During breakfast Doc Furman handed me a blue 3X5 card for a dental checkup and teeth cleaning. There was a clinic in the Freedom Hill complex at Division Headquarters. Everyone received these appointments, and they were mandatory.
This was an unplanned trip. I had been avoiding Convoy Road because of the constant incidents with mines and other happenings. Fernando, the Admin driver, was now a veteran of this daily trek to Da Nang. He had arrived only a month ago and had driven the road every day since.
After we turned north from Dai Loc, there was a lot of open space. As we passed the eastern edge of Charlie Ridge, we saw a rising column of black smoke ahead . . . it didn’t look good. We approached the area, and a Jeep was laying on its side. A Lieutenant was frantically waving us down. There was a body in the road and a large puddle of blood. The Lieutenant was yelling, “SET UP A MEDEVAC PERIMETER.”
I ordered three Marines to the western flank and three to the east. All of us had been trained in this protocol and knew the drill. The Marines moved out on either side, and I walked north on the road (some trucks from Da Nang were approaching). I halted the trucks and had them initiate the Medevac security, protecting the northern flank.
I asked the truck drivers for a smoke grenade, and one offered a gray canister with yellow stripes marked “Smoke.” The Chinook was circling, and I popped the smoke close to the Jeep. The chopper landed on the road, and the Medevac was successfully completed in less than a minute.
As everyone returned to the overturned Jeep, we pushed it upright and off the road . . . the radio was gone. Someone yelled, “JESUS, A LEG.” Somehow this had gone unnoticed, and the Medevac left without the wounded Marine’s leg. Now it was on me to make a decision . . . what do I do with a leg? It had been blown off at the knee, and the foot was still in the boot.
My instinct was telling me, “Leave no one behind.” I took off my flak jacket, wrapped the leg in my jungle utility top and tied the arms around it in a knot. With the leg secure in the truck, we moved on toward Da Nang. I told Fernando to take me to the Battalion Aid Station.
I got off the truck shirtless and wearing my flak jacket as I entered the Aid Station. Fernando drove off toward Freedom Hill. The Doctor wanted no part of the leg. He said, “Take it to Grave’s Registration.”
I walked to the supply building, carrying the bundled leg like a hand bag, and asked for my friend, Tony. * He came to the desk, and I explained the predicament. Tony issued me a new shirt and drove me to Grave’s Registration near the airstrip.
The people in the ARMY “Morgue” didn’t want anything to do with the leg either. Finally I said, “If you don’t take it, I’m going to drop it off at Division Headquarters.” A Lieutenant came out and took the leg . . . He asked my name and unit, and he wrote down all the details and circumstances. Then he said, “You’re dismissed, get out!” It was my only interaction with an Army officer (hard to forget).
Tony drove us back to Battalion Headquarters, and we had lunch. They were serving Sloppy Joes, but I just couldn’t get the food down. The Mess Sergeant, Gunny Sampson ** called me to his corner table (office) and restated his offer for me to return to the Battalion mess hall as his assistant. Again, I respectfully declined.
* See previous blog, “Trip to Da Nang” February 6, 1968
** See previous blog, “Gunny Sampson” January 8, 1968