The First Heart
William R Hayes
In the year 1968 I was a private in the 101st ABN DIV working with the 17th ACR blocking and looking for NVA forces in the XUAN LOC AO. This is the time of the TET and the enemy was doing all that they could to infiltrate the Long Ben logistic base. It was our job to stop this action, as well as protect the prison camp. The NVA were trying to crack it open to release the prisoners within.
During our stay at the prison camp, I saw things that were done to prisoners by the South Vietnamese that were beyond comprehension. In one instance three prisoners were tethered together and placed in a conex container, which is a big box made of corrugated steel. This box was left in the sun were the temperature inside would be stifling. This box has no windows, and just one way in and out, and that was through the big clam shaped doors. A RVN officer who begins to interrogate the trio approaches the three NVA. I guess the prisoners did not give the correct answers. A shot rang out, the RVN officer had shot the NVA handcuffed in the middle. The officer did an about face and had the doors closed. When seeing this I started to see if I could intervene, my platoon sergeant stopped me short. I was told to stand down. I stopped and looked around. The RVN soldiers had their weapons trained on me and my squad had weapons trained on them. It looked like there would be a shootout between the two allies. On seeing this I stepped back and shook my head and wondered? What would happen to me if I were captured? Would I be treated according to the GENEVA CONVENTION or my ass would be grass and I would be tortured like those poor NVA souls. Damn, this is when I realized I was in a fight for my life.
After a few days of providing security for the prison camp, we received orders to continue operations with the 11th ACR and to proceed to the area around XUAN LOC and the rubber plantation. We (187) would be driven to a location dropped off and continue to look for signs of the enemy while on foot. The first couple of days all was quiet, the stillness wouldnít last long.
While on patrol with the CAV, which had 113s APC and M48 tanks for support, my platoon dismounted and began a search of the woods that ran parallel to the dirt road. Signs of the NVA in the plantation were found. Elephant tracks were seen (used as heavy equipment movers) and abandoned campsites gave us an estimate of the number of NVA in the AO. As we emerged from the tree line and headed to the tracks, an altercation between an enlisted man and an officer erupted. The EM pulled and trained his weapon on the LT. The EM was on top of an APC while the LT was down below looking up with his weapon at the ready.
What a situation, the EM was black, the officer was white. I donít know what started this stand off but an end to this bullshit had to cease. I looked at the brother and said come on man, we need to fight the NVA not our selves. The EM stated he was going to zapp the officer. I looked at the officer and he looked at me, with this I said to myself, I have to stop this from escalating, I trained my m16 on the EM as did the rest of the squad, to let it be known that if he pulled the trigger on his weapon, he would be shot to pieces by my squad. The look on his face told all, he was in a bad sitituation and he could not win. The EM came to his senses and lowered his weapon. What happened to him, I donít know. My squad got back on the APCs and headed back to the logging area to rest and stand down for the night. I wondered to myself if the incident of the stand off was a bad omen of things to come, the answer to this question would be soon answered.
Once we returned to our night defensive position some other members of B Company began to give us information on their patrol sweep. One of the other platoons, Troop A of the 3/4 CAV, had a firefight with the NVA. During the fight a 113 APC was hit and began to burn. The driver of the APC was wounded and could not get out of the craft. Seeing the driver in trouble PVT Rose without regard for him sprinted through enemy fire got aboard the burning 113 and pulled the wounded man to safety. Rose was put in for a medal for this action, but I do not know if he received it.
Now that our units had made contact, we were given orders to come at the NVA from a different direction, a back door action. The company received word to move out. We Boarded the APC and headed to our jump off point. The APC had to plow through thick undergrowth, triple canopied trees and red ant colonies in order to get to our departure point.
After we dismounted our company began to tread trough the jungle with a slow deliberate pace. I was maning the slack position (1 position behind the point man) ready to back him up if contact was made. While making our way a CS grenade exploded. Tear gas began to filter through our ranks, and it was hard to see or breathe. The company commander called a halt, and he and the RTO ran past us. I guess the CO was going to assess the situation when all hell broke loose. Exploding devices in the trees, which turned out to be chicom claymore mines wreaked havoc with our point and HHC. Element.
The dark green colored cloaked landscape exploded with both light and sound. I scrambled back to my appointed position (assistant m60 gunner) and lay down slightly behind and left of the gun. As I lay there looking at the flashes of light dance before me, a strange thing happened. All action seemed to slow down to a crawl; I could actually see a flaming projectile headed my way. I watched the drama unfold, as if in a movie theater. The projectile pierced the c ration can (keeps ammo feed untangled) first by traveling down the barrel of the m60 and to my amazement the hot lead continued its flight through a fallen log and into and through my right leg. I watched as my leg was lifted off the ground from the impact, and then a sudden realization of searing pain flooded me as my leg settled back to earth.
The jungle now fell into an ominous silence. The smell of cordite hung heavy in the smoked filled jungle air. A voice broke the silence. Is anybody hit? Was the question being asked? Upon hearing this, I raised my arm and said, YAH ME! In a flash two members of the squad were at my side, asking questions of where I was hit and how bad.
It was at this time that I noticed, there was not any pain in my now ventilated extremity. I thought to myself damn thatís strange, no pain, have I dreamed this, Hummmm. I was shaken back to reality. "In my LEG in my LEG" I cried. There were no feelings in my leg, and I needed assistance on getting to the wounded collection point.
I was placed beside a tree along with others who had been wounded. As we were in the middle of the jungle, a small landing zone had to be cut. The LZ was being cut down or should I say mowed down by m48 tank. While this was being done I became hungry, so I broke out a can of fruit cocktail. On seeing me do this others began doing the same. I shared my meal with to others. One had a pound cake, the other had a can of peaches with this we had a "sho nuff" good gourmet infantrymenís lunch.
The LZ was finished, and it was just large enough to accommodate one chopper. I was helped over to the edge of the one bird LZ, and waited. The wait was of a very short duration, because in no time, a MEDAVAC hovered into view overhead. A member of the company guided the chopper to the ground. Just before the skids touched the ground the other wounded and I, were picked up and rushed to the chopper. I was placed on a stretcher with my head facing out. Once the bird was loaded (less then 60 seconds), we began to lift off. As the craft arose I used this opportunity to express myself. I flipped the bird and yelled, "See you assholes later, fuck the NVA and HO CHI MIN, Iím headed to the world the big PX!" AS the chopper headed to the EVAC hospital at Long Bin I knew I had survived an NVA ambush and I would be home. So I thought.
Once the chopper landed, I was pulled out of the bird by the attendants, boy were they fast. I was placed on a gurney and one of the nurses began to cut off my jungle fatigues. Suddenly the nurse who was cutting off my clothes let out a blood curling scream, dropped the scissors and retreated to the other side of the room. Other attendants came rushing to see what the noise was all about. The nurse with her hand over her mouth pointed to my leg. Thoughts raced through my mind, my wound must be worst than I thought. With great hesitation I looked to see the damage. What I saw both astonished and amazed me. There on my leg was the biggest, greenest, and slimmest leach I had ever seen. The leach was having a regular banquet off of my bloody leg wound. I smiled at the frightened nurse and said, what a beauty. An orderly came over to remove the pest, and continued to remove the rest of my garments. While my stuff was being taken off, I asked the orderly to save my black scarf, which he was taking off with great glee. I never saw that scarf again. Someone has the first B company scarf made, what a treasure. Here is hoping that who ever has the scarf reads this a returns it to me, man that would be great.
While being taken to the operating room, I saw my Company Commander lying on a stretcher. My CO had blood all over him. I reached to touch him as we passed, and told the staff who were pushing me to the operating room, to take my CO first. I was told to settle down, my CO would be taken care of. This would be the last time I would see my first Company Commander.
I was given an I V and told to count to backwards starting with 99. That was as far as I got. I would finely end up at the 6th convalescent hospital at Cam Rhan Bay. But that is another story!
March 14 1968 a day to remember, my first Purple Heart.