One evening following a dinner party, a group of men were discussing various topics.
One man brought up Vietnam. Since most of the men in the group were Air Force veterans, the discussion focused on aircraft. The man next to me began to relate a personal story from his tour at Bien Hoa AB in 1965. When he mentioned B-57 Canberra bombers, I experienced an involuntary shudder.
It must have been noticeable, because he stopped talking, looked at me and asked, "What?” I then related the following story.
“I was there that day,” I said. I was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade. We landed in Vietnam on May 5, 1965, and were establishing a perimeter around the air base. There were 11 B-57 Canberra bombers lined up on the runway getting ready for a 0930 flight up north.
Each aircraft had a 750-pound bomb on each side next to the fuselage and five 500-pound bombs going down each wing. Then, each one had napalm, 50 caliber, and 20mm rounds on board.
When it went off, the napalm went first and made a huge fire. Then there was a big explosion, which at the time we thought were the bombs going off. Remember: We had not been in country very long.
We started running down the perforated steel platform toward the fire after the first explosion, because we knew a lot of guys must have been caught in it.
Then the big explosion went off.
I was blown up into the air and landed on my back. Everything went black for a while and when I came to, I felt a deep pain in my chest. I thought I had been hit, but it was the air coming back into my lungs. I rolled over on my stomach and faced toward the runway. At one point, I saw a big piece of metal skipping down toward me. I didn't know what to do so I just lay there and watched it. It hit in front of me and went over my head. When I was still on my back looking up in the air, I remember thinking it reminded me of a cartoon — when something blows up and you see all kinds of debris in the air.
Later, we helped clean up. It was a bad scene. Everything was black on the ground and what was left of the bunkers. I never found out what had happened to cause the explosion.
Each of us responds differently to violence, depending on a variety of factors. This incident occurred early in my first tour in Vietnam. It raised my anxiety to a level not previously experienced in my young life. Fortunately or unfortunately, a high level of anxiety remained with me through that tour and the next two tours as well.
Fortunately, it served to keep me on my toes and ever vigilant during my entire combat experience. Unfortunately, it still remains with me to this day. Fortunately, I have a strong, loving and understanding wife. Unfortunately, my anxiety has caused much grief for my wife and our daughter.
I have sought counseling on many occasions to keep our marriage intact. I have read several books by knowledgeable psychologists. I have taken anger management classes and received treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
I am a survivor, one of the lucky ones. I have had a wonderful life. I know I am very fortunate. I also know that it does not come without a price.