Ed Young was the unofficial “Welcoming
Committee” for the 281st when
I was there. He got there probably August or September of 67 and
was a slick driver. His country boy outlook on things and his perpetual
smile always seemed to soothe things over a bit when things got a little
rough. Whenever new pilots came in, it was always Ed who took it
upon himself to show them around and begin the process of fitting them
in and making them feel at home. Ed had a lot of friends and
never aggravated anyone it seemed.
Ed lived on the top floor of the BOQ that was next to the motor pool. I don't remember the date when we were targeted with the night time mortar attack (May 9th, 68 so I now am told) but they were really coming in on top of us and we all headed for the bunkers. Charlie often targeted the 281st personal area because of his hatred for choppers and this night he had us zeroed in. I don't remember if I got to the rear bunker before or after Ed. Ed was there, on the floor and that's where my memory begins.
In the bunker the mosquitoes were eating us up alive and I believe only myself and one other brought in a flashlight. When we put the light on Ed it was easy to see he was hit and hit bad. I remember Ed lying on the floor with his arm torn to pieces between the elbow and shoulder. He also had several large sunken chest wounds that were sucking air pretty bad and he was bleeding from those wounds. We found out later that he was about 1/3 the way down the stairs when a round hit at the bottom of the stairs. You can see his blood trail in the picture of the stairs. Somebody got the first aid kit and tried to put some plastic on his chest so he could wait out the attack It didn't work and Ed started to cough up blood pretty bad. There was no question what we had to do next in order to save Ed's life, mortars coming in or not, he had to get to that aid station. Ed was then put on a stretcher and someone said we needed a light. I had one and as I recall took the right front corner of the litter. Immediately three other guys got the other corners and we began the dash for our lives to the hospital annex in the nearby Special Forces section The mortar rounds were still landing all over the place. With all the base lights off there was no light to see by for our footing so I pointed my light down and somewhat towards the center of the stretcher. That gave all of us enough light for our footing and to see where we were going. I also remember hoping that it was only a mortar attack and not a ground assault with NVA in the compound as well. The LORD must have been with us because we didn't drop Ed and we all got there without being blown up ourselves. I believe Ed made the comment, just before they took him in, that he would make it because that stretcher ride would have done him in if it really were his time. I got to admit, we didn't waste any time getting him there. They took Ed in right then and began working on him. When they finished prepping him and got him stabilized I stayed by his side while we waited out the attack. When it was over they rushed Ed to the main hospital on the Air Force side of the base.
Whenever there was any spare time, someone would always go over and visit Ed. He had a real sharp looking nurse. On our first visit she told us to get out, but we were there to see our buddy and we only had limited time to do it in between flights and we were going to see Ed. She got a little peeved and said she would call an MP and we would get in trouble. One of the guys then told her "what were they going to do, bust us?" We were all ready at the lowest rank and they sure wouldn't put us in the brig because that would mean taking us off the flight line which meant they would have to pull the office help to fly our missions and we all knew they wouldn't do that. The guy who was doing the talking then told her we could easily all be dead tomorrow. That got to her and she gave up on us and told us not to stay too long. I don't remember who was doing all the taking, it may have been Lt. Wher, but I do remember I was really impressed by that little speech. Wish I had a recording of it. After that, she always had a smile for us and we did come back often.
Ed, it seems, was giving the folks there a pretty hard time. They had lost his false teeth and he sure didn't like gumming everything. On top of that they were talking about sending him home and he didn't want any part of that at all. He said that they would just send him back and he would probably get a “sorry unit” the second time around and he wanted nothing of that. The 281st was his unit and where his buddies were and that was where he was going to finish out his tour. I believe he even threatened to refuse to get on the plane. The guys and I felt as though he just didn't want to get back to all those kids.
Ed came back to us and flew again. We started calling him “One Lung” after that. I don't remember if it stuck or not. When I was transferred out, in the big DROS shuffle with the 192nd, I lost all contact with my friends at the 281st. I did talk to Ed many years later while flying the coal fields in Kentucky and West Virginia. He was flying a jet ranger and working out of the Charleston, WV area I believe. When I reminded him of his nickname he smiled for it brought back memories. I remember telling him that if that same thing were to happen again, right now, I believe I just might wait out that mortar attack this time around. He smiled knowing he knew I would do it all over again to save a buddy and then said we did some pretty stupid things back then. He was right, the men of the unit were closer then identical twins and I would do it all over again for any one of them. Old "One Lung" retired from the guard and bought a large sailboat. He and the wife retired to cruise the Caribbean, without all the kids, as I understand.
30+ Years Later
Ed survived that tour and another in Vietnam. He is now a member of the 281st Assn. and on the e-mail chat channel the guys now have. I asked Ed what he remembered about that day and here is some of what he had to say.
"To answer some of your questions: (1) I was kind of out of it - main thing I remember is how thirsty I was in the SF Med Station, guess from blood loss, and they wouldn't let me have any water. You stayed by my side, soaked a bandage with water and allowed me to moisten my mouth. That was the sweetest water I've ever tasted, even to this day. (2) As far as who helped you carry me - I really don't know, except that I have been in contact with Jim Koch, a 92nd guy from Dong Ba Tin that was RON in our BOQ that night. I know that he helped in the bunker. Maybe be can tell you more. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. He found out who I was through the story you wrote on the 281st web site.
I'm having a battle with the VA now over my right arm. I'm getting arthritis pretty bad in the shoulder and my VA doctor says it is a direct result of trauma to the arm and shoulder. The x-rays look like I was hit by a shotgun. I have 17 pieces of shrapnel in that arm."
Ed also told me that on his second
tour he was able to get back to Nha Trang just for one day. He said
he made it over to the 281st area and found the bunker where he almost
died. His blood soaked hand print was still there at the bunker entrance.
I guess that brought back memories for him.
We all brought home something from being in war. For some of us it was physical and for some of us it's mental and for some it was both. I guess the good part is that we are here at all. I'm glad Ed made it. I'm also glad that he lived to enjoy his dream of retiring to sail his time away, with his wife, along the East Coast and into the Caribbean. He earned it.