Over the years, at this time of year I would always withdraw and go to
my mental cave to hide from everyone. I know what the date March
23rd means to me and how it messes with my mind and my heart, and
my ghosts and my closet of fear, doubt, and worry. This year is
different for me. I don't find myself wanting to go hide from the
date...I want to embrace it and know that as bad as it was back then
today, this coming Monday, I celebrate the fact that I came home 40
years ago and I went to met for the first time the woman who I chose
to marry.
For the past 40 years my life has changed for the better because of
that time, the mistakes, the regrets, the loss, and the grief have
shaped who I became as a man. A man who loves life so much more
as I was given a 2nd chance. I choose to celebrate the man who
made it possible for me to still be here. March 23rd is the day I
landed in Vietnam 41 years ago as a 20 year old snot-nosed kid who
was so scared. I got off the plane with no gun no nothing...and the
week I land they have already lost over 450 men for the week.
Three days later I am going on my first ambush patrol...it is a pitch
black night with no moon...I am appearing fearless but my knees were
knocking and I can hardly breathe, my mouth was so dry. Here we go
a walking in the area around our base camp setting up to catch
Charlie and blow him away...all of a sudden we are getting hit and
fired upon...I forgot how to cuss for if I remembered I would have
used every word I knew...the guy next to me sees me frozen in place
and he pushes me down and takes a gunshot wound to his side. My
bullet...he screams out I'm hit I'm hit. I crawl over to him and I turn on
his flashlight and my mine so I can see what I am doing. Big mistake,
now everyone is shooting at the idiot with the two flashlights on but
they stay on so I can see. I put myself between him and the bullets
that are hitting all around me. God must have been watching out for
me for me not to get shot. I find an entry wound and put a bandage
on him and turn him over looking for an exit wound and there is
none. By this time, the shooting has stopped and I don't even know
how to call in Dust-off (I am that new).
They send out a duce and a half to come pick us up. I make up a
makeshift stretcher out of two connected ponchos and we load him
up. It is then I notice that I have pissed in my pants. I am almost hyper
venting at this point. I hold him up next to me so that my body will
take most of the bumps and not hurt him so much. He asks me if he is
going to die and I tell him no. I ask about his family and he tells me of
his wife and mom and dad and brothers and sisters from Alabama.
We finally get him to the dispensary and the Doctor looks at him and
has him taken to the Evac Hospital which is on our compound. I go
see him a couple of times in the hospital. However, on the 28th day I
get word that he passed away from liver failure.
I lost my first causality and his death has always haunted me, did I do
enough, why him and not me, why did he push me down. His name is
Benny Dale Cash and his cause of death is listed as
Misadventure...how can this be a misadventure...we were shot at by
the South Vietnamese at an Outpost who thought we were the Viet
Cong. Years later, I made contact with his family who were very kind
to me and I explained to them what had happened to their son,
brother, and uncle. They went all those years not really knowing what
happened to him. His parents had passed away before I could talk to
them but the other family members were happy to know he died
protecting Freedom.
I know that it is good that I talk to you guys about what I am feeling
inside. You were the medics and know the loss and grief I have
losing my first patient, particularly because I didn't get down fast
enough and he got shot instead of me. Over the years, I used to beat
myself up over this and blame myself. But in the past couple of years,
those feelings aren't there anymore. Benny died doing his job, it was
his time to go. I know this now more than ever. He died and I was
able to make my life a better one because of him...
I learned how to be a better soldier and medic because of not
knowing all that I was suppose to do. I was able to become
someone's husband, a father and grandfather and live a life that has
meant more to me that it would have without this challenge. I know
that Benny is looking down and I know that he smiles and he tells me
that it is okay because he is with Jesus and he is with his mom and
dad. He is glad because he is remembered by a medic who tried to
help him and I won't let his memory be for nothing... Benny, thank you
for that night, thank you for pushing me down, thank you for allowing
me to have the joy of being a father, husband, and being a
grandfather. Life has meant more to me because of you...I didn't take
it for granted. Your's is the first name I touch when I go to the wall.
WALL...everytime I talk to a group of Junior and High School kids in
history classes I talk about you. Thanks Benny....I finally made it all of
the way home...