By Joe Holt
Sometimes the world seems so small it scares me. This is one such story. I keep asking myself, what are the odds?
It was the Fall of 66. September? October? Around there sometime. The whole company was on an operation. Search and Destroy. Wed been sloshin the paddies for a few days, at least. Wed just gotten a bunch of new guys. Replacements. It was the first operation for most ofem. Wed had activity, but nothing really heavy duty. It was a good chance for them to get their feet wet. Literally. Wed had our share of snipers, but I normally didnt care much about them. I figured the safest place to be was in their sights. With very few exceptions the gooks couldnt hit a bull in the ass with a frying pan. If they actually did hit anything it was just dumb luck. Good for them, bad for us.
The operation was winding down. We were on our way back...to where Im not sure, but I do remember we were looking forward to getting there. We were in column. Good separation. Strung out forever, and moving fast. Real fast. We were in a rice paddy area. We were crisscrossing the whole area going from dike to island to dike. Trying to stay dry. We werent snoopin and poopin. We were really moving it out.
In this one area we were taking sniper fire from the left flank, and we simply didnt care. It sounded like a slow fire BAR. Three or four rounds at a time. From three or four hundred meters away. Occasionally wed get a splash or two in the paddies, but nowhere near where we were. We just kept on walking. At this point we were skirting a village on an island in the paddy. We were up on dry ground. I remember being amazed at how little I cared if somebody shot at us. Another classic Private Holt stupid thought.
This sniper had popped off two or three times already, but he got lucky with the next attempt. Pow Pow Pow. We kept on trudgin. A few seconds went by before somebody behind me yelled, "Corpsman!" There was no fear in the voice. No despair. Just a good loud, "Corpsman up!" My only thought was, "Aw shit! What the hell is wrong. Now weve got to stop the column!" Because the voice was so calm I just figured somebody had tripped over their own feet or something equally as lame. A few seconds later the same voice yelled to hold up the column. We relayed the message up through the column...an echo that grew dimmer as the word got closer to the front. We stopped. I was pissed.
I couldnt see who had yelled. They were just around the bend. I stomped back there looking for whoever was responsible for holding up the column. As I came around the bend I saw one of the new guys sitting down, and a couple of the other guys standing around him. I think the guys name was Shannon. He showed no fear. No trauma. He actually looked embarrassed. My first thought was that wed better spread out. That worthless sniper might consider our little group to be a pretty good target. As I walked towards them one of the guys says,
"Hes been shot."
I didnt see an obvious wound. He didnt look like hed been shot. He was sitting up with this stupid look on his face.
"What the fuck are you talkin about?"
"Hes been shot in the legs."
The corpsman got up to him just as I did. No shit, he was bleeding in both legs above the knees. We all spread out some and let Doc do his work. He cut open both trouser legs and perused the situation. I was the nosiest I suppose so I got down on one knee next to him. The bullet had gone through his left leg and entered his right. There was no exit wound on his right leg. There wasnt a lot of bleeding, which was a good thing. No arteries were hit or anything like that. The holes were just leaking some. While Doc was wrapping a dressing around one of the holes in the left leg I noticed that the entrance hole in the right leg had gotten real ugly, and I said so. All blue. It started to swell even while we were gawking at it. Doc reached over and sorta poked at the edges of the hole. I was staring all the while, and when Doc touched the wound the bullet popped out of the guys leg. Just popped out! We all shouted,and then we all laughed. This bullet had obviously just penetrated the skin on his right leg, and when it was pressed the bullet popped out like a pimple. It was the most comical thing Id ever seen! We were all giggling like kids when Lieutenant Woodburn walked up. He just didnt see the humor in the situation. I mean, he hadnt been there when the bullet popped out so his main thoughts were on getting this guy medivaced, not sitting around telling stories about it. We had to get the column moving as soon as possible.
While the Lieutenant was making arrangements for the chopper we were trying to figure out how to get this guy to the helozone. We put the bullet in Shannons breast pocket and buttoned it up. Not many guys could say they had the bullet that shotem. He could move both legs, but he was in no shape to walk any distance. We decided that wed have to carry him, but how? Somebody thought we could make a stretcher, but that was too much trouble. The Lieutenant thought we should use a two man carry, and use our rifles for Shannon to sit on. Wed all seen this in training, but its a lot more awkward than it looks. With this two man deal you had to walk sideways. The patient was fine, but we were killing ourselves. Just to add a cherry on the cake, Shannon decided finally that he was going to faint. Then wake up. Then faint. Then wake up, and so on. If I was pissed before, I was really getting disgusted with him now. I know he was wounded and all, but I sure wish hed make up his mind. Be conscious or unconscious, but pick one and stay with it, will ya?!
In my most humble way I stopped holding up my end of the two rifle deal and said,
"Excuse me Sir, but I think I can carry him a whole lot quicker and easier with a regular firemans carry."
One look at us and he agreed. We looked like a Chinese fire drill trying to maneuver this guy along. Shannon was conscious at this point so we just propped him up for a second, and I just slung him over my shoulder. I was told the helozone was just around the bend on the other side of the village. A couple of hundred yards at most. One of the guys grabbed my pack, and somebody handed me my rifle and off I went. Lieutenant Woodburn led the way. He trotted ahead of me. He followed the trail along the edge of the village island, but I figured the more direct route towards the front of the column was straight across the swoop in the trail, across the paddy, then around the bend of the island. It wasnt far, and the water wasnt deep. My feet sunk in the mud only a few inches. The water came up to mid calf. Not bad at all. I was making great headway as I rounded the bend, but I didnt see any CP group or even hear a helicopter.
All the guys in the column were sitting right where theyd stopped, on the edge of the paddies, up a foot or so near the dry trail. They thought I was entertaining, splashing along the way I was. I was still doing pretty well, but Shannon wasnt gettin any lighter. I was crossing an open paddy area. There were guys just sitting on the dikes observing my progress. As I was sloggin by a couple of guys I asked them,
"Wheres the CP?"
They said, "Up there just a ways. Just around the next bend. Do you want me to take over for a while?"
"Thanks for the offer, but its no problem."
I was beginning to puff a bit by this time, but I was determined, so I just shrugged Shannon to reposition him a bit, and I continued my trek. Id lost track of the Lieutenant, and I still didnt hear a helicopter. In the midst of all this Shannon had fainted once or twice which was fine with me because at least he wasnt moaning when he was unconscious. I slogged along for a couple of hundred yards till I rounded the next bend. Still no CP. I asked some other guys.
"How far to the CP?"
"Not far. Do you need a hand?"
I was beginning to suck wind by now and my legs were stiffening, but I wasnt gonna give up at this point.
"Naw. I got it under control."
As I was progressing around a second rice paddy island I began to hear a helicopter. It was in the distance, but getting closer. I was runnin out of gas...fast. I was concentrating on my legs. They were a mess. Rubbery. If I bent my knees Id probably collapse. When I looked up I saw a couple of guys with radios just fifty yards or so away. Finally, the CP! Lieutenant Woodburn was up ahead giving me the double time signal. The chopper was coming in, and they wanted the casualty to get on in as short a time as possible. I tried. I really tried.
I could barely walk, much less run by this time. It was all I could do to stay upright, but Ill be damned if I was going to give up now. Just then the shooting started. The helicopter was landing up ahead less than a hundred yards away, making all sorts of racket, and the local snipers thought it was the perfect target. Here again, I didnt care all that much about the snipers. I was focused on getting Shannon to the helo. I noticed a couple of rounds splashing in the paddy, but not near me or the helo that I could tell, but Woodburn ran up to me and told me to get down. We were being fired upon.
Orders are orders so I attempted to lower Shannon into the paddy. The second I bent my knees my legs collapsed. Face first I went, into the paddy. I tried to get up, but I immediately fell back in the mud. My legs had given up the ghost. The muzzle of my rifle went straight into the mud. Shannon tumbled off to who knows where? In the middle of all the noise and mud, our guys had started to return fire. They didnt know where they were shootin, but Im sure they felt better in doing so.
As I was spittin out mud(?) I looked up and there was Woodburn telling me to get Shannon up and to the chopper. I was sitting flat in the paddy, and my legs were floppin around like they had a mind of their own. I was helpless. With the helo noise, the gunfire, and the Lieutenant yelling at me I knew there was only one thing I could do. I yelled,
The first fella I saw was Dawson. He was in the middle of a laughing fit when I yelled. I musta been a sight, but I didnt think things were all that funny. He ran over to us from his spot on the trail, and as he approached he looked over my shoulder with surprise. A complete change of facial expression in less than a second. I turned around to see what had impressed him so much, and I immediately went nuts.
Shannon had jumped to his feet, and as I turned, was running to the helicopter. Sure he was limping some, but he was moving out at a pretty good clip. Sprinting through the mud. My first thought was that I was gonna shoot him...right in the ass. Nope. In the head. I was so pissed. My muzzle was plugged with all sorts of shit. I found a floating twig and frantically tried to get the plug of mud from my flash suppressor. Then I dunked my M-14 in the water trying to wash any mud from the bore.
All this going on while Dawson resumed his laughing fit.
In those few seconds I saw Shannon clamber into the helo. Then it took off and climbed in a circle until the sound finally faded. The shooting had stopped...on both sides. The only sound that I heard was Dawsons giggling. I still couldnt get to my feet. Id tried a couple of times, but I kept falling over. Getting madder and madder. Eventually he helped me up.
I spent the remainder of the day falling down. I could walk OK, but if I went down even a slight slope my knees would buckle. I spent the next day or two pondering the question, would I have shot Shannon? Of course not. I sure wanted to, but Im almost sure I wouldnt have. Almost. I never saw Shannon again.
Many years have passed. Ive told this story to only folks who would understand. Mostly former grunts, but occasionally, with enough wine, Id tell it at other gatherings. The story has pretty much stayed the same with every telling. There is no need to embellish the events. Just another example of stupid Private Holt stuff. This can be entertaining to the right audience.
A few years ago I joined the First Marine Division Association. The annual July convention was in Vegas that year so I went in the attempt to perhaps find some of the guys from India Company. The Hastings guys in particular. In order to attend the banquet it was necessary to join the Association. I filled out the simple form, and that was that. Good banquet. Great time. I found Lt. Williams on that trip.
A month or so after the convention I received an April issue of the Old Breed, the main publication of the First Mar Div. Id never seen an issue before, and I was fascinated by all the names and unit descriptions that are listed in each one. New members, old members, life members. I was laying in bed, trying to read myself to sleep, going over the names. I perked up when I saw the name "Shannon". Patrick Shannon. I never knew Shannons first name. I supposed it could be the same guy. This Shannon was listed as a new member. He was with I 3/5 in 66. This was too weird. It couldnt be. I went to sleep.
Shannon was the first thing I thought about when I woke up the next morning. Same curiosity I went to sleep with. I thought how stupid I was, but I went to the phone, called information, got the number of this Patrick Shannon, and gave it a try.
"Yeah, hello. Is this Patrick Shannon?"
"Im sorry to bother you , but I saw your name on the list of the First Mar Div members. It says you were with India Company,3/5."
"Were you shot in the legs?"
"Thats right...Hey, who the hell is this?!"
It was him all right.
"This is the poor tired son of a bitch that had to carry your sorry ass to the helicopter that day!"
"What? Say that again."
We talked for twenty minutes. He couldnt believe it. He blathered some such thing about the disability on his knees, but we just jabbered away about a bunch of stuff. When I hung up I sat down and pondered the odds of us ever coming in contact again. Itd been twenty nine years. I saw his name in a publication that Id never subscribed to. The more I thought about it the creepier it seemed.
The phone rang. It was Shannon again. He just couldnt believe that Id called. He had to call back just to be sure he hadnt imagined it.
As it turns out, the wounds really affected his knees. He eventually got mustered out because of his left knee. Hed gotten treatment on the left knee for years, but when the right knee got to be too painful he went to VA and tried to get treatment for it also. They said they had no record of a wound to his right knee, only his left. They acknowledged scarring on the right knee, but didnt have any evidence that it was service related. The bullet hole simply didnt impress them. His lawyer thought it would be a good idea to join any and all service organizations where he might somehow come in contact with anyone that was an eyewitness to the wounds. Talk about a needle in a haystack! There were only four or five guys who were even there. What were the odds of anyone remembering his name? Hed only been with the Company for less than a month. It was inconceivable that anyone could help him, but he joined anyway. Four months had gone by when I called.
This makes me goofy just thinking about it. No wonder he thought I was a figment of his imagination.
To make a long story short, I wrote a letter to the VA. I explained my account of the incident. Hes since been approved for treatment of his right knee. All is well.
If this isnt cool enough for you... I called Doc Kunkel a few months after all this. In the middle of the conversation it occurred to me that even though Doc was new to India Company he might have been there when Shannon was shot. I started to run the story by him. I hadnt gotten very far with my inquiry when he interrupted,
"Was this the guy who had the bullet pop out of his leg? Wasnt that the most unforgettable thing you ever saw?"
Well Doc. I guess so.