Just as the North Vietnamese firing squad lined up to execute the POWs, from behind a dried-up banana grove a burst of M16 automatic fire hit the four North Vietnamese soldiers in the squad, cutting them below the waist. With the next short burst the other two soldiers next to them keeled over.
Shirtless, face muddied, with a wide, white-toothed smile, Nino Aquino “the Lurp” –Sabino’s best friend– advanced, a ten-inch gleaming blade in his hand, and Sabino’s huge German Shepherd, Vinonegro, right by his side. Without effort, Nino cut the ropes, helping Sabino to his feet. Unable to contain his emotions much longer, Vinonegro stood up placing his front paws on Sabino’s chest and licked his face, all the while whimpering, yelping and emitting almost inaudible barks.
“Vinonegro tracked you down, man–he never lost your scent!” said Nino as he helped Major Bates to his feet. But the Major couldn’t hold himself up and collapsed to the ground. Both Sabino and Nino kneeled down to examine the Major’s severed tendon.
“That looks bad, man,” said Nino. “The river isn’t far from here, Vinonegro knows the way. But we need to make some headway now–I mean now!”
Only after a splatter of blood hit his face did Sabino realize that the mama-san had snuck up behind them and with incredible speed and viciousness slit Nino’s throat.
Shrieking and hooting, the wiry woman lunged off toward the banana grove, but before she even reached the edge, Vinonegro brought her down with one arching leap. In the next second he had locked his jaws around the woman’s scrawny neck, and with incredible force he whipped the woman side to side like a rag doll. By the time Sabino reacted and whistled his cease and release code, the woman was already dead.
“Never trust a woman with bad teeth in black pajamas – Mama-san Death,” Nino rasped weakly. “Take the blade… I want you to have it.” As he grabbed the 10-inch blade, he felt Nino take his last breath and die in his arms. That’s what life is –a sigh, a puff or breath– God’s spirit.
After collecting the dog tags from Lieutenant Burch and Nino Aquino, Sabino looked around, grabbed a pistol and a Zippo lighter, immediately heading west in search of the river. It was a painful journey. With Vinonegro, the magnificent hound, walking point, Sabino and Major Bates simply followed him. Once in a while Vinonegro would disappear as he trotted ahead, returning soon, his tail switching as if telling Sabino “this is the right way.” As daylight waned, they decided to hide in thick, knee-high elephant grass and wait the night out. It wasn’t long before they fell asleep, lulled by the distant shelling, the faint outburst of Russian AK-47 rifle fire and the drone of B52s in the stratosphere. So fatigued were they that even the trumpeting of mosquitoes or the scurrying of rodents, frogs, scorpions and other creatures and crawlers of the night could not stir them from their deep slumber.