The Rescue

The Rescue

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith

The Rescue

In a cruel jungle in Vietnam, a country that fiercely punishes its foreign inhabitants, a small group of men fought for survival. The sweltering heat tormented the soldiers with every step they took. Surrounded by the enemy, their losses astronomical, they wanted to hold their dying comrades, but they could only watch helplessly as the fallen men’s bodies writhed from the mortal wounds. Screams filled the air, “I’m hit, I’m hit. Oh, God.”

Bullets whistled by them as the group gathered to form a strategy. Their chances were grim. They were trapped, the ammunition was gone, and the only thing left to do was pray. They were no longer at home, where war was fought in the halls of Congress. They were in Vietnam, in combat.

“Ben, what are we gonna do?” a young soldier named James asked, his voice shaking with fear.

“Somebody will come get us. It shouldn’t be long now,” Ben replied, but he was filled with doubt. He felt in his heart that it was over, but maybe if he didn’t say it out loud, it wouldn’t happen. He grabbed the cross that hung from his aching neck and prayed to be anywhere but there. “God, please help us. I’m not ready to go,” he pleaded quietly as he dived for cover from the enemy fire. Blood and death surrounded him. He was sure that hell existed because he was in it.

At the same time, approximately twenty kilometers away, I was playing a game of gin with a group of fellow pilots. The winner would be rewarded with a bottle of gin. Quite fitting, I thought. From looking at my hand, it seemed I might have a good chance at sampling that bottle, but in the next instant, I threw down my cards as our flight commander came in shouting, “On your feet! Second Platoon’s pinned down by VC. Reported seven left. OPS has the grid coordinates. Get in, get ‘em and get out!”

I ran to the UH-1 Huey, my adrenaline rushing. My door gunner, a Texas cowboy named Eric, raced toward the plane, hollering war yells, “Let’s rock ‘n’ roll, boys!”

“Just don’t slam your privates in the door,” yelled Garret, my copilot. He quickly boarded the bird, ready to go. And off we went, over the deceptively beautiful jungles of Vietnam, wondering what we would find when we reached our destination. We were hoping for the best and fearing the worst.

As we approached the coordinates, we could see the tracer rounds of the VC weapons. Eric released the safety, pulled the gun stock of the weapon tight against his armpit, drew a bead on the closest enemy soldier and opened fire. He continued to fire, struggling to keep the muzzle of his raging machine gun from firing high of its mark. The enemy scattered for cover. We could see the flash from the weapons of the VC as they returned fire.

I spotted a place where it looked like I could touch down, bring the soldiers on board and take off again. I landed the bird, but our soldiers were nowhere in sight. Eric kept up a rack of fire that seemed endless. He was crazy but good—very good.

Finally, we saw a band of six U.S. soldiers running toward the door; they were being shot at from every direction. We saw one take a shot to the gut, and he was gone. Then, just as another reached the tail of the bird, he was hit in the head. The remaining four soldiers safely reached the bird, and as quickly as I could, I flew up to the treetops and skimmed across them, hoping to remain hidden.

In the back of the helicopter, one of the soldiers clapped his buddy on the back, “You were right, Ben.”

“Of course I was,” Ben told him. Turning to the soldiers who’d saved the group, he said, “I can’t thank you guys enough. We were on a routine mission, walked straight into the middle of an ambush! There were forty-seven of us, and they got most everybody within the first five minutes. It was brutal. I really didn’t think we’d make it. Sent the transmission and lost the radio, bullet right smack through it. I just didn’t know what to do. But we’re here, thanks to you. By the way, I’m Lieutenant Ben Brooks.” He was still shaking—both from the terror of his ordeal and the shock that he was safe.

“Brooks? We got a Brooks flying the plane. Where ya from, pardner?” Eric asked.

“Iowa.”

Eric turned and called to me, “Hey, Bob, ain’t you from Iowa?”

“Yeah. Why are you asking me that at a time like this?”

“This guy back here’s from Iowa. Name’s Ben Brooks.”

Ben? I couldn’t believe it. Was it possible that I had just saved my own kid brother from the worst kind of combat situation in the middle of a war, what seemed like a million miles from home? It wasn’t the first time I’d saved his skin. Growing up, I’d pulled him out of neighborhood fights where he’d stuck his foot in his mouth, but this situation was unbelievable. It couldn’t be my Ben. But as the soldier maneuvered his way toward the front of the bird, I turned my head, and sure enough, there stood Ben.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” I said, shaking my head in sheer astonishment.

“No, I thought I was damned,” Ben grinned at me. “You saved our butts back there.”

“I only wish it could have been more,” I said and watched his smile fade.

“I lost the whole platoon, Bob. We didn’t have a chance.”

“I know, Brother. I know.”

We finished the remainder of the flight in silence, each thinking what might have been, what was. I landed the bird, and we all stepped off. Ben walked over to me. I reached out my hand; he grabbed me and pulled me against him. I patted his back, reassuring him that he was safe.

“Bob, um... I... ”

“Yeah. I know.”

“Thanks, Bob.”

Ben and the other remaining soldiers from his platoon disappeared into the barracks, where they were interviewed and extensive reports were taken.

That fateful day in Vietnam had started out like any other day, and had ended like no other. I’d simply been doing my job. Yet, I didn’t just save my little brother’s life that day; I saved my own as well. I know if I’d lost Ben, part of my soul would have been lost that could never have been found.

From that day on, whenever I went out on a rescue, I always carried something extra with me. Never again did I go up as though it was another day at the job. I went up with the thought that I was saving somebody’s kid brother. I went up knowing I was making a difference.

~Robert E. Brooks Jr. as told to Kimberly D. Green

Chicken Soup for the Veteran’s Soul

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