SGT William Upton, U.S. Army (1963-1968)



The following Reflection represents SGT William Upton’s legacy of their military service from 1963 to 1968. If you are a Veteran, consider preserving a record of your own military service, including your memories and photographs, on (TWS), the leading archive of living military history. The Service Reflections is an easy-to-complete self-interview, located on your TWS Military Service Page, which enables you to remember key people and events from your military service and the impact they made on your life.

Which song do you connect most to your time in Military service? What specific memories does this song bring back for you?:

The Ballad of the Green Berets by SSG Barry Sadler – 1966

Captain Bracey, Mr. Stephens, and I were headed home to Vung Tau after a day-long parts route or “milk run.” The deHavilland Caribou was empty. Deadheading back. It had been a long day, and I was tired. I laid down on the empty troop seats and put my flak jacket under my head. As I reread my latest “Dear Bill” letter from Myra Faye, I hummed words from a recent Righteous Brothers song: You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’, oh-oh that lovin’ fe-e-elin’. . .

I heard Mr. Stephens through my headset as he contacted the 1st Air Cavalry’s An Khe airfield.
“An Khe tower, this is Gray Tiger 99, over.”

“Roger, Gray Tiger 99, go ahead.”

“An Khe, we’re southbound through your vicinity.”

“Roger that, niner-niner. Got room for six dust-offs?” Dustoffs was Air Cav slang for combat dead. “We’re outta ice,” An Khe tower said, “Gotta send these boys to Saigon, now.”

“We’ll take ’em, An Khe. How is it down there?”

“Hotter’n hell.”

We landed on An Khe’s semi-permanent runway, bulldozed from the coveting, suffocating jungle by Army engineers. The air traffic controller was wrong about the heat. Hell, I never got this hot. I was sweating even before we touched down.

The six dead soldiers, in olive drab body bags, were delivered on the bed of a deuce-and-a-half, which the driver had backed up to the airplane. Two privates, transformed into specters by rising heat waves, carried the bodies to the plane’s cargo bay.

I placed the bagged remains three to a side heads toward the cockpit. The first five had been loaded and strapped down when the last one was brought to me. A nearly visible stench preceded the body. The PFC told me he had been killed by the Viet Cong and had floated in a rice paddy for several days. “Final rigor mortis,” he guessed, had hardened him in the hot shallow water, and the body bag had molded to his final figure. His arms were stretched out and bent as if hugging someone who wasn’t there; his knees pulled up as if to prop a book for nighttime reading.

More than the other five body bags, angry flies swarmed about this one, biting, buzzing, and ramming as they tried to penetrate the green plastic. They seemed drunk with the stench of death, something I’d never gotten used to. I couldn’t breathe, even with my handkerchief tied around my face.

I didn’t know what Captain Bracey or Mr. Stephens thought, but I wanted to make the scene go away. I tried to think of other things; how would I answer Myra Faye’s letter? Whose birthday was coming up? How bad was that oil leak on the number two engine? Nothing worked.

I finished tying down the last body and sat next to it, near the cargo door, for a moment. Curious, like the swarming flies, I leaned over and read his bag tag. He was a staff sergeant from Seattle. Now, I can’t remember his name.

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Tags: 1st Air Cavalry's An Khe airfield, Captain Bracey, Military Memories of our Runner-Ups, The Ballad of the Green Berets by SSG Barry Sadler - 1966


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