(Re-published from 22 March, 2016)
Jon Jakeway – Rakkasan, Vietnam Vet, Gruntworks contributing blogger
Every day in Vietnam was a day of uncertainty. For the most part the days just rolled on by, each day being no different from the last. The endless hump that busts your balls. The heat and humidity relentlessly sapping every ounce of water out of your body. The straps on your Alice pack digging into your shoulders with a pain that only an Infantryman can know. One agonizing step after another, but you must keep going……. until at last the column stops and you are given a break. You fall to the ground right where you stand, your Alice pack sort of supports your back in a semi-upright position. Suddenly your world is 100% better because you are off your feet, and the weight of all your gear is not digging into your flesh. The piece of ground you are on is a beautiful place! Any place you are on the ground resting is a beautiful place! This was the case on the afternoon of March 21, 1968 somewhere in Vietnam. So far it was just a normal day for us, but this was about to change. I did not know it at the time, but my life was about to change forever in just minutes, as well as the lives of a few others. For some, their lives were about to end in just a few minutes.
We were on a break when other elements of our unit made contact with the enemy about 300 yards from our position. We were immediately given the order to saddle up and head for the firefight raging in front of us. I saw a large explosion down at the firefight scene, I saw what looked like a person fly up in the air. As I was running towards the fight I saw a fire in the direction that I was moving. As I got close to the fire, the fire exploded throwing me backwards to the ground. I was a bit stunned lying there on the ground, but did not have a clue that I was wounded. In fact I had three pieces of steel in me. I made several attempts to get to my feet with no success. Why couldn’t I get to my feet I thought? Finally I looked at my belly area and saw the blood coming up through my clothes. I was astonished! As soon as I saw the wound it started hurting.
As I brought my hands into my stomach area I saw that my left hand was hit…with blood coming out of the back. Then I saw my right hand had been hit, the thumb joint had been shattered, and a ball of flesh was dangling. As soon as I saw it it started hurting like hell. Up to this point I had always been the soldier looking down at the wounded, never thinking that it would be me down on the ground looking up. I suppose this was my day of reckoning……what goes around comes around after all.
Down at the firefight scene just prior to me being hit they were putting the wounded on a MEDEVAC chopper as well as one dead man, Anthony Nicholson, a friend of mine. He was in a body bag. The chopper lifted off but did not make it far as it was shot down. The Viet Cong shot all of the survivors except for my friend Anthony in the body bag. Anthony would come back from the grave, but that is another story altogether.
Now we are back to me lying on the ground. One of our medics, Ken, who would be killed later, was fixing me up saying “Take it easy Jake”. A MEDEVAC finally came for me and the other three wounded from the same explosion. We were worried that we also would be shot down. I was taken to the M.A.S.H. unit at Long Binh where I was placed on the floor for five hours before they could get to me. The M.A.S.H. unit, and Anthony Nicholson is another story I might write one day.