by Ken “Doc” Nance
Exhausted, we all trudged through a chest-high meandering feeder to the Troui River, hugging the bank to keep as shallow as possible. The cost was a battle with the tangle of undergrowth and an eyeful of happy leeches – the flora and fauna of a lowland jungle stream.
Free at last, free at last…We were a depleted infantry company of eighty; one hundred twenty of us had hiked into the hills a month earlier, on Thanksgiving. And now there were just two shopping days left ‘till Christmas 1968. Having seen very few days without contact with the NVA regulars we called ‘the enemy’, every soldier, to a man, was relieved to at last be out of those hills. Hills, we called them…they were mountains – the rugged central highlands of Vietnam, covered with lush jungle that our government thought it could defoliate, expose, penetrate, conquer.
Slogging through the river and rain, we heard a muffled explosion a hundred meters or so ahead of us and crushed ourselves into the embankment – wet clay into wet clay. It was more of a ‘thawump’ than an open ‘kawoom!’ since the internal release of energy was filtered through water, mud, and thicket. Waiting with breaths held for the ‘kackakakakak’ of AK-47s which had inevitably followed during the last few weeks, there was some measure of relief when we realized this was a solitary blast – either a mine or a booby-trap. Then, the call went up and down the file, “Doc! Doc! Get a doc up here!”
I sloshed as quickly as I could, passing my platoon members whose frightened glances pierced my own eyes. First Lieutenant Meiggs, code name ‘Brave Falcon’, was lying some ten meters out of the water, protected in the copse wood and being attended by Doc Magoo. Magoo’s deliberate and sure hands were working swiftly to stanch the flow of blood coming from the bottom end of Brave Falcon’s shin where his ankle and foot had been only a minute earlier. I helped start an albumin IV. Meiggs was dazed, and although he never spoke to us, his eyes were conscious enough to be saying, “What the hell is going on?! I’m supposed to go to the rear tonight to go on R&R, and then return to the company’s XO position in the rear. Not this! Not now!”
Brave Falcon was strong, serious and smiling, probably the best platoon leader in our company, and we all knew that once we got a dust-off to carry him to 22nd Surg. (the nearest surgical hospital some twenty klicks away), he’d be fine. The med-evac came, we bruised on, out of the bog to Highway #1 where deuce-and-a-halfs picked us up and took us back to Camp Eagle as we looked forward to a three-day Christmas stand-down.
Lt. Meiggs wasn’t fine though. That night, while A Company, 1/327 was reveling at Camp Eagle with steaks and beer and real bunks to sleep on instead of the ground, Brave Falcon went into shock and died in the hospital.