War on a Bus iii(PREVIOUSLY: A patrol is preparing to go out on a search-and-destroy mission when I arrived at El Paraiso in El Salvador by “chicken bus. . .”)

Communists do not create the conditions in Third World nations which cause revolutions and civil war and give insurgencies a chance to gain control, but they are quick to take advantage of them. Much of Latin America with its high illiteracy, unemployment, and dogged poverty that sometimes crowds entire families into discarded packing crates, is a live well of revolutionary rhetoric and discontent.

Many of the villages bear the scars of battle. “The communistas do not want peace,” a farmer told me, sweeping his hand toward the mountains. “One time they came to take away my cousin and make him fight for them. He did not want to go. So they shot him. Communistas!”

The bitter taste of the word made him spit.

At Fourth Brigade headquarters in El Paraiso, Commander Lt. Colonel Sigifredo Ochoa unveiled a map marked Secret that showed remaining guerrilla strongholds along the Honduran border. The government was winning the war, he told me. The last major action was two weeks ago when the Brigade pushed enemy guerrillas out of Chalatanango and back into the mountains. The Brigade had captured “gun runners” bringing Russian-made rocket launchers in from communist Nicaragua.

Most experts attributed winning the war to U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Beret) trainers at La Union, to better leadership, and to the social policies and reforms of President Jose Napoleon Duarte. I had met Duarte at a press conference held at the National Palace in San Salvador.

“If we win,” he said, “we demonstrate that there is a way out for democracy. Then the United States will have a real example for the world.”

Platoon leader Subteniente Jose Camino had been fighting the war since it began in 1979. He had once killed a guerrilla with his bare hands. In spite of his obvious strength and resolve, he was a gentle man who refused to pose for pictures with his weapon.

El rifle no es mi amigo,” he declared. “The rifle is not my friend.”

I made road sweeps with Camino and his platoon, probing the mountains for gun runners, patrolling villages for guerrilla activity. On the bullet-pocked walls of adobe houses, on bridge abutments, on road signs, everywhere, graffiti cried a single plea—Paz. Peace.

One late afternoon the patrol was headed out of a village near La Palma when automatic rifle fire burst out of the sunset. Fortunately, our point man sprang the ambush before we entered the kill zone. Guerrillas scurried from the village and darted into the hills beyond. Our machineguns firing after them lifted spurts of dust.

The casualties? A single hen caught in the crossfire. I termed it the “Battle of the One Dead Chicken.”

Camino and I ate dinner together at a local café that also served as a barber shop. A hen strutted through the open door to peck at crumbs. The wonderful mountain wind eddied around the high red-tiled roof. Camino lifted his glass of dark beer to me and said, “Salud, amigo.”

Salud.”

“It is a sad thing—triste,” Camino said. “Many of us have died in the fighting. Still, to be free is worth it. Few countries are defeating the communists as we are doing.”

“Yes,” I agreed.

“If you Americans desert your friends when they need you,” he said, “soon there will be no friends left when you need them.”

Charles W. Sasser, former Green Beret soldier and combat correspondent, is author of over 60 books and thousands of magazine articles. If you want to understand the socialist-communist international “revolution,” obtain his book CRUSHING THE COLLECTIVE.