Smitty Steps Up (continued)
The Real Story
As is typical of these accounts, the wording of the citation misses the real story.
According to the two loaders – LCpl Pedro Marquez and another Marine – and Doc Lancaster, who arrived later, the staff sergeant, Smitty and the loaders readied the most seriously wounded and called in the first medevac bird.
As the chopper touched down, they quickly carried the badly wounded men onto the exposed area of the zone and hoisted them aboard the bird with frantic haste, lest another artillery round arrive to pulverize them all.
The first helicopter was just lifting off and other wounded men were huddled at the edge of the zone waiting for their chopper to be brought in. Everyone and everything was in a blur of motion.
As the wheels began to lift away from the LZ, the staff sergeant beckoned to Smitty and shouted in his ear, “I can’t take this anymore!”, jumped on the departing helicopter and disappeared into the sky.
No one else heard him in the chaos of the LZ. The two loaders assumed that the staff sergeant had been medevac’ed for a wound and Smitty didn’t correct them. What good would it have done?
And that’s when Smitty stepped up.
Smitty Steps Up
You have read in Smitty’s citation about how he remained exposed in the landing zone and how he moved casualties and coordinated the medevac, and how he was resolute and inspiring. All of those words are true.
And now please add to them the fact that in the midst of an excruciatingly awful job, with his own death never more than a heartbeat away, that Smitty's sergeant suddenly fled the field of battle and left him to fend for himself in the chaos of LZ Duster.
Please add that new information to the picture in your mind. See him watching that first bird lift off with his sergeant's face staring out at him from the door.
See how quickly he realized that another chopper was circling overhead waiting for instructions, how the remaining men were all looking at him from the lip of the LZ, how they were in the utmost danger and how he was facing the hardest choices of his life.
I'll let the radio transmissions between Smitty and me tell you what unfolded next.