(C) James J Alonzo
I had served in Viet Nam, two years,1967 & 1968 as a member of 2/17 Calvary, 101rst Airborne Division, known as the “Screaming Eagles.”
After Viet Nam i got into law enforcement and it became my career of sorts. It was 1988, and there were times that some days were rougher than others, so there was this bar I would go to commonly called a “cop bar” for it was patronized by mostly cops.
There was this one bartender that frequently had the late night shift, so she and I became well acquainted. Often it was just her and I at the bar. One night in particular it was about 1:30 am, and we were just talking while I nursed a potent rum and coke.
The bartender’s name was Rose, a blonde, had a slender figure and about twenty years younger than me. She had asked me once if I had served in Viet Nam, so she knew I was a Viet Nam vet.
What I didn’t know was that her dad had been killed in the war. For some reason this late night she decided to tell me about it.
“You know my Dad was killed over there.” she said, as a matter of fact, like she was telling me that it just started to snow. Her statement caught me off guard and I paused to look her in her blue eyes.
It was then I realized Rose had something to get off her chest.
“No I didn’t know that.” I responded firing questions at her like a machine gun, “I¹m sorry. How did he die, if I may ask? What outfit was he in? Do you know what happened?”
“Yeah, he was an army helicopter pilot.” Rose said, “Mom told me that my father flew a Huey and was on a night rescue mission with another helicopter. They had to rescue some soldiers that had been trapped and surrounded by the enemy. My Dad’s chopper was shot down as they came in for the rescue. My mother told me he flew a lot of rescue missions.”
Even though she was staring somewhere beyond me, I could see she wanted to talk more, so I asked,
“How old were you when he died.” I asked
“I was just a baby, when he left us!” she said sharply.” he volunteer for a second tour!”
I could hear some anger in her voice, and that maybe she was still mad at his dad for dying and leaving her.
In psychiatry we are taught that this a normal reaction, we all tend to have some anger at those that die. We feel deserted, left alone to drift through life without their support. I could see Rose’s anger at her father is still causing her to suffer.
“Can I tell you a story,” I asked, as I started to repack my pipe, and lite it.
“I want you to imagine your nineteen years old”, I started, “You are away from home for the first time and like many young men, you¹re in the military and in the middle of a war zone.”
I paused as Rose lit a cigarette and sat down on a stool behind the bar. Once settled I continued,
“imagine you’re out with a patrol, it hot, the mosquitoes are eating you alive, the sweat is in your eyes, trickling down you spine, it’s night time, and it’s so dark you can’t hardly see your buddy in front of you. Suddenly a much larger force of enemy soldiers has ambushed your patrol.”
I stopped to take another sip of my drink,
“In mere seconds, a few of your guys are already down, some wounded (WIA’s) a couple killed, (KIA’s), and your platoon is fighting for its life! You’re scared, crazy scared and you hear the radio operator calling in for help, as red and green tracers are flying back and forth,
(“Red Dog 2 to Red Dog 1! Red Dog 2 taking fire, overwhelming Victor Charlie, we have KIA’s and WIA’s, need immediate evac! Will pop smoke!”)
“The radio operator is told there is no help available! You realize your platoon is gonna be left out there in the dark to die! You think nobody cares enough about you to save your life. But in truth there is no one willing to make a night evacuation under fire, especially at a hot LZ! (landing zone) Your guts are shriveling into itself in fear. You and your men don’t want to die but death is out there in the dark trying to get at you.”
Rose clears her throat, and drinks her beer, shaking her head at what she is hearing. At this point she is no longer looking at me or anything in the room. She is seeing what i am seeing, but like me she is living it. Her eyes are glazed with a tear in each eye.
“So there you are and it can’t get any worse.” I said, my voice starts cracking, I too am having a hard time controlling my emotions.
“Suddenly the radio crackles and the voice that we hear comes out is like the voice of god himself promising salvation! “Red Dog 2, this is White Bird 4 & 5, hang on we¹re coming!” There are two of us and we can get everybody out! Pop smoke, we will verify.”
I had to clear my throat, I was choked up a bit, so I downed the remainder of my drink and continued,
“We soon heard the chopping of the air from the rotors of the helicopters. It was the pilot of the lead helicopter and he somehow had heard about us and just couldn’t leave us out there to die. I don’t know who that pilot was, but I’ll tell you Rose, whoever that was, that was your old man.”
I Then stood up to leave, slowly placing money on the bar, grabbing my jacket.
Rose looked like she’d been clubbed. There were tears streaming down her cheeks and she seemed incapable of movement. After a bit she turns to me and says,
“I didn’t know, I didn’t know.”
“There was no way you could of known.” I said, “I think your dad was a man that placed more importance on the lives of others more than his own”
At the city of Buffalo marina, there is a memorial to the Deceased personel that were from Buffalo of the Viet Nam war and the names are engraved in the granite. Rose told me her dad’s name was on the wall and asked that I give him my regards. I did that the next time I was there, and looked his name up. I was glad he got his relationship with his daughter back. A girl needs her father even if it is just the memory.