The Elusive Soldiers Medal
While serving in Vietnam, I was sent out on a mission with 5 or 6 other men. Some of us were asked to help deliver supplies to a stranded unit. We were to carry supplies to some men that were hunkered down and could not go out to get supplies. I got the idea that they were watching an area where the enemy had some high activity. It was during the monsoon season and everything was wet and flooded. I worked in the Orderly Room so when the information came in about the situation, I knew the entire story from the beginning. Helping these guys was more of a favor to these stranded guys that the First Sargent knew. It was like they were asking a favor; it was not our responsibility in any way. This was not about a battle-weary bunch of men in a crisis and needing saving or anything.
So, the First Sargent volunteered some of us to take the guys some supplies. There were boxes of food, water, and a little gas in the way of three 5 gal cans. I cannot remember the list of supplies but I do remember the crate of ammo. Top assigned me and Doc to carry the ammo box. For some reason I remember hand grenades, it was either hand grenades or ammo we were to carry, I do not remember. We grabbed a few things of our personally gear and we all lined up in front to the Orderly Room.
We started out and it was raining and wet, there was a lot of mud everywhere. LZ Sharon was in the middle of red dirt, that was our immediate landscape. The jungles were a long way off, the area had been cleared out for the huts. I was stationed at Red Devil, that sums it up.
We headed out and about 20 minutes later we came to a river. We knew it was not a river, it just looked like a river. The road ahead was flooded. It was a stream before but now it was a rushing river about 150 meters wide. It was moving fast and you could tell it would sweep away anything that got in its path. We were asked to deliver some equipment and that is what we were going to do. Doc and I were to carry the wooden box of ammunition. It was a heavy rectangular wooden box, about 3 feet long 18 inches wide and 8 inches deep, with looped rope handles on both sides. I was on one side and Doc was on the other. The water was almost waste deep when we started and it was getting worse as we got to the middle of the stream. It was not a stream; it was a rushing wild river running over a dirt road. The road was flooded and the only reason we were not washed away was the fact that we were staying in the very middle of this road. This swollen stream was really wide and traveling fast.
We fought our way forward one step at a time. Single file, about 5 of us. Doc and I were in the lead with Sgt. Ammons on our shoulders assessing the situation. The rushing water was getting so bad that the First Sargent ordered us to turn around and go back. It was the swiftness and as it got deeper, it could wash you off your feet at any time. I thought turning back was a wise decision if it was not too late. There were 4 or 5 of us at the lead, the First Sargent had already turned around and was starting back. He was getting ahead to lead the way back. When Doc and I turned around, he stepped off the road. He had swung around and gone too far from the middle of the road. He was wearing thick glasses and they came off immediately as he attempted to fight his way back to the road. Doc had lost sight of the glasses and was struggling to find them. (With his eyesight, I always wondered how he got into the Army in the first place.)
He could not make out the way to the shore line, the bank on the side, or the obstacles between him and safety. He could not see well without his glasses and there was only one safe way back to the shore. He seemed to be a little panicky. He seemed to be determined to fight his way back to the road, against the current. It was clear he was not going to be able to do it and he was going to be washed downstream.
I was looking at Doc and I looked at the other guys and they were looking dead at me. I was the closest and that was it, or should I say "I was it". I tried to throw the box of grenades out of the way because they were directly between me and Doc. The box was floating so I tried to pick it up out of the water to throw it. I had forgotten how heavy it was. I picked it up a little but could not throw it to one of the other guys so I just let it go downstream.
I went after Doc and talked to him as I was approaching him. I got him and together we began to swim for the shore. I told him to come "this way" we started out and it was almost impossible to stay afloat with all our heavy boots and equipment. Neither of us had a weapon. Our bodies were not completely on top of the water and all I could think about was the concertina that could be down under us. I had seen this area before and I knew there was wire down there, somewhere. It was a fact that if one of our legs got caught on the concertina, the blouse, there would not be any way we would survive, we would die right here in the middle of this river.
The only thing I could think of was to get somewhere as close as possible as quick as possible. The longer we were in the water the more the chance of getting caught on the wire lurking down below us. There was a little "island" a patch ahead between us and the shore. I headed us toward it. On the way we hit a little high place. It was like a little hill. Just a little rise and I scraped it and I stopped, put my foot down and sure enough, we could stand on it. On my tip toes, I had my head and neck out of the water. The water was about chest high but we were holding on to the top of a little tree shrub. We were safe, here in the middle of this river. We were about half way to the spot of that little island, we had come about 30 yards and we were not going back. There we were. We were stranded and hanging on for dear life. We were thinking what to do or what we had to do if we did not get help.
The only possible help was on the shore. There were some Marines on the shore and they were watching us. They were waving and I could hear their sounds, they were cheering us on. It was too faint to make out what they were saying but we could see a lot of activity. After a while, we saw a Marine get an air mattress and they were going to come and get us.
That did not work. When the guy got into the water he was washed down so quickly, I could see him trying to paddle over but of course he only got about 5 yards from the bank and that was it, he was washed downstream. He paddled his way back to shore, walked back upstream and tried again. No luck. After another 15 minutes or so, we saw Top. He had emptied a 5 gal. gas can and was using it as flotation device to come rescue us. He came shooting by us at what seemed to be about 90 miles an hour. He missed us by about 30 yards. There was just no way he could have made it over to us.
There we were, in the middle of this rushing body of water with nowhere to go, well nowhere that made any sense. We waited and waited it seemed forever. Now the water was up to our chins. I was a little taller than Doc so I could see him trying to make himself taller. He was looking straight up to the heavens and I knew that I would be in the same position soon. In my mind I was trying to make an emergency plan, we could try and get to that little patch like island or swim another 40 yards to the bank.
Suddenly there was this noise and I knew what it was right away. The water began to separate around us, it was a helicopter. A Huey, the wind beat down on us and it made a little indentation in the water and we had our necks and even out shoulders out of the water. They dropped the lines down just in time, another 10 minutes and we would have been trying to swim for it.
That oval loop that was dropped down was just what we needed. When it came down I grabbed it and tried to put over Doc's head. That was not going to happen, he just took it and tried to put it over my head, I put it back to him and he pushed it back to me. I gave up. I took the harness and was pulled up. The men in the Huey reached out and helped me in. The harness was again lowered and Doc came up.
I tried to tell the guys in the Huey that we were missing a man downstream, Top. They just kept shaking their heads in the affirmative, we couldn't talk it was too noisy. The copter landed and there was Top waiting there. We were taken to the shore and back to the LZ.
I heard I was put in for the Soldiers Medal. It was not until much later that I learned what this Soldiers Medal was. I never received it and the subject was dropped and I did not pursue it. It was a combination of circumstances at that time. I did not care about it then, and the only reason I am talking about it now is in hopes it will assist me in obtaining VA benefits.