gun had been the day before and I hoped to God the gunner fried in it.
Men started moving around, picking things up. We were getting information to go. Nauman kept the strikes coming in. I got up, but was so lightheaded from loss of blood I had to sit back down again. Then I grappled my way up slowly and floated off toward the head of the column. I figured if I couldn't stand the pace, I'd drop back slowly, still getting there with everybody else.
The NVA prisoner came by with two Rangers escorting him. He was just a kid, somewhere between 15 and 17, wearing OD shorts, khaki NVA tennis shoes and a fatigue shirt about three sizes too big that flapped around his skinny body. He grinned and almost skipped. He was out of the fighting and realized we weren't going to hurt him.
The ragged column walked over a flat, washed-out muddy area, then down into a creek for half a mile, jungle-covered mountains towering above. We moved single file. I felt stronger than I'd expected and, since almost everybody else was either walking wounded or carrying dead or litter patients, I was no exception. Helicopter crewmen had picked up my pack and rifle.
It was heavy going in the thick brush.

Master Sgt. Thompson of Delta intelligence section, half-hour after setting world's record for 40-yard low-crawl with a sucking chest wound.

 Nauman was in the rear, bringing in air-strikes to cover our exit. I felt out of it.
About a half-hour later, we came to a hill overlooking a small LZ we had used before. I collapsed against a tree next to Lt. Linh and pointed to the small clearing below. "Is that the one?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
I bummed some water from him. "You're a pretty good officer, Chung 'Uy. You did a good job on this patrol." It was no snow job. I really meant it.
He looked embarrassed and said, "No, I am number 10 officer."
I smiled. "No. You're pretty good."
We waited a few more minutes, then he turned to me, "You go now."
I got up and, stumbling over rocks, grasping at trees, followed a couple of his troopers down the hill to the LZ. It was a steep hill and I had to stop twice before we reached bottom. Once down, I found Humphus and some others waiting by a bomb crater, ready to jump if necessary.
Doc Taylor came up with some Rangers carrying wounded in ponchos slung from poles. I asked him how Link and Merri-man were.
He looked tired. "John Link died this morning, just as we pulled out. Merri-man's going to make it okay."
I felt depressed not guilty, just bad. No, that's bullshit. I felt guilty. Nauman came in with his radio and the rear guard. "FAC says this isn't the LZ," he said. "Says it's about 200 meters farther on."
"C'mon. It's not far." He went back to call another airstrike on our backtrail.
We pushed ourselves up to crash into the brush again. In the intervals between airstrikes, B-40s fell behind us. None came near our part of the column, but Charles was still trying.
Three more times we stopped at small clearings, and each time the FAC told us it was farther on. The troops grew more and more tired. I staggered. My head lolled back and I stared at the translucent leaves above. Trees and rocks stood out in startling clarity, but I felt as though I might fade and disappear.
I walked carefully so the bandage wouldn't break loose again. There was a little seepage around the edges, but not much.
Two Rangers staggered past, carrying a corpse wrapped in my poncho liner, large
patches of dry blood superimposed on the green camouflage pattern. I remembered giving it away the night before. The corpse's right hand was two-thirds blown away, extended upward in rigor mortis. The bloody stump waved in my face as it passed. I regarded it with interest.
At times I could see no one in front and no one behind and had to watch the ground for signs, hoping I wouldn't take a wrong turn. This was neither the time nor the place to get lost. We walked five kilometers that way.
Light was fading when finally we came to a large, open field, big enough to take a dozen choppers. Men from the project were already getting the LZ set up when we came in. Most of them didn't think we'd get out that night, and said so. If they were right, a lot of wounded would die I'd lose my arm.
Rangers started setting up a perimeter.

 I stood staring, mouth open, then finally managed to sit down.


Fighters And Gunships

The FAC appeared, and some fighter cover, then gunships. Chuck Allen's Command and Control helicopter came. I could visualize Allen in the door, 250 pounds of muscle, graying crewcut and iron jaw, sitting behind his newly installed M60 machine gun. Larrabee would be seated cross-legged in the door with his scope-sighted CAR-15, both men hooked in by radio to all the friendlies in the air and on the ground. When I saw Allen I knew we were going to make it.
Two troopers carried John Link's body up and put it down about eight feet from me. A grim trooper knelt beside him and patted the pole Link's body was slung from. "Well, John, old buddy," he said, "Goddamn!"
He got up and walked off, head bowed.
Merriman lay on the ground, his carry-ing pole off to the side, a few feet from Link's body. I pushed myself to my feet and walked over. He was smoking.
"Hey, listen," I said. "I feel rotten about leaving you guys like that."
He shook his head. "Forget it, sir. You had to. I saw what happened."
That made me feel a little better, but not much. I squatted. "How long before you got out?"
He looked pained. "Fifteen minutes," he said.
"My God! That long?" It had seemed like three to me.
He nodded. "Yessir, but we took the rounds while you were there. We lay quiet and he didn't fire anymore."
I smiled at him. "You gonna be all right?"
He nodded, relaxed, glad to be alive. "Yeah. It'll be a while, but I'll be all right."
It was getting dark when the gunships set up an orbit and two Dustoffs came in for the dead and wounded. Doc Taylor stood in the fading light, supervising loading, the prop-blast whipping his sandy hair. I squeezed in beside the left-door gunner. Merriman and Thompson were on the same ship. The passenger space was a mound of men alive and dead blood, bandages and litter poles.
Ken Nauman came up grinning and gave me the thumbs-up sign.
"Hey, Ken," I called. "When you bringing the battalion back in here?"
"Oh, next week I guess." He waved us into the air.
At dusk, the mountains were beautiful, but it was cold in the chopper and wind from the open doors clawed at our clothes. I held my aching arm and won-dered if Nauman could hold all night.
Ten minutes after we lifted off, a rag-ged armada of Army and Marine helicopters came by, flung across the fading blue-gray sky. They flew hell-for-leather toward our LZ. Allen must have scraped and begged all over I Corps for them, but they were going to get everybody out that night.
God, they were beautiful!

(concluded in Part III.)              


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