Thursday, March 11, 2021

Forever Falling

11 March 1971.  James Deacon was killed today.  Fell off a helicopter.  His is the only death that I have ever actually witnessed.  It's not a memory that goes away.



I really never knew him but he has been my companion for many years.

Someone said he was an asshole jerk. I can't say.

All I know is that the brief time we were together left a lasting impression.

You see, I saw him die.

His death was not dramatic or heroic. Just dumb.

An accident in a war filled with many accidents.

The difference was that I saw it happen.

I saw him die.

He fell out of a helicopter that was his ticket to safety.

A medical evacuation for a minor cut,

Hardly even a wound,

A convenient excuse to get out of the jungle.

But nobody expected him to die.

We watched him rising toward the chopper

Envying his good fortune, each of us

Wishing that we were ascending in his place.

The chopper's big rotors slapped the air

As it hovered above the moutainside.

Its turbines screaming,

Waiting to carry him back to safety.

I saw the medic lean out of the door,

Reaching to pull him in.

I saw him put his feet on the skids.

And I saw him fall away from the chopper.

He fell abruptly, violently.

No slow motion effect. No eternity to reach the ground.

Just a rapid free fall and a bone crunching thud.

Mere seconds ended his life at 19.

His buddies wrapped him in a poncho

And hooked him to the cable again.

This time he made it,

Boots pointing upward as they disappeared into the open door.

But this time was too late.

The chopper carried away a corpse,

Leaving us to our thoughts, black and evil.

No one wanted to trade places with him now.

All these years I've remembered his fall

And seen his body break upon that mountain.

All these years his death has been my companion.

I did not know him well

But he remains with me still.

Even now all I really know is that I saw him die.

That seems more than enough.


Sometime later, we were given a demonstration of aerial medevac procedures to reassure us that it was safe.  A couple of our lieutenants were hoisted up to make the point.  One LT went up, like Deacon, on a jungle penetrator which was for casualites who could still function.  Unlike Deacon, the LT did not fall.   



The second LT went up strapped into a stretcher.  He did not fall either.  


I never again saw another medevac but Deacon's was hardly the last.  As far as I know no one else fell during an evacuation.