I suddenly remembered that this happened – 54 years ago in 1967.
We had been in a days-long battle, part of something called the Hill Fights (near Con Thien). It’s kind of a blur, but it seems like I spent most of my time there with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, mostly hooked up a machine-gun team. When it was over for me I was taken back to Dong Ha, kind of a front of the rear place where they had things like a mess hall, hospital tents like a MASH unit, occasional rocket attacks, a little post exchange, and other stuff I guess. I went to the post exchange, but they wouldn’t let me in!!! Said I wasn’t squared away or some kind USMC BS – and they said I had to unload my weapon! My flak jacket had (someone else’s) blood on the front and it had got to smelling bad and I surely smelled bad on my own, too, with sweat and smoke, etc. But still, I was unhappy. I needed some goddam cigarettes.
It was evening by now and I went over to the hospital tents where there were piles of discarded equipment from men who’d been shot or whatever and I was shuffling around in all this gear like helmets, packs, boots, flak jackets, web
gear, and so on. Some of it was pretty bad, too – blood, shit, everything on it. Seems like it was a misty evening, but I can’t be sure. Even at the time I could see how surreal this all was. I found a cleaner flak jacket and left mine behind. I’m sure I got some smokes, though I don’t know where from.
I’ve never been able to keep it straight what happened when in the Hill Fights. I know it was April into May, but I wasn’t there the whole time. I remember the mortar fire; how glad I was to be using an M-14 vs M-16; the un-fucking-believable volumes of fire, incoming and outgoing; the man who died as his guts fell out of his back when they turned him over; the man lying there covered in blood, smiling and shooting me the finger because we’d just saved his ass and he had what looked like a million dollar wound; the helicopter spinning around and hitting the ground hard; carrying the last dead Marine out of the downed chopper while the NVA were firing at us and the chopper coming in to pick us up; I keep kind of fixating on a trail that followed the contour of a hill, but it was just a trail. And now I remember about the piles of gear.
I know this: when Jeff and David and I were in Vietnam in 2005 we were happy to visit Thuy Bo (Dodge City to us, near Hill 55) where our company had operated for about six months and where some serious fire-fights happened. But where the Hill Fights were, Khe Sanh, 861? “No. Those are killing fields,” Jeff said.