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.

A Perfect Chaos

For those of you who survived the 1990s (I would pretty much bet that includes everyone reading this!!) you probably remember the hit series “Third Rock From The Sun”. Joe Diffie sang these words in the title track for the opening credits of every episode:

“Cause and effect, chain of events

All of the chaos makes perfect sense”

It was while I was trying to make sense of the events that have transpired since the First of May of this year that Joe Diffie’s playful tune popped into my head.

I was thinking that the chain of events that have transpired since the failed parachute jump in Houston are the most divinely perfect kind of chaos—if there can possibly be such a thing! Nevertheless, it has defined my crazy life and I am going to stick with the metaphor! I think of it as a showering of goodwill and incredible good luck that has fallen down on me like a welcome warm summer rain that comes out of nowhere here in South Texas sometimes on those white-hot wide afternoons and you feel refreshed.

So, if any of my loyal readers have been wondering what is up with my efforts to walk again and why I have not posted anything on my blog these last few weeks, it is not that I have given up—no sir! Far from it! These last few weeks have been filled with action but not the kind that lends itself to insightful writing and cutting epiphany. The repetitious nature of physical therapy is like that—repetitious, not particularly capable of invoking cutting edge commentary. It is probably equally true that physical therapists, coaches, and especially sports stars don’t make brilliant scholarly insights above the standard overused sporting cliches. So, rather than give you a grocery list of reps and sets of particular exercises I decided to spare you the details and wait till I had something of substance to write about.

So there I was about a week and a half ago in the Tricare office at NAS Corpus Christi making sure that the next round of physical therapy was good to go and that there would be no breaks in the treatment. When I made the comment that while I was generally ok with how things were going; however, what I would really like more than anything else in the world was an all expense paid trip to the Center for the Intrepid at Fort Sam Houston. To my surprise, was met with the response by the Tricare representative Charlene Hagar, “Well, why not!?”

I was dumbfounded. Could it really be that easy???

A few emails exchanged by my dear friend Jean-Luc to his friend Don and Johnny and lo and behold tomorrow I have my first appointment at the Center for the Intrepid with my doctor and will meet the team that will set my course of treatment for the next few weeks. Johnny was the secret weapon so to speak, he is a retired Sergeant Major. Anyone who knows the Army will tell you without a doubt it is the NCOs that make things happen. I do not make this statement in jest either!

Throughout this process of getting my legs I have been humbled and astounded by the level of effort and faith that people have put forth on my behalf. In Houston the TMC Orthopedic and the Amputee and Prosthetic Center broke every record getting me measured and fit for my C-Legs. A process normally took a couple weeks was done in less than 72 hours! Moreover, this has carried forth to the selection process for the Center for the Intrepid where I have been informed that a great many people went to great effort on my behalf and again new benchmarks were set.

To all who have advocated on my behalf and who have offered the most kind words of support and encouragement, I vow to you that your efforts and support are and will be worthwhile.

Thank you! I promise to not disappoint! So, for the next few weeks, me and my wife and daughter Lucie will be staying at one of the Fisher Houses here on Fort Sam Houston and I will be setting course on a a redefined treatment to get me up and walking on my C-legs.

Exciting stuff!

Stay tuned for more!

Hardcore Harry

How’s Your Ischial Tuberosity?

My darling wife has brought it to my attention on numerous occasions these last couple weeks that I have not been writing as much as I should in my blog. Incidentally, I was not aware that the word nag was of Scandinavian origin. Think about it. It was the persistent action of the womenfolk back in Scandinavia that led to one of the greatest invasions in all of history!! What probably started out with a blond, vivacious, buxom, Scandinavian goddess, we’ll call her Helga, complaining that her man, Thor, had left his chain mail and sword on the kitchen table again and why is it he could never pick the lid up on the slit trench??? So it was with the shrill echo of the lovely Helga still ringing in his ears reminding poor Thor that the thatch roof needed repairing, and that they were about to run out of moose burgers, that the Vikings set off to engage in an all out war of conquest. (The Viking’s must have looked to the sanctuary of the longship much like Homer Simpson eyes a box of glazed donuts!) Helga was to eventually be bought off with a few shiny trinkets of booty from far away lands and Thor was able to get a group of monks in a monastery write a revisionist history—in exchange for their lives–that covered up Thor’s shortcomings as a husband!

This last week marked my first full week of physical therapy. Slowly along the way I am being re-introduced to the peculiar language of the physical therapist. One of my favorite questions is: “How is your is your ischial tuberosity?” Or, “Is your prosthesis bearing weight on your tuberosity?” No doubt some of my more curious readers were sent scampering away toward yonder bookshelf upon reading that—we’ll call this category reader the more distinguished scholars amongst us: that being the reader who has books that they actually read; books that do more than prop up the shorter leg of the kitchen table that the darling wife with her persistent ministrations caused the reader to “fix” himself rather than call a skilled tradesman. Never underestimate the value of a feeling of self-sufficiency however sad or misplaced!!

Now, that the rest of you lazy bastages have finished looking up the words on Google we can continue!

The ischial tuberosity is quite a common set of protrusions that will be instantly familiar with anyone who has ridden a horse for any length of time. Being “saddle sore” and having a pain in your ischial tuberosity are the same thing! Now there are a great many feelings and sensations that accompany a person such as myself who has not walked in 26+ years that are pretty dang cool: shopping for shoes, standing, and, taking first steps. Trust me when I tell you that remembering that you have an ischial tuberosity IS NOT ONE OF THESE SUPER-DOOPER COOL BEANS (RE)DISCOVERIES!!!

So there I was a saddle sore trooper and nary a horse in sight! It was then that I remembered that I had just turned 48 and thought that this kind of physical endeavor would have been easier 20 some years ago had only the technology been available. It was then that I remind myself that if it were easy then everybody would do it and dang if I can’t help the challenge!!

After all of this, a funny thing happened Thursday afternoon. It was while standing up on my C Legs that I knew right then and there that this was actually going to happen! It was then that balance didn’t seem all that hard a thing to achieve and for the first time I was able to stand without powering through with my upper body. Up until then walking again was something I had imagined in my mind. It was then something I knew with the rest of my body.

My wife Ginny was there too, smiling. For now she didn’t care that my underwear drawer was full of assorted books, half finished journals, and the odd box or ten of ammunition. “Stand up straight! Look straight ahead! Quit looking at your shoes! One more!”

I love her!

 

Hardcore Harry

LOYALTY

Today is my birthday. I have always thought it fortuitous that I was born on June fifth. After all, it was 66 years ago on June 5th that the Allied Airborne forces took to the air to kick off Operation Neptune, the airborne phase of the D-Day landings. As a veteran of the 82nd Airborne and a field artilleryman I have always had a special place in my heart for paratroopers and artillerymen—especially airborne artillerymen! There is an old artillerymens’ saying that: “Artillery lends dignity to what otherwise might be an unruly brawl.” We are considered the “King of Battle.” Sure the Infantry—the Queen of Battle—takes ground. We artillerymen make sure they hold to it!

The first commander of the 82nd Airborne’s Division Artillery was none other than the great Maxwell Taylor. Maxwell Taylor would go on to command the 101st Airborne in D-Day and the remainder of World War II. We troopers of the 82nd Airborne like to point out that before Maxwell Taylor ever donned the uniform of the “Screaming Eagles” he wore the double “A” of the “All Americans!!!”

My birthday present today was a tattoo. Amazing as it sounds, although I did manage to pick up a tattoo or two during my time in the Airborne; I never managed to find an airborne tattoo that I liked. The off the shelf tats in the off base parlors just did not speak to me. I wanted something meaningful and today, nearly 26 years after I got out of the Army I finally found one that I like. My wife and daughter actually designed this one for me. It is a combination of my airborne artillery regiment’s unit crest and the wings from this year’s Airborne Amputee event that was sponsored by TMC Orthopedic in Houston this last May first and second.

 I like it. It is unique, and it certainly has a great deal of meaning for me. I have always been fond of the sentiment expressed in the regiment’s motto: LOYALTY. It is one word yet it carries with it connotations that cut all the way across ever tradition near and dear to the military:Duty, Honor, Country—SAME THING!

The wings, aside from their obvious connection to parachuting, symbolize the hope that organizations like TMC Orthopedic and its charity Limbs of Love offer to amputees like myself. I had never dreamed even a few months ago that I would ever be offered the chance to walk again yet here I am. It is astonishingly humbling. I have decided that even if it were to turn out that is was all for naught, I am better for having tried my best. There are simply some offers in life that you cannot turn your back on. Thank you TMC and The Amputee and Prosthetic Center for giving me this chance again. I vow to give my utmost toward this endevour and prove that your trust in my abilities was not unfounded.

 

Lastly, I will close by admitting that my loving wife, Ginny,  has long conceded that the Airborne will always be my first love. Therefore, the heart is indeed a symbol of the affection that I hold for the 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment.  Thank you for understanding, dear!

Airborne!

Hardcore Harry

“Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

The great comedy troupe Monty Python is wildly famous for its zany off-beat British humor.  One of the zaniest spoofs was a series  sketches titled “The Spanish Inquisition.”  Who could ever forget the high-pitched shrill phrase, “Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!”  once they have heard it at least once. If you are a true Monty Python fan you don’t just experience the Monty Python sketches just once! No, you take them and adopt them as part of your daily life.

Case in point: I remember one Christmas holiday some years back while visiting my sister Robin in Southern California. It was during this particular Christmas holiday that my brother-in-law Chris and I took to  (re)watching (and reciting in the process) all of the Monty Python classics. It just so happened that my young niece Nicole who had just turned six was also particularly smitten with many of the comedy skits and movies that we were viewing during this post Christmas Monty Python Marathon. She was so smitten in fact that she began reciting many of her favorite lines. It was all fun and laughs, that is until the angelic Nicole returned to school after the Christmas break and she promptly began reciting one liners from Monty Python and the The Holy Grail. In no time her teacher called my sister horrified and requested a family conference immediately. Apparently repeating such classics like: “I unplug my nose in your general direction!”  and, “I wave my private parts at your aunties!” were not received with universal acclaim that one would expect in a classroom of six year olds!!! Go figure!

(Grin)
So, where was I? Oh yes! “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” One would think that for such a momentous occasion as taking one’s first steps after twenty-seven years that the Spanish Inquisition would take a holiday? Apparently not! No, the Spanish Inquisition is alive and well and its Inquisitor General is none other than Prosthetist Ben Falls of the Amputee and Prosthetic Center in Houston, Texas!!! What proof do I have you ask? Lets compare the photographic evidence. Here is a picture of the most infamous Inquisitor General of all, Tomás de Torquemada, the fifteenth century Dominican friar and original leader of the Spanish Inquisition

Inquisitor General, Tomás de Torquemada (Wikipedia)

Now, here is a Top Secret-For Your Eyes Only photograph of Ben Falls taken by one of our covert operatives at Grand Inquisitor Falls’ top secret hideout. (Note of the latest high technology torture devices in the foreground–the very latest in up-to-date devices used by the New Spanish Inquisition!):

Is it a coincidence that both men–even though these pictures were obtained centuries apart–have receeding hair lines? I think not!!!!

Moreover, what is even more sinsiter is the previosly unknown fact that Ben Falls was in his youth was a Dang Hippie!!! And, what is even worse is that Ben is a Reformed Danged Hippie!!

Here I am attempting to run for my life at the blistering pace of 1 meter per minute upon learning that the Spanish Inquisition has chosen me as its next victim:

Try as I might, I can never get more than an arms reach from the leader of the Spanish Inquisition! Exhausted and dejected I take a seat to rest and come up with a new plan to combat the Inquisitors.

Lastly, here is Inquisitor Ben’s toady, Nick, to adminsiter the last rites of the damned! “Shoulders straight!” they say. “Hips back!” “Stand up!” “Initiate Swing Phase!” Moreover, they have programmed my wife and kids to recite their entreaties and prayerful chants!

“Nobody Expects the Spanish Iquisition!”

Bugger!!!

Hardcore Harry

Book of Firsts

 We humans are prone to celebrate and commemorate a great many firsts in our lives. First off, we define ourselves by the date we entered the world from our mother’s womb. This is only the beginning. After that we have our first teeth;  first words;  first baby steps;  and our first day of school. Add to that any number of firsts: our first kiss;  first car; first true love; and who can ever  forget the birth of his or her first child? As a paratrooper I will always remember my first jump, every one of my “First” Sergeants, and I will always remember my first and only time in combat–it forever changed my life. As a result, the first anniversary of surviving the wounds I sustained in combat was just as important as any birthday I have ever celebrated. The date October 27th, 1983 is forever burned in my memory and not a one passes that I do not give thanks for having lived to see a new one! Now I can add the date May 24th, 2010, to my Book of Firsts.

Today I took the first steps in nearly 26 and 1/2 years! Before that I had the delicious  pleasure of buying my first pair of shoes in 26 and 1/2 years as well. I cannot tell you the giddiness that accompanies setting  a course toward the shoe isle at Academy Sports and ACTUALLY having a bona fide reason to be there other than to wait on one of my family members to pick out their latest pair of shoes!!! Talk about a (RE)defining moment in a life!!! There I was, caught up in the moment actually taking great care again to pick out a pair of shoes that defines me! (Mental checklist: something rugged, practical, lightweight. A manly man shoe if it exists. Thank you very much please!) Here I am sporting a pair of Reebok DMX Voyage Walking Shoes Size 8–this is two and a half to three sizes smaller than I used to wear all those years back but a convincing argument was made that a smaller shoe weighs a lot less and any weight saved when walking with artificial legs is a GOOD thing!!

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! A manly man shoe suitable to carry the author aloft on his new mission to once again walk upright!

Shortly after docking the aforementioned manly manifesting, leather clad, mobile transport enhancing footwear to my computer enhanced robotic legs I am ready to get started on this business on being upright, vertical, and in motion! They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I know that whoever made up this maxim knew damn well what he or she was saying. The moment that I first laid eyes on my new Otto Bock C-Legs I saw a beautiful functional work of art!

Here I, Hardcore Harry, begin again learning the art of walking upright. No more will I define myself by my reclined state! I feel just like a pioneer setting out into the vast unknown wilderness, not knowing what future awaits me but I know I will engage that future fearlessly and with the utmost resolve. I am a US Army Airborne Paratrooper. Surrender is not in my creed!

Happiness Defined Airborne Style: Determination in Action!

HOOAHHH!!!

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