Dear Mr. and Mrs. Johnston

“Don’t send me out. I have a bad feeling about this one,” Medic heard Sgt Gary Johnston say to the CO.  A few minutes later the patrol was ambushed and Gary was dead.

Gary Johnston, his younger brother, sister and mother. Texas, 1969Several years back a Cav friend put Medic in touch with the younger brother of Sgt Gary Johnston, who provided this letter. He wanted to know how Gary had died.  Medic contacted former Sgt. Odell Newton, who was in Gary’s platoon; not long afterward Odell and Gary’s brother spoke at length.  Odell is profiled in Jeff Wolin’s book Vietnam Veterans:  Inconvenient Stories.

On my very first day in the field, our old platoon Sergeant, Gary Johnston, got killed. I was a ‘shake and bake,’a ninety-day wonder just out of Fort Benning,Georgia. They picked me up off the LZ pretty late in the evening and wanted to make it back to a safe place away from the LZ.  Johnston took me over to introduce me to the platoon I was going to be in.  He gave me my ammo,my C rations. He said, “We’re going to go back out there.  We’re going to take a main trail.  Don’t ever take a trail, but right now we have to get there quickly.

So we went down the trail. I was walking in the middle with Patch, the gentleman who later got killed on LZ Ranch in Cambodia.  I heard a ping. I couldn’t figure out what it was but everyone else was on the ground. I looked down the trail and saw these two little people with a great big gun, a .51 caliber. They were running down the trail. Gary had been walking point and I looked to where he was lying.

I walked up to Gary who was on his stomach. I rolled him over and my hand went all the way through his chest. The .51 caliber bullet went through his chest and took almost his entire back out. I put one of his dog tags in the body bag with him when the medevac arrived and I kept the other. As a matter of fact, just last year (2008) I gave Sgt. Johnston’s dog tags to his brother.  I carried Johnston’s dog tags since April 1970 right after I came in-country. That was my first day in the field.”

Used by permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On my very first day in the field, our old platoon Sergeant,Gary Johnson, got killed. I was a ‘shake and bake,’a ninety-day woneder just out of Fort Benning,Gerogia. They picked me up off the LZ pretty late in the evening and wanted to make it back to a safe place away from the LZ.  Johnson took me over to introduce me to the platoon I was going to be in. He gave me my ammo,my C rations. He said, “We’re going to go back out there. We’re going to take a main trail. Don’t ever take a trail,but right now we have to get there quickly.

So we went down the trail. I was walking in the middle with Patch,the gentelman who later got killed on LZ Ranch in Cambodia. I heard a ping. I couldn’t figure out what it was but everyone else was on the ground. I looked down the trail and saw these two little people with a great big gun,a .51 caliber. They were running down the trail. Gary had been walking point and I looked to where he was lying.

I walked up to Gary who was on his stomach. I rolled him over and my hand went all the way through his chest. The .51 caliber bullet went through his chest and took almost his entire back out. I put one of his dog tags in the body bag with him when the medevac arrived and I kept the other. As a matter of fact,just last year (2008) I gave Sgt. Johnson’s dog tags to his brother. I carried Johnson’s dog tags since April 1970 right after I came in-country. That was my first field day.”

Excerpted from Vietnam Veterans: Inconvenient Stories, by Jeffrey Wolin. Umbridge Editions 2006.