Sunday, August 17, 2008

Other Shots

There are numerous ways to become a casualty in war.

Other Shots

He was from the 1st Cavalry Division. On his first patrol with that division, one of his squad members hit a trip wire connected to the firing mechanism of a booby-trapped white phosphorous grenade or artillery round. The explosion spread white phospherous over every member of the squad. The blast and the burning chemical decimated the squad. White phosphorous; also know as WP and Willie Peter, burned at a low temperature. When particles of WP hit a person, they burn through the skin into the body. The burning is impossible to put out unless the part of the body affects is submerged in water. In effect, white phosphorous burned a person who it hits exteriorly and interiorly until the burning is stopped. In many cases, those whom white phosphorous hit die. This young soldier was the only person to survive that booby-trap attack. Badly wounded, the 1st Cavalry sent him to Okinawa for recovery. After his recovery, the Army sent him back to Vietnam and to our company.

It was a normal day in the Delta in an area that contained banana trees and other taller trees that shaded us from the sky. The terrain was flat and grassy. In our company size operation, we had walked in formation spread out from the men around us about ten meters apart. Spreading out minimizes the number of wounded and killed in case someone tripped a booby-trapped. Grenades have a “kill radius,” measured from the point of explosion, of five meters. Their wounding radius is fifteen meters. Artillery rounds have a vastly wider kill and casualty radius. We traveled through this area all morning until near eleven o’clock when, from our front, two shot rang out. They were incoming and we hit the ground. The VC put those rounds over our heads or in our midst to slow us down. We must have come up on and surprised an enemy unit that did not want to engage us.

After the shots, our commander sent orders for us to break while a squad size patrol went out to recon the area from where the shots came. Sitting on damp ground we got out our C Rations and started eating lunch. I had a B-3 C Ration unit and began eating my canned ham and eggs chopped meal. It was a meal that I liked, but one that almost everyone else hated. While sitting and eating, another shot rang out. The sound was not too far behind me. I couldn’t see what was happening; however, after the shot I heard men speaking urgently and loudly and saw someone run to the area where the sound came from. In a short while, word filtered up to my platoon that the new guy from the 1st Cav had “accidentally” shot himself in the leg while cleaning his weapon. Eyewitnesses said it was a strange almost surreal scene: the guy raised his M-16, pressed it into his thigh, and pulled the trigger. In a few minutes, a dust off, that is a medevac helicopter came in and took the man away. We didn't see him again. I hope that that wound kept him out of the war. I know of another man who during my tour “accidentally” wounded himself. I have no condemnation for those whom, in the devastating war-time environment, take such an action.

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