Ben E. Weihrich


The next to last mission we went to the helo’s area and PFC Jones asked me to write his letter in case he did not make it back to the base. I did not want to handled it, but being the NCO I had to. I saw that look in his eyes that said, “I’m Next”. I have grown to see ‘em eyes like that and there’s nothing I could do to change that DAMN LOOK. I could not turn him away for it was my duty to do this. Damn it to HELL!!

We were airlifted to the take off point, trek ‘bout 5 klicks from there and we had little trouble getting to the real deal. The village was over the rise of the last hill after the 3,000 hills we climb just getting hear. As the point guys clear the way for the platoon to climb over the crest of the last mountain, there was a blast from HELL from 4 82’s hitting the 2 flanks and the center. Lost 3 men then and we pull back to the crest so that the 82’s couldn’t hit us, but the damn gooks had us roped in and there was nothing for us to withdraw to safer positions. Sent out 2 parities to bring back the WIA’s and the KIA’s.

Sparks called for dustoffs and gunships ‘cause we had no idea of watt was in front or behind us. HQ flew 2 F-4’s over in case we had probs with the evac. We dealt big time with snipers, and small arms fire all over us, ‘em damn 82’s still popping everybody. 1 flight of the gunships and two drops of Nap from the F-4’s cleared most of the woods of the small poop. As the gunships flew over, the dustoffs gather up the wounded and the dead. We flew back to the base and started to unload everybody. It was then LCPL Barnes told me that Jones was KIA. I snapped back, “ He ain’t dead, SOB, I saw him up on the line and firing”. “SGT, HE’S DEAD!!!!!!” was shouted back into my face. “SHOW ME, MOTHERF . . . er “. I already knew the truth, but I had to see it to make sure.

Held roll call and Jones was not there. I grabbed Barnes and two others and we took off, back the kill zone. A gunship flew with us in case of. Took 45 minutes to get there and 20 minutes of searching we found, or what was left, of him. Those SOB’s must have just unloaded mags after mags into Jones’s body. Gathered him in a ******* BB (body bag) and I hate those things. It was a sad arrival back at the base, Sparks had called ahead for G&R (grave and registration) and they carried Jones to their bunker.

About 2 hours later Barnes knocked at the door and he handed me Jones’s personal belongings and turned to leave, I said, “Have a seat, Nolan.” He looked at me and I nodded to the other chair. I pulled out the bottle of Jim Beam, 2 glasses and a canteen of water. “Sorry ‘bout earlier, CPL Barnes, I had a lot of **** on my mind.” “Cpl. Barnes”, he said in a questioning ne. “Yes, as of 1200 this day you are CPL Barnes and that makes YOU ASSISTANT PLATOON LEADER, CPL BARNES. Drink up and get out there and get that sh**bird platoon of YOURS shining. CPL Barnes stood up and said, “AYE, AYE, SIR”. Stopped at the bunker doorway and asked a big favor of me and I said, “Sure, what’s it?” “In the letter you write to Jones’s folk would you put this letter in it”, Barnes requested as he handed it to me and I nodded yes. I knew then it will be a long night and I knew since this am. DAMN IT TO HELL!!

I looked thru Jones’s belongings and found a letter that he had started to write to his folks and the one that Barnes handed to me was to Peggy, his gal. Also found her picture in his wallet and it looked like the pic of my wife, it was worn with being handled too much and too many kisses. I read both letters and sat ‘em aside and grabbed the Jim Beam and took a sip. Reached in the field desk for paper and found none, yelled out for Barnes and the new CPL popped his head in the hooch, “Sgt!! Got a writing table?” “Yup, back in a flash.” The “Flash” returned and handed the table to me and said, “Anything else, Sgt?” “No, Carry on.”

I stared at the writing tablet for a long time; it had the Emblem above the lines. Jones or Barnes was still using a tablet that he had since the “BOOT”. It took me back to 10 years ago when I was a “BOOT” and writing to my family and sweetheart (now wife) on the same paper. Staring at the damn empty paper ain’t getting that damn letter written. Picked up the black GI pen and started to write. Did not how to started this damn letter, but “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Jones” sounded good to me.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Jones,

I am writing to inform you that your son, PFC. William B. Jones was killed by enemy action on 041774 (April 17, 1974). Our platoon, along with 2 others was involved in a action to sweep thru 2 vills (villages), screen the inhabitants and find out where the weapons are stored, if any. We never made it to the vills; the NVA (the bad guys) caught us in crossfire of mortars and machines guns fire. Besides your son we lost 6 other MARINES. They fought with courage and purpose. Please accept my sincerest . . .

I stopped there ‘cause I couldn’t write anymore. I was sick and tired of writing those damn letters. Seem like everyday I write one of these letters to loved ones I’m writing the same thing over and over! I reach out for the Jim Beam, took a swig and screwed the top back on. I grabbed the pen and started to write again.

Please accept my sincerest apologies, Mr. and Mrs. Jones. I know that your son’s death will be the hardest to ever accept. I knew him for 6 short, or as we say in here a long time, months. He reached his 19th birthday and died 16 days later in a jungle. I know that he carried out his duties as a MARINE everyday. I did not see when and how he received his deadly wound today. We were busy trying to live in the hellfire that we ran into that day. Cpl. N. Barnes did see what happened today and will write y’all to let y’all know what happened and in the event that Cpl. Barnes does not I will see y’all in 3 short months. I hope and pray that God will comfort your hearts in this trying time.

I hope that in a short time the pain will be easier to live. I know that this pain will never go away for I have lived in yours shoes everyday because of the deaths I have seen and caused.

Mr. and Mrs. Jones, I have 2 young children of my own (2 and 4, boys) and I can not begin tell you what or how I would feel if I found out that one or both of my sons were dead. I have knocked on 3 doors of parents in the 10 years I have been a MARINE and I hate the feelings I get when I knock or come away from a house full of tears. I have cried in silence for the parent and their family. If there is anything I can do, please let me know. Your son’s personal belonging will sent to you with the casket arrives in your hometown.

Ben Weihrich

I read the letter, licked it and sealed it. I grabbed the Jim Beam, turn off the lights, shut the door, sit on the edge of my cot, took a big swig of the Jim, lay down and cried.

Author’s Note: This one was really rough to write and brought back too many memories but Brother Jim Beam and I made it thru!!! Names were changed to protect the real folks and their kin. In ’94, this story, together with my story, “The Healing” was included in the program at the PERMIAN BASIN VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL 11/11/94.