At the China Beach bar and grill in downtown Nashville, Donnie and Kevin tagged along while Ed linked up with a buddy of his from the war.
Sled was a sort of hillbilly with a twist. His West Virginia upbringing had been traumatized in a snow-sledding accident that happened when he was ten years old. In a head-on collision with a pine tree, a low branch had penetrated his left cheek. A scar that resulted from the surgery gave the appearance of a question mark on the left side of his face. From his teen years onward, all John’s people called him “Sled” because of what had happened to him in a sledding accident when he was a kid.
Ed and Sled had become friends at Fort Hood, Texas, before they both went to Vietnam. They were assigned to the same Company, but different platoons. On this particular evening , Sled and Ed were having beer and burgers as they celebrated the fact that they both had survived Vietnam. This was the first time they had seen each other since both were honorably discharged. Donnie and Kevin listened intently as Sled reported to Ed the account of how their CO, Lt. Gary, had fallen in battle only 11 months ago.
Sled explained that, in a strategy to avoid group casualties, Lt. Gary had his men spread out as they were advancing down a jungle hillside. Three dozen soldiers had distanced themselves from each other, and each man was walking alone. The radio man reported that an NVA encampment was below them, but the exact location had not yet been determined.
Delta company was thus strung out for a mile or more. When their point guys reached the bottom, they caught sight of evidence of the enemy bunkers above them, up on the north side. Sergeant Charles halted his men at a covered spot. He knew they were near the enemy because, he said, he could smell their rice cooking; but as he took a few steps to obtain a better view of the area in question, suddenly he was struck with a bullet. It hit him in the abdomen;. Within seconds, an assault by automatic weapons erupted somewhere northward and above them, with what sounded like AK-47 fire.
Sgt. Charles did not make it home alive from Vietnam.
On this Memorial Day, 2017, we remember Charles and the other 54,000 American soldiers who never got back here to taste the good life of the dear ole US of A. We appreciate that these men and women sacrificed their last full measure of devotion so that we we can live free.
King of Soul