Thank You For Your Service: Sister Gertrude and the Legend of the Blushing Airborne Ranger

This is an excerpt of the speech given at a luncheon at Donald Mooney Enterprises on June 24th 2016.  I have opted to record it for posterity to remind Captain William Eskridge just how damn awesome we were in our youth–or embarrass  him with the telling. Take your pick!!

Airborne!! All the Way!! Sir!!

Rangers Lead the Way!!

Willing and Able! Mass the fire!!

Hardcore Harry

 

 

 

I sometimes suspect that younger veterans think I am telling tall tales when I tell them that folks didn’t always thank every veteran they meet for their service. Thirty-three years ago, when I was a young 21-year old combat-wounded veteran, the vast majority of people I would meet somehow seemed more interested in “other” concerns of a more personal nature. At  first, I didn’t know what to think of it? Eventually, it became so predictable that it became second nature to respond with the cursory pat answer that satisfied their overriding sense of curiosity. It started with my sister, Robin, asking the doctors in ICU. It reached its apex when a Catholic nun named Sister Gertrude, who was at least all of 80-plus years old, tottered up to my bed on Ward 43C in Beach Pavilion at Fort Sam Houston and introduced herself.

 

“Hello,” she says shaking my hand.  “My name is Sister Gertrude.”

“How are your testicles?”

Somehow, I managed to stammer out an answer, in my thoroughly embarrassed state, that satisfied her.

 

“Bless you!” she says, patting me on the hand. She then turns  to the bed adjoining mine. There was then First Lieutenant Bill Eskridge from the Second Ranger Battalion, who had lost his right leg at Calvigny Barracks, during the third day of operations of Operation Urgent Fury.

Bill ...Ranger photo

 

She asks Bill the same question, in front of all of our friends and family and God.

I don’t recall ever seeing that shade of red on a blushing Airborne Ranger before…

I am also certain that I must have  at least equaled its hue in my previous attempts at a response!!

 

Again, satisfied with our horrifyingly awkward responses. She thanks us and leaves.

Yet,  the legend and single-minded bravery of this plucky, frail,  and tottering nun has never died!

We both knew right then that we had witnessed an un-daunting courage that neither of us had, or,  would ever, possess!!

 

Thank you for your service. What does it mean? Personally, I am not always sure about the expression. Indeed, sometimes, I find the phrase inherently uncomfortable and vague. I suppose that this has to do with the fact that most individuals using the phrase are blissfully unaware of the true nature of the object for which they are thanking us for. In some ways, looking back,  the overwhelming comical, carnal curiosity in one’s testes has a genuineness often missing in today’s perfunctory addressing of combat veterans. Because, in asking there is provided  an answer with either in the negative or affirmative that everyone can relate. There, is either loss or joy. Everything is simplified. Everything is related.

 

“Thank you for your testes, young man!”

“You’re welcome. Glad to oblige!”

 

Not likely to start a trend, I am afraid.

 

THAT age has thankfully passed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on June 24, 2016 at 9:58 pm  Comments (1)  

When I Last Saw Jean-Luc

     This morning I received a phone call from my friend Jean-Luc Nash’s West Point class mate, Don Mooney. Don was given the unenviable task of telling me that Jean-Luc had passed away at his home in Pensacola last night.  Those of you who know my story, know about Jean-Luc and Tim Andruss and their heroic efforts on the battlefield during Operation Urgent Fury on that October afternoon in 1983, in the wake of a misdirected air strike that hit the Second Brigade Tactical Operations Center (TOC) for the 82nd Airborne Division.

 

I know a lot about the depths of desperation and despair and loss, but, nothing in my life has compared to the absolute sense of loss of this great giant of a man. There is a hole in the world and there is a hole in the depths of my heart.  Superlatives pale in comparison to the magnitude of the greatness that was Jean-Luc Nash. I did not know him before we invaded Grenada on October 25th 1983.  There has not been a day that has passed since then that I have not thought of him.  What transpired on that bloody battleground was more than lives (my own included) being saved.  One cannot truly understand the depths of true brotherhood until one has shared the absolute intensities and desperations and depravations of warfare.  Jean-Luc Nash did more than make it possible for me to have a chance at surviving that day. He gave me countless opportunities.

 

The last time I saw Jean-Luc was in September when we spent a few days with him and his wife Michele at their home in Pensacola, Florida.  We were on our way to Disneyworld for the first time and we had our granddaughter Maia along with us for the three week trip.  Miss Maia was particularly smitten by Jean-Luc and he with her.  Jean-Luc and Michele had a little girl’s tricycle that he kept in the garage for their grandkids.  Maia would ride her “bike” up and down the driveway at the house there in Pensacola.  Maia’s second favorite activity was gathering up all the acorns and placing them in the basket of the tricycle to plant to make “baby trees.”  Jean-Luc, being Jean-Luc, played gracefully along. He was like that. He was always accommodating, and, he always had time for the soft cuddly tyranny of a toddler’s whims and fancies.

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I remember taking this picture on my phone camera and thinking then how poignant it was.  I also remember thinking how he—Jean-Luc—had made this scene possible. Without me surviving that dreadful day in Grenada in 1983, there would have never been the possibility or the opportunity to share this quiet reflective moment in Pensacola 32 years later. Yeah, you made it possible big guy! You made so much possible. I had hoped to have more scenes like this to share with you before you left this world too soon. And now, you are gone.  I will forever reach out to you and the memory of who you were and seek to be worthy of the faith you had in my life.

 

Godspeed my friend. “And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. “

 

 

In Time: The Passing of First Sergeant Gordon Graves

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Today marks the passing of an age. First Sergeant Gordon Graves has made his last jump.  Top was a maker of men and heroes alike.  Although, he would be the first to deny his status in the pantheon of heroes, we troopers who knew and loved him scoff at the mere notion of his self-exclusion.

Top Graves, like the heroes in all ages was connected to the very same thread of existence. We paratroopers who served with him remain connected to the fiber and weave of this thread in an unbreakable link to the pantheon of world history. Before us, we followed. After us, others follow in the Airborne Brotherhood. The link to the past, present, and future is assured only as long as good men like Gordon Graves are remembered. This be the duty of the living.

I remember him as he was and not how he became when I saw him last a few weeks ago on a trip to Seabrook, Texas. I remain eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to see this fine man one last time before he passed. I know he knew that. Still, parting is such sweet sorrow.

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In time, I know we will all meet in the old barracks on Carentan Road. We will hastily assemble in formation as the battery guidon snaps gently in a Carolina breeze born on the sweet scent of southern pines. First Sergeant Gordon Graves will be there sounding roll call: “Shaw?” he will call. “Airborne! First Sergeant!” I will reply. Reveille will sound in the darkness from Division Headquarters; and, we will snap to attention and turn and salute the flag. Afterwards we will meet at Green Ramp and fit out parachutes and jump on Sicily Drop Zone where Top will lead the way out the door on a cool and clear and crisp October day. We will live again in a world where things are made right and good.

We will meet again at Point Salines Airfield too, where the battle will rage on about us. We will act again with great intrepidity and with courage and relive those days before everything changed forever and innocence and the invulnerable prerogatives of youth were shattered forever. As the howitzers in the battery thunder our intentions defiantly, we will look at each other and smile and know that this is as it was in the old days. This was real.

Grenada

Some might find it curious that on the thirty year anniversary of the day I was wounded in action that I would long to be back in the one place that it all ended and began for me:

Grenada.

I have always believed that the universe holds its breath when we mortals come to the crossroads of life-changing events. Enter one door, and the force of creation lets out a sigh of relief–choose the other, and, angels weep. I also believe that some doors we enter are not by the gentle knocking and turning of handles. Some doors we enter crashing through in an explosion of chaos and splinters. Upon entering we are given one question to answer:

“What are you going to do now?”

How you answer this each and every day determines what kind of life you lead.

Robert Ruark, is one of my favorite authors. In the second chapter of his book, “Horn of the Hunter,” he muses that his soul has forever been catching up to his heart because of his travels. I believe that this is something that anyone who has ever been seriously wounded in combat can relate to. Combat has the capability to disintegrate bodies into unrecognizable fragments. I also believe that it is also responsible for fragmenting souls.

Thirty years of trying to piece my fragmented soul back together again has taught me that I can never tell just where one of those disembodied pieces will show up.

I found a piece of it on the green grass of Arlington National Cemetery when I visited the gravesite of Sergeant Sean Luketina on the ten year anniversary of his death. I don’t have answers to the riddles of fortune and luck. Nor, can I answer why good men die too young. I do know like Ruark that, “If they keep exposing you to education, you might even realize some day that man becomes immortal only in what he writes on paper, or hacks into rock, or slabbers onto a canvas, or pulls out of a piano.” ( Robert Ruark,   The Old Man and the Boy).

So it is left for survivors to tell the tale.

Where was I? Oh yes! Let me continue.

One week on the San Juan River in North Western New Mexico is where the trout led me to another piece of my soul.

I had to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 1997 to find a missing piece in Cardiff, Wales where I met my wife, Ginny. When our daughter Lucienne was born in 2002, I found yet another.

The pieces are never found where you are looking. They sort of descend upon you like loving-kindness. They reside in ordinary things and hide in extraordinary ways. Always, I have been aware of one indisputable fact:

The greater sum of my soul has remained in the verdant hills of that island–merged with the soul of a nation freed. Carried on the tropical scented breeze, down to the achingly white beaches to the sea.

It calls to me…..

I am forever haunted.

Makers of Dreams:The 33rd Jump

Too often, it seems, it is the dreams we dream in youth that become the unfulfilled regrets we bear later on in life. I had always dreamed of being a paratrooper and I was blessed, even for a brief time to wear the mantle of awesome responsibility that comes from such a calling. The writer, George Orwell, perfectly summed it up in this quote:

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

And though, looking back I was just a kid at the time, I was a paratrooper and I was there when I was needed.

Long before I wore the silver wings of the airborne, I dreamed them into existence in my youth. Moreover, as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division I have been doubly blessed in my life to meet the heroes I read of in the books of my youth. Men like the incomparable General Matthew Ridgway, the one-time commander of the 82nd Airborne; the quiet yet unassuming First Sergeant, Leonard Funk—winner of the Medal of Honor; and the ever humble Chaplain George Woods—when I met him while recuperating in the hospital at Fort Sam Houston in 1983, he told me first hand of the gruesome spectacle of the massacre of the troopers who jumped into to the town square at St. Mere Eglise France on the night of June 6th, 1944. These and more did I meet.

What does one say when one of one’s most treasured dreams are about to come true? In my case at the tandem jump this last Saturday at Skydive Spaceland in Houston, nothing. I had to take in all of the the moment and promised I would save the eloquence for later. This is not to say that I did not think big thoughts—of those, I can assure you there were plenty. What I simply needed was to put some space between these affairs of the earth and spend a few brief moments soaring the heavens.

There have been times during these twenty-seven years since Operation Urgent Fury that I have been the recipient of pity. Although, at no time did a solicit it nor will I ever, it comes. It comes sometimes in the most unusual and unexpected places. The accompanying pathos over the physical loss I find very hard to endure because to me the most heartrending loss was what could not be seen. The loss of my limbs I could endure with steadfast resolution. Not being able to jump again hurt most of all my wounds.

Somewhere above the clouds on the way down it all becomes clear to me. Here I have assembled before me on this most perfect of days was a cast of characters most noble and treasured above all. These were the makers of dream. In another time and place the muses would have compelled the poets to dream such men into existence. There was Joe Sansone before me, ostensibly the CEO of TMC Orthopedics and founder of Limbs of Love. What do you say to a man who offers hope where none have ever existed? All I could offer was a most joyous smile a most heartfelt thank you and my hand in friendship and vow to live up to the trust you have placed in me.

Jean-Luc Nash was there with me that October day in Grenada twenty seven years ago when it all went horribly wrong. Timothy Andruss was there too with Jean-Luc. Their bravery and their quick actions gave me a chance at survival. These two men were the real heroes that day—they know I know this, though it is doubtful you will ever hear them own up to their incredible exploits. These two and many others whose names I will never know made the dream possible. We are brothers bound by the sacred bonds of battle.

Don Mooney, Jean-Luc’s West Point classmate and best friend was there too. Don, I owe you more than I can ever repay for your advocacy on my behalf. You I consider a facilitator of the dream. Congratulations on your sixth jump my friend, I know it has been a longer time coming than my last. Relish it always!

What can be said about the incomparable world record parachutist Jay Stokes? You sir are an honored knight of the sky and and a treasure to the airborne brotherhood. I consider it an honor to have served the same battalion that you once served. My only regret is that we had not met sooner. Your professionalism and attention to detail are a tremendous credit to you and your profession. Thank you my newfound friend for granting me this most sacred and treasured wish.

To my loving wife, Ginny and children: Sebastian, Chloe, and Lucienne; who know all my best stories by heart I owe the finest of what I am to you. You too have borne my dreams and are always there to make sure I live up to them. Lucie, my hope is one day you will understand the importance of us taking your  teddy bear on the jump with us. Not many little girls  can say their bear jumped from 14,000 feet!

One other was present that most perfect day. I carry his memory in my heart each and every moment. Sergeant Sean Luketina was there. He was there and he was remembered well and fondly. He is a spiritual light. Somewhere between heaven and earth you will find him. Those of us who lived that day twenty seven years ago cannot forget this brave trooper of the Signal Corps. I keep a framed picture of him. Sean is talking on a radio and if on one day somewhere amongst clouds and the sky, if you listen closely you will hear the message he is broadcasting.

Hardcore Harry

Sergeant Sean Luketina

Some days are indelibly burned into your memory. For me, one of those days is June 30th. Today is the day that Sergeant Sean Luketina died. I did not know Sean before Operation Urgent Fury; but, there has not been a day that has passed that I have not thought of him.

I live near the ocean. I find that the massive expanse of the sea helps me to put everything in perspective. Today Hurricane Alex is bearing down on the Gulf Coast south of where me and my family have made our home. In a strange way I find the immense power of a hurricane calmly reassuring. It helps me to feel small. I know too well what it is like to get caught up in the whirlwinds of life and the storms that churn in the Gulf of Mexico offer an affirmation of proportion in all things.

James Taylor sings the song “Walking Man” that I have never been able to get out of my head for many, many years. It is only now that I am beginning just now to add meaning to the last part of the opening refrain:

 Moving in silent desperation

Keeping an eye on the holy land

A hypothetical destination

Say, Who is this walking man?

 Who is this walking man? I am: a husband; the father who dotes on his daughter; always the paratrooper; eyes on the sky wishing to fly…again; a college graduate; a font of trivial knowledge; a teacher, sometimes the muse; always the seeker of truth; and I am the survivor of tragedy unspeakable.

Sean and I were wounded side by side in the misdirected air strike that took my legs. Sean was evacuated immediately as it was determined that he had the best chance of surviving. Me? If you ask Jean-luc Nash he will tell you that they really didn’t know where to start. I was a perfect mess.

It was a month later that Sean went into the coma. He was suffering from uremic poisoning and it was during the operation that the doctors at Walter Reed removed his legs that he went into the coma from which he would never awake. It was shortly after that that I got a letter from his mother. She told me about her son who had also lost his legs. She was looking for answers. She did not know that Sean and I had been shot in the same incident. I am not sure she found comfort in the truth that I wrote her. I can only hope that she did.

I visited Sean’s grave in Arlington in 1994 on the tenth anniversary of his death. I did not know that his mother had chosen to be buried with her son. It was a touching display of motherly devotion and this sight on the green fields of Arlington haunts me to this day:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He died one day shy of his 24th birthday.

Who is this walking man?

I am the keeper of memories of fallen heroes.

Rest in peace my brother.

Hardcore Harry

Blood on the Risers

 Ask any paratrooper who has ever served in any airborne unit and the chances are they will know the song “Blood on the Risers.” The song lovingly embraces a sort of sick twisted sense of fatalistic humor that is fairly unique to the Airborne trooper. There I was on the Island of Grenada, on my back on the floor in a bloody state of disassembly and this verse to “Blood on the Risers” sort of pops into my mind:

There was blood upon the risers, there were brains upon the chute,
Intestines were a’dangling from his Paratrooper suit,
He was a mess; they picked him up, and poured him from his boots,
And he ain’t gonna jump no more!

It would be funny if it did not hurt so damned much I remember thinking. For a paratrooper, the worst fate that you can suffer is to not be able to jump again. Back then they used to tell us that there were only two ways to leave the 82nd Airborne Division: PCS (permanent change of station) or die–none of us much liked either option!!

Not being able to jump again was a fate almost worse than death to us. I accept that we airborne types are/were not what one would consider normal—maybe it was the result of landing too many times on our head! Perhaps.

Retelling war stories and experiences are funny things. It is like you get this stock story that you can retell it without thinking. It is like engaging a war-story autopilot. You hear yourself retelling some of the most intense feelings and experiences that you have ever or will ever face with a near monotone matter-of-fact regularity. I am sometimes amazed that my audience finds some of the things I have to relate interesting. at all. Perhaps it is the curse of retelling the same static incident literally thousands of times over the years. All the time you have to be mindful of your audience. I have worked out various levels of my story over the years rated G to XXX. It all depends. Even when you tell the most extremely graphic detailed versions you wonder if there is ever really any way that something like this can be put to words and even if it could how can you be sure that your audience can even begin to understand it.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of the events that took place of the afternoon of October 27, 1983. Some parts of the story will forever belong to those of us who were there and will never be retold. How do you relate the incomprehensible bloody brutality of war in a sane way? I haven’t found a way yet.

What I know and remember is this: I was hit by the 20 millimeter cannons fired by the A7 Corsair. My right leg below the knee was missing and perhaps 4 or so inches of my right shin bone shone eerily white against the blood that was gathering everywhere about me. I remember looking for my right boot. For a time I could not find it and thought that it must have been destroyed, that is, until I felt something over by my right ear. It was my boot, still perfectly bloused in my Corcoran Jump Boot and the boot was still sporting a decent spit-shine!. Strangely, I took comfort that even in the face of destruction, I was able to relish in this bit of military precision. At least some part of me was in uniform!

My left leg was totally shattered from well above the knee. It was pretty obvious to me that there was no way that the doctors were going to be able to save my legs—providing I could get medical attention. Also, I did not know it yet, but I had also taken internal injuries that would eventually necessitate the removal of half of my small intestine. The pain was overwhelmingly immense.

I remember a conversation that I had once had  at a Denny’s in Sharon Pennsylvania with a bunch of friends while on leave after watching the first Rambo movie—back when Stallone was still a cool dude and before he had made a bunch of hack rehashed sequels to his hit movies. Somewhere in the conversation we tried to determine what the worst pain a human being could experience. Somewhere in the debate this girl, Amy, announces that the worst pain that a human being could experience is childbirth. Well, s**t! None of us guys had any counter to that so she wins the debate hands down!!! A year later as I lay bleeding on that cement floor in that barracks I came to the realization that I’d like to have triplets instead!!!!! It was only years later that I would see Amy again and inform her that she was nearly my dying thoughts!

I can look back now and laugh at this but then it was not a great deal of fun any way you looked at it!

I can also look back and I can categorically state that even then I was wrong. Losing a limb(s) is not the worst pain that you can experience. The most painful thing that a human being can experience is the feeling of regret. To regret that you did not do something when you know know you should have/could have/ought-to-have is far more painful than merely losing a piece of one’s anatomy. I sincerely mean this with the utmost of conviction.

This is why tomorrow, May 24, 2010 that I will begin the process of learning to walk again—roughly 26 ½ years after having lost both of my legs above the knee that day in Grenada. How I came to this fortuitous point at this stage in my life is a story unto itself that I hope to relate fully at a later stage in this blog. A few years ago, this would not have even been technologically possible. To not try given the opportunity, would be to open the door to the possibility of the mother of all regrets and this I cannot allow to happen.

It all begins again tomorrow. Along the way I will hopefully fill in the enormous gaps in on this tale that deserve a retelling. I owe my very existence to a great many courageous and talented people who refused to give up on me even when the chance at survival was at its most grim. So here I am, caught in the past with what has been and on the threshold of the future of what will be.

Stick around, things are about to get interesting. I promise!

Hardcore Harry

“All Come Tumblin Down” Urgent Fury Part III

Service in the Second Brigade TOC (Tactical Operations Center) was a constant staccato of radio transmissions and updates from units of the 82nd Airborne punctuated by very brief moments between missions where we were able to catch our breath. The pace of action was wholly different from a line battery but very much like serving in my very first assignment in the 82nd Airborne with the Battalion FDC (Fire Direction Center). The TOC was the nerve center or “brains” of the brigade and everything that happened was approved through the TOC or was communicated directly through us. The TOC also had an Air Force Forward Air Controller team stationed along side of us paratroopers as well as a Marine Anglico (Air Naval Gunfire) team responsible for calling in Naval air strikes and/or naval gunfire support. All in all there were 25 of us and we were responsible for all of the air, artillery, and naval assets supporting the 82nd Airborne Division and the two US Army Ranger Battalions on the southern part of the island near Point Salines Airfield.

The combined arms battlefield was still in its infancy and there were still a lot of kinks to be worked out of the system. The most glaring problem was the radios themselves. There was no way for the Army to talk to the Navy or Marines without an Anglico Team on site and visa versa. This caused a great deal of confusion early on and this would ultimately lead to a tragic miscommunication on the afternoon of the 27th of October that would change my life forever.

Mid-morning on the 27th the TOC moved its operations to Calliste Barracks that had been captured in the previous day’s fighting. Calliste Barracks was north and east of Salines Airfield and it occupied a wonderful bit of high ground on a ridge that overlooked the airfield and the surrounding countryside. Our Cuban and communist adversaries fancied this ramshackle bit of 2X4 and 3/4inch pine clad walls and galvanized tin roof structure as a barracks; but, it was a far cry from even the most basic accommodations in the United States military. I imagine our Air Force partners in the TOC must have thought it was quite a dreadful bit of slumming around compared to their country club barracks back in the States! For us paratrooper it was dry and a nice change from the rocks and dirt that we had been been staying in since we landed. Visually, it was still a third-world s**thole. It was home for now!

If you will allow, I will highlight the difference between the different service branches with an illustrative vignette. There is a cartoon that was circulating around that pretty much sums up the US military and its relative outlook on what constitutes suitable living quarters that I remember seeing some time back. Basically it involves a horrendous thunderstorm and the first scene has an Air Force airman in his barracks with the TV remote in his hand. The thunderstorm has just knocked out the cable reception of his TV. As the storm rages in the background the airman says, “Man, this sucks! The cable has gone out!”

The next scene has a US Army leg (non-airborne) infantryman in a muddy foxhole enduring the same storm. The GI says dejectedly as the lightning crashes and the rain pours down, “Man, this sucks!”

Now, take that same storm and move on to the scene with an 82nd Airborne paratrooper in the same mud-filled foxhole with the same storm raging late into the night. The paratrooper says with a maniacal grin sprouting across his unshaved face, “Man, I like the way this sucks!”

Lastly, we move on to a similar foxhole with a US Army Ranger. The Ranger looks about disappointingly as the thunder and lightning crash all around and the foxhole fills with muddy water. The Ranger sighs and says in a disappointed tone, “Man, I wish this would suck some more!”

There is a poster of an 82nd Airborne trooper that you often see that pretty much highlights this same thing to some degree. I know, I used to keep a full sized copy in my room above my bed in the barracks. It shows an 82nd trooper during the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944. Here is a copy of it:

Anyway, back to the battle!

As I stated earlier, the TOC had approval and coordinated all fire missions and indirect support for our sector of the island. Mid afternoon on the 27th the TOC did just that by coordinating airstrikes and artillery preparatory fire for the Rangers assault on one of the last enemy strongholds on the island. As you can see from this picture, the level of destruction would have made it considerably uncomfortable for any holdouts still bent on “dying for the glorious Communist Revolution.” We were only too happy to oblige them in this quest!!

Calvigny Barracks H-Hour bombardment

(http://www.pbase.com/olyinaz/image/102038798)

It was towards the end of this mission that we started taking enemy fire from our front from the hamlets of Ruth Howard, Sugar Mill, and the village of Frequente. There was a drive-in theater nearby and an enemy motor pool that we had captured earlier with a few BTR 60 armored personnel carriers. The “Battle of the Drive-in” would become one of the last engagements where we engaged the enemy. It was during this battle that one of the US Navy A7 Corsairs from the USS Independence would break off from its previous station over the Calvigny Barracks to the east and come in low, fast and level with our position and strafe us with 20 mm cannon fire. I would find out later that the Marine Anglico team had called in the air strike on the enemy that was firing to our front. The strike was 600 meters off and 17 out of 25 members of the TOC were hit.

Right then I did not know this. I could see that myself and Specialist Sean Luketina were badly injured. Further up the barracks Sgt Joey Stewart was hit hit really badly as well. I knew three things right then. Number one, I was in a great deal of pain. I have heard it told and often repeated that when someone if injured really severely that that person does not feel pain. I can only assume whoever made this lie up had never really been injured because the pain was immense! Number two: I was thirsty–very, very thirsty. I could not believe that it would be possible to be that thirsty. I was losing a lot of blood fast. Lastly, My legs were gone. If I survived this my life would be forever different. Right now I wanted two things, something to drink and morphine. I would deal with the missing legs later….if I survived.

Hardcore Harry

D-Day Grenada–Urgent Fury Part II

October 25th 1983–Point Salines, Grenada 

They had always told us that a C141 Starlifter could hold 120 combat equipped paratroopers. Whoever had made up this Airborne maxim must have had a sick sense of humor!!  By the time one hundred and twenty paratroopers and their equipment were aboard there was literally not enough room to wiggle your big toe! I have never been in such a cramped and confined space before or since is all I have to say. To top this sleigh ride off we had the auspicious task of donning our parachutes on and off not just once but FOUR flippin times in-flight!!!!! There was a great deal of confusion as to whether the airfield at Point Salines was secure or not. The US Army Rangers had dropped into Point Salines Airfield at first light on the morning of the 25th and we paratroopers were set to do the same. Perhaps this was designed to get us in the mood to kill something. I DO know that by the time our plane load air-landed we were mad as hell to be landing in that bird and to be denied the one thing that all paratroopers most long for–a combat jump!

We were fit to be tied by the time we got on the ground and ready to kill the first offending life form that got in our way. We were angry as hell, we were on the ground  in the late afternoon of the 25th of October and we had not arrived under a parachute canopy.  I really pitied any opposition that got in our way because we would make them pay dearly for our sissified method of entry onto the battlefield!

No one gave the order to dig in, the fact that tracers were flying overhead was enough to set everyone scraping out a firing position in the rock infested soil at the far southeast portion of the airfield where we had taken up positions.  It was then that the endless months of training paid off. Dig in, stay down wait for orders! Badda boom! Badda bing!

The Grenadian militia and their Cuban allies put on a fantastic show of what not to do on a battlefield. The OH-6 LOACH (Light observation helicopters) would swoop in at treetop level and sure enough a stream of tracers would follow well behind their wake.

OH-6 Cayuse (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OH-6_Cayuse)

It was then that the Marine AH-1  Cobra Gunships would pop up from their positions just offshore and a stream of 2.75 inch rockets would come raining down on the fool who had dared to fire.

UH-1 Cobra Gunship Grenada (http://www.guncopter.com/photos/cobra-grenada-photo.php)

We had front row seats to this vicarious display of stupidity on the part of the Grenadian and Cubans and the awesome retaliatory response by the Cobra gunships! We had seen these weapon’s platforms in action many times during Capex Exercises (Capability Exercises) and during training demonstrations. This was the first time that we were to witness the destructive force of these marvelous birds in combat. The only thing missing in all of this was the popcorn popper!

It was not until the next morning that  our guns had arrived from Fort Bragg. It was not long after daybreak when the 105 millimeter guns of C battery were brought into action to support the attack on the radio station on Grenada. The bark of those howitzers was music to the ears of us airborne artillerymen of Divarty (Division Artillery). It meant that we had ceased being spectators and had become the spectacle! Laying steel on target is the stuff of artillerymen dreams!

M102 105mm howitzer in action (http://www.pbase.com/olyinaz/image/102038825)

In addition to the artillery being brought to bear on our first target the A7 Corsairs from the USS Independence were making strafing runs with their 20 millimeter cannons on the enemy positions.

A7E over Point Salines Airfield 1983 (http://www.pbase.com/olyinaz/image/123376722)

One only needed to watch the A7s come in at a dive to understand the full destructive capability of these 20mm cannons. The recoil from the cannons would seemingly bring these aricraft to a full stall in the four-five second bursts from the cannons. It did not take long before the resistance holed up at the radio station gave up rather than be subjected to the combined destructive force of an air and artillery barrage.

It was shortly after this first fire mission that I was approached by our battalion sergeant-major, Sgt. Maj. Dameron. Sgt. Major Dameron was African-American and unusually tall and lanky for a paratroop NCO. Paratrooper NCOs were generally short and fiery “pit-bulldog” stock from my experience in the Airborne. Even though Sergeant Major Dameron  far exceeded the height requirements of the Airborne NCO Corps, he was was not lacking in the requisite paratroop tenacity. He was a good Sergeant Major and we all looked up to him in more ways than one!

Sgt. Maj. Dameron informed me that the Second Brigade TOC was in need of a fire direction qualified individual to help manage the targets in our sector of the island. It was this transfer that would play a pivotal role in what would happen in my life over the next two days.

I remember arriving at the TOC and I was put straight to work plotting primary, secondary, and tertiary targets. I found it more than a bit un-nerving and just a tad comical that the map we were using was a xeroxed tourist map with a military grid system overlay. My first target to plot?

The Soviet Embassy.

“OK,” I thought, “Lets hope we don’t ever have to call this one in!” If so, it would mean the s**t had REALLY hit the fan!

Hardcore Harry

Operation Urgent Fury, Grenada, October 1983—Part 1

 October 24, 1983

There I was watching Monday night football and getting my hair cut by Komstock our barracks barber. Komstock had this very robust laugh that reminded you of the comedic portrayal of a caricature of a Soviet officer. Heck, he even looks the part! I suppose this shouldn’t be such a far fetched thing considering that Comstock’s grandparents had emigrated to the United States from the Ukraine. As an added bonus, Comtock was a barber by profession before he entered the Army. He did a much better job than most of the barbers on post for a fraction of the cost. I mean, where else could a trooper get his haircut while watching football and drinking a beer?!

Times were good in Alpha Battery, 1/320th Airborne Field Artillery of the 82nd Airborne Division. We had just finished our annual Artep (Army Training Evaluation Program) and we had done extremely well. However, something was up and we could all sense it. The Marine Barracks in Beirut had been bombed the day before. Our unit was part of the Division Ready Brigade and there was a sense of urgency in the air. There was also a great deal of increased traffic on post. Something was going to happen–we knew it, but when?

 It is hard to describe life in the 82nd Airborne Division to the uninitiated. It is part of the United States Army but it is in many respects an army unto itself. I suppose you could say that the division has its own identity, traditions, and history separate and unique in many respects to the rest of the Army. As paratroopers we prided ourselves on our training and our mission to be anywhere in the world within eighteen hours.

I remember being across Ardenne’s road many months before I had been transferred to A battery at the barber there and one of the older African-American barbers said to one of the other barbers while pointing across the road to the Division area, “Them boys across the road pray for a war every day.” I would say that this gentleman was most certainly correct in his pronouncement but I also suspect he did not have the first clue why he was right. Life in Division was a constant series of training exercises one after another. Many of us troopers prayed for a war, but, only to bring an end to the monotony of the training! In an elite unit like the 82nd Airborne they kept us wound tight so as to keep us ready to fight at a moment’s notice.

The CQ (Charge of Quarters) knocked on the door. The time had come to put it all to the test! Fall out with full combat issue! We did not find out for several more hours where we were going, most of us assumed then it would be Lebanon.

First Sergeant Graves, myself and several troopers were picked from Alpha Battery to fill in manpower shortages for Charlie Battery. We were the support elements for the 325th Infantry of the Second Brigade. It was only later on that evening that we were to be briefed on the mission objective. It would not be Lebanon, it would be the Caribbean Island of Grenada. I had only heard about the situation on Grenada a few weeks before when one of my good friends, Tom Ramirez, who was with the Headquarters Battery Survey section showed me a copy of his Newsweek just before he was to ETS out of Division. Tom was always keen to keep up on the latest news and happenings. He remarks that this was an area that we ought to watch out for. I remember the article showing a Russian engineer advisor who was helping the Grenadians and Cubans build the 10,000 foot airstrip on the island. Meh! He hardly looked like a threat in his unbuttoned shirt exposing his enormous belly holding a beer I thought!

Things had changed however. A few days before the Prime Minister of Grenada, his wife and several cabinet ministers and many supporters had been massacred. The communist-controlled government that took over then did what would be perhaps the stupidest thing imaginable. They declared a 24 hour shoot on sight curfew on the island. This was all the excuse that President Ronald Reagan needed. There were several hundred American medical students on the island. The memory of the Iran Hostage Crisis was still a recent memory for most Americans. President Reagan was determined to not see a repeat of this. If in the process of rescuing the students we just happened to restore democratic government to the island, so be it!

 This would be the first test of the United States Armed forces since the Vietnam War. The name of the mission was to be Operation Urgent Fury. It was a lovely un-politically correct and decidedly old school name!!!

Hardcore Harry