I was white, this guy was black. We had each traveled thousands of miles to meet in a jungle. After this night, I would never see him again. We both knew that. Yet here he was, offering to pick me up bodily and help save my life. That's a special kind of love.
It was an ordeal for both of us. He struggled under my weight. I pushed against his back to relieve the pressure of his shoulder digging into my gut. My dangling legs caught on trees and bushes, sending shots of pain up through my body and knocking him off balance. We could go only 30 yards at a time before resting. I stood on my left leg, clinging to him. We panted at each other, trying to catch our breath. Then he'd pick me up. We'd go some more. Then we'd rest and pant again.
Meanwhile, the others were passing us. We had been ordered to stay in formation and keep contact. But every time we stopped to rest, two or three men passed us. We were slipping farther and farther back toward the rear. I was still without a weapon or mobility to defend myself.
I was physically drained. I hadn't had food all day. It was dark. I didn't know where we were. I knew it was open territory. NVA were everywhere in the valley. We could have been staggering into another ambush.
With half a klick to go, I collapsed again, this time onto the side of a little road we'd been following. I looked at this guy, blinked back a few tears and said, "I can't go this way anymore. Get me a stretcher. It's not that much farther. Get me a stretcher." My friend stopped a third-platoon radioman, who called ahead to the helicopter.
That's when it really started to hurt. Thump, thump, thump. With every heartbeat, the agony surged through my right foot. I lay there gritting my teeth, ripping clumps of grass with my hands. And crying. It hurt so bad.
Our position was more perilous than ever. That radioman represented the rear element of third platoon. Once he went off toward the helicopter, we were by ourselves. We had broken contact completely. We could only hope that he would send a stretcher back. To my friend and me. He stayed with me.
Finally, four guys came with another poncho liner. They were not able to lift me completely, so they sort of dragged me the last 500 meters. I knocked against rocks and tree stumps, my legs banging against each other. I kept thinking the helicopter would leave without me and never come back. I was crying, babbling, whimpering about that. Finally, the four of them grabbed the corners of the poncho liner and forced their way through the underbrush up the pathway. They set me down on top of the ridge, and sank to their knees, exhausted. I looked up at the helicopter's turning blades.
I was the second man to leave the fire fight and the last to reach the helicopter. It had taken six hours to move two miles. It was midnight. August 20 had ended.
In the evacuation hospital in Da Nang, a fellow came into my room and said, "Let me take your personal articles. I'll keep them safe for you." I gave him the large, wooden cross that Al Lison had given me. It was all I had.