It was 1968, Viet Nam, I was not in the army infantry or drafted as such, I was an Airman, actually at this time classified as E-5, Staff Sgt. I was an airplane mechanic in the air force. Deployed in a Combat Crew Training Squadron. (CCTS) Our main unit was Tactical Air Command (TAC), on temporary duty assignment (TDY) to Viet Nam. Stationed out of Clark AFB in the Philippines, we frequently followed or flew with our aircraft to sorties in Viet Nam. Our pilots flew their 100 sorties (missions) and then rotated back to Clark AFB. On this particular day, we were deployed to Cam Ranh Bay. This day was one of the North Vietnamese special holidays in 1968. With that being said, they launched an offensive campaign that was massive and without regard to their own lives but in celebration of the holidays.
I was working in Transit HQ, where our squadron and a few others were located on this temporary assignment. From out of nowhere, you could hear mortar shells and rocket explosions again and again. And the klaxon alert siren was going off. We ran for the nearest bunkers as we were taught to do. From here we would be issued our weapons and ammunition. Meanwhile , a line of F102 aircraft, and some F4’s were being hit by the incoming rounds, the shrapnel was flying everywhere, and you could see sizzling twisting objects with their smoke trails going off in all directions.
Apparently it was a big push, North Vietnamese infiltrating the outer perimeters and making headway into the base.
Before I knew it, an army soldier, jumped into my bunker apparently from one of those patrols on the outer perimeter. I looked at him and could not believe my eyes. He was an old high school buddy. He had been drafted and almost close to his end of tour of duty. At least he had an M16 rifle with ammunition. So far, all I got was a screwdriver. The Master Sergeant was trying to get us the weapons, but the ammo dumps were being hit by shells and almost impossible to reach.
My buddy, yelled something unintelligent and ran back out towards the fighting. Suddenly, more explosions all around.. then it was relatively quiet. Small fire going on.. out front. The flight line superintendent came by again giving us M16’s but he could not get any ammo clips for us, except for one magazine. At least we had the bayonets. More explosions and then my friend, packing an injured soldier on his back, hit my bunker. He was yelling medic! Medic! Eye’s crazed. I cannot begin to tell you, how emotional the next moments were for me. Here was this soldier that my friend rescued but he had been hit multiple times when carried back to my bunker. He had no pulse and eyes glazed. He did not make it. My buddy was devastated, all that for naught. And it appears that my high school pal was saved from being hit by those rounds that killed this soldier.
As suddenly as it started, it was over. My buddy crying, and I was not one for lack of tears….
Several years past, and I was again stateside on leave to my hometown. I was downtown, and had stopped at a light and saw my buddy coming out of a bar there. He had been drinking, but he said he was glad to see me and that I had made it out of the war. I had thanked him for all that he tried to do that day and some ammunition he gave me. He was looking pretty spaced out and kept asking me; “What do you want in your foxhole? A friend or an enemy?” I was confused and did not understand him, but thought he had too much to drink, and so I called a cab for him. I tried to comfort him and told him it was best for him to go sleep it off and if he needed me for anything just give me a call. I slipped my phone number into his shirt pocket. I gave the car keys to the bartender back in side the bar and left.
And again, some more years past, and I had returned to college, where I received a newspaper clipping from my grandmother. It was my friend, his obituary. He apparently took his own life one afternoon, not able to deal with the war and what he had been through. I wish I knew the circumstances surrounding his Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and why he could not go on with life.
He was a hero to me, a true compassionate soul that cared for the lives of others when put to the task. He tried to do that, and for me, he DID do that. I will always remember my friend from high school, and especially on Memorial Day.