Blood Brothers
1967
"He who seeks revenge should remember to dig two graves."
Chinese Proverb

Payback...

by: Patrick Camunes
(Copyright © 1998)

 

April 12, 1967, Chu Lai, Republic of South Vietnam: I arrived with advanced forces of the Army's Delta company, 4th of the 31st, 196th Lt Inf Bde. We're here, supposedly, to support the Marine Corps in "I" Corps. Our combat unit arrived by C1-30's and we're forced to spend the night on the airfield. The ferry that is supposed to take us across to the peninsula we are assigned to, does not move by night but only in the semi safety of daylight. Photo by Don Poss, WS LM-01. C-130 taxing at Da Nang AB, 1965.
      We settle in, enjoying the pavement below us, because as grunts, it only brings us closer to the "world". The false feeling of safety in this different environment also envelopes us. We settle in between steel barricades, set up to protect aircraft on the airfield, and we feel safe ... for the moment.
      The distant thuds and thumps of incoming mortars do not immediately concern us since they are a familiar sound of somebody else's war, until they seem to get closer. My experienced ear, as an 81mm mortar gunner can tell, is that the rounds are "walking" towards us and there's a silent respect for this new NVA enemy's effectiveness. There is not an immediate concern until the incoming 82 mm rounds begin their "walk" towards OUR area, and then it is too late.
      The steel revetments that were put up to protect aircraft, and we considered our protection, are now our downfall. Deadly shrapnel from the mortar rounds are bouncing and ricocheting off the smooth hard walls. I'm blinded by brilliant and deadly explosions, and my ears are ringing from tremendous concussions within these walls, like a giant shaking your entire body while slapping both ears with cupped hands. But it is not enough to cover the sound of sizzling hot jagged-metal bouncing off steel walls--and surprised screams as steel slices soft and vulnerable flesh.
      Suddenly, there's a muted explosion ... almost distant, as my hearing is nearly gone, and I feel the tunnel vision graying out as if at high altitude, and wonder at the faint burning sensation I feel, and try to make sense of why I am not still buckled in the seat of the aircraft. Why is my body flying through the air? As if in slow motion I cartwheel as if discarded by the giant, bored with a toy. My mind struggles to understand, and screams, "This CAN'T be happening to ME---I can't die!"
      Fate calls the shots and I land on a body of a medic trying to crawl beneath the flight line asphalt. He reacts immediately to a cry of, "I'm hit! I'm hit!" and I wonder Who's hit... and he pulls out a flashlight from his medic's bag. In the fading yellow light of half-dead batteries I see blood shooting from a severed artery ... "Oh ... so he must be the one hit. . .and I follow the squirting blood to it's source and wonder, ... how did my arm do that? and I'm strangely fascinated, amused, by it all until the medic rapidly applies a bandage and yells, "Put pressure on it, NOW, and don't let go!" Let go...? of pressure...? I don't underst...
      The medic rips off what's left of my tattered and bloody shirt and I look at it laying discarded. Puzzled, I try to point with my arm that won't obey ... Hey ... my shirt. . . it's smolderinnng ... it's smlokin ... it's ... burnnin'. The medic is not amused and ignores my astute logic. It is night but there are lights shining where aircraft mechanics were working, and I can see my still smoldering shirt beside me, and wonder, That's my shirt ... so that's why my back stings so ... and if I could just use it as a pillow I could ... close my eyes ... and ... sleep.
      As he tends my wounds and burns on my back, he yells at me to hold still and keep pressure on that artery. Another mortar round lands nearby and the medic groans in anguish, but accepts the offerings of his enemy's attempt to do away with us all. He slumps against me and our blood mingles ... the warmth tempts my mind to leave this place of so much destruction.
      For a brief moment, my mind wanders and I'm somewhere else. In this world that my imagination has brought me to, I see my loved ones around me but just as fast, I'm brought back to reality by the sounds of the madness around me.
      Blood is everywhere and I can hear the muffled sounds of wounded and dying, as if from the bottom of a well yet all around me. Blood ... brothers. And I think that we will forever be considered brothers after this baptism of fire and blood. Dream-like, I'm moving again and I find myself in a jeep that is picking up scattered wounded and broken bodies lying everywhere, the medic is helping me ... but that's not right, he's still not moving... and we pile on top of each other to get to an aid station. My mind is playing games with me for lack of blood and I think how ironic it would be for me to die of this lack of blood, when it is flowing so freely all around me.
      A field of clean white uniforms with helping hands are upon us, not caring that we are soiling their uniforms with our blood and I allow my mind to go into that soothing sleep that it is craving. I suddenly retch awake to the smell of ammonia and look up at beautiful faces of round eyed women. These must be my angels that have come to get me, their soothing and heavenly voices tell me that I'm being moved to the main hospital because of my need for immediate surgery. Can I let go of the bandage now? I try to say, but my mouth seems filled with cotton and refuses to convey my thoughts.
      Two C-130s mortar destroyed by Sapper/Mortar attack, July 1, 1965, Da Nang Air Base. I'm manhandled onto the back of a deuce and a half beside two Air Force men that only moments earlier had taken their last breaths of life. Death's touch has finally caught up to me. My hearing is sort of returning, yet it's quiet again, and I think that all the confusion and mayhem is behind me ... behind us, as we drive down a bumpy road. I try to hold on to one of these men with my one obedient arm, and I wonder if a mistake hadn't been made because he's still so warm, and in the darkness, seemingly full of life.
      I look upon, and I'm drawn to, the peacefulness of the men beside me. My mind is again pulled towards that demanding whistful sleep that craves attention, and as though through a mist I join them willingly in their serenity. I look at them in awe and acceptance ... That's not so bad ... I can do that ... maybe I already have ... maybe I am like them.
      Faintly, I see the two men that had been beside me, suddenly walking and embracing people that I do not recognize. I somehow know that I have traveled to a different world, the other side, and sense a peacefulness ... and long for that blissful feeling of welcome and tranquillity. Off in the hazy distance I see wavering figures with outstretched arms, and I move towards them anticipating their welcoming and warm embrace.
      Startled, my journey is interrupted by the jolting of the truck and voices bellowing orders of concern ... "GET HIM OUT ... GET HIM OUT, HE'S STILL ALIVE!" I watch, and wonder which one of us they're talking about. Tell me which one and I will try to help lift ... him ... out. The tailgate slams down and our mingled blood flows freely over the edge, cascading as if a miniature waterfall. The image is forever imprinted in my mind. I find it strange that these two men with me are black and yet our dark-red blood blends and flows so well together, covering and imprinting a lasting signature on the uniforms of all of those involved.
      Orders screamed as if in panic ... warmth and stickiness of blood recently in living veins ... confusion ... movement ... pain ... God! the pain! "PLEASE, GOD, take the pain away!" My pleas are answered and I'm again searching in that misty painless-twilight for those outstretched and beckoning arms of comfort. If I could ... just rest a moment ... in her arms . . . .
      "GET THE IV IN, QUICK ... MOVE IT!" Where are these words coming from? "WE NEED PLASMA ... NOW!" These words---these interruptions won't allow me to get to where I'm going ... As in a distance, I hear, "HE'S COMING AROUND .... ! HE'S COMING AROUND!" The life force of my body is again surging through my veins.
      The so peaceful and gentle world that my mind had suddenly traveled to begins to fade away, replaced by awareness of pain and torn bodies. I hesitantly move backwards from the welcoming arms that awaited me. And as I pass the two Airmen, no words spoken, but their expressions are of contentment and I feel there is no disappointment that I did not join them. A blood-shadow of my body still sprawls contentedly beside them. And I have an overwhelming feeling that we will meet again. The life force is again flowing through my veins and I hesitantly and gradually move back to what is considered the "real world".
      Death had scowled upon me and perhaps found me unworthy, but I had faced it, maybe with anticipation, but because of the love of the living I did not embrace it. Such promises of serenity, now vanquished and overcome by the craving madness of revenge.

Remains of 2 C-130s, destroyed by Sappers, July 1, 1965, Da Nang Air Base.

The thought of dying---my dying---was gone, replaced by a hunger for bloodletting of the enemy--payback was my only goal. Recuperating, returning to my unit and instilling that payback-hatred was my main concern, and it was accomplished. A comfort so satisfying--the urge within me to seek my enemy's blood and claim his life. The fear or anticipation of dying was replaced by a blinding obsession for revenge, and the madness whirls on until the day they came for me and said that I must return to the "World." Then upon returning, there is no one to take away the hatred. Life goes on and eventually the hate and urge toward ruthless death gradually fades and is replaced by memories of the madness we endured or were swept away by. The guilt that so many of us feel is not only for our fellow combatants, but ironically for that of our former enemies.

May God bless my two silent-brothers that I met briefly on April 12, 1967, Clyde Reed Jr. and Frank Anthony Madison. I never had the pleasure to know them personally, but I shall always remember that walk toward peace we made together. And that silent parting as you both were in God's good hands. Until the day that I eventually reunite again with you, I pray that you know I did not abandon you ... and in that day the payback for me will be the Welcome of your Open Arms that will not be denied.

APVNV A PROUD VIETNAM VETERAN
Pat(Beanie)Camunes
D/4/31 196th Lt Inf Bde
Tay Ninh 12/66-4/67 Tam Ky 4/67-12/67

 
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