We landed and we got ready to disembark and they opened the airplane’s doors. The heat hits you in the face and it then just hangs on until some form of acclimation to this new environment set in. Initially, you’re standing there saying to yourself, I don’t know if I’ll be able to endure this heat. South Vietnam in the was way past global warming in the 60’s.
We’ve got our orders for a new battalion or about 500 guys and as usual, it’s hurry up and wait in the Army and nothing new. This was the 101st Airborne. We got our equipment and waited again. Sitting down on the ground I started talking to a guy named Don, just small talk and the conversation about family and home was typical. He was from Indiana, I believe, and he was an E-5 about three grades ahead of me and in the service for 5 years already. A few guys would walk by and, on occasion, you saw someone you saw the month before last at jump school at Ft. Benning, Georgia. One of the guys sat down for a few minutes and asked if we were brothers and we said “no” and why would you ask that? He said well you guys look alike and could pass for brothers. Then some guys that Don knew almost repeated the same question almost word for word. When news came down that we’re heading out and what bus to get on Don and I looked at each other, shook hands and said jokily “see you later brother.”
I looked for Don as we got into formation and noticed there were green buses and blue buses. The blue buses had their windows rolled up and the green was rolled all the way down. I asked one of the guys why that was and he said we should have gone in the Air Force as they have AC buses. You think for a second and realize that hindsight is 20/20. It was still extremely hot and you could feel it every day. It took a couple of weeks just to get acclimated but finally, you get used to it and your body adjusts.
About the third week we shipped out to our assigned units and mine was the 1/327th of the 101st. I was in line with a weapon and when I got there they gave me this M-79 Grenade launcher. It looked like a sawed-off shotgun but with a bullet hole about the size a little larger than a silver dollar. The ammo of which about weighed almost a lb each, so now I had my regular gear plus an additional 40 lbs of ammo. The M-16 you received 6 clips and total weight 8 lbs. Never even shot one of these things so had to go to the range for a couple of days. It had a stand-up range gage but after the 2nd day I didn’t need it and got better at eyeballing it. I guess to get us used to the continuous walking they got us in gear and we walked the 10 miles to our unit, as just a walk, in the park.
I remember when speaking with Don he said it was a good idea not to make really good friends with anyone as to where they came from, their relatives in total. He said the more you know the harder it was if they got it. Got it I said? When they got hit and killed. So I kept it pretty low profile when talking to guys and never got too informative about my life. It was hard enough to get a dear John letter after only 3 weeks in the country, saying she’d write and wanted to be friends. Her last letter she mentioned that her dog had died and when I read that I smiled and one guy said, what’s so funny and I said the dog died. He got that bewildered look on his face and asked, why would that make you smile? You see, about the last time we had slept together I woke up the following morning, stretched out my leg and my foot found this wet spot, the dog had wet the bed and left with great haste, as soon as he saw my face and heard the four letter word I expressed. The girl got mad at me for yelling at the damn dog who just wet the bed and I stuck my foot in it. So the rest of that day I just would smile and said the damn dog died.
It was about the 2nd week in August 1966 and a bright day, no clouds and a slight breeze and somewhat of a normal day. About 10 AM we got the word, saddle up, they need our help. Who, what? Then it came down the line, a platoon got hit in an ambush and we had to go see if we could help. It was about a half hour fast-paced march from our camp. The area was pretty much flat dried rice patties and then mountains. We got to the base of the mountain and had about a mile and a half to go and somewhat of a steep climb. When we got to the site most of the team were sitting on the side and the major came up and tossed body bags at us and said we have 3 KIA’s and need your help getting them back to the camp. I took one and went to the nearest body to me. I looked across the path and there was a helmet and in the helmet, there was brain matter and that alone wakes you up the reality of the time at hand. We slowly rolled the guy on to the body bag and I saw the face and it knocked me back, back on my butt and I just stared. The other guy said what’s wrong, Burns, Burns what’s wrong, do you know him and I said yes, yes its Don. Don? Someone you know and I just shook my head yes. That’s all I could do, is look, I couldn’t talk and if I tried nothing would come out. The Sarg came over and looked, then said Burns, isn’t that your brother and I shook my head No, what and then I yelled, NO! No! it is Don.
We loaded his body into the bag and it took four of us to carry him down the mountain. Because of the incline guys would lose their grip and drop the bag, I included. I would say I’m sorry Don and every time he slipped from our grip I would say sorry Don. One of the guys said stop that, but I couldn’t. I believe all of us had tears in our eyes but no tears ran down our faces. It took about an hour longer to get off the mountain because of carrying this dead weight of the body. The chopper was already waiting and when we were about 15 feet away we put him down and one more time I said I’m sorry Don. One of the guys helping came over to me and said, he wasn’t your brother, was he? I said no but he might as well have been. Now Don’s words about not making friends came to me and I understood.
If you read this, this is what war can do to anyone even if its 50 years later, hasn’t left my memories. It will never ever fade fro.m those who have memories of war.
This is why war should only be the ONE option that is TO WIN and no other objective
Ed Burns Sr email@example.com