The flyers were taking heavy ground fire from the farmer formations who were learning fast. At one time they would shoot at the aircraft rarely leading it, but lately they’d begun grouping a dozen or so men to shoot ahead of the plane. Now our guys had to fly into the waiting bullet swarms. It worked well this time. As a Phantom lowed down into his strafing channel and I mean low, brother, just a couple of hundred feet above the deck, if that, a large bulb of flame ballooned out of his exhaust. We watched the canopy pop off as the pilot ejected. His craft slammed into a low hill and disappeared in a cratering fireball. He was maybe three or four hundred feet in the air when his chute opened. Down he came. The marines began yelling bitterly, “He’s dead, man! He’s a goner! Right into the middle of the Dinks!” The pilot and chute disappeared beyond the ridge and we rippled knowing the farmers were going to nail him. Suddenly, I heard Bob’s voice yelling my name. “Kid! Kid! C’mon, we gotta go!”
“Go? Go where?” I asked, looking up from the trench as my dread instantly intensified. Ah, the old They’re trying to kill me again routine.
“We’re gonna go get that guy.” he said smiling before he hurried away. “The pilot?” I yelled astounded.
He turned, “Yeah, c’mon. We don’t have much time.”
I grabbed my weapon and as I climbed out of the trench I was muttering “No, no, he’s gone. They got him.” I heard a chopper coming in as the barrage intensified and we ran towards the FOB’s LZ.
We laid low in a hole as the barrage casually shifted directions. When the helo whirled to a hover near us the barrage began creeping back towards us. At the right moment we made the dash, and then we were in, up and on our way. Bob was smiling and laughing big time as if he’d just won a bet. He loved impromptu flirtations with getting your ass shot off. It kind of fit our situation. He was contagious. I looked at him, “Mommy, are we gonna die?” He gave me the peace sign and laughed some more and as I armed up the crew chief swung his machine gun towards our destination. As we came over the rise I began thinking, “Don’t worry. It doesn’t matter. You’ll be dead before you know it.”