by Jim "Doc" Hall
March 29th 1970
The story below is rather famous at our reunions though it has gotten greatly embellished over the years. It is known by hundreds of guys as "the morphine story".
Mike Slyck (the subject of the story) loves to sit and tell anyone who will listen how I wouldn't give him morphine that day. It happens to be true but for more logical reasons than Mike likes to pretend during his telling of the story. The fact is that I just didn't feel like he needed morphine for the pain and especially felt this way since we had to put him on a jungle penetrator to get him out of the clearing. For this he needed to be able to hold on to the wire.
Mike likes to say that I made the statement "Do you know how much paperwork I'll have to fill out if I give you morphine?" (Actually I may of said this jokingly.)
He also tells the story that he was so agitated from not getting morphine that I took his M-16 away from him and removed the bolt. Could be but I don't really remember this. But Mike swears to it.
Anyway, Mike tells the morphine story to whoever will listen at every reunion and his telling is extremely funny. Wish I had it on tape.
Below is the real story behind the "morphine story" It was written years ago in another computer language and when transferred to the new computer put some funny punctuation in but is still readable.
Mike's reaction that day was funny enough.
Easter Sunday, 1970 On Easter Sunday (March 29) 1970 our platoon was operating in the jungles somewhere out of An Khe. (We were being supported by LZ Challenge). We had been high up on the mountains for several days prior to this operating on some narrow ridge crests looking for signs of Dink activity. Our platoon (1st platoon B Co. 2/35th), as was normal for early 1970, was operating in the same general vicinity but separately from the other platoons in our company. We had been so high up on the mountains for so long that we were unable to find water. After several days we ran out and were basically out of water for nearly 2 full days. This caused a great deal of suffering for those of us who required a lot of water daily.
Finally, they airlifted out a large water blivit to us. I'd guess that this was about a 100 gallon blivit. Of course, the water in it was heavily treated with chemicals and it smelled and tasted bad but it was a welcome relief at the time. We were all issued purification tablets to use in any water that we found in the field. But these things really made the water taste bad so were seldom used by anyone. The mountain streams that we often found out in the jungles was generally great tasting water. So we seldom used the purification tablets and I seldom knew of anyone getting sick from this water.
Two days after the water blivit was dropped we finally started down off of the ridge crests. On Easter Sunday morning we spent a few hours descending into a river valley where we could collect all of the water that we wanted and we all promptly dumped our canteens and refilled them with river water.
After filling our canteens we started up river and soon came to a large stand of elephant grass. This grass stood about 10 to 12 feet high and was very thick. The river valley extended out to our left and our next objective was across this valley.
As we started through the elephant grass it was so thick that we had to machete our way through with some difficulty and effort. We had been at it for maybe an hour when the RTO directly in front of me (Mike Slyck from New York) brushed up against a bees nest and got stung several times. With me just behind him, I was lucky enough to get away with only being stung once. The guys behind me weren't stung at all.
I gave Slyck some benadryl which was about all that I could do for him at the time but he was OK, just uncomfortable. We got the whole platoon safely around the bee's nest and continued on for another 15 - 30 minutes when we got a call from the company commander (Lt. Jacobs). Since it was Easter the battalion commander wanted all his units to get resupplied and they would bring in hot food and mail. So they wanted us to find or cut an LZ right away. We only went about another 100 yards in search for a landing zone when we got a call that the choppers were on the way. We had to stop where we were and try and cut an LZ.
It soon became apparent that we weren't going to have a very big LZ cut before the chopper got there, but we tried. A perimeter was set up quickly and some guys went to work with machetes. While all of this was going on I sat down on the trunk of a fallen banana tree.
Around me were Slyck: our Platoon leader, Lt. Vos, our platoon Sgt, Jack Adami; and Jack's RTO, Ron Sanders. We got the message from the chopper to pop smoke long before we were ready. Lt. Vos walked to the other side of the perimeter to get a better idea if the clearing was big enough to land the chopper. The circumstances were unusual here and Slyck did not go with him (as he normally would). Instead Slyck was left behind on the radio frequency with the chopper pilot to guide him in. Ron Sanders was on the battalion frequency to keep us in touch with the company C.O. and battalion.
We popped smoke and the chopper came in with Slyck talking to him. The hole that we had cut was just not quite big enough though. My small group and I sat about 20 feet away from the chopper which hovered about 10 - 12 feet above the ground. The chopper pilot really wanted to get on the ground so that he could unload the hot food so he hovered there for a long period trying to figure an angle. During this period, of course, we couldn't hear anything else and even our line of sight was distorted as we squinted hard from the wind coming off of the blades.
After a short period of time, I glanced over towards Slyck but he just wasn't there anymore. As I stared towards where I last saw Slyck I noticed a strange expression on Jack's face and he was waving frantically at the chopper. (You'd have to know Jack to understand that nothing ever rattled the guy). I then noticed Ron Sanders on the ground near where I'd last seen Slyck. He was sweeping the ground with his hands, obviously looking for something. So my mind took this all in. Slyck was gone, Jack was distressed and waving frantically, Ron was sweeping the grass looking for something. Only one thought came to my head, grenade.
I waited for the explosion for what seemed like forever. I had the feeling that it was too late to move so I sat frozen. Then Ron found what he was looking for, a handset. He grabbed it to his ear and said something into it. Suddenly the chopper veered sharply sideways and up and was gone. And it became quiet for an instant.
Everyone hit the ground and I was soon made aware of what had happened. We were taking sniper fire and Jack told me that Slyck was hit and that he went that way. Even though no one had heard this over the chopper noise, Jack and Ron knew it because they had seen Slyck get hit as he sat there talking to the chopper. Slyck's stunned reaction to all of this was to throw down the mike and run like hell to the opposite side of the perimeter where Lt. Vos was located. There was some convoluted logic that he must find the Lt. and tell the chopper what was going on. (This despite the fact that he was actually talking to the chopper before he threw down the handset. Safe to say that getting shot does not promote clear logic.) I took off in search of Slyck and found him laying on the ground somewhere on the far side of the perimeter. As I remember it Slyck was shot in the lower left leg. I remember that there was a small entrance wound and no exit wound. Slyck has informed me since that there was indeed an exit wound. In any case this just wasn't Slyck's day.
We called for a dustoff and got Slyck out. As they couldn't land either they used a jungle extractor to bring him to the chopper. Alan Ole Olsen has sent me recently pictures that he took of the extraction. These are rather remarkable to me as it was highly unusual for anyone to actually get their camera out in the field. It was especially unusual for this to happen while we were still technically in contact.
Within minutes Slyck was gone. We heard back that he had suffered some nerve damage and got sent home. I never heard from or about him again until nearly 30 years later when we found each other thanks to the beginnings of the Association.
The best that we could figure was that some Dink sitting on one of the surrounding ridge lines saw the helicopter hovering and thought that he?d take a shot. It appears that the shot fell short striking Slyck.
After all of the excitement, in the late afternoon and maybe ? mile away, we found an open area large enough to land a chopper. They then brought in our hot meal. They also dropped in a chaplain who stayed with us overnight and performed services for the holiday.
This was our Easter, March 29, 1970.