"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff



Monday, May 5, 2014

Michael Lansford: In My Own Words, Part 2

CJ, I have another story I want to share with you. No one has ever known this, except me and my people. It's one of those "being at the right time and in the right place" kind of things.

I used to make hot chocolate for my team at night to keep them awake. So one friend, his name was Danny Mc Grady from North Carolina, wrote his wife all about it.

This one day, on fire base Currahee, I was at the front of this 155 that had armor plating on it to block shrapnel.  I was talking to a friend beside me named Michael Allen Hawk (His name is on panel 20w row 20) from Black Diamond Washington. You know, just chit chat.

Then Danny called my name from behind the armor plating.  He said his wife wrote me a letter thanking me for keeping everyone alive [with hot chocolate].

As soon as I walked around to the other side of that plate, Michael took a direct hit from a mortar and he was gone. All we found was one boot. I had just been there, standing right beside him.

All these years, I have thought about that moment and wondered about that letter, how it arrived from North Carolina exactly at that moment and saved my life. What if it had been earlier, or later?

Just one thing in my world I deal with. There are many other stories like it. We all have them, but I'm still amazed at the timing.

I told Danny that his wife and he save my life -- another debt I can never repay. We were blown away from the blast, but not a scratch.

My grandmother always said there were 2 angels watching over me 24/7. She was right. I still live with that now along with other ironic things.

No one has ever known this until now. Guess I'm doing better on here.

I made my promise to all my team to never forget them. There are other stories like this also, just different people.

I remember one time we were getting mortared, so I barely had time to jump into a small fighting hole someone had just started to dig. The mortars were walking in straight to me, when I heard the last one swish in and go thump right there in the hole with me. It just didn't go off. That was the last one they fired that day. I was too scared to be scared. 

Same fire base in Ashau Valley, Currahee. This was strategic as it blocked off the Ho Chi Minh Trail so if the NVA decided to overrun us, no one would come into the valley at night to help. Ironically, Da Nang called for sit-rep. 

Our reply was that we were surrounded and 155's had tubes pointed straight out with 1/2 second delay on rounds. We had about 150 on the fire base and we were low on ammo, etc. 

They sent us Puff the Magic Dragon. I never saw him til then -- heard, but not witnessed.

We were down to hand to hand when he came in, circled the base, and put rounds up close and personal. The war was over then for that night. 

The body count the next day was over 7000.  We lost five, but there were lots of injuries, me included.  I got stabbed in the side from behind, but a buddy saved me again. We all did that though. I did too. I never forgot that either. We were goners except for one airplane from 70 miles away. 

Thanks again for listening. First time I have ever spoke of any of this, but like I said, we all have the same stories, just different A.O.'s

CJ:  Michael,  Your writing is good. It's clear, crisp, and factual. It's so hard to believe you haven't shared it before now.

I guess like most of us, I have kept quiet and withdrawn, due to the negative world we came back to. We couldn't and wouldn't talk about anything for fear of people lashing out at us.  For the most part our country thought of us as failures and losers. 

I had many a job I applied for and was turned down because I was a Vietnam Vet. I remember going down to the local VFW back then and I was turned away because, as they said, "We don't let losers in here."  And that was from WWII people I had, and still have, the utmost respect for. I still have the denial papers.

Even in my little town, most hated me -- and I grew up there. My Mom showed me a letter from townspeople who wrote her letters telling her they hoped I never came home and I deserved to die there, as I was all the bad things they heard about and not a good example for their community. 

She was smart enough to never tell me who said it though. I guess that hurt the most. Out of our whole town, only four of us went. All came home. Three of us were hurt pretty bad, but all we had were each other to call friends.

I am still close to one of them. I love him like a brother. He was a door gunner/crew chief and flew air support for the 9th infantry at Bear Cat in the Delta. I saw the documentary on it and what they went through made my world seem trivial. They had it bad, same as other hills, valleys, etc. 

My answer to that, I moved away and I never went back, except to bury my folks. We're talking about a very small town here.  There were 23 in my class and the whole school, from 1st grade to seniors, had a total of 200.

Yet through it all, I never was mad at anyone for how we were treated.  In my mind, they had no clue as to what we lived. I didn't even get a chance to breathe after high school.  I was drafted the day after I graduated.  There I was, 18, naive, scared, lost, and suddenly thrown into a world that defies description. I learned to grow up and live things unheard of.  

I was home at 20 and the first thing my Mom said was, "You've changed.  You look old and tired."  I felt it too, and lo and behold, I was told by people right away that I was too young to buy beer. I didn't drink anyway, but it was the principal of it. 

I was also told flat out that I couldn't vote, because I was not mature enough to make decisions that would affect my future life. All I thought was, how could I be mature enough to do what I did every day and be immature and not responsible? For the record though, I have never drank, smoked, or done drugs. It was and still is everywhere, but I just never wanted to.  Just options we have, and those are mine.  

I never, ever was a baby killer. I hate that term. It took me a long time to decide how to respond to that question when it got asked, but I had to deal with it, even to this day.  If there are any issues with anyone I am around, that's the first thing out of their mouth.  Some things will never change, and I'm sure it will always be in the back of peoples' minds about us.

My response is, "Put yourself in a hypothetical situation, one that we all lived.  Here comes a small child, (you pick the gender), and they have 40 lbs of lit dynamite, or C4, strapped to them and they are running straight to you and everyone that is either your best friend, family, or anything else you care about.  

So now what do you do?  You have ten seconds or less to make a decision.  Either way, the child dies.  Each one responded, saying they would kill the child.  So then I tell them, "Now you're a baby killer for the rest of your life." 

You know more than any of us, we had to make choices right then about life or death, (pick one), but either way, one choice will be made. I can't even count how many tuff guys came into our group talking trash, being bad, and I told them, "After today, when you are out in the jungle, you will find out who and what you are made of and what you're willing to do." 

Most turned out to be just that:  all talk, no walk. If you had ever seen any of my people, you couldn't pick out what they could do. Each one was always there and would give their life for you and do whatever it took to eliminate the enemy. 

Most of us looked like we wouldn't hurt a bird, but when the chips were down, we were all business. I think I am writing a book here, sorry. 

Now talking to you and knowing your sacrifice, I can talk to you in peace. All Vets feel this way. We can talk to anyone that lived in our world, as each truly understands what we are saying from our hearts. We don't brag, we just know each of us paid our dues and like I told you, CJ, yours are paid in full.

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale


2 comments:

  1. Thank you for your service and your sacrifices. I have the utmost respect for the Vietnam Veterans and it fills me with great sadness when I read the stories of how people disrespected our returning soldiers. Thank you for sharing your story. I wish you peace and healing of some sort as you share your memories. I recognize that although many people think that a tour of duty in Vietnam ended in Vietnam, for survivors it will never end. God Bless and thank you again for your bravery.

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  2. Michael LansfordJune 16, 2014 at 4:38 PM

    Thank you Grace for your kind words. I am very humbled by it all. Kept to myself these 45 yrs & it took a combat Medics wife, Mrs C J Heck, to help me get through it. Still we all have more inside us than society will ever know. All Vets do. Thanks again. Sorry for the late reply.

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