Vietnam Veteran Peter Brusyo Jr. passed away on Aug. 9 last year, just three days after his 72nd birthday – leaving behind his wife, son, daughter and eight grandchildren. He also left behind his story of service in Vietnam to honor two fellow soldiers killed in action. The following is Army Sgt. Brusyo’s story, in his own words.
My memories of the Vietnam War
Dec. 24, 1965 – June 1, 1966
This manuscript is dedicated to medic Pfc. Lyle D. Holloway, who was killed on May 29,1966 in Phu Loi Provence, Republic of South Vietnam. He gave his life trying to help me. And PFC Terrence J. Daley, who was also killed that same day in Phu Loi Provence.
No greater love hath man then to lay down his life for his friend – John 15: 13
Chapter 1: Vietnam, here I come
I was one of the lucky ones that didn’t have to go to Vietnam, I had two good excuses. The first being that I was the sole surviving son in my family and the second was that I didn’t have enough time remaining in the service to go. I had enlisted for three years and my tour of duty would be over in about nine months. They were actually training me to be an instructor of new recruits at Fort Hood, Texas.
When you’re young and stupid you think and do certain things that you wouldn’t if you were an adult. I wanted to accomplish three things when I got out of training. I wanted to wear the 1st Calvary patch (stupid): I wanted to at least make Sergeant E-5, (dumb) and I wanted to know what combat was like (very stupid).
After training, my first assignment was in Korea with the 1st Battalion, 7th Calvary Regiment, 1st Calvary Division, the big yellow and black shoulder patch with a horse on it. It was General Custard’s old unit. I got my first wish.
I liked the Army and I tried my best to excel. In Korea I was promoted from private, (Pvt.), to private first class, (Pfc.) and then to specialist 4th class, (SPC-4), which is equivalent to a corporal. Before I left Korea, I was put in for the rank of sergeant (Sgt.) E-5, but I did not have enough time in the military to receive that promotion. I was sent to Fort Hood, Texas where I also excelled. I was one of 20 men picked out of all of Fort Hood to go to an eight week course called Noncommissioned Officers Academy. I graduated Aug. 6, 1965 on my 21st birthday and was promoted to sergeant E-5 that same day. Boy did I get drunk that night. I got my second wish.
Now I only had one wish left, combat. All my buddies were being shipped out to Vietnam and I wanted to go. I went to Personal and asked them to send me; they told me that I did not have enough time remaining in the service to be shipped to Vietnam. They said if I extended my tour of duty for another eighteen months they would send me, so I did and they did.
On Dec. 24, 1965 at 7 p.m., I departed Oakland, California for Vietnam. It was Christmas Eve and I was scheduled to go to a civilian’s family Christmas Eve celebration that evening but my shipping orders came down and I had to cancel my invitation. It was a long and very quiet flight. We stopped in Hawaii to refuel but were not allowed to get off the plane.
Upon arriving in Vietnam the first thing I remember was hearing the artillery shelling in the background – it was constant. We were loaded on a military bus with wire mesh over the windows and taken to a replacement center not far from the airport. I was assigned a bunk and told it would be two-to-three days before I was assigned to my new unit. It was actually four days before my assignment orders came in. I laid in my bunk for those four days listening to artillery shells and bombs dropping day and night
Finally one morning at roll call, I was told to report to personal to pickup my unit assignment orders and that I should get ready to be air lifted to my new unit. I was assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. I went back to the replacement center, packed up my clothes and personal belongings and was driven to the airport where a helicopter was waiting to take me and several other men to our new unit.
Before I go any further, I should tell you that my military occupational specialty (MOS) was in heavy weapons, MOS 112, which was 42mm Mortars. I was assigned to the mortar platoon as a gunner and worked my way up to a forward observer, or FO. An FO was a very sought after position. Their job is to call in fire missions on suspected enemy positions – I was very good at my job. I had excellent map reading ability and was able to calculate line of site distance with ease. Anyway, back to Vietnam.
Chapter 2: My new home
The 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division was located outside of a village called Phouc Vinh which was about 30 miles north of Siagon. There were several units around that village and we were one of them. The 26th Infantry Regiment was also known as the “Blue Spaders”.
I arrived at the 26th base camp and reported to the first sergeant as required. He immediately told me he did not need a “heavy weapons” person but was looking for a sergeant E-5 for “light Infantry” and asked what kind of experience did I have in light Infantry. I told him none and he said we’ll give you on the job training. He then assigned me to the 1st platoon. My platoon sergeant was Staff Sgt. Johnson who was very happy to see me. I was sent to the supply tent and issued my rifle, ammunition, hand grenades, helmet, canteen, poncho, first aid kit, mosquito netting and sleeping bag.
I was assigned to the 1st platoon of Company A. Each company has four platoons and each platoon has two squads consisting of between 12 to 18 men per squad. Sgt. Hall was 2nd squad’s leader and Sgt. Johnson assigned me as leader for the 1st squad. I told him I had no experience in light infantry because I was trained in heavy weapons. He told me not to worry, just remember what I was taught in basic training and to watch him. This did not make me very happy, being put in charge of this group of men and being responsible for them. I was worried or, I should say, scared.
All new men coming into a unit get a lot of heckling and I was no exception. I was considered a “lifer;” I was the only man there who had the most amount of time to be there in Vietnam. And if I was lucky I might make it out, but not likely.
I was introduced to the platoon and my new squad. At that time I had 12 men in my squad. This number changed often by people getting hurt, wounded, killed or rotating back to the states. Sgt. Hull showed me around base camp and I was told what was expected of me. We got to be very good friends, he even came to see me when I was in the hospital in Japan. He did two tours in Vietnam and made it out with two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.
Chapter 3: Base Camp
Base camp consisted of an area about one mile in circumference. This would be my home for the next 12 months, if I made it. We had a waist-deep trench dug completely around the perimeter in case we were ever attacked, plus we used it when we had guard duty at night. Each platoon would guard their own area around the perimeter. A new gadget came out, called a starlight scope and each platoon was issued one for guard duty at base camp only. At that time it was a “top secret” device and we were told to protect it with our life. It enabled you to see silhouettes of people at night. I’m sure today each man has his own scope and it’s 100 percent improved. We had probing attacks at least once a week when we were at base camp. We also had a sniper out in front of our position that would take a shot or two at us daily. We never were able to get him and he sure kept us on our toes.
Our bathroom facilities left a lot to be desired. Our showers consisted of three 50-gallon steel drums mounted on a platform above ground with a faucet and pull chain mounted to it. You would stand under the faucet and wet yourself down, and then you would soap yourself up and then rinse yourself off. You would use as little water as possible. If we were at base camp when it rained we would all run outside and take a shower in the rain. You would have to hurry because if it stopped raining and you weren’t rinsed off, you were screwed. Our toilet situation: We had an outhouse about the size of an 8’ x 16’ shed with a platform and four openings cut into the platform. There were no dividers between the holes and it smelled in there. It was no place to bring a magazine or paper to read. The collection drums were removed from the back of the shed and cleaned once a week by burning the contents with diesel fuel. This was the work of privates, supervised by us sergeants.
Our mess hall was a zero-star dinning facility at its best. Breakfast usually consisted of powdered scrambled eggs or “SOS.” At one point, we were told that one of our daily meals would have to be plain cooked rice, because if the Viet Cong could live on plain rice we should be able to do it. Even when we were out on patrol or a search and destroy mission we were given a bag of cooked rice. You can imagine how well that went. By the time I got back to the states, I hated rice.
We used to steal cases of C-rations and trade each other for our favorites. Anything that was made in the mess hall was either powdered or from a can. The only good thing that came out of the mess hall when we were at base camp was that we were given one can of free beer a day. It was always warm, but it was beer. If you were scheduled to go out on patrol, listening post or had guard duty that evening you were not allowed to drink any thing with alcohol in it. The five months that I was there, I never saw anyone drunk or involved in any kind of drugs at base camp. We were all new in country, so I think that was the reason.
Chapter 4: Patrols
I went out on several ambush patrols with other more experienced NCOs before they allowed me to take out my own ambush patrol. It amazed me how you could walk through the jungle at night in the blackest of black and still be aware of everything around you. At times it was so dark you had to hold onto the webbing of the person in front of you because you couldn’t see him. The jungle is a very scary place at night.
Finally the dreaded day arrived. My platoon sergeant called me into his tent and told me I would be taking my first patrol out that night. We had an appointment with the company XO to go over the details of the patrol. For those of you not familiar with an XO, it stands for executive officer and he is just below a unit commander. The XO is basically the manager of the unit; there is one assigned to every unit from the company level to the corps level.
I was told that I would be taking out my team on an ambush patrol that evening after the sun sets. We would be going northwest approximately 500 meters and set up our ambush along side a small trail in that area. I was shown on a map to the exact location. We located the trail on the map and figured out the exact azimuth I would be taking to get to this area. I was given the password, the password changed daily, to give to the men on guard duty when they challenged us on our return to base camp, to keep us from getting shot by our own men. I was told what to bring as far as ammunition, grenades and claymore mines. I was told what my call sign was and what frequency our radio would be on.
After we set up our ambush site, we would check in with base camp so they knew we are ready and in position. After the initial check in, any communication with base camp was by keying the talk button on the microphone. We would check in every hour on the hour with either one click of the mike button for every thing is okay or two clicks that we were having some sort of a problem. We never talked over the radio while out on ambush patrol or listening post because it would compromise our position.
We set up booby traps around our area in the event someone tried to sneak up on us. These were usually done with grenades and a trip wire. If we made no contact we would return back to base camp around 4 or 5 a.m. My time there I saw only one of our patrols make contact while out on an ambush patrol. They had no one hurt, but they brought back three bodies, weapons and some papers.
Chapter 5: Missions
We never spent much time at base camp. We would come in, wash up, clean our equipment, relax a little if you weren’t pulling patrol or guard duty, and write some letters home. Three days at base camp was usually tops. We looked forward to that one free can of beer every day at base camp – not much of a bonus for putting your life on the line every day.
The 1st Infantry Division arrived in Vietnam in July of 1965. When I arrived in December, most of the men had already half of their tour completed. During my five months there, I was involved in approximately 16 missions which included search and destroy, resupply and main assault. Each mission lasted from a minimum of three days to two weeks; the average was about a week long. On all our missions, we were flown in by helicopter, except for resupply missions, at which time we used vehicles.
When we were assigned a mission, we would be taken by truck to the airstrip, which was not far from our base camp and loaded on helicopters, about a dozen men per helicopter, and flown to the area where the mission was to take place. It always amazed me to watch the helicopters in groups of 10, side by side, in close formation, taking off and landing together. To this day, the sounds of the whirling helicopter blades make me look up into the sky.
Usually they would hover about three feet above ground and you would have to jump out – not fun if you were jumping into a rice patty. The gunners on the helicopter, one on each side, would constantly be firing their machine guns at the wood line in case the enemy was around. If the enemy was there, it was called a hot landing zone (LZ). If you were in the first group landing you would immediately run to the wood line to set up a protective perimeter for the next group of helicopters coming in. It would be that way until everyone was on the ground.
On one mission we landed in a hot LZ. We were taking very heavy enemy fire and we had to call in our gun ships to lay down extra fire support for us. A smoke grenade was thrown to mark our location for the gun ships, but the direction given to them of our location in relation to the smoke was wrong and they started shooting at us. I was never more scared in my life, curled up in the fetal position praying not to get hit and watching the rounds pop all around us from our own helicopters. In the end, no one was injured and the mission continued without further incident.
One thing I hated about search and destroy or for that matter any other missions; we would go into a certain area, clear it out, secure it and then leave. As soon as we left the VC or NVA would move right back into that same area, then in about two weeks we would be going back in and doing the same thing all over again. This didn’t happen once or twice, on some missions we went back into the same area four or five times, it was very frustrating to all of us.
On certain occasions when we knew we were going into a VC-controlled village, we were ordered to burn it down and destroy everything in the village, including the main well if they had one. Usually when you entered a village, either day or night, the men would be gone; farmers by day, VC at night. We would find guns, ammunition, grenades and mines. On one occasion outside of one of the villages we found a camouflaged hutch loaded with about one thousand bags of rice and crawling with rats. On the front of each bag, there were two hands shaking with the words “Donated by the People of the United States”. We were ordered to destroy everything; they flew out diesel fuel so that we could burn it. There was a lot of rice and it took a while. We also destroyed any livestock or poultry that were around. We didn’t do this to all villages, just certain villages that were known to be VC.
Chapter 6: Water, bugs and snakes
Water was more precious to us than gold is today. Each man carried between two to five canteens of water with them while out in the jungle. We also carried iodine pills with us so that we could purify any water we came across while out in the jungle. It worked; it just made the water taste like iodine. If you drank some water without purifying it you would more then likely catch some sort of parasite, which I can attest to.
There were a lot of times when we could not get re-supplied with water and we had to ration the water we were carrying in our canteens. I can remember one time when we stopped for the night and set up camp I took my machete and cut through a vine hanging overhead, putting my helmet under it and letting the water drip into my helmet over night. The next morning, I had about a quart of water in my steel pot and it tasted good. I always carried three canteens of water with me when out in the field.
Ants. Ants. Ants. Ants. Ants. I saw more then I care to remember. I remember two types of ants; the first type which really didn’t bother us was the kind that built its home out of mud into towers about two-feet wide and three-to-five-feet tall. They were harmless. The other ants were bastards. They were red and about a half inch long. They would build their nests by weaving leaves together on branches into a ball about the size of a volleyball. When you were walking through the jungle you were unaware of the nest because it looked like all the other leaves and when you brushed up against this nest: hundreds would drop on you and start biting you. There was nothing you could do but strip your equipment and shirt off as fast as possible. I can’t tell you how many times this happened to us.
Scorpions were all over the place, even at base camp. You always had to shake out your boots and clothing to make sure you didn’t have one curled up into what ever you were putting on. I never saw anyone get stung by one, but I saw a lot of scorpions.
Leeches, leeches, leeches. I hate leeches, too. They’re disgusting. Every time we would cross a river or stream we would get them on us. Not one or two but dozens of these black crawly worms that immediately start sucking your blood as soon as they make contact with your skin. We would have to stop and burn them off with the lighted end of our cigarette.
Snakes were all around us all the time from six inches to15 – 20 feet long. I remember stopping for a break and setting up a temporary perimeter with one of my team members. The two of us were standing under a tree when we heard something up the tree. We both looked up and right above our heads was a python about fifteen feet long sliding down the tree, needles to say we both got out of there. On another occasion we set up camp for the night. While laying on the ground a snake I would say about six feet long, slithered over my body while I was trying to get some sleep. Needless to say that was the end of any sleep that night.
Chapter 7: Listening post / guard duty
Keeping awake at night when you were on guard duty or out on a listening post was a real challenge. When I wrote home, I always asked my parents or sisters to send me No Doze to help keep me awake. I don’t know if they still make it, but it worked for me. I use to smoke back in the day and when you went out at night you were not allowed to smoke. When I knew I was going out at night, during the day, I would smoke a cigar about half way down and then put it out. I would save the rest of the cigar to chew on while out in the jungle at night. That helped to control my craving for a cigarette and it helped to keep me awake.
We were out on one of our ambush patrols and we set up camp for the night. We usually sent out an LP in front of our company perimeter every night we were out in the field. An LP is short for a listening post. That’s where you go out about one hundred meters in front of your units’ position and sit there all night and listen for any enemy movement. Anyway it was my turn to go out, I took two other men with me, and we went out about one hundred meters and set up our position in a clearing around a lone tree. That was the only place to set up. The grass there was about two feet tall.
We were laying there in the grass when around 1 a.m. we heard someone crawling around to our front. He knew we were out there and he started to crawl around us. He put himself between us and our unit and about every 15 or 20 minutes he would take a shot in our direction. The three of us were laying there scared, making love to the ground. We couldn’t shoot back at him because if we did we would be shooting back into our company’s position. Finally after about two hours, we each took out a grenade, pulled the pin and together we lobbed them out in his direction. We didn’t see or hear him any more the rest of the night.
Chapter 8: Cocoa Beach
This was the first time I was involved in any type of real combat. Three of our companies were out on this mission: Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. Delta was held in reserve. We were searching for a VC division that was said to be in this particular area. I believe the mission was called Cocoa Beach. We had stopped for lunch and then we were told that we had to set up a defensive perimeter because battalion received word that we were going to be attacked that evening.
We dug foxholes that could hold three men with enough room to move around in and at least five-feet deep. Approximately, every 10 meters in both directions other foxholes were being dug until we had a huge circle of foxholes. Each foxhole was given an assigned area to cover that you were responsible for. It was hard work but in the end it was well worth it. My shirt was soaking wet from sweat so I took it off and hung it on a limb next to the fox hole to dry.
We ate our C-rations, made sure all our magazines were loaded, made sure we had enough grenades, set up some claymore mines in front of our position and sat back and waited. Each company sent out a listening post in front of there area. I was sure happy it wasn’t my turn.
In my foxhole, I had Pvt. Shupp and Pfc. Formanskie. Shupp was a new man that came in after me and Formanskie was there with the unit when it arrived in Vietnam. It was a long wait. About midnight word came down that the LPs were hearing a lot of movement out front. Then, all of a sudden all hell broke loose. It sounded like the finale at a 4th of July fireworks celebration. Rounds started whizzing by us, grenades blowing up around us, smoke and the smell of gun powder.
All of a sudden, the whole sky lit up around us. Helicopters were called in to drop flares on small parachutes to help light up the area to our front. You could see hundreds of VC running towards our positions, some falling to the ground and being dragged away by women. I grabbed my shirt off the limb so it wouldn’t give away our position and the next day when I checked it, was full of holes.
Pfc. Formanskie was the middle man in our foxhole. I heard a thud right out front of our position and the next thing I know, I’m sitting at the bottom of the fox hole. A VC threw a grenade at us, it landed right in front of our hole and Pfc. Formanski grabbed me and Pvt. Shupp and pulled us both down into the hole on his way down. If it wasn’t for him, I probably would have got my head blown off. Word came down that some VC were able to get through part of Charlie Company’s defense and were attacking the command post.
The fighting continued until sunrise and stopped almost as suddenly as it started. Of the three LPs who were sent out, two were able to make it back in, the other one stayed out during the fire fight, laid low and no one was hurt. Charlie Company’s breech of the perimeter was taken under control. There was talk of some hand to hand fighting going on. The sight, sound and smell of combat are something you’ll never forget. I think that’s why 4th of July fireworks don’t excite me like they do others.
Word came down that we were to go out and search the dead and wounded, give aid to the wounded and pick up all the weapons, ammunition, grenades and anything else we found and pile it in front of the command post. We were to collect all the bodies and body limbs and pile them in a clearing in front of 2nd platoons position. I can’t tell you how fast those bodies started to smell. After the count: because that was the way the generals could tell we were winning the war: We counted 186 dead VC, 15 dead Americans, 13 wounded VC and five wounded Americans.
I guess we won that little war.
Anyway, the next thing we saw was a huge bulldozer come out of the jungle and start scrapping a long trench. All the [enemies’] bodies were put into this trench, side by side and then covered over by the ‘dozer. That was the end of operation Cocoa Beach. We picked up our equipment, got into our helicopters and went back to base camp.
Chapter 9: Montagnard
Montagnard is a French word meaning “mountain people” (I didn’t know this, I had to look it up). They live in tribal groups in the mountains of South East Asia. There are several different tribes. They are primarily nomadic and live off the land. They were there before the Vietnamese came, similar to the North American Indians and the white man. The tribe we worked with guarded a bridge on Highway 13 going to Saigon. On resupply missions, if we weren’t escorting the convoy we would help them secure the bridge. It also gave us a chance to take a bath in the river. They were a fun people and seemed very happy. They didn’t care much for the Vietnamese, either North or South, but they liked helping us.
The bridge we were helping guard was located right next to a rubber plantation: that’s were we set up camp. I hated rubber plantations because we would always get sniped at. The Army issued us hammocks to set up between the trees but we refused them. We were afraid of getting shot in them. We would rather sleep on the ground.
Chapter 10: Other missions
There were many missions that we went on with either no or very little enemy contact. I don’t know who names these missions, but some of these names leave a lot to be desired. Here are some of the ones that I can remember: Quick Kick I, Quick Kick II, Quick Kick III, Quick Kick IV; Red Ball I – V (resupply missions); Evansville, Cocoa Beach, Abilene, Miami, Birmingham, Hollingsworth, Providence– these were all search and destroy. There were others that I can’t remember.
Chapter 11: Saigon
I went to Saigon twice in my first five months in Vietnam. The first time I went was in February sometime. My unit was picked to escort a convoy into Saigon. It was not a fun trip. We were in open three-quarter ton trucks, the roads were not paved and there was so much dust and dirt flying around it was hard to believe. By the time we got to Saigon, we looked like someone had put us in a bag of reddish brown flour, shook us around and spit us out. We were so covered in dust it wasn’t funny. After we were dismissed, we found a bath house, took off our cloths, shook them out, took a shower, then into the steam room, then another shower and then we put our dirty cloths back on. Don’t tell me we don’t know how to have fun! The return trip back to base camp was just as bad.
My second trip to Saigon was the first week in April. Every three months, you were allowed a three-day pass and it was finally my turn. At six months you were allowed a one week furlough out of Vietnam for “R&R:” pick a place, Japan, Philippines, Hawaii, anywhere in the Far East. Before I got shot, I was planning on going to the Philippines for my R&R.
We went to the airfield and caught a ride by helicopter to Saigon. There were always choppers going to Saigon. We checked into a hotel, we each got our own room, and decided to meet for lunch before going out on the town. The cab drivers new exactly who the greenhorns were in town. They would all try and pick you up to show you a good time. I guess the guys out of the jungle looked like tourist in a big city. For lunch, we all had a steak, potatoes and a veggie. It was the best and only steak I’d had since leaving the States.
After lunch we took a tour of Saigon by foot and also by cab. It was interesting to see the shops, how the people lived half a world away from your own, the smells, the different foods; it was all fascinating. We checked out some of the clubs where we would be going our first night in Saigon and we also checked out the girls that worked the clubs.
We went out to dinner and then we went to the first club on our list. As you can imagine we never made it any further. We met again the next day for breakfast and to do it all over again at a different club.
On our last day in Saigon, we decided to go to the USO. We watched a movie, played games and had lunch before catching a ride back to our unit. When we got back, we were told that we lost three men from our company while we were gone. They were out on patrol and got killed in a fire fight with the VC. We really felt bad. We were out having fun and these poor guys lost their lives.
Chapter 12: Miscellaneous Quirks
One time, we came across a small pineapple plantation and we decided to eat some not so ripe pineapples. We did, and the next day we all had the runs.
We used to take claymore mines apart and use the compound inside as fuel to heat up our C-rations. The compound inside was called “Composition C” and it was a white clay type substance that you could mould with your fingers. A piece about the size of a marble would boil you a cup of water in no time, for instant coffee or hot chocolate.
We used to tape our ammo clips together, so just by turning it 180 degrees you had another twenty rounds to fire.
We would draw a yearly calendar on the camouflage cover that went over our steel helmets and every day put an” X “thru one of the dares indicating how many days we had left to serve in Vietnam. It was called a “short-timers calendar”.
We were paid in MPC, military payment certificates, or as we called it Monopoly money. Each month most of our money was sent home, we drew a small allowance so we had spending money in town or if we went to Saigon or whatever. American money was not allowed because of the black market. If you had $100 in American money, it would be worth $300 in Vietnamese money, or $200 in MPCs. Cigarettes were also a commodity, you could double your money on a carton of cigarettes, any brand.
We were also given a ration booklet, everyone was issued one. In it, you had coupons for items like a carton of cigarettes, to stereos and TVs. Cigarettes, you were allowed to purchase four cartons a month, stereos and TVs – one per tour. This was to keep you from buying items and selling them on the black market for a profit. There were many items in the ration booklet, but I can’t remember them. We also got cigarettes from the Red Cross and a packet containing four cigarettes in every C-ration meal.
P-38: every solider was issued a P-38. It was a small pocket can opener and it was used to open our C-ration cans. It folded flat and was the size of a large U.S. postage stamp. I still carry one attached to my key ring.
Chapter 13: WIA “Wounded in Action”
It was May 29, 1966, we were returning from a search and destroy mission after being out in the jungle for over a week. We were in Phu Loi Provence, South Vietnam. I was looking forward to getting back to base camp because I was scheduled to go on R&R, for a week to the Philippines.
My platoon was the lead platoon for our company and my squad was the lead squad for the platoon, so we were the point squad leading the company. I remember the jungle was very thick, the point man having to use a machete to cut his way through. I was the second person behind the point man or the third person in line. Pvt. Shupp, carrying a grenade launcher, was directly behind the point man.
It was early afternoon, probably around 1 p.m., when all of a sudden all hell broke loose. As soon as the firing started, I was hit. It felt like someone hit me in the back of my head with a hammer and about the same time it felt like someone hit me in the right hip with a baseball bat. I guess it was the hip shot that spun me around and my rifle went flying out of my hands.
I felt absolutely no pain whatsoever, but I knew I was hit. I landed on my back with my right knee cocked up: I could not straighten my right leg. I looked around to see where everyone was. The point man was on the ground not moving. I saw Pvt. Shupp reaching for my rifle and trying to fire it. He saw me and yelled over to me that the rifle would not fire. I told him the safety was still on. He removed the safety and started to return fire. As soon as he started firing, a grenade landed about a foot from him and went off. He dropped and lay there motionless. I caught a lot of shrapnel in my upper right arm from that grenade. We were within 10 yards of them before they opened up on us. The jungle was so thick we never saw them.
After Shupp was put out of action I looked around and could not see any one else because of all the smoke and vegetation. There was a lot of shooting and explosions going on. I heard someone yell to watch where you’re firing because there were troops out front. I still did not feel any pain.
I knew I was hit in the back of my head and I was afraid to put my hand back there. I was afraid to find a hole in my head. I finally did check my head; it was solid except for all the blood on my hand. I decided to put my first aid dressing on my head wound, and I did. No one could get to the three of us because of all the bullets whizzing around. I was laying there on my back, no weapon, and trying to decide what to do next. I laid there for about 20 – 30 minutes and then I saw someone crawl up to Pvt. Shupp and start checking him out. He was there for about five minutes and then he looked in my direction and saw me. He asked me if I was hit. I told him in the hip and the back of my head. He immediately started to crawl in my direction. I yelled to him to stay where he was, but he didn’t listen and started towards me.
When he reached me, I asked him how Shupp was. He said he had a lot of shrapnel in him and was knocked out from the concussion of the grenade going off right next to him. I didn’t know who this solider was, I had never seen him before. He was lying right alongside me. We were actually head to head.
I was looking at him as he raised and turned his head reaching for his knife on his belt. At that exact time, the VC saw him and fired a burst at him. Two rounds hit the back of my head taking the dressing off that I had put on and going right into the back of his head. He yelled “medic” as I watched his whole face lift right off from the impact of the bullet. He dropped right there along side me and died instantly. There wasn’t anything I could do for him, and at the time, I didn’t even know who he was.
While writing this, my step-daughter and I have been doing some research and we were finally able to identify this solider who died trying to help me. He was Pfc. Lyle D. Holloway from Summersville, Missouri. He was assigned to HHC, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division and was attached to Company A. While we were out on this mission, he was our medic.
I laid there with him for about 20 minutes and then I decided that I was either going to get killed here or get killed trying to crawl out. I still couldn’t straighten out my leg. I was on my back and the pain hadn’t set in yet. I reached over my head and behind me trying to grab some brush and pulling myself while pushing myself with my left leg. The VC spotted me and opened up again, grazing my left leg muscle. At this point, I kept crawling on my back. After about 20 yards, I saw my platoon sergeant behind an ant hill. He saw me, ran out and grabbed my arm and pulled me back with him.
I must have lost consciousness, because after that, I remember waking up in the rear where they had gathered all the wounded. The pain was now starting to set in so one of the medics gave me a shot of morphine. I remember lying next to an officer who was crying hysterically and me trying to calm him down and telling him everything would be ok.
Artillery rounds that were called in to support us were so close that when they exploded they would bounce you off the ground. I heard that they had to bring another one of our companies to out flank the VC. They really had us pinned down.
Now, it’s about 5 p.m., all the shooting is starting to settle down. I heard someone give the order to start making litters for the wounded and dead. We were in the middle of the jungle and they had to get us to a clearing so the medevac choppers could land and pick us up. I remember the stretcher; it was made of two trees with a poncho tied between them.
It was a long walk through the jungle, not for me, but for the poor guys carrying me. We had to stop one time, for another shot of morphine. We finally got to the clearing and a perimeter was set up so the helicopters could come in and take us to the hospital. I remember being carried to the helicopter, being put on poncho stretcher and all. I don’t remember the flight on the helicopter, I must have passed out again. But I do remember landing and being taken off the helicopter and carried into the operating room. I looked around the room, there were at least a dozen operating tables and they were starting to fill up. I remember the doctor talking to me and telling me that they were going to give me a spinal and I wouldn’t feel anything. Then a chaplain came over and was checking my dog tags. The next thing I know I was waking up in the recovery room.
When I woke up, I had an orderly sitting next to my bed and he gave me the bullet they had taken out of my hip. I asked him for a cigarette and some water. He told me I had a million dollar wound and would be shipping out of Vietnam in a couple of days. I finished my cigarette and dozed off.
The following morning, two of the men that were out on the mission with me stopped by my bed to see me: they got patched up and were being sent back to base camp. I found out that there were a total of seven casualties, two being killed, and one was the medic that tried to help me.
Next came breakfast, a real meal for a change, and a visit from the doctor that operated on me. He told me that they were going to send me to a hospital in Japan where I would need another operation. Then a lady from the Red Cross came in. She gave me a carton of cigarettes, toothbrush, toothpaste, pad, pen and envelopes. My next visitor was a major who gave me my Purple Heart and certificate, shook my hand and said thank you. He asked me who I wanted notified back in the states about my being wounded, I told him my sister and gave him her address. I didn’t want them to notify my parents first because they would have freaked out. By the end of the day I was exhausted. In the mean time they kept you pretty well medicated so you wouldn’t feel too much pain.
The next day, I was told I would be leaving the following morning and would be going to the 249th General Hospital in Asaka, Japan. I was taken by military ambulance to the airport, loaded on a military plane with nothing but bunk beds on it and they were all full. We left Saigon and were on our way to Japan: about an hour out the nurse came by and told us we were turning around and we were going to the Philippines because they had a very sick person on board who they felt would not survive the flight to Japan and they had to get him to a real hospital. So we turned around and went to the Philippines. When we got to the Philippines they took him off the plane and we continued on our way to Japan.
Chapter 14: 249 General Hospital – Asaka, Japan
When we arrived in Japan, we were taken by military ambulance to the 249th Hospital which would be my home for the next five months. After being checked in and getting all the paper work completed my doctor came in to see me. I was in a ward with about 20 other beds and they were all full.
After introducing himself the first question he asked me was: How much do you smoke? At that time I smoked about a pack a day; by the time I left the hospital I would be smoking three packs a day. He explained my situation to me, which I already knew, and told me that they had me scheduled for surgery the following day. I was still in a lot of pain and they kept me pretty much drugged. The food was pretty good, at least to me because I was used to eating mostly C-rations for the past five months.
Here I am lying in a nice clean hospital bed and I haven’t had a bath or shower in about two weeks. My face and hands were washed, but that was about it. It was really starting to bother me. That night, I started to get a lot of cramps, realizing that I haven’t been to the bathroom since all this happened, I really had to go. I rang for the orderly and told him I needed a bed pan. He brought me a pan and in about five minutes I was ringing him again, asking him for another one because this one was full. When I finally finished, he took the other bed pan away. A few minutes later, he came back and said “I don’t know what you weighed, but you weigh six pounds less now.”
The following day, they came bright and early to get me. I was wheeled into the operating room and there were a couple of doctors there with several nurses. They transferred me to the operating table and the doctor started to remove the dressing that they put on me in Vietnam. I’ll never forget him pulling that dressing off. In Vietnam they never sewed me up: they just cleaned out the wound, took the bullet out and just covered the wound with the dressing.
Well, when they took the dressing off, it was stuck to the open wound, I yelled. My whole body arched back and I almost came off the table. I must have passed out, because I don’t remember any thing after that. After I woke up, they took me back to my ward, my leg was put in traction and I wasn’t allowed to get out of bed. After a few days they told me my wound was infected and they would have to move me to another ward. I was moved to my new ward for infectious patients.
I still haven’t had a shower and was starting to get pissed. In my new ward, the guy laying in the next bed over from mine had a wheelchair next to his bed , I asked him if I could borrow it that night. I told him I was going to go into the showers and take a shower; he said he did not care and would help me if I needed it. All lights out at 10 p.m. and about 11:30 p.m., I made my move.
I reached over and got hold of the wheelchair, lifted my leg out of the sling and traction, and wormed my way into the chair with my new buddy’s help. It was difficult, but I made it. I was in the shower washing up. About half way through — and guess what — the head nurse walks in looking for me. Boy, did I catch hell! She did let me finish — I think she found it somewhat amusing, but she did tell me to never do it again in no uncertain words. They had a bed check at midnight that I didn’t know about. Oh well.
The doctor came in early that morning and told me that he would be removing three stitches to open up my wound so that I would be able to clean it out twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. I had metal stitches in me and he snipped three of them and pulled them out. The wound opened up, it was the shape and size of a hard boiled egg cut length ways in half, it had disgusting white puss in it. He said the nurse would be by to show me how to clean it.
In a few minutes, the nurse came by with a squeeze bottle of Hypsohex soap, a kidney shaped pan, cotton, a squeeze bottle of water and some small towels. I had to squeeze the soap into the open wound, dab it around with the cotton and then flush it with the water. I had to do this twice a day every day until my wound closed up. At first, it was painful but then it hardened and you could actually watch it growing together.
We would be treated to a milkshake every day and a back massage if you wanted one. They had one nurse there that could really give one hell of a massage.
At one point, I started losing my appetite and not eating very much. They took some tests and found that I had a hook worm growing inside me which I caught from drinking unpurified water in Vietnam. They gave me a pill that looked like a huge jelly bean and that did the trick. The next day the worm was gone.
I remember the 4th of July celebration they had at the hospital, fireworks and all. One of the orderlies wheeled me outside to watch the fireworks. It started to drizzle and a little girl about seven or eight years old came over to me and gave me her umbrella to use.
There wasn’t much to do in the hospital: play poker, smoke, read the same magazines, smoke, read the Stars & Stripes newspaper, smoke, play some more poker and smoke, smoke, and smoke some more. Now, you know why I went from one pack a day to three packs a day. We did have a lot of fun playing cards. We each had our own coffee can of pennies that we used to play with and it did make the day go by faster.
After my wound healed, I was put on a physical therapy regiment and part of it included swimming in an indoor pool three times a week. I really enjoyed those days.
After my therapy ended, I was getting ready to be released from the hospital. Sometime in mid-October, I received orders to report to the Honor Guard at Arlington, Virginia, after my 30 days of leave. It was a long flight home.
If I had to do it all over again…. yes, I would.