We Should Have Just Let Go*
Khuk Khak, Thailand - We should have just let go, but instead we held on. The guys on the other end let go. They should have held on.
They had the other end of the stretcher we were trying to load, me and my crew chief, Augie. We were pulling, and they were pushing, with the stretcher high above their heads, since it was on the side of a hill, so steep we couldn’t land, the helicopter’s blades less than a foot from biting into the hillside. The skids were still a good six feet off the ground.
As Augie and I tugged on our end, we began taking fire. The pilot said, “We’re taking fire,” and peeled away from the hill. The guys on the ground let go and ran for cover in a crouch.
We zig-zagged out and down the valley, and at about 300 feet, maybe five hundred, I don’t know, with Augie and I struggling with the stretcher, our patient, a Vietnamese guy with only a gunshot wound to the leg, had flipped over onto his stomach and went sliding down the stretcher on his chest, and held onto the handles, his eyes wide with fear.
We pulled and pulled, trying to haul him in, and then he slipped away, the recognition of the moment-of-death registering with incredible turn-your-hair-white haunting fright in his eyes as he lost his grasp.
He sailed back behind the helicopter, down and away, expressing a most beautiful ballet, at first, clawing at the air, and then just sailing, sailing end over end, until he disappeared into the green of the jungle.
*This was not a recent event, except in my dreams. The story has been written and re-written several times since its occurrence in 1969. I share it with you now in its condensed, abbreviated form.