A deadly lapse in security
So nearly everybody found a place to sleep soon after we reached our day site July 18 at the “Carpenter’s House” alongside Highway 1.
But I wasn’t sleepy that morning for some reason. After dropping my gear on the porch, I sat down at a table in the front room to eat a can of C-ration peaches and write a letter to my high school history teacher, Mr. Aistrup.
I was still on the first page of my letter when an explosion went off outside, in front of the house. Grabbing my M-16, I ducked out through the front door along with several others. I saw Greg Keller lying on his back in the middle of the house’s gravel and dirt front yard, a few feet from where he had been sleeping. A haze of dust and smoke hung in the air.
Doc Doggett was the first to reach Greg and, after checking the area for attackers, Ed “Mac” McIntyre and I went to help Doc. I recall Doc and Mac facing me over Greg’s body, and Doc saying, “Okay, let’s turn him over.”
A strange look came over Doc’s face when he slid a hand under Greg’s back. I learned why when Doc and Mac carefully turned him over. His back was gone. The skin and much of the muscle was gone from the bottom of his shoulder blades to the middle of his buttocks. The whole area was a mass of bleeding flesh and shattered bone, covered with dirt and bits of gravel.
Greg was still conscious at that point, but staring fixedly ahead, clearly sliding into shock. After awhile, the only sound he made was an occasional small grunt. Doc worked quickly and all the time we were talking to Greg, telling him to “hang on.” The flash of the explosion had burned the hair off the back of Greg’s head, and the stink of burnt hair hung about us.
Urgently Willie Williams asked me, “Have you called a Medevac?” and I suddenly remembered it was my job to call a rescue chopper. I had been carrying the CAP’s radio only a few days and had never before called a medevac.
Willie radioed for a medevac chopper and I stayed with Doc and Greg. Soon Willie shouted that a chopper was inbound, and he set the radio beside me while he went to mark an LZ on the road a few yards away. I took over talking with the inbound Dustoff, then Doc, Mac and several others carried Greg to the chopper, face down, his back covered with battle dressings.
When the chopper had cleared the treetops and turned north toward Da Nang, we all returned to the “Carpenter’s House.”
“I don’t think he’s going to make it,” Doc said grimly. I agreed. I had never seen such a massive wound. Later we learned Greg had died.
There was a small crater in the dirt, inches from the spot where Greg had been lying on his right side. Nobody saw the attack, but it seemed likely that someone had thrown a grenade near Greg, causing his death.
After Greg’s death, CAP 2 began to formally assign at least one Marine to be awake, alert and armed at all times in our day sites. We had never been attacked in our day site before Greg’s death, and daytime guard duty had been an informal task, often neglected. We had gotten complacent about daytime security, with a fatal result.
Greg had been with CAP 2 only a couple of weeks, so he had no close friends in the unit. Greg called himself “Killer” when he arrived at 2-7-2, but us old-timers did not know the nickname came from his high school wrestling days. We were uncomfortable with it since “Killer” has a far different meaning in a combat unit than it does wrestling. A new guy nicknaming himself “Killer” seemed too aggressive, presumptive, almost bad luck. So some of us resisted calling Greg “Killer” and called him “Buddha” because of his short haircut. Statues and pictures typically portray Buddha with a shaved head.
Ever since that day, the smell of burnt hair has forcibly reminded me of July 18, 1970.