The man from english gap

A Ge­or­gia farm is ded­i­cated to giv­ing home­less and trou­bled vet­er­ans an op­por­tu­nity

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - PETE MECCA COLUM­NIST Pete Mecca is a Viet­nam vet­eran, colum­nist and free­lance writer. You can reach him at avet­er­ or avet­er­

The farm is called English Gap, named af­ter the Viet­nam vet­eran whose heart and soul is ded­i­cated to giv­ing home­less and trou­bled vet­er­ans an op­por­tu­nity to ac­cli­mate their own hearts and souls be­fore re­turn­ing to so­ci­ety. The chal­lenge is for­mi­da­ble, the re­sults re­mark­able, the money per­sis­tently in short sup­ply but un­able to dis­cour­age the de­ter­mi­na­tion and ded­i­ca­tion of founder, Wayne English.

His 33-acre farm, English Gap, of­fers a se­cure haven for vet­ted vet­er­ans yet also wel­comes the gen­eral public with a rid­ing sta­ble, hik­ing trails, a ter­rific at­mos­phere for a kid’s birth­day party, fish­ing, and a big nov­elty th­ese days: peace and quiet. Horses abound so watch your step. Most likely you’ll be greeted by Ram­bler or Abby, two large but mel­low dogs more ac­cus­tomed to naps than vis­i­tors. The cats, Oliver or Garfield or Franklin, to­gether or separately, will me­an­der up to the coun­try porch, yawn, take a vague gan­der at the guests then me­an­der away. Once the screen door squeaks open two black Dachshunds, Jef­fer­son and An­nie, sally forth yap­ping their own wel­come. An­nie is a jewel, but ac­cord­ing to Wayne, Jef­fer­son is af­flicted with ADD: Ag­gra­vat­ing Damn Dog.

Each sec­tion of fence, each log in the log cab­ins, ev­ery roof shin­gle, nail, screw, bolt, win­dow and door, was in­stalled by a vet­eran. English Gap is a work in progress: the farm, the vet­er­ans, the car­ing wives, even the pets play an im­por­tant part, ex­cept for Jef­fer­son, the dog af­flicted with ADD. To un­der­stand PTSD and the pain and suf­fer­ing, it’s al­ways best if the teacher was once the stu­dent. Wayne English is that tu­tor and this is his story, with se­lected quotes from his book “Viet­nam Sky Sol­diers,” so des­ig­nated by the ini­tials: VSS.

A sports­man and hunter, Wayne re­called an in­ci­dent when he was 16 years old. “I was deer hunt­ing near High Falls. It was real foggy and my ve­hi­cle got stuck on a back road. A house was nearby so I fig­ured they would let me use their phone. Well, sir, their mail­box had the let­ter­ing, Wayne English. I knocked on the door and in­tro­duced my­self. The man of the house looked star­tled and asked me to prove my name was also Wayne English. When I showed him my driver’s li­cense, he looked up and asked me if I had a girl­friend named Ruthie Knight. Well, I was just as star­tled. I wanted to know how he knew my girl­friends name, so he in­sisted, ‘Get in here right now and talk to my wife. Your girl­friend has been writ­ing you love let­ters but they are sent to me!’ It’s funny how peo­ple re­mem­ber those things, es­pe­cially when less than two years later you’re in the Army fight­ing for your life in Viet­nam.”

July 1, 1965: Wayne cel­e­brated his 18th birth­day on the USNS Ed­win D. Pa­trick bound for Ok­i­nawa with the 173rd Air­borne. He re­called their ar­rival, “About 80 of us shared one bar­racks. Then three guys joined us, all burnt and shot up. We were told th­ese guys could have any­thing they wanted. When we asked the sol­diers where they came from, they said, ‘ There’s a war in Viet­nam.’ Ev­ery morn­ing names were called; ev­ery morn­ing guys left for that war.”

Au­gust 1, 1965: “I ended up at Bien Hoa near Saigon with 2nd Bat­tal­ion, 173rd Air­borne. The 173rd was the first ma­jor Amer­i­can ground com­bat force in Viet­nam. I was as­signed to a mor­tar team. I told them I didn’t have any ex­pe­ri­ence with mor­tars so they strapped a ra­dio on my back and as­signed me to a FO (for­ward ob­server). We were the first ma­jor Amer­i­can forces in the Iron Tri­an­gle and first into the Mekong Delta. Our casualty rate was bad, real bad, al­most 100%.”

VSS: ‘ The sounds, smells, and things we saw are as clear to­day as then.’

Re­place­ments like Wayne were called ‘Cher­ries’ by com­bat ex­pe­ri­enced sol­diers. “Prob­lem was,” Wayne stated. “The ti­tle stuck with me. I was called Cherry for my whole tour. I was the RTO (ra­dio op­er­a­tor) for Sgt. Roberts, the FO for B Com­pany, as­signed to Sgt. Re­neo’s pla­toon.”

Wayne’s first com­bat mission as­saulted a VC strong­hold about 35 miles Southeast of Saigon, the no­to­ri­ous and danger­ous Iron Tri­an­gle. “Sgt. Roberts and I shared a tent the night be­fore our mission,” Wayne said. “I re­mem­ber him pulling out a per­fumed red scarf from his pack. It was from his girl­friend and I can still smell that scent.”

Sgt. Roberts did the ra­dio talk­ing; Wayne car­ried the ra­dio, plus a whole lot more: ex­tra bat­tery, long and short an­tenna, ri­fle, ammo, grenades, first aid pouch, bay­o­net, 5 lbs. of C-4 plas­tic ex­plo­sive, pon­cho, 4 quarts of wa­ter, matches, cig­a­rettes, ham­mock, a plas­tic bag to keep doo­dads dry, C-ra­tions, and some hard candy. Wayne’s call sign: gran­ite script bravo. The mor­tar pit or FDC (fire di­rec­tion con­trol), call sign: gran­ite script 22.

Septem­ber 15, 1965: “We were mov­ing down this dirt road and saw a sign nailed to a tree with the words in English and Viet­namese: All who read this sign die. Well, we soon came upon a VC train­ing camp. They were gone but ev­ery­thing in­di­cated they had just left. We moved out and started re­ceiv­ing small arms fire. Sgt. Re­neo called in gun­ships to si­lence the threat.

“I asked Sgt. Roberts if the gun­ships were killing a bunch of VC, but he claimed the gun­ships were fir­ing be­hind the VC be­cause the en­emy was right in front of us. He was right. We moved out in thick scrub near a small trail then they opened up on us with small arms, grenades, and a ma­chine gun. Sgt. Roberts got hit and I fell for­ward. Fire was com­ing in ev­ery di­rec­tion. Dirt kicked up in front of me; twigs and leaves cov­ered me from the fo­liage shred­ded by the ma­chine gun. Guys were hit, dead, or dy­ing.”

VSS: ‘ The ra­dio started squawk­ing: “Gran­ite script bravo, this is gran­ite script 22. What’s your sit rep? Over!” Wayne yelled back, “What the hell is a sit rep? Over!” “Bravo, what is your sit­u­a­tion?” “Oh,” Wayne replied. “A sit rep! Well, 22, Sgt. Roberts is shot and we’re be­ing shot to Hell! We need a hick­ory smoke for the wounded. We need more sup­port or we will be over­run!”

A sol­dier named Fogle crawled down the trail to­ward Wayne. “He had a chest wound,” Wayne said. “Fogle and Sgt. Roberts ban­daged each other while the rest of us fought on. Then the fir­ing stopped. Af­ter a short time we gath­ered our dead and wounded and called in mede­vac. I was then as­signed as Sgt. Re­neo’s RTO be­cause his RTO went down in the first ex­change of gun­fire.”

The Amer­i­cans formed up and moved out to re­con by fire. The steady fir­ing lasted about 20 min­utes. Wayne’s ra­dio an­tenna en­tan­gled on a vine. He tried to break free of the en­tan­gle­ment but noth­ing worked. Some­one fi­nally yelled at Wayne, “Stop! Stop!” A rusty wire with two Amer­i­can grenades at­tached had wrapped around the short an­tenna. The VC, un­fa­mil­iar with the grenades, had failed to straighten the pins on the grenades so they would pull loose. Wayne and sev­eral sol­diers owe their lives to the VC blun­der.

The en­emy opened up again. Sgt. Re­neo went down, an­other trooper and a medic went down. The sol­dier be­hind Wayne went down. Then the fir­ing stopped; a light rain fell. Wayne re­called, “The rain was cool and felt good. That’s when I no­ticed all the dried blood on my hands.”

VSS: ‘ That night I slept in the same tent. Sgt. Roberts’ pack was there with that red scarf still smelling faintly sweet. So out of place.’

Fo­gal, the trooper with the chest wound, re­cov­ered and was re­turned to ac­tion. He turned 18 on De­cem­ber 20 and was killed on De­cem­ber 22. An­other young sol­dier, Paul Tay­lor, lost his life on De­cem­ber 28.

Con­sider Wayne English’s first com­bat mission. Then con­sider he was in Viet­nam for over a year, noth­ing but war day in and day out, death his con­stant com­pan­ion. His thoughts, “In com­bat you get hard­ened. No love or em­pa­thy or kind­ness about you when you kill peo­ple. Then you come home but it’s hard to love some­one be­cause you’ve al­ready lost so many you loved.”

A brief sum­mary of Wayne’s re­main­ing com­bat: Ma­rauder 1, Amer­ica’s first com­bat unit into the Mekong Delta and in­fa­mous ‘ Plain of Reeds’. Dropped into knee-deep mud in a hot LZ. See­ing a wing blown off a spotter plane and watch­ing it spi­ral down with two men plainly vis­i­ble in­side un­til they crash and burn. A com­pany Cap­tain gut-shot; a young ma­chine gun­ner dis­mem­bered by a rocket-pro­pelled grenade. Told to ‘fix bay­o­nets’ for a frontal as­sault; told to help pick up body parts, one sol­dier is hit in the right eye, an­other in his head. Un­ex­pected en­emy fire rips C-ra­tions from your hand or as Wayne ex­plains it, “I lost a great cup of hot choco­late.”

VSS: ‘Rick Fred was limp­ing around with a ban­dage over his eye, but the worst was Tru­man Thomas. He’d taken six hits to the head that nearly tore off his up­per lip, his front teeth were knocked out, a wound in the neck, shoul­der, and thigh.’

Fly­ing out on a huge CH47 Chi­nook he­li­copter un­der heavy fire, a bul­let rips the chop­per’s skin and sends metal into the face of the man next to Wayne. An­other round pierces the floor, hits a trooper in the groin and he dies. A round comes up through the floor be­tween a door gun­ner’s feet, he is un­hurt. The chop­per shakes; the en­gines strain; bul­let holes lace the sides. Mirac­u­lously, the Chi­nook shakes off death and shoots into the air with a pow­er­ful surge. Wayne re­called, “We counted over one hun­dred bul­let holes in that chop­per back at base camp.”

Jets scream­ing in over your head to strafe the en­emy; a piece of metal stick­ing out of a man’s chest; hor­ren­dously wounded sol­diers show­ing signs of life, barely. Amer­i­can Clay­more mines turned around by the VC to hit Amer­i­can sol­diers.

Wayne English was still in the field, still fight­ing, still dodg­ing bul­lets, 14 days passed his DEROS (Date El­i­gi­ble for Re­turn from Over­seas), yet, he fi­nally boarded that air­plane, that mar­velous Free­dom Bird back to the real world, the United States of Amer­i­can. He never re­ceived a scratch while serv­ing in Viet­nam.

VSS: ‘ Would I do it again? YES! Air­borne all the way…and then some.’

NEXT WEEK: A tough tran­si­tion, the daily strug­gle, and the vet­er­ans of English Gap. Info avail­able at: en­glish­

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