Every day we wandered aimlessly through the dense, green, vegetated, treacherous terrain. Men became lost, absorbed, into the greenness that nature built long ago. The same greenness that Charlie used so well to conceal his roads, bases, weapons, and supplies. The dark forests that seemed to offer up a war with mosquitoes, leeches, physical and emotional exhaustion, and the endless search. Frustrations of living, coping, and the lack of sleep. So tired you don't give a shit anymore. Face the danger, press on. Prison life at hard labor couldn't be this bad. Nevertheless, prison is life and out here, there are no guarantees of any such thing.
Stumbling, and hacking the company into harms way, 2nd platoon led at point. We made enough noise that we didn't need to find Charlie. Charlie always seems to find us first. Just when monotony takes hold, and you're at peace with yourself, all hell breaks loose. A burst of explosions, and the sudden chatter of Kalashnikovs spewing lead upon us like a surprising hail storm. Instinctively, and instantaneously, the company found itself prostrate firing frantically into our flanks, returning a wall of M-16s, and M-79 grenades answering the din of Aks. The classic horseshoe ambush. You could hear Charlie shouting orders in Vietnamese in the dense jungle, but you couldn't see him. The PRC-25s squelched to life screaming, "contact!, contact! we have men down!" "We need a medic, and a medevac!"
Those were always the first words from any fire fight, "MEDIC!" The company commander, a handset in each hand pressed to each ear, one tethered to the company RTO, the other attached to the forward observer RTO, runs toward the sound of fire, pulling the two unwilling radiomen along. It was my clue, as Senior medic in the CP, to follow. I was, sort of, the roving Medic, filling in where needed. As quickly as it started, Charlie was gone. The only sound of fire was from the M-16s. It all ended with the Captain yelling over the radio, "cease fire, cease fire!" Like sputtering pop corn over the fire, the M-16 sounds sporadically stopped. Only the lingering smell of combat remained in the air. Nothing left but the clean up. Two dead GIs, and three wounded. No sign of Charlie anywhere. A ghost, absorbed into the greenness of the jungle.
I helped Martinez, the medic in the second platoon, ready the casualties for evacuation. The CO placed flankers out for protection as the company moved toward a recent B-52 strike zone to use as an LZ for the Medevac, and resupply choppers. The company bivouacked in the craters that night with listening posts set up in the encompassing jungle.
Captain Bishop called me over and said, "listen doc, I want you to go over to the 2nd platoon and check out the medic." "
What's up?" I asked.
"They've got a problem over there, see what it is." I worked my way over to the 2nd platoon and found Martinez laying carelessly on his equipment.
"Eddie,what's wrong?" I said.
"I can't take it anymore," Eddie said staring up into the air.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I don't want to do this anymore. I shot myself up with my morphine syringes."
"Are you hit," I asked?
"No," he said. "Oh ***** Eddie, why'd you do that?"
"I just want out," Eddie replied.
"But what about your platoon" I asked?
"I want to go home, I don't want to die here" he replied.
I looked at Eddie. He stared back in an opiate induced trance. I made my way back to the CP and reported the situation to the Captain.
"I want that asshole out of here now! He's going to get us all killed," yelled the Captain, "he's a bad example for the rest of the men! Get him out of here, and I mean now!"
They called in a helicopter. Eddie, at peace with himself, was placed aboard. A replacement climbed off. The chopper took off with Eddie in the evening sky. I stood there watching that chopper as I took a long drag off a Lucky Strike, and thought to myself: we risk our lives because of the fear. The fear of what others may think. Eddie didn't care what others thought. He will never have to eat C-rations again. He was a survivor. Each man alone forever.
Note: by Tom Hays