|The following narrative was submitted on 21 October, 1996, by Phil Carter, who was born in 1947. If you'd like to contribute a narrative, please fill out our form. If your browser doesn't handle forms, just write us an email. For permission to reprint narratives, please contact Viet Nam Generation, Inc.|
I had ADD before it was cool to have ADD. In fact, like PTSD, ADD didn't even have a name, much less an acronym, when I joined the Marines and left for boot camp in January of 1967. It is possibly accurate to say that ADD was the insidious seed that ultimately blossomed into the PTSD that still tries to take my life from time to time.
After four agonizing years in high school and two years in a junior college, I gave up on academics and enlisted. Football was the only thing I succeeded in during those four years, even though I tested extremely high on all of my aptitude tests, and I qualified as a semifinalist for the National Merit Scholarship test.
At Phoenix College, we won the national junior college championship in 1964. Then I got injured in the pre-season in my sophomore year, and everything fell apart. I couldn't play ball. I couldn't pass my classes. I needed another way to prove something to somebody or everybody. The Vietnam war was it.
I got married to a wonderful girl three months after I met her in 1968. We were married for six months before I left with my squadron for Vietnam. Twenty-eight years later, we're still married. The word "miracle" is hopelessly inadequate. About three months before we left, I tried out for the Marine Corps football team and made it. After the coach, Major King Dixon, told me he was cutting orders to send me to Quantico, I respectfully declined. I wanted to go to Vietnam.
I was an avionics technician working on CH-46 helicopters. We arrived in-country on January 13, 1969. One night in February, my closest friend in the squadron, E. William "Billy Bump" Bolan told me that his wife just told him in her latest letter that she was pregnant. The next morning, he was killed by a sniper as his chopper left Marble Mountain with him on board as a machine-gunner. I never called or wrote to her.
I went out on an occasional recovery mission during the next few months, prepping helicopters that had been shot down for extraction by CH-54 Sky Cranes.
In April, another one of our birds was shot down, killing all five people aboard. By this time, my fear combined with my belief that there was nothing there worth dying for to keep me from volunteering to fly as a machine-gunner as Billy had. I held out until August. I had to overcome the deep sense of cowardice that I was feeling by then, so I did it.
The month went by without much happening. We flew a lot of re-supply missions, some medevacs, and some recon team inserts and extracts. Even though our pilots frequently told us that we should expect some heat on some of the missions, I never saw a muzzle flash. From time to time, we would find a few bullet holes in our plane after we landed, but that was it.
My last day of flying as a gunner was different. We had launched to fly re-supply, but we were immediately diverted to an emergency medevac on Barrier Island. Some Marines were pinned down, and had two serious casualties that needed emrgency evacuation. We orbited while a Huey Cobra and an OV-10 Bronco came in to strafe the bad guys. The Cobra pilot put in a smoke rocket between the Marines and the enemy, The RTO on the ground gave the OV-10 pilot directions on where to attack. While we listened to the radio, we watched the OV-10 strafe on the wrong side of the smoke. We heard the RTO screaming for the pilot to "Check fire! You're killing friendlies!" while the pilot was shouting, "I've got them up and running! I'm going back in!" He finally realized what he had done, and flew away. We took out three KIAs and seven WIAs when we left. I wondered whether the Marines on the ground might shoot us when we landed to take on the casualties.
I spent most of my nights by myself at the Sergeants Club. One night I walked outside to use the piss tube. As I looked out over the South China Sea, I saw a fiery explosion in the sky. The fireball fell into the sea, and then slowly spread, setting a small portion of the quiet horizon on fire. I heard the next day that a CH-53 had gone down in flames with four people on board. There was no known cause.
Christmas Eve, 1969. The base was shrouded in a dense fog that muffled sounds and strangled the spirit. Late in the afternoon, I was alone in my hootch, deep in melancholy. In three weeks, I would go home. I walked outside and sat down on the steps leading up to the door of the hootch. No sounds. No movement. I felt as if I were in a sensory deprivation tank. Then I heard the seemingly distant sounds of a Huey helicopter. I looked up as the rotors got louder, and saw the helicopter pass low over my head at a speed only slightly faster than a hover. There was a red smoke grenade on one skid and a green one on the other. The Huey passed over me, and then pitched nose up until it looked like it would surely slide backwards and crash tail-first in front of me. But then the pilot kicked the rudder, and the nose and tail switched places. Then he went back over me and disappeared into the silence of the fog.