Monday, October 02, 2017

Listening to stories from Vietnam

A couple of folks asked over the weekend, "Have you been watching the Vietnam film?" And the answer is, "Not yet, but I will." If the Amazon tracking report is accurate, a DVD version will arrive Tuesday.

What I have been doing is watching and reading the discussion --- interviews with Lynn Novick and Ken Burns (I can predict by now when Burns is going to say, "History doesn't repeat itself; it rhymes"), panel discussions, reports of veterans' reactions, pundits pontificating.

Reaction to the film, like reaction to the war, has been contentious at times. Experts in Vietnam War history not invited to sign on as consultants know what should have been included but wasn't. Some commentators are angry --- one referred to Burns as a "homosexual communist," a description that might surprise the film maker's two wives (consecutive, not concurrent). 

I belong to two Facebook Vietnam War history groups. The largest (more than 25,000 members) has banned discussion of the film entirely, presumably in the interest of harmony.


I've also been reading online and in books and listening (mostly via YouTube) to the stories of people impacted directly by the war, including U.S. combat veterans who fought there, South Vietnamese nationals who fled after the fall of Saigon and more.

Which brings me back to the young Marine upper left here, Ricker A. "Rick" Maddy, who I had the good fortune to meet back in 2009, when he spent some time in Lucas County researching family history and visiting kinfolk. I went to high school in Russell with his first-cousins, Dennis and Ann Boldt, and know some of his other cousins.

Although born in Knoxville, Rick moved to Washington state with his parents when 2 years old. His dad was Frank P. Maddy, brought home to Zion Cemetery in Pleasant Township after his death during 1989.

Rick was an 18-year-old Marine serving in Thua Thien-Hue Province with the 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, when he was critically injured by a booby trap on Feb. 28, 1968. After that, he spent more than a year in hospitals and was gradually pieced back together. During that process, his arms and hands were surgically arranged at his request so that he would be able to drive, elbow missing, no triceps, some fingers working, others not.

Maddy, who currently lives in Huntington Beach, California, also is an eloquent writer who has shared his story online a few times. I'm going to lift two of his pieces here this morning, one about the wounding and the other, a poem about homecoming.

FEBRUARY 28, 1968
By Rick A. Maddy

Just another morning in Vietnam. Coming right up was another job for the Corps, the South Vietnamese people, and the beloved people of our country. But something special today. We were going outside the wire in platoon size and spending a few nights out protecting the flank of Highway 1. And we were loaded for bear, as they say in the West.

We walked off our Phu Gia Pass hilltop home with a view, and onto the paved road leading down the hill and into a fairly tight valley with steep, jagged hills on both sides of the road. Possibly the "Bowling Alley." I knew we were east of Hue, towards the South China Sea, but other than that, knew nothing. An FNG knowing nothing was very common and, I suppose, a good thing. After walking a bit, a village came into view in front of us.

Large artillery shells started to hammer the village, throwing masses of dirt and clods high into the air with the explosions. We took a left off the road and headed towards these wicked looking hills in front of us. A wild pig darted out across the open rice paddy on my right. We all got a long good look at him. "What a magnificent animal," is the thought I had. His white fangs hanging outside the sides of his face giving their forewarning to anything looking for trouble. His disposition was much like ours. A do not f**k with me, I'm not in the mood, disposition. He was very cool, and one of several exotic animals and birds I had seen. The platoon started the climb up the hill. Several times I had to put my hand on the ground in front of me, or grab a limb of brush for help, while we climbed. Steep and rocky. A real bitch. Finally, after getting through another morning of putting one foot in front of the other, we arrived on top of the ridge sometime around noon.

We stopped to eat our portion of C-rats. I had been carrying a quart of apple butter someone had stolen from these Army guys we had been around a few days before. I had been elected to carry the delicacy. The apple butter was an "accessory" to our food and ammo. A bonus. We ate and prepared to move out along the ridge.

Brisky's fire-team, of which I was the newest member, was put on the point. Lots of brush, almost double canopy. Tall trees, but you could see the sky and lots of thick tall brush, with some openings. PFC William "Billy" L. Harris was on point. Billy was having some difficulty cutting our way through. We were moving real slow and through the process we would cluster f**k at times. 2nd Lt. John Ruggles III decided to move forward to help Billy. The Lt. and Billy were chopping our way through when we came into this S curve on the trail. I had no visual contact with the Lt. or Billy because of the trees and the brush.

The first booby-trap went off with a ground moving shock and blur. I immediately hit the deck. Trying to get a better view, I started to crawl forward to look around this tree trunk. I just was getting to the visual when a second booby-trap went off. The ground again heaved in a quick blur. This one came with an ear-ringing CRACK!! I just got a glimpse of PFC. Robert Aycock as he crumpled off the trail. PFC. David Brisky was in front of me. We got up at the same time, as did PFC. Christy "Chief" Goodiron, who was behind me, and PFC. Sal Negrelli, the Lt.'s radioman behind Chief. I only knew Aycock was hurt and my job was to move forward to help. Nothing was coming from the lieutenant or Billy.

My luck had run out. I took maybe two steps and a third booby-trap went off to my left rear. The trap was very close. The device was directly to the front left of Chief. We had been lying on the deck right next to the damn thing and never saw it. I was blown into the air as if doing the standing long jump at a high school track meet. I landed on my feet. On the initial blast, I could see limbs and twigs in front of me snapping off from the shrapnel hitting them. As weird as this may sound, I did not want to fall on my face, so purposely fell backwards. I felt no pain. I thought I had just taken a helluva ride through the air from the concussion. I was lying on my pack in what seemed a small open area. My helmet was gone. My rifle was gone. I completely freaked out. I thought I was going to now be shot to death by gooks involved in this ambush we had just walked into. I was carrying my usual seven magazines with twenty rounds each for the M16, two or three hand grenades, two bandoleers with each holding four boxes of twenty round loose M-16 ammo, and two belts of M-60 machine gun ammo wrapped around me in the Poncho Villa style. Most of the grunts were carrying extra M-60 gun ammo for the A-gunner.

There I lay. No weapon. And, thankfully, no gooks. My ears were ringing so loud I couldn't hear anything but Chief screaming. I looked up from my prone position and saw that the top of my right ring finger had been blown off. I caught a glimpse of Brisky on the ground thrashing. Then there was the crackling of fire. The hot shrapnel had me on fire and the M-60 gun ammo was starting to cook off. I recall at least two or three popping and actually jarring me when they went off. I had to get the pack and ammo off. Panicked, I reached for the pack strap with my right hand, but my arm just flopped along my side with absolutely no control. I looked down and saw large gaping holes with meat hanging out of my right forearm. No blood. I saw very little blood. Nevertheless, at that moment I did not realize I had a broken artery in the arm and that I was losing blood very quickly. My panic was upgraded a bit. I then tried to use my left arm to get the pack off. I rolled to my right a little. My left forearm swung around, and my hand landed on my face, palm down. I could not lift it off my face. I could feel my hand on my face, but could not feel my hand. Now it went beyond panic. I freaked. I lifted my head and shook it real hard to get the hand off my face. That moment was a creepy feeling and still gives me little freak out thoughts now and then to this day. My hand fell from my face and swung with the arm out to the left. I could see I had dislocated my elbow, or something, by the odd angle my forearm and that f**king hand had landed next to me. Now I noticed I was bleeding profusely from my left arm. In reality, the trap had blown my triceps muscle off the back of my left arm and the elbow was completely shattered into small bone fragments.

I was on fire, gun ammo cooking off, bleeding to death, and now came the realization I was helpless. I needed help. I started screaming for help. I couldn't see anybody. Nobody was around. Words for this moment are difficult to find. Chief, taking the brunt of the trap in the front, had been blown into a tree and had came down in a squatting position with his back up against the tree's trunk. He was screaming like I have never heard a person scream before. I could see where shrapnel had hit him in the chest and forehead. A small amount of his entrails were hanging out of his right side. It was shear horror listening to him. I'm yelling and screaming for help and chief is just screaming. We are about fifteen feet apart, maybe less. Marines started arriving and swarmed me. Two corpsman moved forward to help Chief, while the Marines started working on me, Perelli, Brisky, and Aycock. Billy and 2nd Lt. Ruggles were dead. I'm thinking that Chief's screaming is going to give our position away. I yell at him to shut up. Someone tells me to shut up. I have suffered immeasurably my whole life for that moment. I do not know what I was thinking. Like the gooks didn't hear this shit go down miles away, or something. I made an error in judgment. And I have paid for it. I'm forever sorry that I yelled at him. I would glance at Chief at times to see how he was doing. He finally settled and quit yelling and screaming. I heard the air go out of him for the last time with one long exhale. The time span from first being hit is impossible to tell. I heard the corpsman say he was gone. It was over. The suffering had ended for him. And had just began for his family.

I feel someone jerking my left leg around and look down. Pfc. Daisher was trying to cut my boot strap off. I told him to just unhook it. He does. I am stripped of my gear and clothing. The Marines tell me they need to sit me up and look at my back. They sit me up and I am starting to pass out. I had a hole blown in my lower back, just below the belt line, that you could stick the end of a soda can in. They stuffed it, and laid me back down. Not one piece of shrapnel had penetrated the flak jacket. I asked for morphine and got it. I told someone to write to my girlfriend and let her know what had happened here if I die. And now came the wait for the medevac. I knew I was dying. At least it was going to be a painless death. Where is my chopper? I could hear choppers a long ways away on a couple of occasions and asked if that was mine. No. The wounded laid there for over an hour before they brought in a CH46 to pick us up. The Marines threw me up on the rear ramp while the chopper hovered in the air. No place to land it up there. I will never forget seeing Pfc. Aycock on the chopper shaking his fist at me, glad to see me alive.

The noise was deafening inside the 46. We landed somewhere in Da Nang. They ran me down a long corridor and put me on a cold metal table. There was blood everywhere. Most of it was not mine. A nurse grabbed my head and we looked at each other upside down. Without words, she turned my head to the side and I felt the stick of a needle in my neck. Lights out. Now began my "other" tour. My first two months in an Army hospital's infectious amputee ward in Yokohama, Japan, before being shipped out to the Bremerton Navy Hospital. I would eventually spend a total of almost fourteen months in military hospitals. I had sixteen operations before finally walking out with what was left of me. Both arms had been saved.

I was nineteen years old. I was alive.

You'll find the original version of Rick's story here, as well as the accounts of others.


And here's the poem:


Young and restless, so many different places
Be a Marine, see the world, a multitude of faces.
Freeways and flyways, boot camp, I'm taken aback
I've waited a long time to hear "Semper Fi, Mac."

Black, white, all the races - boys - the all-American
Come one, come all, let's help our fellow man 
There is trouble, let's go and be a big brother
We're off to kill, to hell with love of one another

The hippies back home are carrying signs
If you're in uniform, you're out of line
Abbie's back home burnin' the flag - political tool
We're putting another boy in a body bag - political fool

They say we are killing babies: God, how come?
By the people, for the people, they call us scum
NO! NO! We're just dying in the mud: that's all
Khe Sanh, the Mekong, Hill 881: patriots standing tall

Home again. Survivor's guilt. No justice for the dead
A little sleep here, some there, no comfort in the head
Screaming inside, looking for release. Please come out!
We never lost a battle, only the war: defeated no doubt.

Twenty years later I hear applauding and "Hurray."
Your parades and "WELCOME HOME" - too late I say.
Be proud? Because in battle I lived and did not fall?
Just welcome those on that cold, black granite Wall.

Rick Maddy USMC/Ret
1st Div 3/5 Kilo Co (1968)

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