Angel In Uniform
This is one of the hardest stories I have ever tried to
relate. I didn't speak of it for over 30 years, but now I think it may be time. I'm not a
religious person, nor did I have any knowledge of the angelic realm then.
We were on perimeter guard at LZ Oasis, near the Cambodian border. We were the blocking force along the Ho Chi Minh trail, just inside Viet Nam. This night we came under attack. "Puff the Magic Dragon," a C-130 gunship came to our defense. It was an awesome sight. The tracers from their Gattling guns streamed like fire from a hose all around us--so impressive, we stood up in amazement at the sight. The next day, the other gunners and I were talking how cool it was. We decided in our adolescent minds to take our belts of ammo apart and arrange it so we had as many tracers together as we could get...thinking, "We may be 'slicks', but we could look good!"
We spent the best part of the morning doing this task when we got the call to go on a combat assault somewhere in the Central Highlands. As we approached our LZ, the area was hot. We received some ground fire, but as soon as we dropped our troops off, the VC decided to head for the hills. The LZ was mostly dried grass and our tracer rounds started many fires. We heard a distress call from one of our birds. They had main rotor problems and were down in the LZ, fires all around them. My Captain ordered me to grab the firebottle and go back to see if I could help them. In doing so, I forgot to take my M-16. I just ran back looking for the crippled ship. I finally found them, some small fires burning, yet the rotors were going full tilt. The crew chief waved me back. I turned and started running back to what I thought was the right direction. I soon lost my bearings. The noise from the choppers was gone. I was lost and without a weapon!
As I desperately sought my way, I heard a sharp "dungli" (or "halt" in Vietnamese). I froze in disbelief. Standing in front of me was an NVA, in full battle dress, red star on his pith helmet and all, pointing his AK-47 with a banana clip at my face. I went from disbelief to total fear. My next thought was, "How could I have been so stupid to forget my rifle?" and then, as taught, to try and escape. But how?
He continued to shout orders at me while he looked around. He must have wondered what a soldier was doing here without a weapon and by himself. I dropped the firebottle, got to my knees as he directed, hands now laced behind my head. He walked backwards and slowly aimed his rifle at my head. I swear I could see the rifling inside the barrel as I looked at him. This all took only a couple of moments, but it seemed like forever. Everything was in slow motion. I went from disbelief to fear. Now I started to feel very sad. I thought about my mother getting the news her son was killed. I knew this was going to crush her and I just felt so sad about it. The next thing was I noticed a bunch of ants to my left, scurrying around in the sandy soil mix. I could see every parcel of sand and soil as if magnified. It was strange, but I seemed to notice all things around me in fine detail, the ants carrying bits of foliage, running around as if the world was OK, and here I was about to die.
My emotions, to say the least, ran the gamut as I stared at the ants in their busyment. I suddenly felt this overwhelming peace--hard to describe in any language, but just total peace. I heard a sharp "Crack." I was startled and thought, "I feel no pain. Am I dead?" I then heard a "thump." I looked up and saw the NVA lying on the ground. Right behind him was standing the tallest human being I ever saw, well over 7 feet. I looked up at him. It was hard to see clearly the sunlight, I thought. He was perfect, dressed in Army-type jungle fatigues with no markings, no soil or sweat, which was impossible. His eyes shined brightly from under the shaded part under his helmet. His lips were closed and never moved. I then heard my name called, "Thomas." No one but my mother called me that and how would a total stranger know my first name? He then said, "All is OK. Go back to your bird," another term used only by chopper crews; he wasn't one. I now know the words were in my head, not audible.
Without giving much thought, I jumped to my feet, grabbing the firebottle. I looked hard at the NVA lying there motionless. I saw no bullet hole or blood, he just laid there as if asleep. The next thing I knew I was running in a direction straight for my chopper, as if I had known where it was from the start. Amazingly, I was on board, plugging my intercom in, the pilot screaming his head off at me, "Where you been? What took you so long?," etc. I could not answer. I was still in shock and didn't know where to begin or even how to explain what just happened.
We pulled pitch out of the LZ, making a long right turn. As I looked down at the area, I could still see the NVA soldier lying there, but no tall American-type anywhere to be seen. I could see from my view in all directions for hundreds of yards and even an Olympic sprinter couldn't have gotten out of my range in that time. He was just gone.
I never was able to talk about that day for many years. It has taken me time to resolve what truly happened. I do know now that there are forces in this world that defy our conventional thinking, but I know what happened to me that day. Ever since then for over 36 years I ask myself if I'm living a life deserving of being spared when so many good men didn't come home. I'm not perfect. I do try to be a better man. I'm just trying to find my way home.
Originally posted on 1st Cavalry Association Guest Book,
June 18, 2003
by, and included here with permission from R. Thom Jefferson.
İR. Thom Jefferson, 2003-2009, All Rights Reserved.