Editor’s note: The following is part of a continuing series in which we ask readers to share a true story with us—any story—as long as it happened to them or a family member. Do you have a story to tell? Send it to email@example.com.
One of my good friends in the late seventies was a former Marine infantry sergeant named Terry. He was leading a six-man squad on night patrol in Vietnam, when they were fired on from a village, with a machine gun. They were surrounded by rice paddies, and hiding behind the gravestones in a small cemetery on a little knoll outside of the village. They were exposed and had basically no cover. Rice paddies obviously being flat as water, and Terry was a great big guy.
The rules of engagement that Henry Kissinger negotiated (and the DC politicians agreed to) included maps designating certain villages as “friendly”, and therefore it was against policy for the US to hit them. Terry radioed for an air strike on the village, but the operator said, “I can’t, it’s a friendly village.” You can imagine how Terry reacted, he went berserk. A different voice got on the phone and said, “Son, I’ll have you know you don’t talk to my radio operator like that. I’m a full-bird Marine colonel! Don’t use language like that!” Terry shouted, “I don’t care if you’re God Almighty! If you don’t hit that village with an air strike, I’m going to kill you with my bare hands if we live through this. THEY’RE FIRING ON US!”
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He threw the radio away and hollered to his squad, “They’re not coming!”
During those years in the military, we had a grenade launcher that was lethal. You could put a grenade down a rat hole, it was really effective. Terry hollered to his grenadier, “I’m going to run forward and throw a grenade, and in the flash you better hit that gun, or we’re all dead!” He jumped up and went splashing through the rice paddies. Terry was 6’3” and weighed about 250, he was a big guy. Once he got to where he thought he was close enough, he planted his feet, threw a grenade, then heard a splash.
He was going to try to throw two of them, so when he heard the splash, he thought he had dropped the second one. When he looked down, he saw a flash, and that’s the last thing he remembered from Vietnam. He woke up in a hospital in the States three or four months later, in a body cast.
One day (after he had come out of the coma and was halfway on the mend), his grenadier came into the room laughing. Terry said, “What in the name of conscience is so funny?” “Do you remember that night in Vietnam?” he asked. Terry answered, “Yeah, everything right up to the flash between my legs.” He told him, “Yeah, well, they saw you coming, and they got you with a grenade right after you threw yours. But the reason I’m laughing is that you must have been scared to death when you threw your grenade, because it went off about a quarter of a mile behind the village.” Terry smiled at the hyperbole and said, “Yeah, I guess I was scared.” The grenadier continued, “But anyway, in that brief flash, man, I nailed them, I got ‘em all. You were so cut up, we just put you in a body bag, we knew you were dead, you were just covered in blood. But you squeaked when we threw you on the floor of the medevac chopper, so I cut your bag open with a bayonet, and the medic saved you. You came so close, we just knew you couldn’t be alive.”
To this day, I still can’t believe that a Marine, or an Army officer, or anybody with a fellow American out there in a rice paddy getting chopped to death with a machine gun wouldn’t go help them. It dogged me for years, I couldn’t understand it. I think I made my peace about it, knowing he probably did it so he wouldn’t get a letter of reprimand from the politicians in D.C. and then not make general, which would cut down his retirement money. At least there was a reason, no matter how stupid. I don’t know, but they wouldn’t help them. They would not hit that village, and it’s criminal. It’s criminal what we did to those kids in Vietnam. We tied one hand behind their backs, and told them to go fight a war. It was insane. And it left 58,000 dead.