Sadness in the Fog

There were many mornings and most were like the last except one. Very early in the morning on one of the foggiest of twilight mornings, I was sitting in the crew chief door gunner seat of Huey 736 on the runway at Quang Tri. It must have been after Crandall, McLeod, Wilkinson, Lewellen, Engin, and Simpson were on their way home in those iconic flag-draped boxes over the last two grim weeks. It must have also been just after that terrible SGT Keith hit and after my little stroll with Gary Schuler in the elephant grass of Laos to help rescue Kane and Casher from their burning Cobra gunship. I was truly spent and exhausted mind, body and bone.

We were part of a large flight of Huey's assembling on the runway for a large Hoc Bao mercenary insertion into Laos or was it an extraction, I don't remember. The reason I don't know is because the events of the next few moments so affected me that to this day I don't remember why we were there or who my fellow crew members were - not one; not the door-gunner, not the copilot, nor the AC. I don't remember if "packs" ever got on or got off. I don't remember where we went or when we came back. I don't remember anything about that day except the fog and what happen in the fog... what I saw.

It was a really early morning of thick, deep impenetrable fog. The morning had a cold and damp feel but mostly it was surreal yet incredibly tranquil and quiet – total silence except the swosh of the rotor blades. It would soon become eerie and stunningly sad.

We sat in line on the runway at idle RPM for a long time. Just quietly sitting there in the fog and the damp misty cold. Facing me as I sat there was a wide strip of grass between the runway and the revetments beyond. At first I couldn't see 10 feet, but as the minutes passed I began to make out the grassy strip and what appeared to be a small building or bunker barely visible.

Sleepy eyed and already saddened by the recent events, I seemed to be in a quiet, melancholy state, just staring into the fog – a dead stare - watching the little bunker become more and more visible.

The long line of helicopters ahead began to creep forward but I just kept looking into the fog that enveloped us and across the grassy strip. Finally my ship began to increase RPM and slowly lift a few inches off the ground. I hardly noticed. I was entranced in the eerie calmness of the morning and the fog shrouded and misty apparition.

As the helicopter moved forward ever so slowly, I could see more of the bunker. It had corrugated sheeting on the sides. Now we were nearly parallel to it. Then I saw.

I could barely make it out. I squinted my eyes as a figure took shape. I thought "is that a person? ... yes, a person." The twilight was still dim and the fog was still too thick to see clearly but now I could tell there was a young soldier sitting on the ground with his back against the corrugated sheeting. Fog was swirling now from the rotor wash and then I saw something more, the shape of a weapon.

But the rifle was in his mouth with the butt between his knees. I wasn't sure anymore if any of it was real. It was still foggy, still surreal, still not quite visible and still strangely tranquil. I said nothing. I just kept watching the fog slowly thin out and swirl like cotton candy in the rotor wash.

And then I saw the blood. It was all over the side of the bunker behind his head.

For a moment, my mind sprang to life and my heart seized. My instant impulse was to grab the trigger grip of my M60, key my mic with my thumb and shout what I had seen. But then I relaxed my thumb and I said nothing. I suppose I didn't want to disturb him in his desperate escape. I quietly sympathized with his lonely act and with my own lonely sadness and depression of spirit. Then I thought about all that he and I had experienced in this place. Had he gotten a “Dear John letter” as I would 3 months later or, maybe he'd failed to save his best friend in a firefight, killed too many, or lied to a dying trooper “you’re gonna make it”. I'd never know. I still don’t. But I dream about knowing, seeing, and my wet streaks of quiet tears.

The aircraft continued to taxi down the runway. I slowly rotated my head with silently fixed eyes as we moved past the bunker and I stared quietly at the kid in the grassy strip who had just ended it once and for all. I kept looking back at him as the image quietly faded from sight. I said nothing and hoped that I too was not disappearing from sight; fading away.