May 13, 2009
By Kevin Lardner BRONZE, Barrington, Illinois
Kevin Lardner BRONZE, Barrington, Illinois
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

As I knelt beside the shallow riverbank, I bravely looked down. At my knees, the mangled corpse of what appeared to be a United States Marine was lying in the sand. He was one of mine. I tried so very hard to stop the bleeding, yet it kept coming. Pouring incessantly along the banks of that shallow river. It was as if the blood of this platoon, my platoon, was pouring directly onto my hands.

My efforts to save that poor Marine were to no avail. He died alone near that shallow river; his blood was awash in it. The surviving members of my platoon were marched to a POW camp. During this awful march, we were tied neck-to-neck, and forced to trek through the dense Vietnamese jungle. It was as if we were placed in an oven and forced to sprint. Many of the survivors died during that march, and I could not recognize any of my men among those who had survived the march. After what seemed like hours, we arrived at the small POW camp, there I as well as three others were locked in a small holding cell. It was damp, dark, and incredibly hot. That night I was able to catch a glimpse of the moon in the sky through a small slit in our hut. Whatever hope I had rested within that image, the same moon which is visible from home. From that moment on, I was determined to make it through, if not for myself, then for my fallen comrades.

I awoke the following morning to the shrill sound of Vietcong outside my hut. Through slit, I was able to observe the man who would become my enemy. Their leader was short man, of about five feet, yet that cannot overshadow his rather commanding presence. The leader flailed his pistol in the air, the very image of which would cause us, as well as his own men, to tremble with fear.

Shortly thereafter, the leader quietly strolled into our damp hut. He muttered in broken English, a question regarding the whereabouts of the rest of our regiment. Unbeknownst to him, all of the men in my hut were from different regiments; in fact the other three men from my hut were all Navy pilots. He did know however, that my platoon had humped in, and that there would be no rescue helicopters. The leader proceeded to attempt to extract information from us, with brutal means. Yet despite the threats, these men held fast, certainly unwilling to reveal information to the enemy.

Several days later on a cold morning, I made the fateful decision to get organized and make an attempt at civility. I took it upon myself to discover the whereabouts of as many prisoners as I could, including their names, ranks, etc. I found that most of the others, including the men from my hut, were pilots. There were also several Australian soldiers amongst them. I also discovered that I, as a Lieutenant, out ranked every other man in the camp. After learning this fact, I gained a certain level of pride and responsibility. I felt that this might be my salvation, my meaning, and a reason to get out of this mess.

Several weeks later, my comrades and I had managed to scrounge a beaten up radio, about 40 cigarettes, this very notebook, and half a bottle of gin. I made it my responsibility as the commanding officer to ration these items accordingly. I decided to allot each man (as there were 19 of us), two cigarettes and a meager sip of gin. I instructed the engineer among us to tinker with the radio, perhaps to restore it to working order. It was around this time, just as things appeared to be getting better, that their stout leader took 12 of the 19 men. For what seemed like no reason at all, I watched with horror as the leader individually shot and killed every one of those 12 men. I later learned that these men had been stealing an insubstantial amount of rice from the guards. We made the decision shortly thereafter, that the remaining 7 men, who included the three pilots, the engineer, two Aussies, and myself, would make a final attempt at salvation. We decided that day to rebel and escape this horror.

The following day, we made a crucial step in our new plot to escape. The engineer, having managed to fix the radio, had cleverly convinced one of the guards to relinquish two batteries in exchange for our remaining gin. He told the guards they were for his standard issue combat flashlight, of course he had a flashlight, but it had long since broken. He instead planned on using the batteries to operate the radio, and hopefully call for liberation.

Later that day, the leader and two armed guards entered our hut, where all 7 remaining men were now living. The leader confiscated the radio from the engineer, and had him sent away to be shot. It was at this very moment that I, one of the Aussies, and two of the pilots seized the leader. We managed to disarm him as the other Aussie incapacitated the remaining guard, and the remaining pilot secured his weapon. Having secured the leaders pistol, who we had knocked unconscious, and a bolt-action rifle from the guard as well as his combat knife, we made the decision to make our move.

We exited the hut, with our guns blazing. The Aussie armed with the rifle, carefully shot the first guard, stationed high above in a guard tower, apparently training his weapon on the front gate of the facility. At this very moment, I armed with the stout leaders pistol, managed to squeeze of two rounds, taking out the guards who were preparing to execute the engineer.

From them we were able to gather several more weapons, and we were now fully armed. The 7 of us decided to make our way for the nearby barracks. As we knew full well that we wouldn’t last long in the Vietnamese jungle without boots and food. We snuck around the back entrance of the barracks, empty, as the guards were busy looking feverishly for us in the camp. Having attained several days’ rations and the proper footwear, we carefully exited the tent. However, we were met with a terrible reality, easily 15 fully armed Vietcong.

In retrospect, I am not entirely sure who fired first, only that the gunfire was incessant, and that within moments 4 of our 7 men were down. The Aussie, the engineer and myself were all that remained. We tactfully used a temporary ceasefire to evade our captors. We darted through the unguarded front gate and ran into the dense Vietnamese jungle.

As we darted through the thick, humid jungle, the engineer pulled from his pocket what could have been gold. It was the radio, he explained that he had apparently managed to activate just a moment before he was taken away, thus he was able to signal for help. With a full platoon of Vietcong at our backs, we dashed up a seemingly endless hill, towards what I now know was salvation. For at the top, we cheered at the familiar hum of helicopter blades, slicing like knives through the humid Vietnamese air. As rounds were kissing our heels, the engineer, the Aussie, and I, lept into the fuselage of the valiant aircraft. And as we sped towards the horizon, I made one last effort to look into the distance. I could see the entire platoon of Vietcong, amassed atop that very hill, and even from that distance, I was able to spot the gleam of defeat in their stature.

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