Day of Despair
Many a day I had a chance to reflect on the experience and the impact the conflict in Vietnam had on both my mind and body. This reflecting brought to mind of my time spent in the hospital at Cam Ranh Bay South Vietnam.
March 14 is a day I will never forget, because this is the day I was wounded in combat for the first time. After I was bounced around from the hospital in long binh to Vaung Thau to my final stop the 6th Convalescent Hospital at Cam Ranh Bay I had no idea what was going on. I received no information from the doctors or nurses about my wounds.
Everything that was happening to me was vague in its nature. After the docs operated on my leg, I saw myself as a caricature in a silent movie as the scene began to unfold its self before my drugged induced mind. I was being carried to a waiting C 123 twin engine aircraft. The nurse was gentile as she helped the orderlies place me in a secured rack that held other wounded men.
My clouded mind saw the tailgate jaws of the aircraft close shut very slowly. I felt the shudder of the airplane as it started its take off run. No noise, just an eerie sight with the light in the belly of the plane dancing among the torn and wounded souls. Then, fade to black.
On opening my eyes, I found myself in a nice bed with white sheets, the whitest I had ever seen. I saw now that I was in a hospital ward that was being shared with other wounded vets. Then there was movement. A tall dark figure advanced towards me. As I was about say something, the figure spoke. It gives me great pleasure to present you with the Purple Heart and with this he stuck out his hand, and holy shit I found myself shaking hands with a General.
Thunder struck, I grasped his hand and replied "Thank You Sir". The General then placed the medal on my chest. I gave a hand salute the General returned my salute, looked at my bed and said 101st, you are doing a good job, keep up the good work. I thought to myself if this is good work getting my ass shot off, I would not like to see bad work. As this thought was running through my mind, the general did an about face and continued his job as a greeter to the wounded.
The days at VT came at me as a big shadowy Montague of slow motion events. Some of the time it was hard to distinguish the difference between facts or drugged induced fiction. Did I actually hear a nurse ask the question? Did you kill any enemy? Or when I witness an ass whipping being taken by a wounded one leg South Korean soldier by his superior officer all because he dropped and broke a dish while on KP duty. Boy, after seeing that, I was glad I was in the American army. The haze continues to this day, because I still don't remember how I got to the 6th CC hospital.
The time I spent at the 6th CC was also wrapped in neat mind fog. I did rehab, did KP and a marine corps lance corporal was in charge of my working crew. I did not like working KP while wounded and especially by a jar head being in charge, the army's natural enemy. To say the least I and the marine did get along. I did enough to keep the peace.
I had the opportunity to talk shit and shake hands with two top celebrities of the time. They were Fess Parker (Daniel Boone) and Ed Begely Sr... While lying in the bed taking a little shut eye nap, two gentlemen walked into our ward. On entering, Mr. Parker asked, if there was any one in the ward knew who knew who he was. Like a flash of lightning I said, Daniel Boone king of the wild frontier. Mr. Parker smiled and replied "correct" and approached me and stuck out his hand, which I grasped and giving a firm hand shake, I asked, where are the beautiful round eyed ladies? He replied, just us, as he smiled and turned to Mr. Bagely who was also smiling at my query.
The visit of these two actors and gentlemen was a wonderful thing for our moral. Someone cared, and cared enough to take time off from their world to come and visit our world and to spread joy and compassion towards the broken and torn. I didn't get the chance to see Bob Hope, but I did see Daniel Boone.
During my time in the hospital, the opportunity to meet others who were wounded in combat gave me insight to seek information on other unit's actions and locations while in combat.
I met wounded vets from the Marines, 4th INF, 25th INF, and 199th L INF 11 ARC. For reasons unknown to me, I became close to a SSG who was wounded about the same time I was. The location of the SSGs bunk was at the right end of the hospital ward. I think the name of the vet was Roberts. This NCO and I became friends and confidante because of two main reasons. The first reason was the NCOs and I was wounded almost at the same time in nearby locations. Second I was attached to the 11 armored cav. And the sergeant was in the 11 ARC.
To my surprise this NCO was open and to the point about his wounds and how it happened. This NCO and I talked for hours about the war and we also talked about nothing .We as two wounded vets became close for a few days, a week, I cannot remember the time frame but a new found friend was made.
The hospital had an information grapevine. This grapevine kept us wounded warriors up dated on what was going on in the combat zones of south East Asia. This information came from good sources, the combat wounded.
The questions were always directed at the new arrivals. Who were you with, where, (location) did you get hit and how did you get hit? The information I continued to receive was, the 101 is in a lot of shit around the Chu Chi area and they are taking a lot of causalities while engaging the enemy. This information hit me like a slap in the face, because here I was safe and sound, and my boys were in trouble. How did I know it was my unit? The 3/187 and the 2/506 were assigned that AO.
I began to feel as if I had deserted my unit at the time they need me most. This feeling continued to gnaw at me for a couple of days, until I said enough. I waited for the doctor's morning visit before I made my decision to join my boys.
My doctor was a nice guy and his bed side manners great. I say this because this doc really cared about those under his charge. We patients were not just numbers to him and his caring showed. Because of this doctors attitude towards his patients I was a little reluctant to ask for my release.
My doc entered the ward and began to talk to the patient's one at a time. When the doctor approached my bed, he began to ask about my health. I cut the doctor short and told the doc I needed to be released from the hospital so that I may give my foxhole buddies some help. The doc looked at me in amazement, and then he said, you are not ready to go as yet, because your leg has not totally healed.
I looked the doctor straight in the face and stated I need to get back in the field and be of some use to my unit in trouble. I guess the look on my face sealed the deal and of my fate that was to come, because with great reluctance the doctor granted my request." HARRAY" I was getting back into the fight.
My ward mates were astonished that I would opt to leave the nice clean sheeted hospital bed for a water soaked foxhole. After some serious thought I still had to wonder about my decision to enter combat not fully healed.
I said my goodbyes and on my release, my feet carried me to the airfield and an adventure into HELL. I got what I asked for, Combat with my brothers back to back.
My memories about time duration has been lost with the passing of all these years, but some things remain clear as day in my fog filled mind. This encounter after all these years still remains vivid in my head.
Time had passed, and this passing found me back in a now familiar place Bein Hoa. I cannot remember what actions took place that caused me to be at the airport, but there I was waiting for a helicopter to pick me up and ferry me back to Papa Victor, (Phuoc Vinh) when I found myself looking at some books. I was now an E5 hard striped buck sergeant, a battle tested veteran who looked the part after spending days fighting the NVA.
I had my mind and thoughts, when a FNG Pvt. came over to me and asked a stupid question about my weapon. This stupid ass wanted me to let him hold my life line, my M16A1 rifle. To say the least, I went ape shit after hearing this request, I can still see the amazed look on the poor new jacks face as he headed back to his seat in the waiting room. I'm sure he will get the point after the experience of combat.
I watched the young man walk back to his seat, on doing so I thought I saw someone that looked familiar. I put the book down that I had in my hand and walked towards the seated figure. On my approach the seated figure rose to his feet and said, I see you have made sergeant I knew you would. There stood before me, my ward buddy the SSgt. from the right end of the ward.
I extended my hand and we clasp tightly and shook with vigor as we looked into each other's eyes. While shaking hands I noticed SSgt Roberts? SSgt Richard? Was dressed in his class B uniform. This could mean two things, Rand R or DEROS from country, which I found out, was the latter of the two.
On hearing this NCO was headed to the big PX I offered to buy him a drink at the bar. Two beers were ordered and the two of us stood together, and drank our liquid refreshments knowing that our ways would soon part.
The announcement for boarding the waiting Air craft soon bleared over the loud intercom system and with this my friend and I said our go
odbyes. I stood watching as passengers began their movement towards the 707 on the airport tarmac. The SSgt walked towards the plane not looking back. The further he moved towards the plane the more I wanted to get on that plane to.
I watched the AC taxi out to its take off position. While the plane prepared to take off, a great wall of depression washed over me because five more months stood before me and my freedom bird flight. Will I make the flight alive or will I make the flight in a standard issue coffin?
I stood there for a minute feeling alone abandoned and feeling sorry for myself. Soon I shook it off boarded the chopper and flew towards five more months of hell.
I made the FLIGHT.
The story continues.
WM Roland Hayes.