Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry

The Gunfighters

 

Memories 51-61   

from Alan Allen

 

Rifleman, Fire Team A, 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, Company A

 

 

 

 

51.  DID ONE OF THE TWO SHOOT ME?

 

On the evening of May 28th, 1968 I was on point and we were walking down a trail, almost a road. I eased up to and peered over the crest of a hill. About 75 yards down the road stood two NVA. I dropped back, handed Baynes my shotgun, and took his M-16.

 

I eased back to the crest and took aim.

 

Dont shoot.

 

I looked back.

 

What? I said.

 

Dont shoot, said the stupid lieutenant we had at the time, 3rd platoons around here someplace and that might be them.

 

I could not believe it. The two gooks had on khaki (we wore olive drab), and they had NVA headgear. They had AK-47s and they were close enough that there was never a doubt in my mind that they were gooks.

 

I was incredulous.

 

Many times since Ive wondered if one of those two shot me later that evening.

 

 52.  THIRD TIMES A CHARM

 

The gooks ran off when we topped the hill, but seeing them made me extra careful. For awhile after Stading got killed I wanted to kill every enemy I could. But then I changed. I had never been scared before, but now I was.

 

We walked on down the hill, to the fork in the trail where the two NVA had been, and soon the 3rd platoon came down the trail to our right. The gooks had left to the left. Just a few minutes later it was twilight and the company climbed a small knoll to make camp.

 

We spotted some gooks dug in on a nearby knoll, and the captain picked 1st platoon to go get them. For years I wondered why he didn't call in mortars, or artillery, a jet or a gunship. Then Buddy Meyer, a California man who was my platoon's FO (Forward Observer) from 4th Platoon, told me years later that we were so far down in a valley, and surrounded by mountains, that we had no communications.

 

I was on point again and we dropped off our knoll, crossed the trail wed been on earlier, and started up the knoll where the enemy had dug-in. Like I said, I was scared.

 

As we crested the knoll they opened up; scared, I faltered when I probably should have moved forward.

 

I remember Larry Brandt, from Washington State, firing his M-60, but I dont know if it was before the bullet hit my spine, or if he was covering me after I went down, or more likely, both.  Baynes said the NVA who shot me had slipped around the side of the knoll to our right, and was a bit separated from his group. As I turned to say something to the lieutenant my back was exposed and the AK-47 round (approximately .308 caliber) hit my backbone at the 4th and 5th lumbars.

 

I felt the shock, which was quite strong, and blacked out--but I remember feeling my body fall backwards and hearing myself scream. I swear, as I fell in the blackout I saw myself in a wheelchair going down a hospital corridor.

 

My vision returned when I hit the ground. The first thing I thought of was to get morphine syrette into me before the pain began. Little did I know that pain was going to be the least of my worries.

 

As I lay there I looked up and saw a blur of three bullets fly through the air, enter the front lower right side of the lieutenant, and exit his lower right back. It was like a slow-motion scene in a Sam Peckinpah movie.

 

Someone put a shot of morphine from a syrette in my thigh.

 

Can you crawl down the hill? asked Baynes.

 

Yeah, I grunted.

 

No, I contradicted myself once I tried to, I cant move my legs.

 

All this time bullets are still whizzing around the friends helping me and the friends helping the lieutenant.  They rolled me on a poncho and carried me down the hill. At some point Baynes killed the NVA whod shot me (thats how I know it was an AK-47 round), and picked up the leather belt I pouches I was wearing (which Id taken off an NVA some time previously). But my cherished shotgun was left behind.

 

Then, the Army fulfilled one of the promises theyd made to us...a chopper picked me up within 10 minutes. I remember the thudding of the chopper blades, the cool night air, the chopper lights, and then the morphine put me to sleep. I could have died right there and never known the difference.

 

 53.  DA NANG HOSPITAL

 

I woke up in a hospital in Da Nang with the stupid lieutenant (from story 50 above) screaming in a bed beside me. They were changing his dressing. I dont remember a lot.

 

Id been operated on; the rubber hospital walls were filled with air, and it was air-conditioned inside. I wish I could remember the nurse who helped me. She was tender and sweet. Id love to meet her someday, because shed probably thinks Im still paralyzed. Im sure she treated others who are.

 

Id also like to meet the doctor. Although he didnt have much to work with, he fused my spine and stitched up the big hole the bullet blasted out when it hit my spine and blew into pieces. The hole later pulled open and my spine began to leak spinal fluid, and I had to be operated on a second time, but like I said, he didnt have much to work with.

After a couple of days they flew me to Japan.

 

 54.  JAPAN SOMEWHERE

 

I dont remember the flight here, but I do remember feeling like shit. I didnt know anyone and was lonesome. I remember hurting all over, and I remember you could see Mt. Fuji through the window. Years later a conversation with Tommy Foley revealed that I had been at Camp Zama, Japan, the same place Foley had been sent when he was wounded at Lo Giang.

 

 55. HOMEWARD BOUND

 

I remember being excited when they told me I was going back to the States. They loaded a bunch of us on a big silver plane (a Constellation maybe?), which was rigged out to hold a lot of gurneys. I think I slept most of the way.

 

We landed in San Antonio, probably at Lackland Air Force Base, and they bused us to The Beach Pavilion at Brooke Army Medical Center. The bus was rigged to carry gurneys along the side, three or four high. Then, after the driver got off, I saw my Mother, my Daddy, my older brother Joe Ed, and my wife Susan running up to the bus. They ran right onto the bus and had to be asked to leave so we could be unloaded.

 

I cant imagine what they all must have thought, getting on a bus full of wounded and seeing me. I cry for them even now, writing this decades later.

 

56. THE HOSPITAL

 

The Beach Pavilion at Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio was pretty bad, almost as bad as the VA Hospital in the movie, Born On The Fourth Of July. But it wasn't the staff's fault. They were great. But they were so understaffed they had no chance of keeping up. Many times my catheter bag would be dumped in a jar, and then the jar would be left on the food-tray holder by my bed for hours. They just didn't have time to empty it.

 

I became friends with several of the wounded at the hospital, including Jackson, the son of an Air Force Officer, a guy from Georgia, one from Conroe, Texas, and a guy who'd been a dog handler in Vietnam. Jackson was paralyzed from the neck down, and sometimes got an erection when he saw a semi-truck out his window. There were about 17 paralyzed guys in that ward with me, and I was the only one who recovered enough to walk out.

 

The dog handler told me his story. He was on point and walked into an ambush. The first round he took paralyzed him from the waist down. The gooks were still shooting, so he called his dog to him and had him lay in front as protection. The dog, while lying there, took three rounds and was killed, likely saving the handler's life. Every time the guy told the story, he cried.

 

57.  MILITARY INTELLIGENCE

 

One night, just before visiting hours ended, my wife was sitting by my bed. We were holding hands. Across the aisle from the foot of my bed a man in his 60s was in a bed, his hands tied to the bedrail with strips of sheets. I think they'd told me he was in military intelligence or the CIA or something like that. He seemed weak, and had been out of it for days, sometimes waking to scream curses at those trying to help him.

 

As Susan and I talked I noticed he was awake and was chewing at his bindings. I told Susan to run and get a male nurse and she took off. I lay there, paralyzed from the waist down, as he freed himself. Then he stood up in his bed, in a hospital gown, and I noticed he was catheterized.

 

You may know that after a catheter is inserted into the bladder, a syringe is used to inflate a small balloon--that keeps the catheter from sliding back down the urethra and out the penis.  Well, as soon as this guy stood up he noticed the catheter--and pulled it right out. I couldn't help but wince.

 

Just as he was climbing over the bedrail, and just as I was getting concerned for my safety and the safety of the other patients, two male nurses and Susan arrived. The two men subdued the patient and the next day he had leather restraints on his arms and legs.

The staff also was nice enough to wait until late at night to take out patients who had died earlier in the day.

 

58.  RECOVERY, AT LEAST SOMEWHAT

 

I stayed at Brooke Army Hospital from early June 1968, to early October 1968, and most of that time I was partially paralyzed. I spent a lot of time in rehab, digging shit out of my ass if I became constipated (since my bowels/bladder didn't work), showering in a wheelchair, and taking "Black And White" to soften my stool.

 

At one point I began to leak spinal fluid again and a Dr. Store (a captain, I think) performed the second operation on my spine. He was very pleased to have done so, and kept telling my mother he'd "Sliced the meat like bacon and sewn strip to strip until he got the large hole closed." He also fused the spine again, to stop the leak.

 

After I got a bed sore on my left heel, I also spent some time in a bed attached to two big rings. Every few hours a nurse would come in, flip a switch, and my bed would travel along the rings until I was turned from on my back to my front, or vice versa. That way the nurses didn't have to manually flip me several times a day.

 

One Sunday evening, after I was allowed daily passes on weekend days, Susan dropped me off at the hospital. She was heading back to Pasadena (a suburb of Houston), but asked me if I wanted her to walk me back to my hospital bed. Still macho, despite being on crutches, I declined her offer.

 

I did fine climbing the first set of three concrete steps, even with the crutches, because there was a rail. But the second set of eight steps, which led directly into the hospital, didn't have a rail. I made it onto the second step, but lost my balance as I tried to attain the third. I fell back and landed on the sidewalk. I kept my head from banging on the concrete, but was scared to death my spine would begin leaking again.

 

It didn't, but I lay there quite some time, yelling for help, to no avail. Out of the corners of my eyes I could see people way up the street, but evidently they couldn't hear me. Finally I got up the courage to sit up, despite my fears for my spine; I pulled myself up, step after step, and finally made it back inside and to my bed.

 

59.  MEMPHIS

 

Finally the Army wanted to get rid of me, so they ousted me and sent me to a VA hospital in Memphis, TN.

 

I was on one floor (the 5th, I think) with a bunch of older men. The three guys who were shipped from San Antonio with me were put on the 4th floor. All three of them were still paralyzed, two from the waist down, and one from the neck down. So, every morning I'd get up, shower and shave, and go spend the day with my friends. That night I'd return to my floor. My nurses hardly saw me at all, although I still had to make my rehab appointments and take meds morning and evening.

 

A few weeks later Susan moved to Memphis to be near me. She rented an apartment across the street, which was a horrible part of town.  The day after she arrived, I got out of bed, showered and shaved, hobbled across the street on my crutches, and spent the day with her. It was wonderful. That night, I returned to the hospital and my hospital bed. That went on for several days.

 

One morning, as I started to leave for the apartment, I thought, "I'd better tell the nurses where I'm going, in case they go to the fourth floor looking for me." So I hobbled to the nurses' station.

 

"I'm going across the street to my wife's apartment," I told my nurse...and immediately knew I'd made a mistake.

 

"What!," she shrieked. "You can't leave the hospital without..."

 

"Wait," I cut in, thinking fast. "I'm kidding...I'm just going down to the 4th floor to see my friends."

 

You could see the relief spread across her face. But for the next 44 days I spent most of every day with my wife, and the nurses never knew.

 

60.  HOME

 

Most of those 44 days were spent merely having my paralyzed leg muscles treated with electric shocks during rehab, and having the bandages on my back changed. Finally I realized they weren't doing me any additional good and began to rag on my doctor to let me go home. On November 18 he finally acquiesced. Eighteen months later Susan changed my last bandage. During that time, on many occasions, she had pressed gently on my back and around my wound to force numerous stitches and dead white corpuscles out the tiny hole that repeatedly broke open after Dr. Store sewed me up.

 

61.  LATER

 

For many years I got around quite well with just a drop-foot brace on my left leg. I hunted, fished, and worked for 22 years for a nonprofit organization lobbying the Texas Legislature, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and other state and federal agencies.

 

But by 2001 I really couldn't do a good job anymore, and I was forced to retire. I still fish a bit, but really can't walk very far. I've had lots of nerve pain, and now have a Medtronic pump implanted that continuously puts a small stream of morphine onto my spinal cord.

 

One thing I will say about my life, it's been interesting.

 

DEDICATION

 

This is dedicated to those who, in light of the attack on the Trade Center on September 11, 2001, suddenly became appreciative of those serving in the U.S. military; though they did not support the troops in Vietnam. Evidently they learn from their past mistakes. Or maybe their supposed appreciation is just another brilliant disguise? Regardless, they can kiss my ass.

 

To the chicken-shits who went to Canada to escape the draft, may you immediately become citizens under a foreign dictator, and may dead veterans haunt you the rest of your lives-- that goes double for that actress who was in Barbarella and other "stars" of similar ilk.

 

To the conscientious objectors who served as medics or performed other civic work, thank you!

 

To the veterans of Vietnam, Korea and the other "unknown wars," welcome home, you're as deserving as any veteran of any other war. To those veterans, and to all veterans, thank you...I cry often whenever I think of veterans killed in war and the things veterans have had to suffer--and that includes the V.A.

 

May we one day beat our plowshares into swords and kill the first idiot that wants to go to war again, or send him out to fight the second idiot, then kill the winner.

 

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