A war story


We rode atop armored personnel carriers (APC’s) into the fighting in Saigon. No one wants to be inside and burned alive if you drive over a mine or are hit by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). Buildings on both sides of the streets burned, sporadic rifle fire ricocheted and automatic fire, blocks away, clattered. Our track halted on a little mall in front of a whitewashed church that was being used as a forward aid station. American dead had been laid outside. Just inside, medics and doctors worked on the wounded.

Attempting to find out how bad the fighting was I approached a shirtless G.I. standing off to the side. He was filthy, holding his helmet in his hands and talking to it, “You I’m going to chrome plate and wear when home riding my motorcycle.” The bullet had entered the front, just left of center, and exited the back, just left of center, leaving a jagged flap.

“What happened?” I stammered. He had to be dead if wearing it.

“Day before yesterday we were assaulting bunkers. It felt like I was hit in the helmet with a bat. I shook my head to clear it, looked down and 10 feet away in a trench, there he was. He had lowered his rifle and was looking at me. I raised mine and shot him.” The enemy bullet had punched through the steel pot, rode between the pot and the fiberglass liner, halfway around his head and ripped out the back. One in a million.

“But why are you here?” Nobody is pulled from the line for a bullet to the helmet.

He turned to face me. Across both breasts was a welt. “Yesterday, we were moving across a paddy. Can you believe a bullet cut my pack of cigarettes?”

I felt sick. “But why are you here?” I muttered. No one is sent to an aid station for a ‘welt.’

“This morning we’re moving across a field when they opened up on us. I jumped into a nearby hole. Bullets are flying. Can you believe they fired an RPG at me? It hit a small tree on the back lip of the hole. The shrapnel missed me, but the blast knocked me to the bottom of the hole…I don’t feel too good. I think I have a concussion. That’s why I’m here.”

I walked away. The G.I. returned to admiring his helmet. So much for seeking reassurance.

William Sirtola