I wrote this a number of years ago. It was one of my editorials back in the day when I still did some editorial work for newspapers. I dedicate it to all those who have died in battle, or from battle wounds which ultimately led to their deaths. That's what Memorial Day is about.
Ravages Of War
The year was 1967 and the jungle was filled with the stench of napalm and burning vegetation. Chaos reigned: both sides were confused and scrambling to save themselves from the onslaught of the raging battle.
It was to no avail for far too many. Dead and dying soldiers littered the landscape. Hell on earth, made even more real by the dancing wickedness of the flames taunting them, showed that Heaven was perhaps nothing more than a myth, an abstract of reality.
We huddled together for a brief moment, discussing what needed to be done, and then raced to save those we could; those with some kind of flickering glimmer of hope. Sadly, there were not many within reach of a helping hand.
There were perhaps a dozen of us still able to walk, and we carried the wounded out on makeshift stretchers made from old blankets and whatever other materials we could scrounge up for the purpose. It was a long trek back to rejoin our main command post, but we persevered, ever aware of the hazards ahead. We hadn't even reached the end of the evening before we lost some of our wounded.
Time. Time was a major factor. It was not working in our favor.
On the second night, I noticed a young grunt who was in excruciating pain, sounds of its intensity filling the jungle air. His leg . . . his leg was the cause of it all. He was trying to reach it with his hands, almost looking as if he wanted to tear the offending limb from his body.
I took my knife and cut his pants leg to his ankle. Staring at his tortured face for a couple seconds, I called for my comrades.
Silence, the horrid silence accompanying impending doom stared us in the face. His leg was obviously full of gangrene. It had to be removed or this young man would die. No need to tell him: we simply had to do it. There were no options.
Yes, we had no anesthesia; nothing other than a bottle of Jack Daniels. We used it, making sure he was well looped before we cleaned and disinfected the knife in the flames of the fire we had made.
The time came to do what had to be done, but everyone froze: who could possibly perform the operation? We were soldiers, not medics. I was the youngest, only eighteen at the time, but all eyes focused on me. Shit! The life of this man was in my hands. I had only read of this type of thing, enough to know about tourniquets and such, but I took the knife in my hand and did what was necessary, the pain experienced by the soldier ripping through the jungle.
He collapsed in to unconsciousness. His torment for the moment was over. We had no way of knowing if we had been in time to save him, but we could hope. There was always hope.
* * * *
Forty years later, I was standing on line in a local McDonalds, waiting on my food, when I noticed a man standing in front of me. He was on crutches, one leg missing beneath the knee. His face . . . his face had a familiarity I couldn't place: not at first, anyway.
He must have felt the glare of my stare on his back because he turned and returned my glance with one of his own.
"Khe Sahn, 1967," I said.
"Yes," he said."How did you know?"
I shuffled around nervously. "Your leg. I'm the one who cut your leg off."
He stared back at me, intensity building in his stare. "For years, I hated you. I didn't know who you were, but I hated you. You cut off my leg! I wasn't whole. The torture of rehabilitation was unbearable. The thought of revenge if I should ever meet you was what kept me going. Then one day a doctor told me you saved my life and that that was better than dying in that infernal Hell-hole."
No more words were said by either of us for about a minute. Then he said, "Thank you, brother! You saved my life. I owe you big time!"
We stood there and hugged, tears falling unashamedly from both our eyes. We talked for awhile about life and loves won and lost, and we parted ways.
It doesn't take Thanksgiving to make someone thankful.
Life. Having life and knowing others made it through the harshest of times is plenty of thanks for me.