When the killing started, it was slow and deliberate.

When the killing started, it was slow and deliberate. They were killing us…and we didn’t even know it. A single shot would ring out, and the life of one of our men would cease. Seconds later another crack of an AK-47 would echo over LZ X-Ray, and somewhere in the tree line, another soldier would fall dead. This would repeat, and another soldier would suddenly collapse, a geyser of arterial spray exploding from his lifeless body.

The battle had started, but we hadn’t even realized it. It was one of those couldn’t-be-happening situations. It was our own little Pearl Harbor. You could see it happening, but it just couldn’t be, because we were two battalions strong, and had artillery and deadly air support. What sane Viet Cong commander would subject his men to an inevitable slaughter?

That is what we thought at noon on June 17, 1967. But we were mistaken—by about 3 P.M. that day, more than 30 of our men were dead, and a hundred or more wounded, and the battle still raged on. None of us was immune to the savagery of that battle, and as we descended into a maelstrom of bullets and shrapnel, my name was added to the casualty list.

It happened as I was sprinting to a new location on the west side of a huge clearing we called Landing Zone X-Ray. I was running and heard a voice calling, “Lieutenant, you’re hit, you’re bleeding!” I think it was my radio operator uttering those words. All around us, Vietcong bullets were cutting through the air, some slamming into the ground and flinging up clumps of muddy earth, others burying themselves in trees, and a deadly few finding flesh. 

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