It was over 50 years ago, Christmas Day, 1966. Our helicopter crew was on standby on a helipad right outside the Bob Hope Christmas Show at Cu Chi. I could hear the show and was angry that we couldn't see it.
However, within an hour of the show the brigade sergeant major hops on board and we have orders for a rescue mission. I didn't know where we were flying to, how many soldiers are involved or what has happened.
After a short flight we landed at the edge of a clearing that was marshy. I saw two infantrymen in a crouched position facing the tree line. One turned his head and waved at us- he looked very frightened. He had blood on his face, but it looked superficial from my vantage point. The other man looked unharmed. There was no gun fire at this point. It appeared to be an ambush and things were now over. The two soldiers ran to our chopper as I covered them. I thought that was it and we were leaving. But then, after they were in the chopper, the sergeant major jumped out, reaches into the shallow marsh and pulled out a dead American by the straps of his webbing. I didn't even see him there. His body was under the water.
There was not a mark on him that I could see except for what looked like a bruise on his forehead. I remember wondering how did he even die. We then flew them all back to the awaiting medical team.
The events of this day had bothered me for decades. I have had the unfortunate experience to witness the deaths of many Americans, but this was different to me. This was Christmas. A special day meant for family, for peace and for happiness. Back home, halfway around the world, his loved ones were celebrating Christmas Eve, perhaps opening gifts. Perhaps they had sent him gifts, too. Or perhaps they were just praying for his safe return, not knowing that he was now gone, and all on Christmas day in Vietnam.
I recently did some research on 1st Division soldiers who died on December 25, 1966. I came across two names. The details given about their deaths are sketchy at best. One was killed by a grenade or other explosive device- Sgt. E-6 William D. Carson, age 23, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and the other by small arms fire- Sgt. E-5 Larry Reed.
What throws me is that they were both from the same unit- C Company, 2nd BN, 18th Infantry of the 1st Infantry Division. Both died in Binh Duong Province (which, however, is a large area). Our chopper only took out one dead that day. I don't remember if there were other choppers there. I only remember us landing.
I believe it was Sgt. Larry Reed, age 26, from Hopkinsville, Kentucky, killed by small arms fire. I believe this because his body had no damage that I could see. Whereas William Carson died of "multiple fragmentation wounds."
It was so long ago and all the details are not clear, but I want the family of this soldier to know that he died whole. He looked peaceful. His eyes were closed and he looked asleep. I also want the family to know how heavy my heart was that Christmas day, and how haunted I am that we could not have stopped this from happening. I will not forget him. He not only represents lost soldiers, but also the pain and suffering of the family back home.
May he rest in peace and may all who loved him find comfort.
UPDATE: In November of 2016 I received an email from the brother and sister of Sgt. Larry Reed. I was told of the impact his death had on them. They now felt I gave them closure. Emotions ran high. My heart feels better. It's so unbelievable that after 50 years I was actually able to reach out and touch the family and tell them what I knew. God bless them.
ANOTHER UPDATE: In June of 2017, I was contacted by a woman who volunteers to help find pictures for the VVMF Wall of Faces. She read my story and asked for the contact information of Sgt. Reed's siblings to try and get a picture from them. She also had lost a brother in Vietnam. For her privacy and since I don't have permission, I am not posting any names.
She was successful in getting photos. Below is Sgt. Larry Reed.