He was in basecamp recovering from his wounds.
I had just landed in Vietnam. And I could tell he was not a hundred percent.
They call it convalescing. That’s a fancy way of saying he was on light duty as he healed.
He had been in the unit’s first heavy-duty ambush. He had lost some of his men. It happened about a month before I arrived, so I couldn’t relate to any of that stuff… yet.
His name is James Murray. James Murray from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I lost my Seiko watch to him playing Euchre... which, by the way, he taught me how to play.
He must’ve been highly regarded because he drove for the higher-ups. He started driving for his First Platoon Sergeant. Then he was reassigned to drive for a Lieutenant. Until a Captain decided Murray should be his driver instead.
Whatever the Captain wants, the Captain gets.
Great drivers keep you out of trouble. Oftentimes, after driving over a log or a large boulder, the track came off the vehicle. So you gotta put the darn thing back on. And that’s not easy because you’re exposed in the jungle.
After I completed jungle training, I was sent out to the boonies and never saw Murray again… until the fateful day a few years ago when he walked into our Army reunion.
He was wearing his uniform from Vietnam... which, to my surprise, still fit. Lucky bugger.
After the reunion, we went over to Murray’s house, met his wonderful family, and enjoyed a few of his homegrown tomatoes. He loves tomatoes. Murray eats ‘em for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
A few days ago, my phone rang and on the other end of the line was a familiar voice. It was good ol’ James Murray.
He said, “When I met you at basecamp, I knew you were a guy not to mess with.” Well, he said it with more colorful language that I won’t repeat here. But you get my drift.
He talked about some of the guys we lost and that feeling of helplessness that we both know all too well. One moment your buddies are there, and the next moment… well, you just don’t know.
Everything happens so fast.
April 27th, 1968, the First Sergeant told me to get my duffle bag and catch the chopper back to basecamp. I was short time, so I knew I’d be leaving.
I can’t explain the feeling of being on that dang chopper knowing I was leaving my guys behind. A part of me didn’t want to leave. That may sound crazy, but I just wanted to be a good soldier.
I went home, got married, and was on my honeymoon on May 13th when I got word that our unit back in Vietnam was ambushed... and I wasn’t there.
We lost five men... and I wasn’t there.
It still bothers me to this day.
Murray doesn’t know if he’ll make it to the reunion this year. But I hope he does.
I sure could use a little reconnection to a time long ago.
Be well. Stay well. Thanks for readin’...
P.S. – I ended up buying that Seiko watch back from Murray.