Vietnam War Memorial courtesy of flickr all rights reserved

Slowly John’s eyes opened. The glare from the sun was so brutal that he couldn’t see for a solid minute. He lay there, not knowing where he was or what had happened. All he knew at this moment was that he hurt all over. Ribs were aching, his left foot was murdering him and his back felt as if it were broken. It was all starting to come back to him.

One minute everything was quiet and everyone was going about their business and the next he was surrounded by gunfire and explosions. Immediately he became worried that maybe enemy soldiers were around and he stayed as still as possible. Finally his vision came back to him. He was lying in a fairly large hole in the ground that must have been caused by one of the explosions. There was mud and blood all over him but he didn’t seem to have any major injuries. He did notice his helmet on the ground next to him though and a shiver ran down his spine. “What the heck” he thought. It was cracked in two pieces. He grabbed his head and started feeling around. “Nothing. Damn. How is that even possible?” he wondered. He slowly sat up and looked around. There didn’t seem to be any action and no enemy troops were near by.

There was smoke and small fires everywhere, trees had been knocked down, a helicopter had been destroyed and two of the barracks they had set up didn’t even appear to exist anymore. That wasn’t good because many of the men were in those prior to the attack. Just then he realized how quiet it was in this chaos.

He didn’t see any of the other men, alive or dead, anywhere near him either. Confused,  John managed to get to his feet although very slowly and in extreme pain. His foot had swelled to twice its normal size and his whole body felt as though someone had just continually beat him with a baseball bat. “Where the fuck is everybody? What the hell is going on?” he thought. He wanted to yell out but didn’t want to alert the enemy of his presence in case they did happen to be around. The only sounds he heard came from the fires crackling. There wasn’t even any birds chirping. Nothing at all.

John R. Pungitore- Vietnam Airborn Ranger, Vietnam Veteran and Author John M. Pungitore's father used with permission

Anxiety filled John’s mind and body. He hobbled around the site a little bit looking for anyone or anything. He just wanted to know exactly what had happened here, where everyone went and why they had left him. He couldn’t find any clues.Extreme pain was setting in and John was forced to sit back down. It was unbearable and he slipped back into unconsciousness.

Slowly John’s eyes opened. The glare from the sun was so brutal that he couldn’t see for a solid minute. He lyed there in pain waiting for his vision to return. Finally it did. The glare was not from the sun at all but from lights hanging above him on the ceiling. He was, once again,  confused. He then realized that he was lying in a bed and not in a hole in the ground.

He was in a hospital. He could not remember much but realized the dream he had been having had something to do with the last thing to happen to him before waking up in this bed. There were all kinds of tubes attached to him. A monitor close by started to beep a little faster than it had been before.

John heard some footsteps coming toward him and a nurse appeared. She looked at John and whispered, “Oh mein Gott.” She then turned and yelled out, “Er ist wach!” More footsteps quickly made their way towards him and soon John was surrounded by a couple nurses and a doctor. They all seemed very excited and quickly started doing little tests and things to him.

They were shining lights in his eyes, messing with his hands and feet and talking to him. John didn’t know what the hell was going on and couldn’t understand a word they were saying. He tried to speak but his mouth was so dry he couldn’t get anything out. He just lay there and let them do their thing. The doctor then began to talk to him and said, “Son, you’re in a hospital in Germany. You were transferred here from Vietnam. You have been here for quite some time and it may take you a little bit before you can really move much or speak. We are gonna do a bunch of tests and things to make sure your ok. You just lay back and relax and we will get you up to speed when you start to recuperate some.”

For a couple days, John was surrounded by people poking and prodding him. It was all a blur but now he was in his bed, sitting up and feeling half decent. He was able to talk a bit although his throat was still really hurting and dried out. He was about to try and take a sip of some water when the doctor walked in.

“How are we doing today?” “

Jon answered “Ok I guess. Tell me what the heck is going on here doc. Please.” “

“Well ok John but I want you just to try and stay relaxed because this may come as a bit of a shock to you.”

“Just tell me.”

“As I said before, you are here in Germany in our hospital.”

“Well yeah, that much is obvious.”

“I’m not sure how much you actually remember but you were out on a tour of duty in Vietnam.”

“That I do remember.”

“Well, you were deep in the jungle at one of your camps and you were attacked. I don’t have many details about the attack but a rescue team found you unconscious in a ditch. They were about to leave when one of the guys spotted you last second. You were covered in debris and laying in a bit of mud. Unfortunately, also surrounded by other soldiers who didn’t make it.”

“Damn. How many guys made it?”

“Ahhh…Ummm. Ahhh….you are the only survivor…… I’m sorry John. From what I have heard, it was really bad and they were amazed that you were alive.”

John looked down in disbelief and got lost in his thoughts for a couple of minutes. Tears were slowly streaming from his eyes. He felt as if a truck had just run him over. It was like losing a whole family all at once.

“When will I be able to go home?”

“Well, soon enough but there is something else I have to tell you.”

John tilted his head back up to look at the doc.

“What? What is it?”

“John, you remember the other day when I told you that you have been here for quite some time?”

“Yes. Why?”

“I’m just gonna come out and say it. You have been here, in a coma, for just over a year.”

John didn’t say anything at all but just stared straight ahead with a look of numbness on his face. The doctor put an arm on his shoulder to comfort him.

“You were actually  lucky. It was as if somebody was watching over you. You were laying there in a ditch surrounded by fire and chaos and even death yet somehow you survived with not much more than a broken left foot, bruised ribs and some scrapes and scratches. when they found you, your helmet was laying next to you cracked into two pieces. We think this is what saved your life. Something smashed you on the head and into this coma but if you hadn’t been wearing that helmet you probably would have died.”

“Lucky? This is what you call lucky ?! I lost all the soldiers I had come to call my brothers, my family, in one second flat!  And then I lay in a coma in a hospital for a year. Someone was looking out for me?! I see it as the other way around. This is some sort of punishment. It would have been an honor to die on the battlefield!  I should have died with my brothers! I dreamt about all this right before I woke up. It all felt so real. Even my helmet was there cracked into the two pieces. The only thing was that nobody else was around. Not even any bodies. I felt so alone, so abandoned. Now I know why. ”

“Look, I know this is all really tough right now and a lot to take in. Why don’t you lay back and rest a little bit and we’ll talk about this more later. I’m also gonna have a counselor start talking to you in a couple of days to try to help you work some things out. It’s gonna take you some time to heal…physically and mentally, but I promise you it will get better.”

“It’s not going to get better. I have absolutely nothing to go back too. My brothers all died in battle, my parents died when I was young, my girl left me for some little maggot two weeks after I left for Vietnam and last I had heard, the states weren’t exactly welcoming back their veterans. I have nothing except for my nightmares.”

Author John M. Pungitore