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Page 35
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Blood Brothers

By Roger Quindel

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I had just spent 3½ months in the field—most of the time along the Cambodian border and the Ho Chi Minh trail. It was a bloody ordeal as we saw so many deaths—both ours and theirs—and gruesome injuries. Finally, I left with just one artillery battery—we had been stationed with as many as ten—and the three of us radio teletype operators. We are now in our second week at an ARVN—our South Vietnamese allies—military compound at Hoc Mon—seven miles from Saigon. It was like heaven: no guard duty, no listening post duty, and no humping 100-pound artillery shells. And ARVN soldiers lived with their families. When we weren't doing our 8-hour communication shifts, we could play soccer or other games with the ARVN kids. We got invited to their homes for a meal. It was like heaven to us after what we had just been through. But our bunker wasn't secure—too small for the three of us and extremely hot—because it was only dug 18 inches deep. Our regular bunkers had been about five feet deep and provided both safety and were much cooler in the near 100-degree temperature of the Vietnam dry season.

A few days after we arrived, a visiting Colonel saw my buddy Richard and me teaching the five soldiers in our unit who were functionally illiterate how to read and write. We had been reading and writing their letters for several months. "What are you doing?" "Teaching them to read and write sir." "Stop this nonsense," he screamed. "Do something useful like wiping the dust off your truck!" he ordered. "Yes sir." The dust was all back in fifteen minutes.

I was on the second shift that week and remember nothing of this day. I had just received a message when I heard a deafening noise. It felt like I had been hit in the head with a baseball bat. I looked outside the communication rig and saw that my close buddy Richard—the Iowa farm boy—had been hit. I put on my flak jacket and helmet and crawled to the nearby bunker of our medic.

"Rich needs help." He sent someone to Rich while he tended to me. I was bleeding profusely, but I didn't realize it. He bandages me. A medevac chopper is called. It will arrive in 20 minutes from the base camp at Cu Chi. I was feeling woozy as we waited. The medic was holding my hand. Later, I realized he probably thought I was dying. At some point, I say something like, "I wish people back in the States could see us now. They would realize that we are all in this together." Many soldiers in Vietnam really hated all the racial tension back in the US. I wanted help. I sure didn't care about the fact that he was black.

The chopper finally arrives. Rich and I are placed on it and arrive in Cu Chi. "He's KIA"—killed in action—says the chopper medic after we land. I am loaded into an ambulance. "He's dead, He's actually dead," I cry.

I'm taken to the surgery area and put on a gurney. "I feel sick," I say weakly. They bring a bucket. I throw up blood. Not once, but twice. They get another clean bucket, and I do it again. I am the "Exorcist"—but this is not a movie.

I learned that a second rocket into Hoc Mon incredibly hit the mouth of a bunker, and all eight ARVN soldiers inside were killed instantly. The rockets were fired from 22 miles away. This is the total randomness between living and dying.

I am now in the 25th Infantry Division Hospital at Cu Chi. The nurses and doctors were heroic. They labored under brutal conditions, and the Hospital got mortared at least twice in my 5-6 day stay there. I also had a few visitors. I had been in the field for 4½ months, so I knew no one in Cu Chi. So, who were these visitors? They were black medics who were friends of the medic who had kept me from bleeding to death. Our friendship and my comment about "we are all in this together" had touched him deeply. His medic friends all gave me the same valuable advice. "Get off the morphine as soon as you can or you will get addicted." Or, "as soon as it doesn't last for 4 hours, you have to get off."

Given the extent of my injuries and the multiple surgeries I had, the pain was excruciating. One moment, you are in agony. Then, the nurse arrives. You feel the cold rush as the morphine moves up your arm. Agony to ecstasy in a minute. The pain disappears, and you float in pleasure. But it doesn't take long before the four-hour wait between shots is too long. The morphine effect becomes shorter and shorter. When that happened, I decided it was time to heed the advice of the Black Strangers, who were my Black Medic's friends, and get off morphine. Without this repeated advice, I may have continued chasing the illusion that morphine could keep me from pain and suffering.

Eventually, the pain diminished. I was healing, and I had no drug addiction problems. Many other wounded soldiers weren't so lucky, as addiction became a significant problem for those who served in Vietnam, especially the wounded and those traumatized by the constant deaths and injuries. I will always be thankful to my Blood Brothers, who saved me from that fate.

Postscript: The Colonel who screamed at us for running a literacy class and didn't care about our inadequate bunkers also didn't bother to tell us that the very worst incident in the entire Vietnam War took place on the Hoc Mon Bridge—less than a mile from us. It happened on March 2, 1968 about a week before we arrived in Hoc Mon. Ninety-one US soldiers were attacked from both sides of the bridge. In eight minutes, 49 US soldiers were dead, and 29 more were wounded.

Not such a safe place, was it?

Roger Quindel was a Radio-teletype operator with C battery of the 3rd/13th Artillery Unit October 1967-68. He marched with, and has been a member of VVAW since the march on Washington, DC in 1971.

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