Tuesday, April 20, 2010


. . . having Chinese food, washing it down with hot jasmine tea and eating with our forks and spoons, and telling a few war stories, a few Airborne Jump Stories

Buddha was saying, “I never had any bad jumps. I never had a Mae West or a Squid or anything like that. I only had about 150 static line jumps, and maybe 100 freefall jumps but I never had any bad jumps.

“I seen some guys burn in, though. I seen guys with their chutes all f*cked up burning for the ground, zooming in, and I was yelling, yelling, yelling at them: “PULL YOUR RESERVE! PULL YOUR RESERVE!” but they didn’t, and they burned right in, bored right into the ground . . .”

My turn to speak: “I had some bad jumps. Not as bad as some guys, but I had some bad jumps. I got f*cked up on some of them.

“I was in the 82d and all we did was jump. We’d jump, then hump our rucksacks all night, then start digging. That was it. Jump, hump and dig.”

Buddha: “Jump, hump, and dig, HA!”

“That’s right, we were Airborne Infantry. Not light infantry, not mounted infantry or mech infantry. No; we were Airborne Infantry – HEAVY infantry. Jump, then bust your ass walking through the woods all night, and then the minute you stop, you start digging.

“And we jumped all the time. Always combat equipment, always low altitude, at night, with the kitchen sink attached to you; we’d be going out the door with a hundred and fifty pounds of lightweight gear attached to our asses and when you hit the ground, you hit like a ton of bricks."

“You ever get hurt?”

“Not really. I broke my leg, then I broke my back. Twice. Other than that I never really got hurt."

Then it was time to tell my story:

I broke my leg on my last jump in Division. I broke my fibula. It’s the small bone in your leg; but it's a non-supporting bone so I was able to drag my ass off the drop zone, limp around all over the place.

It didn’t really slow me down, but there was a problem; I had a class date in the Special Forces “Q” Course in six weeks, and wild horses weren’t going to hold me back. That was my ticket out of the 82d.

It was all tied into my re-enlistment date, and if I didn’t go, then I’d have to re-up into Division and they’d have me, they’d own me for the next two or three years at least. It was now or never, I had to get into the “Q” Course.

So I went to see the battalion surgeon; he was a Korean guy name of Dr. Kim. A real tall, imposing guy, a real RoK. He was Special Forces qualified, had the tab, so I asked him, “Do you think I could make it through the “Q” Course with this leg?”

He said, “I cannot tell you that. I cannot give you a recommendation one way or the other about this."

I said, “Well, I think I can make it.”

Dr. Kim just looked at me the way those Orientals do, like he was looking straight into my heart. He nodded and said, “You’ll do OK.”

So there I was dragging my leg all the way through the “Q” Course, and you know we Green Berets march our legs off. That’s our trademark: we can hump the monster ruck. Every night when I’d take my boots off, my leg would be swollen. There’d be a line, right above the top of my boot, and it’d be swollen out like a pumpkin.

To this day I have circulatory problems in that leg, and in my knee. To this day, at the end of the day, there’s a line where my sock is, and my leg is swollen up over the top of it.

But that ain’t nothin’, man. My last three jumps – my last three jumps I ever made – were REALLY f*cked up. My third to last jump, I jumped out, I look up and check my canopy, and there’s a hole as big as one of those ceiling tiles up there.

I’m thinking, ‘THIS IS IT.’ So I snap back into a tight body position and prepare to pull my reserve. I get my hand around my rip cord grip and get ready to pull. But just before I pull, I look around me.

There’s this huge wind, and I’m being blown across the drop zone, practically horizontal. All the guys around me are being blown across the drop zone, we’re all being blown sideways. I realized that if I pulled my reserve right now – I’M GONNA DIE!

I realized that if I pulled my reserve I was going to die, and so I just kept what I had and I rode it into the ground. I kept looking up, though, because that rip is sitting right on a seam and I’m wondering if it’s going to Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-I-P-P-P-!-!-! right up to the top of my canopy, and now I’m too low to do anything – if it zips up to the top, I’m DEAD.

So I rode it in, and I lived. Hell of a hard landing, though.

Then the next jump came, my chute opened up and I look up, and guess what? SAME THING!

Buddha: “NO WAY!”

Me: “Way.”

A hole in my chute, about as big as one of those ceiling tiles - TWO TIMES IN A ROW. I mean, what are the odds?

This time I’m not being blown sideways across the DZ, but I looked at the hole real hard and it wasn’t sitting on a seam, didn’t look like it was going to pop or split right up to the top of my canopy or anything, so I figured I’d ride it right in, right?

Buddha: “Sounds like a plan.”

“You know, they say those old paratroopers never pull their reserves, right? They find them on the drop zone, still in a tight body position, hands on both sides of their reserves, as dead as a doornail; they never pull their reserves.”

Buddha: “That’s right. That’s what they say.”

“Well, that was me. They say when you’re not scared anymore, it’s time to stop jumping, right?”

Buddha: “That’s right. That’s what they say.”

“So on my NEXT JUMP . . .”

We both laugh.

“On my next jump the wind was honking again, but this time no hole.”

“Oh, that’s good.”

“But I landed like a sack of sh*t, and I crunched my back, bad. After I landed I stood up, rigger-rolled my chute and stuffed it in my kit bag, then I lay back down with my head resting on my kit bag - my back was KILLING me and I wasn't going NOWHERE. I ended up getting medevac'd off the DZ. They took me to the ER and they x-rayed me and it turns out I broke L4. It looks like a crushed beer can.”

“Oh, that’s bad.”

“But at the ER, there was this REALLY HOT Thai nurse.”

“Oh, that’s GOOD!”

“Yeah, she was slim and good looking with silky shoulder length black hair, lookin’ good in those blue hospital scrubs, and I could tell she was Thai because she had that gold chain with the little golden Thai Buddha on it, hangin’ right in between her nice round pair, there.”

“OH y-e-a-h . . .”

And so I start speaking to her: “Khun pen kohn Thai, chai mai?” She just looks at me; “Oh, all you Green Berets speak Thai. Tell me, are you in any pain? If you are in pain, I can give you some morphine.”

So I say to her – in pure Bangkok street Thai – “Yeah, it hurts, it hurts a LOT. Morphine, please.” Suzy Wong does this double take; “WOW! You really DO speak Thai ! ! !” and it’s ON – we’re raving in Thai like its going out of style.

So she returns with a tray – The Good Stuff - we do the bit with the rubber tourniquet, the little alcohol pad, she slides the needle into my vein and gives me seven units of morphine.

Now let me tell you; I LOVE morphine. I love everything ABOUT morphine. I love the way it goes into you, I love feeling like I’m having hot lead poured into my veins, I love what it does to you, I love being taken to the nice, happy, warm place all of my very own; I love everything about morphine.

So I’m laying there on my back enjoying the ride and by and by little Miss Lotus Blossom shows up again. “You feel more pain, you let me know, I come by give you more morphine, OK?” Not a word in English, right? I'm getting the insider treatment here.

“W-e-l-l . . . the stuff IS starting to wear off a bit, I really COULD use a little more right about now.”

“I think so, that’s why I bring THIS!” and she whips out a syringe from behind her back and brandishes the thing. Something is distorted with my sense of perspective; it looks like it’s three feet long. Suki tightens up the rubber band around my bicep with her teeth and plunges the needle into my vein.

So I’m floating along, enjoying a nice, warm feeling, wondering if the stuff is watered down because I’m maintaining so well or if the pain drives the high away, or what, right?

So then whaddya know? It’s like I’m having the best afternoon of my entire career . . . AND GUESS WHAT?

Buddha: “What?”

Chew Mee shows up AGAIN ! ! ! “You want more morphine?” This time I swear she’s up on the side of the gurney, squatting right next to me, doing the kimchee squat over my arm, laughing maniacally like some kind of evil, almond-eyed Oriental Barbie doll as she plunges the needle into my vein. She’s got a two-handed grip on that syringe, and I’m having the time of my life as she presses the syringe home and I’m off to the races, man . . .”

Buddha’s laughing his ass off right about now.

Well every good thing has got to come to an end and I sense that it’s time for Yum Sing to rotate out, and so next time instead my Oriental Hostess Twinkie this Round-Eye She-Bitch Battle Axe shows up and she reads my chart and goes, “They gave you TWENTY-ONE UNITS OF MORPHINE??? OH . . . MY . . . GA-WADDDD!!! How is it that you are still CONSCIOUS???”

“Well, I broke my back . . .” I mumbled, “Do you think I could . . . I mean can I have some more . . . uh, is there any more . . . uh . . . morphine?”

“Not no but HELL NO!!! Seven is the LIMIT!!!”

“Well, I’m a big guy, and I’ve got a hell of a vascular capacity . . .” They teach you how to use big words like that in Green Beret School; comes in handy when you’re trying to bullsh*t your way past gatekeepers like this Helga bitch.

Instead she pulls out this clipboard. “Sign here . . . and here . . . and here . . . AND here . . . and now sign this final one that says you’ve got somebody to pick you and you’re not going to drive home and we’re not liable for anything that happens to you on the way between the hospital and your place of residence.”

“I’m not signing that. I never sign those stupid Army forms written in legalese like that . . .”

“Then we can’t release you and we’ll have to admit you and you’ll have to spend the night in the ward.”

“F*ck that – I’m going home. Who’s gonna stop me?”

“Those guys.” Helga nods to two MPs standing by the doors to the ER, arms crossed like a pair of harem guards. I didn’t notice them before because of the way the bright afternoon light was streaming into the semi-dark interior.

“Sh*t, give me the damn form,” I said, and I signed it.

So I go stumbling out to the parking lot looking for my car. The two privates that drove me in the white 15-pax van, I gave one of them the keys to my car and had him bring it to the hospital. But I didn’t know where it was parked, so I’m out there staggering around the parking lot looking for my car.

This guy in an SUV comes cruising around. He looks at me, circles around and comes up on me again, and he’s looking at me pretty close-like. I’m looking at him, knowing he’s sizing me up, knowing I must look like I just dragged myself out of the deepest, darkest depths of Hell . . .

Now, Green Berets don’t look like regular soldiers. We don’t wear our uniforms like regular soldiers, and I just came off the drop zone so I’m wearing my jump uniform; no hat, dog tags hanging out, frayed A-7A strap for a belt, unauthorized boots, the whole nine yards. I’m rumpled and disheveled, stumbling around a hot parking lot in the blazing mid-afternoon sun, totally off my face on twenty-one units of morphine so you can imagine I must have looked pretty good.

“Hey there, sergeant.”

“Uh . . . y-e-a-h . . . ? ? ?”

“Can I help you? You look lost . . .”

“I’m just looking for my . . . CAR . . . man.”

The guy looks me up and down. “Did you just come out of the ER?”

“Uh . . . y-e-a-h . . .”

“Get in the car, I’ll help you look for your car.” I get in, and the guy looks me up and down again, but not like he’s a ‘mo or anything. “You say you were in the ER. Did they give you any kind of, uh, anesthetic?”

“Well . . . Y-E-A-H . . .”

“Listen, I’m a doctor here. What are you on?”


“You look like it. You’re not planning on driving home are you?”

“Well, I was, actually . . .”

The guy looks like he’s choking up. “I can’t . . . I can’t let you drive home in this condition.”

“A-h-h-h it’s a-l-r-i-g-h-t . . . I feel fine!” The dive medic used to always tell us to say “I feel fine” after a dive; if you have the bends in the brain housing group you can’t say the “eff” sound, so they’d have you say “I feel fine”. I repeated it for the doc, so he’d know I didn’t have the bends. “I feel fine!”

“Listen, the regulations won’t let me let you drive in your condition. You can’t drive like this.”

“Ruck a bunch of rucking fegs, I FEEL FINE!

“Well, you LOOK like SH*T. Lissen, I can’t let you drive. Let me drive you home – where do you live?”

“Southern Pines.”

“I’ll drive you there, even though it’s an hour out of my way. You’re in no shape to drive.”

So I let him drive me home. If I couldn’t walk across a parking lot without attracting attention, I figure I must have been pretty ripped. I was just arguing for the sake of it.

Needless to say, that was my last jump.

I’ve got two compressed disks and two vertebrae – L4 and L5 – that look like crushed beer cans; I’m in pain, stiffness and soreness every day of my life, and all they gave me on the way out the door was a thirty percent disability.

Thus ended my airborne career. Ruck a bunch of rucking fegs.