An Avoidable Death

AN AVOIDABLE DEATHByOscar Elizondo

Viet-Nam date entry sometime in the month of November, 1968 and due to the sensitive issue here I was instructed many years ago to not mention the officer’s name due to the facts which I am about to write. It comes from some notes and I have kept the date and name secretive because the family of this man might be offended by the truth.

Today was not a very good day to watch someone die, but then, when is it right for anybody to die. I know that this will never reach America in its entire truth, so I have taken the liberty to tell them of this incident first hand. Our mission today wasn’t anything to really talk about because it’s just another day out here in Viet-nam, same, same, if you understand this, however: what happened today is appalling.We engaged in very limited action with the enemy, as they would take pot shots at us from a safe distance. It was more to irritate us then to confront us in a heated battle. We didn’t think much of it until we received orders about clearing an area for a small bumblebee helicopter to land. It was a nickname we used on the smaller choppers because we usually were more involved with the bigger ones that transported us into battle or missions.According to the superior in charge a bumblebee would be bringing a lieutenant into the battlefield with us so that he could see some action. He had no prior experience and they always want the higher brass to have had some fighting knowledge first hand in order to lead the men into the battlefield. It was more like a training mission. Just as soon as some of them see a little combat, they would pull them back. On their record, it would show that they had prior battle experience, some of them would get promoted, and we would be left to do most of the dirty work.Now, don’t get me wrong, some of them were hard core, but for the most part too many of them had gotten killed, and loosing officers was not good for the moral of the army. They were great at trying to motivate us, but they mostly lingered in the rear. The three striped Sergeants were the ones we mostly took our orders from, and they stayed with us. So the lieutenant that was on his way was in no doubt coming for some training exercises.Our mission was to clear an area for the landing, and to protect him from any harm, as he would go out on patrol with us. They had already been informed that limited action had transpired, so they figured that it would be just right for him. The setting seemed just perfect, except for one thing, the enemy did not always cooperative.We did manage to clear an area and it seemed safe enough until the problems persisted. We could hear the bumblebee and so we popped some flares to mark the territory. Our soldiers surrounded the perimeter and held steady until about half a click from the landing site. The chopper started getting some fire from a sniper, or someone with some good sharp shooting ability.It didn’t take but a few well placed shots to bring it down. We could see it smoking and swaying as it was loosing control. I fired some tracers into the area we thought the bullets were coming from. The red fire from the tracers would let the rest of the men key on that one spot and fire away. The only problem was that the helicopter had already been hit. We wanted to stop any further damage and hopefully kill the son-of-a-bitch that had done the shooting.The pilot did an excellent job of bringing the wounded tin can down on its side. The rotor blade was damaged some and so the chopper landed kind of awkward. The landing had placed the bumblebee on its side in a tilting position. The passenger’s side was facing down, the pilot’s door was up in the air, and the tilted rotor blade was spinning slowly.It was very hard to explain this scene because the only safe way to exit the flying bird was come out from the top where the pilot was. The spinning of the rotor almost made it impossible for the lieutenant on the passengers side to get out without getting hit by the blade.While the pilot opened the door to bring himself out a bullet bounced off. It almost hit him, but he continued to exit safely. Judging from what was happening there were more than one sniper, or shooter. We tried to lay a protective line of fire so that the passenger could get out, but he panic. You must remember that it was his first time out in the field.Snipers are great at what they do, and he, or them, were doing a great job. They didn’t stay in just one spot; they had secret and hidden ways of moving undetected. A second round was fired at where the lieutenant was opening the door from the bottom of the chopper. Normally they don’t miss, but with us firing back, the rotor blade spinning and with only a small window of opportunity closing left he did miss.Unfortunately, the passenger panic and tried to do the unthinkable. We shouted to him to exit from the other side, but with his nickel plated gun in one hand he though he could escape the spinning blade.We could see him trying to time the spinning of the rotor blade as the fire from our own weapons startled him. A rookie mistake, never the less because the fear about getting shot played in his mind and his decision making too. He chose to make a run for it and it cost him his life. The blade struck him in the neck area and decapitated him.I remember his body going forward for a few split seconds, and his head falling to the ground. The blood gushed out and there was nothing anybody could do. We gathered his remains and did the best to prepare him to be taken back from where he came from. Our orders, " Men, forget what happened here today. All that you know is that a lieutenant died here today in the line of duty, God Bless his soul."

Copyright © 2008 Oscarelizondo

An Avoidable Death

oscarelizondo

Harlingen, United States

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Artist's Description

I don’t know how to describe this death scene. I did the best I could and it is so terrible and senseless at times, but what I saw is still embedded in my dreams forever.

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