Although I was superior to him in rank, Hoang commanded me to leave him, saying, "One of us has to stay behind; the fate of the team is more important. Give me all of the hand grenades. You take the team to E&E."
I had no choice but to squeeze his hand tightly to say farewell. He quickly turned, pointed his sub-machine gun at an enemy soldier and squeezed the trigger. Bullets sprayed from the gun and the sound blended into the already deafening explosions.
I lead the team running towards the border while Hoang held off the enemy. About two kilometers shy of the safety zone, we decided to relieve our exhaustion with rest. Laying against a rock , I could not stop thinking about Hoang. What was happening to him at this moment. I blamed myself for not staying with him. Suddenly, the communication radio crackled to life with the news that two Airborne Ranger companies were on their way to rescue us. We all jumped for joy! I grabbed the radio handset. I requested the commanding officer on the other end of the receiver permission to take the team back to the point of contact. My request was denied.
We soon learned that the Airborne Ranger rescue unit stormed the area, pushed back the enemy, and successfully rescued Hoang. He was airlifted to Cong Hoa Central Medical Center in Saigon. We were all overjoyed.
Two days later, we made our way back to Da Nang, awarded with a week's pass. Instead of going home, I decided to go to Saigon to see Hoang . I arrived in Saigon on a rainy Saturday and I went straight to the hospital. Hoang lay motionless on a hospital bed in room #9. I stood at his side and solemnly observed him. His left leg was amputated to the knee and his body was graffitied with all sorts of cuts, abrasions and black and blue marks. I could not hold my tears; I reached for his hand and squeezed gently. He slowly opened his eyes.
In a faint voice he addressed me, "Hey, we are men; don't be so soft."
I looked at him, my eyes brimming with tears like his.
He gripped my hand tighter and said, "I cry not because these wounds are painful. I cry because I realize that this is a handicap. I am no longer capable of fighting alongside you guys for the freedom of this country, but I always believe that the Armed Forces are made of men who fight like us. This country will be OK, and I am proud to be a soldier of the Armed Forces of the Republic of VietNam.
I spent the entire week in Saigon visiting Hoang. We reminisced about the past, about the good and bad times, about the missions we went on, about going to town on our passes whenever we had a chance. . .
One week was too short. I had to say good bye. Words could not express the torrent of emotions we shared during that last week. One person's passing does not end a war, and so the passing of Hoang made less the difference in the Vietnam saga.
Story by greenberet Nguyen Van Tho (Houston, Texas)
English version by JC Chu.
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