Friends Lost, Heart Gained
The Vietnam War caused me to loose a lot of friends, both through wounds and death. It became harder and harder to really get to know the new guys that came into the unit as replacements. This attitude manifested itself after contact after contact and the losses incurred during battles. There was no point in trying to know all about the new fngs, because they were seen as dead men walking. No sooner had a new jack got in the unit; he would be thrust in to battle with little training. Sometimes the new guys would be dropped off to us while in the mist of contact as replacements. This gave little time for squad leaders to query the man. The only thing you could do is say, stay close and do as I do if you wish to see tomorrow. The high learning curve along with ojt on the fly lead to high casualties of the new jacks while in combat. I was lucky, because my platoon sergeant and squad leaders took the time to train me to survive in a hostile environment.
I had two SGTs that played a large part in my survival in combat. SGT FREEMAN and SGT PRATHER were like brothers to my young ass. When I was thrust into the infantry and placed under their wings a love for these two men became everlasting. It was a sad day when both of these men were lost due to combat. This lost plus others put my heart in to a stone mode, it doesn’t mean anything. In a sense this callousness towards emotions kept me sane and helped me pull through some tough situations.
SGT Prather and I would talk for hours about life and death. The death thoughts centered on dreams we both had and how they would effect us during combat. Prather told me about a dream that was on going when ever he closed his eyes he saw his demise coming by the way a shot between the eyes. On hearing about this dream of Prather’s I told him of my dream which was as heart stopping. My dream consisted of me laying in a fox hole on my back in the dark of night and looking up as a NVA solider prepared to bayonet me. This dream would send shivers up and down my spine then and it still does today.
After our conversation Prather and I would laugh it off and say we as soldiers have a job to do and we won’t let a dream defer us from our duties, which is to kill the enemy before he kills us. All the bravado in the world could not stop you for wondering if dreams really do come true, and as we know sometimes dreams do come true. To this day I wish I could punch jimmy the cricket in the mouth, because of his thoughts of dreams coming true.
A mission call came through, and choppers came to pick us up and to transport us to a location of enemy contact by our sister squad. Our sister squad had been hit as they descended on a hot LZ. I heard while in flight that some of our comrades were hit as the chopper landed. Mortars rounds hit the LZ and one of my best buddies was hit in the stomach and had to be medivaced. Hot LZs were a common place for us, but that did not stop us from getting on with our job of finding, fixing, and destroying the enemy. This time it would be no different.
The LZ was located in rice Pattie out side the perimeter of a rubber plantation. My company hit the ground running. Positions were set up as we waited for the whole company to land. Once the company was accounted for, we began our mission and headed towards the rubber plantation and enemy contact.
I was leading my squad from the point position. The point position in most cases was lead by persons of lower rank then myself, but I pulled this duty because I loved being the leader instead of a follower in a patrol. As we began to head out a firefight broke off to the left of my position. The unmistaken sound of a 51-caliber machine could be heard over the other sounds of combat. This sound made my knees quiver; because this sound could only mean that we have come in contact with a large enemy unit. Only the larger units carried that weapon which was comparable to our M2 fifty caliber machine gun.
I continued to slowly and cautiously lead my squad towards the first hedge grove to my front. Moving in a crouch position and scanning left, front, right, and back again looking for any tale tale signs of the enemy as the sounds combat filled my senses. I heard a cry from one of the platoon members shout, “Prather has been hit”. My eyes scanned to the left and the voice, when to my amazement I could see bullets striking the ground and raising puffs of dirt heading right to my exposed position and me.
This scene reminded me of something out of the TV show Combat. I was moving in slow motion as the bullets came closer. I put myself in the scat position, ready to hightail it to the nearest cover but the converging bullets found their mark.
The enemy rounds struck me in the left calve muscle and I screamed like a bitch as I hit the ground. When I hit the turf, I could hear one of my squad members shout “Hayes” is hit. On hearing this cry, I shouted back “stay put” I will work my way back to you.
Laying in the prone position I took off my heavy rucksack and started to crawl back to the rest of my squad. On doing so I came upon my slack man and he had been hit in the ankle. The bullet was a clean through and through wound. I had this trooper take off his rucksack and the both of us crawled to the safety of our platoon and company members who were at this time engaging the enemy.
I medic came over looked at our wounds and began his job of putting us back together again. The medic began to give me a count of who had been hit, he stated, Prather and Johnson had been hit a killed by the 51cal machine gun fire. The medic stated that Johnson had his arm shot off and Prather had been hit between the eyes. On hearing this I began to shake and shiver. Sgt Prather’s personal prediction has come true, and nightfall would soon arrive. I began to wonder, will my dream also come to fruition. I took out a cigarette and then I noticed my hands were shaking so bad I could not light my fag with a match. One of my squad members noticed this to, so he asked the question if I was ok. I gave the trooper a nod and he came over to give me a light.
Nightfall befell us, so we collected our dead and headed out into a rice patty and a rendezvous with the 25 infantry division Wolf Hounds. We battled the enemy for two and a half days.
I won another heart and lost more friends. To this day I still shake when I think of Sgt Prather and his premonition. The story continues.
William R. Hayes.