Book Excerpt: Semper Cool by Barry Fixler
Title: Semper Cool
Author: Barry Fixler
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Exalt Press; First edition (December 1, 2010)
Semper Cool is the wrenching, sometimes hilarious and always thought-provoking true story of well-off Long Island teenager who enlists in the U.S. Marine Corps seeking adventure and his father’s approval and finds both, plus more danger than he ever could have imagined.
Barry Fixler gets molded into a Marine at Parris Island and sent to Vietnam, where he is assigned to a company that would soon etch its place in Marine Corps lore. Fixler’s Echo Company defends a hill at Khe Sanh against overwhelming enemy numbers in a 77-day battle that is considered one of the greatest military victories in the history of modern warfare.
With its vivid imagery, Semper Cool thrusts the reader into a “grunt’s-eye view” of the blood, guts, tears and laughter of war, as told by a Marine who returned home a man and a patriot. Be prepared to laugh and cry for the men and women willing to risk their lives for the freedoms that so many Americans enjoy.
Vietnam was a helicopter war. Choppers were the main transports for food, ammunition, mail and men. Get in fast. Get out fast. That was the helicopter pilots’ mantra.
One day, during the siege of Khe Sanh, two of our guys got hit real bad. When that happens what you do is take the Marine who’s seriously wounded and put him in a poncho, maybe 100 feet from the landing zone.
One guy takes the poncho by the feet and the other guy gets it by the head and you run to the Medivac chopper. You try to coordinate it so you get there just as the helicopter touches down.
I was holding one of our wounded guys by the head end of his poncho, making eye contact with him. His entire body was soaked with blood. How he was still breathing I don’t know. He was turned inside out. All of his organs were exposed, but he was still alive, and his eyes were fixed into mine.
“You’re going to be fine; you’re going back to the world,” I said to him. “You’re making it back fine. Back home. You’ll be fine. You’ll be fine.”
But I was thinking, “Just die already,” because the guy was already in shock, and he wasn’t going to make it.
The helicopter was on approach and four of us ran out carrying the two wounded Marines. We were catching heavy fire from mortars and rockets. The two guys carrying the first Marine scurried straight inside the helicopter. I was last on the ramp, and as soon as I got there, the pilot started taking off because the helicopter was being riddled with shrapnel. The cockpit glass was a mess. Pieces of it were in the co-pilot’s face. Mortar shrapnel sliced through the hull of the chopper.
I was barely on the ramp and the helicopter started lifting off. Next thing I knew, I was dangling from the ramp clinging to the poncho, and I couldn’t reach anything else to hold.
I lost my grip. For one quick second, I opened my eyes and actually saw the tops of trees. I was falling from the sky, and the only thing I could think of was that I was above the trees.
I had enough time to tell myself to curl in a ball, like doing a cannonball at the swimming pool, and close my eyes and wait to hit the ground.
That’s what I remember, waiting, waiting for the pain … But when I hit I bounced straight up. Swear to God, just like a trampoline.
I was thinking, “What the … ?!” I had no idea what I had landed on. The first time, I must have bounced 10, 15 feet, but it felt like jumping out of a six-story building onto a trampoline. Like I hit and bounced up three floors, then two floors, then one.
At the same time my helmet flew off, and—how I was thinking to do all of this, I don’t know—I tried to flatten myself out so I wouldn’t be such an easy target for the enemy.
I was still wondering what I had landed on by the time I reached cover. Well, for about six weeks, none of us had wanted to get our mailbags. The helicopters would come and drop mailbags, but no one wanted to run out the hundred feet under fire to get them. We had to get our ammunition and food, but screw the mailbags. We weren’t gonna get killed for mailbags.
So the mailbags piled up. They must’ve been stacked four, five feet high, and I’d landed right in the middle of them. That’s why I bounced: Those mailbags that nobody wanted to risk their lives for saved me.
The three guys who got stuck on the chopper made it back the next afternoon while I was eating C-rations in one of the trench bunkers where we slept. I could hear them talking to the other guys.
“We seen Fix get blown out of the helicopter! We seen Fix get blown apart!”
Their eyes saw me fly out the back of a helicopter in mid-air while under heavy fire, so they assumed I was dead. When they finally saw me sitting in the bunker they looked like they’d seen a ghost.
“But we saw you get blown out of the helicopter!”
“That’s right, but I’m right here. Yo! I’m fine.”
We always appreciated the mail.
— Excerped from Semper Cool by Barry Fixler