There have been several recent conversations re PTS (just post-traumatic stress; no PTSD; no disorder). I have had a difficult time trying to decide whether to post this on FB. Several people have been reluctant to read it and I have been surprised by other reactions. But it’s not about reaction; it’s about reality.
Memory is a funny thing. Witnesses often see different things. I want to document what (to me, at least) are some astonishing facts. I asked someone else who was there if my recollections are accurate. “Sure.” First is that some people actually tried as hard as they could to kill me.
I understand that they weren’t trying to kill me as an individual or a human being with my identity. They didn’t know me and nobody said, “I want to kill that guy” (except the occasional sniper). They wanted to kill me and everyone I was with. We wanted to kill them too. That’s what everybody was there for. Crazy. All these actions involved unit/group (from squad to regiment) efforts, though occasionally a firefight would be more personal.
But here’s the thing: when bullets snap close by your head or when a mortar round hits very close or a bullet hits the man next to you with a smack and he grunts, it feels very personal. It could hardly feel more personal.
I know for a fact I’ve been shot at by:
- 152mm howitzers at Gio Linh, a small firebase at the DMZ where the shelling was intense and Khe Sanh, a large firebase where I was before it was surrounded and things got intense. I can’t even think of a word to describe the sound they make coming in close. A lightening quick screaming loud whir? The explosion is like a huge clang. These were the same caliber cannon that Russians are now using in Ukraine, though it seems likely the explosive is now more powerful and the barrages far more sustained.
- 122mm rockets at Dong Ha, a base with an airstrip just south of the DMZ. These were impacting kind of randomly, and it was a big base, so not a big sweat to me.
- 82mm mortars in the Hill Fights outside of Con Thien at the DMZ, also on Operation Deckhouse at DMZ. I was with 1st Bn, 9th Marines in the Hill Fights and the fighting was very intense. In Deckhouse I was with 1/26. The third night we were dug in in an old NVA (North Vietnamese Army) position and unfortunately for us, the NVA already had the position zeroed in with mortars. I was asleep beside a trench when the first rounds hit really close and I felt like I levitated into the trench and bounced back up and I could see the mortar muzzle flashes and I gave them two full belts/200 rounds even though someone was shouting “Cease fire! Cease fire!” I just kept cranking and the mortars stopped.
- 40mm RPGs at end of Deckhouse and probably other times. I was riding on the back of a tank. I was facing to the rear, kind of dazed from a 4-5 day battle I mistakenly thought was over. It was like I saw something flying through the air and I saw the driver of the tank immediately behind us about 20 meters away his head exploded and his comm helmet and it was like a radio exploded. At the same time the tank I was on was hit and then the tank with the dead driver rammed us and we were taking what they call “heavy small-arms fire.” We fought our way out of the ambush.
- 12.7mm machine guns near Khe Sanh and the Hill Fights. I was on a helicopter coming out of the Hill Fights and Bang! We were hit and the chopper spun several times and hit the ground hard. We were taking fire and set up a perimeter and returned fire and then another chopper touched down to take us away and some men wanted to get right on that chopper and get out of there but a couple of us disregarded them and went back to the chopper and pulled off the dead Marines from 1/9. I was really pissed that they wanted to just leave the dead men.
- 7.62x39mm machine guns, AK-47s and SKSs (everywhere). They all had AKs at the DMZ where we fought the NVA. I think around Danang where we fought Viet Cong there were more SKSs.
- Bouncing Betty mines and IEDs, especially at “Dodge City” near Danang. When a bouncing Betty is triggered a projectile shoots up and explodes at about waist level. Probably what killed D____ my assistant gunner. The night before when we were digging in he told he knew he was going to die. That’s why I let him carry my gun the day he was killed – I figured it would give him a better chance at beating fate or whatever. A love gift.
- Agent Orange here and there.
- One strafing run by US helicopter gunship, 7.62mm machine guns near Dodge City. We had just assaulted a trench and were resting beside the trench when the chopper strafed the trench (not having gotten the word that the VC were gone and we were there), but he missed. Another time at the DMZ a Puff (the Magic Dragon) with Gatling guns (7.62mm) firing drifted too close, which just about stopped my heart.
I was lightly wounded by shrapnel near Dong Ha. I’m a walking miracle.