A NEW BODY AND SOUL
We approach the stream with caution, expecting trip flares and maybe some booby traps. There are none and we worry about that because the high banks would make excellent fighting positions if the NVA decided to over run the compound. The water is fairly clear and there aren't too many leeches so we bath there.
We dry off and put on the clean clothes and head back to the bunker. At the bunker we shave and everyone is complaining about being "all dressed up and no place to go." We open up a few beverages and sit in front of the bunker and talk. I have about 33 days left in my tour of duty and they are ragging me about going home. About half the squad in now FNG's (Expression used to designate new unseasoned troops) that came aboard in the last 4 months while we have been running convoys, doing mine sweeps, and securing the highway. These were our monsoon jobs because it is to dense to head into the bush with Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) because they don't perform well in mud.
The conversation gets around to "back home in the States" and the prime objective. My prime objective has always been to get back to my career but everyone else's top three priorities are:
I think I must be losing my mind because their arguments start make sense and I put my career as 4th on my list. We also spend a lot of time contemplating the insanity of the war. We are of the belief that we could win if the politicians would take a powder and let us fight
It is getting dark now and everyone drifts back to their own bunker. I pull first guard as usual. It will only last about an hour. I actually like guard duty. It is time to yourself and your own thoughts. A time to put the mind back in order. For me, it was also a time for prayer.
My faith has grown stronger while in Nam. I think this is because of the simplicity of the situation. You either live or die. Life is very uncluttered and pretty straight forward. I never prayed that my life be spared because I believe that God will not allow our life to end even one second before the time that has been appointed and we will not delay it even one second if that time is reached. I did pray for wisdom. I prayed that my decisions and actions not needlessly cause death or injury among my men because I didn't do the right thing or handled a situation badly.
Tonight my prayers are troubled. I am overcome with a sense of dread like I have never experienced. We change guard and I retire to the bunker but I can't sleep. The dread keeps pulling at my mind and soul. I become afraid. I cry out in my mind "Lord, what's the matter?" A thought appears in my mind and says "Tomorrow". "Lord, what will happen tomorrow?" I replied. "Tomorrow, you will change." appeared in my mind. "Will I die?", I asked. "No", came the reply. Instantly the feeling of dread left me. I felt peaceful and knew whatever happened tomorrow would be watched closely by the Lord and I had nothing to fear. I slept peacefully.
I am woken by the last guard and begin preparing the APC. I suspect we will guard a convoy between Kontum and Pleiku. I check my oil levels and hydraulic fluid. I time the .50 caliber machine gun and oil the ammo a little. I keep thinking about the night before.
The Lieutenant calls a meeting and we find out we are going back into the bush on a company size patrol. I look at the coordinates on the map that we will cover and warning lights start flashing in my brain. We had been in that area 6 months ago and surely by now the NVA had moved back in. We returned to our squads and pass the information along.
At 8:00 AM we all mount up. Another APC pulls up beside me and I look at George Blackwell the squad leader. George has been in country as long as I have and used to be a member of my squad. He took over another squad when their squad leader DROS'ed. (Date Returned from Over Seas) George and I have been brothers in the true sense of the word. We make eye contact and I can see the dread in George's eyes. Silent words flash between us. It is somewhat freighting, we both know today is different.
I leave my APC and climb up on George's APC and say "George, you got the same feeling I have." George looks at me for a long time and says "Yep". We both look at each other wanting to speak but the words won't come. Finally I hold out my hand and we do a dap.(A form of handshake) "Keep your shit together." I say. "You to, Brother." he replies.
I return to my APC and stand in the drivers seat and look over the squad. I want to tell them "Look, guys this is my last patrol and I want you to know I was proud to serve with all of you. You are my brothers, and I love each of you." but my lips won't move and the words won't form. I am also beginning to wonder if I am getting a little 'dinky-dou' (crazy).
The radio comes alive. Second platoon will lead and Two-two (me) will be on point. I call the Lieutenant and tell him to put someone else on point. I am leaving in 30 days and someone else has to learn how it's done. (This wasn't an unreasonable request because someone did have to learn the in's and out's of driving the point track. Bottom line though was I chickened out. )
We drive down Highway 1 and turn onto a dirt road by "Tin City" a Yard village with tin roofs and head into the bush. We stay on the dirt road about 8 clicks and then head off into the boonies. Traveling is slow because the new point man keeps screwing up. To break brush and blaze a new trail is a bit of an art. You have to know that certain trees can be pushed over like match sticks while others will stop you dead. You must avoid ground that may cause you to throw a track off the sprocket if you turn quickly. You must watch for Army ants because if you hit a tree with them on the march, it literally rains biting ants on top of you. You must do all this and watch for enemy and booby traps.
We come to a halt because the point track hit a tree and the jolt threw the men off the APC. One guy has a broken arm. An APC is sent back to base camp with the injury on board. I am over come with the feeling of guilt. My mind is nagging me that I should be on point. I offer a very short prayer "If that's where you want me Lord, then I'll go." I call the Lieutenant and tell him I am taking over point.
I break brush and blaze a new trail for about three hours. We are deep into no mans land. All of a sudden warning light start flashing in my mind. Ahh, now I see it but I decide to continue to determine if my new instant NCO can pick it up. I continue on. Another 10 meters, and I can delay it no longer. I pull back on the laterals and stop the track. Six inches from my head is a trip wire. I stand up in the drivers seat and the "Instant" asked me why I stopped. I calmly point at the trip wire running between the trees. One end of it is fastened to a grenade inside a tin can. I cut the wire and disable the grenade. Then I verbally ream him out for not being observant enough.
I know the time is approaching fast and it is going to be one hell of a party. The booby trap was designed to kill personnel riding on an APC because the trip wire was 6 foot off the ground. The track should catch the wire and the grenade should be pulled onto the APC. Two gallons of adrenaline flows into my body because this tells me that whoever is in this area is expecting Armor and is probably prepared to handle it.
I get on the radio and switch to the Company network. I call the CO.
Niner-one (the CO) this is Two-two-Delta (me)
Go ahead Two-two
Niner-one, I don't know if you believe in an old soldiers 6th sense but mine is telling me that things are about to get rough. I believe the beginning of it will be directed at me and you may have to come up here and get me out of it. Now, I know we got a lot of green troops with us and I would like you to be sure everyone has a round in the chamber and the safety on rock-and-roll (automatic)
This is Niner-one, You Papa-Limas (platoon leaders) heard the man!
(all of a sudden the jungle is filled with the sound of rounds being chambered. That told me that no one was really prepared for enemy contact.)
Niner-one, I also suggest the Poppa-limas meet with their Sierra-Limas (squad leaders) and get their act together.
This is Niner-one, We will break here for 15 minutes.
Thank you, Niner-one. Two-Two-Delta out.
I get off the track and go back with the other squad leaders dragging my "Instant" with me. I talk to George again, who is looking real worried. I tell him if I survive the initial rockets, I will immediately assault the position. I want him to come up and cover my open flank while the remainder of the tracks alternate pulling right and left. If I don't survive the initial attack, George will do the assault.
We get back to the squad and I can see the change. I see fear in the eyes of the new guys and worry in the eyes of the seasoned troops. Everyone looks at me. Thousand of things to say flash through my mind. I want to tell them how much they mean to me. I want to tell them that I am as afraid as they are. I want to tell them that I don't want to die. I want to say good by but I know if I do it might shake then up even more. Instead I say. "When it hits, we are going after it. At the first sound of a weapon being fired, I want everyone to open up. Keep your shit together and we will be O.K."
We move out.
Another hour passes. We come to a big gully that we will have to cross. Again the adrenaline starts to flow. Staying alive in Nam means learning to think like the enemy. I don't like this gully one bit. If I am at the bottom and get ambushed, I can't maneuver much. If I get hit on the other side it will take extra time for the other tracks to get to us and join the party.
I cross the gully followed buy Two-one and Two-three APC. Then the party starts. An anti-tank rocket is fired at me and small arms fire breaks out. The rocket enters the track below my drivers seat. We have our act together and are returning fire immediately as I turn into the enemy. It is raining lead and I pause so the other tracks can get into position for an assaults. I see an NVA stand up and a muzzle flash. Instinctively I throw my right arm across my eyes. The rocket explodes beside my head. The area around my head is fire and molten metal. My earphones disintegrated as do my glasses. My left cheek is ripped from my face and my forearm torn to shreds. Hundreds of minute pieces o shrapnel enter my skull. My shoulder is blown open. The concussion paralyzes the left side of my face and destroys most of my hearing. A guy sitting on top of the track had his foot near my head and no longer has a heel.
I lower my arm and look at it. I say "Awe dam, I've been hit." I feel no pain and am totally unaware of the extent of my injuries. I am quite upset. I start the assault. As I look around everything is getting red. Then blackness sets in.
(the following was told to me by squad members who I met in the hospital later)
I slumped over in the drivers seat. My assistant driver pulled me back and hopped in on my lap and finished the assaults. The enemy was defeated and Dustoffs (Medical Helicopters) were called in. They pulled me from the hatch and the medic went to work. He started hooking plasma up to me because I had lost a lot of blood. My men took my personal effects so send to me later. They watch. Some fight the tears. One of them says "Say Doc, remember that's Barry so you better hook a beer up to him along with that plasma." The Dustoff's arrive and take us away.
I arrive at the hospital. They wire my jaws shut because it's broken. Suture my shoulder and wrap up my arm. They repair major veins in my neck and get my blood supply back up to par. The heat of the blast had cauterized my cheek and forearm so the wounds were bound. I am alive but they can't determine if my brain was getting enough blood or not. I am now stable but weather I live or die is something only time will tell.
October 17th 1969
My eyes opened. My brain started to function. I looked around. I tried to move my right arm but it wouldn't budge. My left one moved O.K. I reach over with my left hand and took inventory of my private parts. Everything was still there and not bandaged. I think "Can't be all that bad if I still got them." I move my feet. No pain. I notice someone sitting on my bed. The being is dressed in white and has flowing golden hair. I think "That's one dam weird looking nurse." I study this being and am confused. It could either be a handsome male or a pretty female. We start to talk. I know we conversed for quite awhile but have never been able (or maybe not permitted) to remember the conversation. I do remember feeling a great peace. I also knew the worst was over and everything was going to be O.K. I do remember being asked a question. He asked if I wanted to go with him or go back. I knew by this time that the conversation was taking place on a different plane. I was in the hospital and yet part of me was not. For the last 6 generations my family name has been passed on through one male per generation. I said I wanted to go back but I would probably need help. I didn't want the family to end in some Nam hospital. I was told I could go back. If I needed help it would be given.
My eyes open and confusion really set in. I thought I already had my eyes open a second ago. The room looks exactly the same. The only thing missing is the being that was setting on my bed. Don, my buddy, is at the foot of the bed yelling for a nurse. I think about the Being and make the deduction that it was just a dream. Then I feel movement on my bed. I feel someone, someone I can no longer see, stir and stand up. I no longer believe it was just a dream.
I look at Don and see him crying. I cry also, in joy, for I am alive.
I spent another year and a half in the hospital. The help that was promised came often and I can honestly say I never suffered. I had a peace within me that was greater than I was. I came to a new realization of how personal God was. I know he is supposed to number the very hairs on our head but prior to this I doubted that I could be that important to God. I found out otherwise. He cares, and he cares deeply for each of us as individuals. I have wondered why an angel was sent to minister to me and I believe strongly it was an answer to prayer. I found out later that at the exact time the angel appeared, my congregation at home was praying for me. In the years that followed that memory gave me much assurance through some rough times in my life.
Some have thought me foolish for going into combat that day since I was very sure that I would succumb to some form of injury. To not go would have been foolish. The Lord let me know what he wanted me to do. Who am I to question him? When I ponder this an old hymn comes to mind "Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey."
Others have said "You have great faith." Many, many times in my life I have felt my faith waver and doubted that I had a firm grip on the Lord. As I look back over those times I realize that it was not my own grip that pulled me through but His strong, unfailing grip on me that got me through it. I have let down or failed God more time than I care to remember but I know of no time when he has failed me.
Still other question "Why did God let it happen to you?" I don't know the answer to that question right now. It will be explained to me at a later date. However, of this I am absolutely sure, there is a place in God plan for a one armed, scared, man with almost no hearing. He has a job for all of us no matter what our physical capacities may be. We simply have to trust him. No place in recorded history have I found that God had a plan or mission for someone and withheld the spiritual and material resources necessary to complete it. The question is never "Can God?" the question is always "Will we?".
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