Twenty years ago today on a hot muggy evening I received my packages from home. Some of the girls in the little community of Lake Jackson, Texas had decided to support the boys in Vietnam. Candy, cookies, and a Christmas card, from two girls whom I had known of back home, but could not remember ever having met.
A nice card, red and white, with bells on the front heralding peace on earth, good will to all, came in a tin full of cookies.
December 20, 1967, my first year "in country" (Republic of Vietnam) was drawing to a close. Since March, I had been hauling supplies, food, water, and ammunition, into small clearings in the jungle, on the UH1D "Huey" helicopter I was a door gunner on. Most recently, we had been hauling out of the jungle clearings, a lot of dead soldiers.
Though I tried, as I held the card in hand, starring blankly through it, I could not call forth "the Christmas spirit." It was of course, nice of the girls to send the card and cookies, but what about the body bag? All I can see is blood running from the corner of the green plastic that encases the dead G.I. The bag is not supposed to leak like that: it is heavy duty government issue. So why does the blood collect in a little pool there on the floor of the chopper? Only to be pushed by the on rushing wind in a long thin line toward the open door. The red thick liquid moves forward and then back again as the wind slacks momentarily. Ripples like you see on the surface of a pond when the wind rushes across.
The "grunts" who brought him must have dropped their burden on a staub, or torn the bag on the jungle undergrowth. This guy is big, really big, over six feet four. Too heavy for two guys to carry far, along with rifles and other gear. I had helped get him in place on the floor. That accomplished, one of the sweating, stinking, filthy--but alive--soldiers looked at me strangely, without speaking, and then at his buddy in the bag. The look on his tired face was one of "Take care of him for us." I looked into his eyes, then raised my hand to signal him that I would do it. Both men wanted to say goodbye to their friend in the bag, but knew it would be useless. Grabbing the canisters of food they turned and ran back into the jungle, for their unit was still in contact with the "gooks" and both were needed on the line.
Food in, bodies out. A "meat run" it is commonly called by air crews. Not because of what we give them, but what they give us. A few lucky grunts out of thousands in the jungle will receive the food in green aluminum containers, still warm usually, just like the guy in the bag. Warm food, for warm bodies, we are the death merchants of the air.
The blood has stopped running now, coagulating as it loses heat. As we fly back toward Cu Chi, leaving the last jungle clearing for the day, I become engrossed in a door gunner's trance of meditation (1500 feet in the air, 80 knots air speed, distant horizon) wondering who this guy is. Is the red gore there by my feet, blood from a White man, or a Black man? Or just a dead man? Where did he live? "What state you from?" is the first question one G.I. asks another when meeting. No answer from the bag. It really does no good to carry on a conversation with him, but I wanted to be nice for the sake of his friends back in the jungle, they would miss him tonight, as they laid down in the mud and filth of the jungle, fighting off the leaches while they rested their weary heads.
It occurs to me that I really don't know much about this bleeding guy in the torn bag, and nothing at all about the guy next to him, in a green, heavy duty, non leaking plastic body bag.
I saved the little red tin box that the cookies and Christmas card came in. A memento
of the ghosts of Christmases past.