James Slusser, Sr
Agent: To be named shortly
Holiday, Florida, United States
When Mary Ellen Winslow received her Master’s degree in Nursing at Loyola of Chicago she never dreamed she’d be using it in a helicopter over the jungles of Vietnam. But when her husband, a Korean War fighter ace, 16 years her senior, flew his plane into the side of a mountain rather than answer his Country’s summons to return to service, and took one of his girlfriends with him, she somehow felt the only way to erase the shame and anger she felt was to serve in his place.
This single-mindedness of purpose made “Dusty”, in her superiors’ opinions, the best field evacuation Nurse in Vietnam. It never seemed to matter to her how “hot” the LZ (landing zone) might be where she would have to go to pick up wounded soldiers or marines. They didn’t realize that, as far as she was concerned, her life ended on that mountain when Jack slammed their Beechcraft into it. That was also the reason she showed absolutely no interest in the many young pilots, doctors, and other males that tried to attract her attention around the 125th Surgical Hospital at Da Nang; until, that is, Lieutenant Commander James Cooper came along.
They say opposites attract. It must be true. Jim Cooper was the total antithesis of everything Dusty believed in. Her sole purpose for being in Vietnam was to save as many lives as she could. Jim Cooper was a Naval Intelligence Black Ops “Spook” whose sole purpose was to collect information about the enemy, and to do whatever he could to make as many Viet Cong and North Vietnamese die in the process as he possibly could. And if he wasn’t in Vietnam, he was in Europe, tracking down deserters from our own military with orders to “retrieve or neutralize”. He was a stone-cold killer and the more she tried to hate him the harder she fell in love with him. When he proposed and she accepted, the Military Hierarchy decided that it was not in the best interest of the war effort for them to marry and leave the military, so a Command conspiracy was formed that was designed to separate them forever. It almost succeeded.
"So who was this guy, and what did he look like?" Dusty asked Judy Donisi.
"He was about 6'2" tall, had dark brown eyes, almost black, and short, dark brown hair. He didn't tell me his name."
"When did this happen?" Dusty interrupted.
"Night before last" Judy told her. "Anyway, he said that I wasn't to mention that I knew him, because his Mom and Dad had no idea that he was based anywhere near Vietnam. That's when it clicked that I'd seen him at the 125th. The hair almost fooled me. He was the guy that was there all in black and had his head shaved."
Dusty could feel the catch in her throat as her breathing quickened. "Did he say anything else?" she asked, hoping it sounded like nothing more than a casual inquiry.
"He asked me if I was home for good. When I told him I was leaving today to head back, he looked me up & down and said that was too bad. He'd already made plans with his folks and kids for last night, and if I'd had more time we might have been able to have dinner 'or something' together."
"What the hell did that mean, 'or something'?" Dusty felt her pulse speed up with a feeling of anger, then got angry with herself for the reaction. She said silently to herself, "Goddamnit, you do not want to get yourself involved with that fucking killer." She couldn't understand at all why she reacted the way she did whenever the subject of Jim Cooper came up.
"He said he was going to be in Dayton for another week-and-a-half and it was a shame that I had to leave. I told him, kinda jokingly, that I could call you here in San Francisco and see if I could get another week's leave. He said 'Oh, so you're on the Fort Ord Detail this month.' I was kinda surprised that he'd know that. Then he told me that I could make the call, but he'd heard that the 125th was short on nurses already, and that you were such a 'hard-ass' that you wouldn't let me stay."
"The sonofabitch was probably right" Dusty said, the anger inside her building again.
"Then he said it was nice to see me, even though we couldn't spend more time together. He said he had to go to Naples, Italy when he left Dayton and it would probably be a couple months before he'd be able to get back to Da Nang."
"What did the kids look like?" Dusty asked. "Why do you care?" she silently asked herself. "The chances that you'll ever meet them are slim-to-none" she berated herself.
"Cutest blonde-haired little boy I ever saw" Judy responded. "His hair was the exact same color as yours, Colonel. The little girl had dark hair like her daddy. Both of them were as cute as a bug's ear."
The next morning, at 0800hrs, a black sedan with "U.S.Navy" on the doors picked the two Nurses up and drove them to Alameda NAS to board a helicopter to Fort Ord. As the two nurses were settling in on the C-124 for the flight to Manila, a Sergeant from Base Operations boarded the aircraft. "Colonel Winslow?" he asked.
"That's me" Dusty replied.
"This arrived by special messenger this morning, Colonel" the Sergeant responded, handing Dusty a large, white, oblong box.
Dusty took the lid off the box, revealing inside a dozen perfect, snow white, long-stemmed roses. A small card inside the box read, "Have a nice trip - - C".
"Goddamnit all to hell" Dusty said softly as she smelled the roses, and felt tears sliding down her cheeks.
"If I didn't know better, Colonel" said Judy, "I'd think you might be missing whoever sent you those roses."
Dusty gave her a look that would peel the paint off of a tank. As the C-124 taxied out and took off, though, she was thinking about her newest lieutenant's comment. "Was she really falling for that groady, heartless bastard? How could she even have the slightest feeling for somebody that defied every decent principle that she lived by as a Nurse? It was because of people like him that she found herself up to her elbows in blood, wasn't it? And the arrogance of the man! Or was it just solid self-confidence? He definitely was someone who knew what he wanted and usually got it, wasn't he? Well!!! He sure as hell won't find it so goddamn easy to get me!" Dusty wrestled with her subconscious over Jim Cooper all the way across the Pacific Ocean. She was still arguing with herself at Clark AFB, where they changed planes to the C-130 for Da Nang. When the C-130 landed at Da Nang, the match was still a draw.
When Dusty stepped off the C-130, it was a good thing that she was already in her cammies with her twin .357 magnums around her waist. The "Black Bitch" was sitting on the tarmac with the blades idling, and Greg Simpson was frantically waving for her to get aboard.
"Judy!" she yelled at the Lieutenant, "Grab my gear and throw it in my Hooch, will you please?" She didn't even wait for Donisi's reply as she ran over and boarded the Huey and put her "brain bucket" and flak jacket on.
She strapped herself in, next to the Corpsman that was already on board. "Where we goin', Greg?" she asked as the huey lifted off.
"The A Shau Valley, Colonel" Captain Simpson replied. "The 227th AHB (Assault Helicopter Battalion) is taking a real beating up there at LZ Pepper and LZ Stallion."
(A Shau Valley is 22 miles long located in I Corps, about 60 miles due west of Da Nang, less than six miles from Laos, and is between two mountain ranges. The A Shau Valley was one of two strong holds for the communists. The other strong hold was the U Minh Forest. Both of these strong holds were considered by "Charlie" to be his personal territory. In April 1968 there were three abandoned airfields that were spread along the valley's floor and a deserted Special Forces Camp that was overrun in March 1966. It marked the southern boundary. It was the strongest enemy base in South Vietnam. The enemy garrisoned 5000 to 6000 troops there. It was ringed by one of the most sophisticated complex of interlocked anti-aircraft Batteries. The valley had served as a launching point for the Tet Offensive on the northern provinces. It was a major base for the infiltration of personnel and supplies into Thua Thien Province and northern I Corps.
Operation Delaware was launched on April 10th 1968. The 1st Air Cavalry Division headed into the A Shau Valley. Between the 14th and the 19th of April 1968 there were over 100 B-52 sorties and 200 Air Force and Marine fighter sorties executed along with many ARA (Air Recon Assault) missions. The 1st Brigade of the 101st Air Borne Division and the ARVN Air Borne Task Force had set up to the east to interdict enemy routes of withdrawal and infiltration.
On 19 April 1968, the 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion was prepared to commit its maximum available resources in the third massive helicopter assault within a month, Operation Delaware/Lam Son 216. The plan of operation was to simultaneously assault into the A Shau Valley and to insert a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol to secure "Signal Hill," a 4,879 foot peak 5 kilometers northeast of A Loui Airfield to be used as a vital communications relay station.)
The lousy weather, combined with intense anti-aircraft fire from both sides of the valley, had resulted in several hueys going down. When a Huey crashes, along with the injuries to the survivors caused by the impact, there are usually severe burns from the jet fuel and burning magnesium in the aircraft. The LRRPs (Long Range Recon Patrols) that were being inserted by the Hueys were also under intense ground fire and the number of WIAs was climbing. The "Black Bitch" and her Cobra escort would have their hands full when they arrived.
Capt. Simpson gathered his aircraft in and lifted off the tarmac, clearing his takeoff with Da Nang Control. As soon as they were clear of the tarmac, at about 100 feet altitude, Lt. Jack Moore, the co-pilot, switched the radio to the designated frequency for Operation Delaware. Immediately upon the switching of frequency, Dusty heard a young, sobbing, panic-stricken voice in her earphones. "Mayday....Mayday...Mayday.......Somebody help us....please....please" the voice said. "There's blood everywhere....there's blood everywhere....Oh God.....there's blood everywhere........somebody....please....."
"Take that call, Jack." Dusty ordered the co-pilot. "Get the co-ordinates, and make sure they're valid."
The co-pilot keyed his microphone, "This is Merry Widow One, who are you, and where are you?"
The young voice in the ether came again, "Oh God.......there's blood everywhere....there's blood everywhere......help us please.......please...for God's sake...help us."
Jack keyed his mike again, and in an exceptionally calm, unemotional voice said, "All right, Son, this is Merry Widow One. I have medical personnel on board, and am headed for your area. Give me your name and your co-ordinates, please."
"My name?" the young voice said. It seemed to settle down just a little bit. "My name is Corporal Tommy O'Dell. I'm a Medic. The Radio Operator is dead....The El Tee is dead.....The Captain is dead.... Oh God, Oh God......I've only been here two days........there's blood everywhere.......there's blood everywhere.....help me. please.....please.......Oh God....all this blood......please help me....."
"Okay, Tommy" Jack said, "We're on our way, I need your co-ordinates to find you. The Radio Operator should have a small notebook in his shirt pocket. Your co-ordinates should be at the top of the first page."
After a few seconds delay, Cpl. O'Dell came back on the radio and read a set of co-ordinates. After checking his map, Jack came on the intercom and said, "The co-ordinates put him about halfway up Signal Hill. He could be in the clouds, or just under the base of them. Could be a real bitch finding him if he's in the soup."
"We can't leave them there" said Dusty. "Fly the co-ordinates, Greg."
"Yes Ma'am, Colonel" responded the pilot.
"Merry Widow?" the radio crackled. "This is Tommy.....are you coming?.........there's blood everywhere.....I can't.......I can't.......there's so much blood....so much blood."
"We're on our way, Tommy" said Jack. "I need you to find the smoke signal canisters. When we get there, I'll tell you what color smoke to show. ok?"
"Okay...please hurry...please." They could hear the boy crying. All his training could never prepare him for the carnage he must be facing.
Jack keyed his mike, "Tommy, are you taking fire now?"
"How many live wounded do you have, and how many of you are still alive and not hit?"
"There's fourteen of us still alive" Tommy sobbed into his microphone. "We're all hit somewhere...there's blood everywhere....there's blood everywhere...hurry....hurry....Oh God...please hurry."
'Okay, Tommy, we're coming" said Jack. "I want you to stay off that radio until I call you again. What's your Platoon's call sign?"
"I don't know" said Tommy. "Does that mean you can't call me?" an edge of panic was creeping into his young voice again.
"No" said Jack. "I'll call you when we get close and need you to show us some smoke. Did you find the canisters?"
"Fine. Just stand by and we'll be there in about fifteen minutes."
For the first time in the flight, the Medical Corpsman on board, Sgt. Bill Hatfield, spoke up, "How do we know this ain't some kind of trap, El Tee?" he asked Moore.
"I think I can cover that, Sergeant" Moore replied. "Tommy" he said into his mike, "on that same page as your co-ordinates, there's a list of frequencies. Change your radio to.." he consulted a list on his clipboard, "frequency number Alpha Six....repeat....Alpha Six." Moore then reached down to his own radio and changed the dials and waited a few seconds. "Tommy, you here?" he asked.
"Yes sir" came the reply. "Please hurry."
"We're almost there Son, take it easy and hang on."
Dusty thought it was strange to hear Moore calling that scared-to-death Medic, "Son". Moore was barely twenty-two or three himself.
"There's Signal Hill" Greg Simpson said. Dusty craned her neck around and saw the top of the almost 5,000-foot peak protruding from a layer of clouds. Looking down out of the side of the Huey, she saw a layer of broken cloud cover extending as far as she could see. She knew that they would have to descend through one of the holes in the clouds and find the co-ordinates given by Tommy.
"We're getting close" Jack said. He keyed his microphone, "Tommy, how far are the clouds above you?" he asked.
"They're real close" Tommy said. "A wisp of cloud drifts through here once in awhile."
"Wonderful" from Greg. "Just bloody wonderful."
"I can hear you!!!" shouted Tommy from the radio. "You're almost right over me! Come get us.....please!"
God must have been listening to that poor, frightened boy that day. A breeze sprang up from nowhere and cleared the clouds from that part of the mountain. The landscape that was revealed about 1,000 feet below the two helicopters was pockmarked by the bombs dropped from the B-52 "Buffs". Directly ahead, there was a 300-foot wide area where a "Daisy Cutter" had obviously been deployed.
"I see you!!!! I see you!!!!" Tommy shouted. "You're coming right towards me!"
"All right, Tommy" Jack said. "Find the purple smoke canister and pop it."
Thirty seconds later, a plume of purple smoke rose from the far edge of the clearing created by the Daisy Cutter. "Monkey Catcher" Greg said into his microphone, "this is Merry Widow One. Sanitize an area around that smoke please."
"Roger Widow One" responded the pilot of the Cobra gunship.
As the Cobra broke off and dove down to circle the area, firing M-60 machine guns and cannon fire into the jungle around Tommy's position, Greg spotted a reasonably level area close to the center of the clearing. As the Huey started to descend, Jack told Tommy on the radio, "We're coming in now Tommy, start getting your wounded out toward the center of the clearing."
"I can't, Sir" Tommy replied. "My left leg is gone below the knee, and my right arm is busted."
"Billy and I will go get them, Greg" Dusty said into the intercom, as she unstrapped herself from the jump seat.
"Tommy" said Jack, "can anybody there help with stretchers?"
"Yes sir, there's a couple guys that ain't hit real bad."
As the Huey touched down, Dusty could see the group of dead and wounded soldiers at the edge of the clearing. She and Billy Hatfield jumped about six feet out the door, with full medical packs, each carrying two folded stretchers and ran across the open area to the pathetic bundle of men. She saw a man covered in blood, sitting against a rock, with a radio next to him. The memory of the radio pleas from that child.... two days in country from Ft. Sam Houston ... broke Dustys heart. He had flaming red hair and a ton of freckles. He'd lost his left leg and maybe the right arm too, from the looks of it (major compound fracture, and then some..). The way she figured it, he was the “Medic” and in charge after all the others were dead. That radio contact to her Huey was the only thing that had kept him going. Why he was still alive, she had no idea. No one had done anything to stop the bleeding in his severed leg but him.... a small but effective tourniquet made from a strip of cloth and a piece of stone he'd found and wrapped tightly into a knot. All she could think of was to give him a kiss... the beginning of many kisses...Hello and Goodbye and Farewell to so many of her precious "babies". She loved them all...with all her soul.
"God....am I glad to see you guys." Then, when she bent down and kissed his forehead, he took a good look at Dusty. "Holy fuck! You're a girl!" he exclaimed.
"No, I'm not, Tommy" Dusty replied calmly. "I'm a Lieutenant Colonel. I'm your nurse, and you're going home 'Lil Bro."
Interests: Due to my Publisher going bankrupt, my best work, "Spooks" is now listed as "Out of Print". That makes the sequel I'm working on kind of "Oops". As soon as I find a GOOD agent, I'll be back to work again. Check my Bio for a sample of "Spooks".
Published writer: Yes