Perhaps it is true that fact is stranger
than fiction. Early one morning we left fire base Keene and moved at a slow, steady
pace across a perfectly flat open field. We spread out, so that no one was closer
than fifteen or twenty feet. We were marching in three lines - a platoon on each
side and the command group in the middle. The sky was absolutely clear, with no
clouds in sight as far as the horizon. There was a slight haze, as was often seen in
the dry season, so that the full heat of the sun was not yet upon us. We were alert,
as always, for the possible booby trap, and on the lookout for VC. All was quiet.
And then, from out of that perfectly clear sky, striking right into the midst of our
patrol, came a lightning bolt. It was sudden and swift. A single faint shaft
touched quickly down and then was gone. The clap of thunder was not even as loud as
our 105 mm. howitzers. But the effect was just as deadly. The man carrying the
company radio took a direct hit - his tall antenna had probably
guided the bolt in, for it was the highest object for hundreds of meters in any direction.
The sudden shock knocked him to the ground, senseless.
We had to hold our positions and not bunch up, but we got steady reports as the medics
went to work. His ears and nose were bleeding, and he suffered severe burns on his
shoulders and the back of one leg. He regained consciousness quickly, though he was
dazed and in shock. The brunt of the charge had traveled down the antenna, through
the radio to his shoulders and back, and then to the ground through his leg. His
head was untouched. Perhaps the steel pot had protected him (a static electric
charge rests on the outside of a metallic body).
A Medevac chopper soon arrived to evacuate the man, and that was the last we saw of
him. But I could never shake the feeling of irony about it. Of all the ways
that a man might be injured in Vietnam, who would have guessed he would suffer such a
bizarre accident? I never saw such lighting again in my thirteen-month tour of duty,
and I was glad of it.