"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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Do Guns Equal Safety?: By Byron Edgington

Byron Edgington
CJ:  I'm reluctant to stoke the political fires creeping into the Vietnam blog, but Mr. Fox's entry today, A Worthy Rebuttal to Mr. Garrison, reminded me of yet another side to the 'guns equal safety' belief. 

For those who believe that gun ownership automatically equates with safety, I humbly offer this story. It is indeed anecdotal. But it may shed a bit of light on a volatile issue in society, the rights of gun owners vs those who demand saner licensing and oversight of weapons.

For the record, I count myself among the latter. Did this incident in Vietnam affect my belief that guns should be closely monitored? Perhaps. You decide. And when you do, try to put yourself in the place of those men building the bridge, or their families.

From Chapter 12 of  The Sky Behind Me, a Memoir of Flying and Life.

The friendly fire incident is a reality of war. Take a passel of scared, twitchy young men, add a dash of self preservation, a measure of loaded weapons, and a dose of official sanction to go forth and kill something, and the table is set for a tragic mis-identification accident.
Vietnam had its share of those sad events. One of them almost had my name scribbled in the After Action Report. It happened close to home base, and in a reasonably secure location, which likely factored into the episode. 

My guard was down, but all the ingredients were in place: the frightened young soldier, the instinct to preserve his own life, a loaded weapon, and the sanction floating in his nervous brain to shoot first and question later.

It was late October 1970. I took off that morning with Gil, a new-in-country Peter Pilot I’d not flown with and a rookie door gunner, a fellow I’d just met that morning. I’ll call the new gunner Ken to protect his ‘exotic’ behavior. 

Byron and his Huey
The mission was a simple resupply of a nearby firebase named Brick. Firebase Brick was within spitting distance of Camp Eagle. 

As the morning wore on, I flew in several loads of beans and bullets, mail, and assorted other items of ash and trash to the GIs on the firebase. 

Approaching Brick from the north for the first time, I saw a squad of American troops below. They were building a bridge across a stream a quarter mile from the firebase. 

On every subsequent approach to the base I flew directly over those men. It became a routine: my Huey rattled overhead a couple hundred feet above them; the bridge-builders waved; my crew waved back, and then I’d land at the firebase. The routine went on all morning, for perhaps six or eight landings.

On my last resupply drop before refuel, I cruised toward the firebase, angled lower, and set up my approach to Brick’s dusty helipad. I called the pathfinder on Brick to advise him by radio that we were inbound again, to see if his cannon cockers had any outgoing rounds. The tubes were cold, so I continued my approach. 

As I passed over the bridge builders below, for about the tenth time, I took no note of them. I was watching the fuel gauge, doing the mental math on how many loads of resupply there were before I had to dee-dee to the POL point. The radio was silent. Weather was benign. Wind was calm. Then fireworks.

As I passed over the bridge builders once again, my new door gunner’s .30 cal erupted, spraying deadly rounds downward into the jungle. Bullets snapped and crackled outward, bracking like a buzz saw. The hair on my arms prickled. My heart went ballistic. Out of instinct, I wrenched the controls hard left, and jerked in power. The Huey arced over like a scalded cat. The next few seconds were a blur.

Gil screamed at the gunner. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“They’re building a bridge down there!” Ken screamed, as his gun fell silent.

Gil scrambled across the cabin. He shoved Ken away from the gun, and jerked the belt out of the weapon’s magazine.“Those are friendlies!” Gil yelled.

My radio squealed the frantic voice of the pathfinder. “Bad guys out there?”
“No bad guys,” I said. My heart slammed, hoping no one was hurt. “Any casualties?”
The pause lasted maybe five seconds, the longest five seconds of my life, while the pathfinder checked with the bridge builders. To my everlasting relief he said, “Everybody’s okay...pretty shook up, though.”

I apologized for the incident, and made sure Gil had the new man’s weapon secured. Then I raced back to Camp Eagle with ‘Ken,’ and personally escorted him away from my Huey. He never flew again. I could only conclude that he’d been spooked, or had pot for breakfast, something.
For days afterward, I dissected the event, wondering what I could have done to avoid it. I shuddered, thinking of what might have happened. Dead men, grieving families, official inquiries, and the ongoing component of military operations for all time—bereavement calls, chaplains at front doors, flag-draped coffins. 

All because some young, scared, rookie kid with a lethal weapon, a bolus of testosterone, and orders to kill something saw the ‘enemy’ “building a bridge.”

“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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1 comment:

  1. sharing can be a way of healing,friendly fire was never good.we were kids of 17 or 18 with responsibility they wouldn't have back here in the world.you grow up quick no video games.


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