Sunday, June 13, 2010

His Battle

It is June 1969, a ¾ ton truck slides through the gate into the early morning fog then accelerated for the mad dash down the mountain to the base in the valley. Just a few clicks down the road to a helicopter ride back to My Tho. The worried faces of his friends watching as he left is etched on his mind. Frankie “T” yelling in bravado “It’s a fine day to die!” Danny just raising his hand. The rest of the camp is visible, preparing for battle unaware of the truck leaving them alone.

The driver and front guard are unusually quiet and concentrating on the jungle flashing by. The soldier riding shotgun in the rear of the truck peers nervously into the jungle. He is setting on highly classified instruments the Army was worried about falling into enemy hands. Armed with only a 45 cal. pistol, an M79 grenade launcher, several thermite grenades and orders to destroy the equipment rather than let it fall into enemy hands. But no orders about the safety of his men just an implication that they are his responsibility and not as important as the equipment.

Get it back here. How you do it is your responsibility, it would be nice if you all came back but only with the equipment.

Still shaken from the nightly rocket attacks memories of the morning briefing intrude on his concentration. “Enemy in area preparing for attack.”; “Tanks moving south.” “Hostiles impersonating locals.”

Then, “maybe I should have waited for the supply chopper” interrupts those thoughts. He rationalizes his decision by telling himself that it is only a short 20 minute run and the enemy could attack the camp before the chopper arrives. Besides patrols are out and reported the road clear.

Forty years later as he types these words hazy memories and flash backs interrupt his thoughts. His body can feel the truck slowing as it enters a turn then accelerate past a line of Vietnamese soldiers. One near the rear of the line steps out clear of the rest and levels his M60 machine gun. The soldier in the rear instinctively launches a grenade in their general direction. The truck veers wildly and crashes into a paddy but he is aware of the grenade landing near the machine gunner and its explosion as he is ejected from the truck..

As he comes to he sees the Vietnamese regrouping to attack. Gasoline vapors surround him. He pulls his 45 but is shaking so badly he has trouble cocking it.

Then God began to pour rain on him and across the road. Not a rain of water but a rain of shell casing as a gunship passes over strafing the Vietnamese. The ship banks to the right as another come over finishing the job.

His mind is confused and there seem to be hands pulling him from the mud calling for him to lie down. Being strapped to a stretcher, looking around and wondering where “they” are why aren’t they on the chopper? Then the pain starts. First the hands then the crotch and legs followed by relief and a feeling of not being there.

The briefing comes days later along with the guilt and anger brought on by the words, “This didn’t happen.” Apparently the equipment had disappeared during the confusion but they were sure that it was not in enemy hands and were covering their ass. The morning after the soldier had left, the camp was overrun with all defenders killed or captured so the brass just reported the equipment as destroyed in the battle.

Later his calm bearing hid the anger, guilt and rage inside of him, brain fogged with alcohol the soldier’s battle began….. He Lost.

His description of events hides the flat, sharp edged memory of the event. Maybe some how putting it into fancy words will help.

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69 years old married 20 YEARS. Have a boy 21 and girl 19 plus two grown daughters and 3 Grandchildren. Served in Vietman. Combat wounded.In country 3 times. longest tour 8 months. Rated as totally disabled from injuries and PTSD. Friend of Bill W.

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