Once on the ground, I saw Jimmy Jensen among those who came out of the helicopter. He headed towards us at the comms shack.
“Hey, Jimmy,” I said. “This must be the day you have room for us.”
“You can keep dreaming, Doc,” Jimmy replied. “I’m just a passenger this time. This ship is going to Vung Tau after we make a stop in Bien Hoa.”
“You bastard,” I said. “I’m sure you’ve got room for me to join you for a little time off. I hear Vung Tau is a vacation paradise.”
“That’s what they say,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
“I could stow away and join you,” I joked.
“Keep dreaming,” Jimmy said, taking a drag of his Cool unfiltered cigarette.
These guys were going for rest at Vung Tau? Is the war ending or not?
As they were lifting off a short while later, I longed to have a seat on that Chinook. The engines grew louder, I protected my eyes from dust kicked up by the rotor wash. I watched as it rose up and angled nose down to the southeast toward Bien Hoa. My heart broke as it flew over the fence of the compound. How long was I going to be stuck in An Loc?
I started to turn to go back to the comms shack and heard a loud pop. When I turned back, there was a bright flash as a rocket propelled grenade struck the Chinook. NO!
It was some distance away. The massive steel ship swung back and forth as if the pilot were trying to regain control. Black and gray smoke poured out from the top of the chopper. The next second it was spinning. Not a flat spin, though. It spun like a Ferris wheel, end over end.
The Chinook hit the ground a few miles south of the compound. The smoke hid the impact, but the sound of crunching metal rang out before it was silent. No rotor sound. No engine sound. Nothing.
Slowly I became aware of the small arms fire in the background and the engine of a truck speeding toward the crash site. Or maybe it was more than one truck. All I know is that I was stunned. I just saw all these people die right in front of me. People I knew. Jimmy who I had just been joking with not five minutes before.
Jimmy. The crew. The pilot. Our soldiers. No way they could have survived.
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