When I first wrote about LZ Cork and the adventures of Butch Long, I never expected to hear from anyone else who survived it. A different war, Vietnam conjoined soldiers from all over on an as-needed basis. Thus, from the deployment pools, newbies were dispatched to divisions and battalions as individual soldiers DEROSed out or were killed/wounded.
Nowadays, whole battalions train up and deploy together as a cohesive unit. You know everyone and vice versa. Many develop lifelong friendships from this enforced camaraderie of many years duration. Not so in Vietnam.
Few of us wanted to develop close friendships and invest a lot of feelings in another soul during that war simply because the potential pain of the loss was too immense. I now know from a recent telephone conversation with Bob Lockett that he developed that intense camaraderie with David Balzarini and Dennis Johnstonbaugh-the two gentlemen in the listening post who I wrote about in my prior LZ stories. Few of us did.
Imagine my surprise to get an email from Janet, the sister in law of Dennis Johnstonbaugh telling me of his intervening travails following that night in January 1969. He didn’t fare too well with his two prostheses and opted for a wheelchair. Knowing VA prosthetics in 1969-70, it isn’t any surprise. Dennis has three grown children, four grandchildren and one great grandkid. He had a heart attack recently but is still kicking. His hearing is a little off and I can understand that. Loud explosions a foot away tend to do that. I had a buddy dump about 15 rounds on full auto into a Malaysian Pith Viper that was on the verge of biting me on the face one day. The barrel was level with my right ear and the
ring scream of tinnitus continues to this day. Oh well.
So, in summary, we hope someday to reconnect all those who survived that attack on Cork January 18th, 1969. One at a time. It’s a fitting tribute to remember those who didn’t survive by renewing the friendships that many could not bring themselves to form during that war who survived. The list is growing slowly.
Ramon Ramirez was in the 4 deuce mortar pits above Lockett’s LP firing illumination that night and left us a note. I have his email if any wish to contact him.
Mike Balzarini, a cousin of David’s, contacted us shortly before he died earlier this year. He was inspired by David’s sacrifice to enlist and become a combat medic. His commitment was so strong he went on to get his green hat and do 20 years.
Bob Lockett was the first to contact me and tell of the attack with any semblance of detail. Many of the details are still sketchy but he did explain how the butterbar Lt. Barry Kellenbenz ate it. Apparently he was up in the TUOC when the VC tossed in the satchel charge. Kellenbenz was crushed when the structure collapsed and died with SP4 James Smith-probably the commo guy on duty at the time.
I have put out the call to the Dustoff Association in hopes of finding the chopper crews who came in that night to haul out the KHA/ WHA to the 312th Air EVAC at Chu Lai. Tentative identification is the 498th Dustoff Co. Any help with that by knowledgable people would be greatly appreciated. Everyone likes to have the name of the guy who kept them alive until they got to the hospital.
Rarely do we get a glimpse of the horror of war. Even more rarely do we get to hear about what happened there in country in retrospect. I have to hand it to Bob. I still can’t discuss it without losing my ability to talk. It seems weird to remember things so clearly and be unable to relate them to folks. Something seizes up in my vocal chords.
I guess the one thing that has come up over the years on these Veteran-type occasions is what I find the most humorous. Those who have not been in war, or the military, tend to have a disjointed view of our lives while serving. Many have asked me conversationally what we used to do on our weekends off. I have to answer in the same vein of humor that bubbles up from that odd place in my psyche. “We used to polish our hand grenades to a high sheen because you can throw a shiny one further. It has something to do with aerodynamics.” Or “We’d fly down to Vientiane to hit the whore houses because we weren’t allowed to fool around with the locals in Long Tieng.” That’s a byproduct of having been born on April Fool’s Day.
I eagerly await an email from Dennis and perhaps a picture. We all went through what could at best be described as a turbulent time in our lives when we were there. I do not mean to downplay or denigrate the service our troops provided in Iraqistan over the last decade but my focus will always be on my own Band of Brothers-both those who survived and those who didn’t. My obligation can only encompass just so many so I focus solely on those of my era who come to me for help as well as their spouses.
We were soldiers… once. In some respects that will always be true until we, too, are celebrated on this momentous day set aside for us.