(To put this blog post in context, please read the August 18 post.)
Reunions can be poignant, frightening, illuminating. This past week my wife, Patti, and I attended the 2013 Mobile Riverine Force Association Reunion held in Indianapolis. I was saddened to see how age and Agent Orange illnesses have ravaged our ranks. One of the founding members of the MRFA stoically told me, “The doctors give me about twelve months.”
But there were moments of disbelief, too. About a year ago, Larry Reid, Nashville, Tennessee, an army veteran who had been riding our boat when we were ambushed on August 18, 1968, discovered “Muddy jungle Rivers” on Amazon and purchased it. Over the past twelve months we’ve been in touch. On the first day of the reunion he introduced himself. We compared notes on how our lives have evolved over the past four decades. The second day of the reunion Larry came up to me and said, “I found three guys who were in the well deck on August 18.”
It was an intense experience.
Larry R. McCormick, Amarillo, Texas, looked at me, frowned, and shook his head. “I thought you were dead these past forty-five years.”
“Why would you think that?” I said
“Because of all the blood dripping down from your cox’n flat above me. And the boat kept running into things.”
“Each time rockets hit my armor plating I kept getting knocked down,” I told him.
He asked an unusual question then—one I’ve never thought about. “How many times were you hit?” I have always considered the ambush one action—not multiple injuries. I thought back for a time and told him, “Four, I suppose.”
We all visited then and recalled that hot Sunday afternoon and I thought again how each of us remembered differently yet there were some memories held by all. David L. Cowley, from “The Great State of Texas” brought up what we all remembered most vividly.Blood splattered everywhere. Blood trickling across the welldeck deck. Heroism of already wounded men, cradling smoldering crates as they struggled across the slick deck to throw grenades and ammo overboard before it exploded.
I brought up the black army sergeant who had come up to man our abandoned .50 caliber machine gun. I told again how he had been severely maimed when a B-40 rocket burned through the armor and he took a direct hit. Cleve Chick, Elkridge, Maryland, recalled that he was a career man who had recently joined the platoon. Most of the men didn’t know him. “Thomas,” Cleve said. “His last name was Thomas.”
Larry gave me a list of twenty-three army men who were on ATC 112-11 who received a Purple Heart for wounds received on August 18. Two names are missing: Hector Lugo-Mojica who was Killed in Action, and the black sergeant named Thomas.
I wonder if Sergeant Thomas was the senior man on board ATC 112-11 on August 18. I believe in the chaos of the day his act of heroism went unnoticed and unrecorded. I would very much like to identify the sergeant. If he did not survive his wounds, his family deserves to know of his actions. If he did survive, and is still alive, I would very much like to meet him.
I am humbled that “Muddy Jungle Rivers” was the catalyst that brought us together. Each of these men has a story of that afternoon and if they would like to write it, I will post it on this blog.