By Michael "Mikey" Dingwell
It has been a long time since all of this took place; and if I hadn't cleaned myself up and quit drinking and drugging, I probably never would've had the time nor the guts to put all of this down on paper. I've spent thirty-four years of my life with alcohol and drugs as my best friend; and then one day my friend turned on me, and it almost cost me my life. I've started a serious flood of flashbacks which I could live without.
So now, in order to find myself and see what's left of my courage, I've decided to deal with the reality of what I've done to my body and my brain and to those unfortunate enough to have become part of my life. I want to write as much as I can of my time in the Nam and after.
This won't be pretty, and I will not leave out the cuss words or anything else that might offend somebody; because, above all, this must be honest or as close as I can get. This is reality as I remember it.
When I went to Vietnam, I went with 35 other guys from Germany--first to the States for 30 days of leave; then to Oakland, California, to pick up cigarette butts; and on to the War Zone.
On arriving in country, we were put in a company-type setting to be briefed and then assigned to our permanent stations. Those of us who had come together from Europe were pretty good friends by now; but I wasn't likely to be stationed with any of them, as they were all grunts--or infantry or legs--and that's only some of the names we used for the straight infantry units. So I guess that's how I came to know Bill, because he was a combat engineer the same as me.
His full name was Bill June; and he was from St. Louis, Missouri. We both ended up in the Central Highlands at a place called Pleiku with the 3rd Battalion of the 25th Infantry Division, in D Company, 65th Engineers.
If we had met on the streets back in the world, we probably never would have become friends; but meeting like we did, things just worked out so that we really understood each other and could accept one another at face value. It seemed like we immediately became close, enabling us to talk about our families, hopes and dreams, and sometimes even about our fears. That's probably because we were like twins; two street kids, trying to act as tough as we could because that's how street kids survive the world over.
However, we were in a war zone; and we could probably smell the fear on each other from 20 feet away, which is a knack street kids who survive also pick up.
After we were settled in with a bed, weapons, etc., we were assigned to a platoon and all of that junk and put to work.
Our first job was building some barracks, which my new-found friend and I thought was very boring almost to the point of being degrading, at least to us "Combat Engineers." After several weeks of this and going to town every weekend to chase the bar girls, we started sampling the Vietnamese pot in an effort to kill some of the boredom. It was awesome!
Both of us had smoked dope back in the world; and, in that respect, we were quite alike, but neither one of us had ever had anything like this. If you wanted to forget something, like your name or how old you were or how many fingers you were born with, this was the stuff to use.
We even managed to fall off the roof of one of those barracks we were working on while stoned. I fell because I lost my balance, and Bill fell because he was laughing so hard. For two 19-year-old boys from the streets of America, this was what dreams were made of. War? What war? From that moment on, our lives were never the same.
We smoked up every night, plus drinking as much as we possibly could, knowing that we were in minimum danger of getting caught back here in the rear.
Sometimes at night, I awaken and can't figure out what woke me up; then I'll suddenly have this picture in my head of Bill's smile. It brings a very, very deep sadness over me, even after all of this good therapy I've been through.
I know that I can't bring him back, and I know that I shouldn't let it get me down, and I know in my heart that he would be the first to tell me to let it go; but none of this can cut through the sadness that seems to overwhelm my very being. He was my partner, my best friend, a part of my soul.
Recently, I've seen him sitting on my bed while I was wide awake, just sitting there with this sad look on his face. We didn't talk or anything, so I guess I'm not quite insane yet; but the sense of his being there was overwhelming.
By the way, I'm writing this some 27 years later, trying to rely on a memory that's been dulled by drug and alcohol abuse all of this time. After a year of being clean and sober, I'm finally to the point where I have to get some of this out or go insane; so, while I'll try to make this as accurate as possible, there's bound to be some mistakes here and there. Sometimes, I tend to mix some of these battles or the dates together or even which battle somebody got hurt in. After all, these are not my favorite memories.
Bill June and I became really close as a result of being together and smoking dope and telling each other our innermost secrets while we were stoned. We were both scared of being killed or, worse yet, maimed by a booby trap or whatever.
Bill had a gentle side that puzzled me because he could be so callous as well. I don't think he would have been nearly so tough if his brother hadn't treated him so miserably when they were young.
They had fought like real enemies, and Bill came to think of his brother as an enemy; at least, that's what he told me. But on the other hand, his brother was also in the Army; and was, in fact, in another unit in Vietnam on his second tour, and June couldn't wait to go see him. So, I imagine the truth lay somewhere in the middle. I'm sure he told me at least as much bullshit as I told him. We were just two kids, scared shitless in a war zone, miles from what we called home.
Over time, Bill and I talked about everything that you would think two young men in a war zone would talk about. Home, our parents, our brothers and my sister, street fights, the War, etc. We talked about my coming to St. Louis, Missouri, where he was from, and about him coming to my home town of Lansing, Michigan.
I don't think I've ever had a friend that close to me. I'm sure a lot of it was because of the War and the constant threat of death, but there was something else, too. He was more than just a friend, he was my partner, my compadre, my brother on the battlefield.
We'd get high, and he just had to tell me about the time he and his brother got in a fight, and his brother hit him with a brick and gave him this neat scar on his cheek. Or we'd go down in one of the mortar bunkers back in base camp and get high.
These bunkers were about 30 yards long and 6 feet wide and 15 or 20 feet deep They were built alongside the platoon tents for protection against mortar attacks. This was one of our favorite places to get stoned on that bad-ass Vietnamese pot.
We'd go down inside one of these bunkers and couldn't find our way out, no matter which way we went. We'd walk one way for awhile, then turn around and go the other way; and, by the end of a couple of hours, we'd swear that we had walked all night long. Our sides would be aching from laughing so hard; and, when we'd finally come out of the bunker, we were always amazed that it was so small.
This was when we first got there, before we'd been formerly introduced to the War. The first few weeks in country, back in the real rear, it was hard to imagine there was a war going on.
There were enlisted men's clubs to go to, and you could usually find a way to get to town for a good time. If a guy wasn't a doper, he was usually at least a drinker; so, getting high around all of these drunks was really easy. Not that we didn't drink, too. We just chose to have the best of both worlds.
As I write this, I must fight the depression that forces me to do this in the first place. Slowly, I'm beginning to understand what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is all about and just how dangerous it is.
At first I thought, big deal; so it makes you depressed. What did you expect after going through the Nam--a fucking rose garden? What I didn't expect were the tracers coming at me while I'm standing there talking to somebody, and I'm the only one who sees them. Or the enemy soldiers moving on my flanks that I see out of the corners of my eyes, skittering so fast that when I look there's nothing there; and I wonder if perhaps I'm going insane.
I guess I wasn't quite prepared for the deep, deep depression that comes over me and remembering Bill asking me to take his stuff to his mom, and I couldn't even do that right. Sometimes I truly believe that I don't deserve to have any friends at all in this lifetime.
Yeah, I know now that this PTSD could kill. Like a boxer in the ring, just give him an opening. Well, I'll keep bobbing and weaving and hope that the fight's over by the time he catches me.
Another night, after we'd been to the field a few times, we sat on a bunker on the edge of a flooded rice paddy, watching the choppers come in and drop off the wounded at the first-aid tent. We marveled at the lights and the great mass of movement going on while we sat there stoned.
When we sat down and lit the joint up, we knew there was a big firefight going on from the radio chatter; but it had nothing to do with us as we were back in the rear waiting for the grunts to resupply before going out in the morning. This unit that we were with was on stand-down, and we knew that we weren't likely to have to go out that night, at least.
The lights reflecting off the water gave one the illusion that there was an airport over there or maybe it was the pot; I don't know. Anyway, Bill got it into his head that on the other side of the water was an airport, and he was going to cross the water and get on a plane and go home.
When the water got up to his knees, I waded out and pulled him back. He was so convinced he was right that there were tears running down his face because I wouldn't let him go.
Sometimes we'd just go over to where the infantry dudes were partying--the ones who knew us--and we'd party with them. This was a different kind of party for us, though. When the legs would get stoned, they'd try to outdo each other with scary stories of combat; and they didn't have to do much bullshitting, either. We never knew if this was just for our benefit or if this was just the way these guys thought.
Of course, this was true only after we had been accepted as guys who were also scared but not the kind of guys who'd run and leave you holding the bag. These guys would give each other nose hits right down the barrel of their M-16s, and us too--the same one that had caused death only a few hours previous. We were in awe!
Later in the War, these little antics lost their novelty, especially after some of these same guys died in our arms or in front of us or whatever.
We were assigned to building barracks for a couple of months when finally a big operation came up. We were ordered to move north to support the infantry, which is what we were supposed to be doing in the first place.
At this new base, we no longer had the convenience of the big, fairly solid platoon tents. Instead, we paired off; and each guy would put up his shelter half, making one whole, like a pup tent. We would then put sandbags around the outside to give as much protection as possible against mortar attacks, etc.
Of course, Bill and I shared one together so that we could smoke up at night. Out in the boonies or at the small firebases, everybody just had to make do; and, as nobody wanted to hump any extra weight, this usually meant sleeping on the ground with your poncho liner wrapped around you. When it rained, there was absolutely no sense in wrapping the poncho around you, though, because it leaked or the water went right through it.
Here, we found that the Army's idea of support and ours were somewhat different. Bill and I figured we would be out in the field with the infantry dudes, while the Army felt that we should be stringing barbed wire, building bunkers, sweeping the roads for mines and boring stuff like that. Well, the army had their way with us.
I'm pretty sure that our Sergeant suspected that both of us were smoking dope and that's how we ended up out in the boonies, but at the time it was an excellent move for us. At least we didn't get busted and end up in the guardhouse.
I remember one of our first patrols together; Bill and I worked out of Pleiku. It was a training patrol, where nothing is supposed to happen and you stay close to the main base. We were working with a green beanie (Special Forces) as he led us deep into the jungle and up to a Montagnard village.
There was a beautiful waterfall on the outskirts of the village and some of the girls who lived there were bathing, stark naked. He described how they lived and their religious beliefs and how if you messed with their women (who went bare-breasted in the hot and humid jungle), they would more than likely stick you with one of their cute little crossbows.
Of course, he said a lot more then that; but I mostly remembered how very beautiful the women were, even if they did chew that nasty beetle-nut. This was a leafy substance which gave them a high very similar to cocoa leaves, but left their mouths real red.
I also was struck by the beauty of the land they lived in and found it hard to believe that the people in the towns actually thought of them as primitive and inferior, much like we thought of and treated the American Indians back home.
We didn't hit any shit, but the green beret pointed out to us the most likely places that the gooks would ambush us, if there were any around. This gave us a real false impression of what the field was gonna be like. But then, I guess nothing could have prepared us for what was to come.
Sergeant Foreman went out with us the first few times we went to the field, kind of like keeping an eye on us; but, after the grunts told us that the penalty for doing dope in the field when there were people depending on you was death, we began to take this thing called war a little more serious.
It wasn't long before we could blow a bunker or a series of bunkers while standing next to them and not even get dirty. But every time we came back to the rear, we would fire up a joint and continue on our stony way. But hell, so did everybody back in the rear.
Like I said, it's been a long time since the War, but for years and years I'd blame that War on my drinking and drugging. Now, at a stage in my life where it's imperative that I tell only the truth, I realize that I was a substance abuser from the first time I got high, at about the ripe old age of 13 or 14. Vietnam just gave me another reason to stay stoned.
I'll never forget that first big firefight we were in, somewhere up on the Ho Chi Minh trail or very close to it. It was in this battle that we were awarded the Bronze Star with "V device" being the engineers in the squad that accompanied the grunts.
Bill and I and the rest of our squad of engineers had moved with an infantry unit deep in the jungle close to this pretty big trail, and we started setting up a firebase. It was the first time we had to clear a firebase in the jungle, which consisted of knocking down trees, clearing the underbrush both inside and outside of the perimeter, blowing holes for bunkers, and any tasks that the engineers were normally supposed to do. It was a thankless job.
This was just raw jungle when we started the clearing process, and you have to be careful when dealing with the jungle. One morning we were blowing down trees to make way for the concertina wire that goes around the perimeter of the camp, when I heard a bunch of yelling right where we had been blasting.
June and I went running over there with our weapons ready, expecting to see some gooks; but all we saw were two guys standing over a third who was lying on the ground. They started yelling "Two-stepper, two-stepper," so we backed out of there real quick.
A two-stepper is any of the many vipers that the jungle is home to. Most of these snakes are so poisonous that you only get two steps before the venom starts to take effect. At least, that's what they had been telling us.
Well, from the looks of this guy on the ground, they weren't lying. His eyes were rolling to the back of his head, and he looked bad--real bad. It only took a minute for the medic to get there; but by the time he did, the guy was frothing at the mouth and going into convulsions. Within 5 minutes of being bitten, and probably less, this poor guy was dead.
Talk about mind blowing! This was our first up-close dealing with death, and I guess we were kind of shocked.
Later, when we were clearing the area for the landing zone, I put a fairly big charge in this old dead stump, thinking that it would disintegrate as it blew. I wanted to lower the chances that anybody would get hurt by falling debri, as we had just been warned about that by some officer.
I pulled my poncho over my head in case of ants and squatted down behind something; and when she went off, scorpions started falling all around us. People were cussing; and these big, black scorpions were falling like rain, except this rain would bite.
I was laughing pretty hard when all of a sudden I lost my balance and sat right down; and wouldn't you know it? I sat right on one and got bit in the butt. Everybody knew who had set this charge; and when I went up to see if the medic would send me back to the rear cause my butt was starting to swell up fast, he just said something like "Get real" and had me lie down on a stretcher for awhile.
Well, I got sick and puked my guts out; but, for some reason, I didn't get a whole lot of sympathy, and they didn't send me back to the rear hospital.
As if this wasn't enough excitement for one day, an hour later we heard a shot just outside of our perimeter. Pretty soon, into our camp comes this Green Beret and a couple of South Vietnamese troops with a prisoner who'd been wounded in the thigh. Being real new to the field, we didn't know the significance of this prisoner.
The South Vietnamese troops, whom we called ARVNs, started doing some masterful torturing on him, sliding a stick into his pubic hairs and twisting until his body was off of the ground. We had to give this gook credit, he didn't tell them anything until the green beanie started kicking him in his wounded thigh, right in the bullet hole. This seemed to really get his attention, and that's when he gave up some information that affected my life forever.
The next day or so, we were told to saddle up, as we were going to go out with the infantry to blow up some bunkers that they had found the day before, obviously with the help of our prisoner. The legs were real nervous about this, as they thought that the place was pretty fresh, maybe even a trap. Their fearless leader, however, knew better and ordered a company of his men to take us engineers out and destroy the complex with explosives.
Sgt. Foreman was in charge of our squad, as they felt it would go much faster if they had plenty of people. Bill had to hump a chain saw; and I had to carry the gas--which would be used to build a landing zone for re-supply--while the rest of the squad carried explosives and junk. So off we were, over hill and over dale, across streams and through the jungle to the gooks house we went.
We were following this real clear trail through the jungle, when we came to a fast-moving stream with a log across it that had a rope for a railing. Back home, this would have been a trout stream; but we were in the Nam now, and a stream like this only meant water for the enemy. On the other side were some fighting holes, a little hootch, and a smoking fire, with the trail continuing on it's way. Bill and I figured that our column must have surprised a couple of gooks watching for somebody such as us.
A little ways farther on, we came to some more fighting holes (these were just round holes big enough for a gook to fit into); and one of them had a dead South Vietnamese soldier in it, a sneaky peak or something because he didn't have the regular uniform on.
Things were getting real spooky now, and the jungle was getting thicker and darker. We could still hear the normal jungle sounds, like the "fuck you lizards," so we didn't think we were near any danger yet.
Up to this time, I can't remember being in a real firefight. We'd been out with the infantry enough to know that if they were nervous, we'd better be especially alert. I know now that it wouldn't have made any difference how alert we were; we didn't have enough experience to be scared.
So, when we walked right into that bunker complex, with no one checking to see if it was still empty, those gooks must have thought that we were the bravest soldiers they'd ever seen. Or the dumbest.
I was between Bill and some grunt when I noticed what looked like the barrel of a gun sticking out of a bunker right beside us, as the column stopped for one reason or another. I guess I must have been pretty stupid cause I kind of figured that if the infantry guys didn't say nothing, then I wasn't going to either.
Then there was a shot up at the front of the column, then another, and then it sounded like every gun in Vietnam was going off, including this barrel sticking out of the bunker I chose to ignore. One of the infantry guys must have tossed a grenade into the bunker with the barrel sticking out; I know I didn't think of it.
Most people can't even imagine the horrendous roar of a big firefight, but it's one of the most frightening things that I've ever heard. Or maybe that's not the word I want. It's total confusion, with the sharp crack of the enemy's bullets, the loud pop of our own weapons, grenades going off from both sides, and the screaming and yelling that always accompanies a big battle.
I kid you not; I've never before or since heard anything like it. We found out later that we went up against two battalions of crack North Vietnamese troops, some of their very best.
As soon as the heavy fighting broke out, Sgt. Foreman pulled the engineers back to the rear to start blowing out a landing zone in the triple-canopy jungle. This was a darned good move for me, as I was really having a hard time spotting these bunkers except for the one that I almost walked right into. We used all of the gas for the chain saw, hacked with machetes, used all of the C-4 and TNT that we had with us, and then radioed for more.
As we slowly built the LZ, the gooks kept up a steady fire trying to hit us. I know that at one point, while Bill and I were hooking up a charge on this tree, leaves and bark were falling all around us; and, being the new guys who didn't know shit, we had no idea where it was coming from. It wasn't until after the fight that we figured out that they were shooting at "us!"
Sometime later, there was a fierce barrage of gunfire real close to where we were working, as the gooks tried to flank us. I've always wondered what would have happened had they succeeded. But we were lucky because a small unit of the infantry happened to see these gooks circling around to do their dirty deed and cut them off.
Bill dusted his first gook in this battle, saving my life in the process. As I was hustling across the open ground to hook up a charge to a tree, bullets started popping all around me; so, I dived down behind a log. Bill saw that one of these snipers had zeroed in on me; so, he walked right out in the clearing and takes aim at this guy who's up in this tree and shoots him like he was just hunting squirrels.
I had my head down so I didn't see it, but they told me afterwards that the bullets were splattering all around him as he took aim at this sniper. He never even batted an eye, just popped a cap in the dude's ass.
A lot of crazy things happened in this battle, things that you wouldn't think would happen to such well-trained troops as we were. I saw a tourniquet on a guy's neck who only had a slight head wound. Of course, he was dead when we got to him. His best friend thought that he was bleeding to death; and in a panic, put a tourniquet around his neck.
I swallowed a cigar that was lit and thought I'd been hit in the throat by shrapnel. I used these cigars called "Crooks" to light my demo fuses; and when one of my charges didn't go off, I ran over to see what the problem was. I got about 15 feet from it when "BOOM!" the damned thing went off.
After I picked myself up I noticed that my throat was on fire and I naturally assumed I was wounded. I soon realized what the problem was, however, and went about my business of blowing open an LZ.
This fierce battle raged from about 10 a.m. until dark, and then both sides seemed to stop in order to take care of their wounded and killed. While the battle was still in progress, Bill and I volunteered to try to go up the trail and bring back any dead or wounded GIs that we could find; and they were everywhere.
We would crawl up the trail, as the tracer rounds from the enemy machine guns would pour a criss-cross pattern of tracers over our heads. When we came to one of our guys, we would spread our poncho out and roll the wounded guy onto it. Then we would start crawling backwards, dragging the wounded with us. More then once it was somebody we knew, making us realize that we were in the real War now, and we could be next at any time.
The ones we knew were the worst for us, of course. Some I had to hold their guts in while we dragged them back to our lines, listening to their groans all the way. And, of course, some didn't make it back to our lines; and I'd have to listen to the horrible sound of their last breath. I still hear that sound, sometimes. By the time we had finished, we were covered with blood and just tired as hell.
There are times when I want to just sit down and write until my fingers go numb; and then, after about three of four lines, it's all I can take. I've managed to bury most of the bad stuff somewhere deep within me, using drugs and alcohol for years as my crutch.
In this year, my forty-eighth on this earth, I've had to reach out and ask for help or end up with a bullet in my head by my own hand. I've quit drinking and drugging, and I guess I'm doing better mentally; although, in trying to remember and get some of this stuff out, I've started a serious flood of flashbacks which I could live without.
Sometimes my nightmares take me back to this firefight, and I remember some of those guys that we dragged back in our ponchos. Not names, because for some reason my mind won't let me bring back names. But faces--scared, lonely faces, wondering if this is it--will this be the way I'll die? Or the ones who somehow knew that this was it, that they would be dead by the time this fight would be over. Little did I know that some day this premonition of death would shatter my world like a bowling ball falling on a glass.
This battle was also the first time that I was introduced to the sound of bullets hitting flesh, the flesh of another GI fighting alongside of me. There are different sounds of a person getting hit by a bullet, depending on where the bullet hits. Well, I won't go into that, as it serves no useful purpose what-so-ever.
When we were done that night, they put us up on line with the grunts in case of an enemy counterattack. All night long, Bill kept saying that he was hearing noises out in front of us. I would tell him that he was full of shit; and he would say, "There! Did you hear that?"
I must of been really tired, because I never did hear anything. In the morning, we found where they'd been dragging their wounded and killed down this hole, right out in front of our position. Apparently what June had been hearing were the groans of the enemy wounded.
Sometime during the night, some legs came and relieved us, telling us that there wasn't much chance of a counterattack after all. I went back to the LZ and crawled under one of those big hardwoods that we had knocked down, which were laying all in a jumble.
When morning finally came, it was an eerie sight. The morning mist was rising; and the dead were laid out all along the trail, with rigor mortis setting in on some and already set on others. There were only a few snipers to harass us, as the enemy had left in the night. The smell of death and rotting jungle was strong, along with the smell of battle. It's a stench that I still remember, and sometimes I can actually smell it; and it sends me right back to the war.
We stacked the dead in one big pile on a big net that a chopper had dropped off earlier. Someone had to climb up to the top of this pile of dead soldiers to hook up the net to the chopper, and I figured that I didn't know these guys as well as the infantry dudes did; so, I volunteered.
I suppose somewhere inside of me I didn't think this would ever come back to haunt me or maybe I just didn't think at all. So, I climbed up on this pile of dead guys--many whom Bill and I had sat with back in the rear, talking of home--stepping on some of their faces, heads, etc., until I got to the top.
I was really thirsty, and I had a can of peaches that I had scarfed from somewhere; so, I opened them up with my trusty P-38 can opener and ate them while I waited for the chopper. This gave me a rather bad reputation among some of the grunts, who thought I was being disrespectful to their dead friends; but most of them understood my enormous thirst.
When the chopper came in, I hooked them up; and off they went to graves registration. I'll never forget the sight of all of these dead GIs hanging from that chopper as long as I live. In fact, the smells and scenes of this battle often come to haunt me at night.
After the dead and wounded were taken out, we went out on a short patrol to see if we could find any more of the missing. I had lost my helmet sometime during the battle, setting it down someplace, and then forgetting where I put it. It made me feel kind of naked cause the last thing that I wanted was a head wound. I'd much prefer to do my own brain damage, thank you.
During the battle there were quite a few snipers up in the trees, and we didn't know if any were still there or not. There weren't that many of us left that had started this battle, as we took about 70% casualties; so, we were quite nervous on this patrol.
There were pieces of GIs' equipment lying all over the place, as well as smoking enemy bunkers, torn up dirt from grenade explosions, bloody field dressings, and bloody piles of dirt from men who had been hit on both sides. We came upon a helmet with a perfect little round hole in it from a sniper's rifle. The inside had a little blood in it; but, other than that, it was in fine shape; so, I picked it up and put it on. It made me feel a little safer, even if I did wonder if this helmet was bad luck now.
There were dead snipers hanging from some of the trees, adding to the eeriness of the moment as the death platoon moved through the jungle looking for bodies from either side. We managed to find the dead infantry Captain; I imagine this was one of the top priorities from the brass in the rear.
As they were putting the Captain in a body bag, something kept tickling the back of my neck; and, when I took the helmet off to take a look, there were maggots crawling all over me. I threw the helmet to the ground, and the helmet and the helmet liner separated exposing brains and maggots and blood. So, I kicked it several times, totally freaking out.
When I calmed down, someone reminded me of the snipers; so, I took the helmet liner out and cleaned the maggots and the blood out the best that I could under the circumstances and put it back on. Another lesson in war.
At last heading back for base camp, a spotter plane radioed us that there was a whole shitload of gooks heading at a very fast pace in our direction. This was not welcome news since more then half of our people were walking wounded. The next thing I knew, we were running hell-bent-for-leather up and down this mountain trail. We made it; but it was a pretty scary run for the border, if you know what I mean.
I remember we got back to our base camp; but, for the life of me, I can't remember the name of it. For some reason, we had to wait outside of the perimeter; and I was at the end of the column. I remember seeing the walking wounded standing in line, with their white bandages sticking out like a sore thumb in the jungle, waiting to enter the compound; and I thought to myself, "Only in the U.S. Army."
Where else would you have to wait in line to get back into your base camp after just going through a grueling firefight? A good sniper could have killed half the guys standing there before we got him.
Later that day, some news people flew in to our forward base camp to get some interviews with the guys who had been up there closest to the gooks. I guess the brass back in the rear expected everybody to be really gung-ho and excited that we had fought a major battle with a top NVA unit; and, according to what they had been told by their officers, had really kicked their butts.
Were they ever surprised to hear us tell them that we were in no hurry to go back up that mountain and that we didn't feel that we had kicked any ass at all. In fact, we all felt more like the survivors of that battle than the victors.
Well, of course, we figured they would send another unit up there if there was any need at all for somebody to go back up. They pretty much sent us into shock when they told us that we'd be going back up the next day. I believe this battle is when I kind of grew up or, at least, when I learned how to deal with fear. And I mean REAL FEAR.
We whined and cried, all to no avail; but, nobody was actually going to let their buddy go back up there without him. At least, that's the way Bill and I felt; and the next morning found us back on that trail, only this time with plenty of extra ammo.
It was dead quiet when we approached the bunker complex. There were a lot of very nervous trigger fingers that morning.
When we got to where Bill thought he heard the noise the night of the battle, we found the hole where they had dragged their dead and wounded down. From the smell, we could tell that this had become a tomb for many of the enemy soldiers. It was just a hole, straight down into the ground, then turned; and, where it turned, it had been blown shut.
When one of the infantry dudes threw a grenade into it, nothing happened; so several more were thrown into it before we realized that there was no air down there. I was pretty happy about that, 'cause I know who would've had to go down there to check it out if that infantry officer thought that anybody could survive it. I could've blown it with an electrical charge, but nobody brought it up; so, I said nothing.
This battle cemented the relationship between Bill and me, even though I didn't know it at the time. We were told to sit tight while the grunts looked around a bit, so we picked a spot and sat down. After a couple of minutes, the bullets started flying and right at us--or it sure seemed like it. We both jumped into this small crater-like hole, probably made by a grenade sometime during the previous days battle. It was barely big enough for two.
All of a sudden, there was a loud roar; and the dirt was flying up in our faces. The leaves were falling all around us, and this son-of-a-bitch was trying to kill us!
At this point, I'd like to be able to say that one of us jumped up and became a hero right then; but that just didn't happen. One of the infantry guys saw this wounded NVA soldier firing at us and dusted his ass. Then they dragged him over to where Bill and I were once again sitting up and left him there for us to watch.
He had been shot in the face and neck and was slowly bleeding to death. We sat and watched the life leaving this enemy soldier as if we'd seen it a hundred times before. Finally he died, and I don't think it bothered my partner any more than it bothered me. We were now battle-hardened soldiers.
This was, of course, my first experience with real battlefield conditions. I saw things that I've never read about in books, and felt things that a book could not prepare me for. There was a tall, thin black kid who had attempted to charge a machine gun emplacement; and the gooks had fired off a claymore mine. A claymore is a mine filled with small pellets that are shot to the front of one's position.
When they brought this poor guy back to the rear, he didn't have any clothes on; so I just assumed that the medic had cut them all off. This guy's friend informed me, however, that his clothes were blown off of his back by the blast from the claymore. I could see that he had hundreds of tiny holes all through the front of his body. I never found out or heard if he lived or died.
Then there was a sergeant fresh in from the states who apparently wanted everybody to know that he was indeed a sergeant, at least that's what some of the guy's in his unit told me after the battle. He had the bright yellow stripes of a staff sergeant on both sleeves when I first saw him heading to the front of the fight. Not long after that I saw him sitting with the wounded, both arms bandaged and his face white from shock.
All along the trail, leading to the bunker complex, were the wounded; and the variety of wounds was astonishing. There were guys who were very seriously wounded and couldn't even sit up, to guys who were obviously not that bad off.
I guess that I should clarify what constitutes the "rear." When a fight breaks out in the jungle, the infantry have to have a landing zone to get resupplied with ammo and to have their seriously wounded flown back to the rear by our helicopters. The LZ, as it was called, had to be cut out or blown out with explosives.
The LZ has to be close enough to get the wounded to it in a hurry, but far enough back so that the enemy can't easily shoot down your choppers. There was a fine line here; and too often the LZ was put too close to the battle site, which would cause all sorts of complaints from the pilots, to say nothing of the wounded, who had no desire to be shot out of the sky on their way to the hospital.
I guess that's why the grunts started taking a couple of engineers with them when they went out to what was likely to be a battle. Well, the enemy learned fast; and, as soon as they saw exactly where the landing zone was going to be placed, they would send a fireteam out to harass the people who were trying to build it.
Meanwhile, as we were working on the LZ, the wounded would be placed as close to where it was being built as possible, leaving a whole bunch of dudes lying all over the place, usually right in our way, or so it seemed. In this particular fight, they were all lying in the trail and on our equipment that we had dropped to make it easier to run across the exposed ground.
Our sergeant had picked a crater left from a B-52 raid to build the LZ around, so we had to watch where we were going so that we didn't fall into it as we moved from tree to tree, setting our charges. This spot soon became a free-fire zone for the gooks, who unleashed a barrage whenever anybody exposed themselves. There was all of these wounded guys lying there--some groaning, some suffering from extreme battle fatigue and talking to themselves, others just kind of accepting their fate--and here were the engineers, hooking up demolition charges and firing back at the enemy as they fired at us and trying to find our gear lying under the wounded. It was total chaos.
Being the "new guys," we had a tough time spotting anything in the thick jungle, even though I'd grown up hunting and roaming the woods around my home town. But for some reason, I just couldn't seem to spot those enemy bunkers or those snipers hanging in the trees. At one point, a couple of grunts asked me if I would come with them for a moment to help them take out this sniper with my M-79 grenade launcher. Of course, I agreed, as there was nothing I wanted more than to be accepted by these fighting infantryman, although at the time I had convinced myself that I just wanted to fight.
So, I went with these guys and crawled up to where this sniper was pinging away; and when they tried to point out to me where to fire, I was like, lost. They'd say "Right there, don't you see him?" and I'd look and look, but to no avail.
Finally, one of these guys took my weapon and dusted the dude. They assured me that after I'd been there awhile, I'd get my "jungle eyes;" but for the rest of that battle, nobody asked me to help them spot the enemy.
That was our first big firefight, and we were no longer "cherries" in the "Nam."
On one of our trips back to our base at Pleiku, Bill and I decided that we were combat experienced enough to go to town without a pass. We partied hard until someone said that we should be heading back because the M.P.s would be patrolling the bars pretty soon; but we both had little ladies, and they talked us into staying in town with them for the night and going back in the morning.
I was good and drunk; and the next thing I knew, I was in bed with this sexy little Vietnamese whore. We were in a house in town that had other people sleeping in it, and damned if we weren't all in the same room. That sure didn't stop us from having sex; but as soon as we were done, I just had to get out of there. She kept saying that I should stay the night, as the streets belonged to the VC after dark or some such shit.
Well, I wasn't about to listen to this stuff, as I was a battle-hardened GI; and no gook was gonna scare me out of going out on the streets. Somehow, Bill and I ended up together in this little alley, trying to figure out how to get back to the base.
As we staggered around and laughed about our predicament, four or five Viets spotted us in this alley and started yelling something. Being drunk and disorderly, we, of course, yelled back, not really believing these were VC. All of a sudden, the air was filled with bullets and the whine of ricochets as these guys unloaded their arsenal on us.
Bill was really drunk and started yelling that the VC weren't shit compared to the North Vietnamese, and then all hell really broke loose. How were we to know that the two fighting units were jealous of each other?
We did have our .45s with us (illegally), but I urged Bill not to open up on them as they would have a pretty good target from our muzzle blasts. This in no way deterred him; and for the next half hour, we had a running battle with the VC of the city. They didn't hit us, and I doubt very much if we did any damage to them, either. We were so drunk that I never did figure out how we got back to our base camp, but that's where we woke up.
Not long after this incident, the whole unit moved up north to a place called Bong Son during operation Paul Revere in support of the infantry and the armor. We were moved by trucks; and the guys in our outfit got to see how hardcore Bill and I had become, as we both fell asleep and managed to sleep right through a mortar attack while going through the "An Khe Pass." This was while it was raining, and we were sitting up in the back of a deuce-and-a-half truck.
Bill and I had pulled our ponchos up over our heads and went to sleep, then woke up at our new base. Everybody was freaking because we might've been killed, but Bill and I never thought twice about it.
There were some battles around An Khe, and soon Bill and I found ourselves working with the Armored Divisions, which we thought was cool because who would shoot at an armored vehicle? I believe we were working with the 11th Cav, blowing mines and sweeping the roads with the mine detectors. It took us awhile, but we finally figured out that they shoot really BIG shit at the armored vehicles. During these operations, we also worked with the 7th Cav, who had been in this area for some time.
Bill and I would also travel with the infantry, if they thought that they might run into some bunkers, or worse, a tunnel complex, where they could send the pick and shovels in, rather than risk losing one of their own. The first time this happened to us, we thought the infantry lieutenant was kidding; and we laughed and said, "No way."
Soon, we were surrounded by his men and found to our dismay that they took this disobedience very seriously, as one of them would have to go down into the tunnel if we didn't. To their way of thinking, they had to do most of the dirty work, and they weren't about to do ours, too. We were pick and shovel, and it was our job to check the tunnels.
Of course, no one had ever shown us how to be a tunnel rat, what to look for or anything else of that nature; so our first tunnel was one scary son-of-a-gun. So was our second, third, etc. Unfortunately, the infantry started calling us by out first names, and we started going out more and more.
I can now look back and remember names like "Slim, Speedy, Tex," etc., guys in the infantry who were well-known as guys to be around when the shit hit the fan. For instance, there was a guy who everybody knew, it seemed. Damned if I can remember his name now; but his father was a highly decorated World War II vet, and rumor had it that this kid wanted more than anything to win the Medal of Honor, that it was like his goal in life. I believe he did win the Silver Star for charging a machine gun emplacement with just a bayonet, but then I don't remember hearing anything else about him. As we went through firefight after firefight, Bill and I began to acquire a reputation of our own.
I don't remember which outfit we were with, but I do remember the tunnel complex and the village next to it. The infantry had just chased about 30 gooks into this tunnel complex, and they were all firing automatic weapons. Bill and I were flown in and set down in this rice paddy, which was underneath a great big hill. We quickly found out the tunnels were in the hill. This complex had entrances and exits all over the place.
As soon as we jumped off the chopper, the grunts began yelling for us to get down. We were in the middle of this nasty, muddy, rice paddy; and Bill just took off with those long-ass legs of his. I've never been fast in my life and especially in thick, rice paddy mud; but I ran as fast as I could, resulting in the grunts kidding me for about a week, saying that I had no respect for the enemy's shooting accuracy.
We fought our way up to the tunnels, which was only about 30 or 40 yards away but seemed longer, as the gooks didn't want to let us up there. Then the officer in charge ordered Bill and I to go into the complex and "flush" them out, as he put it. Whatever made him think that those gooks were going to run out of those nice, safe holes into the grunts' line of fire?
But, in we went...slowly and with great reluctance. As well as the enemy to worry about, there were booby traps all over the place. I remember going first, with Bill right behind me. We didn't know what we were doing, but we damn sure knew what we weren't going to do and that's get ourselves killed.
It seemed like there were holes everywhere in that tunnel. Some went down and some went up, while others went to either side. It was crazy as hell, 'cause I don't think we ever spotted a gook in that whole tunnel. The infantry guys thought that we were really kicking ass in there because the gooks were running out of holes from every direction.
This was no ordinary tunnel. This complex was really huge, like this whole mountain had been hollowed out and made into an underground city. When we entered for the first time, we didn't know what to expect. We hadn't ever seen anything like this; and, like I said, we hadn't been trained to be tunnel rats.
There was a stall for water buffalo, or whatever they used to bring stuff down from the north, complete with hay. There were holes going up and down, to the right and to the left. We could hear voices but couldn't tell where they were coming from. So every time we came to a turn we'd fire a couple of rounds ahead of us. When we came to a hole that went down, we'd throw a grenade into it. After a while of not seeing any of the enemy, we got out of there, figuring they must be waiting for us somewhere; and, since this was their home, so to speak, they had all of the advantage.
This particular battle was probably one of the first times that I realized I was just a little more hardcore than Bill was. As we were going through the tunnels, we came to a corner that just didn't smell right. I mean, it smelled like death to me, and I sensed that there was an enemy real close to us.
As I approached this corner, I pulled my bayonet out and prepared to do hand-to-hand combat. I felt around the corner as carefully as I could; and when I sensed that there was somebody there, I grabbed with one hand and started cutting with the other. It was a couple of seconds before I realized that there was something wrong with this picture. My hand was clear inside this guys guts, and he was already dead, probably from a grenade by the size of the hole it left.
Knowing that Bill had no idea, I started wrestling with this corpse, rolling on the ground and shit. Bill's yelling to get away from this guy so that he can shoot, so I turned and threw our enemy right at him, guts and blood going everywhere. Bill never seemed to appreciate this little joke as much as I did.
Not long after we came out, the grunts figured that the tunnels were probably empty, as they had killed a bunch of them already; so they sent us back in to see how many bodies we could find. We were shot at almost as soon as we entered, prompting us to quickly exit these holes of death.
The next thing we know, there's this officer there with all sorts of weird looking equipment; and then he starts pumping what he says is CS gas, kinda like tear gas, into these tunnels. Well, it ain't long before we see these gooks stumbling around at the entrance to the tunnels and then dropping like flies. I never did find out exactly what that shit was; but I've never heard of "tear gas" causing the symptoms that we were seeing, with blood running out of their ears and noses. Anyway, these tunnels were obviously pretty deep and extensive because, even with our "tear gas," it took two days of battle to kill all of these people.
This was the firefight where Sgt. Schaeffer got hit in the nuts by shrapnel, but it sure wasn't funny at the time. At least, I think that this was the time he got hit. Sometimes these battles get all confused or I mix two or three of them together.
Bill and I were standing up and shooting at these gooks as they ran out of the mouth of one of the tunnels, shooting and throwing grenades. The Sarge was kneeling down between us when a grenade went off right in front of us. He went up in the air so far that I thought the grenade had gone off right underneath him. Neither Bill nor I were hit, so then I thought that maybe he had taken a bullet; I knelt over him and kept firing while I screamed for the medic.
When the medic got there, the action slowed enough to check out the wounded. Everybody started thinking the Sarge was faking it because they couldn't seem to find any wounds on him, and having a guy fake a wound was kind of common during a heavy fight.
When they could see that he couldn't even walk, however, they decided to medevac him to the rear. I think the real reason the medic was so anxious to send him back was because he figured out where the shrapnel was and didn't know how to handle it. I still remember Sarge asking Bill and I not to say anything to anybody about where he had been wounded, as he was quite embarrassed about it. Of course, we told anybody who'd listen. As it turned out, he lost one of his testicles from a tiny, tiny piece of shrapnel.
It was during this same battle that my gun jammed after a gook started to come out of one of the entrances to this tunnel. I fired, but I always seemed to fire high my first couple of shots, until I realized what I was doing. I've never admitted that to anybody before. Crazy, the things that we hang on to, huh? Anyway, he ran back into the tunnel, which was probably just as well, because he had his hands up; and that would've been just one more guilt that I would have had to live with. I just hope that he didn't end up killing any of our guys later.
After Sarge was taken care of, they sent Bill and I around to the back of the tunnels, to make sure that no one escaped that way. It gets fuzzy right about here for some reason, probably because the fighting got awful hot and heavy, but I do remember that several of the enemy were killed; and then I remember some of the infantry guys yelling at June to get out of the way. I looked over and saw that he had a prisoner and was trying to tell him to come the rest of the way out of the tunnel, but this guy had already seen how we treated our "prisoners" and he didn't want to come out of that tunnel for nothing.
Then one of the grunts went running up and shoved Bill out of the way and pumped a few rounds into the gook. Well, I guess I must've had a few more trips to the field at this time then he did, because it really seemed to bother him that this prisoner he was about to capture got his shit blown away, whereas it was just another kill to me.
Soon after this my damned M-16 jammed up on me again, only this time the gook didn't run back into the tunnel. Instead, he came running right at me with his bayonet fixed, ready to do me in. I had an entrenching tool in front of me because I was going to try to dig into the side of the tunnel and set a charge to try to collapse part of it. Not trusting my rifle to be strong enough to withstand the enemy's SKS, which was made out of wood instead of plastic, I tore into him with the entrenching tool, which is just a small shovel.
I'm sure a lot of the grunts that saw this figured I was one mean son-of-a-bitch, but I just didn't want to get stuck by that bayonet. In fact, I was just about scared shitless, as this guy looked like he knew what he was doing with that sticker. The next thing I knew, they were dragging me off of him, and he was a bloody pile of clothes laying there. I'd almost cut the poor guy in half with that shovel, and the grunts were looking at me like I was from another planet. That's ok. I was a survivor once again.
That night, after the infantry had been positioned to cover as many of the holes as they could find, the gooks sneaked out of one that wasn't being watched and attacked a big pile of equipment, obviously thinking it was the spot where some of the grunts had bedded down for the night. They shot the shit out of the grunts packs and stuff, but nobody was hurt; so, it became a sort of joke later on that nobody could tell the difference between the infantry soldiers and a big pile of shit.
Nobody ever said anything, but I know if I was smart enough to think of it, somebody else must have thought of it, too. This village that was right next to where we were fighting seemed to be empty of people, yet the fields all around us were being worked by somebody. Also, in the tunnels there were holes going way down into the ground, turning and twisting all over the place. Nobody went down these holes, which was understandable at the time, as we all figured there was nothing down there but gooks, who seemed to be coming out of the woodwork all by themselves.
In retrospect, I think the whole village might have been down there making booby traps or arms or whatever. I know that a few weeks later somebody back in the rear was trying to find out who did a number on a whole village of gooks, but at the time I didn't get it.
This battle gives up its share of nighttime "entertainment," too, mostly because there was a little girl killed in these tunnels; and everybody put the heat on me. All I'll say about this incident is that I didn't know it was a little girl until it was too late; and now, at times, I can't look at my beautiful granddaughter without seeing this little Vietnamese girl covered in blood, her throat cut from ear to ear.
It seemed like from this time on, I was treated just a little differently, kind of like I was a cast away in this world of death and killing. I remember thinking that they could all go and screw themselves. Killing is a tough business and sometimes mistakes will happen. Besides, I had plenty of smoke to help me forget things like that.
My memories get a little fuzzy trying to remember who came when and even who was there. All I know is that we used something like two tons of explosives, placed throughout these tunnels and hooked together with "det" cord; but I can't remember who it was that came out to hook all of this up. It was either Sgt. Foreman or Sgt. Schaeffer and some other engineers, and I might even be wrong about that. Anyway, once it was all hooked up, we ran our wire out for a long-ass ways and let 'er rip.
That whole mountain went up in the air and came back down, leaving a kind of crater. One has to remember that this was in 1966, just before the Army started training tunnel rats; and nobody, who hadn't been down into some of these tunnels, knew what to expect. We knew that the enemy used these underground complex's for all sorts of things; but, when we would run across one, nobody was gung-ho to go down and explore them, especially if we just chased a bunch of gooks into one.
So when this whole mountain went up into the air and came back down again, even though it may have contained some noncombatants, there was a general feeling of "better them than us."
Bill didn't like the random killing of the enemy, and he never quite got used to it. Sometimes I was sent out into the field with one unit or another by myself because the infantry felt that one "pick and shovel" was all that was needed. I quickly became accustomed to the way prisoners were treated in the field, especially when there were no officers present. You can't really blame the guys in the infantry, as the gooks treated their prisoners just as bad or worse.
There were a couple of times that we couldn't take the prisoners with us for one reason or another, and they were eliminated. This gave me a new respect with the grunts, and also a new nickname. I won't be so foolish as to go into who did the dirty deed, but there were very few innocent people in Vietnam.
After this tunnel battle, there were quite a few trips to the field where we just blew up some booby traps or built some bunkers for some commander or something. We did a lot of humping the rice paddies with the grunts, and it was during this period that I tried out "water buffalo lemonade."
We'd been doing some serious humping, and most of us were about out of water when these gooks decided to fire a few rounds over us to test our reflexes. After a brief firefight (firefights always made everybody thirsty), I was definitely out of water and still had a long way to go.
When we came to this rice paddy dike with the water flowing over it, looking all clear and cold, I just couldn't help myself. Telling Bill to keep an eye out, as you could get into all sorts of trouble for making yourself sick intentionally, I knelt down and took a good, long drink. I knew something was up when I heard my partner chuckling like crazy, so I looked up and there, not 20 feet away, was a water buffalo pissing like a fire truck gone crazy, with the piss and the water mixing and coming together and flowing over the dike right where I was getting my drink.
I suppose a lot of people would be repulsed; but damn, I was thirsty. We sure had a lot of laughs over this incident, usually at my expense. And, by the way, it wasn't cold.
There were numerous times that we went out on little, short patrols with the infantry and engaged the enemy in brief, vicious firefights. One time Bill and I were with the recon platoon of the 1st of the 14th, and we were going through a village that was real close to our firebase. I spotted a cast-iron skillet just sitting by this hootch, so I confiscated it to "prevent the enemy from using it."
It was obvious to me that the grunts felt the area secure, as nobody was real tense or anything. So I put this skillet in my pack, figuring we would make good use of it back in the base camp. Bill and I were bringing up the rear as we were leaving when I heard a yell; but, before I could turn around, I felt three solid thumps on my back and found myself lying face down on the ground. I could hear Bill shooting, and then someone was turning me over. I knew that I had taken some rounds in the back.
Well, God must have told me to pick that heavy skillet up 'cause it had stopped three rounds from an AK, and Bill had got himself a kill. All I had were three little dots on my back and a heart that was pumping overtime. I never found out what happened to that piece of cast iron, as it somehow disappeared before I could get to my feet.
It seemed like we were constantly putting somebody we had come over with in a body bag; and, after a time, the jokes about us being the only ones to come out of this alive ceased being jokes. In fact, we began to slowly realize that, of all of the guys who came over together, there were only a few of us left. We seemed to smile less and less and the high from the dope began to be more and more for medicinal purposes then to get high. It was only a matter of time until I became convinced that I would probably die in this dirty little war. I started to get hard and uncaring, and a coldness began creeping up inside of me that's hard to describe.
Several times, I went out with a recon platoon on a volunteer basis to look for some poor souls that hadn't made it back from a patrol or something. On one of these, we were sent out to find some LRRPs that had gotten lost. LRRP means "long range reconnaissance patrol," and these guys would go out and look for the enemy in his own back yard. There would only be five grunts, and they had orders not to engage the enemy unless absolutely necessary.
Well, the brass had contact with them the night before; and then suddenly the radio went dead, so they ordered us out in the morning to try to find them. We found them all right, hanging from some trees right in the trail, tortured and then shot to pieces. I couldn't believe it when I recognized two of them as guys who had come over with Bill and me. As I zipped the body bags shut, it felt like part of me was going with them, even though I didn't know them near as well as I knew some of the other guys that I had done the same with.
It was about this time, or soon after, that Bill and I started isolating together, if that makes any sense. Like I said, we'd seen a lot of guys we knew go home in body bags, and that does something to a person that I can't quite explain. The nearest I can come to explaining it is that it leaves a sort of hole in your soul or your heart, a coldness or numbness that's really hard to put in words. You start to get leery of anybody but the people closest to you; and you start to feel a real fear any time that you're separated from your partner, lest the next time you see him, they're putting "him" in a body bag.
As a result, we would go off together any time the grunts, that we were out with, came in for a rest. Usually we had a half day or at least a couple of hours before the unit that replaced the one we'd been with would request the "pick and shovels" that had just come in to go with them, as all of the infantry commanders wanted as much experience as they could get out in the field.
During this time lapse, we would go off somewhere and smoke a doobie or drink some beer or do whatever was available to get high, just to escape the reality of the war. Bill and I avoided being around other people and rarely if ever went to the EM club to drink. Getting high now took on a different meaning, as we were remembering some of the guys who had already been "dusted" and speculating on what might become of us.
On one of these trips to the rear, Bill and I decided to go into Pleiku to look up some ladies and kinda went on an unauthorized pass. We had to walk, as we were illegally going to town; and we both noticed the lack of people out and about. Nobody working the fields, taking care of the water buffalo, or anything. We went over to sin city and got stoned and laid and came back and then went back out to our firebase in the field.
Later we found out that we walked within sight of a whole NVA unit that was massing for an attack on a big South Vietnamese encampment. I imagine that they had to let us go so as not to arouse any suspicion. At least if they would have killed us then, we would've died happy.
For some reason, this part of my tour in the "Nam" becomes kind of blurred and the memories are hard to put together in any kind of order. I do remember short, brief firefights and a couple of big ones where we were fighting the gooks hand-to-hand; and I remember killing one with my machete because my gun jammed again.
I can still hear the sounds of screaming and the sound of the enemy's bugle and their officers whistles as the attack began and even remember myself screaming at the top of my lungs "they're coming through the wire!" and the yells and grunts of bodies coming together and the smell of blood and the flares going off and the taste of fear and even excitement in my mouth.
I remember trying to figure out who was who in front of me, so that I didn't shoot one of our guys, and waiting too long and having to kill at close quarters because of my misjudgment; and I can see the tracers coming right at me and hear their loud cracking as they pass close by my head, and sometimes at night my mind wants me to bring this back; but I cannot and see no sense in reliving the death of my friends; so I find a place somewhere inside my brain, and it gets tucked away again and again.
This is the part of my war that no one can help me with because my mind refuses to share it, even with me. I believe this is true PTSD in its rawest form, and that it's something that I and guys like me will just have to live with; and those of us that cannot, will probably die by our own hands someday when the pain becomes too great and the memories too painful.