In memoriam

Around this time of year every year since 1972 I suffer a bout of melancholy and I never remember why. There was no difference this year.  My VA brain doctor suggested this might be a bad time of year for me if something bad happened around now,  back “then”. Doh!
12 APR 72: outside the wire for the first time on sapper sweep,  Prince found an old man hiding from us in some brush off the right side of the trail. Not knowing who it was at first, I put Prince on “watch”, a hair-trigger pre attack mode. We tried to call the guy out but he tried to scamper away.  Prince was on him before I could react and had a good hold on his ankle when the old man started kicking Prince in the face. I was still in stunned shock from how fast and hard Prince hit the poor guy and hadn’t even begin to react yet. Kicking Prince  prompted him to snap his head hard like he would a toy.  The old man’s hip came out of socket with a sound like a gunshot. I finally regained control, much too late, and insisted our medics help the guy.  There ain’t no doctors in Ho Hoa ville, I knew. I was working with south Vietnamese troops so they translated for the old man and we thought he was okay with riding in the ambulance to the infirmary on base.  When I got off work later that night, they told me that the old man freaked out in the ambulance,  had a heart attack and died before he got to the infirmary. My first kill.
17 APR 72: 2nd mission outside the wire. This time we have most of an ARVN Platoon following us led by a fanatic of an Lt who wants nothing more than to get back to the front and stop babysitting us weak Americans. He misinterpreted an alert from Prince to be a threat indicator when in fact he was alerting on kids foraging for their parents.  We’d met them before. Prince played with them then, so he was excited about seeing them again.  He knew who they were and I in turn knew they weren’t a threat. But, the LT saw the alert and no amount of my advice could change his mind.  He called in a mortar strike while I was being disgracefully escorted from the “field of battle”.  His strike killed 9 children.  My escort and I were able to re-enter the wood he blew up, Prince would have it no other way.  It turns out that he heard them crying and started whining, pulling me towards the wood and we found two survivors.  Without those two,  I don’t think I can quell the guilt.
19 APR 72: after repeated failing attempts to drink myself into oblivion I returned to work only to fail miserably at that again and was injured enough to be sent home. I woke up 5 days later on plane betweent he Philipines and Guam, screaming for Prince first, then my weapons.                                                                                                                                                           19 MAY 72: my brother handler and closest friend, Santiago Herrera Escobar, fell and I wasn’t there for him.  I wasn’t there for him or his family afterwards either, not for a very long time, though I never forgot him.  Waking up was hard to do but I’ve got my brother back in his family.  Hooah, Santi.  RIP!
Not the best of times but at least I stopped running.

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