A song for david, p.1
A Song For David, p.1Robert Chapin
A SONG FOR DAVID
Robert A. Chapin
An excerpt from “Orphans Of The Mourning”
This story was originally written in 1991 when I found a diary from my days in Vietnam. It was originally written as an autobiography and afterwards changed to a novel. It has taken me nearly 20 years to complete, but on my fourth attempt, it has finally become a dream fulfilled.
* * *
Sergeant Preston Cunningham is reassigned from a civilian status position while serving with the Army in Frankfurt, Germany into the heat of battle in Southeast Asia. In Vietnam he finds himself carrying out the duties of a company scrounge - someone who has been given the company commander’s blessings to do whatever necessary to make the war machine tick. The commander orders him to “acquire” whatever items are needed - both for personal pleasure and for the good of the unit.
Preston Cunningham is captured and tortured by the enemy, spends 30 days recuperating in a U.S. Army POW Hospital in Long Binh - falls in love with his nurse and eventually returns to the U.S. He is assigned to The Pentagon as a staff driver for his new commanding officer: Major General Michael Hollingsworth who urges Preston to attend West Point. Having taken the General’s advice, Preston graduates from the military academy and General Hollingsworth personally assigns the new young lieutenant into an elite group of “operatives” working in The White House.
Hollingsworth is instrumental in the promotion of Cunningham to the youngest Four Star General in The Army. During his tenure, Preston finds and arranges a clandestine covert operation which successfully assassinates Osama Bin Laden and as a result is elected the first Vietnam Veteran President of The United States…
Vietnam, Summer 1968
The departure of Major Culpepper created political jockeying among the senior officers in the command. For days following Culpepper’s re-assignment, previously hard nosed gung-ho lieutenants, captains and majors were suddenly transformed into tolerable human beings - all jockeying for the coveted position of company commander.
* * *
The new commander, Lieutenant Davis L. Hawthorne was a graduate of West Point and a professional career soldier. His father, Lieutenant General Walter C. Hawthorne, III, commanded troops in Korea and was an advisor to President Kennedy on U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Now retired, it was his desire to have his son follow in his illustrious footsteps.
The younger Hawthorne was an extremely cautious man who never allowed anyone to penetrate his private world. He was in the military to uphold the finest traditions of his family’s West Point heritage. The squinty eyed, pointed nose leader was also in Vietnam for the points. He could be a bastard who lived strictly by the rules.
* * *
Colonel McKenzie was a rogue pilot with complete disregard for the Montagnards (mountain people of The Central Highlands in Vietnam). He coordinated a killing spree where he exploited these peace loving anti-Communist people by plundering their gold and stockpiling it in an obscure cave.
He enlisted the help of Preston’s pilot Chief Warrant Officer Tom Hoban in retrieving the gold under the pretense the mission was to recover cryptographic equipment stored in a cave.
Two of Preston’s friends were visiting from Saigon . One friend, Corporal Tommy DeFazzio was killed in an exchange of enemy fire at the cave along with the greedy Colonel McKenzie who was trapped in his seat harness when his helicopter took a direct hit from an enemy rocket.
* * *
The report on the deaths of Corporal DeFazzio and Colonel McKenzie were officially completed. Just when Preston Cunningham thought he was plugged into his ‘good old boy network’ through a clandestine act devised by him and his covert friends, Colonel McKenzie was about to depart Vietnam in disgrace. However, a sudden and unexpected development emerged from McKenzie’s command.
Another group, this time the officer corps from McKenzie’s unit had taken matters into their own hands. They did not want Colonel McKenzie’s death to tarnish their image - so they made the bastard a war hero!
Preston was not surprised at the action because this is how you survived in Vietnam! Whatever measure or method one had to use in order to get the job done - whether it be beg, borrow, steal, or lie - it was “business as usual!
The citation for Colonel McKenzie read:
“Colonel McKenzie died as a result of an enemy rocket attack when his helicopter took a direct hit while retrieving top secret communication equipment. With complete disregard for his own safety, Colonel McKenzie’s brave actions bring great credit upon himself and The United States Army!”
As expected, and again, as no surprise, it was a cover-up! The investigation into the ‘mysterious death’ was conducted by the Colonel’s good friend and company commander, Lieutenant General Terrance Blackwood, who concluded:
“The Colonel and his crew were retrieving communications gear when ambushed by the enemy!” The score: One for Preston! One for the military command of Colonel McKenzie! The bastard was awarded every medal with the exception of the Medal Of Honor.
Dan Marino escorted Tommy DeFazzio’s body back to Brooklyn for a hero’s funeral. Preston had an extremely close working relationship with Taylor Roberts in the Awards and Decorations Branch, and if McKenzie’s command could make him an instant paper hero, Preston had no sense of right and wrong when it came to taking care of his friend Tom DeFazzio. Payback was to fight fire with fire!
Whether killed in action, or in the case of Tommy DeFazzio who died as the result of some officer’s greed and negligence - their dead friend was going home a hero and with more than just a Purple Heart.
Corporal Thomas DeFazzio was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Air Medal all posthumously. All medals and certificates were sent to his family in Brooklyn and official copies of the citations sent to the Awards and Decorations branch at Fort Benjamin Harrison.
* * *
Following the departure of Major Culpepper and the death of his friend Tommy DeFazzio, Preston began to drink heavily. It was that or marijuana - and in Vietnam booze was legal - but pot was not!
One morning, Preston reported for chopper duty ailing from a hangover. His pilot CWO Hoban recognized what was happening and quickly got him into his officer’s quarters where he slept it off. Hoban had someone else cover the gunners position for the remainder of the day.
By now, most of Preston’s friends were leaving Vietnam - their day of departure had approached. Others, however were not so lucky. They were leaving Vietnam in a casket. Preston felt so alone and abandoned. New recruits had little or no idea what they were getting themselves into.
Officer Hoban received orders to Fort Rucker, Alabama where he would train young pilots for service in Vietnam. He approached Preston with an offer: If he joined the Warrant Officer Corps as a pilot, Hoban would train him personally. He always referred to Preston as a “diamond in the rough!” Often, against regulations, he allowed Preston to take the controls and was amazed at his agility and ability to handle the helicopter.
There were times when Hoban allowed Preston to completed a pre-flight check, start the engine, and make one of the smoothest take off and landing procedures. Hoban was convinced Preston Cunningham was wasting his time as an enlisted man, and wanted to place him into the flight program.
Cunningham had to make a decision - either remain in Vietnam as an enlisted man, or resign, then re-enlist in The Warrant Officer Program. It meant following training he would be required to spend another tour in Vietnam. For the present, however, Preston just wanted to escape the rigors of war with alcohol - his only perceived safety net.
Mission after mission of routing Charlie from his hiding place, or disrupting the enemy supply line was beginning to take its toll. One has to remember that the U.S. was fighting Charlie on Charlie’s turf! For decades, the Vietnamese became proficient at living in a network of tunnels deep underground. The United States was not equipped to deal with the sophisticated ant farm hideaways just beneath our feet.
B-52 air strikes from miles above the earth created a concussion effect on the enemy, but with little effect! Missions costing hundreds of millions of dollars produced very few positive results in slowing or destroying the enemy.
The U.S. was fighting with the most advanced and sophisticated weaponry of the twentieth century, and Charlie - barefoot and determined, could bring military operations to halt with simple homemade weapons. It was absurd!
The anatomy of a human body - friend or foe all look alike. The heart, liver, lungs, or brain could easily be that of the enemy or Preston Cunningham. Body counts were tallied to impress the American public. World news organizations did a tremendous service covering this war, but military officers controlled what got on film for the nightly news.
On one occasion Preston was involved in delivering fresh troops to a hot LZ. A correspondent and crew from one of the major U.S. news organizations landed and set up preparing to film the war for the folks back home.
In a search and destroy mission which ended thirty minutes earlier, the Marines killed two civilians caught in a crossfire along with numerous animals and two Viet Cong. An infantry officer asked for a complete body count: 2 civilians, 2 Viet Cong, 7 dogs, 3 chickens and 3 cows. The newsman reported as ordered by the officer:
“The United States is winning the jungle war in this South China Sea village. U.S. Marines have inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. In this battle alone, 31 victims lay dead.
The 31 victims were used to enhance the military reports to The Pentagon and to convey the impression the U.S. was winning the war in South East Asia. Preston was tired of the maiming, screaming and senseless loss of human life and he was losing his dignity.
* * *
The call came to prepare once again for a medivac helicopters to an LZ where Preston’s crew would pick up casualties.
By the time choppers arrived, Charlie had surprised the infantry platoon. Five choppers were already on the ground. Four were evacuation choppers - one was flying escort with nose mounted cannons and duel .50 caliber machine guns. The VC surprised the soldiers - resulting in a blood bath. Preston was never so deeply touched and emotionally drained as on that mission.
The wounded and dead filled the medivac choppers. Preston and crew loaded one critically wounded infantry private. Everyone had to be evacuated in this run. There would be no returning, and no man would be left behind! The wounded soldier placed in Preston’s chopper was already shot up with all available morphine.
Preston looked over his shoulder at this young blond haired kid who had the most peaceful look on his face - no doubt the result of the powerful drug. Although critically wounded, he was looking around with wide opened eyes - just gazing…
Preston moved closer to the litter. The kid stepped on a land mine - blowing off his legs just above the knees. He had already lost plenty of blood and the bandages covering his stumps were saturated. Preston moved closer with the intention of offering what little help he could.
“I’m dyin” ain’t I?” the kid asked, fixing his deep blue eyes into Preston’s.
“You’re going home!” was all Preston could manage in reply
Unaware that the blood from the stumps was saturating his boots, Preston reached for the dying soldier’s hand.
“Today’s my birthday! I’m nineteen today.” he said, attempting to move his head in the direction of his legs.
“Every year, my mom would cradle me in her arms and sing happy birthday and her chocolate cake was always my favorite - with lots of chocolate frosting.” the dying kid struggled, barely whispering as he began to shake violently - a sign of shock.
His eyelids were becoming heavy and his skin ashen. Preston glanced at the medic who, with a movement of his eyes and a slight twist of his head indicated the kid would not make it. It was apparent the young soldier would die in transit.
Preston desperately wanted to do something to let him know that he would not be forgotten on his birthday.
He carefully slipped a hand beneath the dying kid’s sweat soaked head and, with the other grasped his hand. Preston leaned into his face and began to sing “Happy Birthday”. The stricken soldier found the strength and humor to join in for several words. When Preston reached the part where they both sang “Dear Da-vid”, the kid looked into Preston’s face with the most peaceful smile, released his grip and gently passed from this life. Preston wiped the perspiration from the dead soldier’s face, pressed his against the kid and sobbed.
He wanted so much to be the one who informed his mother that her son was not forgotten on his birthday, but he was just another ‘business as usual casualty’.
Look into his young and frightened face,
See the awesome firepower.
How do you tell a Gold Star Mother,
She has lost her Blooming Flower?
A Song For David by Robert Chapin / History & Fiction have rating 4.3 out of 5 / Based on17 votes