Excerpts – Chapter 1 – Rockpile, Vietnam: 1968

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Sraining to look over my left shoulder, I see two F-4 Phantoms making their approach to drop napalm and high explosive ordinance from the pylons beneath their wings. They dive down from their lofty altitude in the clear blue sky toward my location on the ground. I lose sight of them as they thread their way and skim just above the top of the mountainous jungle canopy, injecting their venomous destruction. Immediately after the drop, they climb back to the sky, breaking left and right respectively to evade enemy fire. They regroup and return to deliver more high-explosive bombs to help subdue the attacking enemy force. I pray to myself that none of our marines are so far from the road as to have been hit by the napalm and shrapnel from the high-explosive ordinance. The shock waves of the bombs shake my Duster, a tracked, open-turrettank with two 40-mm guns. The heat burns against the left side of my face, and then I fight to breathe as the napalm sucks oxygen from the air feeding its explosive inferno of fire.

We’ve been called to assist a company of marines who have been pinned down and taking fire from both sides of the road in an ambush at a mountain ravine on Highway 9, east of our location at the Rockpile. The river flows on my left, and the ravine lies on my right. The area is full of vegetation. Up the ravine and across the river onto the other side, the ground gives rise to dense trees and brush. A shallow ditch parallels the ravine side of the road, probably made when the road was graded. It fails to provide much protection from the enemy fire spraying down on us. Our extra firepower is needed for a platoon of marines to rescue the wounded and retrieve the dead.

Yelling into the radio, the lieutenant orders, “Drive in there firing. Shoot everything that moves. Kill those little bastards.”

“Oh shit, here we go,” I think, firing as many rounds as possible as we move forward to allow the marines to regroup and begin an assault.

We are the lead track assigned the right side, firing up into the ravine, while the other Duster takes the left, firing on the area between the road and the river that has just been napalmed and bombed by the U.S. Air Force F-4 Phantoms.

Lee, the driver, moves us into the kill zone with bodies of marines, dead and alive, still on the road ahead. Marines are crouched low and close to the side of the Duster, providing them protection on their blind side. My buddy Len fires the M60 mounted on the back of the turret, and the marines return fire with their M16 and M79 grenade launchers as we drive in. I pray, “Dear God, let the marines beside us move the bodies away from the path of our tracks before Lee has to drive over them to get us into firing position.”

The enemy rains down fire as we move into position. Rounds strike our Duster and the ground around us. Miraculously none of us have been hit. We fire back, doing our job. Only seconds have passed since we started the barrage. I fire our 40-mm guns as fast as possible, when suddenly the enemy fire stops. We continue to fire at everything, so they won’t have a chance to rise up and resume their attack. We spray rounds all over the ravine, not knowing the exact enemy positions. The other Duster protects our back, firing on the other side of the road, as we each protect the other.

Some of the injured marines are loaded onto the sides of the Dusters to take them back down the road to a helicopter landing zone, known as the LZ, where they can be evacuated to a hospital. A wounded marine, slung in his own poncho, is lifted up on the side for transport.

Len and I hold the marine in the poncho while we drive to the LZ. His helmet falls off as he is lifted up, and his light brown hair is the only thing not masked in mud. He’s covered with drying mud and blood—his own blood and this dammed red mud of Vietnam, coagulating together. I can’t tell where the mud stops and his blood begins. Two empty morphine syringes are pinned to his left collar.

Entry wounds cover his body: his legs, arms, and face—everywhere except where his flak vest prevented any more torso wounds. The vest is riddled with tears, exposing its own mangled interior fabric where it has been hit and ripped open. I see the whites of his eyes. When he speaks to us, I see his teeth, bright-white, each one outlined with red blood and saliva in stark contrast against his filthy face

I wonder, “What the hell was he hit with to have so many damned entry wounds—a grenade, mine, or what?”

A corpsman presses bandages under his clothing to stop the bleeding, but he is still oozing fresh blood everywhere. The two empty morphine dispensers attached to his collar fall against his neck each time he moves.

I still hear shooting back in the ravine as marines continue to pursue the enemy. The noise level is so intense it is difficult to concentrate. It is loud with gunfire and yelling. They combine with the noise of the motor, along with the piercing, squeaking sound of grinding metal from the tracks on our Duster. Smoke fills the burning jungle where napalm has hit. The air smells thick with gunpowder. The burning scent of the fight fills my nostrils. It sears my nose! The smell is reminiscent of a Fourth of July fireworks show back home, yet so different.

Then, amid all the commotion, everything goes silent, as though I have suddenly gone deaf. In the quiet, almost in slow motion, the muddy, bloody marine raises his right arm to show Len and me that his right hand remains barely attached, hanging only by skin at his wrist. Bone and flesh plainly expose themselves, but no blood drips. A tourniquet on his arm stops the flow. Looking up at us with a snicker of a smile on his lips and with a slight laugh in his voice, he tells us, “I guess I’ll have to learn how to jack off with my left hand!”

As suddenly as they stopped, the sounds of the war return, and we move backward down the dirt road to a freshly blown LZ.

 

I CANNOT HOLD BACK THE MEMORY or the tears. I am not in Vietnam, and it is not 1968. It is November, 2010. I am sitting at my home computer, looking at the country of Vietnam on Google Earth.

“How long have I been out, back there in my mind?” I wonder. Looking at the clock on the wall, I realize it has only been seconds, maybe minutes. My flashbacks are like dreams. Scenes that took minutes and hours in real time only take seconds to replay in my mind.

“When is this shit going to stop?”

 

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One Response to Excerpts – Chapter 1 – Rockpile, Vietnam: 1968

  1. Hi Bill:
    I met you at the PTSD event in Placerville, Thank you so much for taking the steps to help yourself and others. I very much enjoyed your book.
    I was stationed at Camp Pendleton Hospital from 70 to 72 then at Treasure Island.
    I now have an alternative Health care clinic and work with a Brain Program that helps with PTSD, TBI’s anxiety and depression. I am working to make this program available to more of our vets. Can you imagine the peace that could happen for so many? The changes is lives that could take place? That is what drives me. I would like to chat with you about how to help and many people as possible.
    Please call or email me Venice@TheHWI.com or 916-965-6558

    Thank you
    Venice

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