15: The Men With Green Faces
<< 14: Waterborne Ambush || TOC
Suddenly, I heard footsteps. I looked to the starboard side and saw a man in a camouflaged uniform. He was soaking wet. He had on a camouflaged rain hat and his face was painted a dark green. He was carrying a weapon that looked like an M-16, but there was something different about it; it had a similar shape, but it was obviously different; like it had been modified or something. I knew, as soon as I laid eyes on him, that he was a SEAL.
"That you, Po-lock?"
Ski looked up and stared at the man as he hopped from the bank onto the engine cover.
"Yes, sir. How long you been here?"
"Midnight or so."
"So! That was you, huh?"
"Yea. You don"t have a scope, do ya?"
"How bad is it?"
"Exit hole"s the size of a softball. But no bleeder."
"You called for a dust off yet?"
"Do it. And tell 'em they'll need a hoist and a basket."
"Can't we just meet up with 'em down river somewhere ... where they can land?"
"Let me check."
The SEAL turned and looked toward the tree line. I looked where he looked. There was another SEAL standing just outside the tree line where the enemy fire had come from. He was holding something in his right hand. The SEAL on the boat yelled to the one on shore.
"Did they stink 'em up?"
The SEAL at the tree line lifted the object he was holding up to his nose. Almost immediately he turned his head violently to one side. Then he looked back toward the SEAL on the boat and shook his head in the affirmative. The SEAL on the boat turned back toward Ski and issued a harsh, terse order.
"Hoist and a basket! Here! Now!"
"But he ..."
"Now, goddamn it! If we don"t get him to a MASH unit quick, he's gon' lose his leg!"
Ski didn"t argue. He went straight to the radio, turned it on and called to arrange for a MEDEVAC chopper.
When Ski finished calling for the MEDEVAC, he turned and walked over to the engine cover. He sat down beside Le, asked him how he was doing and then told him the dust off was on the way.
The SEAL walked over and stood next to Ski. He patted Le on the shoulder and pointed to his right calf.
"Mind if I take a look?"
Le nodded in the affirmative. Ky was still applying pressure with the battle dressing. The SEAL reached over and Ky let go of the dressing. The SEAL removed it. I was standing on the port side of the coxswain"s flat. When the SEAL removed the dressing I stared at the wound. The round had entered the right side of Le"s right calf and had exited on the left. The whole left side looked like someone had cut a softball-sized hole in his leg. The muscles and tendons were clearly visible, and so was one of the lower leg bones. The SEAL looked at the wound for a moment and then put the dressing back in place. He then looked up at Ky and spoke to him reassuringly.
"You can tie it off now."
As Ky began to tie off the battle dressing, Ski asked the SEAL a question that I'd wanted to know the answer to myself.
"What did you mean when you asked your man if they stunk 'em up?"
The SEAL responded in a soft but matter-of-fact tone.
"That group is cadre, they ain't rice farmers. And like most cadre units, they make their own booby traps. They use anything they can get their hands on for shrapnel - nails, nuts, bolts, empty shell casings, rocks, river gravel - and they stink the shit up.
"Back at their staging area, the area they operate out of, they've got this big iron caldron. It's sittin' slap-dab in the middle of camp. They use the damn thing for a latrine. Every time any of 'em have to piss or take a dump,
they do it in the caldron ... especially the ones with dysentery. They use the
caldron - and its contents - to contaminate the shrapnel before they put their booby traps together.
They just take the stuff and dump it in the sucker and let it sit for a month or so."
"And when they open a new crate of ammo, they dump it in there, too."
"They're wicked. They're some bad motherfuckers, no doubt about that."
"Do you think they can control the infection ... back at the MASH unit?"
"If they get to it in time. I'm gonna tell the dust off team to run an IV antibiotic if they've got one."
"What if they don"t?"
"They'll have something to flush it out with and that'll help some. But he oughta be OK.
We just don't need to waste any time. The quicker the MASH folks can get to him, the better his chances will be."
As I listened to the SEAL explain about the caldron, a terrible odor filled my nostrils.
I tried not to be obvious, but I began sniffing the air trying to determine where the smell was coming from.
As the SEAL continued to talk, I suddenly realized that my pants were wet; not just in the front
where I'd urinated earlier, but there was a sticky wetness in the rear of my pants, too.
I reached down with my left hand and touched the wetness. Then I brought my hand up to my nose.
The smell was horrible. I"d lost control of my bowels during the firefight and I hadn"t even been aware of it.
But the smell on my hand wasn't the horrible smell I'd noticed earlier. I still didn"t know what THAT was.
It seemed to be a rancid combination of body odor, urine, fecal matter and decayed plant life.
It was absolutely the worst smell I'd ever smelled in my life. A few moments later,
when the SEAL finished explaining about the caldron, he stood up and stepped over to the
port side to look up and down the channel. When he got right next to me, I realized that he was the
source of the smell.
As soon as he stood next to me, as soon as I realized that he was what stunk to high heaven,
I turned my head to the side, pursed my lips together and furrowed my brow. As I turned my head
back around, I saw Ski out of the corner of my eye. He knew what was happening; he knew that I
was reacting to the smell and he shook his head "no" and grimaced. He was trying to tell me not to
react that way; not to let the SEAL know that his smell offended me. I recovered and modified my expression
just as the SEAL turned around and walked back over to where Ski was standing.
The SEAL stood next to Ski and looked over at Le. Le was still moaning. The SEAL made a recommendation.
"If you've got some morphine, I think he could use an amp."
Ski got up immediately and entered the storage compartment.
A moment later he came out holding a conventional zippered shaving kit.
He opened it and took out a syringe and a small glass ampoule.
With the syringe in his left hand and the ampoule in his right, he offered them to the SEAL.
"You mind, sir? You"re prob'ly better at this than I am."
The SEAL took the ampoule and broke off the glass tip. Then he took the syringe and prepared to fill it.
"How much you reckon he weighs?"
"One-thirty ... one-forty."
"Fuck it. I'll give him the whole thing."
As the SEAL filled the syringe, he spoke to Le.
"Hang in there, little buddy. You'll be in Oz 'fore you know it."
When the syringe was full, the SEAL tossed the ampoule onto the deck and turned to administer the shot.
"Roll over, hoss. I need to give it to ya' in the hip."
Le labored to roll over. As he did so, he moaned. The SEAL popped the needle in quickly and began
pushing on the plunger immediately.
"When you get to the Emerald City, son, say "hey" to the Wiz for me."
Le didn't say anything. He just moaned.
When the SEAL finished giving Le the shot, he reached down and dabbed his right forefinger in a pool of Le's
blood on the rain poncho.
"OK, little buddy. I'm gon' put a mark on your head. Don"t wipe it off, OK?"
The SEAL marked the letter "M" followed by a "1" in the middle of Le's forehead.
I was curious as to what he was doing, so I asked.
"Why'd you do that, sir?"
"To let the MASH folks know he's already had morphine ... and how much."
The SEAL looked at me quizzically. Then he asked me a question:
"You're new ... right?"
Ski interrupted me.
"Yes sir. He"s new."
When the SEAL had been explaining what the V.C. did to their ammo,
I'd immediately become concerned for my own welfare. The AK round that
had penetrated my jacket had drawn blood. It wasn't much more than a flesh wound,
but I was worried that it might get infected as well. As I brought the subject up,
I pulled up my undershirt and pointed at the wound.
"Sir, do you think I need an antibiotic, too."
The SEAL looked at me with a comical look on his face.
"What happened to you?"
"He got shot."
The SEAL seemed to be confused.
"He caught an AK round in the jacket."
The SEAL turned and looked me square in the eyes.
"IT'S IN YOU?"
Ski explained what had happened.
"No sir, the jacket stopped it."
"No way! Not from that distance."
"He says it hit something first."
I responded nervously.
"I think it hit the .50."
The SEAL handed the syringe to Ski and moved toward me.
"Let me see."
I continued to hold up my undershirt while the SEAL checked out my wound and the AK
round embedded in the jacket.
"You're one lucky motherfucker, you know that?"
"Where were you?"
"I was supposed to be on the rear .50, but I stepped across the engine cover to get some water."
"Who was on the .50? Who took your place?"
The SEAL didn't say anything. He just glared at me.
"Who was on the controls ... in the coxswain"s flat?"
"You were the only one aft ... you were supposed to be on the rear .50, and you left your position to get water?"
Again, the SEAL didn't say anything. He just turned and glared at Ski. Ski responded immediately.
"It ain't his fault, sir."
"Then who"s fault is it?"
"He ain't supposed to be here. He ain't a boat sailor."
"He's support ... Mobile Base II ... it's his first time on the river."
"You put a newbie deck-swabber on your rear .50 ... and left his ass to man the rear of the boat all by himself?"
"Well ... that explains that!"
I blurted out a response.
"That explains why a boat capable of puttin' out over 5,000 rounds-a-minute engaged the
enemy with one M-16 on semi-automatic!"
Ski jumped to my defense again.
"He's a good man, sir. He just didn't know what to do."
"I'm sure he is ... but that don"t mean shit! Does it?"
"He saved Le's life, sir. He didn't do what he was supposed to do, but what
he did do saved a man's life. He didn't take cover. When he heard the firing,
he reached over and grabbed an M-16 and started returning fire from a standing position."
"Yea ... on semi-automatic. I heard that."
"But by standing - and not taking cover - he made himself a target. Charlie had a bead on Le.
He had him dead-to-rights. A couple of more shots and Le'd be a dead man right now.
But once he saw Guns, he quit targeting Le and drew down on HIM."
The SEAL turned and gave me a funny, inquisitive look.
"You do that on purpose?"
"Where were you?"
"There ... where you're standing."
"Why didn't you drop down behind the engine cover?"
"Is that what I should've done?"
"What you shoulda' done is move to the aft .50 immediately.
And when you got there, you shoulda' burnt the damn barrel up on that son-of-a-bitch!"
"I didn"t know that's what I was 'sposed to do."
"What you were 'sposed to do is stay on the .50 to start with!"
"I know that now, sir."
Ski graciously continued to defend me.
"It ain't his fault, sir. It's mine. I shouldn't have let him come along."
"Then why did you?"
Ski got a funny look on his face. Then he looked up at me when he answered.
"'Cause he wanted to meet you motherfuckers."
"Guns came in the Navy on the BUDS program. He didn't make it, he dropped out,
but he thought maybe some of his classmates might be on your team."
The SEAL didn"t say anything for a moment or two. Ski made a few more comments in my defense,
but the SEAL didn't seem to be paying any attention. When he finally spoke again,
his voice was quiet and subdued. He was looking at me, but he was speaking to Ski.
"That ain't the real reason you let him come along, is it?"
Ski hung his head down as he responded.
The SEAL turned and looked at me. He didn't smile, but the
timber of his voice changed dramatically. It almost sounded cordial.
"You wanna know the real reason you're here, motherfucker?"
"Po-lock here just wanted somebody to talk to. Somebody with round eyes."
The SEAL turned and looked at Ski again. There was a hint of a smile on his face.
"Ain't that right, asshole?"
When Ski didn"t answer, I pulled my undershirt back up and pointed at the wound again.
"Excuse me, sir. Do I need an antibiotic, or not?"
The SEAL bent down and took another look. Then he patted me on the shoulder.
"Yea. Prob'ly wouldn"t hurt. When we get back, tell the first
corpsman you see to give you a fourteen day run ... 500 milligrams every 8 hours."
When the SEAL had bent over to look at my wound, I noticed that something had slipped out of the top of his shirt.
It was a large, capped medical syringe with a ring that was slightly larger than a thumb on the end of it.
The syringe was attached to his dog tag chain with the chain looped through the ring.
I pointed to it and asked him what it was.
The SEAL didn't answer me. He just looked at the syringe and grabbed it and the chain and
poked them back inside his shirt.
While Ski and Ky had been taking care of Le, Cong's men had finished clearing the
camouflage off their boat. When they were done, one of them came over to check on Le's condition.
Ski told him everything was OK. Then he told him to go back and tell Cong to turn on his hand-held radio.
Three or four minutes after the injection, Le was feeling much better. At least he wasn't moaning anymore.
Ski told Ky to return to the front gun tub, then he asked Nhu to finish removing the camouflage from the bow.
Both men did as they were told. Ski then asked me to move aft and man the rear .50.
As I started to walk aft, I looked over at the canopy. It was still sagging in the center.
I'd forgotten all about the grenade, and when I saw it, it occurred to me that Ski had forgotten about it, too.
I didn't speak. I just pointed at the sag and Ski turned to look at what I was pointing at.
The SEAL saw me when I pointed. He looked over and saw the sag in the canopy and it peaked his curiosity.
Ski responded rather casually. "A live grenade."
The SEAL stared at the canopy for a moment. Then he turned and stared at Ski.
As I moved aft, the SEAL asked how the grenade got there and Ski told him.
They discussed the situation briefly and decided to leave the grenade where it was for the time being.
Just as I took up my position on the rear .50, the SEAL asked Ski if we had any extra C-rations.
Ski told him we had plenty and the two of them decided that we"d eat chow before we headed back down river.
The next order of business concerned how we"d get Le into the MEDEVAC chopper.
The SEAL suggested that Ski pull our boat out into the middle of the river.
The chopper pilot could then center his bird over the middle of the channel.
That way, without having to worry about whether the tree line on either side would hit his rotor blades,
he could get as low as possible before he lowered the basket. Ski agreed with the SEAL's suggestion and
picked up the hand-held radio.
While Ski raised Cong on the hand-held to tell him what the plan was, the SEAL whistled to the
rest of his unit to get their attention.
"Bob White ... (pause) ... Bob ... Bob White."
When I heard the whistle - when I realized that it had been the SEAL who'd made
that sound the night before - I broke into a surprised, uncontrollable grin. Ski didn"t react at all.
There were four other SEALs. They had positioned themselves in a defensive formation at the
four corners of the outcrop. When the SEAL on the boat whistled to them, they all looked in his direction.
He didn't say anything, he just gave them a series of hand gestures.
First, he raised his left hand and held up two fingers. Once he was sure that they could all see him,
he pointed at two members of the team and made a motion with both hands.
The two SEALs he pointed to nodded in the affirmative.
Then he pointed in the direction of the other two men, held up two fingers, and
then pointed toward the tree line where the firing had come from. One of
them made a hand gesture back at him and he acknowledged it with
another signal and a wave of his right hand.
When the SEALs were through signaling each other, The SEAL on the boat stepped up on the engine
cover and hopped onto the bank. The last two he'd signaled to entered the tree line just as
he joined the other two men on the outcrop.
When the SEAL left the boat, I sat on the rear of the engine cover and spoke to Le.
"Hey, man. How you doin'?"
"Just hang in there, man. The chopper"s on the way."
"You feel like talkin'?"
"Yes. Can talk."
"Can I ask you a question?"
"When that V.C. slipped on the bank last night, and reached over and grabbed the camouflage,
wha'd he say? And wha'd his friend say?"
Le smiled when he answered me.
"Man drink Ba Mui Ba. V.C. numba one no know he have Ba Mui Ba ... no know he drink Ba Mui Ba.
When he fall ... and his friend see ... he say, "I tell you no drink Ba Mui Ba. You drunk!
You fall down!." Man who fall say, "I think you right! Earth move!"
His friend say, "See! Next time, no drink Ba Mui Ba!" Then they laugh."
When Ski finished his radio call to Cong, there were some angry words exchanged at the end.
I don't recall exactly what was said, but Cong was very upset at the way things had gone the night before.
Ski had let Le set the ambush in the inlets. Cong had objected, he'd said the site was a "numba ten place",
but we'd set the bush in the inlets anyway. Cong was definitely not a happy camper.
While Cong was lambasting Ski on the radio, Ski didn't say a word.
He just sat there and listened while Cong ranted and raved.
When Cong finally finished yelling, there was a moment of silence.
Then Ski calmly instructed Cong to crank his engines and take his boat up and
down river to make sure the channel was clear.
Just as Ski put the hand-held down, there was a noise at the tree line where the enemy fire had come from.
I looked up and saw a SEAL moving through the foliage toward the outcrop.
He was hunched over just slightly, arms down by his side, and he was dragging something.
I strained to see what he was dragging and recoiled in shock when he cleared the tree line.
He was dragging the bodies of two Vietcong soldiers. He had them both by the hair
and as he moved forward their arms and legs were bouncing up and down wildly.
For a moment, it looked as though the movement was voluntary. "Surely not", I thought to myself!
"Surely they aren"t still alive! Surely he wouldn't be dragging them by the hair if they were still alive!"
A moment later, another SEAL came through the foliage carrying two large canvas bags, two web belts,
two AK-47s and a B-40 rocket launcher.
The SEAL dragging the bodies drug them to a spot on the outcrop just a few feet away from our boat.
The SEAL left his position on the defensive perimeter and walked toward the bodies.
He gave a hand signal to the man who'd dragged the bodies out of the bush and the man
nodded in the affirmative and then took the big SEAL's place on the perimeter.
The man carrying the weapons walked up beside the bodies and kneeled down.
The big SEAL, the leader, made his way to the bodies and knelt down beside his teammate.
"What we got?"
"Laurel here got stitched real good. Four .50 rounds.
One in the right hip, one in the right upper abdomen, one just below
the heart and one through the right shoulder at the joint.
The shoulder's almost off ... it's just hangin" by a thin thread of skin and muscle."
"What about Hardy?"
"Best I can tell he only took one round; a five-five-six right below the heart."
"Well, I'll be damned!"
The SEAL's words shocked me. A five-five-six round was M-16 ammo, and
I'd been the only one firing an M-16. I was sitting on the engine cover next to Le when I
heard "five-five-six" and I immediately stood up;
I don't know why I stood up, the reaction was completely involuntary.
I stared at the big SEAL. He stared back at me and gave me a thumbs up signal.
I didn't say anything; I didn't do anything; I just stared at him.
I felt empty inside. Totally empty. I'd taken a life. I'd killed a perfectly
healthy, living, breathing human being, a human being with a father and a mother and,
for all I knew, brothers and sisters and maybe even a wife and children. That's
the first thought that entered my mind, and it was a brutal thought,
a thought that was hard to comprehend. My mind immediately focused on the obvious.
Somewhere, there were people who loved and cared for this man, but they'd never see him again;
they'd probably never even know what happened to him.
A moment or two later I turned and sat down on the fantail.
I lowered my head and stared at the deck for a moment. A hundred thoughts
began fighting their way into my brain, so many, thankfully, that no one
thought seemed to be able to gain a foothold.
Suddenly, as I slowly raised my head, I noticed that there were
holes in the rear panel of the engine cover. A LOT OF HOLES.
The AK rounds that had hit the back of the boat when the enemy had been firing at
Le had gone through the fantail and entered the engine compartment.
"I think we got a problem."
"Holes ... in the engine cover!"
Ski stepped up on the engine cover, stepped over Le, and jumped down into the rear .50 deck.
He looked at the holes intently. He put his right forefinger into each one and tried to
calculate what part of the engine each round might have hit.
"Damn it! (pause) Damn it, damn it, damn it!"
"Is it bad?"
"We won't know till we try to crank 'em. (pause) One fuckin' gook with an AK ... on semi-fuckin'-automatic,
for Christ's sake! (pause) JESUS!"
"For what? It ain"t your fuckin' fault!"
Ski stood up and stepped back up on the engine cover.
Nhu had finished removing the camouflage from the bow and was making his way aft as
Ski moved back toward the cox-swain's flat. Ski asked Nhu to go ashore and retrieve the
claymores and he acknowledged the order with a nod of his head.
Nhu patted Le on the shoulder and said a few words in Vietnamese before he stepped
up on the engine cover and hopped ashore.
As Nhu began retrieving the claymores, Cong cranked the engines on the cover boat.
When I heard the sound of the engines, I looked across the outcrop and saw one of Cong's men
tossing the grappling lines into their boat. A moment later, just as the man climbed back aboard,
Cong pulled back on the throttles and the cover boat eased out into the channel.
Once in mid-channel, Cong steered the boat in a circle. After completing the circle,
he pointed the bow upriver and moved away at a slow, deliberate pace.
PBR engines are loud, and it wasn't until Cong's boat had moved some distance from the outcrop that I
heard the sound of the MEDEVAC chopper. Ski heard the rotor sound when I did, and
he turned and yelled at Nhu as soon as he heard it.
"Hey, Nhu. Boogie! OK?"
Ski cranked the engines. There was a funny sound and some smoke, but they cranked.
Nhu started moving at a double-time pace. He"d already recovered four of the claymores and was
trying to locate the fifth, the one directly aft. While Nhu searched for the last claymore, Ski
turned and stared at the engine cover. The noise coming from the engines wasn't an ominous sound,
but there was definitely something wrong; the engines just didn't sound right.
When Nhu recovered the last claymore, he ran back to the boat. I met
him at the starboard side next to the bank and he handed me the mines. He'd rolled up
the lines on the first four, wrapping them around the units, but the line attached to the last one,
the one that had been directly aft, was still shore side. Before Nhu climbed aboard, he recovered our
grappling lines and tossed them into the boat. As Nhu climbed aboard, I started winding the wire
around the last claymore. The trigger mechanism wasn't onboard,
it had been yanked out of the back of the boat when the V.C. machine gunner
had walked through the line several hours earlier.
The big SEAL followed Nhu onto the boat. As soon as he was aboard,
while I was still winding the claymore line, Ski slowly pulled back on the
throttles and eased the boat out into the channel. As we pulled out, the
claymore trigger attached to the line I was winding started bouncing on the water behind the boat.
I panicked and started yelling.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!"
Ski turned around a glared at me when he yelled.
I pointed at the object bouncing behind the boat. Ski reacted immediately.
Ski backed off on the throttles and I hurriedly pulled the trigger aboard.
While we'd still been in the inlet, we weren't that easy to see from the air.
Accordingly, the MEDEVAC chopper had started hovering over Cong's boat some distance upriver.
Cong and his people had been trying to wave it off, pointing back down river toward the outcrop, but
the pilot had no idea what they were trying to tell him with their hand gestures.
Finally, when we pulled out into the channel, the pilot figured out that we were the
boat with the casualty aboard.
When I finally had the line secured around the fifth claymore, I placed it on the aft .50 deck.
While Ski was busy centering the boat in mid-channel and the chopper pilot was centering the
chopper over the boat, I leaned over to say a final good-bye to Le.
"How do you say "you" in Vietnamese?"
"OK, then. Toi la nui ... uh ... toi la ..."
"Never mind. I don"t know how to say what I wanna say."
"I took French in high school ... let me give it a try. (pause) Vous etes un bon homme."
"You say to me?"
"No, no. Say "Tu es un bon homme"."
"What's the difference?"
"Good friend say "tu es un bon homme", no say "vous etes un bon homme"."
"What if I say "toi es un bon homme?""
Le laughed and nodded his head. Then he reached up, grabbed my right shoulder and pulled me closer.
When my left ear was right next to his mouth, he whispered.
"You are good man, too. Oui?"
I pulled myself away, smiled and looked him square in the eyes.
"I hope so, mon bon ami. I hope so."
The man working the hoist on the chopper slowly lowered the basket.
The SEAL grabbed the line attached to the basket as soon as it came within reach.
Once he had the hoist on the coxswain"s deck, he signaled the man operating the hoist to stop.
The operator fed out an additional eight to ten feet of slack and then stopped the motor.
While Ski kept the boat steady in mid-channel, the big SEAL and Nhu helped Le into the basket.
Le didn"t seem to be feeling any pain, he didn't make a sound as he was secured in the basket
even though he got jostled around a good bit getting in. Once Le was secured,
the SEAL stepped onto the basket placing one foot on the left side at the mid-point and one on the right.
Once he was in place - holding onto the line with his left hand - he looked down at Le and
asked him if he was ready. When Le said he was, the SEAL looked up and gave the
hoist operator a thumbs up signal with his right hand. As soon as the operator engaged
the winch, the SEAL turned and yelled to Ski.
"When we clear the boat, head back to shore."
Ski nodded in the affirmative. A moment later, when the basket was in the air
midway between the boat and the chopper, Ski hit the throttles.
Ski didn"t take the boat back to the outcrop right away. Instead, he steered the
boat in a circle at mid-channel for a minute or so. Just as he began circling, Nhu
pulled the rain poncho off the engine cover and threw it onto the rear .50 deck.
Then he opened the two plywood doors on the engine cover and started searching for damage.
When nothing of an obvious nature revealed itself, he looked up at Ski and signaled for him
to take the boat to shore.
Just as Ski began to maneuver the boat back toward the outcrop, the chopper lurched violently.
I was staring at the bird when it happened and for a moment or two I thought the pilot had lost control.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, the tail rotor had jerked awkwardly to the left. Then, just a moment later,
it seemed to be under control again. Whatever had caused it to happen seemed to have been rectified immediately.
As Ski maneuvered our boat back toward the outcrop, Cong's boat approached us heading down-river.
I noticed that there was something lying on the engine cover of their boat. I couldn't tell
what it was right away - when they were some distance from us - but as they got closer
I could tell that it was a body. When I saw that the body was naked I quickly deduced
that Cong and his crew had recovered Phuoc's body.
It had taken almost two minutes to check out the engines and make our way back to the outcrop.
When Ski finally stopped the boat and turned off the engines, I turned and looked back toward the chopper.
It was still hovering over mid-channel and there was no sign of the SEAL. I kept staring at the
side door and wondering what was taking so long. A moment or two later, the SEAL
appeared and climbed out on the landing skid. Once he'd positioned himself in a standing position,
feet together, with the front part of his body facing outward, he cupped his left hand
over his nose and his right hand over his genitals and jumped.
The chopper was hovering some 20 to 25 feet off the water when the SEAL executed his jump, and it was flawless.
He entered the water feet-first, and his body was perfectly vertical on entry.
As soon as the SEAL jumped, the pilot swung the chopper around and headed back the way he'd come.
He was moving like a bat-out-of-hell. I hadn't seen many choppers since I'd been in Nam, but I'd
never seen one moving as fast as that one moved leaving the area.
The SEAL wasnit in the water long. The swim from mid-channel to the outcrop was about 120 feet, but it seemed
to only take him seven or eight strokes to get there. I watched in amazement as he swam;
he was fully clothed and still had on his jungle boots, and in spite of that,
in spite of carrying all that "water-weight" in his boots and his clothing,
he accomplished the swim as though it were a Sunday afternoon stroll through the park.
He wasn't even winded when he reached the shore.
He wasn't winded, but when he came out of the water he was cussing-up-a-storm.
Ski responded immediately.
"What's the matter? What happened?"
"God-damn pilot's an asshole! Army! A real friggin' jerk! He was under the
impression that he was comin' to pick up an American. He didn't know he was comin' to get a gook!"
"Wha'd he say?"
"He was pissed! He said he didn't haul fish-head eaters ... said they stunk up his chopper!"
"Wha'd you say?"
"I told him I had a seven day stand-down comin' and that I was comin' by the hospital to check on the little guy.
Then, I reached over and grabbed him by the balls and told him that if he wasted any time gettin' the
little guy to the hospital, and the gook lost his leg because of it, then he was gonna lose what I was holdin'
in my hand!"
We all started laughing. That explained why the chopper had lurched. It also explained why it had
left in such a hurry. When Ski finally regained his composure, he asked a follow-up question.
"Wha'd he say then?"
"Yes sir! He said "yes sir" a lot after that."
We all laughed again. Then the SEAL brought us back to reality.
"The pilot's an asshole, but the medic's strack. He really knows his shit.
He had an IV line and an antibiotic already set up. I think the little guy's gonna be OK."
Now that Le was on the chopper and on his way to a MASH hospital, all anyone could think about was chow.
Ski asked Nhu to open a new case of C-rations and Nhu promptly entered the storage compartment to get it.
Ski directed his next comment to the SEAL.
"When's the last time you guys had a hot one?"
"April the first."
"When was that?"
"You don't know what day it is?"
"No. Do you?"
"Yea. It"s Saturday, 18 April. April 1 was on a Wednesday."
"You ain't had a hot meal in 17 days?"
"Wait. If you don"t even know what day it is, how'd you know when to come get us?"
"Three days ago the guy in the radio room at Nha Be told me we had an extraction order.
He told me to come back the next day and he'd give me the details then.
I went back and he said the pick-up was still on and that I was to pick you up
first thing after sunrise today. He didn't say Monday, Wednesday, Friday ... he didn't say tenth,
fifteenth, eighteenth ... he just said "three days from now" and "day-after-tomorrow" ... shit like that."
I was surprised that the SEAL not only knew what the date was, but he seemed to know what
day of the week it was, too. So I asked him how he knew.
"How do you know what the date is? And what day of the week?
How do you keep up with shit like that in the bush?"
"Every op we go on is date and time sensitive. Hell ... I can tell you what time it is, too. Local and Zulu."
"Fuck it! I ain't got time for that shit! Let's eat!"
Ski picked up the conversation where he'd left off earlier.
"So. You in a hurry, or you want a hot one?"
"Hot sounds good. You got a grill?"
"Yea. Hey, Nhu!"
"Grab a stick of C-4, too!"
"Tell you what, sir. I know you guys are hungry, so you and your people go first ... we'll set the watch."
"Thanks. (pause) But ..."
"Nothin" personal ... and you can set the watch if you want to ... but my guys'll probably
want to adhere to protocol."
"Thirty minutes ago they saw you guys engage the enemy with a single M-16 on semi-automatic. They ..."
Ski interrupted him.
"Fuck it! I don"t blame 'em! (pause) Hey ... we got a cooler full of beer and Cokes. Whatcha' want?"
The SEAL cupped his hand to his mouth and yelled out to his teammates on shore.
"We got beer and Cokes! What"ll it be?"
One of the SEALs responded.
The four men ashore responded immediately and in unison.
<< 14: Waterborne Ambush || TOC