“Visions of Vietnam”: You’re Not Wounded!

On June 24, 1966, I was with C Company during Operation Nathan Hale. During an intense moment of firefight, I heard the call for medic and came upon PFC Thomas A. Cook, Sergeant Belcher’s RTO. The first thing I encountered was his feet. I stepped over him to position myself over his head. His eyes were rolled back and he was singing hymns and praying. He was wedged down in the trench on his back with the PRC-25 radio beneath him. Because of how narrow the trench was, I couldn’t move him and he couldn’t move himself, which made it difficult to assess his wound. I asked, “Where are you hit?” He replied breathily, “In the shoulder.” His breathing was labored. I looked for blood, but didn’t see any. I started feeling for a wound or for blood underneath him in areas where I couldn’t see. The only thing I discovered was a large contusion on his left shoulder about where the strap for his web gear or radio shoulder harness would be. I thought, “That can’t be it. This man sounds as if he’s dying. I must be missing something.”

At the same time, Bravo Company was making the second air assault. Although we had landed earlier without enemy fire, the air crews that delivered us weren’t as fortunate. They received heavy ground fire as they made their turn-around flight back to LZ Eagle to pick up Bravo Company. It seemed as if the enemy was more interested in shooting down choppers than engaging the infantry. As B Company landed, all hell broke loose. Charlie Company received fire from inside and outside the perimeter. I was still with Private Cook, unable to locate his wound. A number of explosions occurred towards our immediate front. They seemed to be “walking” towards our position. Realizing the danger we were in, I grabbed the handles of Cook’s radio, attempting to move him, and shouted, “We have to get out of here!”

I lifted my head just above the top of the trench and turned to the right, looking back inside the perimeter in order to establish a safe escape route for me and Cook. A red dot appeared in front of my face. It seemed to move in slow motion. My first reaction was to drop my head. Just then, something struck me in the face. My hands flew to the area of impact and I thought, “They blew my fucking face off!” I looked at my hands. Not seeing blood, I realized that what hit me was the loose dirt struck by the bullet. (The bullet was an American made tracer, which was red. Enemy tracers were green.) Turning my attention back to Cook, I was still unable to see or feel any life-threatening wounds. I came to the conclusion that he wasn’t wounded. I took a step back, kicked him in the helmet and said, “Get the fuck up! You’re not wounded!” He stopped praying, began breathing normally, and sat up. We then moved to an area of relative safety, Cook on his own two feet! (I later came to the conclusion that Private Cook’s contusion may have been caused by a bullet striking the web harness of his radio over his left shoulder. The impact knocked him into the trench, where he was wedged by the force of the fall.)

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