When Death claims the light of my brow
No flowers of life will cheer me: instead
You may give me my roses now!

Thomas F. Healey



It was a different kind of morning, for I was at base camp (Camp Evans) 0500, 14 September 1968.

The Co. Commander told me I had a job to do, I asked what it was. He said I was to take one of my men and do a simple mine sweep for an Infantry Co. Sounded pretty normal to me, even boring (little did I know), ordinary and boring work at its best.

I got Ken ready for the day. Ken was part of Pres. Johnson's program to enlist as many as we could even if they did not qualify as mentally competent to serve. I liked him, anyway; Ken was cool. I usually kept Ken at Camp Evans to keep the gear under control, didn't think he could deal with life in the bush.

Just a short side note. By this time, I had been in country for eight months and was very tainted by the war and what was happening around me. At this point, I believed I had become a person that could not go home. I had become as bad as my enemy and loved the adrenalin rush of combat. "I was as evil as they were and could not be in a civilized system any more" as in the U.S.of A.

Ken and I landed at the A.O.; I talked to the officer in charge. He asked me to do a mine sweep for his Co. through a flat area east of Hue. All seemed normal for a long while; then we came to a point where the only way to go forward was through what I call to this day a hedge row with one narrow opening. A hedge row might not be the appropriate term for Vietnam vernacular, but it is what I called it on this day and to this day.

I don't know how to explain how I felt at this time; but, somehow, I knew that if I went forward, it would be the end for me and Ken and anyone else that happened to be there. I had this ominous feeling that if I went forward, I would die and so would Ken and so would the guys that I was supposed to be protecting with the mine sweep. (What to do.)

I still don't know how to put into words what that feeling was like -- Absolutely overwhelmingly. I knew that if I went forward I would die and so would others, but I had a job to do; and the Co said forward we go.

I thought for a while and decided to tell the Co that Ken or I were not going to go through this place that I called a hedge row because it had to be the place where Chuck had placed mines or booby traps. The Co did not want to listen to me so we argued for awhile. The conclusion of the argument was that if I did not want to risk my men, he would send his men in front of mine to prove it was a valid place to go and then continue the mine sweep.

Two men started through ahead of me; I following right in their footprints. About halfway through, as I put my foot down (to late to stop or regroup now), I saw a trip wire attached to a grenade (already tripped at this point).

The next thing I knew, I heard some guy screaming (a blood curdling sound, then and now) at the top of his lungs. Sounded real distant to me, took a few seconds to realize that the one that was screaming was me.

I was crawling as fast as I could to nowhere, couldn't stop, just kept going trying to get away from what had happened. Some guy grabbed me and stopped me, don't know who; he called for a medic.

The medic got to me and rolled me over onto my back. (He was a very, small, black dude, never got his name, rank or serial no. but wish I had. I owe him my life, then and now. Have wished for twenty five plus years that I knew who he was so I could thank him in person. Loved him then, love him now.)

As I realized what was happening, a small group had gathered around me. I will never forget the looks on their faces; it was the look of death. All of those who were there know the look -- one expression for he'll be ok, another for this dude will never make it. What I saw was he will never make it.

Couldn't feel anything from the waist down; all else was numb for a few seconds, maybe minutes. Then the pain came, unbelievable pain, unfucking believable pain. Inner parts hanging out, air coming out of large hole in left upper chest, blood coming from everywhere. This medic went to work, calmly but rapidly, not missing a move.

I didn't know whether to decide to live or to give into the pain and die. I asked him if he would hold me up to see if I still had legs. He stopped what he was doing and pulled me up enough so that I could see my legs were still in tact. We looked into each other's eyes; and, without saying a word, we both decided I was going to make it. (I still lean on that look today, when things get too tough to go on ... I see his face and remember I will make it.)

He is putting patches everywhere they should be put. Slick lands within only a few minutes; I am put on a litter and loaded onto the slick. He refuses to leave my side and gets on with me. (God, where did this guy come from.) He works on me until we get to the evac hospital and won't leave my side until there is a doctor to attend to me.

I absolutely believe if it wasn't for this guy,a I would not have lived. To me, he was one, very-special human being. Don't know his name or rank or where he is from but will never forget his face or the expression on it nor his dedication to keeping me alive.

From here on is another story for another time.

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.

Albert Pike


Copyright 1995 © by Robert A. Hackney Sr., All Rights Reserved

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