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A Name On The Wall (from Sports Illustrated)

The feeling had gone out of everything. It was like we were zombies. You didn’t care anymore. July was terrible. The [North Vietnamese] whacked Ripcord, that hill we were on, with mortars and rocket fire. Day after day, night after night. I was getting shell-shocked. I didn’t care if I got out. At night you could hear the [enemy] yelling from the jungles all around, “GI die tonight! GI die tonight!” This was our deathbed. We thought we were going to be overrun.
—SPC. 4TH CLASS DANIEL THOMPSON, wireman at Firebase Ripcord, Vietnam, July 1970

There were always lulls between the salvos of incoming mortars, moments of perishable relief. The last salvo had just ended, and the dust was still settling over Firebase Ripcord. In one command bunker, down where the reek of combat hung like whorehouse curtains, Lieut. Bob Kalsu and Pfc. Nick Fotias sat basting in the jungle heat. In that last salvo the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), as usual, had thrown in a round of tear gas, and the stinging gas and the smoke of burning cordite had curled into the bunkers, making them all but unbearable to breathe in. It was so sweltering inside that many soldiers suffered the gas rather than gasp in their hot, stinking rubber masks. So, seeking relief, Kalsu and Fotias swam for the light, heading out the door of the bunker, the threat of mortars be damned. “Call us foolish or brave, we’d come out to get a breath of fresh air,” Fotias recalls.

Read the rest of this Sports Illustrated story...


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