Stories of Service: Tony Chliek

By: Tony Chliek*

I was drafted on 6 May 1968 and landed in Vietnam on 6 October 1968.  One month and two days later I nearly met my maker.  This is the story of what happened.

9 NOV 68, Saturday

Co’s B and D (-) maintained NL at FSB STUART/Trang Bank Bridge vic XT501194.  At 1900H vic XT494198 Co B AP enroute to AP site was eng with 1 claymore by an unknown element, resulting in 7 US WIA (dustoff).  At 1015H vic XT516200 Co B eng 6 VC with SA, results unknown.storyofservice

This morning we discussed what had happened the night before and we all agreed that we weren’t going to go back to the same area tonight again.  We decided to sandbag it and go over to the ARVN (South Vietnamese military) compound and spend the night with them. I found out this was done quite a bit. Sometimes the ARVNs would even take our squads into Trang Bang for a little R&R at night.  That sounded good to me. Sandbagging.  Definition: Bush term meant to describe the act of avoiding the assigned ambush, patrol, listening post, observation post, etc. and usually the act is meant to be unknown to the powers-that-be that ordered the particular activity.

At dusk we headed off first in the assigned direction and then in the direction of the ARVN compound. We were walking between a fence behind some buildings and a wooded area.  It looked to me like we were cutting through a village. I had no idea were we were going or how long it would take us to get there, so I caught up to the man in front of me and asked him how far this place was. He told me “not far”, so as to put some distance back between him and I again, I stopped for a few seconds to drop back a little. As soon as I took my first step, to start moving again, there was a loud explosion.

I felt strange sensations all over my body; I’d been hit.  It felt like my left ear had been shot off so I reached up toward it with my right head. As I neared my face with my hand, I felt blood squirt on it from what I would find out later, was a large wound in my neck. Then I felt a sharp pain in my back as if I was being stabbed repeatedly. I began twisting and contorting my body while trying to remove my backpack, while rotating toward my left and collapsed on the ground. I was writhing in pain on the ground and finally succeeded in removing the pack the rest of the way. Then the next second I found myself looking down at me lying on the ground. It was if I was floating about ten feet up in the air looking down. Then instantly I was engulfed in a bright white light and was no longer where I was just a second before I had no idea where I was and began looking around but didn’t see anything, just white. There was nothing at all. I didn’t see anyone, hear anyone or talk to anyone. All I saw was white light, not a blinding light, just bright and pure bright white. I knew at that point that I was dead. I remember saying to myself,  “So I’m dead, huh? So this is what’s it’s like to be dead?” I was still looking around to see where I was and still saw nothing but the bright white light.

Then just as quickly as I found myself in the white light, I was back in my body lying on the ground. I hear someone call out, “Anyone hit?! Anyone hit?!” I tried to speak but nothing came out, I couldn’t talk. Then I heard someone call out again; “Anyone hit?! Anyone hit?!”  I called out again and this time the words “I’m hit” came out. The sergeant came over to me and asked me if I was all right, “I’m hit!” I repeated again. He told me I’d be okay, and yelled over at the RTO, “Get on the radio and tell them we have
wounded and we need help right away.” I started feeling cold and pain in different parts of my body, but mostly in my back. I was trying to move around, get up or something but couldn’t do it. Someone told me to lie still and then put a bandage on my neck and kept repeating to hold still and that help would be here in a minute.

Our men had finally arrived and I was quickly picked up by my arms and legs and put onto a poncho liner.  They picked me up and started carrying me back to FSB Stuart.  The pain in my back was so hard to take as they carried me.  I asked them repeatedly to put me down so the pressure on my back would subside if only for a second.  It hurt so much, but they didn’t listen, moving as fast as they could, almost running to get me back to our FSB.  Once were were back at the FSB, they carried me into the mess tent. The medic started cutting up my clothes to give him access to my wounds so he could place bandages on them.

I had no idea at all what was wrong with me. I just knew I hurt so much and was so cold and wet, wet from all the blood I must have been losing. The company commander, Captain Wissinger came over and knelt down next to me and began trying to assure me that I would be all right. I asked him how many men had been wounded, he told me seven and that the VC had set off a claymore. He told me they called in for a medevac and the chopper would soon be here to take us back to Chu Chi. I asked the captain for something for the pain, but he seemed to ignore me and just kept telling me I would be okay. I asked again, but this time I screamed at him, “GIVE ME SOMETHING FOR THE PAIN GOD DAMMIT!”  The medic was way ahead of him I guess after hearing me the first time and gave me a shot of morphine. That calmed me down just knowing the morphine would kick in soon and the pain would begin subsiding. I guess they got a call that the medevac chopper was getting close, because so I was carried out of the mess tent, this time on a stretcher, out the FSB through the opening in the rolls of razor wire that surrounded the FSB and across the highway to the landing zone where we waited for the chopper to come pick us up.  They called that  a dustoff.  As I laid on the ground waiting, a lot of thing ran through my mind, but the one I remember most clearly “Was I wounded bad enough to get out of this awful place? Would this be my ticketback to the world?”

A few minutes later I heard the chopper coming in to land.  The sound was unmistakable, kind of a WOP, WOP, WOP sound.  When it landed they put the walking-wounded on first so they could be seated and to make room for my stretcher across the width of the chopper on the floor. Up we went and I felt such a sense of relief, but damn, I felt so was so cold and wet. They had covered me with a poncho liner but that just wasn’t enough to keep me warm.  At one point I could feel my pants sticking to my left hip, so I reached down to pull them away with my left hand.  My hand went about half way in to a very large wound on my hip.  “HOLY SH*T, WTF happened to me!”  I remember thinking in somewhat of a panic. This was the first time that it really hit me that I was likely badly wounded and I really got scared. So I just folded my arms across my chest and didn’t move for the rest of the flight to the hospital in Cu Chi.

* Tony Chliek served 6 May 1968 to 5 May 1968 and was from Smithtown, New York.
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