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Good Men Died

by Rich Raitano, HHC 4/3 Medic

The chopper circled the saddle shaped hill and made its gentle gliding approach. Several troops were standing nearby the pad as we touched down and began to off load. When we jumped from the bird we came to understand that these troops were waiting to be ferried off the LZ; we were their replacements ... FNG's. They looked tired, dirty; old for young men and each had a distant gaze in his eyes that seemed to look through us. One grunt looked our way and uttered softly, but resolutely as he passed us, 'Don't lose this fuckin' hill. A lot of good people died getting it'. Don't lose this fuckin' hill ... a lot of good people died getting it.

That firm command has remained with me all these years. It was his severe demeanor and exhausted intensity that gave those words impact. Although not yet fully battle tested, we had already experienced the grim results of war and understood his demand of us. There was no room for compromise. Men had been killed to claim this barren hill. And so the baton was passed. But there was no dramatic orchestration to add melancholy emphasis to his words. No heroic dialog. No proud and triumphant cheering. No polished military salute and snappy patriotic response. Just our bewildered stares and speechless thoughts greeted these weary veterans as they on loaded and floated away. Their presence was a profound warning. It was yet another reminder that we were not out here to camp.

We were the next to last group to be dropped onto the LZ and Miller and I were the only medics on the hill. It was late in the day and the sun would be setting soon. We scrounged some C-Rations and found a quiet spot near the perimeter. We were high above a valley that swooped gently towards the deep purple mountains. A lazy river wound its way through trees, past the rice paddies and open fields. It was a beautiful site in the fading daylight. Miller and I gathered up scrap wood pieces and built a small fire to warm our C's. We were about five feet from the wire, talking low, enjoying the view, and eating our dinner.

Platoon SGT Williams walked up to us with a casual 'Howdy boys, how's it going?' We looked up at him, smiled; nodded and said things were fine. Nodding towards our little fire, he calmly said, 'That's really not a good idea ...', and looking past us and the wire he continued ... 'Charlie is out there'. Shit! What the hell were we thinking!? Once again we were lulled into the campout frame of mind, and once again PSGT Williams was our mentor. We quickly put the fire out and headed for the center of the hill where the safety of numbers seemed more acceptable and appropriate, and far enough from the truth of the wire.

The sun had set and it was nearly dark. We chose to crawl under the communications trailer for the night, perceiving it to be a safe place. In the waning light, our duffle bags passing as pillows and our M-16's by our side, we struggled with the Vietnam reality. It was early January. Welcome to Vietnam, boys.

When the last soldier falls in the very last war,
Pray to God that there'll be no more dying.
As the fires of hell fade in the very last parade,
Thank God there will be no more crying. ~ Rich Raitano

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