The air is cold, but the sky is hot with the hammer of rotor blades. Pilot in the front says, Give em all you got, boys
We dive to towards the ground and sink our lead into the Hot LZ We're spitting support and giving it out best shot.
Wild eyed men sitting around us wonder if we've gone mad. And I'm thinking, Welcome to Nan.
Popping ammo boxes left and right, we're yelling to them get out and stay low. Plenty of brush out there. And if they heard us, they'll live the drop off.
Our tracers paint a line to the edge of the perimeter and then left and right.
We lift away amidst the rain of enemy fire and watch the Cobras come down from the sky in a furious roar follow those tracers and wax the area with strafing and 2.75 inch rocket pounding so viciously well that at 500 foot long, 2 foot wide newly formed creek bed.
We're clear of the enemy fire. But then look at each other confused, "Okay, sir, what are we doing?"
"Playing medevac, one of ours took a round in the leg. He'll bleed out before a real one gets here."
Ground chatter gets crazy. Seems like when heaven opens its doors, bravery doesn't have to knock.
F-4s were our angles this day as they filled that creek bed with napalm. We could feel the heat from left and right. Hear Charlie Cong's screams into vaporization.
Karama is a bitch.
The extraction took 10 seconds. Lying him down and raising his leg, my belt just above the wound helped to slow the bleeding. But his heart pounding too hard. Field expediency took care of that.
The pilots looked back and laughed. "Well that's one way to get it done."
"Figured I didn't have to ask permission, sir"
"For what, we didn't see anything."
The pilots switched radio channels. Just off the coast of Phu Bai was a white ship with a red cross on it.
"Sanctuary, this is hotel one nine six seven. We have an wounded soldier with a whole through his main artery in his leg. We're running low on fuel."
Do you know that ship turned and gave us a straight in approach to the back of the ship. And in less than five minutes we landed, the gurney was pulled over and the wounded unconscious solder on the gurney and we were gone.
Few months later, I'm polishing up the Plexiglass on my bird and I see his reflection, I turned around.
"Can I help you, Sir?"
"You've got a hell of a left hook, Sergent."
I chucked nervously, "That's what they tell me, Sir"
I hit a Captain? Damn, I should have hit him harder.
"They tell me that punch saved my life. They also told me that your belt also helped to stop the bleeding. So I'm writing you up. Not for assaulting an officer, but for an act of bravery."
"Sir, I was just trying to help another American solder from being sent home in a body bag."
"I understand, but the way I see it, if I don't write you up, you'll never remember my name and I want you to remember my name."
I said, "yes, sir".
We saluted each other. As he walked away, "Sir, how did you find me?"
"It was on your belt. A name I will never forget."
Thirty years later, I'm flipping through my Facebook page and there he was. A West Point retired Four Star and he's speaking to a West Point graduating class. I click on the link.
He starts with, "You may, as I have had to do, put men into harms way. Honor these men with as much respect and dignity as you expect them to respect the orders you give.
"And there may be times in your career when you find yourself totally depending upon them who hold the balance of life or death in their hands. Karama is unyielding.
"When we went into the field in Vietnam, we officers knew our rank was what the North Vietnamese were trained to look for so it came off during insertions.
"I took a round out there. Went clean through my leg but nicked an artery. Two brave pilots, a door gunner and a crew chief by the name of Sergeant Billy Martin decided that I was going to bleed out."
About that time, in the kitchen the plate drops by my wife who thought I was full of it when I'd tell her about the story.
"Under the protection of F-4s hitting the edges of the enemy perimeter with napalm, they come in, pick me up. The crew chief pulled out a rolled up belt he had in one of the pouches he was carrying and put it above the wound. He made sure I was flat on my back and raised my leg.
"He checked my pulse, smiled down at me and with a mean left hook, he knocked out. Plum out of my misery. Hell, I didn't remember a thing past that until after surgery. That was the meanest left hook that ever took."
After the laughter. The General continued.
"Well, thanks to his belt, I knew where to find him. At first, I think he thought I was going to throw the book at him. Write him up for hitting an officer. But I was there to think him for saving my life. Told him I was going to write him up for an act of heroism.
"I never did. I don't think that was what he wanted. In fact, I don't think any of the enlisted soldiers really want to have to explain to others the things that they did that measure up to an act of bravery.
"What I believe young solders want it to go home in one piece both mentally and physically. And in Vietnam, I think we were too brazen to think of our young enlisted soldiers as anything but a human machine being told what to do and how to do it.
"So, today, I'm ending this with a warning. You hold the rank of an officer and and in battle, you hold your life in the hands of our enlisted soldiers. Why should they honor you with respect if you don't honor them with yours? Theses are men and not machines.
"As for me, I am forever in debt to the man who saved my life by knocking me out with meanest left hook that ever took.
"Thank you for your time, may god be with you all."
Wife whispers, "That was really you." with a new found air of respect.
And all I could think about is his eyes staring through the camera at me while saluting the class and what I wanted to say back to him in person, "roll on brother, roll on."