“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