Loach (light observation chopper) coming in for a landing.

John–Jean–Jeff

Doc Levy on Patrol. Tay Ninh, Vietnam 1970As a medic,the very first guy I patched up was a case of friendly fire. We had called in a Hunter/Killer team. Hunter’s a Loach,a light observation chopper, he scouts out the area,them he calls in Killer, the Cobra gun ship who’s got rockets and mini-guns. Loach came in and we waved. We had a machine gun team up on a hill and Hunter opened up on the gun team from thirty to forty yards–he was right above, like a giant bumblebee. Hit my guy with an M-60, then walks the rounds down because he sees us waving. He was trigger-happy. It was understandable, but we’d thrown smoke to mark our position.

They were walking the rounds down the hill. Just missed me and Steve my lieutenant; they missed all of us by ten or twenty feet. Steve said, “Get up there, Doc!” This guy John, his leg was just blown open. I’m looking at his bones; I’m looking at his muscle;I’m looking at ligaments and there’s blood spurting from his shoulder like a geyser. I straddled the guy–I just sat on him. The gun ship comes in and starts laying down rockets and mini-guns right over us. Like Apocalypse Now–you got smoke;you got rockets;you got mini-guns. It was wild.

I’m patching him up. He’s writing in pain. I don’t know where it comes from, but this is the good part of the war story. From somewhere–bear in mind I’m Jewish–I say, “John, you believe in Jesus?”And he’s screaming and I say, “We’re gonna pray,John. We’re gonna pray to fucking Jesus.”John says, “Jesus Christ,Doc. Gimme a fucking cigarette!” His hands are shaking. I turned to the squad leader and said, “Pete,give John a fucking cigarette!”

So John’s got his cigarette,but he’s shaking like crazy. I said,“Pete,light the fucking cigarette!”and while John’s smoking the cigarette,I jab him with morphine. I don’t remember how we got him down to a bomb crater. When the medevac came in I fucked up. We’re at the lip of the crater and the medevac crew throws down a litter. We put him in, they start to winch him up. His arm is fucked. I’m not thinking,just acting. And the helicopter’s winching him up. But before they get him up,I leaned over and put my hand to his ear. I said, “John, it’s Doc. You’re gonna be all right. Everyone loves you.”

So they start to hoist him up and once he’s perpendicular but not off the ground I day,“All right, John. You’re gonna be OK.”And I slapped him right where he got shot. And he screamed bloody fucking murder. Then they hauled him in and the chopper was gone and all this dust and shit trickled back down. We gathered our gear and moved out…

______________

At this LZ I was sleeping outside because it’s hoJean Locklear resting in the bush. Song Be,Vietnam 1970t, and somebody comes running past–we’re getting hit. I run into a bunker. The round go right over us. They hit the bunker forty or fifty meters away. We hear the all-clear siren. We run out; people are screaming, “Medic!” I run to that bunker and Jean Locklear’s inside. There was no blast wall. A mortar hit and there should have been a sandbag wall that would have taken the blast, but it wasn’t there.

So he’s inside,big guy, 6’2″. He’s got shrap in the head, shrap in the hand trying to block the blast–reflex. He’s in shock. The bunker’s on fire and there’s a case of frags on top;a case of Army frags,not the WWII pineapple grenades. These were baseball grenades;killing radius about five yards–nasty. I’d say there were a dozen in the box. If that thing exploded everybody would have got fucked up. But you block that stuff out of your mind.

After a patrol Jeff Motyka waits in a field for inbound choppers. Tay Ninh,Vietnam 1970I said,“Jean,you got to get out. Come on.” And he’s in shock. I said,“Jean there’s a case of frags on top. Get out! This thing’s gonna blow!” And he can’t hear me. So I crawl in;drag him out–his arm over my shoulder. This guy’s bigger than I am,but I drag him to the aid station and that’s where the doctor’s drunk. Then two guys drag in one of my friends,Jeff Motyka. The doctor finally starts working on Gene,or somebody did. I see Jeff; he’s hit bad,ghost white. Calls my name. I call his and he just collapsed. I start crying. There’s a couple more casualties so I ran out to deal with them,and then I start shaking. The other medics saw me shaking and I couldn’t bandage up this guy. I said,“Can you help me out?”

Then two or three months later they have this award ceremony and someone says,“Hey you got to get ready. They’re having this ceremony for you.” I said, “What for?” Everybody had to be in formation. They got banners and bugles and pillows and colonels and all this bullshit. And afterwards this medic who bandaged this other guy who didn’t see what happened,he cursed me out. He said,“What the fuck did you do to get the Silver Star?” I lived with that for a long time. I did it without thinking, which is how most people act in those situations.”

Thirty years late my lieutenant said he saw what happened. He wrote it up. That took a load off my mind.

_________________________________________

Excerpted from Inconvenient Stories: Vietnam War Veterans, Umbrage Editions 2007, by Jeffrey Wolin. Used by permission of the author.