It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience.
On January 22, I had a device implanted in my back that sends a signal to my brain, blocking my back pain from communicating with my brain. In simplest terms, the Pain gets a busy signal. If you read Raw Man, you know what happened to me in Nam. I have lived the last 17 years in pain that sometimes drove me to the edge. So far so good. I’m not 100% pain free yet but this is an 18 month study. Thank God for the VA and UCSD. If nothing else, I have learned to live one day at a time. Here is an excerpt from my book:
“I lay in the mud and watched him march off to issue more orders to try to keep his men safe. I would not miss him.
Sykes came and pinned a note on my shirt and an hour later they brought a stretcher and put me on it. Two grunts carried me through the blaze of burning vehicles. I bounced amid the acrid smell of burnt rubber and flesh, each bounce turning the roar of the battle engulfing the men of C Troop into my own naked hell.
When I reached the Medevac chopper, I was shoved into the middle slot of a three-stacker rack. The whirlwind of the blades spattered rocks and dust up inside the helicopter. The crew medic read the note on my shirt and injected me with morphine. He helped the door gunner secure the other casualties in place. As before, the morphine had little effect on my pain.
Above me was a grunt from the 1st Infantry Division who had a catastrophic chest wound. His blood spilled over my body in a steady drip. I could not move. The chopper rose and I turned my head sideways and surveyed the scene below me.
It was chaos.
At least five vehicles were blown or burning and as we moved higher in the air the men looked like ants after a kid lights a fire to an anthill. The guy above me moaned. Now the blood flowed a little faster. It was pissing on my neck and chin. He started sobbing. The medic attached an IV to the poor guy and sprinkled a yellow powder about his wounds. I was miserable but grateful that I at least was in one piece.
I don’t know how long the flight lasted. It was chaotic and I was more worried about the guy above me than anything else. Now he was crying out some woman’s name. His wife? Girlfriend? I knew he was dying. The medic knew this as well and he soothed the kid by rubbing his good side and running his hand through his hair.
I felt the chopper start to descend and looked out the open door at a familiar sight, the billboard of the Negro shaving. Things started to look familiar as Saigon came into focus. Wow! Back again so soon?
We landed at a pad inside the Third Field Hospital. A group of orderlies and nurses were at the pad to greet us. They took my severely wounded comrade down first. A priest started administering the last rites as a doctor started giving him CPR. As they rolled him away I knew I was witness to another death. When they finally got to me, two orderlies grabbed my stretcher and put me on a rolling gurney. The guy at my head looked down at me and said, “Hey man, didn’t you go to Montebello High School?”
“Class of ‘66,” I whispered.
“Me too! I’m Tom Fuentes. Remember me? You used to hang out with Scott Seidman and Lance Goto, right?” “I remember you,” I mumbled. “Yeah, so how you doing?”
I passed out from the pain.