Pvt. Johnson Writes
Pvt. Johnson Writes The best literature to come out of any war should come from the soldiers who fight it. No matter how much a correspondent involves himself in the fighting, he is not going to have the feel of killing and being hunted like the foot soldier is. The trouble is, few soldiers can write or take the time to put it down on paper. One, who did put it down, in a letter to his mother after being wounded in Vietnam, is Pfc. Jimmy Johnson, 19, of Columbus, Ga. He is now a patient at Ft. Gordon in Augusta, recuperating from the loss of his right leg above the knee and waiting to be fitted with an artificial limb. His letter is simple and to the point, and he is almost academic as he talks about losing a leg to a Viet Cong mine:
“We had been out since the 19th of July, set up on the river in the blackest mud you have ever seen. We had made some enemy contact, in which I accounted for a VC, the only one I actually knew I killed. On the morning of the 27th, at dawn, we packed up and started walking to a new and drier area. I was walking point, or, in other words, I was the leading man and set the pace. I must admit I gave them a good walk that morning and several times I had to stop and wait for them. You can imagine the whole battalion in file, at least 15 yards between each man. Our battalion was composed of A, B and C Co’s and we were moving in that order. There were about 150 men per company.
‘Clumps of Bushes’ “We arrived at our new area about 11 that morning. There were people and houses all around. My company was selected to go farther up and check out the village, so off we went. All along the road we saw tudia signs tacked on trees, which is the Viet Cong’s way of marking mines and booby traps so that other VC won’t blunder into them. The only trouble is that you never know just how far beyond the sign the mine is. “We walked along the road until 11:25 a.m. At that time we reached the upper end of the village, our destination. Now my squad leader, Sgt. John Riley, colored, came up and got in front of me, making me second. He said, ‘you’ve been on point too long, Big John (that is what he called me; we are very close friends). Take a rest.’ So I fell behind Riley, second. The idea was to get the company on line and sweep through the village. “We left the road in file, going to the right edge of the village. The terrain was open with
bushes behind us and some small clumps scattered here and there. We reached the edge of the village about 50 yards from the nearest hut. We were standing there waiting for the rest of the company to get ready. A friend of mine to my left asked me to trade places with him, so he could work with Riley. I said okay and he came over to where I was. There was a small clump of bushes about the size of a basketball where he had been standing. I headed for this. I just got to it when I hit the wire to the mine.
‘Hurry Back, Big John’ “I don’t remember the explosion. The next thing I knew I was sitting on the ground, my rifle and helmet gone. My ears: were ringing. I looked at my watch; it had stopped from the blast and it was 11:30 a.m. My right leg was throbbing but not hurting. Then I heard someone holler ‘Medic!’ and, ‘Be Careful where you step, there could be more.’ Riley was by my side first, saying, Take it easy, Big John, you’re going to be okay.’ Then he hollered, ‘Where in the hell is that medic?’ About that time two of them arrived . . .” (The medics, he wrote, removed his gear, ordered a Med-Evac helicopter, administered morphine and gave him water.) “I heard a medic say that I might go into shock and I told him I had no intention of going into any shock. The friend I had exchanged places with, Ron Whited, was holding my left hand and telling me that I was all right. I told him that I was all right because I had to be. The senior medic applied a
tourniquet above my knee and the other one bandaged my mangled right hand. Then the senior medic called for a poncho to carry me in and it was there before I knew it and I was lifted on it. I heard the (chopper) landing close by and felt them carrying me to the chopper. They laid me in there. Riley said, ‘Hurry back, Big John,’ and I was airborne. I glanced up at the door gunner and he gave me a reassuring nod. I just looked up at the sky and the next thing I knew we were at the 12th Evacuation Hospital in Cu Chi. They were waiting on the landing pad for me with a stretcher. “I asked the time. It was 11:50, just 20 minutes since I tripped the mine. I was awake until they put me to sleep in the operating room, and I guess you know the rest, I learned later that we had walked over four other mines before I tripped mine.”