Frank was a private investigator who worked on some of my cases in LA. He got good dirt on malingerers and frauds claiming their injuries were worse than they were. We were both art majors and he was an ex-Marine (if there really is such a thing). One day as we were talking about how thongs had just gotten completely crossways in a trial he had worked on, he told me a story about Vietnam. I don’t remember what prompted him but he had me laughing so hard at the horrible event he described, I could barely go back in the courtroom after we had enjoyed lunch. His was one of many Marine stories that, when they are told by the Marine who lived through them, somehow could invoke a laugh.
Frank is his real name, but I don’t here reveal his full name since I don’t recall getting his permission to tell his story (and since he is a Marine, I’m a little reluctant to take liberties that might result in harm to my person).
He was somewhere in Vietnam and assigned the task of side door gunner on a Huey. One day his ship was sent out to scout a landing area for a large troop insertion later that day. Frank explained how each morning the various ships got their assignments on a bulletin board near the mess hall just after breakfast. Most assignments were either of two types. Your Huey was assigned as “bait” or “killer.” The two worked together. The “bait” went somewhere in a manner intended to draw enemy ground fire while the “killer” flew in close behind ready to destroy anything or anyone foolish enough to fire on the hapless “bait.” The survival rate was much higher for the “killers.” In fact, guys assigned as “bait” were often seen tossing their breakfast adjacent to the assignment bulletin board.
But enough about bodily fluids for now…Frank’s ship was assigned differently that day. He didn’t lose his scrambled eggs and bacon. But that was because he didn’t know what was to come a few hours later.
I don’t remember Frank’s details of the flight outbound, but do recall that his ship came under sudden fire and suffered a kill shot. Frank remembered a loud explosion and that his Huey began descending and gyrating towards the inevitable controlled crash. As a side door gunner he had a sickeningly vivid view of the descent, which didn’t cause him to throw up, but the motion of the ship was not without effect and physical discomfort.
Frank took quick measure of the Huey’s status right after his senses stabilized. He unbuckled himself and looked around. The entire crew were dead excepting himself and an old crew chief. Unfortunately, the crew chief’s leg was mangled below the knee (and would later require amputation). Frank suffered not even a scratch.
He knew the approximate location of the ship when it went down and estimated he and the Chief were about five miles deep in enemy controlled territory. Being pretty sharp witted both he and the Chief thought it best to beat feet towards home and that mess hall and eggs and bacon. The main problem was, of course, the Chief’s leg. The solution Frank quickly arrived at was to carry the Chief out. The Chief was no light weight. But Frank thought himself equal to the task. Frank began piling the armament together he thought they would require to get home. He was young, tough, strong and a Marine, but carrying the .45 auto, M-16 rifle, M-60 and the ammo for each…plus the Chief, proved too much for the young Frank.
The Chief quickly had enough of Frank’s equivocating about exactly which weapons to leave behind and told Frank in unmistakable terms and un-copyrightable Marine colloquy to leave all but the M-16 and “[let’s] get the &%)($#?#@ outta here!” Frank was a little disappointed in the Chief’s obvious lack of enthusiasm and characteristic Marine sense of adventure and reluctantly shouldered the Chief and their limited arsenal. Frank got the Chief home and learned later the Chief’s leg had been amputated and he had been assigned a desk job in San Diego somewhere. Frank thought it odd that he got some citation for valor, but the Chief got to become a legend as being the Marine that some guy had carried five miles to safety.
Frank told me he had been stung emotionally by the Chief’s failure to express his gratitude as the event unfolded that day. In fact, Frank had been extremely irritated by the Chief because the fellow had complained bitterly for the entire five miles. Frank was surprised the Chief hadn’t complained of the pain. And he was saddened by the Chief’s rather personal remonstrations…against his deliverer, Frank, himself.
The Chief had seen fit, since he was facing backward toward the trail Frank was racing down, to complain the full five about the stench wafting upward from Frank’s battle fatigues. Although Frank had received no wounds in the crash, his sphincter, in the excitement, had forgotten itself and had relaxed, filling Frank’s skivvies.
Five miles later, the Chief was tended to medically, Frank was embarrassed and both were happily alive. Twenty years later, Frank seemed to swell a little and grew noticeably happier as we sat under a court house tree eating lunch and reliving, what sounded to me, a very eventful day.