Last Helicopter Home

2 poems that I included in my book.

One poem is from Linda Haskell — TO MY SOLDIER. Written for her husband,
Sgt David W. Haskell, Jr, Abu, 1-327, 101 ABD. Boat,S VN, July 1965 to July 66.

The second poem is from David: THE LAST HELICOPTER HOME.  

David passed-away on12 MAY 2011.
Bill (Robbins)

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THE LAST HELICOPTER HOME

By Sergeant David W. Haskell, Jr.

David W. Haskell , Jr.
Courtesy David W. Haskell

Around the first of October, 1965, the 1st BN, 327th ABN INF was flown from An Khe to an area around Qui Nhon, relieving the Marines of their duties. Our duties were to clear the area of enemy and secure the area for the arrival of a Division of Korean Soldiers, who would make the Qui Nhon area their base camp.

Upon settling into our new AO, the troopers of our battalion began patrolling an area where a lot of enemy activity had been reported. Abu Company established a company defensive position and my platoon, the first platoon, departed on patrol. As we walked along a road, which was really not much more than a large wide dike separating the rice paddies, toward our destination, I remember seeing a dead Vietnamese lying on his back on the side of the road, his eyes were open; he was staring straight up, unconcerned with us or the rain. I don’t know if he was the enemy or if he was a friendly farmer killed by the enemy because of his association with the Marines. But I’ll never forget that dead stare the man presented.

Our objective was a picturesque village right out of a movie set. There were a series of rice paddies with this single lane road, probably a mile long, leading into this beautiful village. Some of the buildings were of French design and I could tell that this was once a prosperous place. I have tried for many years to remember the name of that village but I can’t.

As we neared the village, civilians started coming out, walking through our column, smiling and bowing, they seemed friendly and eagerly accepted our chocolate and cigarettes we gave them. There were many of them.

Our point man was about fifty yards from the village when the last of civilians passed through our formation when the mortars rounds and incoming small arms fire started. We immediately returned the fire and deployed on line to the left of the road, into the rice paddy full of deep water.

An artillery barrage started popping and splashing down throughout the village, as we maneuvered through the water toward the village. I don’t know how effective the artillery was as far as killing the enemy, but I know it must have kept their heads down  allowing us to advance with fewer casualties. Even with all our supporting fire power, Charlie was in a textbook position, with our entire platoon spread out in three feet of stagnant rice paddy water. When a trooper was hit and fell, the water churned around him from numerous huge, six inch long, leeches drawn by the blood pouring from his wounds.

We progressed slowly, our superior fire power barely overcoming the enemy’s strategic positioning. As we got to the village we started receiving more fire from the left flank at about ten o’clock in military talk (using the face of a clock with 12 noon being the direction of our travel – then using the hour numbers as reference points to indicate direction).  The enemy had this battle well planned and if we wanted that village, at that time, we would essentially play right into his hands. One squad from my platoon, I think it was the second, was deployed to the left front and flank and they were slowly drawn away from the rest of the platoon.

When the rest of us finally made it to the village we got a call on the radio that the second squad was pretty well chopped up and pinned down about an eighth of a mile to our left. We were sent to get them. The first squad, my squad, led off. I was point man. We traveled along with the river to our right and the rice paddies to our left. There was machine gun and mortar fire coming from across the river and from the direction we were traveling. We came to a clearing where the dike or bank along the river met another dike and more rice paddies started. Of the ten men in the second squad, one or two were dead and I think three or four were badly wounded.

As I broke into the clearing we started receiving more machine gun fire. I signaled for the rest of the platoon to stop. I saw several Viet Cong about seventy five yards away, some were firing their weapons and some were getting into small boats (san-pans, a small, fragile boat constructed of thin bamboo strips) to escape across the river. I got buck fever. I remember standing straight up, not thinking about finding cover, firing my M-16 on fully automatic but not looking through the sights, I was watching the enemy with both eyes wide open. I did have the composure to un-sling my M-79 and fire 3 or 4 grenades in hopes of disabling their boats.

Then a strange thing occurred. I’ve never talked to another man who admitted this happening, but I swear I could see the incoming rifle bullets coming towards me, I mean individual bullets. It was almost like things were happening in slow motion and I could observe the trajectory of the projectiles. I had a magazine pouch and a canteen shot off my body. The guy directly behind me, we called him Wendy, his name was Charles (Chuck) L. Wenzel, went down. His loud moan snapped me out of my trance. He said, “Haskell! I’m Hit.” He had been hit in his groin area.

Sergeant Press, our platoon sergeant, ordered me to get him to the medics. So I threw him on my shoulder and started running the quarter of mile back to the rest of the platoon and a medic. About twenty five yards from a medic, Wendy cried, “Haskell you’re killing me,” he was in a lot of pain and I wasn’t the most gentle mode of transportation. I laid him down at the medic’s feet. Wendy would live and we would fight together for several more months, after he got out of the hospital. I caught my breath for three or four minutes and realized I had to get back to my squad. As I started back I looked up and they were limping towards me, several being lead or carried by others more fortunate than themselves.

The firefight had halted by mutual understanding. Charlie eagerly escaped with his wounded across the river. My platoon, painfully, but proudly, limped back to the relative safety of the rest of the battalion.

It was a costly objective. We lost a lot of men. We achieved our goal, but somehow I think the enemy did too.

*      *       *

On Memorial Day, 2008, my wife, Linda, wrote me this beautiful poem that I would like to share with you:

TO MY SOLDIER: DAVID W, HASKELL, Jr.

Thank you to my soldier and the many thousands more,
who left the comforts of their boyhood and went marching off to war.

You fought a war that I and many others never fully understood,
and I’m sorry for that soldier because I really should.

I can only glimpse a small part of your anger, pain and fears,
from the expressions in you eyes as they so often fill with tears,
and I realize you’re still fighting after more than 40 years.

I can only hold your hand in mine and tell you that I love you and I care,
I thank you for your service and I’m proud beyond compare,
and I hope that when you’re hurting you will always find me there.

Your proud wife, Linda Haskell

AUTHOR NOTE:
I please ask that you stop and read the poem again-slower, and try and place yourself in both of these people’s position. Do you get it?

THE LAST HELICOPTER HOME

By Sergeant David W. Haskell, Jr.

I’m not trying to justify my actions. I’m not even asking your forgiveness. I don’t expect you to understand or even like me. That would be too much to ask of anyone. It’s hard to be around someone who rejects friendship and love. But I crave them, even though I continually run from them.

You only see me when I’m angry or pissed or when I’m masquerading in my don’t fuck with me mode. That’s a mode I have perfected and it has served me well. It protects me. It keeps you from seeing my pain and suffering, my guilt and frustration.

When I was 18, I fought in a war. I caused people to die. I piled their bodies like firewood to be burned. I carried my comrade’s dead, stiff, limp bodies and added them to a pile inside a helicopters so they could leave the battlefield and take their last ride home. I also carried my wounded, screaming friends to a helicopter, some with a missing foot,  some without a hand, arms, or missing a leg, yet, I laid their bloody, broken bodies on top of other Abu friends that were moaning, screaming, and going into shock, that were already piled on the floor of the helicopter. I can remember looking into the eyes of my friends, seeing their expressions of pain as they begged me to help them. But at the time, all I could do was force myself to turn away and go pick up another broken friend and add him to the pile.  Some of my surviving comrades, proud, brave and young, were able to come home from Southeast Asia and get on with their lives, to function in society, to be successful in life, to be haunted occasionally by the horrors of war. They are the lucky ones.

Some of us somehow are still forty years later, trying to catch that helicopter, to leave the battlefield. Some of us are still struggling through those sweltering jungles and sloshing through those leech infested rice paddies. We’re still fighting battles that never end, piling bodies and mourning our fallen comrades. At night our dreams are not sweet. Night after night Vietnam plays in our heads like a never ending horror film, over and over. We cry a lot. Sometimes we don’t sleep because we don’t want to see the film again.

Some of us have intrusive thoughts that plague us during the day and won’t leave us alone, like short previews of the nightly films.

Sometimes something like the sound of a helicopter or the smell of a certain food or the sight of a tree line next to an open field can exasperate these intrusive thoughts and sometimes they can be so real that we are back in country. We call them flashbacks.

Some of us struggle to function, to act right, to act normal when we aren’t. Some of us have committed suicide and hopefully they suffer no more. Others of us have chosen a slower death, escaping to oblivion through nightly rendezvous with alcohol or some other chemical for a short reprieve from pain, only to waken to the reality that the battle goes on.

We try to act right and sometimes we succeed. Other times we isolate, we act like hermits trying to avoid contact with as few normal people as possible, choosing to only be around other combat vets when we do socialize.

Often when we do try to interact with others it is disastrous. We are often frustrated, agitated, surly, and angry. We are angry with ourselves and everybody else and we hate ourselves.

We don’t want to be like we are. We would love to be your friend, but we can’t. We seek help through counseling, religion, exercise and anything else that might help.

We want to catch that last helicopter. We want to come home.