“Be careful getting him on,” Medic Gates directed as the craft remained hovering, ready to make a quick exit. Burrows was a brother, and his life was in Gates’ hands.
Through his mental haze, the wounded Private heard a stray comment from one of the chopper’s crewmen on the ride to the aid station. “This guy’s legs are really fucked up. Hope he gets to the 85th Evac in time.”
Once the chopper lifted off, Richard’s first reaction had been to reach down to see if his family jewels and legs were still there, in that order. When he withdrew his hands, they were warm and sticky, coated with dark red blood looking as if he’d dipped them in a bucket of crimson paint. It took him a moment to react.
“Is that blood all mine? My legs are there, right?” asked Burrows. Too many times he’d seen legless buddies with bloody smoking wounds. There were angry-looking charred stumps in place of legs, their manhood often destroyed as well. His hands reported back to his brain that he still had his jewels and two bloodied legs, though the limbs had been deeply perforated by multiple red-hot, high-velocity, irregular projectiles. He exhaled with relief. “Still got my nuts and legs. Can walk, get laid, and have kids.”
About twenty minutes away by chopper at Firebase Ripcord, Sergeant Ken Israel, who directed the nearest battalion aid station, shouted, “Booby trap, legs, extensive. Two IVs. Check vitals. Morphine. He’s hurting.”
Richard was gently unloaded on his stretcher from the rescue Huey (Dust Off). He was placed on sawhorses as a team of corpsmen expertly cut off his destroyed, filthy, jungle fatigues. Two large intravenous needles were inserted into his arms, facilitating the administration of blood and salt solutions to stabilize him before he was transferred to his final destination, the 85th Evacuation Hospital, for definitive care.
Private Burrow’s original medivac chopper waited, powered up, on the edge of the helipad to more quickly transfer him to the 85th Evac on the west coast of Vietnam. It was located halfway between Hue and Da Nang on Highway 1 near the hamlet of Phu Bai in I Corps, the northernmost combat area in South Vietnam.
The community consisted of dust-encrusted shacks made of sticks, discarded pieces of metal and irregular wooden boards. Sections of unrolled and flattened beer and soda cans enclosed the walls. They lined both sides of Highway 1. Few men were present. Women in pajamas wore wide-brimmed conical straw hats. There were scattered clusters of bustling children, most with bare bottoms.
Nearby, one could see flooded, rectangular, shimmering, green-shaded rice paddies reaching to the horizon. A few men urged water buffalo to pull the singular bladed plows for cultivation. Others peddled bicycle chains attache d to a cup mechanism that lifted water into the paddies for irrigation. Many women were bent over planting rice seedlings. There was a pungent odor of night soil (human feces) that was used as fertilizer.
Richard’s travel time from the moment of wounding to the 85th Emergency Department (ED) took less than sixty minutes. That crucial interval was referred to as the Golden Hour, for the survival of the injured was much more likely when delivered to definitive care in less than one hour.
Dust Off co-pilot Bob Nevins celebrated with his pilot, Jerry Rogers. “We’ll get him to the 85th ED in forty-five minutes from when we first picked him up at the LZ.” They were both veteran pilots and had routinely been engaged by enemy fire. They had survived several crashes. Too many of the 326th Medical Battalion pilots and crew had died flying these same missions. Bob understood the concept of the Golden Hour timeline wherein beating the clock usually avoided the detrimental effects of blood loss shock. Barring any complications, Private Burrows’ survival was hopefully more likely than not.
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