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Chapter Eighteen The Flight to the Fight
Bong Son, South Vietnam, October 1967

The choppers lifted off from the An Khe base camp to the area of operation, in a small formation, led by the gunship. Within a few miles of the yet uncontested LZ, the birds made a dramatic drop in elevation. At that point in the flight, nervous boredom tuned to excitement when the pilots maneuvered their ships into the dangerous, but exhilarating, combat mode of chopper flight known as contour flying. Skirting the treetops, the birds hugged the terrain and flew fast and low in approach to the landing zone, creating a rush for all adrenaline junkies onboard. Upon the final approach, the excitement turned to terror when it became evident that the enemy expected company, prompted no doubt by the probe of the “old man’s” chopper fly over the day before. “HOT LZ. LOCK AND LOAD!” The adrenaline-juiced troopers locked and loaded their weapons. Only the dead were unaware of the hot situation on the ground. Almost immediately things became intense, at a fever pitch. The situation turned from nervous boredom, to excitement, to sheer terror in the short flight to the fight. The LZ was hot, verified by the enemy rounds that pelted the bird-skins. The airwaves came alive with communications. Gunfire, punctuated with tracer rounds, came in heavy bursts at the ships. With the air-assaulting troopers psyched up for the ensuing insertion into the hot LZ,

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the pilots busily coordinated the attack on the LZ.

“Incoming at six o'clock. Say again, incoming at six o'clock. Rifleman 1. Over.” The other troop ship pilots acknowledged the warning. “Red Dog 3. Roger that.” “Pretty Boy 2. Roger that.” “Blue Max 6 (gunship), copy that. Hold tight. Say again, hold tight. Will light ‘em up. I’ll make another pass over the LZ and then you all should be able to unload personnel. Blue Max 6. Over.” The three slicks acknowledged the warning, and held tight until Blue Max lit up the LZ with a heavy bombardment of rocket fire. After receiving clearance from Blue Max, Rifleman 1 swooped in to unload, with the troopers riding the skids of the chopper onto the hot LZ and quickly dismounting. Aiding in the insertion, more gunship fire suppressed enemy fire, enabling the daredevil troops to complete the insertion. First Squad, in position, aided with more suppressing fire to help enable the other two choppers to unload. Pretty Boy 2 (Second Squad chopper) radioed for assistance. “Blue Max 6, Pretty Boy 2, going in. Need assistance. It looks hot at nine o'clock. Over.” “Will take care of ASAP. Pretty Boy, Blue Max 6.” “Roger that. Pretty Boy 2. Over.” Following the assist, Pretty Boy dropped off Second Squad. Blue Max again circled the LZ and surveyed for enemy fire. Seeing none, Blue Max advised Red Dog 3 to unload.

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“Red Dog 3, this is Blue Max 6. Over.” “Red Dog 3, Over.” “Red Dog 3, you’re good to go. Over.” “Roger, Blue Max. Going in.” With the aid of the pilots, door gunners and the gunship, the paratroopers were finally on the ground.

“Chinese Bandit, this is Blue Max 6. Over.” “Chinese Bandit. Over.” Blue Max offered words of assurance to the freshly inserted recondos. “Will be sticking around a while; will wait for your sit rep (situation report), Blue Max 6. Over.” “Roger that, and appreciate it. Chinese Bandit. Out.” The troop carriers (slicks) headed back to the base camp. Blue Max continued circling the LZ while he waited for the sit rep from the platoon sergeant. In a moment of rare praise, Donner expressed his awe of the pilots and crews to his radio operator. “Those pilots, and that Blue Max pilot especially, got to have balls the size of an elephant’s.” “You got that right, Sarge. They took a lot of rounds getting us in, that’s for sure.” Those pilots and crews were an absolutely amazing bunch. Their daring and skill were at an unbelievable level of professionalism. Their swagger, too, is well deserved.

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The temperature already exceeded the 100 degrees mark by the time the troopers set down. It only took a few minutes for the comfort level, or better said, the misery level, to register. In the excitement of the air assault the high temperature and humidity didn’t yet register in the minds of the troopers. The only temperature they were aware of was that of the LZ, and that was HOT! “Son of a bitch! Goddamn bugs. I hate ‘em,” complained Johnny, as the troopers made their way through the brush, vines and elephant grass to their defensive positions. “I mean, come on, look at my arms. I’m bleeding like a, well, I mean, look!” “What? Your arms? Look at mine, look at Doc’s. Hell, we’re all bleeding.” “Fuckin’ thorns grow on every Goddamned thing here. I hate this place. If it ain’t the thorns it’s the wait a minute vines, the elephant grass. You know what I mean?” “Yeah, that grass cuts like a razor.” “Sure do,” said Big Tee, crouched down and pushing away at the elephant grass that covered his face. “This damn sure is one miserable place, my man, but even more so when Charlie’s shooting at your ass.” Trying to gather their bearings, the men cautiously navigated the terrain, at times lying low to duck the incoming fire. Even Sergeant Frank, who always reprimanded Johnny for complaining, reached his breaking point. “Miserable bastards,” he yelled out, pulling a leech off his neck. “They’re like damn mosquitoes. They’re everywhere.” Drawn to the warm spots of the body and to blood on exposed skin, the miserable little creatures managed to work their way onto and into the crooks of your limbs, into boots, on

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blood-stained forearms and on the neck. With enemy rounds shredding the tree limbs above their heads and whizzing through the elephant grass, Johnny asked Frank, “Hey, remember when you got all over me for shooting that leech up in Ple Ku?” “Hell, yes, I do.” “Well, now you know how I felt. They have a way of driving you nuts.” “Yeah, they sure do.”

Under the orders of Sergeant Donner, the platoon positioned itself in a defensive perimeter. The squad leaders communicated by radio and called in their sit reps only to realize they had sustained their first casualties of the day. “Chinese Bandit 1, Long Rifle 3.” (Third Squad's call sign) “We’ve got a WIA (wounded in action). Got a man hit on the chopper when it touched down. He got into position before anyone noticed. I don’t think he even realized it himself. Took a round in the calf of his leg. Over.” Sergeant Donner answered, “Roger that, Long Rifle. Can he fight for a while or until we get a medevac chopper back later? Chinese Bandit, over.” “That’s affirmative. Not a serious wound. Over.” Sergeant Frank radioed in Second Squad’s situation. “Chinese Bandit, Bow Hunter 2. We just took a WIA. Glen took a round in the back and isn’t looking too good. Was hit when he got off the chopper. Over.”

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Once again Sergeant Donner replied, “Roger that, Bow Hunter. Look’s like we’re going to need a medevac sooner than later. Bandit. Out.” Within seconds of the radio transmission, the Bandit squad RTO was saved by the very radio he carried. An enemy round hit the PRC-25 radio square in the battery pack, knocking both radio and the operator down a steep embankment. Specialist Fourth Class Cadell, the RTO, called out, “I’m hit!” Sergeant Donner immediately ran to the aid of his radioman. Radio operators and machine gunners were primary targets for the enemy because of their obvious value. After a thorough examination by Sergeant Donner, he determined the only damage done: the radio battery and Cadell’s already frayed nerves. After a change of the battery, both were back in action. The shaken and ruffled but otherwise unscathed RTO said, “Man, that was close. No Purple Heart for that, Sergeant?” “No, but there’s a good chance you may still earn one today.” Cadell, another young Southern boy from Tennessee, with all the bravado and attitude he could muster said, “Airborne! I think.” The RTO and Donner had a faint but brief laugh for a moment. Back in Second Squad the situation deteriorated. Johnny, Sergeant Frank and the boys were in a world of shit. Enemy rounds, small arms fire and mortar rounds kicked up dirt and wreaked havoc all around them. The incoming fire shattered the branches of nearby shrubs and trees. When the rounds whizzed by his head, his face half buried in dirt, Johnny complained, “See, man, this is what I was talking about. This ain’t much fun, you know, like John Wayne made it look like.” Frank, in the same situation, replied, “Ain’t easy either, you know, like John Wayne

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made it look.” “Tell me about it.” In the meantime, Bill applied his skills on the badly-wounded Glen. In the deafening noise and chaos, he screamed to anyone who could hear him, “We’re going to need a dust off (medevac) soon or he may not make it. I’m serious, call it in!” Bill did a terrific job in administering aid to the wounded. Without anybody realizing it in all of the confusion, he daringly exposed himself to intense enemy fire when he ran into the open area, and dragged Glen off the hot LZ to a safer position. With the help of another seasoned fighter, Big Tee, Bill moved to Third Squad’s position to dress the wounds of their casualty. For some of the troopers, this firefight, their first, became their baptism under fire. In the confusion and chaos, one of the new replacements from the Third Squad ended up with First Squad when he ran for his life. An enemy round hit its mark. “Damn! Ow! AHHHH, SHIT!” yelled Sergeant Frank when a shot rang out, followed by an explosion. “Man! You okay?” asked a concerned Johnny. Frank winced; he’d been hit in the arm. “Man, you got blood streaming down your arm. You okay?” Johnny saw his friend in pain, a concern for sure, but on a more self-serving note, he realized there would now be one less rifle. “Man, what a drag. You’re the best damn shot we got and now you get hit. Do you think you can you shoot like that, man? I mean, with that arm? Jesus. You gonna be all right, partner? We can’t afford to lose you.” Frank grimaced in pain. Doc aided the more serious casualties, so Johnny dressed Frank’s wound. “Let’s put something on that bad boy. It ain’t bleeding real bad, though; I think you’re

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gonna live.” For an instant Frank and Johnny looked into each other’s eyes. They’d sensed something serious on the horizon, something beyond their control, and that something would be a lifechanging event for the two of them. It wasn’t fear they shared; it went well beyond that. “Damn, it hurts,” complained Frank. “Did you take a round or what?” “I’m not sure. Kind of looks like shrapnel, though. I don’t know. I’ll tell you what. They’re really starting to piss me off, you know? I’ll shoot every one of these bastards one handed if I have to.” “That’s just what I wanted to hear you say, pal. I mean, at this point, you just may have no choice if we lose any more guys.” “Where’s Big Tee?” asked a concerned Frank, wondering where the seasoned and reliable rifleman could be. “He’s out helping Doc. Him and Doc out there taking care of guys who got hit.” “Good. Doc couldn’t get any better help than Big Tee and hopefully he’ll keep Doc alive. I mean, Doc is fearless but crazy, you know?” “I hear ya. I’ll tell you what, though. I bet Big Tee is scared to death out there with all the chances Doc takes. Hell, I just hope to God he don’t get Big Tee killed. Know what I mean?” “Yeah, me, too. Hey, Johnny, I was just thinking, with my arm messed up like this and Big Tee busy working with Doc, you got your work cut out for you.” “I’m hip.”

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Frank looked at the patch-up job Johnny did on him. “You know, man, you didn’t do a bad job.” “Thanks. I gotta tell you, though, I hope to God you can stay on.” “Ain’t going nowhere, Johnny. You know, it feels like someone whacked my forearm with a baseball bat or something, but I’ll be okay. It’s most likely just a piece of shrapnel from that mortar round. It’ll probably hurt more tomorrow than it does right now. I’m pretty sure I can handle my weapon though.” That declaration came as good news to Johnny. “Thank God you’re okay, man. I mean, I can’t imagine going through this shit without ya.” “Thanks, Johnny.” “I’ll tell ya something else. Frank. I hope to hell Donner’s happy now.” “Happy about what?” “Contact. He said if we was lucky, we’d make contact. Well, he got his wish.”

“Blue Max 6, need a little help. Bandit. Over.” “That’s what I’m here for. Over.” “Roger that, Blue Max. I’m going to have to move. Can’t stay in position or will be torn a new asshole. Over.” “Roger that, Bandit.” “Need HE (high explosives) in front of my smoke. Say again, HE in front of my smoke. Chinese Bandit. Over.”

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“Roger that, Bandit. Anywhere else? Blue Max. Over.” The situation worsened when the paratroopers realized they were being probed from all sides, and to add insult to injury, it started to rain. In the jungle, rain gave slippin’ and a sliddin’ a whole new meaning. “Blue Max 6, need HE to my sides as well. Drop on my smoke. Popping it now. Bandit. Over.” “Roger that, Bandit. Blue Max. Over.” After making another steep embankment, the gunship reappeared, seemingly oblivious or fearless, or both, to the heavy fire drawn from the enemy troops. Blue Max radioed Sergeant Donner, “Bandit, have a yellow smoke to your front and green smoke to your flank for target. Affirmative. Over.” “That’s affirmative. Say again, affirmative. Chinese Bandit. Over.” The choreographed collaboration of the smoke and HE (gunship rockets) was no less than amazing. With a violent grace, Blue Max and the Bandit staged a precision ballet that could’ve played Carnegie Hall. Blue Max called in for the results. “How’s that, Bandit? Blue Max. Over.” “Right on target, Blue Max. Outstanding! Over.” Sergeant Donner then ordered the men to make it to the tree line. The entire earth shook with a violence that words couldn’t describe. Donner hoped the onslaught would rid the area of bad guys, at least temporarily. The recon platoon came to a point in the firefight where relief wasn’t only welcomed but necessary.

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The encore to the machine gun chopper, fire-themed dance came when Sergeant Donner dropped the heavy shit on them—the artillery. The gunship attack helped enable the platoon to move to a safer position to launch their ground attack. Donner planned to dislodge the enemy with an attack that would immediately follow the ensuing artillery barrage. Thanking Blue Max 6 for the assist, he also cautioned him, “Thanks, Blue Max. Perfect. Say again, perfect. Drinks are on me at the club. Over.” “You’re on, Bandit. Blue Max. Over.” “Roger that, Blue Max. You best clear out. Heavy shit on the way. Bandit. Over.” “Roger that, Bandit. They’re waiting for me back at An Khe. Good luck. Out.”

Chapter Nineteen follows below

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Chapter Nineteen The Fight
“MOVE! MOVE! MOVE!” Sergeant Frank screamed at the top of his lungs while he tried to get Rooney to respond to his command. It seemed that the earth had moved, ridden itself of the enemy, but in reality, the enemy survived. “How in the hell do these guys stand up to this onslaught? I’ll tell you what—they’re some tough little bastards,” said Sergeant Donner, following the artillery barrage. They’d gained the respect of the troopers for their ability to take a beating, a brutal beating. After they made it to nearby cover, Sergeant Frank did his best to console Rooney, who understandably was shocked after he watched his friend’s lifeless body crumble to the ground like some sort of game animal in a hunting documentary. “Hey, better to get zapped (killed) early in your tour, you know, rather than live through this bullshit only to get it later.” Possibly not the finest words of consolation, but the best he could come up with, Sergeant Frank gave it a shot. Johnny joined in, and said, “Sarge is right, man. I mean, I know I wouldn’t want to live through all this bullshit and then Bam! I mean, what a drag. Might as well get it over with now. God bless him, man.” A sickening thud, accompanied by a subdued groan was all that was heard when Private King’s lifeless body hit the jungle floor. His life ended immediately upon commencement of the attack. King had taken an enemy round to the neck.

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“Man, I mean he just stood there, you know, passive like, with a blank stare, blood spurting out of his neck. Jesus Christ!” Nineteen years of life ended in a flash; a muzzle-flash. Temporarily immobilized, Private Rooney couldn’t comprehend the incomprehensible. Frozen in place, he continued to stare at his fallen comrade’s corpse. Sergeant Frank tried again to comfort the young private, but the intensity of the incoming fire cut short the time for any more explanations. “Snap out of it, Private. That’s an order!”

Sergeant Donner called in the artillery, also known as a fire mission in the craft. Not an easy task; the slightest mistake could easily reign the heavy stuff right on your own ass, and that would be a costly mistake. The heavy stuff came directly from hell or heaven, depending on whether you were the recipient or the donor. No one did it better than Sergeant Donner, and with this tool of the trade, the tactician became more of an artist, an artist able to finesse the artillery and topography into a deadly mosaic. “Slashing Tiger 25, this is Chinese Bandit 1. Fire mission. Over.” “Bandit 1, this is 25 Fire Mission. Over.” “Automatic weapons fire and mortars, grid 567-687, azimuth 3200. Gun target. First round smoke. Will adjust. Over.” “Bandit 1, grid 567-687, azimuth 3200. Over.” “That’s affirmative. Over.”

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“On the way, wait. Over.” The smoke round, for adjustment, overshot the target. Donner then adjusted the artillery and “walked” it toward the enemy fire. “25 adjust right 100. Add 200. Repeat with HE (High explosive artillery rounds.) Fire for effect. Out.” And so it went, until Sergeant Donner warded off the enemy by placing the heavy stuff right in their hip pocket. The artillery hadn’t ridden the immediate area of the enemy. It did, however, enable the troopers to move to safer ground. After relocating to a better position, Donner requested a much-needed medevac, and re-enforcements. “Firebase Drummer, Chinese Bandit 1. Over.” “Bandit 1, Firebase Drummer. Over” “Drummer. Need medevac and re-enforcements ASAP, grid 557- 689. Say again, medevac and re-enforcements, now! Chinese Bandit 1. Over.” “Bandit 1. Firebase Drummer. Are you in same general coordinates as fire mission request? Over.” “Drummer. That’s affirmative. Over.” “Bandit 1. Go to medevac frequency for pick-up of WIAs. ETA, approximately thirty minutes. Over.” “Roger that, Drummer. How about re-enforcements? We’re in a world of shit here. Over.” “Roger that, Bandit. Sending a Blue team to help. ETA, forty-five minutes. Say again,

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ETA, forty-five minutes. Drummer. Out.” With the onset of the late afternoon rain it became imperative that the re-enforcements and medevac get to the platoon ASAP. The obvious needs of getting the wounded to a hospital and the re-enforcements on the ground would only worsen if the LZ were to be fogged in. If that happened, the choppers wouldn’t have been able to land for hours or possibly days. That would’ve sealed the fate of the troopers. Within minutes after the artillery barrage, thankfully, the intensity of the enemy fire had lessened and a CP (command post) had been set up. Glen, King and the other casualties were brought to the CP to be evacuated on the expected medevac. Third Squad came in as ordered to guard the CP; First and Second Squad got ready to advance on the enemy. Sergeant Frank let it be known that he’d be able to fight and could still fire with effect. Donner felt relief when word came that Sergeant Frank would be staying on. A definite asset, Donner didn’t want to lose him. His value was priceless due to his abilities and experience. Donner made it clear, however, that it would be Frank’s decision to stay on with the platoon. Not one to mince words, Sergeant Donner called him on the radio and stated his position. “Bow Hunter 2, this is Chinese Bandit. Understand you’re WIA. If you’re able to stay on with us, that’s great news, but if you’re hurt badly, I want you on that chopper and out of here. You’ll be no good to us if we have to look after you. Over.” “Roger that, Chinese Bandit. I’ll be staying on. Just a scratch. Over.” “Roger that, Bow Hunter. Bandit. Out.” Sergeant Frank looked over to Johnny and remarked, “Damn, that man’s all business.” Sergeant Donner knew there was no way that the platoon could stay in position for any

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length of time without drawing more mortar and small arms fire, so the sergeant decided to move. They had no choice. After moving his casualties to the CP, and with the hopeful arrival of the re-enforcements, Donner prepared to move out again.

At the An Khe base camp, the division reconnaissance action platoon, better known as the “Blues” of the 1/9th Cavalry, changed its status from backup reserve to ready action. Once contacted, the platoon got ready to go in a flash. They’d been on a number of hot LZs and bailed out many in need of help. According to Cav history, the “Blues,” an incredibly skilled and battlehardened combat unit, saw more action than all other combat units in Vietnam. These kinds of hair-raising situations were not for the faint of heart, and no unit did it any better than they did. The division recon team of the ninth Cavalry came with their own choppers and pilots, an absolute team effort. Answering the call for assistance, the heavily armed troops scrambled out of their tents to the waiting choppers. Word had it that their brothers in another recon platoon were in need of help. Eager to assist, they, too, embarked on an adventure into the unknown without hesitation. Back at the scene of the firefight, Johnny and Frank were verbally sparring again. “You know, you’re nuts, Frank. I mean, you should be on a dust off back to An Khe, you know, getting a little R&R, not going out for more of this bullshit with us.” Down deep in his heart, though, Johnny couldn’t have been happier that Sergeant Frank decided to stay on and fight. “I’d miss your bitching if I went back to base camp and I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Besides, I need to stay and watch out for you and the new guys. You know, us hillbillies like this outdoor stuff.”

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“To tell ya the truth, man, I wouldn’t want to go down this trail without your hillbilly ass looking out for us. Looks like you and me again, brother. You know, it seems like it’s us against the world, don’t it?” “Yeah, Johnny. I can’t argue with that. I mean… I mean, buddy I’ve got to admit it, I’m glad you’re here, too. Like you say, know what I mean?” “Yeah, man, I know what you mean. This ain’t no time to get sentimental or nothing but we’ll just have to make the best of it. Maybe one day I’ll write a song about this or about you.” “Really?” “Hell, yes, I mean it. You know, like the Davy Crockett song, or maybe Crazy Crockett or something crazy like that. I mean, man, ’cause this shit’s stone crazy and you’re damn sure even crazier.” Frank, spitting chew out of his mouth, in his boyish Southern drawl said, “Takes one to know one.” While awaiting the order from Sergeant Donner to move out, the guys tried to get a fix on the location of the continuing sniper fire directed at them. In position, Finney commented that the place reminded him of the same spot where he killed that hardcore NVA soldier. “You know that saying, the more things change, the more they seem the same? Well, it’s like that’s what’s going on.” “What do you mean?” asked Johnny. “Well, first off, we was just up here not that long ago, remember? I mean, you know, now we’re back. I got bad feelings about this place. It’s like, I don’t know, we spend too much time up here. It ain’t healthy, that’s all. This is real close to where I shot that hardcore. I just

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remember how surprised the guy was when he saw me.” “I know what you mean. Same shit happened to me. We was out on a recon before you got here, see. Well, I came face to face with this VC. Man, like the guy was just a kid, you know? Anyway, when I think about it, so am I.” “So what happened?” “Well, you know, the possibility of killing him was like a rush, you dig? I mean, the cat was like really surprised. He looked at me and took off, so I opened up. I couldn’t wait to see his dead ass and at the same time I dreaded it.” “Yeah, but you didn’t have to spend the next couple of days with him lying a few feet from you staring at the sky. Kind of bothers me, you know.” “Yeah, that’s right. We did stay in that position for a couple of days after you shot that guy, right?” “Yeah, we sure did.” “Guess we could have moved him or at least buried his dead ass.” “Well, we moved him, but not far enough. I could still see him and he got on my nerves. He was the first guy I ever killed face to face. Kind of a drag, you know? Thank God, Sergeant Frank had just checked on my position to make sure that I was alert or it might have had a different ending. That gook might have shot me.” Sergeant Frank peered out over the landscape from his position. Addressing Finney, he said, “Like I say, especially to the new guys, it’s heads up out here. I think you learned that back there, right?”

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“You bet, Sergeant Frank, and thanks again.” Trying to make Finney feel better about that incident, Johnny complimented him on the kill. “Man, that was a major kill. You did a real good job, man. Some of the papers the gook carried was full of information or some shit that division used. At least that’s what Donner said.” “It’s called intelligence, Johnny. You know, the info they got off the dead gook. But you’re right, Finney here did a good job,” said Sergeant Frank. “Yeah, I know, Sarge. That’s what I was saying. Anyways, this whole thing stinks. I know whenever I’ve gotta kill somebody I kinda just ask God to forgive me, you know. I think it’s easier to shoot ‘em from a distance, you know, and then leave ‘em there. It ain’t that easy to live with ‘em after they’re dead, you know, like then you gotta smell their stinking, bloated body and look at ‘em. That kind of stinks, literally. You know what I mean?” Sergeant Frank tried his best to lighten the mood, a difficult task considering their situation, but asked the distraught and seemingly shocked Rooney a question. “Private, are you aware that Johnny here claims to be the Will Rogers of the U.S. Army?” “No, Sergeant Frank, I wasn’t aware of that.” “Yeah, he likes to keep that quiet, you know. It might not be good for his image.” “Why’s that, Johnny?” asked the young private. “I mean, why do they call you the Will Rogers thing?” Ready with the answer, Johnny said, “It’s obvious, man. I never killed a man I didn’t like.” Instead of a cymbal crash or a rim shot to accentuate the punch line, as if on cue, the bad guys poured a fusillade on the squad as if to accentuate Johnny’s punch line, or maybe they

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didn’t like the punch line. For whatever reason, Johnny and the other guys would talk about anything at the strangest times, an obvious aversion. They were able to keep full concentration of the situation, and at the same time they kept their hopes and dreams alive while they talked of things less life threatening. In keeping with this, Johnny and Finney engaged in a conversation between fusillades, near and dear to them—guitars. Finney proceeded to ask Johnny about the make and model of the guitar he played back in the world. “What kind of Fender (guitar) you got, man? Is it one of those made before CBS bought Fender out, or what?” “Oh, man, let me tell you. It’s an original Stratocaster. Yeah, it’s an old one, man. Like I told you before, it’s got a maple neck. Man, what a sound.” “Yeah, I dig it. Those old Strats had an ash body, too. Is it a sunburst finish?” “Yeah, man, and that ash body is pretty light, too. I wish I was back home playing it right now instead of being in this fix we’re in now. Know what I mean?” “Believe me, I know what you mean. I’d prefer to be anywhere but here.” “So you got an old jazz master, right? What color is your axe?” “It was gold, you know, but I had it refinished. Blood red. You know, really pretty, same color as that shit that comes out of your head when it gets blown off, you dig? Who’d have known?” “Hey, man, I like red. I used to have an old, candy-apple red Telecaster, really pretty and not a bad sound.”

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“For some reason, I think I’ll have my guitar repainted either black or white. Who knows, you know? I mean, if I don’t, every time I play it I’ll think of that gook’s head leaving his shoulders. Jesus Christ! You know what I’m saying?” Johnny couldn’t leave that line alone. “Look, man, I don’t think this is anything you should lose your head over.” “Jesus, Johnny. You’re one disturbed individual, you know that, right?” “Sarge, you talking ‘bout me?” “Yes, yes, I am. You are sick.” Continuing, Johnny asked, “So anyways, man, what guitar players did you dig?” “I really dug some of those jazz cats, you know like Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel; I mean, those cats can play.” “Man, I know what you mean. Have you ever heard of a cat named Howard Roberts? Like, I sure have, man. I dig him. What a sound. Most of those guys play the Gibson ES 175 or the ES-355. You know, the kind of guitars with the F holes.” “I’m hip.” “So who do you like, man?” “Well, I like all those heavy Jazz cats, too, but I ain’t in their league. I mean, I’m pretty good but those cats are like from another planet. Know what I mean?” “Yeah, I know. They play all those fat chords and read music, too.” “Yeah, that’s why I like the blues. Nothing fancy. Just play from the heart, you dig? I can do that. Anyways, I dig guys like Albert King, Freddy King; you know, blues cats. I like the stuff

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that Jimmy Reed did, too. Know what I mean?” “Yeah, I know what you mean.” “Hey, talking ‘bout Gibsons, I think B.B. plays one.” “Yeah, man, he sure does. It’s an ES-355. You know, the kind with no F holes. He sure gets a great sound. Johnny, you ever heard of a new cat named Lonnie Mack?” “Sure have. He did ‘Memphis,’ right?” “That’s right.” “Yeah, the cat’s fast, and tasty, man. You know, when I get back to the world, they’re going to hear from me. I’m gonna have a hit, too. I can feel it coming. I know one’s on the way. Know what I mean?” Big Tee, the polite and smooth-talking realist, listened in on the conversation when he pointed out that they best pay more attention to the immediate situation at hand. “With your luck, Johnny, the only hit you’re gonna get will be a bullet in yo ass if you don’t start paying attention to what’s going on here.” “Don’t worry about it, man. Johnny Richards got it under control. Just for that, no free tickets for you and your lady when you all come to see me play.” “You’re breaking my heart.” “Seriously, Tee. I mean, you know, dealing with this crap ain’t easy.” ”You got that right, Johnny. It damn sure ain’t easy.” “I mean, we could all get killed. Know what I mean?” “Yeah, and you will if you don’t pay attention.”

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“Oh, I am. Just need to talk about other stuff to keep my mind straight, that’s all. You dig?” “Yeah, I dig.”

An unusually humbled Johnny confided to the guys, “I hope to God, you know, that I’ll see Chicago again. I mean, like, me and Mai, playing guitar, and all. I’m like worried, man.” “Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger, Johnny. We’re all scared shitless. You’ll get back there, one way or another.” “Oh, thanks a lot, Sarge. What the hell is that supposed to mean?” “Like I said, you’ll get back one way or another.”

Sergeant Donner, in position a few meters in back of Sergeant Frank’s squad, heard the sound he longed for, that wonderful sound of the Cav coming to the rescue. “Sergeant Donner, got Medevac 8 calling on your frequency,” said his RTO, Cadell. “Medevac 8, Chinese Bandit 1. Secured LZ. Will pop smoke, call for verification. Over.” Bandit popped a red smoke, and Medevac 8 responded. “Bandit 1. Got a red smoke. Over.” “That’s affirmative. Bandit.Out.” In Vietnam, the Cav arrived in choppers, not on horses. That haunting sound of the helicopter blades chopping through the wet air also had a flip side, a warm friendly and

24

reassuring sound, a sound of hope, especially to the wounded.

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