We’d had a short “contact” during the night, nobody hurt on either side, and didn’t get much sleep due to the adrenalin and the need for heightened vigilance. Just before dawn, as was our custom, we saddled up and moved through the jungle darkness to our selected “day haven” site where we would while away the daylight hours resting and preparing for the next night’s ambush.
As we entered the front yard of the house we had nicknamed “the Carpenter’s” (because the owner built cabinets and trunks for the villagers and for us as well), the sun was just peeking over the tops of the tree line across Highway 1.
As we all began to shuck our gear and decide who would be on watch and who could relax, Greg “Killer” Keller and I got into a brief squabble as to who would occupy the tiny patch of shade thrown by the small tree in the carpenter’s front yard.
I threw my gear down at the base of the tree and started to spread my poncho liner in the shady spot. Killer moved it out of the way with his foot and said something to the effect that I needed to look elsewhere for a place to nap. I replied, in much the same manner, that he was of uncertain parentage, that I was there first, and he needed to look elsewhere. He put his hands on his hips and said that I should perform some kind of unnatural act on myself and move, or he would move me. Being exhausted, tired, dirty, and hungry I decided it wasn’t worth fighting over, picked up my gear and moved on.
Finding a nice spot inside the house, I had just laid down for my nap when the whole area was rocked by a large explosion. I jumped to my feet, grabbed my medical bag and M-16 and headed outside, toward the source of the explosion. As I came through the front door, the air was filled with dust and smoke but I could see Killer lying on his back a few feet from the shady spot he had intended to occupy.
I ran over to him and asked him if he had been hit. He said, “My head Doc! My head!” I felt the back of his head and my hand came back bloody. Without thinking, I had already grabbed a battle dressing from my bag and had ripped the package open with my teeth. As I wrapped the dressing around his head I told him he was going to be okay and asked if he was hit anywhere else. He said that he didn’t think so. I yelled over to Willie, the CAP commander, to call for a Medevac. During this short time span the other CAP members were setting up defensive positions and looking for the expected enemy attack, which never came.
Remembering what the Chief had taught us in Field Med School, I started to check Killer out head to toe, front and back. I found no other wounds until I rolled him over and discovered why he didn’t think he had been hit anywhere else. His back had been blown away by the blast. His spinal column was shredded and there was very little tissue left from his butt to his shoulder blades. His lack of pain was due to the loss of nerves and shock. I was amazed that he was still conscious, but he was, and I knew that he soon wouldn’t be and that he had essentially no chance of survival. I pulled out the largest battle dressing in my bag and did the best I could to apply a pressure dressing, knowing it would do no good.
Seven minutes after the explosion, a Dustoff chopper that happened to be in the area, responded to our call and landed on Highway 1. Greg lost consciousness as we carried him to the helicopter and we heard later that he died before reaching 1st Med Bn in Da Nang.
I never did find out what happened, whether he was killed by a land mine that he laid on, or perhaps an explosive device thrown from a passing vehicle since we were right next to the highway. I just remember feeling guilty that I had let him win the argument and for thinking, as the Dustoff lifted him away, “Better him than me,” that cruel, but often heard saying among us grunts.
As I think back on it now, Greg Keller hadn’t been with us very long and to tell the truth I could only remember his nickname of “Killer” until his name was added to the CAP Roster on the Internet. The details of that day, however, are etched in my brain as if it were only this morning instead of 27 years ago last month. God Bless You Greg and may you have found peace.
A deadly lapse in security