[Disclaimer: I do not own BA Baracus or Captain Fallone. Extracts from "The Island" episode appeared in Season 3, Episode 8. This story is based on actual true events, so isn't all my own work.]
Chapter 1: God's Waiting Room
[Timeline: La Drang Valley – 1969. I am thinking this would have occurred before BA joined the A-Team.]
I didn't even flinch when I heard the incoming shell whistle through the air. After three days of constant bombardment, I could tell from the sound that it was a good 75 feet off.
The long elephant grass that covered the hills by the Cambodian border was a smugglers' paradise and infiltration point for the NVA to invade South Vietnam. The mission had been to hunt down the enemy and keep the border clear. But it had been a ferocious, hand-to-hand battle – and it wasn't over yet.
It was noon and my platoon was resting briefly. We were waiting for the Recon team, who were scouting ahead, to return. The lucky ones amongst us lay injured on the ground, their wounds covered with filthy, make-shift bandages, puffing robotically on cigarettes. The not so lucky ones were lying in a coma with plasma bottles hanging above their stretchers. Such was the onslaught of the fighting, we had been unable to get the wounded out of the battle zone. The medics had used up all their medical supplies before the first day had ended.
We were all totally shell-shocked. We said very little, but our eyes darted nervously around the woods. We were the colour of the dirt and our clothes were torn where the shrapnel and bullets had come dangerously close. Although I had minor injuries, miraculously, I had somehow avoided being shot. But I knew it wouldn't be long before it was my turn and that thought messed with my head. I felt like I was in God's Waiting Room, passing time until my number came up.
I collapsed on the ground where I had stopped. As I didn't smoke, I fiddled with my customary axe, carving out notches on a nearby tree stump. We would use the axes to cut down the long grass and clear landing zones for the helicopters to land.
After about ten minutes or so the Recon team returned. They reported to the XO that we were only 30 yards away from the designated Landing Zone. There we would be picked up by the helicopters. I was surprised when I heard myself mutter a rather hysterical "thank God!" at this news.
But then the Cong made a charge and a new kind of hell let loose. I swear about 100 of them jumped out from behind every anthill, instantly taking out our first line of defence. Bullets were flying everywhere and my fear factor escalated a hundred-fold. A bullet hit the dirt a foot to my side and others started whizzing over my head.
I heard my XO yelling, "Follow me, and let's get the hell out of here!".
Anyone who could walk quickly followed in his footsteps. Having to leave my wounded comrades behind was probably one of the hardest things I ever had to do, but we had no choice. We were hopelessly outnumbered. We threw them our spare food rations and water and gave grenades and rifles to those who could still use them.
We ran, blindly, through the woods. With our escape route back to the LZ blocked, we ended up running deeper into the bush. Suddenly, additional shots were firing all around us. I realised that NVA snipers, tied up in the treetops, had opened up with automatic weapons.
Within a few seconds men started to fall like dominoes. The XO was one of the first to get hit. The bullet went straight through his heart. As I knelt down beside him he started to shudder and gurgle. Mercifully he died quickly. I held his hand tightly. It was the first time I had seen one of my buddies die up close. He had made it through World War II and Korea, but this little war had got him.
I felt a rush of panic grip me. I had assumed that he was going to get me out of here. For one selfish moment, I realised I was on my own. Everyone around me was screaming. The shooting was now a continuous roar. We were even being fired at by our own guys. No one knew where the gun shots was coming from, and so the men were firing everywhere. Some were in shock and were blazing away at everything they saw - or imagined they saw.
Then the grass in front of me began to fall as if a lawnmower were passing. It was a machine gun, and I could see the vague outline of the Cong's head behind the foot or so of elephant grass. As if in a dream I picked up my rifle, put it on automatic and pulled the trigger. I saw his face disappear. I guess I blew his head off, but I never hung around to find out.
I had decided it was time to move out. Most of the guys were trying to make their way towards our mortar platoon, which was situated somewhere to the north of our current position. I dumped my gear and axe, so I could get as close to the ground as possible. I didn't want to get hit by the bullets that were ricocheting of the trees. I had also lost my rifle, but that wasn't so much of a problem. There were abandoned weapons of all kinds lying everywhere.
I had nearly made it to the mortar platoon, when I heard a babble of Vietnamese voices nearby. The sound of the enemy that close was the most frightening thing I have ever experienced. Combat creates a mindless fear, but this brought me out in a cold sweat.
As they came into the clearing I froze to the spot and pretended to be dead. I was covered in other people's blood as well as my own, so I guess they thought I had been killed. I wasn't about to stand up and tell them otherwise! One of their Gunners proceeded to use the body of a dead GI as a sandbag for his machine gun.
The Gunner was only a teenager. From my position on the ground, lying on my stomach with my head turned slightly towards him, I could see him trembling in his boots. He began firing into the remnants of my Company. My buddies began firing back with rifle grenades. Jeez, if I stood up, the Cong would kill me and if I stayed lying down, my buddies would get me.
Then a volley of allied grenades exploded all around us, killing the enemy boy and wiping out his buddies as they got up to run. I felt as if a red-hot sledge hammer had hit the right side of my face. I lost consciousness for a few seconds. I came out of it feeling intense pain in my head. I didn't dare feel my face. I thought the whole side of it had gone. Blood was pouring down my forehead. It was also pouring out of my mouth. I slapped a bandage on the side of my face and tied it around my head. I suddenly felt better. It had happened, and I was still alive.
But my sense of calmness didn't last long as the Cong started to mortar us. There was a deafening roar and I knew something big had gone off right behind me. At the same time I felt something shoot into my right thigh. I immediately started to scream in immense pain. I ripped the bandage off my face and tied it around my thigh. It didn't fit, so I held it as tight as I could with my fingers. I could feel the blood pouring out of the hole. The realization came to me now, for the first time, that I was not going to live.
I prayed to God to give me the strength to get through this alive and cried unashamedly for my mama.
[To be continued ...]