The Story That Had to be Told

The Story That Had to be Told


                 Today is my 6 month anniversary in this land I call a rest stop on the road of life.  I arrived here a 19 year old kid who knew it all; only to find out I knew nothing at all.  I got off a climate controlled air conditioned United flight and landed in a 110 degree steam bath.  This is definitely not Kansas and Toto is nowhere to be found.  I think he melted into the tarmac.  This place looked so beautiful and peaceful lush green jungle from 5,000 Feet up in the heavens.  Well definitely isn’t so beautiful up close and personal from the ground level.  It is a place I learned to consider the meat grinder; this place will slowly grinds your body both mentally and physically.


                Today I have a simple task; I am picking up the newbie organ donors.  Organ Donors are is what we call the new troops coming in country; we refer to them as organ donors.  We call them organ donors because out of one hundred that arrive at the meat grinder a week later they end up like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.  Most of these kids can’t be 17 or 18 years old at best.  I was one of them once in a land and place far far away.  At this point when you’ve survived longer than 6 months, you’re considered a seasoned hunter and you’re all grown up.


             Well I am going to enjoy picking up the newbie’s it will give me a chance to relax and spend time away from the hole.  The hole is what we call home in the jungle; it’s a fire base in the middle of the jungle and hell.  As I sit passing the time in the passenger seat of a 5 Ton troop transport waiting, what is left of my mind drifts off.  For some reason all I can think about is the words to Heat Wave by The Vandellas and I can’t seem to remember all the words.  My focus is redirected to a C 130 cargo plane, parked at the far side of the tarmac.  They are loading flag draped caskets; they are most likely from I Core 2nd Battalion 3rd Marines.  Those poor guys lost about 150 guys last night, trying to stop Charlie from over running fire base John Wayne.  Last night’s score was Charlie lost 500 and we lost 150, Fire base John Wayne is still under Marine ownership.  Last night it was the Marines who know tonight it maybe us. 


As I lose another 10 pounds sweating here I figure I’ll just get myself a Coke and a smile.  I can’t believe they raised the price of a pop to .35cents, well I suppose they have to pay for the war somehow.  Finally United flight 111 arrives a few minutes late, I am not complaining I rather be here than back in the hole even if it only a few minutes.  Man the newbie’s look so young, they look more like Boy Scouts than soldiers.  I sometimes feel like a summer guidance counselor picking these guys up for their first day at summer camp.  The only thing is in this summer camp your chances of coming back home alive are 10% maybe.  Even if you do go home you’ll never be the same ,what ever innocence you had coming here you lost it once you step of the plane.


Well here we go half of these guys are assigned to my unit and are coming with me back to the hole.  The other half are assigned to I Core up North, they are the reinforcements.  Charlie has been hitting the North pretty hard, seems we might actually be inconveniencing Charlie’s supply lines up there so he is being extra persistent.  That’s what you have to admire about Charlie his persistence and consistency.  Charlie likes to work the night shift; most of the attacks have been at night.  We have a sort of an unwritten rule Charlie owns the night and we own the day.


As we make our way out of the Da Nang airport compund, I look at the rear view mirror and what a familiar site I see.  The site of dust black Diesel smoke from the 5 Ton and Vomit in the wind.  I guess the newbie’s caught sight of the flagged draped silver boxes, being loaded on the C 130.  Reality check comes on early on when you see that sight and realize this summer camp in South East Asia is not what you volunteered for.  As the 5 truck convoy makes its way through the villages and then to a familiar sight the bombed out craters big enough to fit a school bus in.  These craters were the fine work of the 256th wing of the Strategic Air Command.  I was hoping I could slip one of those fly boys a 50 and get them to drop a 500 Pounder in the hole.  I always wanted my own built in swimming pool, part of our recreational activities in the hole.  Man right about now it’s starting to bother me that I can’t remember al the words to Heat Wave, maybe one of the newbie’s can help me out with that.  I call out is as we rumble past the winding pot hole filled trail does anyone know Heat Wave.  Sure enough this kid from Illinois with a great voice just starts singing his heart out.  A we rumble on singing Heat Wave we ease the nerves and helps pass the time.


Ah home sweet home just two clicks ahead, I know because I recognize the frames of two burnt out gunships.  These poor guys never made it back to the hole.  They were coming back to the hole when they got nailed by rocket propelled grenades.  Those poor guys didn’t know what hit them the sad part about it is that they were bringing back a platoon of our guys wounded from a nearby village. We lost a total of 15 guys there were no survivors everyone died on impact.  As general rule of survival I make it a point not to get personally involved or close to anyone.  The reason is simple most guys that come here are here today and gone tomorrow.  The Medivac and gun ship crews you don’t forget, those are the guys that go through hell and back for you and make sure you come back home. They fly though anything that is thrown at them, when you’re in the worst fire fight of your life and you hear the sweet sounds of rotor blades you know you’re going home safe.  Those guys are our guardian angels.


Finally home the whole, well guys welcome to fire base Alamo and this is your home for the next 13 months.  Unless Charlie decides not to renew the lease, then you’ll be homeless and probably dead.  I stopped caring a long time ago now it’s just about survival, if Charlie wants he can have it as long as we go home on our own two feet and not in a silver box.  Well I better get some shut Eye I am pulling guard duty in a couple of hours, so much for a nice day back to the grinder.  Well this ought to make for an interesting evening to say the least, I am stuck with Oppie some newbie for a partner tonight.  This kid is fresh out of the Mickey Mouse Club and I am babysitting him he’s a real talker too.  I look him over once and explain a very simple survival tool.  Open your eyes shut your mouth and listen kid.  I think he got the point especially when I showed him the Consentina wire 200 yard out with the fresh body parts shredded to pieces.  The carnage was from Charlie trying to find the weak points in our perimeter last night.  The kid turned copy paper white and soon realized, he is swimming in the deep side of the pool and there are sharks. 


            Great here comes the rain there is nothing more miserable than being up all night wet in a puddle of mud.  As the rain poured heavier and heavier all through the night, in the reflection of the silhouette of the lighting I see the tree line just pass the wire.  It takes me back home to Jersey for a second, reminds me of a hot summers day, when my biggest headache was to spend time lounging in front of an illegally opened fire hydrant cooling away.  Oppi's real name is Billy from some white picket fence suburbia in the Mid West.  The only reason I know as much about him is because he started telling me all about it, before I interrupted him by telling him I didn’t care.  In this meat grinder you make it a point not to get friendly; it’s part of survival 101.  Generally the newbie’s don’t make it past a month and if they do play the lottery cause he’s been lucky in the Charlie lottery.  As a morbid tale goes around here Charlie’s hunting club only likes to hunt for the young bucks.  Charlie prefers the sot young tender meat verses the hardened seasoned meat.


Finally daylight Charlie didn’t come over for a midnight snack thank god for that, we survived another day.  God night for us bad night for the guys coming in from the field.  As Oppie aims his weapon towards the front gate I tell order him to stand down, last thing we want to do is frag our own guys.  The guys coming in are from the night patrols and recon, they go out every night usually in groups of two.  One group goes out for intelligence and the other helps secure the positions outside of the wire as kind of a first line of defense.  Charlie likes harassing us from time to time by sending in mortars over the wire in the hopes of hitting our ammo dump.  Our guys near the wire try to stop Charlie from doing that, but as good as they are Charlie is a lot better.  Oppie begins his second round of barfing his breakfast once he sees that out of a 12 man team that went out only 8 came back and the rest are in the muddy black body bags they are carrying with them.  Oppie drops to his knees in the puddle of mud and starts balling like a baby. I try to calm him down and it is no use the only thing he keeps saying is he wants to go home.  I just think to myself you and about two hundred and fifty thousand of us as well kid.  Well Oppie  if you click you heals three times and say there’s no place like home ,the good witch will wisk all of us away from this hell on earth.  Sometimes it’s the dry humor that acts as a catalyst to ease the mental anguish.  I need some much needed sleep ,while I’m at it I'll try to press the erase button in my mind.  It does absolutely no good the harder and harder I try to sleep, all I can do is sit there watching the smoke from my Marlboro swirl in the air and hear Oppi’s crying voice over and over I want to go home.


Great another wonderful day in paradise and Charlie didn’t come through the wire; I am still alive in hell.  As I come outside I get called to report to the lieutenants’ office, great I wonder what I screwed up this time to deserve a meeting with the LT.  In the 6 months here I only met the guy once when he welcomed the newbie’s and me in to the hole.  The LT is  a quiet soft spoken guy kind  of like a priest ,as a matter of fact I think in the real world he might have even been a priest.  I don’t know much about the guy the only thing I know is that this is his second tour in country I guess he really enjoys his work so much he didn’t want to leave.  As I walk in to the LT’S office I stand at ease and he asks me to have a seat  He starts out with son you’ve been doing a real great job but you being reassigned to where your talents can be more useful.  You’re being reassigned to Bravo Company as a field medic.  I looked in your file and it says you have medical training, back in the States you worked as a medical tech for a local ambulance company. 


All I can do is sit there in shock and quiet, I can’t believe this I got 7 more months to go and he’s putting me with Bravo Company.  I just want to say to the guy look all I ever treated as an ambulance jockey is a couple of scraped knees and some overweight wife beater who had a heart attack while wailing away at his old lady.  In no way does that qualify me to patch up guys in the field whose body parts are blown up all over the place and their holding their guts in their hands to keep them from falling out.   This guy just signed my death warrant; Bravo Company is got the highest casualty death rate of any unit out here. 


            I’m told to report to Bravo Company right away, their medic got killed last night and they need a medic ASAP.  Bravo Company consisted of all highly trained Special Forces guys; I knew somehow I just wasn't going to fit in.  I am definitely not Superman material and I am not looking to be a super hero no way no how.   In my own way I’m a lot like a super hero, with no motivation or super powers.  My master plan was to just pull 7 more months of duty at the fire base and survive just pulling guard duty and doing meaningless tasks.  That did not pan out at all, so here I go another wonderful day in paradise shot to hell.  Bravo Company is always sent on suicide patrols and every time they go out 8 of 12 guys maybe come back on their own two feet, the rest come back in body bags.


            I report as ordered to the Bravo company commander for assignment and he instructs me to meet up with Staff Sergeant Castro.  What site to see these guys you would think it was a Nazi death camp.  Their eyes all sunken in and they looked like the walking dead.  As I walk in to the barracks I get handed a bloodied knap sack with a discolored Red Cross patch on it.  Castro tells me to restock it with medical supplies and get ready we’re heading out as soon as the sun goes down.  Sergeant Castro offers me a smoke and tells me to relax .don’t be so nervous.  He tells me that the Companies commanders bark is worst than his bite.  If Castro only knew that the farthest thing from my mind was the CO’S bark, surviving the meat grinder was the only thing in my mind.  Thompson right that’s your last name well Thompson where are you from in the real world.  Jersey City, NJ I answer back oh wow wer'e neighbors I’m from Bayonne.  I tried not to get personal and I explain to him why, but he doesn’t want to hear it.  Here’s a bit of advice kid around here you’re going to know us and were going to know you better than you know yourself.  For the simple reason that you’re going to save us our lives and were going to bring you back home safe.


            Well that was a hell of a wakeup call I didn’t expect, these guys are actually still human the meat grinder hasn’t gotten to them yet.  As the moon begins to rise and the stars shine I’m off to hunt for Charlie.   The platoon leader places me in the rear of the squad as a measure of safety.  We walk out in to the wolves’ mouth as we go out of the main gates of the hole.  I can’t help but think I might come back in a body bag to this place.  I can’t help but being more scared than I’ve ever been in my life.  My heart is beating out of my chest, if I smoked a pack of Marlboro’s right now I don’t think they would even calm me down. We walk for what seems like hours in the night until we reach a small stream.  This will be our home for the rest of the night.  Recon Intelligence has informed us that Charlie is using the trail next to the stream to bring supplies and weapons up North.  The master plan tonight is to ambush hi once he shows up, kind of like playing Little Red Riding Hood except this wolf bites real hard.  We split up and take cover near a fallen tree and just wait patiently, Castro and I are together just playing blood donors for the local mosquito colony.  I got my nerves on overtime, guard duty back in the hole was paradise compared to this.  Hopefully with a lot of luck Charlie slept in tonight or forgot to set his alarm clock.  The sounds of the jungle makes one’s mind wonder off away from this hellish place.  Not one sound other than the night crawlers and the sounds of my heart beating out of my chest.  I take this time to make the peace with the big guy upstairs and I try to cut a deal that if he gets me out of this I’ll run for Pope. 


            Castro nudges me to get ready Charlie is coming ,you hear the sounds  of branches and jungle crackling, all of a sudden it’s the Fourth of July and the tracers are flying like fire flies in the night.  I can’t see a dam thing but I hear someone yelling for a medic.  Castro tells me to go he’ll cover me.  Its Rock n Roll time as I keep calling out to see who is hit I hear Kowalski calling for me .he’s been ht and can’t move.  I keep dodging tracers with my name written all over them.  Once I do reach him it is too late he’s checked out of the Hells Inn.  Franklin and Kauffman are laying there both schredded, their hit pretty bad and can’t really move.  I managed to stop the bleeding from Kauffman’s chest.  I start dragging him to safety and I am almost there two more feet and he’s out of the line of fire.  Franklin’s leg is pretty much gone; he is bleeding like a river and as I reach him to pull him back to safety all he says I want my mom as I watched his life slip away.


            Dear Mr. and Mrs. Thompson it is with deep regret to inform you that your son Thomas Thompson has been killed in action.  Your son was killed in action on Sept 9, 1967 in the Province of Ban Loc, Vietnam.  Although I only knew Thomas for a very short time he was always ready for duty and never faulted in his duties and always gave one hundred and ten percent.  You will be proud to know that Thomas gave his life in order to save two critically wounded fellow soldiers and bring them out of harm’s way to safety.  I will be putting the necessary paper work together to assure that Thomas is awarded the medal of Valor for his actions of 9/09/67. Once again I am deeply sorry for your loss and may god be with you.  Arrangements are being made so that your sons’ remains are returned to you as soon as possible for proper burial.



                                                    L.T. John Andrews

                                              United States Army 2nd Btl






Dedicated to VP

And all of the Vietnam Vets


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Short Story
writing Highwaynomad
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A Young person who grew up too fast and didn;t even make it to retirement age . His life was snuffed out too soon.
A Word from the Writer
Life is precious treat with respect and enjoy it .