“Med-evac Survivor’s Guilt”

(October 28, 2018)

Rick Lillie is Dead

Was in hospital when I heard

He and Greg Sloat gone.*


*(Both died in a crashed helo after leaving Khe Sahn early in 1971, just after I’d been med-evaced to Japan and later Jacksonville Naval Hospital.  Rick, I thought was a writer, but apparently both he and Greg were Marine combat photographers.  I first met Rick when he came to interrupt the ennui of An Hoa Combat Base in the late Summer. Got him drunk on the last of The Beer after showing him the last of the orange mud at the bottom of my open-air artillery-n-rocket bunker outside the 5th Marines (Regimental) press center hootch midway between the Landing Zone operations center and the 175- and 155-mm howitzer gunparks and showed him the holes in the Sea Hut’s tin roof when the last big gun had an explosive ending before the barrel’s end…woke me up it was so noisy.  When he passed out, I smeared his shirtless chest with a combo of C-Ration cheese and peanut butter and called my pal Bunker T. Ratt down from the rafters where he joined me in chitteringly criticizing Armed Forces Television DaNang (actually, Monkey Mountain, where “Michael J” Harlan held forth sometimes on both TV and AFVN radio as well.  Rick woke up as Bunker Tee hopped aboard and began scooping up the mix on The Chest.  Both wore eyes the size Wide (as Texas) and that poor rat was gone for two weeks at least before he allowed as how he was scared of that lilly-white boy with the bad graces to be upset with a mere Welcome To Da’Nam prank.  Had I still been around and the chance to go out and watch the Kickoff to Operation Lam Son 719 – the South Vietnamese graduation exercise “invasion” of Laos and Cambodia through the former American Marine citadel of Khe Sahn I would have gone, just for the history of it all.  And, of course, to continue proving to myself that no matter how terrified I was each and every day I woke up with a rifle for a handhold, the only way to beat that kind of terror was to face it down and soldier on.  Rick, when we talked later after I said the rat had cleaner nails than I did…”just look at ’em!” But B.T. Rat was gone, and now, so was Rick.  Wonder if he and Greg got purple hearts for filling up the insides of a crash-n-burn but not shot down helicopter? Goes to show: in Veet-Nahm, The Wind Doesn’t Blow: it Sucks! And, yes, I do tend to maudlin this time of year when the shrapnel starts to itch and some of the finer strands work their way out.)