Written by John McElligott
Zeke was a Medivac Corpsman that was 6’2 and weighed 220 pounds soaking wet. Zeke always had his Bible in his hand, and if not working, he was reading it cover to cover. He never said a word. One dark night, Zeke and I had flown all day and we still had on our flight suits and rubber slip-ons called, ” Ho Chi Minh’s”. They were made out of old tires. They sold for about one MP (10 cents). Mine were old, and Z’s were new since he had not been in country long. It was dark and there were no incoming. We got a call from the outer perimeter requesting Corpsman fast, and a midnight attack on a perimeter foxhole. Not sure why the grunts did not call up their own Corpsman, but when they called I always said, “OK”. We were going to drive our ambulance to the Sergeant’s designated spot outside the perimeter… with no cover, no lights and a grunt waving a flag when we turned the last corner before heading to North Viet Nam.
We found them just inside route 1 (see picture above) which goes to North Viet Nam, and unloaded Zeke, me, our 45 pistols, and a bucket load of bandages packed with Vaseline. It was pitch dark and the NVA were just a few clicks from where we were going I think. My problem was, I did not know what a click was… and still don’t till this day! I can tell you this, it’s not as far as the crow flies.
The question was, who was going to take us to the foxhole? The answer? You follow the wire until you fall in to the foxhole. I said, “Say that, again!” I thought Zeke was going to shit a brick.
There were several squads of Marines and 2 Navy Corpsman, but all they said was, “You two, follow the wire, just stay on your bellies, and DO NOT stand up”. The only goal, get the wounded Marines out.
Well, 2 on 2 so off we went, and I was the lead wire guy. Our Ho Chi Minh’s were quiet and did not squeak like jungle boots do. We had no light… just the wire! One thing is for sure about “Johnny Be Good”. I was the fastest Navy Corpsman ever, in water, up hills, swimming etc. And now, here I was, following a wire in the pitch black night (and I mean PITCH BLACK)
I decided to set a world record, and I did. I fell in the foxhole first, and saw one dead Marine with his right arm blown off. It was shredded all the way down to the radius and up the humerus. He had no face, and his neck was full of holes. His arm would not stay down. It kept coming up next to his skull, in a throwing motion. Zeke stopped just outside the foxhole, and I whispered to the one Marine still alive. He did not know what had just happened… only that a grenade was in the hole, and the dead Marine had been sending it back to the NVA. It had exploded just as it left his hand.
After Zeke quit hyperventilating, I loaded the wounded Marine , all bandaged up, on Zeke’s back and ran the wire though Zeke’s flight suit. I told him not to do anything but MOVE, MOVE, MOVE! Don’t Stop! I told him I would catch up.
I wrapped the dead Marine in a poncho, and put him on my back, all while struggling out of the foxhole. His shredded right arm kept flying out of the poncho in a throwing motion. Thank God the moon was not out since the bone flying up would have glisten all the way back. There was no way to tie it down even when driving back to Delta Med where all the doctors lived and worked.
We told them what had happened, and about our “half assed rescue”. That left us will loose stools all night.
I crashed in the bunker and slept like a baby. Zeke was gone in a few days, and I never saw him again. No one ever called me to ask about the heroic throw of that grenade.
I was 20 years old then, and it lives like a movie in my head anytime I want to see it. Never a dull moment in the Dong HA play ground.