Kent Wonders Remembers LZ Margo (continued)
"Yes, some of the least likely to make it to the hospital were left where they lay; some of them had a friend holding a hand. Other men perhaps saw patches of blue sky through branches in the trees for the last time."
During the first break in the mortars, I began searching for something I should do. I first looked toward the battalion aid station and walked among the casualties already accumulating by the dozens. All the medical staff were working on multiple patients, and many more wounded were being carried in constantly. Next I headed to the CP and interrupted the major and asked, “Will you give me permission to organize the LZ for medevacs?”
“Yes, go. Tell me when you’re ready for the first helo.” What a relief it was to be doing something instead of waiting for the next mortar rounds. It was like the difference between being in hospice care, waiting to die, and providing care, in hope of making a difference.
The LZ was small, on a narrow saddle between a large hill and a smaller one. Initially it was free of people because there was no shelter in or above ground. The battalion doctor and his team were not far from the LZ. Their area was filling up with more and more wounded, being carried and dragged in or walking under their own power. The battalion surgeon was literally attempting resuscitation and other most basic emergency treatments on the wounded. After talking to the senior corpsman, we worked on a medevac plan. He would choose the priority for evacuation; I would get help moving them the 25 to 35 meters to the LZ area and into the helicopters.
After letting the battalion CP know that we were ready for the medevac helicopter ASAP, I started laying hands on “volunteers” to carry the priority wounded to the LZ. Yes, some of the least likely to make it to the hospital were left where they lay; some of them had a friend holding a hand. Other men perhaps saw patches of blue sky through branches in the trees for the last time.
I sure did not feel like playing god. Our minds were wound up tight, trying to making decisions that we may too often second guess later. Fortunately, I was not the one deciding the priority of who went first. Soon the perimeter around the small LZ was lined with wounded and their litter-bearers. Often I had to run off to find those willing to help load the wounded. I don’t remember many specific details of the rest of the afternoon, but a few things stand out.
Maybe it was before the first helo arrived but at least very early in the evacuation process, mortars started landing near the LZ. Some of the litter-bearers scattered for cover, but many stayed next to the wounded, even covering them with their own bodies. This action repeated itself more than once, and a few more men were wounded and re-wounded in the LZ that day.
Several individual vignettes remain very vividly in my memory. One was a nonverbal exchange with a CH-46 pilot. This was probably one of the first helos to land after one of the intermittent mortar barrages.
As soon as it landed, we raced to load the wounded, and a corpsman ran up to me shouting in my ear to ask if the helo could wait until two more very critical men could be brought and loaded. While standing 6 to 7 feet from the co-pilot, sitting in the left front, I pantomimed that two more critical men were on the way. I could see his lips moving as he spoke into his mike; he turned back to me, made eye contact and nodded yes. I mouthed something like “thank you.” He mouthed an acknowledgment back and went back to looking for the first signs of mortars, a real possibility at anytime.