Buck Sergeant Gary Stoller from Mayfield, NY, who was trudging nearby, joined in. He was an outdoorsman, avid deer hunter, and understood stalking and ambushing. Stoller cautioned, “We shouldn’t be using this trail cause we’ve done it too many times already. The fucking VC have scouted us. They know that a newbie lieutenant always takes the easy way. Little prick can’t deal with the work of actually using a machete and cutting a trail.”
“I’ve told that SOB to be more careful, but he just blows it off.” Corporal Bubba Smith had been in-country for ten months and badly wanted to make it home again to Meco, NY and hunt whitetail deer in New York’s Adirondack Mountains.
“Well, we’re almost at the LZ. Next stop is the bird out of here.” Burrows tried to be encouraging, not knowing that in a few moments, his world would be changed forever.
That morning, the VC had planted a well-camouflaged booby trap made from an unexploded American anti-tank mine just two hundred yards from the LZ. They knew that the exhausted US grunts would let their guard down once they got that close to the LZ, as they anticipated being extracted by the incoming Huey helicopter.
Two of the VC had remained behind, hidden from view, to detonate the device, after which they would stealthily disappear into the dense jungle. When the American patrol approached, they waited until half the men had cleared the kill zone, then triggered the massive explosion. It was a tactic they’d used many times before, making the grunts feel like they were playing Russian roulette every time they went on patrol.
The men dove for cover and hugged the ground, anticipating a barrage of deadly AK-47 automatic rifle fire from the VC, anxious to kill as many Americans as possible. Everyone seemed to be yelling at once.
“What the fuck?” someone shouted.
“Where are they?” yelled Private Bill Papas.
“Stay down!” commanded Stoller.
“Sarge, they must be all around us,” another grunt shouted.
Almost immediately, their training kicked in. Even the newbie First Lieutenant recovered from his shock and ordered the men into defensive positions.
“I’ll cover Burrows,” yelled the medic Corpsman Donn Gates, shielding his severely wounded friend with his body. “Call Dust Off and get him the fuck on the chopper before he bleeds out.” He expertly applied a tourniquet to each leg, as high on the thighs as possible. It slowed the life-threatening leakage of metallic-smelling, sticky, warm crimson liquid whose flow disappeared into a maroon stain on Vietnam’s boggy reddish-brown jungle floor.
The force of the explosion had blown Burrows six feet into the air. Consciousness was replaced by a dream-like trance. His brain was filled with undulating white light as he landed violently on the slick jungle floor, engulfed by dense vegetation, his mind flirting with reality. For the moment, to his relief, he felt no pain as morphine-like chemicals were released by his brain. This automatic response, programmed over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, protected him temporarily from the intolerable suffering that would begin to make itself felt during the medivac chopper ride to the battalion aid station.
“Get off me,” he said weakly to Cpl. Gates, who lay across him, but Gates didn’t move.
Buck Sergeant Stoller soon realized that the VC patrol must have planted the booby trap hours before, and was now long gone.
“Man, I’d like to kill a few of those gooks one day, just to get even, but I never even fucking see them. Saddle up,” Stoller ordered the others, “and, get back to the LZ so Dust Off can pick up Burrows.”
Richard was aware of being lifted on a poncho and carried to the relative safety of the LZ. A defensive perimeter was deployed.
“I’m going to be all right,” he said to Gates when he first heard the wop-wop-wop of the 326th Medical Battalion Dust Off chopper’s blades. The sound of hope, they called it. It became louder as the Huey approached and descended, spewing blinding dirt and jungle debris in all directions.
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