You may ask if there’s a choice? If you ask Uncle Sam, that answer is a most emphatic “NO!” One of the more well known sayings in the military is, “Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do or die.” Several variations of this are out there, but the original came from the well known “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
While enduring a gigantic boil on my right wrist while in the jungles of Viet Nam, we were faced with a river crossing. Ropes were strung and repelling hooks were a standard issue item for all of us, for just such occasions.
We were also headed for a Med Evac area so that a few of us could go back to base camp for some medical attention. One of those had fallen down a ravine and seriously injured his hip. Apparently in the process his carabiner had been lost. So there was a quandary as to how he was going to get across, as no one was willing to give up their hook.
Along came Alan (me) who fancied himself some sort of he-man, and was willing to arm and leg it over without the aid of the hook. Me who has a huge boil on his wrist, disabling the same which was of no use.
So off I go just as planned, with all my pack, gear, and grenade launcher slung on my back. With my leg hooked over the rope and using forearms to inch across the rope. All was going fine until at the lowest dip of the rope, my helmet got caught in the water, quickly filling and pulling with all the force of the river’s current. Enough so that my grip on the rope was not as great as all the other weight pulling against me, and into the river I went with 60+ pounds of gear, clothing, helmet and all.
Were it not for a determined effort and decent swimming skills that led to the river’s bank, this could have been a shorter story. Emerging from the water soaking wet and somewhat less enthusiastic than when I went in, there was now more reason to understand why SOP emphatically instructed to NEVER give up your hook!
But this isn’t the story in reference from the title.
Getting Malaria was no walk in the park, and generally not a big issue as long as the anti-Malaria pills were taken on a regular basis as instructed. Getting lax was almost guaranteed to end up with the fever, yellow eyes and skin, and a trip to the Malaria ward area which would usually last at least a month for recovery. I had my turn twice, and the first is the one of this story.
This particular ward was located in a nearby city called Ahn Khe, which was a port city in South Vietnam. The security was very lax at this particular ward, as they also were a Med Evac Center for the field hospitals sending in severely wounded or DOA’s. So there was far more attention given to the incoming Hueys with their loads of bodies. On many occasions I was part of the crew helping to bring in the mangled soldiers with hopes of seeing them survive.