade laying limp in Truong’s lap detonated. Ståhlberg’s face showed resigned acceptance, perhaps relief, that his life of war was coming to an end. x3 x3
The fighting had driven the SS and the guerrillas out of the city. But they were on a warpath, and prepared themselves to take the battle further into the wilderness that lay beyond.
7. Confessions and Confidants
Ten minutes earlier
Phuong’s feet carried her down the alley as her mind went blank, blank from the shock of Cu’s death and Heurtebise’s sudden appearance, in uniform, at the scene of the crime. Her hair flowed behind her in long ribbons, long snaking streams that mirrored the trickles of blood chasing her on the sidewalk.
“Phuong! Phuong! Wait!”
Then hands were on her shoulder—rough hands, but gentle ones, that turned her around.
“Why are you running?” asked Papa, his weathered eyes glimmering with kindness. The wrinkles in the corners scrunched together as he blinked, blinked in relief to hold his little daughter in his arms again.
“I thought they had taken you away!” Phuong whispered. She reached out and intertwined her little girl’s fingers in his. “I thought you weren’t coming back.”
“You know they wouldn’t have been able to keep me away,” he said. He looked like he had aged twenty years in the three months since his arrest. That was what had scared Phuong when he first stepped through the courtyard and into the main room.
“Where’s Phuoc?” she asked, craning her neck over her father’s shoulder. Her older brother had been taken away with her father—the government had cracked down on political agitators, on students, on the Buddhist priests.
“Where’s Phuoc?” Phuong repeated more forcefully, pulling her face back down to look her father in the eyes. Her little heart froze when she saw he was crying. She had never seen that before, and she was struck with fear and a dawning comprehension that nonetheless baffled her child’s mind. She buried her face in her father’s chest, beating her tiny fists on his shoulders as he wrapped his hand over the back of her hand.
And then the room was suddenly filled with relatives, with siblings and cousins, and Phuoc’s face decorated the wall and the altar where the candles and incense and flowers sat. All of the faces had been unknown, unfamiliar faces—great-grandparents and great-aunts, ancestors who had never existed in Phuong’s little world. But now there, on that table where before had been only photographs and memories that belonged to other people, was Phuoc—her hero, her idol, her big brother, her protector.
“He’ll protect you still, now, you know,” her father whispered into her ear, taking her aside as the family strode past and over the grieving child, not noticing. “Just like you’re remembering him now, he’s remembering you too.”
“Do you promise, Papa?” Phuong asked, blinking through the hot tears that splashed off her round face and onto the floor.
Phuong’s father brushed her cheeks with the backs of his fingers and managed a brave smile through the pain that was etched across his worn, haggard face. It was almost too much for young Phuong to bear. His eyes flickered up to the ceiling, dropping a tear that betrayed the courageous façade he labored to maintain for the sake of his daughter. But the moment passed, and he looked back down and swallowed. “I promise.”
The environment was suffocating, too much for Phuong to handle. So she broke away from her father’s embrace and tottered unsteadily out into the courtyard, trying to shake free from her emotions, trying to shake free from a reality that doggedly pursued her into the streets. From behind, voices chased after her.
“Phuong! Phuong! Wait!”
Then Phuong turned, stopped—there was Heurtebise, his face covered in blood, his eyes painted in horror and fear. He reached his arms around and grabbed her in an embrace.
“Heurtebise,” she managed.
“Phuong, Phuong…” he murmured, rocking, as he held her. “Phuong. Forgive me. Forgive me.”
She pushed him away unsteadily, held him at arm’s length. Her eyes scanned his body, just as unsteady as she. Here they stood, still touching, yet a chasm yawned between them.
“We can’t do this here,” she finally answered. “Come. Just—come.” She grabbed his arm and pulled him down the twisting alleyways until they came upon her apartment.
“We don’t have much time,” she told him, unlocking her door. “Sit.”
Vigot sank unsteadily down onto the floor, looking up at Phuong. She knelt down beside him and cast her gaze into her bedroom, where they had sat together just that morning. “I’ve been part of this movement for a long time,” she said. “We’re directing this for our own sakes. It’s about being unselfish. It’s about putting the people before… before oneself. It’s about—”
“It’s okay,” Heurtebise said, reaching out for her hand again. “It’s okay. Phuong, it’s your home.” Then his expression shifted. “Phuong, I tried to stop them out there. It’s just that—”
“Sometimes you’re too late,” she said, finally letting him rest his hand rest in hers. “Heurtebise. We will all have to answer for what we’ve done some day. You will have to accept me for who I am because you need my help. And I will have to accept you for who you are, because I need yours as well.
“I don’t know what will become of us, but right now we need each other. And we can’t stay here.”
Phuong stood up suddenly, rushed across the room, peered out the window. The sound of oncoming motors rumbled down the street. Truong preceded the noise, pedaling frantically on his bicycle before crashing and tumbling into the curb outside the apartment. She turned, grabbed Vigot by the hand, and rushed out the back door. They hopped over the low wall of the back patio, into a neighbor’s unit, then over the neighbor’s wall and onto the opposite side of the street. A small motorbike—a motorized scooter, really—leaned against the wall. Phuong stooped to overturn a brick and pick up some keys, Vigot looking down in surprise at the pistol that jutted up from her trousers.
“Get on,” she said breathlessly. Vigot wrapped his arms around her waist. If he hadn’t been so overwhelmed by the situation, he might have been amused at the prospect of himself clinging tightly to this small woman as she hurtled down the city streets and out to the rice paddies that lay beyond. His mind ran a million miles an hour as the gravity of his decision slowly started to sink in. Kammberger would not take desertion lightly—and he was a man petty enough to raise hell and earth to bring a transgressor to his sick perversion of justice.
The motorbike came to a gentle halt at the treeline that sprouted up at the edge of the rice fields. The city of Huế loomed in the distance so that its impressive imperial walls glowed purple in the fading light. A small dirt path led off into the jungle. Phuong gripped Vigot’s hand tightly in hers, reaching down to draw her Tokarev in her other hand. She looked him in the eyes.
“Heurtebise. I care about you. I do. I need you to trust me.” She paused. “Do exactly as I say.” She leaned in and kissed him—briefly, before turning and whisking him into the undergrowth. The thick jungle canopy swallowed up the long shadows cast by the setting sun, plunging them into a twilight state of semidarkness. Vigot found himself holding his breath, clutching Phuong’s hand tightly. This was no longer an issue that triggered amusement—he was squarely out of his element and entirely in danger. He would need to rely on Phuong to survive.
8. A Dance in Darkness
“Standartenführer.” Bogdan’s heavy breathing pierced the silence. He lowered the binoculars and pointed out, across the rice paddies, where the jungle broke up the horizon. “They’re there, all right. I saw them go in.”
Kammberger leaned across the passenger’s seat and snatched the field glasses from the Ukrainian’s hands. He spotted the small motorbike, resting squarely in the center of a small dirt path that disappeared into the treeline. “Bring the radio,” he motioned to Bogdan. “We might need it yet.”
The two men crossed the rice paddy, their big black boots sinking in the soft earth, churning up mud as they approached the motorbike. The light of the dying day was just strong enough to make out two pairs of footprints—a small set, left in sandals, and a larger one, left in the same unmistakable tread that Kammberger and Bogdan were now themselves leaving behind.
“Vigot,” Kammberger whispered to himself.
Up ahead, Phuong motioned for Heurtebise to stop as they approached a bend in the path. She drew a small pistol’s magazine from where it was tucked in her sleeve, rolled up, and inserted it into the Tokarev. “We’re here,” she breathed, squeezing his hand.
As Vigot craned his neck around the path, he saw a small thatched hut, windowless, with an entryway so low and narrow that it seemed even Phuong would have to duck to get in. But before he could raise any query, he found himself staring down the barrel of a rifle, an angry face looming behind it.
“So, this is how you make your dramatic entrance?” Kien snarled at Phuong, keeping his eyes trained on Vigot’s uncomprehending face. “I think you have a lot of explaining to do, and I think it’s going to start now.” He motioned for Vigot to enter the hut and waited for Phuong to follow.
It was dark inside, but as Vigot’s eyes adjusted he saw another guerrilla—a teenaged kid, by the looks of it, who glowered at the Frenchman, though his features momentarily softened when Phuong followed. Phuong sat, cross-legged, and looked over at Kien. She maintained eye contact even as her commander tried to stare her down. Eventually, he gave in and broke the silence. “I know you have your own ideas of what constitutes a revolutionary spirit, but I must admit, Phuong, even this surprises me. Why are you leading the enemy into our lair?”
“He is not an enemy!” Phuong protested vehemently, gesturing with her pistol. Kien looked at it, as if he had just noticed the weapon clutched in her hand. Deciding there wasn’t much he could do about that at the present moment, he merely tightened his grip on his rifle and kept it trained on Vigot’s face. “I know this man. He tried to stop them at the bar today,” she said.
“Well, he didn’t damn well accomplish much there, did he?” Kien said accusingly. His voice dropped to a dangerously low tone, his speech even and deliberately measured. “Phuong, you need to take some time to seriously ask yourself where, exactly, your priorities lie. So, we’re going to have to have a talk with some party members. In the meantime, I’m going to have you reassigned. It seems that having kept you stationed at home was not the best allocation of the party’s resources after all.”
Phuong said nothing, her gaze fixed on Kien’s scrutinizing face. He briefly cast a glance over to Vigot and then looked back at Phuong. “Cavorting with the enemy,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Is this what you want Cu’s sacrifice to have been for?”
Incensed, Phuong rose to her feet, diving forward and tackling Kien. “His sacrifice?” she shrieked, finally losing her composure. “His sacrifice? You tell me, Brother! What was that for? Because I damn well don’t know!”
Bao crawled forward and tried to haul Phuong off the commander. Kien pushed her violently and stood as much as he could in the hut, swinging his Type 56 in a broad motion and jutting the barrel into Vigot’s chest. Bao took advantage of the confusion to snatch the Tokarev from Phuong’s hands and held it, tentatively pointing it at Vigot’s head.
“Enough!” Kien roared.
“That wasn’t his sacrifice to make!” Phuong screamed, trembling, as Bao tried to restrain her.
“I said, enough!” shouted Kien. “I’ll deal with you later, Sister. But right now…” He turned his cold gaze back to Vigot. “Get up!” he ordered in French.
The pair marched out into the jungle, Bao and Phuong trailing at a distance. “Down,” Kien said in French, kicking Vigot in the back of his knees. He hit the dirt floor with a dull thud, landing on all fours. He raised his head and took one final glance over at Phuong, whose face was contorted in a brokenhearted fury. Vigot admired her one last time, admiring the strength she displayed before him. “Not even a tear, my love,” he whispered, letting one slip down his cheek.
Kien shoved the cold barrel of the rifle against the back of Vigot’s head, but at almost the same time a series of shots punctured the air. Kien stumbled back, jerking unnaturally as several rounds landed in his chest. x2 Bao ducked and hit the ground, his hands over his head. Vigot was unceremoniously hauled to his feet and found himself staring face-to-face with Kammberger.
“Hello, Frenchman,” he snarled.
Bogdan pushed past them and looked over at Phuong. “Well, now, Vigot, you never told me you had such a pretty friend.” He cast Vigot a sideways look, raising his eyebrows and pulling his lips back in a hideous grin that showed off his broken smile.
Kammberger slammed the butt of his pistol into Vigot’s stomach and threw him back to the ground. “You traitorous wretch,” he hissed, crouching down and putting the barrel of the pistol to his face. “Did you really think you could just walk away from me?”
But then there was a shrill cry, a muffled thud, and Vigot and Kammberger looked up at Bao, who had thrown himself against Bogdan and swung the Tokarev at his head. The burly Ukrainian caught the guerrilla’s wild attack, crushing Bao’s wrist in his meaty grip.
“Sister Phuong!” Bao grunted through the pain. “Get out of here! Go! Go!”
He cast a desperate gaze at her as Bogdan pushed his wrist backwards, snapping the bone with a terrible crack. Bao’s final, shrill cry of pain morphed into a series of gurgles as Bogdan forced his body weight on the boy, stamping out his breath and his life in the jungle mud. x1
Bogdan sat up, kneeling on the corpse of his victim—his final unfortunate prey. He licked his lips and swung his head over to Phuong, who had recovered the Tokarev and instantly fired two rounds directly into his groin. Bogdan doubled over, reaching his hands down to the wound, trying to stem the blood spilling out from between his legs. Less than a second later, Phuong pushed the gun up against his head and pulled the trigger. x2 The bullet went in at the top of his head and came out his mouth, shattering the few teeth that remained and flying out in a spray of saliva and blood. Bogdan’s lifeless head snapped back for a brief moment before slumping down over his chest.
Phuong then turned the Tokarev over to Kammberger, who was watching slack-jawed at the scene unfolding before him. She emptied the magazine into the Standartenführer, who was standing over Vigot. Her shots sent him crashing to the ground, his Walther skittering out of his grasp and into the mud. She rushed over to Vigot and wrapped her arms around him, cradling his head as he tried to check himself for wounds.
“Heurtebise,” she choked.
Vigot reached up and touched her face, a surge of emotion crashing over him and leaving him weak. Phuong’s energy, too, was spent, and she slumped onto him in exhaustion. They lay there in the quiet of the jungle, their ragged breathing puncturing the silence.
“Phuong,” Vigot said, looking over into her eyes. “I—”
Then there was a ragged, raspy growl, a hideous sound of laughter, and Vigot forced himself into a sitting position. Kammberger had dragged himself over to Bogdan’s massive corpse, with the radio still strapped across its back. All of Phuong’s shots had missed it, and the SS commander vindictively held the receiver up to his mouth and stared Vigot in the eyes.
“Battalion, battalion, this is Standartenführer Kammberger. I am calling in coordinates for an airstrike on my position.”
Vigot rolled over in panic, reached across Phuong, and grabbed her Tokarev. He sat up and pointed the pistol at Kammberger, frantically pulling the trigger, but the magazine had been spent on Bogdan. The SS commander finished his coordinates and waited.
A crackle of static followed before a distant voice faintly radioed in. “Copy that, Standartenführer.”
“Over and out,” Kammberger managed, before letting the receiver slip from his hands. His devilish grin flashed through the jungle as Vigot stumbled to his feet, propping Phuong up on his shoulder. But it was too late—the jungle path was dense, but they were still close to the city. The roar of engines droned overhead and a massive gulf yawned up in the earth before them. x1 There was a thundering boom, and Vigot found himself airborne, floating, and then—pain.
9. Letting Go
The pressure waves crashed across Vigot, reverberating through his chest and making him feel sick. He was halfway across the jungle clearing, covered in dirt, bleeding, panic-stricken. He could hear nothing except the incessant explosions raining down overhead, but he knew that he was screaming Phuong’s name at the top of his lungs.
He crawled, unable to stand, each motion a taxing effort, a battle against that fear that left his legs without function. He dragged himself across the floor, his sleeves ripped away by the debris, slicing his arms on the metal fragments of bombs and splinters of the jungle now cast across the ground.
The deafening crashes of the airstrike continued, shaking the earth and coursing through his body, relentless blows from above. And yet, in spite of the chaos, in spite of the rain of death and steel, he kept his eyes fixed on Phuong’s limp form that had been tossed into a crater.
It couldn’t end, not like this, not after everything they’d been through. But Vigot reached his hand out to her limp form and found it unresponsive. His heart leapt into his mouth in an instant of white-hot, sickening panic. He rolled her over and realized he was staring at Colette.
Then she opened her eyes and suddenly the bombs seemed to stop, faded away into the distance as she reached her hand up and caressed his face.
“Hello, Heurtebise,” she said.
“Colette,” he managed. “Is it… am I…?”
“It’s not time, yet, my dear,” she said patiently, kindly, though a little sternly. “It’s not your time to go yet. And it’s not hers, either.”
“Phuong?” he asked uncomprehendingly, his voice tinged with a little guilt.
“It’s okay, Heurtebise,” Colette said. “I know. And she’s good for you. You just need to be good for her.”
There was a span of silence. Heurtebise couldn’t bring himself to say anything. Colette waited, the ghost of a smile playing across her lips.
“If you’re going to do that—I mean, if you’re going to be good for her, you have to let me go,” she finally said. Her eyes shimmered, reflecting Vigot’s gaze as he realized what he needed to do.
“Can you let me go?” Colette asked. Her fingers slipped through Vigot’s, an ethereal memory fading into obscurity.
Vigot’s mind went back—back to those years long gone, back before the war. Could he really ever be sure they had actually happened? Perhaps it was some distant dream from a fever, some illness from which he was only now starting to recover. Colette’s face started to blur, started to seem less real. Vigot could only truly remember the previous morning—the white bedsheets and Phuong, holding his peaked field cap, watching and chatting while he dressed.
“Goodbye, Colette,” whispered Vigot.
“It’s okay, Heurtebise,” her voice echoed, swirling into the mist of his memory. “It’s okay, Heurtebise.”
“It’s okay, Heurtebise,” Phuong repeated, wrapping her hand around his sweat- and blood-soaked head.
The storm passed as he came to his senses. The earth was churned up, the trees were cast aside like so many troops fallen in battle. The light of the moon pierced the clearing and lit up Phuong’s face, drawn tight with concern, slowly loosening with relief.
“I love you, Phuong,” Heurtebise said, finally realizing it as he stared up at her.
“I love you, Heurtebise,” Phuong said.
As the night closed in on the jungle, the moon bathing the two lovers in its luminescent glow, something of a peace closed in on them. One was an occupying soldier, one was a revolutionary guerrilla. They would have much to work out in the coming weeks, in the coming days—even in the coming hours. And yet at that moment, in that little war-torn corner of the world, there was only Phuong and there was only Heurtebise.
At the end of a very close match, the result is inconclusive. The Waffen SS had several important advantages. They were a profesionally-trained and profesionally-equipped military force, while the Viet Cong were irregulars who lacked many of the logistical advantages afforded the SS in a straight-up firefight. Additionally, a lot of the SS weaponry was of better quality. Finally, the Waffen SS were experienced killers who had plenty of combat experience against the Soviets and Western Allies, fighting ferociously down to the last days in the Battle of Berlin.
The Viet Cong, for their part, had several advantages of their own. As guerrillas fighting defensively, as they would have done historically during the wars against France and the US, they were able to dictate the engagements largely on their own terms. They were a highly motivated political fighting force, fighting in defense of their country and what they believed to be their people's revolution. Importantly, they were a good deal better off mentally, since the Waffen SS suffered serious psychological casualties as a result of their participation in an active genocide. While the Viet Cong did commit war crimes, nothing they did came close to the sheer scale of evil violence unleashed against civilians across Europe by the SS.
Because the Waffen SS and Viet Cong are very different fighting forces, and because their strengths and weaknesses really define who they were as fighters, it remains difficult to conclusively determine who would win in a direct engagement. But, hopefully, this can be seen as a conclusion worth reaching. It is my hope that this matchup addressed many of the historical inaccuracies from the Deadliest Warrior episode, and I also hope that you learned something new about one or both of these warriors from this blog. I welcome comments and constructive criticism, and I look forward to future Deadliest Warrior rematches from you all.