Just Another Day

As told to Medic by RTO Jeff Motyka, Delta 1-7 Cav ’70  Jeff Motyka on LZ Compton. An Loc, Vietnam 1969

It was just another day on Compton. A hot blinding sun and no wind. I had KP, serving chow to grunts and gun crews. We’d been on patrol two weeks–this was our reward.

The lieutenant was gone. A resupply bird brought food, ammo and an FNG. No one wanted the job so James Aalund, a drafted Shake ‘N Bake, made platoon sergeant his first day in the field.

Later, as the sun went down, I was standing Gary Kelch in the rear. Ben Hoa, Vietnam 1969. Photo by Jim Lambwith Tom, Cookie and Sgt. Kelch. This place is beautiful,” said Cookie. “Too bad we’re at war.” A moment later we heard the sound of tubes popping. Thuuup…thuup. Kelch said, “There goes your fucking beautiful day.” He yelled “incoming” and we ran for the bunkers.

The first rounds fell outside the berm. The next one’s hit close. The VC walked the next seventy rounds counterclockwise inside the perimeter, walking them toward us. I asked Tom, “Can this can take a direct hit?” “A mortar round,” he said. “That’s all.”  A rocket would kill us, he said, and when the rounds stopped, get set for a ground attack. The blasts, the silence, the ground shaking. We were scared shitless.

When the mortars stopped we crawled out the bunker. It was dark out. There was no ground attack, but a bunker near us was on fire. And another had been hit. Grunts yelled they had casualties and KIAs. Sgt. Kelch said, “Go get me a sit rep.”

Building a bunker on LZ Compton Steve Chump, Clopton, Larry Johnson. An Loc, Vietnam 1969When I got there a body was being carried out. They said it was the new sergeant; he was probably dead. A round had exploded in front of the bunker as he looked out. The blast tore open his head. Five guys took shrap.

An officer asked,”Where’s your platoon sergeant.” I told him he was dead. “Well then, who’s in charge?” I pointed to Sgt. Kelch,who was putting out the fire.

Later that night Kelch ordered me back to the bunker.

“Take a flashlight,” he said. “Make sure the bunker is empty.”

I turned on the flashlight and saw a scene from hell. The walls were wet with blood, like they’d been spray painted. Blood dripped from the ceiling, it ran down the walls. Pieces of bone were stuck in the sandbags. I looked down. In the dirt, shiny and glistening and coated with blood, a human brain. Lorenzo the gunner came by. I left the bunker, walked to a trash Grunts carrying dead GI. Photo Tony Swindellbarrel, and found an empty can.

The gunner held the flashlight while I scooped the brain into the can. It was half a brain, really, split down the middle. I put that Maxwell House coffee can in the trash barrel. There was nothing else I could do. The gunner and me never spoke about that. But I didn’t want anyone trying to find the brain.

We lay atop the bunker all night, unable to sleep. The next morning I began cleaning out the bunker. Lorenzo helped too. We pulled pieces of bone from sandbags and put them in the trash barrel. We dried the walls and ceiling with sand. We covered the floor with sand to soak up and hide the blood.

It was hot. The bJames D Aalund. KIA 28 Feb 70 unker had a beer and soda cooler made from a wooden ammo box lined with foil. I cleaned the cooler then opened it. Blood had gotten inside. A lot of blood. The melted ice looked like strawberry Kool-Aid. I saw cans of beer and soda, but I closed the lid and carried the cooler to the trash.

A week later a memorial service was held for Sgt. James Aalund. That was the first time I heard his name. Most of the grunts in second platoon didn’t know it. When a new lieutenant arrived I became his RTO.