By Jennifer Martin - email
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - In just a few short months in Vietnam, corpsman Robert Hays and his men suffered hunger, fear, and the constant threat of ambush. But his trials were just getting started.
"Firebase Arragon was the extreme northwest firebase that we had in Vietnam. It had been our country back in December 1968."
The base had been abandoned and over-run again by the north Vietnamese.
"In March, they decided to start running operations out of there again. I'm sure growing up in MS, you've kicked a fireant nest once and when it's ruffled, they just come pouring out. That's the way it was there. The North Vietnamese were everywhere. I mean, there were thousands of them. The huey got shot down. Both pilots were killed."
That prompted the commanding officer to step up the assault. The men were sent in, in waves, aboard the helicopters. But they were vastly outnumbered.
"I looked around and the ground was blowing up everywhere. Small arms, mortars, everything is blowing up. Guys lying around there, wounded and dead and stuff. I had an epiphany at that time. I had always wondered how those guys in WWII were able to take Normandy and those other beaches on D-Day with German machine guns mowing them down as fast as they come. And I realized at that moment in my life that you either get up and kill everybody between here and there who isn't wearing your uniform, or you're dead. Those are your options."
They took the hill but were under siege for weeks.
In time, he was moved off the front lines, but the danger was ever present. He remembers rescuing 3 marines, when a chopper went down in an ammunitions dump.
"When we drove into the ammo dump... here, this stuff is starting to blow up, the first thing I remember seeing was a Marine who was totally naked except for his boots. His clothes had been burned off; his skin was hanging in places where it had been burned. Had some big-time 2nd and 3rd degree burns."
They took the survivors to a near-by mash unit, narrowly escaping the exploding ammunition.
"We went back to our battalion area, watched the place blow up that night, until about 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before or ever will again."
When he got home, he did not meet any protestors. He stepped off the plane and called his wife to come get him. As he waited for her, the gravity of what he went through, finally hit him.
"I remember standing there thinking, I just can't believe that I've gone over there and done that and I made it back unscathed. They got out with this big sign, welcome home and stuff. It was great."
Hays' son is a helicopter pilot and 22 year army veteran. He's done 2 tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
Copyright 2010 WLBT. All rights reserved. This material may not be rewritten, rebroadcast or redistributed.
WLBT 3 - Fox 40