Thursday, December 22, 2011

I Wish I Could Remember His Name

(C) James J Alonzo

Names, I've never encountered a Viet Nam veteran who did not have total and clear recollection of the names of buddies they served with.

Several personal incidents remain imbedded in my mind as clearly as if they had happened only yesterday, and yet, I can't recall this one single name, and yet I remember this incident.

There was a man I am embarrassed to say, if only i could remember his name, and I should have, for I sat with him all night waiting for him to die. I prayed for him to die, wanting him to be at peace. Maybe I was wishing it for myself, maybe I wanted his life to end so I could go back to my unit, close my eyes, and dream about being back home with my family.

As the squad leader of a combat unit, I was responsible for my men, however when you were assigned to a larger group and in the field you job became larger. After fire fights, we would medivac the wounded (WIA) and then the killed in action, (KIA), identifying and recording for "after action" reports, "bag & tag". So it was one of my jobs to observe these young men that were dead, twisted, and torn. In time I had to be careful that I didn't become complacent and detached about what I saw and how I felt.

In mid December 1967, close to Christmas, things were relatively quiet in our area of operations, (AO), of the Iron Triangle, which included Cu Chi, Tay Ninh. Little did we know the Viet Cong were setting up for the TET offensive.

We were on a Squadron (Battalion) size operation, when we ran into a very large enemy force, causing an immediate fire fight that grew into a huge battle, and it lasted all day! When the battle was over we began to medivac the wounded and the killed in action.

I remember being on the chopper with this one casualty, it was 9 p.m. and we were taking him to the Evac hospital. The wounded trooper was a man from another unit, and luckily he was found in the heavy brush. He didn't seem to be in a lot of pain, but he did have a 'through and through' headshot!

After the chopper landed on the LZ of the hospital, the waiting medical staff whisked the trooper on a gurney and to the operating room. I went inside to relax, enjoy the air condition facility, and get a cold soft drink. It was 68 degrees inside, compared to 98 humid degrees outside.

In 93rd Evac hospital, the surgery is a large 'no nonsense' bay, or large room for surgery for multiple wounded surgeries.

It didn't take long for the Doctors to see that he was brain dead even they were amazed that his vitals, (blood pressure, breathing) seemed almost normal. After the nurses had cleaned up the trooper, the doctor instructed the nurses to wheel the trooper in to the critical ward, and await his passing.

"Just leave him in the corner," the doctor said in a low voice, "kill the lighting, do not resucitate, monitor his vitals, maybe he'll slip away quietly. hopefully in peace."

"is he in pain?", asked one of the nurses.

"He can't feel anything," the doctor replied, "The soldier's not aware of his surroundings, or sounds."

After I heard from the nurse on what was planned for the trooper, and his terminal condition, I started to make arrangements to hitch a ride to my base camp, and finish the after action reports. But something made me change my mind. I went up to the ward nurse and asked,

"Is it okay I sit with him?"

"Sure, that would be fine," she replied with a smile, "let me know if he starts to have a bad time."

After all this time in-country i was hardened to most things. However, today I was being sensitive, or maybe thought of the holidays, or whatever, but I found myself hanging back and compelled to check on the dying trooper. I realized that even though he may not be aware I could't leave him alone. It was the Christmas season back home, he was alone, I was alone.

Thinking of him laying there alone in the dark, left to die, it just didn't seem right. I knew I wouldn't want to die that way. So I pulled up a stool, got a blanket to wrap around my shoulders, the steady 68 degree temperature was now cold.

I held his still warm hand, and began "talking" softly to him about my family, about my home town, about the military. Anything I could think of that would be appropriate to tell a dying man. I also told him it was okay to move towards " the light", okay to let go. I promised him that I would let his family know that he wasn't alone. Things that I would want to hear, if I was shot like this.

As the hours went by I dozed off several times, causing me to curse myself for not being more attentive. The nurse or medics would stop and check the trooper throughout the night.

It was around 0600, (6a.m.) when a medic came in and seemed surprised that the I was still holding his hand. Checking the troopers vitals, the medic said,

"Sergeant, why don't you go back to your unit, he's being shipped to the Phillipines since he is still hanging on."

"No," I replied, "not till he is gone, or you take him."

Later that morning they packed him up, and put him on a medical C-130 plane, next stop the Phillipines. When he was shipped out he still had strong vitals.

I always wondered what happen to him. I wished I could of remembered his name.

© Copyright 2011 James J Alonzo All rights reserved.
James J Alonzo has granted Agent Orange Legacy its affiliates and syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.

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