It was a quiet morning here at Wat Opot and so I decided to do my laundry and do a little cleaning in my room as well. All of the children were in school… well except for the ten little ones, but they were in good hands at the preschool and the rest of the staff were all busy working various project that really didn’t need my supervision. I was in the process of hanging the clothes out on the line at the Volunteer dorm when I heard a faint but very distinct sound… a sound I will never forget for as long as I live.
Suddenly I found myself back in Vietnam, on an Operation called Allen Brook, and the year was 1968. I was crouched between two large rocks trying to avoid being hit by any of the many bullets whizzing past my head. I couldn’t see anything because I had been wounded in the eye by a grenade just moments before while attending to the wounds of one of the Marines I was assigned to. I heard the Sergeant talking on the radio, asking for a medivac chopper for me and the wounded Marine. There was a short pause and then the response, “ Nothing is available at this time, proceed with your orders to advance on the enemy.”
“Sir,” the Sergeant responded, somewhat sarcastically “I have a Corporal that can not walk and a Corpsman who can not see. What are you advising me to do?”
There was another short pause before the answer came, possibly because there was some discussion going on at the command post. “Leave them there and continue your advance on the enemy… that is an order Sergeant.”
I couldn’t see the Sergeant’s face but I believe he was crying as he threw the radio handset down. “This is not the Marine Corps,” he shouted, “if anyone gets out of here… tell them that we have been set up.”
There was a brief moment of silence as we all realized the hopelessness of our situation. Surrounded by enemy and no backup available there was nothing any of us could do accept fight it out. It was then that I heard the faint but unmistakable pulsating sound of an incoming helicopter. “Sir, there is a helicopter coming in against orders to pick up the doc and Corporal. We are to throw them on board as he passes by.”
The incoming bullets stopped for a moment as the enemy began firing at the chopper instead. As it came in low the Corporal an I were thrown on board and given instructions to sit on our helmets. A strange requests, I thought at first, until I saw the bullets coming through the floor of the helicopter. A few minutes later we were high in the sky, out of reach of rifles and grenades… but we were not out danger. The smell of oil and smoke filled the cabin and we were told to hold on tight to something because we were going to crash. I woke up with the burning helicopter on top of me. Left for dead, I crawled back into the empty cabin. Not knowing if we were in enemy territory or not, I loaded my 45 caliber pistol and after three attempts managed to get out of the helicopter, which was laying on it’s side.
Fortunately we had landed close to the military hospital in Da Nang and although it was the end of the war for me, I would find out a short time later that all of the men we left behind, were dead just minuets after we were rescued.
As the helicopter passed over head I returned to the Present time and finished hanging up my clothes… a bit more mindful of those who gave their life to save me and who risk their live to rescue me.