My Brush with Death (in Vietnam)
It was a beautiful Sunday morning in northern Vietnam and I had just finished eating a sea ration of WWII canned turkey for breakfast when suddenly off in the distance I heard the dreadful sounds of thump, thump, thump and I knew we were about to get rained down on with artillery being fired from the north Vietnamese army. I was with Marine company 3/3 Lima way north in the Quang Tre province north of Dong Ha very close to the DMZ and things were popping day and night.
There were so many 500 pound bomb crater holes from our B-52’s I was sure we must actually be in the DMZ or we had crossed over into North Vietnam. The carpet bombing covered the area as far as the eye could see. We were just one Marine company fighting against a full regimen of highly skilled north Vietnamese soldiers. These were their best.
I was relaxed as nothing was going on at the moment when the artillery started raining down. I had my helmet off and grabbed it quickly and ran towards a bomb crater and as I was actually in the air diving boom! a large piece of shrapnel pierced my helmet and cut a path on the back of my head literally from ear to ear which later would result in 124 stitches to close the gaping wound. I fell into the crater stunned with lost hearing as the ringing was so loud I could hear nothing else. It felt like someone had taken a baseball bat and Swung it with all their might and hit me in the back of the head. As soon as I could think I began praying because I thought this was it for sure and I would die.
Somehow I mustered enough strength to call out I’m hit, I’m hit and lucky for me a Coreman (medic) heard me and crawled his way into the crater and began wrapping my head to stop the river of blood pouring out from my head. He stuck me with morphine and the pain started to subside. Several others were also wounded so they called in the helicopters to try to land long enough to get us outta there.
They put me on a stretcher and began to take me to the LZ (landing zone) and every few steps they would put me down and hover across my body when more shells screamed down. Nothing in this world like Marines carrying for their wounded risking their own lives to get me to safety. Once again shrapnel was flying through the air and I was hit again in my left upper thigh cutting a huge gaping hole. I remember so vividly choppers hovering and circling above waiting for the right moment to come down and pick me and a couple of others up. Finally they swooped down not touching the ground and my Marine buddies literally threw me up into the chopper and it immediately pulled up into the sky. It felt like I was blasting off to the moon the G-Force was so strong. They flew me all the way down to DaNang and there performed surgery on my head. The wound on my hip was left open. They laid me on a slab like you would see in a mortuary and there were many other soldiers there. Some were calling out to their mothers, some were so angry they were cursing against God but most were praying to God.
Someone began shaving my head with a dry razor which hurt like hell until I told them I could feel that on the front part of my skull so they said sorry and then used water and soap and continued to shave my head. I not sure how long I was on that table but when I woke up I was in a billet type hospital and holding my hand was a beautiful Vietnamese Nun dressed in all whites smiling at me. I thought she was an angel at first but actually she was my angel as she had been praying for me and sat by my side. She began to peel an orange and fed me little by little just smiling, I never saw her again but I’ll never forget her.
Four days later I was flown to Japan and four days after that I was flown back to the states via Alaska to Bethesda Maryland hospital. There I recouped and to my surprise I saw another machine gunner who said our entire company got overrun after I left. Sadly his whole buttocks has been blown off and there was literally no meat or flesh on his backside. After seeing all the wounded and suffering of fellow Marines and other service men I considered myself very blessed and lucky especially when I heard of my former marine classmate Butch Johnson has lost his life. Years later I paid my respects to him at a visit to the Vietnam memorial. Why I made it back and others didn’t I’ll never understand but I know everything is in Gods plan that we don’t understand while we live in this earthly body.
So on this Veterans Day weekend I salute all my fellow Veterans and carry the memories of their service with honor. May God have mercy on our Armed Forces around the world and bless their families…..