Easter Sunday - Part 2
by Mike Slyck
March 29th 1970
First we heard from the medic in the story March 29th, Now we get to read the story from the wounded man. Any discrepancies can be attributed to age, senility, or even delusion lol
Easter Sunday fell on the 29th of March in 1970.
We awakened as usual at first light. That time of the day when the night sky begins to lighten with the promise of the day to come. Our night logger was relatively close to the banks of the Sui Khanh River.
We had crossed that river the day before; after a long and tiresome hump that felt like we'd humped at least six times the linear map distance to get from where we started to where we stopped. Bravo Company had been working an AO in the mountains of II Corps so far from Camp Radcliffe we drew our artillery support from forward firebases. Not an unusual situation for Bravo. Just an indicator we were way out on the fringes of the Division AO. The terrain we were in dictated that for every klick we humped on the map, we had to hump 3 or 4 up and down the sides of the mountains. It made for long, tiring and frustrating days.
The day before Easter the new Bravo 6, Lt. Jacobs from Recon, decided to split the company into Platoon size elements and have each platoon work its own section of the company AO. He hadn't had any luck looking for Dinks with the entire company, so it seemed to make sense to split up; cover more ground; and have each of the platoons serve as bait for possible Dink action. First and Second Platoons were dispatched to the extreme opposite ends of the AO, while Third Platoon, accompanied by Bravo Six and the CP group, worked the middle section. The plan was fairly straightforward. The platoons would stay in constant radio contact with each other while patrolling around their assigned sections. If one platoon made contact the others would immediately move to close with and support them. The plan looked and sounded real good on paper.
After a typical grab a C ration breakfast while packing up from the night, and contacting Bravo Six with our plan for the day, 1st Platoon headed out to patrol up river. We were on the lookout for anything that appeared suspicious. As there were only about 20 of us, we moved slowly taking our time and exercising a great deal of caution. In one respect it was an easier hump working without Six constantly looking over our shoulders; in another it was a bit scarier than most times we were out alone. We were working a fairly new AO, so there wasn't anything remotely familiar about it. We also recognized, based solely on the terrain, that should we run into trouble and need the rest of the company for support, it would take them most of a day to reach us. The other thing on our minds was the fact we were waiting for replacements to bring platoon strength closer to what it should have been. Everything considered we recognized we were pretty much on our own. We still had artillery and air support units available, but there's something reassuring knowing its not just you against whomever; the rest of the company is t here with you.
About 45 minutes or so after we started out, we were humping through a field of elephant grass, when someone in the point element stepped on a bees nest. (Jim Hall, our platoon medic, swears it was me, but I don't remember it that way. I remember seeing a cloud of very angry bees swarm out of the ground between me and whoever was ahead of me. I just don't remember who it was walking directly ahead of me. Usually it would have been Lt. Vos, 1-6, but I don't think it was him that day.) The next couple of minutes were taken up with guys trying to get out of the way of these very large and very angry bees. Weapons got tossed and or dropped where people got stung. Finally someone, or a couple of someones, tossed a couple of smoke grenades into the swarm and the bees just kind of went away as they were overcome. We then took a bit of time to assess the situation. I believe there were a half dozen of us that had gotten stung. I was stung twice, once on my right index finger, and once on my right wrist. Doc administered some antihistamines hoping it would help the swelling, which it did. The thing it didn't help was the pain and discomfort. I decided then and there that if I ever saw another nest of Vietnamese bees, it would be too soon. I also knew that I'd give it as wide a berth as possible. (If I had to get up close and personal, I planned to always have at least 3 smoke grenades handy, along with a Willy Pete just for added measure.)
About 30 - 45 minutes after we encountered the bees, when the antihistamines were beginning to work, and we'd recovered all of the dropped or thrown weapons and equipment, we rucked up and continued our hump. Approximately 5 minutes after we restarted a radio call came in for 1-6. It was Six asking where we were and what was our situation. 1-6 responded and was told to stand by; several minutes later he was told a resupply pilot had spotted a large group of armed individuals moving toward the river. They were on the opposite side of the river form where we were, and appeared to be moving toward an apparent river crossing a couple of klicks up river from our current position. The ground element was estimated to be larger than a company. Six wanted us to move with all due speed, exercising all due caution to the river crossing. (But make sure you get there first 1-6!) We were to set up an ambush on our side of the river; engage any enemy attempting to cross; and hold the position until the rest of the company could join us. Six figured they'd be joining us sometime in late afternoon as he'd already radioed 2-6 to begin to close with the CP and 3rd platoon at their location. He was estimating it would take a couple of hours for them to join up, and then they'd only be 3 or 4 klicks form us, as a bird flew. (I figured that was an optimistic estimate.)
Six was also trying to arrange for a resupply bird to meet with us before we got to the ambush site. Wed been out in the bush for a while, and food was running short. We also wanted to stock up on ammunition - just in case. And, we were hoping there might be some replacements on the bird. None of us was looking forward to holding that crossing site with just the few of us that were there.
There was some discussion among the platoon command group about what constituted all due speed, exercising all due caution. But, the long and short of it was we had to head up river and see what we would see. Once again we slipped into our rucks, formed up, and started moving up river looking for that river crossing.
A short while later we were stopped again as I took a call from our resupply bird. We were next up on his list of units to resupply and he wanted to know how we intended to take the supplies. He told us that in addition to the food, ammunition, and mail, he had several FNGs for us. So we were to look for a place where he could get as close to the ground, if not on it, so they could be off loaded. Six came on the air at that point and ordered the FNGs be delivered to his location. He'd allocate them to the platoon that needed them most after talking with them. While disappointing, that order made it easier for us to determine where we'd take the resupply. All we needed was a clearing large enough for the bird to hover in to drop the supplies. We had just walked up on such a clearing; it looked made to order. 1-6 and 1-5 were checking on how well the perimeter was setup; Doc was on the far side checking on some of the bee stings; while I was doing the ground-to-air thing with the pilot, coordinating that it was us, and taking any messages he might have. Sgt. Dutch Schultz, from New Jersey, was out in the middle of the clearing, getting ready to guide the bird in as close as he could. Everything and everybody was working together as we'd done a hundred of times before. The pilot called for smoke, I passed the word to Dutch, and he popped a smoke grenade. The pilot identified the right color and came in to hover over the clearing at about 15 feet. At that point I heard a pop and felt something hit my right leg. It was almost like I'd been kicked in the leg. I initially thought someone had chosen that moment to lighten their load by getting rid of a smoke grenade, and had tossed it at me and the couple of guys hovered around the radio. I spun around to smack whoever it was, and there was no one there. At about that moment I registered what I thought was a bee sting sensation in the leg where I'd been kicked. I glanced down to see a hole in my lower pant leg and also noticed the pant leg was quickly changing color - from dirty OD Green to a rusty brownish red. I knew that no one had tossed a smoke grenade my way as a joke, or as a way to lighten their load. I knew I'd been shot.
My next thought was Holy Shit, we're about to be in contact and there's a bird hovering 15 feet up over the platoon! This is not good! I've got to get rid of the bird! And, being the extraordinarily calm, quick thinker that I am, I threw the handset into a huge bush and rushed out into the clearing screaming to the pilot that we were in contact. I was also attempting to wave him off at the same time that I was screaming. I remember thinking they just don't get it as the co-pilot and one of the FNGs sitting in the doorway waved back at me. I knew they didn't get it when the co-pilot smiled down at the guy running and waving in such a friendly fashion. Dutch was looking somewhat quizzically at me, trying to figure out what I wanted, but he couldn't hear me any better than the people inside that hovering helicopter.
At that point I noticed 1-6 was running along side of me asking what I was doing. I, as calmly as possible, informed him that we were taking small arms fire, and I wanted to get the bird the hell out of our immediate AO. Lt. Vos asked how I knew we were taking fire and, again calmly, told him I'd been shot. He had this look of disbelief as we trotted along, side by side; and asked where? I told him in the leg. And, at that point it registered on me that ID BEEN SHOT IN THE LEG and fell down, on the spot. No more running anywhere for me until after I saw Doc and got at least one shot of morphine. About that time the hovering bird pulled pitch and put on a sudden burst of power, and was gone. I later learned that it took one of the guys I'd been with at the radio that long to root around in that bush to find the handset and notify the pilot we were taking ground fire. (To this day I don't know why I didn't just press the talk button and tell the pilot that myself. It just made more immediate sense to run out and try to flag the bird off. So much for John Wayne and cool under fire...)
Just about that point in time the perimeter found out we were taking/had taken small arms fire and did what grunts have done in similar situations since firearms were invented - they opened up. I remember hearing Ray Dail on the 60 - he used to tap out a tune with the pattern of his fire. You could always tell it was Ray on the gun, playing Nahhh
Na Na Na Nahhh , Na Na Na Na Nahhh and laughing while he was doing it. It took several minutes for 1-6 and 1-5 to get everyone settled back down and pulling security again.
While that was happening Doc set out to find me. He'd naturally headed off to where he'd last seen me, with the radio. No one but 1-6 and myself knew exactly where I'd dropped. But, he did eventually find me. (I need to point out that Doc (Jim Hall) was a very capable young medic, but he was also fairly new to the company. In fact, I was his first combat casualty. So, if any of the next part of the story seems a bit strange, write it off to inexperience on both our parts.) Doc did all of the appropriate medic things to me he felt were needed and justified. Not only did he bandage, splint, and hook up IV's, but he also spent a lot of time reassuring me that it was a simple straightforward wound from which I should fully recover and be back in the field in a matter of weeks. The only major point of contention I seem to recall involved a morphine shot, or the lack of one. Doc didn't believe I needed one, and he was concerned with getting me out of the field in a place where a Medevac could not land. I on the other hand decided that I'd never experienced anything like morphine, and this seemed like the perfect time to remedy that lack. Doc had the morphine, so his point of view won out. I don't remember being all that upset over it, but I know that Doc tells this part of the story a little differently. I also know that at one point in the discussion Doc reached over, picked up my M-16 and removed the bolt. He told me that in my current situation I didn't really need the weapon, and he felt a bit safer knowing that I couldn't do anything with it. In any event, I'd been doctored as well as it was going to happen in the field, and I was ready to get out of there. Time to call in a Medevac.
I had my PRC-25 brought out to where I was, and I was once again Bravo 1-6 India. I made the call to the company with the casualty report for myself. And, I made the request for a Medevac to come get me. There was some discussion with Six as to whether it was really necessary, and could I make it to the river crossing and hold out until the rest of the company joined with us? Doc Hall took over the handset at that point and told Six to stop messing around and get off the air so a Medevac could be ordered. The quicker I was extracted, the quicker 1st Platoon could get on with their job. (I've always been appreciative of Doc for having taken control of the situation as he did. Just another case of a medic looking out for the care and treatment of his people.)
By that time, 1-6 and 1-5 were back checking on my status. Doc told them a Medevac was ordered, but it might take a couple of minutes as the closest one to us was tied up at that moment. I remember we divvied up stuff from my rucksack that I reckoned I wouldn't be needing until, or if, I came back to the field. We also had a general discussion about whether or not I really needed a morphine shot. The consensus was - No. The whole thing, discussion and all was nothing more than an effort to keep me involved and out of shock - not that I ever thought I was going into shock, but what did I know - I was just the guy with the hole in him.
One of the things we talked about was the likelihood of the Medevac pilot being the same one that had evaced Lt. Penman several weeks before. I was running the ground radio for that evacuation, and had exchanged words with the pilot because he wouldn't drop a penetrator to get Penman until his gunship escort arrived. In fact he wouldn't even stay on station with us until the escort was with him. (It turned out there was a Division directive to the effect no medevac could use a penetrator to extract a casualty unless it had a pair of gunships on site as an escort. So the pilot was justified in what he was doing. It was just real hard being on the ground with a wounded guy, knowing he needed to get to a hospital immediately and hearing he had to wait for pick up until there were specific birds available. And, it would only be 25 - 35 minutes before they were. The medics working on Penman, including Doc Hall, didn't take it well when they were informed. I wound up passing that frustration back to the pilot. Several times, in several fashions.) Based on that experience, I was hoping it was either a different Medevac, or the pilot had forgotten the incident. As luck would have it, when the Medevac called he was on the way, it turned out to be the same bird and pilot that had picked up Penman.
It became apparent that I was going to need the penetrator to be extracted. So, we had to wait for some gunships to finish up the run they were on, and then get to where we were before I could be taken out. Once the guns were on station, the medevac lowered the penetrator. A Jungle Penetrator is a small metal seat, about 8 inches in diameter, attached to a thin cable. Its lowered by a winch to the ground. The person to be extracted straddles the seat and is whisked up to the bird. So there I am, hanging onto a cable with one hand, hanging onto my boltless weapon with the other hand, with the hurt leg splinted with branches of some tree. That was the way 1st Platoon saw me last, as I was taken off to the hospital. Contrary to all the talk on the ground about how minor the wound was, I was able through some good luck with surgeons and at least one general officer to finagle my way to Japan and finally the States.
My last view of 1st Platoon was from the door of the medevac as we were heading off toward the 17th Field Hospital on Camp Radcliff. That's how Easter Sunday in the field worked for me.