Even In War We Must Respect One's Beliefs

EVEN IN WAR WE MUST RESPECT ONE’S BELIEFSByOscar ElizondoToday was really an odd day of fighting in Viet-nam. Early in the morning we loaded on the helicopters and headed out for another mission. I was fortunate to be the last one on the chopper because that meant I could hang my legs out and watch down at the terrain. It was mostly rice paddies that I could see and sometimes the village people down there would wave at us as we flew over them.At times you couldn’t tell that there was a war out there. Those rice paddies looked like a whole bunch of squares surrounded by dikes. I could also see the hard working Vietnamese people standing in water up to almost their knees. They wore black clothing (pajamas to us GI’s) and along side of them were their water buffalos. I never knew how important they were to them.They worked the land by sharing the work with other families if need too, but they mostly prefer to have large families and keep working the rice fields within themselves. I did notice that the beast that was helping them do the work seemed very tamed to them. It was obvious that they couldn’t afford but maybe one or two per family, or at least that was my observation.After about an hour of being up in the air in those flying birds we set down at a friendly landing zone. We didn’t encounter any fire and soon it became just one of those typical days. There wasn’t any movement and we just did more of search and destroy operations. The enemy knew we were coming and they just bit their time and dictated when they wanted a piece of us, unless we surprised them of course.On the way back to a firebase the enemy surprised us as they unloaded rounds from some mortars at us. They landed behind us and so we pushed onward at a very fast pace. When they missed they tried to land some of them further up ahead of us to make us stop or force us back in their direction.We knew their tricks and so we just made a turn and headed west for a while. After that we back- tracked for about half a click and turned east. The mortars in their possession were limited and unless we were a large force, they weren’t going to use too many of them on a team of twelve. We could tell that the enemy was Viet Cong and not the North Vietnamese army. Their army had more men and weapons at their disposal.Soon we found ourselves in those rice paddies that we had flown over and we stopped running. We tried walking on the dikes, but with all of the equipment on our backs it was hard to stay on. Most of us kept falling off and on one occasion we disturbed a water buffalo. Thinking that the beast was tamed because they blended in well with the native people we thought the animal wouldn’t bother us.Well, we were totally wrong. One beast turned around and headed towards some of the men that were trailing behind me. It seemed funny at the moment because we figured that their owner would just order them to stop. That one buffalo didn’t seem to be bothered by the water or mud, but it sure was bothered by our presence.

It charged at the soldiers in uniform and there was no way the owner was going to be able to make it do what was told.
All of us jumped on the opposite rice paddies thinking the dike would make him stop. We were wrong again because that lump of dirt did nothing to slow him down. I never knew they could jump like that. That romping beast’s stomach landed on the dike and he quickly had his other half of his enormous body over the dike. He had his eyes focused on his target, which happened to be one of soldiers.
Our orders had always been to avoid shooting at civilians, or their animals, but this one had it coming. It was our first encounter with a beast of that size and strength. One of the men asked if he could shoot it and the sergeant’s response was, “No, just shoot over his head and try to scare it, but do not shoot at it. That’s an order!”
Shoot over his shoulder he did, however; the buffalo only got madder. It tried to gore the soldier with his horns and it almost succeeded. We couldn’t move at the speed he was used to in his native place, and so our choices were limited. Another order was given by the sergeant, “Shoot it, shoot it!”
Some rounds struck the animal as the bullets that penetrated the thick skin was enough to draw blood and tear some flesh, but he kept charging. A danger zone had been created because the Vietnamese people tried to intervene as they shouted, “No GI, no shoot, no kill!” Their cries were in vain because the beast was so powerful and our lives were in jeopardy. They were also in the line of fire and one wrong placed bullet and we would have an internal investigation for their death.
All of the men again jumped over another rice dike hoping that the buffalo would leave us alone, but we were not that lucky. He was determined to get some of us and then the sergeant shouted to me a direct order. "Take that blup (grenade launcher) and bring it down! "he instructed.
I stood on top of the rice dike and tried to draw his attention because the Vietnamese people and soldiers were all in that danger zone of getting hit from sharp metal from the round in the barrel of my blup. I kicked the water attempting to draw his attention with the loud sound of splashing water, but I also trembled in fear of his mighty powerful body reaching me before getting out of his way and firing my weapon.
It worked, but I slipped back because of the wet dirt and I fell behind the dike as he charged at me. The dike slowed him enough for me to regain my footing and I moved quickly to another empty rice paddy. The beast and I were the only ones in there so I position myself a safe distance from the animal. I laid myself down and took aim at his mid-section because he was in a sideway position. It presented a large target so that hopefully I wouldn’t miss.
The dike made for a place to rest my arms and set my sights. The injured beast was totally out of control and by then it seemed like I was getting instructions from all the American soldiers to shoot it. The area was clear to fire and the Vietnamese people had been restrained from trying to stop what was going to happen.
I squeezed gently on the trigger afraid of making a mistake and injuring anybody else. The shouting voices couldn’t wait for me finish the job alone as they fired a few rounds of bullets. When my giant bullet (Grenade) hit it’s intended target it exploded and ripped a big chuck of flesh from the animal. It brought him to his knees in pain as the rest of the bullets from the m-16’s put him out of his miseries.
We left the area after trying to make the Vietnamese people understand that we had no choice. They cried so much that we really couldn’t understand why they valued the beast more than a human life. We collected a little money that we had amongst ourselves and gave it to them. They through it right back at us as we left.
After returning to our stand down area we were contacted by the higher brass about our side of the incident. It was told to us how much the beast meant to them because their native custom was to honor the animal like we honor our religious believes in saints. We felt bad about it and collected a lot of more money and sent someone to their home to deliver an apology and a great some of money. We made peace with them because they are just as human and made of flesh as we are. We learned that even in war, we must respect one another as well as each other’s customs.

Copyright © 2008 Oscarelizondo

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