January 24th, 1969
This is an account of a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) written by David Regenthal, one of the team members. This story is written in tribute to the members of Team 22, LRRP'S everywhere, and to Pinky and the other women who served with her in Vietnam.
January 24th, 1969. It had been cold the night before, following our insertion--the only time I can recall ever having been cold in Vietnam.
Morning came. Team 22 (Heavy) sterilized the area, then moved out in a wide-sweeping clockwise arc. Names like Hampton, Besser, Sullivan, Kemp . . . Regenthal. Double canopy stuff--thick, crossed a tank trail.
Ten (young) men spread out 20 meters, front to back. Me...I'm rear security.
All at once there is a great disturbance up front--unusual for a LRP team in enemy territory. Then, a whole bunch of shooting-- more firepower than we have going for us; so, there must be other participants. Crap! I have to run up towards all the noise and commotion to get *on line* with everyone else.
Kemp and "Sully" are to my left; Sai, our Kit Carson Scout, is on my right. The M-60's already glowing red, and Besser's on the radio calling for gunships. Me? I'm laying down a base of fire with my CAR- 15, not comfortable tossing grenades because there are too many trees. I'm worried they might bounce back at us.
Turns out we've walked into three, well-manned enemy bunkers that aren't too awful jazzed about having company.
Man, we're screwed! The only thing I have to get down behind for protection is my rucksack. Trying to monitor the radio and keep firing is a full-time job 'cause there ain't nowhere to go--we're definitely pinned down.
Everything's going to shit in a hurry. About the time the Cobra gets on station, Sai takes an AK round. He's alive but not having a big day-- went through his arm into his upper abdomen. I pop smoke--Snake's making its first run with mini-guns. Only quieted the opposition for a few seconds. Now the Cobra's coming with the 2.75 rockets--that'll get 'em. All of a sudden, KA-WOOM!
Dazed, I'm not sure what the fuck happened--but I'm knocked silly. My ruck's a mess, shoulder hurts, there's a hole in my pants, Kemp doesn't look good, and Sully's not mov'n.
Thought maybe it was an RPG, but then it occurred to me that it may have been one of those 2.75's. It's kinda quiet, and I can't hear Besser on the radio anymore; so, I'm scream'n *check fire, check fire* into my handset. Then I notice my hand is bleeding.
Our *friends* must have felt that the US Army was serious this time and *checked out* in a hurry when they heard the reaction force coming in on the Hueys. Me, forgetting everyone else for a minute, almost laugh out loud--cause it's so good to still be alive.
Medevac's in, and we're (at least the five of us that were hit) are out. Next stop, 12th Evac at Cu Chi. I end up on a table with my clothes cut off and a washcloth covering my manhood. Well, at least it's still there. After what seems like forever (I swear they all went to lunch), somebody comes in and wheels me into an operating room.
There's about 5 tables and three of them are already in use. I see Sai; jee-zus, he's cut open like a tuna can, and there's little strings or wires hanging down from poles holding his belly open so the surgeon can root around looking for the bullet--guess that's why they call it "exploratory surgery."
They put this mask over my face and tell me to count backwards from 100. I distinctly remember reaching 94 . . . or was it 96? Next thing I know is I'm waking up, cursing like a sailor because I can't see anything yet. First fuzzy image I zone in on is this big, not-so-mean- looking MP standing over me. Now what have I done! Guess this is the Army's idea of a recovery room.
There is a VC in the bed next to me who hasn't awakened yet, and the MP is there to protect one of us--not quite sure who from whom.
Next, I'm in some long quonset hut. Right hand is bandaged to the elbow, right lower leg is covered ankle to knee, my left shoulder's in the same shape--and it smarts. Look around and, LRP that I am--taking it all in, realize that this is a ward for guys that need some genuine attention, which I don't. Must have been the only available bed space.
Donut Dolly appears--like an angel, and asks what she can do for me. Well, I'm 19 and still rather gentlemanly; so, I ask her if she will write a letter to my folks 'cause, under the circumstances, I am unable to make use of my right hand. She writes it out--word for word, exactly as I tell her.
Somewhere along the way, Gypsy Rose Lee (god rest her soul) shows up and tells me a dirty joke. Some general comes in and presents me with my purple heart--tells me I did a good job . . . good job, good job doing what? Was still too young and naive to be angry about anything at this point.
Feeling guilty. The guy across from me from the 1st Cav is in a full body cast--took 7 AK rounds. Some of the guys come by and tell me that Sully didn't make it. Feeling guilty . . .
There was this nurse. Seems like she was younger than the others. Was a *butter-bar* lieutenant. They worked hard throughout their 12 hour shifts--and some of the guys on this ward needed a lot of attention because of their condition, and they weren't able to do much for themselves.
She was friendly. Not only had *round eyes*, but she had some personality too. As busy as she was, she always seemed to make time for a kind word--never ignored anything anyone said to her--no matter how absorbed she was in her duties. Don't know her name--can't remember it, or maybe she didn't have one, I don't know.
She had red hair...and freckles. Think she was pretty--was beautiful to me, anyhow. We called her "Pinky" because of her complexion. I swear she was from Pennsylvania; Pittsburgh, I think. One of the most memorable events of my tour was one night as she was getting off--they always worked their asses off; no doubt they earned their pay.
Well, anyhow, Pinky was getting off; and the lights were going out on the ward. She usually said goodnight and walked on out the door. But on this particular night, as she walked in the direction of the door-- she walked towards me in my bed. And, she had this bottle of lotion in her hand. (You gotta remember, she was getting off).
She then unceremoniously opened the bottle and proceeded to give me the best (and at that point the only) back rub I had ever experienced in my life.
Well, you might imagine it was sexual--but it wasn't. (Sure, I might've imagined a lot if I hadn't been so young). What it was though, was a young woman--a soldier, who, despite having had another long day witnessing the carnage of the war, took a *time out* to do something nice for somebody else that she didn't have to do. And, it was a real nice thing to do just the same.
When she was through, she said good night, just like any other night, and walked out the door, closing it quietly behind her.
I'm sure I said thank you. I have wondered about her many times over the years--wondering where she is now, wondering how her life turned out. I have few *real* regrets about my life, but one of them is that I don't know who she is (was) or have any realistic hope of finding her. I hope her life has been full, and I hope her life has been happy.
I believe she typifies the type of American woman that participated in Vietnam in any one of a variety of roles as nurses, donut dollies, civilians--volunteers all. Not one of them was drafted.
They didn't just have a couple of *missions* go bad. Many witnessed the worst of times--certainly they saw, on a regular basis, the results--the negative sides of our experience in Vietnam. Yet, they stood tall--did their duty and then some--despite their pain, their suffering. God bless them all.
Pinky, wherever you are--and all the "Pinkies" who are out there--you deserve our gratitude, our love, affection, and everything we could ever hope to have to offer you for your friendship, understanding; and, most of all, for your love; and the way you touched our lives. I will always believe that the only thing that could have brought you to that place, and kept you in the *game*, was your love for fellow man.
I think that sometimes we get a little confused, and our memories can certainly be selective (we tend to focus on our own grief and experiences); but, if there is one thing I do know, we appreciate all that you did--because you gave everything you had; and it doesn't get any better than that.
My dream is that our paths might cross again--might be in heaven, might be on earth. We owe you more than we could ever possibly express; some of them, their very lives.
I personally owe you for the first real insight into the human spirit. I owe you, at the very least, a hug--size large; and, maybe, a well-deserved back rub thrown in for good measure.
I'm sure I said it then; but, just in case I didn't . . .Thank you.
EpilogI managed to get a copy of the after-action report on the mission of January 24th. In fact, it was a rocket from the gunship that got us rather than an RPG from the Viet-occupied bunkers. Nearly half the young men that died in the unit during my tour died as a result of "friendly fire" or other non-hostile events. There were actually 11 of us on this mission; I have seen heavy teams with as many as 13, although this would have been a rare occurrence. Of the 11, excluding Raymond Sullivan, who died; Sai, who was left to fend for himself when the U.S. forces pulled out of Vietnam; and me, we have located the Team Leader, and the Pointman ... a good friend. None of these guys have responded to my attempts to "lure them out of the woods." They do not answer telephone calls from me (messages left on their answering machines), respond to personal letters, nor answer the door when I pay a visit to their homes. The other five seem to have disappeared from the face of the earth--nothing showing on the phone disc and negative results from social security trackers and private detectives that we've paid for. Of course, it took me a long time before I was able to "break the silence" and this was but one mission. There were others.
©1992 by David Regenthal, all rights reserved