27 May 69
Go Noi Island had a bad reputation. The area in the dry season, the summer, wasn't really an Island, but a piece of high ground surrounded Son Thu Bon to the east, and a dry river bed to the west. The area was populated with farmers sympathetic to the Viet Cong. The farmers by day, VC at night.
I think it was May 26, 1969, that we moved towards Go Noi Island in the middle of the night. We had been trucked from the compound outside of An Hoa to Liberty Bridge during the late afternoon. We then got some rest along the Son Thu Bon before we moved east under the cover of darkness.
We moved single file in the dark towards Go Noi Island. As we approached the area, the man on the point hit a booby trap. This would signal to the VC that we had arrived. AK fire broke out in a quick burst, sending us all flat on our bellies; but the fire was no more than an attempt to slow us down. It did.
We set up a hasty defense and waited for the medevac to come and get the wounded point man. While in this defense, it was hard to keep our eyes open. It was three or four in the morning; and we had been on the move for five or six hours, carrying heavy packs loaded with C-rations and ammo, including more than our share of grenades and full canteens of water.
We moved nowhere on Go Noi Island without first napalming the tree lines and villages before us. Sporadic AK fire was a common occurrence. We constantly had shadows moving about in the tree lines before us. On the morning of May 27, we began to move into a tree line which camouflaged a small village. Off to the right, without warning, came an enormous explosion, a flash... BOOM!
Dirt and dust and screaming and whistling sounds of shrapnel filled the air; and in the dust, I saw something thrown into the air, and fall back to earth. It was the body of one of my squad members, John Kirchner from Wisconsin. I yelled out to him, but knew inside he was gone.
To my left, I saw a friend of mine, Dewey from Pennsylvania, bleeding from the jaw. A stream of blood was flowing under great pressure, and he was staring at me in disbelief. He walked towards me; and in his shock said, 'Did you just sucker punch me?' I was shaking inside at the sight of what I thought was a Marine bleeding to death; and I managed to say, 'No, I didn't hit you. But you are hit. Corpsman up!'
And the Corpsman came; and with ease, saved Dewey's life by simply putting a battle dressing against the heavy bleeding, and holding it there. The whole time, Dewey had been spitting out blood, teeth, and bone from his mouth. Somehow, he even managed a smile through his pain.
As for John Kirchner, he was gone beyond. We would put his body in a green rubber poncho, and begin our walk with our dead and wounded towards the village in the tree line. To insure our safety, we would grab a villager, a female teenager, and have her walk point for us, as we believed she knew where other booby traps would be.
And we were right; but what happened was that when she came upon one, she didn't have it inside her to die for her cause. Instead of stepping on the booby traps, she sidestepped some, and missed the booby traps; but the Lieutenant didn't understand what she had done. Instead of following in her foot steps, he walked straight ahead, even as I yelled out to him to stop; and, boom, another booby trap was blown.
The Lieutenant was lucky, damn lucky. The booby trap was more sound than shrapnel, yet he and his radioman would be peppered with hot burning metal and, also need to be medevaced.
I would come to grab the teenage villager by the hair and throw her forward, then stick the muzzle of my M-16 between her shoulder blades, and push her along. Without a word, I wanted her to understand that if we hit another booby trap, she'd be killed; and there was no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't have pulled the trigger. In fact, it took all I had inside to keep from killing her right then and there in revenge for John Kirchner's death, in revenge for my friends still dead in the mountains. As we passed through the village, I heard women and children crying in that singy-song, high-pitched Vietnamese language that no one, no Marine, that is, could understand. They wanted us to think they cared for us, for our dead; but I thought different.
I moved inside one of the huts and stood locked and loaded above women and children down on their haunches. I pitied the filthy sight before me. I screamed inside for revenge. I was never so angry, and yet so sad in my life. I just wanted to blow away all that had happened before me.
And, if I thought by killing these people it would bring life back to John Kirchner, back to Sergeant Thompson, Merryman, Christiansen, Freeman, Johnston, and even myself, then I would have just squeezed the trigger and had them appear. But, deep inside my mind, deep inside the core of who I am, I knew this couldn't happen.
I turned away from the women and children, and cried enormous tears for my dead friends. And I remember wiping these tears with my hands, mixing the dirt on my face with my tears, and feeling relieved for not adding to the carnage before me.
Strange as it may seem, even to this day, sometimes I wish I had killed all the women and children; and other times, I am so grateful for whoever or whatever it is that brings a sense of sanity to us during an insane time.
(A corpsman, Doc Pyle, would die as he ran to the call of "Corpsman up!" as he ran to help wounded Marines maimed by a booby trap. As always, booby traps came in twos and threes so as to kill and wound others coming to the aide of those taken down by the initial blast).
Killed In Action
JOHN W. KIRCHNER, 25 Sep 49 - 27 May 69