The first encounters of the 7th Cavalry in Viet Nam.
|Prelude to madness
Like two ungainly pigeons vying for the same crumb, the Hueys hovered for a split second unsteadily over the tall grass being violently thrashed from side to side, before touching down. The 'hot' landing zone was a storm of dust, angry machinegun fire and shouting as the two birds roughly thudded to the ground. Men were running in confusion everywhere as the occupants of the hulking choppers were ordered out into the madness that was the Seventh Calvary Division on that November morning in 1965. Some died before they could set foot on solid ground or whisper a final prayer. Those who survived will never get out of their minds the sounds of men screaming as they bled to death on the verdent Highlands of South Vietnam. A pathetic wailing seemed to rise up from the tall grass all around as grown men, knowing that they were breathing their last on this Earth, were calling desperately for their comrades, their wives, their mothers. As death wove its crimson ballet across the fields, the enemy closed in from every side. Stray bullets whizzed all around the landing zone, some sounding off the metal of the flying machines in a shower of sparks, some finding flesh with a muffled impact, like meteors piercing pillows followed by men's mortal shouts of surprise turning to dread. A dread that they too would become part of the wailing of the fields.
The commander in charge of the Seventh Calvary hollered for the two mounted gunners in the forward Huey to help haul the dead and wounded into the empty birds as they sat waiting to lift off. James A. Walhiem jumped out and started to assist the bloodied and shock-worn men still breathing pile quickly into the Huey, while his partner grabbed the body bags and pieces of what was left of the dead and throw them onto the flatbed inside the chopper to the rear. The pilot of the forward transport informed the commander that they could hold no more if the take-off were to be a safe one. As the rotors revved up the Divisional leader ran at a full clip toward Walhiem now stationed at his gun. Grabbing his shoulder he yelled,
"You - gunner, get in the other bird - their man's down!"
The scared soldier's adreanal glands dumped their contents into his bloodstream and he could feel his eyes bulging as if they might erupt from their sockets at any moment. Time slowed. The blades of the great bird rotated overhead trailing shadows as they powerfully cleaved the air leaving a vacuum in their wake that sucked anything loose off the ground and sent it flying dangerously through the air. As James hopped off the flatbed a wall of swirling dust slammed into his face temporarily blinding him. The momentary loss of vision only served to heighten the underlying panic he was struggling to keep in check that day. At any minute this terror threatened to break out into full mental anarchy. His last glimpse had been of the gaping black hole in the side of the rearward Huey. Ducking instinctively, he made a dash for it. Based upon his estimate of the distance between the two ships he leapt for saftey. Diving in, his right knee landing first made a soft, plunging sound as if sinking in clay on a riverbank. He felt it penetrate something warm. The familiar tug of gravity as the chopper suddenly lifted reassured him that he had made it to safety. An immense feeling of relief flooded his entire body. James opened his tearing eyes to see what was holding his right leg to find it had sunk half way up the thigh into the blown out chest of the Huey's gunner. The corpse's facial features, twisted in a final grimace of shock and fear, stared back at him, its lifeless eyes wide open and fogging over. Corporal Walhiem's screams fused with the high pitched shreiking of the helicopter's rotors as it climbed into the air high above the carnage that was the Seventh Calvary Division - taking with it the silent, the serving and the insane.