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The next day, I flew the exact same mission with a new door-gunner. My door-gunners I picked from infantry, who had a waiting list of guys wanting the job. The infantry I would give my life for. They were super, excellent people, and if it wasn't for them, the other two times I was shot down I wouldn't be able to talk about this here and now. So I respect them completely and wholly. We had another mission the next morning and flew over into a valley called Pleiku, which was under rocket attack at that time. I can remember seeing a lot of bodies on the ground and as we set down, there was an aircraft flying beside us in the tall elephant grass.
As it was setting down, it blew up, so we pulled out immediately. We didn't know what had happened, if it was a rocket, or a mortar, or just what. But we pulled up and landed in a field to one side. The troops there started running over and throwing the wounded on board while we were still under fire. We went in because we knew it was our duty to save them, and we just didn't think twice about it. There were so many of them that it was just overwhelming.
And I can remember the wounded they were hauling up to the aircraft, some of them minus legs and arms and some of them dying and screaming. I was holding them in my hands, and they were dying and begging me to help them. There was so little I could do, since I also had to man my machine guns and keep the enemy away from the aircraft.
When the pilot got shot in the wrist, I had to take over one of the controls. I remember that day was the day I stopped praying. If it's my time, it's my time—that thought gave me a different attitude about the war. You might say I came to enjoy it, to look forward to it. I became the gung-ho John Wayne type, just like everybody else over there. There was so much death, so much killing on an everyday basis that you just had to accept what was going to happen—it you get it, you get it. That made it a little bit easier to get through the war. I think the sky pilots must have had a terrible time in Vietnam trying to counsel people—sky pilot was the slang name that we gave to a chaplain in Vietnam.
They weren't able to hold church services, so they really couldn't do the duties that they were sent to Vietnam to do. I think a lot of them came up with the same kind of attitudes that we did. I basically rejected God at that point, so I was able to slide right though the war with no problem at all. Then it got to a point where we got things turned around, and we were actually looking forward to the killing.
Not for the joy of it, but because it was exhilarating to be able to get out there and start firing away and taking out aggressions against people. We were losing a lot of our own people, some of them my close friends, friends I trained with in the states. I became so numb to it I couldn't cry for them anymore. I just couldn't do it. I had one gentleman in my unit who we called Mother. During our training back in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, he was always the first one up in the morning who would bang on the garbage can lids and wake all of us up and make sure we got dressed.
He was just a super likable fellow. We were flying a mission up out of Dak To, which is up in a northern province in Vietnam, where we'd pick up Montagnard villagers. We'd pick up the chief and fly him around the area and he'd tell an infantry officer and us where the enemy would be walking through the area that day. We would fly him around for two or three hours, then land and shut down the aircraft. I remember one occasion I was walking around the village and meeting the villagers and, you know, smoking the peace pipe with them—the things you do with the villagers over there.
Drinking their liquor just about knocked you on the butt. I was kind of walking around the village just checking things out and trading C-rations for pipes made out of copper and roots and so forth, and spent the rest of the afternoon there and got back in the aircraft and left. The next morning I assigned another crew to go out and fly the same mission, but that night they didn't come back. We couldn't go back in the village that evening, so we waited until daylight, and I remember looking down and seeing that the aircraft was sitting on the ground burned to a crisp.
There were three bodies lying beside it on the ground, face down. We called the infantry, who set up a perimeter around the village and went in and checked out the huts. Then we were able to land. The doorgunner was in the burned helicopter. He evidently tried to run back to the aircraft when an enemy patrol surprised them in the village. He managed to get in behind the machine gun before they shot and killed him, then set fire to the aircraft. They evidently were going to take the two pilots and the crew chief, Mother, prisoner because their hands were tied behind their backs.
They were lying on the ground face down, each with a bullet hole in the back of the head. The guilt I felt at that point just about tore me up. I loved the doggoned guy like my own brother, yet I was the one who sent him on the mission. It also scared me because I was in there the day before. We put a stop to that type of mission fairly fast. But time continued to go on in Vietnam, and we would fly various other missions. We flew a lot of river patrols, where we'd fly low along the river after 6 pm—the curfew on the river in Vietnam.
Normally, any boats on the river after 6 pm were free fire because it was normally the enemy, hauling weapons down to South Vietnam. So we used to really try for those missions, so we could get out there and do a little bit of killing. At that point, we were looking forward to it. You know, to be able to shoot somebody was just, oh, the ultimate—the exhilarating part of the war.
I spent a lot of time after that in various camps, flying support for different groups. We did a lot of body runs. We took a lot of teams out, sometimes under fire. We took more risks than I can believe. The war was so accelerated, and in such a small piece of land that we were in combat action daily. There was never a day, seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, the entire year I was there that I can recall that we weren't in some kind of combat. It just became normal practice. It was just something you looked forward to, something we knew was going to happen.
We got so complacent that we went from wearing O. We quit the breast armor—became the gung-ho John Wayne types. I became close friends with a new door-gunner I got—Peewee, a little shrimp of a guy. He was excellent on the M's, and I became fairly close to him when we were flying a mission called Cyclops. We would fly level up and down these canyons firing door guns out to the side of the aircraft. A Vietnamese fixed-wing aircraft would fly behind with loudspeakers telling the enemy to give up, telling them they didn't have to be hunted down this way, didn't have to be shot at, and so forth.
Give up and come back to us, they said. I remember flying down this one long, deep canyon when I was flying copilot.
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One of the pilots was back on the guns. We happened to fly out into an opening, right into an enemy patrol of NVA. Unfortunately, we were still in the canyon, and by the time we were able to pull out they put enough fire into the aircraft to sink us. We had one first sergeant on board from one of the First Cav units who got his leg taken off right at the kneecap, and he fell over on the floor of the aircraft.
Since we didn't have seats on the aircraft, he had been sitting on his helmet so he wouldn't be shot in the butt. Peewee got shot in the chest and was killed instantly. The pilot who was flying in the crew chief slot took a round that went inside his helmet, around his helmet, then out the back-side into the firewall behind him, where it lodged against the transmission.
We went down too far from where the enemy patrol was, but to our luck there was also an eight-man LRRP team out there. So these lurps were out there, and they just happened to see us come down and were able to get to us almost by the time we hit the ground, though the enemy was right behind us. We were able to set the aircraft down in the lower part of the brush without much damage. They got up behind the aircraft and were about, oh, I'd say a hundred yards away from us, and starting to fire.
But the lurp patrol had enough fire weaponry to keep them pinned down, and we were able to call in Puff, which was a C that was fitted with machine guns and mini guns. It could fly over and literally cover every square foot of an area the size of a football field with firepower. Puff happened to be flying around our vicinity and was able to devastate the enemy right at that point. There was so much excitement I didn't have a chance to see what was going on outside the aircraft. I got out and was shaking so bad I couldn't stand up. I walked around to see what Peewee was doing, but Peewee was dead.
I came unglued, but I couldn't cry. The sad feelings were there, but I couldn't get the emotions out. After we took the aircraft out—it was swung out with a crane—we took it back to a little base not far from Pleiku. It was an area called Happy Valley, just like out of Anh Ke. We did the repairs on it that we needed and took a mission the very next day.
We were flying to a hospital in Nha Trang and areas up and down the coastline, hauling a lot of American bodies. Things that went on in Vietnam seem unbelievable, even to this day. I went through more uniforms messed up with the blood of my buddies and never once was wounded myself. I was in a door-gunner position one day when we were just flying over the jungles, and I was leaning over the aircraft looking out. My back got sore from leaning over, so I sat up and saw just kind of a flash before my eyes, and could feel little flakes of metal on my cheek.
I brushed then with my flight glove and saw it was metal, little flakes of metal, and I looked up and there was a bullet hole in the ceiling. If I hadn't sat up when I did the bullet would have gone right through my neck. We used to take a lot of chances over there, some unbelievable chances, but I could say they were all for a purpose.
Like, the infantry was great. I worshipped the ground they walked on. We were their lifeline and vice-versa. I thought nothing of going into a town like Nha Trang and stocking up on ten, twelve cases of Coke or pop and magazines then flying them back out into the field on a supply run the next morning. You know, you just didn't think about it. It was a pretty hellish war. It went on like that, you know, day after day after day, and I just became absolute crazy with the feelings that were going on over there. It was hard for us to understand what was going on up there.
Many a time we'd uncover underground hospitals that the enemy had built, and there would be cases and cases of blood plasma and medicine donated to North Vietnam by Berkeley College [sic] in the United States, donations right direct to the enemy. Berkeley College was protesting war in Vietnam at that time, and seeing stuff like that mixed in our emotions.
Yet we knew we were there, and we were there to stay and were serving a purpose. We had some fun times in Vietnam also. I can recall times when we went water skiing behind the aircraft and other crazy things, you know, like flying low-level across a compound, trying to pick up a tent peg with the skids of an aircraft. Things like that—anything to keep some sanity.
It was really a different kind of situation to be in, and coming fresh out of school and going right into an environment like that was the absolute ultimate. I reached a point where I couldn't wear enough weaponry. I had pistols strapped on; I had machineguns, and I had ammo strapped over my back. Believe it or not, I would actually use a majority of it up in a mission. I was fortunate enough never to have to go into hand-to-hand combat with the gooks on the ground.
We were fighting two different factions in Vietnam. They were bigger, and had better weapons, and were better prepared than the Viet Cong, who were your Southern enemy. They were your storekeepers and your shop clerks by day, and then at night they'd turn around and try to kill you. So basically, we were fighting two different factions of people over there, which were both pretty unruly fighters.
If we weren't fighting during the day, we were being mortared during the night, which was a devastating, scary sound—to be sound asleep and all of a sudden hear mortars exploding all around. You're wide-awake and numb at the same time, but you know what to do. Boy, you dive for the floor; you dive for the bunkers; you get out of there, you get out of there, you get out of there fast, you low-crawl in the sand.
Well, anyway, the Vietnam war went on like that, devastation day after day and so forth. Finally, I had about a month to go. I was one of the so-called short-timers and I still couldn't see the end at that point. I knew I was headed back, but I still couldn't see the end. Things went along fine until the last week came. Then I got scared. Boy, I was a short-timer, and it was my time to get out of Vietnam.
I wanted out bad; I wanted out desperately; I couldn't get out fast enough. It came time for me to leave the following morning; we took my aircraft. We were flying to a mission down south to Cam Ranh Bay where I was going to board the aircraft. Mind you, by now we'd lost over half our unit in Vietnam, so at this point we were made up of a lot of scattered aircraft and a lot of scattered people. It was kind of a nickname given to a stretch of beach that was used as a play area for the Koreans who were fighting for us. As we were flying along the beach, we happened to see a firefight going on.
Being the only aircraft in the area, we set her down and got what Koreans we could on board. We took a few rounds in the aircraft and at the same time we were being mortared and hit with every kind of firepower you can think of. It was pretty frightening and spooky just at that point. We managed to pull out of there and take a few rounds in the aircraft, plus some smoke damage. And there was blood. I remember one Korean's leg was completely shot off, and I was trying to hold the tourniquet on and fire the machinegun with the other hand.
The tourniquet would slip off and blood would squirt all over my fatigues, but at that point you just don't care about it. But anyway, we landed at a hospital just before we got to Cam Ranh Bay, and took the Koreans to their hospital, then flew on to Cam Ranh. I grabbed my bags and jumped off the aircraft and said goodbye to the crew, and the pilot and I ran to the terminal where we were to board the big silver bird back to the United States.
Well, we sat there in the terminal. I remember my face was covered with smoke, and my hands had blood on them. We didn't have time to change clothes, so we boarded the plane in our fatigues, still smelling of phosphorous and every other kind of combat smell you can think of. I still had bloodstains on my fatigues. Twenty-four hours later, I was home in the United States of America, and another twenty-four hours later, right fresh out of combat there were my folks, thrilled to see me back.
The war had stopped; the war had ended for me right at that point. I walked into the house at home, and mom broke down and threw her arms around me. Dad gave me a big hug. The war's over. I don't want to hear a word about it. Dad was the same way. I was to shut the war out at that point. I sat there eating dinner in fatigues that I came out of Vietnam with forty-eight hours ago with blood on them and the smell of phosphorous and smoke. It was a hard adjustment to make, but at that point I started pushing the war behind me. Nobody wanted to talk about it.
I still had thirteen months to serve when I got out of Vietnam, so I was sent back to Fort Stewart, Georgia, where I was an instructor for thirteen months, which was devastating, because nobody would listen to me. I was trying to train them the way it was done in Vietnam and prepare them for it, and they'd just laugh at me.
It was really a frustrating period in my life. I couldn't wait to get out of the service, and I wasn't about to be sent back to Vietnam again. The war at that time was supposed to be behind me. I was supposed to forget the war completely. I went on to college and finished, but the protesting was still going on, even as the war was starting to wind down in '70 and ' The protesting was pretty violent, and there were a lot of radicals.
Anyway, I finished college, and I got married. I was still on a super-fantastic adrenalin high, so high that it was like being on drugs. It was unbelievable, and I couldn't come down off it. I became a workaholic.
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I had two, three jobs that I would be doing at one time, and everything I did was a type A behavior pattern where I couldn't do it fast enough or long enough. This went on for quite a few years, and I worked for corporations that would transfer me a lot. About every four years they'd send me in a different territory where I would build up a whole new area. I was good at it and I was fast, because I had a tremendous amount of energy. I was a natural for it. As time went on over the years, I started missing the war.
My last transfer was up to the state of Montana, where I resided in Big Ark. That's been about eight years now, from the date I'm giving this account . I started a new business in Big Ark, and since I was super full of energy it became a big success. It was my own business; I was my own boss, and I worked the business and the territory myself, but it wasn't enough, so I started another business, and I started another one.
I had three businesses going and all were doing fantastic. But I was still missing something in my life. The war was trying to creep back in, and I was trying to push it back and bury it. So I finally wound up joining the National Guard. Well, I went into supply at the Kalispell unit and worked as a supply sergeant for a couple of years. I still wasn't getting what I wanted to get out of it, so I transferred over to aviation in Helena, Montana, and became a crew chief, and soon after that, a section leader.
I was doing the same exact duties that I did in Vietnam. I was flying. I was in charge over the section and the men; we were flying Hueys, and we were doing assault missions training. I was with the unit a couple of years over there, and realized that something was happening, but I couldn't understand what it was for sure. I can remember between Saturday and Sunday drills I would be laying there in my bunk after a night flight, thinking about the flights the next day and who I'd schedule on them. He's married and has got a family and they got to go across the mountains and stuff like that.
Well, this went on for about two years, and I noticed after each drill I was more and more uncomfortable. I would have stomach pains and stuff like that, which I attributed to typical military food and so forth. Well, one drill, here about two years ago, we were flying a night flight, and it was up in the Montana mountains between Missoula and Helena.
It was at night; it was freezing cold out, and it was cold and dark inside the aircraft. I was doing the map work with the map light, trying to lay out our plot and stuff like that, when all of a sudden I started sweating—I mean sweat was just pouring off me. I started shaking, just really violently shaking, and my stomach knotted up in a tremendous pain. I told the pilot to get me down on the ground right now, right here, that I was sick and didn't know what was happening. I didn't know if I had food poisoning or what.
So we landed, right up there in the middle of nowhere. I got out of the aircraft and walked around a while, and felt a little bit better and got back in and felt kind of rotten the next day, which was Sunday, and finished out the drill weekend and went home. I didn't think anymore about it. The following week I had to put in an extra drill, so I was starting back over to Helena, and I was in my vehicle driving into Helena and just passing Fort Harrison, and all of a sudden I started sweating again, and started shaking, just tremendously and violently shaking.
So I went right out to the VA hospital. You're petrified of something. I got a physical problem. So I went out to the field and told them what was happening and that I wasn't feeling too hot and that I wanted to go home. As I was driving back home, the pain in my stomach started knotting up.
At home I started getting very nervous and anxious. All of a sudden I couldn't eat, and I couldn't sleep, and I started having nightmares and flashbacks. I was having them before, ever since I came out of Vietnam. Some were violent—sometimes I would jump up on the bed and dive head first on the floor, thinking I was in mortar attack. Several times I've wound up with my arm in a sling from diving under furniture.
They were continuous, but they weren't real bad. Now all of a sudden I was having tremendous flashbacks. I mean they were severe. And it wasn't just happening at night; it was happening during the day, and on a daily basis, too. I went down to my family doctor and told him there was something physically wrong with me, that my stomach ached, that I couldn't sleep, that I couldn't eat, and that I was miserable. So he took me in the hospital, checked me in, and ran every conceivable test he could think of.
He told me he was sorry, but he couldn't find anything physically wrong with me, other than the symptoms. The nervousness and the not being able to eat, he could solve with drugs. He gave me a pill that gave me back my appetite, so we went the pill route, but meanwhile I was getting tremendously worse. I had a fear anxiety all of a sudden, and I couldn't be left alone. I couldn't work, and my businesses were going down the tubes. I couldn't leave the house; I was afraid to go anywhere, and I was afraid to have my wife leave to go to work. I would hang on to her and ask her to please not leave.
I really, seriously, thought I was going nuts. It was bad. My boys were afraid, and so forth. Finally, my medical doctor told me he could help me. He understood what I was going through, the posttraumatic delayed stress syndrome, but he wasn't an expert in that field, so he suggested that I contact the VA hospital. I did talk to the VA hospital, and they set me up with a doctor down in Missoula. When I talked to him, he told me the program we were going to go on, and how we were going to treat the problem, and so forth.
I had posttraumatic delayed stress syndrome, plain and simple. For some veterans, it shows up later down the road. I had gotten it early in the game because I forced the issue with my flying—I actually brought it back myself. It was best explained to me that when you first go into combat so young, it's a shock to the system. And the war is so severe and so violent, compared to what we are normally used to, that we are kind of numb and in shock and stay that way. Then we come out of the war.
It's forgotten; we come out of a wartime environment and twenty-four, forty-eight hours later we're home, back in the safe world and we've forgotten the war and we've buried it. But as we get older and mature, it starts to surface; we start to understand what really happened to us over there. It starts coming back to us; we start reliving the whole thing.
The emotions and feelings we buried are trying to get back out, and it's a very serious problem. The doctor down in Missoula flat told me that a lot of vets were committing suicide over this thing, and that doctors really don't know what to do to help them. A lot of doctors were going the drug route, using drugs to calm patients down and so forth. But that doctor didn't know that that was the sure way to do it. It was still a kind of pioneering field. So he had me go into the hospital at St. Pat's down there for a couple of weeks of evaluation and counseling.
It was unfortunate because it was over the holidays, the 4 th of July, and all the doctors went on vacation. I sat there for a week and watched TV. I felt great. I relaxed and calmed down. But when they took me out of the hospital, I was miserable again, absolutely miserable. I got back home, and I became even worse. I got to the point where I just couldn't eat, and I went way down in weight.
I was seriously, honestly looking towards death. I wasn't suicidal, but I could see myself dying because I was so far out of it. I just didn't know how to handle what was happening to me, or anything else. I could see my business going down the tubes, my life and my family. My wife, of course, was upset. She didn't know how to handle it, or what it was all about.
My kids were the same way. So I finally called the VA hospital over in Seattle and asked what they could do about it. They said they bring these cases in for sixty days, drug them, calm them down, and then let them out again. I told them that that wasn't good enough. So I got word of a hospital, a brand-spanking new one, up in Kalispell, called Glacier View. They were a California-based operation, and were primarily there for alcoholics, to cure alcoholism. I called the hospital up there and told them what my situation was. The doctor told me they were starting to take, on a short-term basis, patients who are having emotional problems.
He told me he wanted to talk to me, so I went up to Kalispell to see him. He was from California and had handled cases of my type down there. He said he'd take me in for the three weeks to see what they could do. So I checked into the hospital. Mind you, in the meantime, I was in pretty miserable shape; in fact, I thought dead was the way I was going to end up, just starving myself, or whatever. He checked me in, and the first thing he did was take away every pill I had. I had sedatives, pills to calm my stomach before I ate so I could eat, pills for the diarrhea that came with anxiety, and pills for appetite.
He threw every one of them away. I told him he was going to kill me—that I had to have those pills. He told me we were going to do it his way—that I was going to do it without pills. He got two of the therapists up there, two young ladies, who were excellent in their field. We started grief therapy.
For two hours a day, every day, they would take me into a room and set me down, and we would just start in. They had me relive the war completely, every detail, everything I could pull out of it. We would go until I would literally break down and just bawl. I called it emotional vomiting. My emotions were starting to come back. The pain in my stomach started to relieve, and I could get to where I could start eating again.
As the first couple of weeks went along, I started feeling good. The third week I started looking forward to the sessions. They had me low crawling in the hallways and everything. The nightmares started to disappear and the flashbacks were slowly starting to go away. I was really starting to feel good. By the third week we figured we were pretty much through this part of it, and the rest of it could be done on an outpatient basis with a local psychiatrist. So I checked out of the hospital. First thing I knew, I was miserable.
I had an anxiety that was overwhelming. I had a hundred and some-odd emotions that all of a sudden surfaced. I didn't know what to do with them, how to place them or how to deal with them. So they checked me back in for another week and used the whole time on anxiety control. It was fantastic, the techniques I learned. I started checking out books on stress and stress control, and diet, and anxiety, and it got to where I was really proficient with it.
When I got out of the hospital again, I immediately went back to my job, going around to see my customers. I never at any time tried to hide the fact that I was going through this posttraumatic delayed stress syndrome. In fact, my customers, a lot of them, came up to the hospital to see me. They'd heard about the problem, but never seen anybody who had experienced it.
A lot of them said they had been in Vietnam, too. So really I had a tremendous amount of support from my customers. All this time I was in the hospital and out of work. My main corporation in Boise kept paychecks coming, so I was never without a paycheck. So that was kind of a load off my mind, too. I was really starting to gain a lot of headway with the anxiety control and got back to work and back to my customers and was able to talk to them.
I was progressively getting better, and as time goes on I'm getting a lot better. The traumatic stress syndrome is very, very deadly. It can really destroy families. My wife and my children took the counseling with me. They understood what was going on. My wife explained to me what hell it had been to live with me for the seventeen years.
I never realized she had felt that way; I thought that I was perfect, that there wasn't a thing wrong with me. Now we've become much closer. I've been able to get my feelings out and express them to her. I went to the pastor of my church, who was a new pastor and had just taken over.
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When all this was happening with me, I was all torn up and couldn't find any inner peace. I was still overwhelmed and figured the only inner peace I could get would have to come from within God and myself. So I went to my pastor, and asked him how to pray and to receive God again. He didn't know what to tell me. He had no idea, not because he lacked knowledge, but because he didn't understand what I was going through.
So I kind of threw him. Well, I in turn picked up the Bible and started reading Psalms, and I'd read them over and over again, about the pain and the suffering. And I read Job. I was able to identify with Job one hundred percent. That worked out perfectly, because Job was basically acting the same way I was. I started finding inner peace. I now am more involved in my church, working with vets. Having gone through this, and gone through it so violently, I can work with them and understand what they're going through.
Hopefully, I can be a great help to them. It's probably going to be another year or two before I'm completely out of the woods on this, but at least I'm learning to live with it and understand it. I'm hoping the public will become more aware of it. We figure that five percent of the United States' population of Vietnam vets resides here in the state of Montana. The figures for by the vet organizations figure that 60, vets will probably commit suicide this year. So it is a very serious problem and needs to be confronted head-on.
So I'm praying and I'm hoping that more and more vets will come forth and seek the help that they need, and that with everybody's help and understanding we can come to help these people out. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, continuing a tradition of military service among the males in his family; his father served in the U. Army, and Flyinghorse received great support from his entire family concerning his decision to enlist. Armed Services' current activities. By John Luke Flyinghorse, Sr. There was nothing to talk or think about. It was a given that all males in our family would join the armed services when their time came…so my dad, uncles and my grandfather's started preparing us for war when we were very young…all of us.
A lot of our activities started taking place late at night, especially when it was storming out and the moon was hidden. This included riding horses in electrical storms, when their ears would spark blue, and you could see the blue light dance between their ears. We were also taught to ride horses across swollen rivers, when the ice breaks up and the river is flowing bank to bank when the big icebergs flow past you real fast…we were taught not to show fear or panic because that would spook the horse and we would both drown. As I think back, I am thankful that we had these kinds of teachers…because holding our emotions in check is a leadership trait….
My friends were also my cousins. We had already buried some of my uncles in the family cemetery, and we honored them yearly because they were veterans, so it wasn't like we would just go and die and that would be the end. We knew if something did happen, we would be taken care of…forever.
Of course, most of these myths are just that…but we prepared anyway. We did go hunting cottontails in the dark…and we were taken high up into the hills while someone was down below making sounds and noises, and we would identify them; our stealth was constantly being tested. In my hometown of McIntosh, SD, all the Indians went to war; not very many of the white boys went, only the very poorest of the poor; but we all stood together as one in honoring all those leaving and returning. One of my cousins had just returned from Vietnam, and he told us younger boys about it. In the telling he didn't show any emotion or elaborate, he just told what he did and what he saw, so when my cousin George and I were old enough, we quit school and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, for four years each.
Since our returning cousin was a Marine, we already knew what would happen to us; it was the brutality of boot camp that was challenging. When our cousin was telling us of his boot camp experience, we all thought he was making up these wild stories, but he wasn't. My dad's and my grandfather's generations were all US Army; my generation was all U. My father took this especially hard because he always wanted us to join the st [U. Army Airborne Division] like he did. One of my grandfathers told me that since he knew I was going into combat, he knew I would be safe with the Marines; he just told us to do what we were told and taught, and we would be home safe before we knew it.
As for the community, a few days before we were to leave, we were invited to the city bar where even the sheriff bought us beer, even though we weren't old enough to drink legally. This surprised us, but I think my uncles and other relatives had a lot to do with this. Daily, the drill instructors separated all of us by race, so we weren't the only ones segregated…I think this instilled in us the fact that even though we all came from different backgrounds, we were all there for a common cause.
Of course, at first we didn't see this, but as time went on we could see how this was working for the benefit of the Corps; we learned to depend on one another without thinking about it. Through hard work I became a squad leader, and upon graduation I was promoted to PFC, a privilege provided to only eight out of a platoon of men. Upon learning that I was going to Vietnam, there was a big sigh of relief—a final knowing.
This only left the question of when.
Read PDF Deer Neck (Vietnam veterans stories, veterans stories, vietnam vets stories)
Vietnam is possibly the most beautiful country in the world…and I was here and I couldn't believe it…like a huge manicured garden. Before I had left for Vietnam, one of my relatives sent me a letter they tore out of the local newspaper. It was a letter written by Kenny Jamerson, who was critically wounded in Vietnam, and he died because of his wounds. But before he died, he had a nurse write this letter home to his parents; they had it printed. I cried when I read that letter, because he wrote of the beauty and the people living here, and that he wasn't afraid to die, nor did he blame them for taking his life.
I was sent out on more ambush and listening posts than most of the others, and I was eventually made the Company Commander's radio operator. I served in a grunt unit. My only concern was for the safety of my men. When not on patrol or cleaning gear, I was playing guitar and singing songs; it was our way of coping. My experience in Vietnam guaranteed [others] the right to spit in my face and throw bags of human excrement at me later on the 14 th street bridge in Washington DC..
Now I wear my colors with pride; it's my way of letting everyone know that I did serve and I am still proud to have served. I would do it again. American Indians always looked each other up…no matter what tribe we were from. That was the only mystique…why? I have no idea, but we had a bond. Its like this: I wouldn't rather put my life in anyone's else's hands than another American Indian, let alone someone else's life; so who better?
No matter where we came from, we always walked point, or carried the radio, or were the Company Commander's operator…always. I feel both honored and humbled at having that opportunity to go to Vietnam; so many vets have said that they wished they could have gone. You won't know why unless you've been there, and I know you have, so you know what I mean.
I speak out against sending more American Indians to the Armed Services to go to any war the US is now engaged in, because the reasons have all been changed now. America has lost sight of what made her strong and united. Christmas in Vietnam: I was out in the bush when Christmas rolled around, and I had gotten a package from my grandmother. Usually it was just a taste of home, but it meant the world to us, especially to those who didn't get any mail or gifts from their families. I do remember the peas and mashed potatoes washed out of my mess kit because of the falling rain…. My first encounter with death: one night I had the third shift on radio watch.
I would physically go from post to post along the perimeter, checking on our radio operators and others, making sure they were all right and their gear was working. I preferred this rather than the meaningless radio calls that others usually did to do their checking on their watch.
But we called the LP's and other patrols we sent out at night. When one of my LP's didn't answer, I waited until daylight; then four of us went out to check on the LP, which was only out about meters from the perimeter, between us and the village. When we reached their position, we found four stripped bodies; they had cut everyone's throat and taken everything they carried.
There was no sign of a struggle, and one guy even had a smile. I knew they had been smoking dope, and they had probably all been asleep as well, and I was angry. I also knew that only two or three people had done this, but three would be enough people to carry away all their gear. We called for a medivac and our Lt.
But when I was on patrol, I carried the We were severely undermanned, and our Captain was really a 2 nd Lt. Unlike all the movies, I was the only one who could call in artillery support or air support, besides the Captain, and I helped him write letters back to families of those we lost in combat. We went to Laos and Cambodia and walked around a lot in the I Corps area; dates, times and places have no meaning to me, unlike my brothers and my two cousins who were also there at that time, and could keep track of all the places they had been and all the places they had seen action.
I don't have that recall…and I don't know why, nor do I care. Some things I do recall vividly…but they are perhaps best forgotten as well. Like the time we were on water patrol, we had all the men's canteens and we were searching for water. I was the second man back from point with my radio; I kept the point man in view, and when we had entered a slight clearing in the heavy jungle, this man in black pajamas jumped up from the trail we were on and started running away, tugging at his pajama bottoms.
He didn't carry any arms with him as he made his escape. The point man stitched him up the back, and I saw this man go tumbling, then I heard him open up again; this time it was a woman who was lying in the trail with her pajama bottoms still down. It was apparent they had been having sex and we had surprised them, but we had our orders. Anyone wearing black pajamas or anyone who ran from us, carrying arms or not, we had orders to engage. There was an artillery battery up there already with a support grunt unit; I had just come back from setting up a relay station and had settled in for the night, when a frightening thought occurred to me.
I called my Captain and we discussed this, and he in turn called the CO on LZ Rider, down below us, about three clicks away 3, meters , and he assured me that everything would be fine, so I left a wakeup call to wake me just before midnight; then I went to sleep. At exactly midnight, down below on LZ Rider, everyone who carried a weapon opened up, firing into the night sky. Pop-up flares and fireworks were set off celebrating the New Year, but within seconds of everyone expending their rounds, we could see the green and red tracers being traded down below, and huge explosions erupting with sporadic white tracers feebly coming back in defeated response from the defenders.
The next morning we came into the base camp…. It was a slaughter. Knowing the American psyche better then our own leaders did, they knew what we would do before it was done. While the men on LZ Rider were celebrating, the sappers under the hooches started blowing up the CP, the ammo dump and the fuel dump.
And when our men came out of their hooches, they were shot as they came out. They killed 78 Marines that night; many more died from their wounds later on, and it took a huge effort to stabilize LZ Rider. The final body count was over American lives we lost that night. July 4 th , , somewhere in I Corps, atop another mountain: While Golf Company was at LZ Baldy for a three day rehab, I had been dispatched to give support to an artillery battery on top of some nameless mountain with only a number to identify where we were. One morning at dawn, we had sent out a platoon-size patrol into the village down below, because we had seen a lot of activity there during the night.
A Republic of Korea Marine patrol and an Australian Marine patrol was also in the same area, so they set up defensive positions on three sides of the village, forming a triangle with the village at its center, and we waited for night. We did not have direct communications with either of our comrade units; we had to call Battalion to relay any communications to them, which complicated everything.
At midnight on July 4 th , again the American Marines opened fire with their weapons and other pyrotechnics into the night sky; this gave away their position and they immediately drew gunfire from the village. When the people in the village opened fire on our Marines, the Australians and the ROK's [Republic of Korea troops] also opened fire on the village; then all gunfire stopped abruptly.
What happened next was textbook war strategy, and we watched as we were manipulated into firing on each other. Our Marine units used white tracer rounds to identify ourselves, and it was known that the enemy used red or green tracers and sometimes captured white tracer rounds, which they used to their advantage. When everything seemed to settle down we thought it was over, but it had only just begun. During this lull, some men from the village had gone out and positioned themselves between our three groups of Marines, and at a given signal they opened fire on all three Marine patrols at the same time.
This caused an immediate response from all three Marines units, and they each opened fire in two directions—in effect, our Marines were firing on each other. This continued for most of the night. The next morning we medivaced about twenty men from the Marine units engaged that night, and we found no blood or blood trails, or tracks of the enemy. There were many patrols and engagements of fire that I participated in, and one thing is certain. Personally…I respect these people, very much. I did not feel this anger or hatred until the day my uncle was killed in a gunfight months later, in a place where even air strikes and artillery couldn't help us.
A place where we fought on their terms, and we lost. But this anger and hatred left me almost as quickly as I felt it in my soul, and this feeling scared me, so I had to cry out. From the time of my Vietnam experience, I've had many nightmares I've had to live through. Most of them were of my men being under attack; sometimes I was with them, and other times I couldn't help them. But in each, we were desperately out of ammunition, and the enemy kept on coming. I've lost track of time, and in some cases I cannot recall what happened during these lapses in time—two months once, three days another time, hours and moments in other times; sometimes I would meet and visit with someone, and not remember it.
I feel guilty that I did survive and my uncle didn't; my tribute to him is trying to make a life for myself and my family that he would be proud of. I've learned as much about my disability as possible, and I know the triggers that send me into these time lapses and guilt trips, and I try to avoid them as much as possible. I don't hunt, or fish, and I hate the 4 th of July.
Thank you for having me write this down. I voluntarily do this from time to time to keep my perspective and my sanity; then, I tear it up. Gregory G. Gardner, of Choctaw descent paternally, enlisted in the United States Army in , at the age of seventeen. His father, Billy G. Gardner, is a retired U. Army Sergeant-Major and served a tour of duty in Vietnam between and He was assigned to the 23 rd Infantry Division as a rifleman in , and became a squad leader during his tour of duty.
Gardner expresses his wish to reconnect with his paternal American Indian heritage, and was, at the age of forty, just beginning to explore certain aspects of his experiences in Vietnam and how they have affected his life. I have been somewhat hesitant in responding to the notice in the Bishnick Paper from several months ago regarding Choctaws, with stories, who had served in Vietnam. I am still not certain that I could enhance any of your research or aid your project in any way. However, I did wish to convey some thoughts or feelings of mine and hope that they may be of some value to you.
I am of Choctaw descent on my father's side of the family. My father is a retired Army Sergeant-Major. So, much of my youth was spent traveling and relocating through this wonderful country of ours. My father, Billy G. Gardner, was sent to Vietnam in , as I recall. That was possibly the worst year of my life, even harder on me than the year that I spent in Vietnam. It seemed a constant worry for me, my father being where he was, and it seemed I had a burning desire to be there in his place. For me to go to Vietnam, I feel, was part of my destiny. My thoughts have changed some on the Vietnam era since I have grown older.
As I recall, I went to Vietnam in , at the age of nineteen. I remember when I came home I still could not buy alcohol in Texas. That used to be a major concern then, being able to buy alcohol. I was young and looked on Vietnam from the viewpoint of America fighting Communist aggression. In a way I still have that minority opinion. I think I keep that feeling because I do not want to believe all those lives were destroyed for greed and power.
I felt it was a fight to free people and let them rule their country, just as America was able to be free. If I can hold on to that belief, I think I can live with the memories and the tragedies and joys of Vietnam. My thoughts now are that it was a war that was not meant to be won. We continue to leave too many stones unturned. This was perhaps therapy for myself. They lingered in it longer than they had in the other hootches, but since Eriksson was standing outside the hut he is unable to describe what went on inside.
It was six in morning and dark. The mother wept and pleaded, and her daughters, clinging to one another, cowered against the wall. Loc was spared, but Mao was seized by the two soldiers, who bound her hands behind her back with a length of coconut rope. When Meserve and Clark rejoined their comrades, Eriksson told me, they had the bound Mao well in tow. Clark was holding her elbow, and he pushed her forward when Meserve ordered the patrol to get moving. The two sisters looked at each other.
Departing from the hamlet with their prize, the soldiers moved west toward the main trail they should have been on. They had gone scarcely twenty metres when a cry of distress halted them. The mother, Eriksson told me, was waving a scarf and laboriously propelling herself forward. It was an awkward moment, Eriksson said, and Clark terminated it. It was still dark in the area, and no civilians attempted to stop us. The five men and Mao kept up a steady pace.
Meserve saw to that, for a brilliant sun had come up, its glare exposing the bizarre party as clearly as it did the landscape. Below was a valley with a winding stream, and along its banks were paddy fields with neat little dikes around them. The country we were moving through was mostly all shades of green, but we also passed arid stretches and, here and there, places that had been browned by napalm.
The land was very changeable. Mao was ungagged but was given no food; noticing that she was flushed and coughing slightly, Meserve handed her an aspirin. Only one piece of military action occurred that morning, and it could have been dispensed with. Gazing into the valley below, Rafe thought he spied a Vietnamese in a native type of straw hat standing in the stream. Deciding that he was looking at a V. His target turned out to be the rump of a wallowing water buffalo, the animal raising itself from the shallow stream in clumsy panic and lumbering out of view.
Meserve said nothing to Rafe; nor did he say anything to any of the others when, as the mission unfolded, they committed similar derelictions. At ten-thirty, a short distance below the summit of Hill , Meserve found what he was looking for—a command post for the day. It was an abandoned hootch, eight feet square and eight feet high, with a window on the east side, a door on the west, and two slits facing north and south; there was a stream a few metres away, giving the patrol a ready source of water.
The hootch contained a table, a low bench built against a wall, and tattered remnants of a straw mat strewn in a dark corner, and the dirt floor was littered with scrap metal, rocks, and cans. The structure was in a state of extreme disrepair, and had a number of large holes in its mud walls. However, it was essentially intact, and Meserve quickly converted it into a weapons depot, dumping ammunition stocks, and also food supplies, on its dirt floor.
In addition, the hootch served as a place to hide Mao. Ordering Eriksson and Rafe to clean up the hootch, and leaving Mao in their charge, the Sergeant went off with Clark and Manuel to have a careful look around. Meserve and the others returned an hour later, toward noon, and had a hearty snack, eating it outdoors, near the entrance to the hut. Sprawled on the ground after the meal, Meserve, refreshed, glanced at his fellows and then, with a knowing smile, indicated the partly ruined structure.
Clark appeared to be beside himself with anticipation, Eriksson told me, and Manuel and Rafe appeared less so. He himself, he imagines, must have looked glum. Eriksson shook his head. Incensed, the Sergeant uttered the first of a series of threats. Eriksson shook his head again. Manuel gave similar testimony. These guys right here are going to start laughing you out. It is going to be yourself. There is going to be four people on that patrol and an individual. Just before it did, Eriksson moved away from the entrance to the hootch, where he had been standing, and sat down alone on the grassy turf to one side of the structure; periodically, he raised his field glasses to gaze at distant points.
The whole thing made me sick to my stomach. I figured somebody would have to be out there for security, because there were V. The Sergeant was the first man to enter the hootch, and soon, Eriksson told me, a high, piercing moan of pain and despair came from the girl. After several minutes, the moan turned to a steady sobbing, and this did not cease until, after a half hour, Meserve reappeared in the open.
He was shirtless; his face wore an expression of swaggering irresistibility. Pointing to the hootch, he signalled to Rafe to be his successor, and Rafe, sparing himself ridicule, walked in. In court, Rafe said that he found Mao naked, lying on the table, her hands bound behind her back. But Rafe stayed, and again the moan and the sobbing, slightly diminished, rose from the hootch.
His manner became momentarily subdued when Meserve waved him in as the third man, but Clark was his jaunty self again when he returned. He displayed a hunting knife. It was ten inches long, and its handle was wrapped with tape that bore a pattern of tiny diamonds. The men were familiar with the knife; it had recently been given to Clark by a close friend in the platoon who had been wounded. Eriksson was now with them, and he saw that Mao had retreated to a corner of the hut, frightened, watchful, her eyes glistening with tears, her presence made known chiefly by a cough that had grown more pronounced since morning.
The girl was dressed and her hands had been freed. The men ate, again without feeding her, and reminisced about their communal feat, comparing Mao with other girls they had known, and talking about how long it had been since they had had a woman. After fifteen or twenty minutes, Meserve, as though he were finally bored with the topic, abruptly reminded the unit of its mission; he wanted the men to do some more reconnoitring that afternoon. This time, he said, it would be Clark who would stay behind to guard Mao and the weapons in the hootch. The day continued eventful.
Exploring the mountain further, often making their way through shoulder-high vegetation, Eriksson, Meserve, Manuel, and Rafe pushed on toward the summit. Though the men had to struggle for footing, Eriksson related, they made a point of keeping an eye on the stream that ran near the hootch; it had its source high up on the mountain, flowing down past a number of rice fields.
Three Vietnamese were spotted walking along the edge of the water, and though they wore no uniforms, Meserve assumed they were V. Deciding to close in on the three Vietnamese, Meserve dispatched Eriksson and Rafe to the hootch to pick up a supply of smoke grenades. Arriving on the run, the two explained their errand to Clark, who heard the news eagerly, then pulled rank on Eriksson and ordered him to take his place in guarding the hootch. As Clark and Rafe left, Eriksson told me, he realized that he was about to exchange one kind of excitement for another—the encounter with the three Vietnamese, that is, for the quieter, more complicated ordeal of being alone with Mao.
He was uncertain how he would act with her, he said, even though, oddly, he felt he knew her well; her cries, he said, had thrown him into a turmoil he had never before experienced. Eriksson now lapsed into the longest of his silences with me, and when he spoke again, it was, for him, at great length. She looked weary and ill, and she seemed to be getting more so by the minute.
I had a feeling she had been injured in some way—not that I could tell. She had her black pajamas on. I gave her crackers and beef stew and water. She ate, standing, and it was whimper, then eat, whimper, then eat. She kept looking at me, as though she was trying to guess what my game could be. I mean, if I let you go, do you think you can make it home? I stepped outside the hootch to be by myself awhile, and out there I could hear the muffled noise of artillery off in the distance. I had no idea where my unit was. I thought again of letting her go, but what would I tell Meserve when he got back?
That this weak, coughing girl had overpowered me? Besides, she was in no condition to reach home or anywhere else. Then I thought of taking off together with her. I knew the rendezvous spot, and if Mao and I could show up there at the right time, there was no question in my mind but that the fellows in the resupply squad would help us both. I knew I had cut myself off from the rest of my patrol, refusing to go into that hootch, and I had this idea that the fellows were watching the place from the brush, waiting for me to make just one false move with Mao.
The guys would back him up, of course. She had stopped whimpering, and there was even a little look of trust in her eyes. The men found her feverish and coughing, and Clark was all for rescheduling her death hour to that evening. Meserve, however, counselled patience. The patrol and Mao shared the hootch that night, the girl spending it in a corner by herself. The soldiers set up a night watch, each man pulling guard duty outside in the moonlight, alert for any lurking enemy.
Mao coughed throughout the night, and at one point, Eriksson recalls, Clark again urged that the girl be finished off forthwith. I thought he wanted to destroy living evidence. The first of them, he told me, was that Mao woke up less alluring than when she had gone to bed. Meserve, he noticed, paid scarcely any attention to her.
The Sergeant seemed more attracted by the possibility of military action, to judge by the speed with which he had his charges break camp. It excited me. Clark could knife the girl from the front, the Sergeant said, while he bayoneted her from behind; the body would then be tossed over a cliff from the summit of Hill , where the patrol had reconnoitred the previous day. Accordingly, at nine the group struck out for the cliff.
This morning, Manuel carried his own. Serving as radioman, he was in the vanguard with Meserve and Clark; Mao walked ten metres behind, wearily ascending the rugged terrain, with Rafe as her forward guard and Eriksson bringing up the rear. It took an hour to negotiate the climb, and the group had barely attained the ridge when Rafe, his eyes sweeping the vista below, saw five Vietnamese in peasant dress making their way along a mountain trail toward the paddy fields near the stream.
The Vietnamese proved to be V. Meserve at once radioed the platoon command, reaching Lieutenant Reilly, to whom he suggested that the V. In addition, Meserve learned that he was again to be the recipient of artillery support; in a short while, Reilly said, helicopter gunships—aircraft equipped with rocket artillery and machine guns—would be in the area. Glancing at the girl with distaste, the Sergeant ordered Eriksson and Rafe to stay with her on the ridge, whereupon he, Clark, and Manuel began a cautious descent of the mountain, their purpose to stalk the Vietcong.
Thirty metres down, they came to a curiously shaped rock formation composed of two jutting ledges. Using the upper one as a vantage point, they spied the small band of V. But the Sergeant did nothing about the escaping V. Acting fast, he sent Manuel backtracking to the summit to tell Eriksson and Rafe to report to him with Mao.
In ten minutes, they were all together again; by then, too, the helicopters had grown larger and their engines were faintly audible. Rafe was the man closest to Clark and Mao—only a few metres away—and because he was, his testimony concerning the events that now took place carried special weight with the court. I saw that Clark had his hunting knife hidden in one of his hands. Meserve asked him if he had finished the girl. We were all told to look for the girl.
It was rustling. Clark, who was several metres in front of Rafe, yelled back to him that it was the girl. Moving in on the bush, Clark blazed away with his M, and at once the rustling foliage grew still. Immediately after the murder, Eriksson told me, the men appeared to assume a self-protective air of disbelief at what had taken place. Straggling uphill, he said, they gravitated toward their leader, who stood, unflustered, near the jutting rock formation, surveying the combat situation. It had built up sharply. The gunships were now unmistakably in the area, their motors sending up a storm of noise as the machines hovered low and their crews searched out the enemy.
Now the V. Small artillery spotter planes had arrived, heralding the imminent use of ground-artillery support. He called me back in a few minutes, or a couple of minutes, and informed me that he could not catch the girl, that he had had to shoot her. I called him back and commended him on the job that he did and reported it, in turn, to the company headquarters.
Meserve fought well that day. With Mao out of the way, he was able to concentrate on the action at hand, managing his patrol, working in concert with the other squads, and helping to guide the diving gunships, whose presence he now welcomed. Among them, Eriksson said, these sizable elements, advancing toward the cave complex, succeeded in killing one V. Two escaped, and the fifth man made it to the caves, where he holed up for a last-ditch stand. Moreover, Eriksson told me, the enemy soldier inflicted casualties on the infantrymen deployed around the cave complex, which was some two hundred metres long and had numerous mouths.
At the time the fifth V. Meserve, Clark, and Manuel, together with members of the other squads, were shooting away at the solitary V. As for himself, Eriksson told me, Meserve had ordered him to a ledge from which he could overlook the complex as he trained his grenade launcher on two cave mouths in particular, either one of which, the Sergeant thought, could afford the entombed V. For Rafe, the fighting had ended an hour earlier—well before the patrol reached the cave complex. As the men had raced to get there, clambering and sliding, Rafe had slipped and fallen from a ledge, dislocating an elbow and a shoulder.
Evacuated by a medical helicopter, he was flown to a hospital at Qui Nhon. There, corpsmen deposited him on a bed alongside that of a battalion officer he knew and liked. I wanted to find out first what Meserve and Clark might do. The holed-up V. For this action, Meserve was nominated for a Bronze Star. All the others in the patrol had raped or killed her.
It was the least I could do—I had failed her in so many ways. The only thing that could stop me was if I became a friendly casualty. Looking back, Eriksson thinks that the small band of V. The outmanned, outgunned enemy put up so strong a fight, he said, that the Sergeant, Clark, and Manuel ran out of ammunition, and the patrol had to interrupt its five-day mission long enough to go back for fresh supplies of bullets and grenades. Arriving at the platoon area, Eriksson told me, he felt as though he had reached the promised land; the anxiety in which he had lived the past two days yielded to what he described as an almost tangible sense of safety.
Since the patrol would be going out again, Eriksson said, he knew he had to act fast, but that seemed no big deal. In the first place, he wanted to act fast, and, besides, he had no doubt that once he did act, there would be fast results. Once he was inside the camp perimeter, he assumed, it would be a simple matter to bring Meserve and the others to judgment. All he need do, he believed, was report that they had committed rape and murder, and the military authorities would investigate with the same alacrity that civilian authorities are expected to show in such situations.
During his first hour back in camp, he recalls, no one could have persuaded him otherwise. In any event, Eriksson went on, he lost little time in seeking out his friend Curly Rowan to tell him the story of Mao. He had barely begun it, however, when Clark, seeing the two in conversation, descended on them, demanding to know what they were talking about. All of us in the patrol had long ago stopped pretending nothing horrible had happened.
All of us had come back scared and upset, but Clark, I thought, showed it the most. He had no illusion, though, that Rowan himself could do much about what he had just learned, but at that, Eriksson said, his friend did what he could, immediately relaying news of the murder to the sergeant of his own squad. In turn, the sergeant passed the news on to Lieutenant Reilly, who sent for Eriksson. Arriving at the austere hootch that Reilly used as a command post, Eriksson told me, he imagined that the Lieutenant, if only conversationally, would express dismay over the murder.
No such dismay was expressed. Calmly and easily, he told Eriksson about an experience that he had undergone three years earlier, when he drove his wife, also a Negro, to an Alabama hospital to have their first child. She was in an advanced state of labor, the Lieutenant related, but she had been refused admittance to the hospital, on racial grounds, and she had eventually had her baby on the floor of its reception room. Wild with rage, Reilly had tried to wreck the place, whereupon hospital orderlies summoned the police, and the new father was arrested and jailed.
In his cell, Reilly went on, he had made plans to shoot various officials at the hospital, but when he was finally released he gave up the idea of vengeance. Better relax about that Vietnamese girl, Eriksson. The kind of thing that happened to her—what else can you expect in a combat zone? The atrocity that Eriksson had reported was too big for that. Reilly was aware that if it came to public knowledge it would tarnish the image of the officers commanding the platoon, the company, the battalion, perhaps even the regiment; the officers might be made to appear incapable of controlling the conduct of the men in their commands.
As it happened, the Captain heard about it from a second source as well—from Eriksson himself. Vorst was in the group, and Eriksson, detaching himself from his unit, went up to the Captain and told him about Mao. A moment later, the two groups went off in different directions. We all looked at the paper, and he asked us what this was all about. At first, we all denied any knowledge about it. Then the C. Then he proceeded to tell us that if anything happened to Eriksson, our souls would belong to him.
Rafe, hospitalized at Qui Nhon, was already accounted for; Clark was to take a relatively rear-area post, at battalion headquarters; Meserve was to be shifted to another platoon. Only Manuel would remain anywhere near Eriksson; he was being reassigned to a different squad in the same platoon. Eriksson saw Vorst shortly after the three soldiers left the company command post.
At the time, Eriksson told me, he had no idea that the Captain had chewed them out. Initially, however, Eriksson discerned no signs of inner conflict in Vorst. As far as he could make out, the company C. Eriksson also stated that the entire taking of the girl, the rape, and killing of the girl were pre-planned.
At one point, Eriksson recalled, the Captain warned him that if the incident did result in courts-martial, he might face rough going on the witness stand. When Eriksson replied that he was prepared to take his chances on that, Vorst asked whether Eriksson might not care to transfer out of the company—or, for that matter, out of the infantry altogether.
Vorst filled out transfer forms, and Eriksson signed them. When Eriksson heard nothing from Vorst for four days, he sought an interview, which was granted.
It was the final talk between the two men. They were alone this time, Eriksson told me, and when Eriksson inquired what progress there had been in the murder case, the Captain seemed not to hear but posed a series of questions.
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He was merely asking, Vorst said, but had Eriksson really thought through what he was doing in pushing his charges? Had he taken into account the amount of suffering that Americans had already undergone in behalf of the Vietnamese? Had he stopped to think of the consequences to himself of accusing four fellow-G.
Besides, what if the four were court-martialled and found guilty? Did Eriksson know that military judges and jurors were notoriously lenient in their sentencing? Here, the C. Thus, Vorst concluded, coming to the last of his questions, if the men in the patrol were actually convicted, Eriksson could anticipate their being freed in short order, and when that happened Eriksson himself might not feel so free—for was it really inconceivable that one or more of the ex-convicts would seek revenge? These were always demanding and hazardous, yet they could not distract him from the intense feeling of frustration that now beset him.
After his last talk with Vorst, he told me, that frustration was always with him—eating at him, keeping him remote from his fellow-G. Lying awake nights, listening to Asian birdsong and the squealing of monkeys in the jungle nearby, he said, he found himself constantly mulling over the phenomenon of military discipline—the chain-of-command system. As in all armies, he believed, it pervaded every facet of military life, embracing officers and enlisted men, volunteers and draftees, and, for that matter, men with college degrees, like Vorst and Reilly, and men with meagre educations, like Meserve and him.
He saw now how wrong he had been in thinking that a report of rape and murder would evoke instant action, as in civilian life. Just as long as he stayed in line, just as long as he kept the setup going, he could do whatever he wanted. Perhaps the most jarring of all the discoveries he made during this unhappy period, Eriksson told me, was that his fellow-G. To be sure, there were a few individuals, like Rowan, who shared his outlook, but the great majority saw things the way their officers did.
Time and again, at chow or during a break out in the field, someone would tell him as Vorst had told him that it was pointless to throw good lives after bad by having Meserve and the others up on charges, since as Reilly had said violence was the language of war, and, naturally, it could not always be controlled. Continually, Eriksson recalls, he heard the familiar argument that the V. Each day, Eriksson said, he felt as though he were at war with war, a troublemaker out to undermine some careful, desperate code of survival.
When he first got back from Hill , he said, he had imagined that it might have been his peculiar misfortune to draw a patrol made up of psychopaths, but now each time a new G. Dispiriting though he found the atmosphere in the platoon area, Eriksson went on, there were traces of conscience there. Why had he bothered to discuss Mao with him three times? Nor could the concern that the C. Why else had Vorst seen fit to reshuffle the patrol, leaving only Manuel within shooting distance, so to speak? It seemed like a deal, but why was it, Eriksson asked himself, that a captain should feel constrained to bargain with a lowly enlisted man?
Thinking along these lines, Eriksson said, he arrived at a kind of strategy in regard to Mao. On the last day of November, Eriksson was in a patrol that was chasing two or three V. It had all been a mistake, he said—he and his men had been dozing when the sound of running feet aroused them, and instinctively they had assumed it was the enemy.
Seeing him made me think at once of two questions I would have liked to ask him or his sergeant. And who was the man who fired the last shot? Whatever the answers, Captain Vorst saw to it that Eriksson left his command early the following morning, sending the enlisted man seventy miles away to Camp Radcliff, the 1st Cavalry Airmobile Division base, near the small city of An Khe.
Eriksson was to remain there until his reassignment as a door gunner came through, Vorst having sent his transfer papers on for official approval by the helicopter command. Eriksson was delighted with this duty, since he had had a passion for carpentry all his life. However, he welcomed the shift to Radcliff for a more important reason. He was confident, he told me, that he stood a better chance of finding help there than in the confines of the platoon area.
Far from where the daily, relentless fighting was going on, he pointed out, Radcliff was probably less disposed to take gratuitous violence in stride; besides, there were infinitely more people at the division base, and that gave him a better chance of finding the effective ally he needed.
His break came after just a week—by accident, which was the only way it could come. Late one afternoon, when he and about twenty other G. Eriksson had never laid eyes on the chaplain before. Now, watching the chaplain depart, Eriksson decided that Greenacre was very much worth cultivating. Seeing him and Greenacre chatting together, Eriksson went on, had made him realize that the only chance he had of escaping the chain of command was through a chaplain.
Perhaps, Eriksson said, he remembered that idea just then because of his recent stewing about Vorst and conscience. At any rate, he felt that he was on the right track, since chaplains were professionally concerned with conscience. His spirits on the upswing, Eriksson set about trying to meet the chaplain. I had to know whether he could at least be trusted to keep quiet about what I was up to. He remembers that he talked with one of them while they were both shaving, and that in shooting the breeze with another he led the conversation around to Greenacre when the man mentioned that Arizona was where he dreamed of spending his first post-war vacation.
Before long, Eriksson told me, his sleuthing established that Greenacre was well thought of, and one evening, after the carpenters had finished eating, he invited Greenacre to take a walk with him. In our part of Minnesota, just about everyone is. It was ten at night when Eriksson sat down to talk with Kirk, and he found he was able to speak more freely than he had even to Curly Rowan. Eriksson remembers having a deep feeling of ease and calm, as though he were at long last ceasing to be a fugitive from injustice. Impressed though he may have been, he heard Eriksson out with some skepticism, for before Kirk entered the Mormon priesthood he had spent ten years as a policeman on the Salt Lake City force.
In war—at least, the war we were in—it was nothing unusual to hear shots that were unexplained, to find a body that might or might not have been shot in combat. Where we were, it was a time and place for thousands of men to play for keeps, and that certainly included Meserve and the others in the patrol, because if they wanted to eliminate Sven as a potential witness they had the Ms to do it with. Eriksson finished telling his story to the chaplain toward midnight, whereupon Kirk pressed him closely, as Vorst had done earlier, to determine whether he was certain in his mind that he was prepared to endure not just the cross-examinations but the risks attendant upon appearing as a government witness in open court.
For protective custody, they said. Even his routine duties as a G. They said that door-gunner duty was too dangerous—that if I was going to be any use as a witness I had to stay alive. Eriksson recognized the abrupt transformation of his military life the morning after his meeting with Kirk. Almost before he was awake, M. In charge of the group were a colonel, a major, and, after they reached the airstrip, Captain Vorst himself, who maintained silence toward Eriksson. Among its members were C. The group walked from the airstrip to Hill It was a six-hour trek, over difficult terrain, and when the men finally stood just below the summit, several of them, who were unaccustomed to tramping so long, were near exhaustion.
Eriksson himself stood scanning the landscape intently, looking for the curiously shaped rock formation where the stabbed girl had been shot. Eriksson had considered the jutting and twisted rock a highly unusual one, but now, refamiliarizing himself with his surroundings, he saw, to his surprise, that it had a practically identical twin close by. It had to be on one of the two rocks that the girl lay, Eriksson knew, and to spare the others in the party unnecessary exertion he screened out the nearer rock by himself, doggedly plunging through formidable brush to reach it.
After the others fell in behind him, he walked silently to the second rock, seventy-five metres away. In due course, they came upon Mao, her remains a rigid crescent settled grotesquely in a half nest of soil and rocks and matted foliage. She had lain moldering there for three weeks and her body was badly decayed. Finck, commanding officer of the 9th Medical Laboratory. Finck, a well-known Army pathologist, was one of the team of three physicians that performed the autopsy on the late President Kennedy.
Additional pictures were taken a week later, when Eriksson led a second pilgrimage to Hill The evidence gained as a result of the two field trips played an important part in the judicial proceedings, Eriksson told me. For example, the ballistics and firearms specialists, working together, were able to analyze the lead bullet fragments as having come from an M rifle and to offer it as their judgment in court that Mao had been shot at close range—a judgment that afforded a presumably objective basis for incriminating Clark, at least, as one of her assassins.
Meserve, Clark, and the two Diazes were taken into custody the day after the first search party made its visit to Hill His farewell to them was succinct.