It was the first time I was warm all over for a couple days. The guys really have a lot of foot problems and jungle rot. I hoped I had enough antibiotics and bandages to last till we got in. The word was, to make your c-rats, and gear last cause we would be going in before we would get re-supplied again. We looked like an old rag-tag string of packhorses coming off the moutain from back to back elk hunts. Our clothes had almost rotted off long ago or been used for toilet paper, and now my marines feet and hands were rotting away too. We had been out way to long this time. No contact with "Charlie" the whole time, just a losing war with us against the elements. Just surviving "Charlie's" environment was a full time job. I was suddenly snapped out of my thoughts by the ever-familiar hand signal to move out, and to keep a good interval. I knew in an operation of this size I still had a little time before I would actually be taking any steps, so I tried unsuccessfully one last time to try to make my piece of shit pack feel comfortable. If I had to wear this kind of shit hunting, I would never go! What the Hell was somebody thinking when they put us in the bush dressed in this kind of shit, what was left of it anyway!
Finally, we were moving out! It was getting into early afternoon and shit was going slow as usual. Word was going around we might set in for the night soon. I didn't know what was going on but heard through the grapevine later, that somebody up front was having navigation problems. (We weren't where we thought we were!!) Soon we were moving again. The forward part of what I could see of our column was disappearing into jungle. I was surprised when I got to the jungle, because it opened up into a series of very clear areas, separated by brushy hedgerows. I remember palm trees or banana trees here and there in the hedgerows. It must have been an old plantation of some sort.
At that moment I heard AK-47's and 30 cal. Carbines going off. I knew somebody up front had just walked into a lot more than sniper fire. Soon there were rounds buzzing through the air everywhere it seemed. I was standing in the middle of one of those lovely clearings, and there wasn't enough cover for a dung beetle to hide behind. I went hard and fast for the hedgerow about 30 meters in front of me. The gooks must have been flanking us to our right, or they let us get this far on purpose because now we were taking heavy small arms where we were. Sticks and brush were being cut off above our heads and the rounds that were hitting the ground were throwing sand and dirt in our faces. I tried to look up a couple times, but went right back down. The rounds were just to damn close.
Then I heard the "Gun"! That was our own L/Cpl. Jack Hartzel, and he was making that gun sing. One only had to hear Jack and that gun make music once or twice, and you never forgot what it sounded like. Jack had his own "Rock Band" in that "belt of ammo"! Even when all the other guns were firing too, I knew where Jack's position was in the progression of things. He dove into the hedgerow just to my right. Our column had been cut in half at the plantation. Jack, Smitty, and I must have been the cut-off point.
The rest of the CP was behind us in the last hedge-row we had gone through. Our radioman, Adolph Novello, and a couple Sgts were part of that group. Novello was a good man to be around. It seemed like all he had to do was get on that radio and somewhere, somehow, he could open the sky with Angels of anything you happened to need at the time. No one was in need of my services as a Corpsman at the present, so I tried to unload as many M-16 clips as I could wherever I thought the little ass-holes might be. Besides, it would be less shit to carry out, when this was all over. Jack started hollering like hell. I could tell he wasn't hit but still didn't know what was going on until I looked to his position. My hot brass had been going down the collar of his flack jacket and was burning his neck.
Our eyes had barely made contact and I heard it! "Doc Up, Doc Up, Corpsman Up!!" I knew "my other half" (Other Corpsman) should be up about where the shit started to begin with, and I knew he had plenty to do. The call was coming from behind me. I think it was natural instinct for me to take one last look around at things and people before taking off to find that Marine. This time Jack working out on his gun and those fence like hedgerows were my last images, as I moved out in the direction of the "call". I had to get "tuned-in" to where I was going. As I was running back I saw someone stand-up above the hedgerow waving to me. I figured that was where my next objective was, and worked my way there. Actually, I got up and ran like hell!!!!! It was usually a blurred adrenaline reaction, at least with me. While at the same time part of my brain was very busy homing in on sounds and guiding me to my Marine. This time it went well. I was to my man in mere seconds. It was the young SSGT who had just joined us in the "bush" earlier this month. He was conscious and his flak jacket was pulled open. He had a classic textbook "sucking chest wound". An AK-47 round had penetrated and exited his chest, in his upper right quadrant. The blood was bright red and foamy and I could smell the wound as I watched the steam escape from his chest with every breath. I got his flak jacket off so I could see the exit wound. Carbon copy of the front, not so much foam though. I immediately sealed the exit wound with cellophane from my smokes and taped it. The suction from the entry wound in the front sealed this nicely. I than concentrated on the front wound. It was getting messy and Sarge was starting to look like he was going into shock.
I started an IV right away and someone held it while I put cellophane and tape over the entry wound. It wouldn't seal real well, but the exit wound was still doing fine. I knew some how I had to get pressure on the entrance wound so that the cellophane would stay in place, to make sure he would last till the medevac arrived. All I had left were large battle dressings. I knew one alone wouldn't do it or put enough pressure on the wound. So I took one and folded it in half and put it over the cellophane. I then placed an open dressing over this and cinched it up as tight as it took. I got him positioned on his bad side with his legs up and he started to get his color back again. The IV was still looking good. I gave some Marines instructions on how to transport him to the LZ and asked Novello what he had going on, and how long? He said they were clearing an LZ and medevacs were on the way. I filled the Sarge in on what was going on and wished him luck in the "World". I left him with his Bros. who got him to the LZ and out of there. Then I headed back up front to see what Jack and Co. was doing.
Doc Dave Steinkuelher
I had been in Viet Nam about three months and the rain from the early monsoon season was pounding us. Echo 2/9 was patrolling the Lac Son area straight east of Con Thien. We had been in the bush a long time. We were all hoping we were going to the rear for a few days after this one was over. We had been humping all day in this shit, and it was only getting worse. I swear, if you tried to look up at the sky, you would drown! As we topped out over the hill, I could see the forward part of the column below, starting to go through the valley below us. It was about 100 meters wide and ran down to our right as far as I could see. Where the jungle stopped and valley began was all rice paddies, dikes, and trails running up and down both sides of the paddies. As our part of the column started into the paddies, we had people strung out clear across it. They were already coming out and evaporating into the jungle on the other side.
I was about half way across the paddy when I saw people passing a message back. Then they started sliding off the backside of the dike into the rice paddy. All of us followed suit and before the message even got back to us, I could see what was going on. Down in the valley, and on the opposite side we entered from, were two lone figures appearing out of the foggy mist and heavy rain and coming straight at us! The heavy rains must have gotten to them too! They were coming straight up the trail along side the paddies. They were in the open with their heads down and their poncho hoods up! They weren't looking at anything but the trail in front of their boots. By this time everyone in the column could see them, they were like a bunch of starving hounds on chains being teased with a bone. Word was going up and down the column "Can we shoot?" "What the hell is going on?" Our Lieutenant was on the radio trying to find out if there were any "friendlies" in the area. You just don't see this kind of shit, in broad daylight, even if it was a "free-fire zone"! Now I know how they must feel, while they watch us walk into their ambushes. This was the first time even after numerous firefights we had been in before, that most of us had seen a live "Gook". That in it's self had a mesmerizing effect of a dream or a hallucination. Finally, someone couldn't take it anymore, and opened up. The whole column across the rice paddy let loose. They were getting the full force of everything we had, M-60 machine guns, M-79's, and rifle fire for what seemed like 5 minutes or more.
Slowly the firing diminished in the rice paddy. The misty fog was joined by the heavy smoke of our gunfire to make visibility even worse. The smell of gunpowder filled your nostrils with every breath. The rain was still coming down, but even it seemed to let up after it was all over. As the air started to clear we were already on line to make a sweep through to that side. We silently waited for what seemed an eternity for the smoke to clear, enough so that we could confirm by vision that we had two "confirmed kills". As visibility increased, it was very obvious that there were no bodies lying on the trail where the Gooks had last been seen. We immediately swept the hillside where they had been when we opened up. Nobody could have gotten out of that alive, let alone seriously wounded gooks! The hillside of jungle was literally shredded where the Gooks had last been seen. It was now raining as hard as before. The rain had washed any blood trails away. The footprints on the trail from which they came were even washed away. They were gone as silently and quickly as they had appeared, leaving no trace they had even been there. It was an eerie feeling. We tightened up and swept the hillside two more times, and still couldn't even turn up a piece of torn clothing, sandal, anything. Were they really there?
Doc Dave Steinkuelher
Echo 2/9 67-68