"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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Terror and Hilarity: by Byron Edgington

Warrant Officer 1 B Edgington 3rd from the left
War is filled with opportunities to get yourself killed. 

Sometimes these opportunities arise in seconds, unanticipated, their outcomes something not even Hollywood could manufacture. 

I suppose if I’d died on this mission I never would have felt a thing. It would have been a classic case of one second alive, chuffing one breath out, another in, then zap... I suppose that’s the way it always is. 

It seemed like a routine mission, an easy LZ in a place as serene and green as the bucolic fields of my Ohio childhood. I suppose if I’d been killed that day it would have been as good a place as any to fulfill life’s ultimate function.
The mission was to insert a special operations team onto an LZ in Laos ten kilometers west of Khe Sanh. I was flying lead ship that day. The escort plane marked the LZ for me, and three other Hueys to follow, and then the Air Force ‘covey bird’ zipped away. The marked spot was a half-acre field covered in elephant grass six feet deep. 

My crewchief, Gil, was behind me in the well of the aircraft.  John, the door gunner of whistle fame, was once again on the right side. I briefed them for landing, slid my visor down and entered final approach. Down I went, the LZ a hundred yards ahead. Soon I was over it, and ready to land.

As I hovered above the deep grass, the Huey’s rotorwash blasted it flat. And there he was. Forty feet away, a lone North Vietnamese soldier, gray-green fatigues, jungle hat, as surprised to see me as I him. His AK swiveled up, aimed directly at me. 

The next three seconds were a blur to me then, and they are now. I turned my head slightly left at the anomalous item in my peripheral view and wondered what it was. It was the enemy soldier, of course. 

Then a shriek of M-16 fire exploded directly behind me, and I jerked so hard I locked my inertia reel. Hot rounds snapped out, a burst of six, or perhaps twenty, I cannot say.

The enemy soldier crumpled like a burst balloon, his lifeless body a heap of gray-green camo. His hat flew off. His weapon clattered away. The man was dead. One instant a breath chuffing in, then out, and then...

But I wasn’t dead. Somehow I’d escaped. Not my time? Coincidence? I don’t know. Yet another dodged bullet, this one literal. 

The GI who fired had anticipated the scene. Because of his training, or instinct, or a sixth sense, he knew that the NVA soldier would be there, and before the enemy could pull the trigger, he caught a hail of hot ammo. 

The guy who saved my life leapt off the aircraft and never looked back. I had no chance to say thanks, or ask how did you, or holy crap.

I lifted the collective, took off, and ceded the controls to my rookie right seater. My knees shook like a dog passing busted glass. I remember this part so well that years later I’m still ashamed of myself: I had to fight an urge to laugh. Terror and hilarity. 

It wasn’t the only time in Vietnam that I saw the ugly truth of 'what the hell we were doing there', in the unvarnished part of war that Hollywood won’t touch. 

Friendly and enemy alike, we were just a bunch of kids playing with fire, trying to kill each other, while joking around to get through it, or trying to stay alive, or wondering, who decides? 

That day I was twenty-one years old. The other fellow was as old as he was ever going to get ...

Byron Edgington
Byron Edgington
The SkyWriter

[Excerpt from Chapter 12]
The Sky Behind Me: A Memoir of Flying & Life 

“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

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