As a young boy growing up in the 50s there was nothing I wanted more than to be a Marine. My dad was a Marine and an American hero, I wanted to be exactly like him. But most of you probably know where this is going. In Vietnam I served as a Sniper/Reconnaissance Man in the Unites States Marine Corp, if you don't know what a Reconnaissance Man is, put a scout and a Spartan together and your pretty close. My unit was in the front lines in many battles, we carried out assassinations on Vietcong leaders, and we bailed out more fire teams then you can shake a stick at. That all changed the night we were captured though.
At mid-night sometime in 69', around 100 Vietcong overran our camp of 20. The last thing I remember was Lieutenant Johnson's head exploding from an AK round and getting knocked out with the butt of a gun.
I awoke later the next day stripped down to my underwear in a wooden cage. There were 6 of my buddies Mcgee,Skinner,Roric,Erwin,Smith, and James, around me in cages of their own, all stripped down just like me, none of us made a sound because that would draw attention to us. As I looked around I noticed we were in an unfortified village and not a military compound. Strangely enough there was no one walking about,drawing water from the river, building anything, or tending the fields. I had a bad feeling about this place. And as I later learned that feeling was more then justified.
Around mid-day we heard voices speaking Vietnamese coming near us. It was a group of 8 men and a woman, the men all carried standard issue AKs but the woman was dressed in a modified Vietcong outfit and carried an American issued M1911 on her hip. I couldn't understand what they were saying to each other but I did notice when she looked at the men and pointed at me. The men walked towards my cage and pulled me out by the ankles and dragging me across the gravel, which in turn cut my back. I was grunting in pain from being dragged like that when we finally got to a hut, Inside this hut were tools used for torture and a chair with restraints in the middle of the room. I was strapped to the chair by the men and left there for what seemed like hours.
When someone came back it was just the woman with a bottle of antiseptic, which she in turn poured down my gravel scraped back. I yelled in pain to which she gave a hardy laugh. After the pain eased she spoke to me saying "I know what you were doing in those woods, your squad killed my brother, Commander Trung" in perfect English. she showed me a picture of him, a woman, and a boy and a girl. I immediately recognized him as a man I saw through a sniper scope before I blew his head off. "This was his family, this was my family", she then pointed to the woman in the picture, "she had her head cut off by an American bayonet right in front of her children". She proceeded to point at the little boy who looked around 8 years old "He was tortured before having his eyes gauged out and being left to bleed to death". She then pointed at the little girl, who couldn't be older than 5, she said with tears welling in her eyes, "She was still alive when I got home from the river drawing water for dinner, her stomach was slashed 14 times and her eyes blank, the last thing she ever said was 'mommy I'm so cold' ". "Do you know what a 17 year old girls reaction is to finding whats left of her family in pools of their own blood is?" Tears rolling down her face. I did what I was trained to do and said nothing. "That day I decided what I was going to do, I would hunt down every American I could find and I would show them what true pain was. That day was 4 years ago, and I'm damn good at showing them pain." she said with a devilish grin through the tears.
Dousing me in freezing cold water she pulled out a car battery with jumper cables from the tools. Laying the cables on my chest I felt pain I had never experienced before. I screamed louder than I ever had before, I blacked out. When I awoke a few minutes later I saw her heating a knife with a lighter "Oh you're awake? Good." she kicked me in the stomach, unstrapped my hands and ankles, and called two men to hold me down, back first, to the ground. She covered my head with a blanket and I felt her boot on on my waist. I then felt my skin boil from the heated knife going down my chest, grunting from the pain until it was over. When she was done she threw antiseptic on my chest and a bucket of cold water on my face before they took me back to my cage.
As the weeks went by my mind deteriorated more and more. 2 more of my buddies, Mcgee and Skinner, were dead at this point. I kept on seeing Johnson, Skinner,Mcgee and me laughing in the barracks back home in the states while we took a smoke and made fun of the 1st Sergeant. I saw my wife in that yellow sundress I always loved. I saw my kids growing up without a father. My daughter going down the aisle without her dad and my own son going to war like his dad and granddad did before him. I saw my mom crying and my dad shaking his head when they heard I was dead. That moment, I vowed I would do whatever I had to to escape this hell.
She tortured 2 of us a day, and I was tortured by myself the third day since I was number 5 out of the remaining Marines. I was able to get a small rock and started sawing my way out of the cage. After 3 of my torture sessions I sawed through one bar, I needed to get through 3 to escape. How they didn't notice me is a miracle in and of its self. being able to saw through a wooden cage on a diet of 2 small bowls of rice a day and the occasional rat with tied hands is another.
By the time I was ready to escape Erwin and Smith were dead. That left me, Roric and James. The night I made my escape I got Roric and James out of their cages ready to make an escape. I killed the night guard by coming up behind him and choking him to death. I took his AK, bayonet, and boots. Where we were at we had to go through at least 150 miles of jungle in hostile North Vietnam to get back to friendlies, we needed guns,ammo, and clothes. We snuck into the shack we thought that the soldiers had guns stored in. Luckily we were right and the guns were stored here. Unfortunately there was a soldier standing guard, and he saw us. He pulled his gun up in a sleepy daze and I lunged at him with my bayonet stabbing him before he could get a shot off. I slit his throat to finish him off. I saw the fear in eyes dissipate into nothingness and couldn't help but feel like a monster. We gathered the needed supplies and made our run for it. I knew we couldn't escape without being spotted by the guard towers but we could disappear in the jungle. As we ran, AKs in our hands and boots that didn't fit right on our feet, I knew it was now or never. The sirens blared and yelling in Vietnamese filled the air, flash lights illuminated the trees and foot steps crunched leaves behind us. We eventually came across a cave and dove inside it. We hid in there all night thinking it would become our tomb when they finally decided to look inside, but they never did. When we saw daylight we decided to go outside, hesitantly I stuck my head outside the cave. "coast is clear" I said to the boys, "damn straight!" Roric said with muffled excitement, James was suffering from severe shell shock from the torture, which is now known as PTSD.
The sun rises in the East and we were heading South so we at least knew were to go, So we started rucking. After 5 days of jungle rucking we came across a village, we were starving and not thinking straight so we went in to infiltrate and steal a chicken or other kinds of food. We stalked the village for an hour or so and saw no activity, no children, no farmers, no anything. We went in thinking it was abandoned to see if there was any food,water or supplies. Approaching the village a strong odor assaulted my nose, this was the smell of death. I put up my hand up in the sign for halt and got my boys ready for a fight. We walked in very slowly to the center of the village and found... nothing. As we inspected the town we began to notice the smaller shacks were filled with small beds. James said "this is an orphanage." In one of the few things he said since we escaped. the odor got stronger the closer we got the to largest building in the village. Around the door were many flies and other bugs along with a bloodstain coming out from under the door. We braced ourselves and I kicked the door. What I saw no amount of drugs or therapy can take from me. There were bodies of men,women and children covered in maggots many of them eviscerated and beheaded. All three of us vomited at the sight of this. The orphans ranged in ages from infants to teenagers. As I got my head straight from the horror that I had just seen I entered the hut. Walking over the body of a toddler with maggots for eyes I noticed this room had tables all around it, this was the dining area. We went through a door way to the left of the room, that is when I saw a familiar face. It was the face of Ms Trung, the woman who tortured me. In a sick case of Irony whoever did this had gouged her eyes out and slashed her stomach exactly 14 times. Me, James and Roric cringed at the sight of her dead body. "This is what happens when you fail the Vietcong and let Americans escape, they kill you and your orphanage" Roric said with a disgusted tone. I know she tortured me but these kids didn't deserve this. I peaked through the window and saw a patrol of 6 Vietcong soldiers, one sees me and says something I can't understand and points at me. I ducked and bullet ripped through the window a second later "MOVE NOW!" I yelled. We ran through the sea of bodies outside into the center of the village. Running south towards the jungle I hear Roric yelp and fall. "Cover me!" I yell to James, he pops the guy who shot Roric. I pick Roric up and keep on running towards the jungle, James covering my 6 o'clock. We run for about a mile and stop. I put Roric down on a clearing in the jungle, the hole in his chest still pouring blood. "Stay with me man!" I say chocking back tears, "No use man, they got my lung." He said with a weak smile, blood coming out his mouth "Take these and give them to my wife" he mumbles while taking off his Dog Tag and wedding ring. "You gotta stay alive brother..." I say meekly, He hands me his Tag and ring "live..." he says as his arm goes limp. Checking his non existent pulse, "He's dead." I say in disbelief to James. "You're right, but we're not. We need to get out of here before we end up like him" he says calmly.
After burying his body in a shallow grave we get to rucking again. I thought I saw a shadow figure out of my eye but I told myself I was imagining things. That night I dreamed I was running through the jungle with a 100 foot long demon snake following me, it's face was the one of the man who's throat I had slit a week before. His teeth were long and dripping blood. from the darkness I heard the voices of my dead friends screaming in agony as they had done when they were being tortured by Trung. I awoke in a cold sweat upright on the jungle floor with James asking if I was alright. I nodded and he went back to sleep. I usually try not to lie but he needed all the strength he could get and shouldn't be baby sitting me all night. gripping Rorics tag I tried to catch some sleep that night with minimal effect. When we awoke we started rucking again, we went south towards a river. I saw Smith and Erwin on the bank, they looked so happy and well fed, compared to us miserable,dirty, and starved for a week Marines. I tried to touch them but they disappeared before I could. I asked James if he saw them and he said no. "Am I losing my mind?" I thought.
After we washed up we crossed in the shallows of the river. After rucking for 5 more days and having numerous close calls with Vietcong, we see an American flag over the horizon. Bruised and battered we limp towards it. An American soldier spots us "Medic! I need medic!" and runs towards us. I fall to my knees in wonder that I escaped such hell. The soldier asks us "Are you guys alright?!" simultaneously we nod and I ask with a laugh "got any food?" before passing out. When I came to I was in a chopper bound for a Saigon war hospital with an IV stuck in my arm. Happy to be alive.
Me and James were discharged with 100% disability each a few weeks after we got home, because our minds were broken and mild organ failure from starvation and dehydration. After we were patched up we got on a plane bound for the US.
Getting off that plane and hugging my wife and kids was the best moment of my life. James and his family were also reunited at the airport. We went to a restaurant later that night. Me and James went outside for a smoke and to talk about the fallen and how we would break the news. Since we were the same rank but he served longer than me he said it was his duty to break the news to the families of our 18 guys who didn't make it home. I volunteered to go talk to Rorics wife since I carried his tag and ring with me for the weeks after he died.
I drive to his address in full dress attire since it was a few miles away from me. I arrived and his 5 year old daughter answers the door "who is it?" she says meekly, A "friend of your daddy's." I reply softly. "Rosalind! You know not t-- oh no..." She says with her voice cracking. "He's...", "Yes." I reply trying to keep composure. "He wanted you to have these" I say as I pick up her hand and put the tag and ring in it. "Thank you" she says as a tear rolls down her face. In response I salute her, make my way back to the car, and drive away, as tears fall on my steering wheel.