(How I Survived…)
by Miles H. Rost
(Author’s note: This is a fictional account based on stories relayed to the author by a third party.)
PFC Rocky Andersen was not a happy camper.
He was laying on the ground, grumbling in pain as he waited for help to arrive. The stocky marine had problems with his legs in recent days, and having to climb telephone poles at his base was not a good thing for him to do. Camp Pendleton was the Marines’ West Coast base, and it was also known for being remote in some parts. This meant that help may not arrive for a half an hour or so.
At the medical truck approached his position, his gunny, Gunnery Sergeant Charles “Brick” Brigman, leaped out.
“Andersen! What in the blue hell happened to you?”
“I was climbing the telephone poles, Gunny Brick, and I got blindsided by a bird,” he said, crisp yet with a strip of pain.
“Well, what are you laying there for?! Get up and walk!”
“Gunny, I can’t move.”
Hospital Corpsman Roger Baltrick had run over from the main truck and took a look at the PFC’s splayed legs. After a cursory exam, he looked up at Gunny Brick
“I can tell already that his right leg is broken in two places. We’ll have to look at his left leg back at the infirmary, but I have a feeling we may have a double break.”
Gunny Brick furrowed his brow.
“Well, this is just fan-freaking-tastic, isn’t it?! Andersen, you may have just lucked out. Your platoon is being called to Vietnam! They’re outta here in 2 weeks, and I hope to see you on that flight out.”
Rocky just grimaced, as the threat from the imposing Gunny reverberated through his head.
Two weeks after he arrived back at the base hospital, Rocky looked out the window of the room, his leg still elevated and bound in casts and slings. He looked down at the field, where he saw his fellow platoon mates lining up to head to the airfield at El Toro to fly out.
Over the previous two weeks, various platoon mates with the nicknames of “Grunt”, “Pickle”, “Big Zeb”, and “Sticky” all came by to say their goodbyes and swap stories of what’s been going on. Even on that last day, Gunny Brick even came in to say goodbye, though no one would call it a “goodbye”, formally.
“Andersen! You better get out of those casts and get on the next flight once you do!” he said, looking down with a slight smile on his face.
“Gunny, where are you guys heading for?”
“Our next orders are apparently going to be Khe Sanh. Seems like more of our boys are there right now.”
“Thank you, sir. Drop me a postcard once you arrive.”
Gunny Brick smiled at Andersen, shaking his head as he left.
“Don’t get thrown in the brig while I’m gone, Donut. I don’t want to have to come back to bail you out again.”
Andersen laughed, being reminded of the many times he was thrown in the brig for being UA or being stuck on “weird duty” at Treasure Island.
The middle of February was unusually cool for California. It wasn’t normal for the temperatures to be any lower than the 60s, but it got into the high 40s at night during this period.
Rocky was finally out of his casts, but he was on restricted duty until his legs healed permanently. That means five more weeks of therapy and processing papers, along with such fun jobs as helping in the mess tent or assisting in other tasks. His gunny sergeant for this end, GySgt. Mike Layton, was less abrasive but more of a rules-man. He appreciated Rocky’s work, though wouldn’t always say so.
Rocky was finishing the stamping of important base requisition forms, when Gunny Layton walked in. Rocky saluted.
“Andersen, as you were.”
“Andersen, I received some news this morning from Cam Ranh. It’s about your platoon.”
“Your platoon landed at Khe Sahn. As they were deplaning, they were hit by mortar fire and snipers. Gunny Brick and about half of your platoon didn’t make it to the terminal.”
Andersen’s blood ran cold.
“What’s left of your platoon is being merged with another in Khe Sanh. You and 5 others who are still here will be assigned to a new platoon.”
“Andersen, you can be real with this. You don’t have to hold it in. Ya lost some of your friends, and so have I.”
Andersen used his crutches to move himself a few feet back to his desk, and sighed.
“I was supposed to go, Gunny.”
“Yeah, I know. But, Andersen, you have to realize that things happen for a reason. Gunnery Sergeant Brigman and the others had to go over there. Apparently, someone else had plans for you.”
Rocky blinked, as he sat looking straight at his superior.
“When are they arriving?”
“Within a couple weeks. They will be brought to Oakland from Da Nang, then either families will pick them up there, or we’ll bring them back here for the families to identify and receive. I would like you, if you can, to accompany the ones who will be brought back to Pendleton.”
Rocky sat for just a moment before giving a salute and a “yes, sir.”
“You’re relieved of duty for today. Head on back to the barracks, and you can do what you usually do. Consider this time to grieve. Be back at this post tomorrow at 0800.”
After a salute, Gunny Layton turned his heels and departed.
Rocky lifted himself on his crutches, and hobbled out the door. The 15 minutes it took him to cover the length from the main base office to his barracks, he though about all of his buddies who were over there…and those who were gone.
He barely made it back to the barracks. Seeing no one around, he collapsed on his bunk. His tears, for part of that evening, were his only companions. And while he felt like he should have gone over with his boys, he yet realized that for him, he was given a gift that many in his platoon did not receive: The gift of being able to live to an older age.
This gift would be borne out in 3 children, who he was able to see grow up and become their own people. He would never forget the contributions of his platoon, as it was his children who were the result of that sacrifice.
(This is your birthday gift, Dad. Semper Fi, and I love you.)