Hill 937

“One of the grenades exploded only a few feet away from Pfc. Jordy Pitre, a man in Bresina’s squad, and sent him flying down the side of the mountain.  Sp. 4 Andrew Hannah rushed over to help Pitre, but before he had taken more than a few steps, he was knocked flat by another exploding grenade.

With a head feeling like mush, Hannah struggled to his feet and stumbled forward into the bomb crater where Pitre lay.  He held his friend in his arms and discovered that he had been hit in the head and mouth with shrapnel and was slowly strangling.  Since the position was too exposed, Hannah grabbed Pitre by the shirt collar and dragged him down the mountain.  When he was far enough behind the skirmish line, he dropped his friend in a bomb crater and started screaming furiously for a medic.

When none arrived, he yelled up for Bresina to come back and help him.  With bullets hitting all around him, Bresina scrambled back down the mountain and leaped into the bomb crater next to Hannah.  Hannah was holding Pitre in one arm, and the wounded man, his lips turning blue and his throat gurgling as he struggled to breathe, was flailing his arms about wildly.

Bresina knew what he had to do, but he did not know if he could.  Already he felt overcome with nausea just at the thought, already both his hands were shaking, already he felt slightly faint.  You’ve got to do it, he told himself.  You’ve got to force yourself.  If you don’t, he’s going to choke to death.  If you don’t, he’ll be dead in another minute or two.

With a trembling hand, Bresina reached down and pulled the bowie knife from the scabbard on his right hip, then slowly brought the knife up to Pitre’s throat.  As the point of the knife touched the skin, he hesitated.  His hand was still shaking while his mind prodded him.  Do it!  Do it!  With a force of will, he drove the knife into Pitre’s throat and pushed it through the cartilage.  A rush of air swirled around the tip of the knife.  With his hand still trembling and while Hannah held down Pitre’s hands, he rotated the knife and enlarged the hole.

“Here.”  Hannah said, holding up the end of a plastic pen.

Bresina took the piece of plastic and stuck it in the hole, then watched Pitre’s chest heave as air rushed back into his lungs.

When Bresina turned back to the fight, he discovered that the attack had permanently stalled.  In fact, 4th Platoon was starting to pull back a short distance so the second bunker line could be softened up by artillery and airstrikes.  Bresina helped Hannah carry Pitre down to the edge of the trees, where they huddled together to wait out the airstrike.

The first fighter-bomber hit the side of the mountain with a 1,000-pound high-drag bomb. Bresina was bounced off the ground by the explosion, and looked down to see bloody parts of bodies and chunks of debris raining down all around him.  After performing the emergency tracheotomy on Pitre, the sight of body parts raining down from the sky was almost more than he could take.”

“I just talked with Blackjack,” Chappel said.  “We’re gonna continue the attack.”

“You gotta be kidding.”

“No, those are my orders.  Let’s go.  We’ve got to get moving.”

“Captain, this company has had 50 percent casualties in the last five days.  My own platoon is down to fifteen men, and the other two platoons are in even worse shape. There’s just no way in hell we can mount another attack.”

“Those are my orders, Lieutenant.”

“The days defeat had left a bitter taste in the mouth of a lot of men, but not more so than in that of Colonel Honeycutt.  As far as he was concerned, the gunship rocketing of Captain Littnan’s CP had been singly responsible for stoping Garza’s attack.  Like a domino, it had set off a chain reaction of disasters, all of which he had been helpless to stop.

When Bravo and Alpha were safely in their NDP (night defensive positions), he called the new artillery liaison officer to the CP and gave him a message to carry back to division.  “I want you to make sure everybody gets this.  And I mean the artillery people, and the gunship pilots and the liaison officers… everybody.  I don’t want any more ARA (aerial rocket artillery) out here if they can’t shoot the enemy instead of us.  I’m tired of taking more casualties from friendlies than from the enemy.  The next goddamn sonofabitch who comes out here and shoots us up, we’re gonna shoot his ass down.  And that’s final.  Now you go back and tell ’em that.”

Why did they do it?  Because they loved it.  Bedtime stories for the dog days of August.

Hamburger Hill by Samuel Zaffiri.  First published 1988


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Salal Road

It’s just weird that anybody thinks they can get away with this. But it couldn’t have been just one person. It took a whole lot of genius brains to put this act together. This is the shortest road in history. And they call this a road? What’s next around here?

I didn’t know I’d lost my mind because I’m so old but I read the story at the Postmedia site starring the so-called Vancouver Sun newspaper. There’s nothing bright about the Vancouver Sun to light up your day. Darkness blots out the sky, but that’s not what I’m talking about. And that’s not my whole opinion. Postmedia through senility or whatever still employs a few good writers. Despite itself.

It’s about according to the experts my brain disappeared a while ago. And I did my best work in my twenties. How I profoundly wish that had been the case because I did no work in my twenties. I lazed around enjoying my twenties and work intruded hardly at all. If I’d worked harder I’d be even more famous today than I already am. I just didn’t need it. My opinion.

I’m not sure what I’m driving at but it makes about as much sense as Salal Road. There isn’t even any salal on it. I don’t see any salal anywhere around here and I’m a pretty good salal spotter. I’ve been around. I even know what it is. It’s green.

It’s alive, unlike my brain apparently. By my forties I’d already tailed off significantly, according to the experts and their expert study. Now it’s really over. If you read it’s true it must be true. It’s just that nobody wants to admit it.

Why at that time didn’t I wonder more why I still walk the earth at all? Why didn’t it occur to me then that’s it’s over for me, I need to die. Because, they’re right. I don’t remember losing my mind which, according to them again, just proves what they’re saying. I lost it a long time ago. I’m glad I know about this now. It’s about time because I’ve been thinking, even now, with the advancing years, that I’m such a smart person. So brave. Pretty incredible.

That’s how hard the truth hurts. My “cohort”, the most recent stupid concept of what group I supposedly belong to, my legion of doomed legionnaires, my generation except I don’t have a generation and never strived for or wanted to be part of anything resembling anything called “generation”, it sounds so dirty, makes me wonder why we many, we who apparently are so many, in our elderliness and confusion in still being here after forty, if that was really the case and we knew we were finished, then obviously we’ve sucked it up because we function yet. We’re getting used to it and we’re not forty anymore. We timed the market. The way I have to about Salal Road.

We walked away with the picture, upstaged everybody and left town at midnight. I wouldn’t change a thing even if I didn’t have a brain, which, and now I agree with the experts, was in retrospect pretty much the case. But I was brains enough to survive and I’ll get through this news too, that my brain died a long time ago. I’m okay with it.

The days get shorter and you get longer. That’s the bit of wizardy and wisdom communicating itself to me now at Salal Road. I won’t say on Salal Road because from everything I’ve seen we’re down to a pretty much sort of private short driveway here. I need to know more about this sign. Forgive us our press passes but what is your name, please? I said to the cop on the phone, “I’m not walking past the door. I’ll come down Alder.”

The road sign. The highway to nowhere and that’s what I kind of like about it after all. Perforated steel post and a ten by six inch or so or whatever in metric metal sign, ivory white background behind block capital letters in black. Same old. Beautiful. Walking back everything is great. My mind is a basketball and I’m bouncing it around on the road and doing a little dribbling. It feels good.

Last in a series

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The Clearing

After that hailbomb we walked up…

I like it. A lot of land has been cleared up here. The exposed soil is a cedar brown. There’s a lot you could do with this big new patch of ground although I can’t think of a single thing right now, mostly because of where this big clearing is. So I presume there will be a reforestation effort across the curve of time. There’s nothing like big wide open spaces and new vistas to make you think.

I like it. It’s always a learning experience. It’s after the battle. The trees are down and gone away, the earth has been churned up and all the woodland creatures have run off. The world up here as it was is ended and it’s new times.

The land has really been ripped up but it’s not anything different from what I’ve seen elsewhere. Vast tracks of ground have gone through the same thing for all kinds of reasons for many moons. I’m not shocked or feverishly wringing my hands and weeping for all the terrible devastation. I like it. It’s different. It’s business.

Impressive towering pyramids of slash have been built up and they’ll make for some cozy barbecues when fire season’s over in the fall. It’s quite an easy “show” really, just rolling lumpy land unlike some of the hairy sidehills I recall, logs tumbling down and bonking off each other like ten ton toothpicks.

That reminds me of something funny. Saturday Creek. The Super was standing on the road looking up the hill and something like what I’ve just described was happening. “What the hell’s going on up there?” He said, looking at me. “You the hooktender here?”

I was green as grass and it was my first morning in camp. Any camp. I was standing on the road a few feet from this guy who’d just pulled up in his pickup. If I was standing around it was because I was waiting for somebody to tell me what to do. There were four sides going at that time and I guess it was hard for Finnerton, his name was, to keep up with who was doing what where. He had a beautiful daughter. I never worked a side as tough as Saturday Creek the rest of my time in the industry.

Please. Please. No more logging stories. A heavy steel swing gate, locked, blocks the entrance to this new logged-off land on this new punched in road off the main drag not far from home. Other people now I hear are using that expression, my expression, “punched in” and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Am I a force for good or just another glib hacker? The gate is solid but could use some paint. What’s left of the original paint is a vomit yellow, frittering away, but it’s a fine, solid gate and it feels good.

One note about woodland creatures. I never saw “Bambi” before. I mean there was “Lady And The Tramp” and “Pinocchio” and “Dumbo” which is probably the greatest movie ever made, not the remake, the original, and “101 Dalmatians”, but I never had the opportunity as a kid, I guess, to see “Bambi”. I always thought Bambi the little deer was a girl. I didn’t, for the life of me, know Bambi was a boy until two nights ago.

Years, friends. Decades. Eons out here in space. The ravages of time. I didn’t know and the realization comes at last. I’ve been taken down by an assumption, long held. It’s like you’ve made up your mind forever and you think you know what this movie is about. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen it. As it turns out you don’t have a clue. You feel like a fool but finally you’ve learned. And you feel stronger.

Don’t worry about forgetfulness. I don’t. I want forgetfulness. I do. It helps me relax. I have a lot of complicated things I deal with every day and relaxation is vital. It’s self-interest. And self-interest appeals to everybody. I’ve seen it.


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