(C) James J Alonzo
“The Beast”, we called combat, the death, the killing, the atrocities, the chaos, the terror, the reality, the fear, the ugliness, of the war in Viet Nam, “The Beast”.
The soldiers in the American Civil War called it the Elephant. That was what going into combat was called then. Please understand how young a lot of these guys were. Their youth was a factor in how they thought and spoke.
The Beast, they used to say in Vietnam, as if it was a ghost, an evil ghost that was loose, one of the demons, known in the Vietnamese language as ” Ma”. Weaving in and out of sanity or insanity, a dancing ghost, it would appear suddenly out of a whirl, shimmer for an instant, and be lost.
The troopers when they saw it, and would say without excitement, “The Beast” with emphasis on the last word, to let their buddies know that they had seen it and to be hopefully confirmed that their buddies had seen it too.
“The Beast”, was without form itself, but could assume infinite identities. It was as small as a ant and as huge as the huge black jungle canopy! It became events, it became things themselves. It had no strength of its own because it used human strength.
“The Beast”. It had no life of its own because it used human lives with abandonment! It used so many young lives, it could assume a youthful, frolicsome aspect, at the same time destroying their innocence. The Beast took lives, maimed lives!
Combat soldiers all had one thing in common, because at one time or another, we had all caught a glimpse of The Beast. The war’s infernal playful, manipulative, sadistic ghost. Some combat soldiers that experience the Beast, felt a severe coldness, chills, even though it was hot in the tropical Viet Nam. Some smelled the “rust smell” of blood, before the fighting even started, and wondered if they were smelling their own bloody death!
My personal Beast experience began on a morning of the TET offense 1968. Our company set out for convoy to Cu Chi in the “Iron Triangle”, because all Hell had broken loose, where the enemy had attack every provincial capital and base camps at the same time, and the units in Cu Chi needed ammo and supplies.
“Hey L T”, I joked, asking the lieutenant, “if we were going to Cu Chi could you put me on the next chopper out of here?” Because Cu Chi was heavy with Viet Cong, and we suffered many ambushes going to Ch Chi and Tay Ninh, so I knew we were going to catch it big time.
“Don’t worry, Alonzo,” L T responded, ” I’ll put you on a chopper in a couple of days if you are killed or wounded.” (laughing) “Besides, think of it as just another ordinary convoy, a holiday drive in the country.”
“Right!” I said as I knew the Beast was going to be out there, and he was hungry!
I knew this was not going to be a Sunday drive. We were fighting the Viet Cong, and The VC carried RPG’s (rocket propelled grenades) and AK-47′s (machine guns) and The VC shoots back!
It was no fun being shot at. The last thing I wanted was to get blown up with mines (IED) or shot up, on a Sunday drive. A Sunday drive my ass! Before the TET OFFENSIVE, driving in a convoy daily, was routine that we would come into contact with the enemy ambushes, twice or three times a week and those encounters were usually brief.
We were driving along the route through the Bo Lo Woods near the Michlin Rubber Plantation, when one of our APC’s (armored personel carriers) tracks ran over a landmine, and it blew the whole right side completely up, rendering it useless. The lieutenant said to make sure all the live ammo was put into another track, and not to leave anything behind that the VC could use against us.
The convoy commander ordered men to help get the ammunition off the track, I was standing, waiting, watching to do my part to help, when it came my turn, out of nowhere, I heard this voice say with some authority,
“I’ll do it!”
At first, I just looked at him for I could see he was a new man, but I hadnt noticed him before.
As I watched him, I noticed that he was very young looking, blonde hair, wearing new fatigues and new boots.
“Who the hell is this guy,’ I thought, ‘and where did he come from?”
I had never seen this guy before and I’d been with this unit longer than anyone. He looked like he was 16 years old to me, even though I knew he had to be 18 to be a member of this man’s army. I later found out his name was Arnold White.
As Arnold turned to leave with some of the ammunition, the LT received a call from command that they were sending a Chinook helicopter to pick up the APC. Meanwhile, a very loud ground shaking explosion rang out.
The concussion from the explosion had picked me up and threw me about five feet where I landed in the bottom of a muddy water scummy ditch, along side the roadway, that was about four feet deep. The new young soldier had stepped on a mine, and it destroyed his body from the waist down. His lower half, what was left of it was held together with torn muscle and ligaments and his tattered pants!
I finally regained my wits and as I looked up from the bottom of the crater, the lieutenant was standing there with a mad look on his face. He was trying to tell me something, and I was trying to tell him that I couldn’t hear him. My head was hurting and I had cuts and abrasions. That explosion was when the Vietnamese hit us with everything they had.
The Lt. took off running, to find radio, meanwhile J J appeared, looking down at me as he set up his M-60,
“You planning on staying down there or you going to give me your hand?”
J J hauling on me, I crawled my way up to the top of the ditch, the firefight was in full swing, machine guns and small arms on both sides firing! Meanwhile, I started looking around to see what was going on. And the first thing I saw was the new guy lying there. The medic had already checked him out and had covered him up with a poncho.
A Huey chopper came in and was trying to land, when two RPG’S went off just over their heads and they got the hell out of range! The chopper pilot circled around to his left to get out of harms way. When they had tried to land the prop blast of the chopper blew the poncho off Arnold, and I was looking him right in his eyes, eyes that blinked!
I was stunned, and couldn’t believe it, I saw him blink his eyes! I called for a medic to check him again, even though the medic tried to tell me the new guy was KIA. Once established that he was still alive! A couple of guys ran over put him on the poncho, to get him on the chopper. I saw that they needed one more to help carry the soldier around where the chopper was waiting.
The firefight still continuing, I grabbed the left side of the poncho and we took off for the chopper. As we made our way to the chopper, I was still trying to get the lower parts of his body on the poncho with my left hand so they wouldn’t drag on the ground. We finally got him into the chopper, and the chopper took off to the nearest hospital. Later the Lt. told me the soldier died about ten minutes after the chopper left with him.
As the firefight continued, The L T called in artillery which blew the VC all to hell. Soon after the artillery barrage, the fighting ended just as quickly as it started, with the VC blending back into the heavy jungle.
We regrouped, and took care of the wounded, and loaded the medivac choppers, with an additional 3 troopers KIA, and several wounded. After loading up we continued on our mission.
Shaking my head, glad that I wasn’t killed or maimed, I thought “The Beast, he was hungry today!”
The Beast; the animal is there in all of us. combat brings the intensity of life and death into full combination with the soul….. God has granted us. We are exalted and ashamed at the same moment! Such is the price we will continue to pay for all our remaining days. It shall be a chosen path, a natural decision we made as the warrior clan of our tribe.
The Beast; We see it in our blood, we find it in our faith. If the great tribe blesses us, it shall be well in our spirit. If they, (anti-war protesters-society) refused our sacrifices, the price is beyond words. No therapy or pill shall free us from our fate. so be it.
“We have seen the beast and it is us!
©Children Of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance