|Allan (left) - South Vietnam circa 1969 - a young 21|
One night I was not feeling well. It was something simple like a bad head cold. All I knew was that I was miserable and I did not have anything to get rid of it. So I went to the medical facility over on the other side of post, signed in, and sat down in the back of the entrance room waiting until someone could help me. But then I started to hear the sound that we Vietnam folks will always recognize right away, the sound of helicopters getting closer and closer. I could hear them right outside so I knew they were Medevac choppers, the ones that saved thousands of lives over there, including those from the major unit on our post, the 4th Infantry Division, that came in the latter part of my tour there.
All of a sudden the whole place was flooded with activity, medical people hurrying to do this and that, automatically doing tasks like they had probably done them a hundred times. They were not confused. They were committed and nothing could distract them from what had to be done. Then the outside doors started swinging open and the gurneys started coming in, one after the other. I had never seen anything like this before. This was my baptism into the hell of war.
My eyes were drawn instantly to one gurney, not twenty feet away. The soldier was lying on his back. One of the main arteries in his neck began spurting out blood like an unholy fountain. They tried to get it to stop but could not. It was coming out too fast. In a few seconds it did stop but he was dead in front of me. All I can remember after that was that I got up and left. I did not belong there. That place was for them, the ones that faced death every day. I never went back. I found other ways to get rid of my petty ailments.
Work after that in the shop became more focused for me. The long hours did not bother me anymore. Making friends with the Vietnamese with which I worked became an even more active part of my daily life. I knew why I was over there in that place. It did not matter about all the demonstrations back home and the politics of the whole thing. I was there and the reason why I was there was for them, the ones who faced death every day and the people who just wanted the war to end in their land.
So today, on Memorial Day, I remember that place and that time. I remember the people and the vets with whom I served. There are many stories yet unwritten. But today, this year, most of all, I remember and write about the one that gave his life over there, right in front of me. I do not know his name or what his unit was. All I know is that his death changed my life forever and I will always strive to be a better person, worthy of the name American.
Thank you for taking the time to read this short story. May God bless you and your family richly as He alone has blessed me and mine as well as the family, I am sure, of my unknown soldier. Amen.
Allan L. Winger
SSG, U.S. Army Retired