LITTLE GULL

by Tom Shaline

When I arrived in country, you were in the bush.
    I was assigned to your team, call sign "LITTLE GULL".
You were on patrol; I was in your tent.
    I did not know you.

I saw your pictures, your Mother and Father,
    your wife, your children, your sweetheart, your friends, Miss January.
People you knew and loved, people who knew and loved you.
    I saw your Bible, your prayer book, your cross and beads.
I picked up your mail, and laid it on your bunk.
    I picked up a care package from home, it smelled so good.
It must be filled with lots of goodies, packed by loving hands.
    I thought, when you get back Iíll have some of this good stuff.
I did not know you.

For two days I went to the comm center and followed your progress on the map.
    Little colored pins were placed when you reported your position
as you made your way through the mountains.
    I looked at the contour lines, and thought how terribly steep they were
and far in you were.
    How difficult that climb must be for you.
But I did not know you.

Then I heard on the radio, "Contact! Contact! Contact! Little Gull, Contact!"
    The company commander said (donít worry) it happens all the time, they will be all right.
We could hear the gunfire when you keyed the handset.
    We could hear the explosion of hand grenades.
We heard your last choking words that sounded like, "GAS!"
    I heard your voice; I did not know you.

Silence.
    The radio operator called you again and again, "Little Gull, Little Gull, sitrep."
"Little Gull do you hear me? Little Gull go to secondary frequency."
    No answer,
    only silence.
A reaction team was put together, I made sure I was on it.
    We flew out as darkness set in and landed several miles from your position.
There was no moon.
    In the darkness we stumbled up one mountain and down another.
It was too dangerous; we set in for the night.
    I wondered how you were? What happened to you?
I did not know you.

At first light we set out climbing up one mountain,
    sliding and falling down another.
We were fourteen, carrying weapons and ammo,
    you were just six carrying three times as much,
    how difficult that must have been for you.
We found your position.
    I was not prepared for what we saw.
All your equipment,
    your weapons, your radios were gone.
You were strewn about, hacked apart,
    tears filled my eyes, rage filled my heart,
I gagged and chucked.
    I saw you, but I did not know you.

We called for an airdrop of body bags.
    Six bags for six men.
Six bags for six boys who became men,
    so far from the people in the pictures.
So far from the people in the letters,
    so far from those who knew you.
But I did not know you.

I picked you up carefully and placed you in the bag,
    piece by piece, trying to put the same person in the same bag.
We moved out, back to the LZ, I carried you, the smallest.
    I carried you, I felt you, I smelled you,
I did not know you.

I tried so hard not to drop you;
    I tried to keep you from hitting the ground, as we went up and down the mountains.
I could not, please forgive me.
    The bag ripped, blood and body fluids seeped out and over me.
I can still feel it.
    I placed you in the chopper and flew back with you to the base.
I placed you on a litter as if you were still alive and watched them roll you away,
    I never saw you again,
I did not know you.

All these years you have been a part of me.
    You have lived with me every hour of every day of every year.
A secret to be kept, a memory to grow,
    pain to be nurtured until the secret was too great,
the memory overwhelming, the pain unbearable.
    I must let you out; I must let you go, I must tell the secret.
I will always remember you; I will always honor you.
    I never knew you.

 

 "GHOSTS OF LITTLE GULL"

I thought I was the only one, the only one who felt the pain. The only one who shed tears of blood. The only one who lived every day and every night in the past. For years and years I felt this way. For three decades I have felt this way. I was wrong!

I was in the PTSD ward at a VA hospital in PA. When I finally began to come to grips with the past. WE were going to the Memorial in Reading. As with the cutbacks we no longer went to THE WALL. My therapist has been pushing me to put my feelings down on paper, what came tumbling out was LITTLE GULL.

LITTLE GULL was the overflowing of all the feelings of all the years of all the pain and suffering I have endured. I felt I was the only one feeling pain. I WAS WRONG!

I am not the man in the poem. I am not the man in the tent. I am not the man looking at the pictures. I am not the man on the reactionary team. I am not the man carrying the bodies. WE ALL ARE.

We feel the loss of every brother. We feel the pain of every wound received. WE all wish we could have done something different. We all wish we could change the past, but we can not!

All we can do, what we must do is keep their memories alive. Not just their exploits, not just what they did on patrol but the humanity of those brave men. WE must tell their story over and over again, we must not let it die.

The RECON TEAMS of the past (our teams) are the bridge to the teams of the future. The next generation of MARINES needs to know of the valor and honor of our brothers, of you.

I will continue to put my feelings down on paper for all to see. I will not be quiet. I will not shut up. I will not be silenced. I will tell the story of RECON and their humanity until the day I die.

SEMPER FI
THOMAS E. SHAINLINE
Charlie Company 68-69