Look Before You Leap

 

Thinking back on the months I spent in combat, there were only a few times that I remember being really afraid, of being so scared that I didn't want to go where we were going because I thought I might be hurt.  But before I give the wrong impression, let me explain.  Most of our days were filled with dull routine.   When danger appeared, it came suddenly.  One minute we would be walking along as we had for the last several hours, the next a booby trap would explode and several men would fall wounded.  Our only thought was to help the wounded.  There was no time for fear, only action.  And by and large, at that point the danger was over.

The real fear came when you had time to think about it beforehand.  That was the hardest.  Knowing you might get into a situation you couldn't get out of.   That's when fear started building.

We had spent an uneventful two hours hiking through tall grass on a routine morning patrol when a call came in over the battalion radio.  Our Bravo company had walked into an ambush.  They were pinned down under heavy fire.   They needed back-up, and other units were being rushed to their assistance.   Even now helicopters were on their way to pick us up.  We moved into pickup formation in a large meadow.  Soon we heard the heavy beating of the Hueys.   They circled once and swept in to land.

I took a seat on the floor with my feet dangling out the door of the chopper, and switched my radio frequency to that of the chopper.  Messages were streaming in from other units in the area.  Our battalion's Charlie Company was going in ahead of us.   I listened tensely to the blow-by-blow account of their hot LZ, broadcast from choppers climbing to get away from the heavy fire.  Charlie Company was on the ground, and like Bravo was now pinned down.  Delta would go in next.  Our entire battalion was being committed, along with armor from a nearby fire base.

Soon it was Delta's turn.  They were being inserted about a mile away from the battle, with the idea of flanking the main ambush.  As the choppers went in their radios came alive.  Fire was coming from nearby woods.  Another hot LZ.   The gunships raced in to cover the Hueys as they made their getaway.  Now, Delta became the third company to be pinned down.

We were up next.  From a thousand feet above, the forests and fields looked peaceful, but big metal birds were circling and diving around them like so many hawks eager for prey.  Now we started our descent.  Closer and closer came the dark green foliage, while here and there black columns of smoke rolled upward.  All this time the fear had been germinating, taking root.  Now it started to break its way to the surface.  We were going into another hot LZ, I was sure of it.  We would be sitting ducks, drifting toward the surface as the enemy lined up his sights and picked us off, one by one.  The bullets would come in a hail, too thick to stop.  There was going to be no place to hide.  We would be exposed, in the open on a flat field, with wave after wave of machine gun fire raking through our ranks.   It was going to be hell.  I might even die.

But the fear hadn't won out completely, yet.  I switched my radio back to the company frequency, made sure my M-16 was loaded, and looked over my stock of grenades.  I wanted to be ready for anything.  I started planning what I would do as we came in.  The choppers wouldn't set down - they would sweep in, rock forward to brake their forward momentum, hang for just a second several feet off the ground, and then as they swung back, hit the juice and lift away as fast as they could.  I had to jump immediately and get out of the way so the others could land behind me.  And stay low because the door-gunners were shooting.  Last, but not least, I reminded myself, get down flat as fast as possible and find cover.Fast Getaway!

This was it.  Twenty feet off the ground, I slid forward to rest one foot on the landing rail beneath me.  The Huey was still several feet from the ground and moving forward when I jumped, pushing off the rail.  I hit the ground and took two giant strides, looking for a place to dive for cover.  I saw a mound and bushes to one side.  Without hesitating one second, I leaped with all my might for the mound, stretching my body flat so I wouldn't bounce.  I landed in a thick patch of wiry bushes.  I shouldered my rifle and sighted down on the wood line to our flank, ready to give them round for round.

I glanced back to see if the others behind me were O.K.  They were scattered through the grass and brush flattened and ready to shoot.  The Hueys retreated into the distance, and the sound of their door-gunners' firing faded away.  All was silent.  Suddenly I realized not a shot had been fired against us. And now that we had reacted to the danger with action, the fear was gone.  It might almost have been better if we had seen some fighting.  It would have been a more noble, more glorious end to the day.  For, in my haste to find cover, I had chosen to jump into a bramble bush.  My arms, chest and neck were bristling with little thorns - painful little thorns.  As we regrouped and headed overland to aid our embattled sister companies, I could think only of the thorns.  One by one I picked them out of my skin, but many were buried deep, and itched and stung.  The rewards of my heroic leap for life stayed with me for weeks, and taught me another valuable combat lesson.  In your haste to stay alive, don't exchange one trouble for another.

 

bttnback.gif (3988 bytes)        bttnhome.gif (3910 bytes)         bttnnext.gif (4006 bytes)

 

Look Before You Leap:  Tales Of A War Far Away
Copyright 1995 Kirk S. Ramsey
Photo Copyright 1995 George Aimone
Last modified: March 02, 1995