Biafra: The Mercenaries

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Captain Paddy, an Irishman who has spent 22 of his 54 years in Africa, is the unit's master mechanic. Just before Port Harcourt fell to the federals early last summer, he scrounged up a convoy of trucks and liberated—under fire —the entire workshop of the Shell-B.P. refinery there. When Aba had to be evacuated last month for lack of ammo, Paddy was one of the last men out, a machine gun in one hand, a demijohn of wine in the other. Captain Armand, a former French paratrooper and veteran of Algeria, sports a Yul Brynner pate and fights on despite bazooka fragments in one hand. Another veteran has just left Steiner. Captain Alec, a onetime British paratrooper, used to walk around with a Madsen submachine gun, an FN rifle, and a shotgun, "just in case I have to shoot my way out of this bloody place." He believed in the "little people," who, he would say in all seriousness, "will jam your machine guns and cause your rockets to misfire." He was wounded four times in six days before he left Biafra.

Outcasts. The mercenaries' salaries run from $1,700 a month upward. But payday is at best a sporadic affair in besieged Biafra. In any case, money is probably not the major reason for their presence. It is not the land, either, for they seem to have no eyes for the green rolling infinity of the African bush, the visionary sunsets, the humming, warm, smoky nights. They are lobos, outcasts from society who fight every day in order to taste the excitement that comes in living close to violent death. If they survive Biafra, they will doubtless drift on in search of another war. Until then, their allegiance, temporary though it may be, is to Biafra and to Ojukwu.

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