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  • It's 0400 hours somewhere in South Vietnam.

  • I try my best not to look down between my feet at the jungle canopy rushing by below,

  • remembering that the only thing keeping me safely inside this helicopter is centrifugal

  • force and a very tight grip on a handhold jutting out of the floor.

  • Beside me the door gunner is safely strapped in with a complex harness, same as his M60

  • which is held in place by a series of bunjee straps.

  • The rest of us grunts are holding on for dear life, and I don't want to think about the

  • consequences of a tumble out the wide open sides of the Huey.

  • Air assault is a pretty new thing at this point, the US saw great potential in the helicopter

  • and immediately developed a whole brand new doctrine of warfare utilizing air-lifted troops

  • moving on fast, agile helicopters.

  • Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces have frequently found themselves making contact

  • with US ground troops only to be outflanked by air assault infantry.

  • Sometimes we have straps that hook up to our harnesses, we call these monkey tails, but

  • when you get a call this hot there's never time to strap in.

  • You just grab your gear and run, fitting as many soldiers on a chopper as possible and

  • knowing that every second you waste getting to the target is more American lives lost

  • on the ground.

  • This call is, as they increasingly are, from a firebase somewhere near the border.

  • The base is being held by a reinforced platoon, and estimates of enemy size range in the hundreds.

  • That's not too unbelievable either, US units are routinely facing forces three to four

  • times their own size, but the incredible US firepower more than levels the playing field.

  • Truth is, we're winning this war in every area but the two that count: politically and

  • in the minds of everyone back home.

  • North Vietnam is close to total collapse, and even the Vietcong are increasingly growing

  • desperate.

  • But the South Vietnamese government is completely useless and ineffective, and folks back home

  • are sick and tired of sending loved ones overseas only to get back body bags in return.

  • I'm shaken out of my thoughts as we near the LZ.

  • It's still pitch black, but you can clearly see the firebase under assault several miles

  • ahead.

  • Tracers from M60 and .50 cal gunners light up the wide killing fields soldiers cut or

  • burned down shortly after establishing the fire base.

  • Mortars impact both on the firebase and at the enemy assault outside of it.

  • Both sides are giving each other absolute hell, but I know one thing: I wouldn't want

  • to be the dumb sum'a bitch getting thrown into the teeth of all this defensive firepower.

  • A jet's scream cuts through even the incredible noise of the man-made hurricane keeping my

  • Huey in the air, and a moment later there's a dull 'whump' sound and a bright flash

  • of light as a football field sized area of the jungle goes up in flames.

  • Liquid fire lights up the early morning and I can really see the scope of the assault

  • for the first time.

  • The firebase is completely surrounded, but it looks like the main force of the attack

  • is coming from the western sector, where US troops hadn't yet had a chance to finish

  • clear-cutting their defensive fields of fire.

  • The jungle grows closest to the base there, and the enemy is using the cover to their

  • advantage.

  • Or, at least they were until several hundred gallons of napalm fell on their heads courtesy

  • of the US Air Force.

  • We won't be pulling any flanking maneuvers tonight, landing outside the wire would be

  • suicide, and with each Huey loaded with up to 15 troops, there's not nearly enough

  • of us in the three aircraft to do anything but serve as a temporary distraction.

  • The Hueys are aiming to land inside the wire and drop us off, before flying back and ferrying

  • a fresh load of reinforcements.

  • They're only supposed to carry 12 infantry along with the flight crew, but we're only

  • loaded with rifles and ammo, and in an emergency, well regs can have a certain amount of flexibility.

  • The door gunners on all three Hueys open up almost as if on cue.

  • We're close enough now to officially be part of the fight, and tracers are already

  • reaching up to the sky around us.

  • The big M60 machine guns spit out steady streams of death, but the jungle cover is thick and

  • it's impossible to identify targets.

  • Instead, the gunners concentrate their fire on the origin of the groundfire from below.

  • Quite a few machine guns reaching up at us go quiet, many don't, and the air is quickly

  • becoming a very dangerous place to be.

  • To make themselves a more difficult target, the Hueys drop to the deck, skimming the treetops.

  • I swear I can hear the sound of leaves brushing the bottom of my chopper.

  • Here the pilot has no technical assistance, he's flying on pure instinct and balls so

  • big it's a wonder the chopper has the lift capacity to carry them.

  • Instinctively I tug my legs up, the tops of the trees are uncomfortably close.

  • A few rpgs scream up at us from below, but we're so low to the ground and moving so

  • fast, they are completely useless.

  • The pilots are slowing though as they prepare to land inside the firebase itself- if they

  • continue at a high rate of speed they'll completely overshoot or have to perform a

  • slowing maneuver loitering above the base and making each chopper a magnet for fire.

  • Better to slow down now and get on the ground as quick as possible.

  • My vantage point on the left side of the huey lets me see ahead and to the left of the chopper.

  • We're close to the base, and by my estimation we've slowed to below a hundred miles an

  • hour.

  • As I peer ahead I catch a glimpse of an oddly growing tree limb, rising above the canopy

  • a few meters to the left of the chopper, and making a sharp right turn in our direction.

  • With his concentration on the terrain directly ahead, I know the pilot doesn't see it.

  • My brain does the calculations in a fraction of a second, and in an instant I know the

  • truth: we're going to hit that limb.

  • I get a mental picture of the helicopter itself and figure that it's going to strike the

  • landing skid right below me.

  • I'm expecting a harsh jolt perhaps, I couldn't be more wrong.

  • We can clearly see details of the firebase's defenses now, and the chopper is slowing down

  • significantly, shedding speed every second.

  • That's probably what saved my life.

  • The unseen branch strikes with the landing skid, managing to strike the structural element

  • that connects the skids with the belly of the helicopter.

  • The entire machine suddenly, and very violently lurches to the left from the impact, and the

  • engine whines in protest as the pilot immediately applies power to try and correct the flight

  • path.

  • The impact sends a terrible vibration throughout the aircraft, and my grip on the makeshift

  • handhold weakens severely.

  • I hang on for dear life, but as the chopper spins uncontrollably to the right, I can't

  • keep my grip and next thing I know, I'm no longer inside the helicopter.

  • Interestingly enough, as I feel myself falling, I don't think about dying, but rather I

  • remember one of the very first orders given to me after air assault training.

  • An air assault infantryman is under no circumstances allowed to exit the helicopter except upon

  • successful insertion.

  • It was supposed to be a joke, and as I plummet to my death in the darkness below, I find

  • myself snickering.

  • I crash through the upper branches of a tall jungle tree, at, I don't know but if I had

  • to guess it'd easily be several dozen miles an hour.

  • The branches viciously whip at my body and face, tearing through the cloth of my uniform

  • with ease.

  • In theory, if I can hit enough branches on the way down, I should slow down enough to

  • survive the fall.

  • In theory, it's a good theory.

  • I must have slowed down though, and to this day I'm grateful I hit a particularly tall

  • tree.

  • When I make my first impact with one of the thicker, lower branches, the fact that I don't

  • immediately die tells me that I've indeed slowed down significantly.

  • I strike the side of a thicker branch and the air gets knocked out of me.

  • It spins me around and now I'm falling facing down.

  • I clutch my M16 to my chest and shut my eyes.

  • I smash into another, thicker branch, striking the M16 dead center and driving the rifle

  • into my chest.

  • The impact is enough to crack the tough upper receiver, and likely several of my ribs, but

  • it slows me down even more.

  • Now I'm tumbling, and my feet strike a limb next.

  • Despite still moving at a very high rate of speed, it feels like my mind is moving even

  • faster, slowing down reality and allowing me to fully process the horror of my tumble.

  • I know instantly that both ankles have been shattered.

  • That strike tumbles me once more, and I spin backwards, striking yet another limb with

  • my back, and then a second, third, and finally- the ground.

  • It takes me a moment to realize that I'm alive, and as the pain comes flooding in,

  • I wonder just how long I'll stay that way.

  • My rifle's gone, ripped out of my arms and tossed somewhere unknown.

  • My harness carrying my ammo pouches has been ripped from my body, along with large portions

  • of my uniform.

  • Incredibly, a small first aid case I'd attached directly to my belt was still in place.

  • I could immediately tell most of my ribs were broken, and I remembered a medic once telling

  • me that that's what they were there for- better a broken rib than ruptured organs.

  • My ankles were shattered, and I had a nasty protruding fracture on my lower right leg,

  • the white bone of my shin sticking out of my body at a peculiar angle.

  • A massive concussion, along with the gruesome sight of my broken body, nearly made me pass

  • out, but incredibly I was alive.

  • How long I'd stay that way was another question.

  • The firefight was still raging all around me.

  • The world hadn't bothered to pause in its madness despite my falling out of a racing

  • helicopter and miraculously surviving.

  • I tried to treat my wounds using my first aid kit, but quickly found out my right arm

  • was hopelessly broken in at least two places.

  • I managed to wrap a bandage around my open fracture using my left arm, pure willpower

  • pushing me through the incredible pain.

  • Despite the raging firefight, I gave no thought to my safety- as far as I was concerned, I

  • just survived a fall out of a helicopter, God clearly had plans for me other than dying

  • in this patch of jungle hell.

  • To be more honest though, I just didn't care.

  • The pain was so incredible, I was past a sense of self-preservation.

  • Whatever came next, I'd just let it come.

  • Not like there was much I could do about it.

  • I don't know how long I lay there before I started to hear shouted voices nearing my

  • location.

  • I drew my combat knife, still strapped to my hip, with my only good arm and figured

  • if I went out, I'd at least show that there was some fight left in me.

  • As the voices neared though I realized they weren't speaking Vietnamese, they were speaking

  • English!

  • It was difficult to make out what they were saying, my concussion was turning the world

  • into a blur of colors and sounds, but I began to yell back.

  • A hoarse whisper at first that sent waves of pain through my body as I forced my shattered

  • ribs to expand, but gradually growing stronger as I fought to suck in more air and make myself

  • heard.

  • I couldn't even hear myself thanks to the dizzying blizzard of noise and images in my

  • head, but the soldiers somewhere out there in that darkness must have.

  • I heard the trample of footsteps and a whispered, “Oh my god, I think he's alive!”, followed

  • by a call for a medic.

  • Strong hands began to lift me up, and I was surprised to find that I wasn't feeling

  • much pain from all my broken bones moving at once.

  • I could hear more men through the darkening of my vision as I began to pass out, and the

  • sounds of very close gunfire.

  • Turns out my rescuers had been the same soldiers we had been flying in to rescue ourselves.

  • After getting tossed clear of my Huey, the pilot had tried to correct from the sudden

  • impact, but dipped too low.

  • Getting thrown out of the aircraft saved my life, as the Huey's skids dipped into the

  • trees below and almost instantly flipped the chopper over.

  • Whoever wasn't killed instantly by the massive inertial forces acting on their bodies, died

  • on- or shortly after- impact.

  • Incredibly, despite being under siege, the soldiers behind the wire quickly sent out

  • a rescue party, knowing that if any survivors were out there they'd be at the enemy's

  • mercy.

  • Luckily for everyone involved, the Vietnamese had already started their withdrawal, knowing

  • that once the sun came up they'd be prey to American air power.

  • To this day I'm grateful to the eight men who risked their lives against a tidal wave

  • of enemy soldiers just to search for survivors in a hopeless situation.

  • Without their timely intervention I'd either have died of my wounds or at the hands of

  • a retreating Vietnamese soldier.

  • My injuries were severe enough that I'd be sent home permanently.

  • My body healed eventually, though the guilt over my being allowed to come back home while

  • the same men who saved my life fought and died in my place would never truly leave me.

  • Now go watch How I survived an actual military warzone, or click this other video instead!

It's 0400 hours somewhere in South Vietnam.

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/03/24
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