Many years ago, when I was a young man 20 years of age, I was sent the draft card, and was brought by my country into the war in Vietnam. Reluctantly, I went ahead and served my duties in the armed forces. And, after several months in basic training, I nervously departed from my trainers in Fort Benning and into the conflict.
As I left the aircraft, I stood outside my barracks, dressed fully in my fatigues in the heat and humidity of the oriental air. The sweat ran down the sides of my eyebrows and dropped upon my crisp new vest. My orders came soon enough, and I was placed into a small platoon of soldiers guarding the caravans that moved food and supplies across the warzone. Me and seven others sat guarding supply trucks from M113s. For the first few weeks, the job was actually rather peaceful. Not a single charlie fired a single bullet into our supply trucks.
Then Tet came along.
My friends and I were driving along the path as usual. It was a rather hot day, and many of us - including myself - did not bother wearing all our protective armor. We started down the dirt road again. It's a familiar road by now. The trees and smell of charred forest in the distance told us how far we were to our destination, a beautiful horror punctuated by the sounds of aircraft engines and the distant cries of screaming fauna.
We were about 10 more minutes from our destination. What happened next was a blur. As I sat up to light a cigarette, the missile of a rocket propelled grenade hit the caravan in front of me. A brilliant explosion of fuel and shrapnel rushed up from in front of me, and I was blown aback with force.
When I woke up, I was lying on the side of the road, and the squad medic was at my side, tending to my wounds with his gauze. There were some gunshots in the distance. A hot piece of metal, approximately one inch in size, was sticking out of my chest. Blood was pouring out of the wound everywhere. The wind was gone from my lungs, and I could barely speak. Laboured, I asked him, "Am I going to make it, doc? Am I going to make it?"
He said, calm and confidently "Yes. You're good. Don't worry. We're getting you out of here. A Huey's on its way. Just stay with me. Stay with me."
He placed my head atop of my helmet, and left me to tend to my other squadmates. I was advised not to move my neck; my vision was restricted to a small arc. But the smell of blood and gasoline did not hint of positive outcome. I began to black out again.
A strange state came over me. In the blackness I felt nothing. There was a serenity and peace which pervaded throughout my body, and for those brief moments it felt as though I was living in eternal bliss.
I awakened in the Huey next to two of my squadmates, the chopping of the rotor blades overpowering every sensation but the throbbing pain that coursed through my body. The bliss was gone, and the reality was here.
The medic, sitting near my stretcher, noticed me waking up. He was smoking, staring down at us. We both smiled warmly knowing that we were alive.