Choppers arrive to pick up grunts. Tay Ninh, Vietnam 1970.

Quan Loi To Cambodia

Roye Abbot, head medic. Tay Ninh, Vietnam 1970The perimeter is on fire. From the pick up zone a hundred grunts watch smoke and flames fill the sky. The Captain yells,”Choppers in zero two.” Sobbing,I walk past him to our head medic,hunched on his helmet,engrossed in a book.

“What’s wrong?” he asks,looking up.

Between sobs I tell him I can’t think straight,can’t take it much more.

“I’ll be no good if we get hit.”

“Take it easy,”he says. “We’re going back to Quan Loi. I’ll send you to the shrinks,OK?”

“Thank you,much.” I say,then wander off.

At the beating sound of a half dozen Huey’s racing over the hot horizon every man grabs his pack and walks toward the pick up zone.

The RTO pops yellow smoke. .As the choppers come close,men cover their ears,then jostle aboard the trembling Huey’s,which lift and nose forward and speed us away from the smoke and flames. For twenty minutes our stinking clothes flap in the onrushing breeze of cool clean air.

The instant we land,the Captain shouts, “Load up on ammo,water, C-rations…let’s go…load up…”

He points to ammo crates,C-ration boxes,the large black rubber barrels we call blivits. Everyman stuffs his pack with food and ammo,lines up to fill canteens with precious water.

Meanwhile,the door gunners check their M-60s,oil and swivel the mounts,wipe dust and dirt from the ammo belts. Nervous pilots help with refueling.

“Saddle up!” the Captain yells. “Let’s go! Saddle up!”

Freighted with three days supplies,four platoons lurch and heave themselves into a dozen choppers lined up on the tarmac.

“What’s going on?” asks Timmy Day. Someone tells him the dread news. We’re going into Cambodia. The enemy’s backyard. It’s the first we’ve heard of it.

One by one the birds lift,gain altitude, single file snake across the tropical sky.

Soon shark mouthed Cobra gun ships encircle us,the ex175mm Howitzer. Phuc Vinh,Vietnam 1970cited pilots clearly visible. As the Huey’s descend,the Cobra’s methodically peel away,power    dive,fire their whooshing white-tailed rockets, roaring mini-guns,chain-linked forty mike mike grenades. Artillery crews fire silver shells that soar into the sky,seconds later explode in fountains of dirt and flames and shrapnel. As the jungle draws near,the door gunners rake the wood line with continuous bursts of fire. We jump from the skids,run forward,throw ourselves down. No one expects to live.

But the hard core NVA have abandoned this LZ Ranch. Snuol, Cambodia 1970base camp ringed by mud and timber bunkers. Timmy points to the carved mock Huey’s that hang from trees. Below them,a mute trio of bamboo machine guns blast their targets. There is even a school for sappers: multiple rows of coiled vines teach the secrets of crawling undetected past American barbed wire. Nothing points to a hurried retreat.

For nearly two months we slug and spar with the NVA: Leon is shot in the hand at dawn. Blue-eyed Steve York suddenly spurts rivers of red. Nervous grunts mistake a tracker’s dog for Viet Cong. Kit Carson’s taunt ambush survivors before they are dead. One terrible June night LZ Ranch is overrrun by sappers. Afterward,we toss them into bomb craters,salt them with lime. Medivacs haul away our wounded and dead.

But for now,veiled in soft green Early morning bomb crater. Tay Ninh, Vietnam 1970light,embraced by the scent of fresh thirty yard craters, before enemy rockets shriek and bang, before swift dropping mortars spew white hot steel, before AKs and M16s duel and crackle, before the writhing casualties dance in pain, before the still warm dead are tucked in black body bags,for now,on this fine first day in Cambodian,we are whole and safe.