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Lt. Lane Carson, First Platoon Leader (1971)


An Excerpt from

Winners and Losers  (p.117)

By Gloria Emerson (1929 - 2004)


The little Bible was found in B Med, but no one could be sure which of the wounded had lost it or where he had gone. A medic had asked me to take it to the hospital in Quang Tri to try to find out if the owner was there. It was a pocket edition of the New Testament, with steel-plated leather covers and a message from President Franklin D. Roosevelt for all men in the Armed Forces, as well as these words: "May the Lord be with You." Inside, someone had written Virgil Carson of Iuka, Mississippi, and the year 1943; much later, another man had written Lieutenant Carson on that same page. He was the son. The lieutenant had the Bible with him, as always, in the breast pocket of his fatigues on the morning of March 22, 1971, when Operation Lam Son 719 was crumpling. Three battalions of South Vietnamese troops - anywhere from one thousand to one thousand and five hundred men - had been lifted out of Laos on March 18 by American helicopters in a rout denied by both Saigon and Washington. The fighting described as "bitter" in a headline in The New York Times, whose desk may not use words such as ghastly or fearful, only "bitter" or "fierce." The South Vietnamese were failing in their campaign to cut the Communist supply lines, failing to show that by themselves and without American troops they could win. It was a winning the Americans most urgently wanted. The war, as it always did, refused to stay fixed; it moved back across the border of Laos into South Vietnam. The artillery, rockets and mortars of the North Vietnamese punched and tore earth and men, grass and trees.

He knew nothing of the retreat of the ARVN. His unit was near a dirt county road, perhaps one-quarter of a mile from the old colonial road Route 9 which ran into Laos, a place thought of as the last secure position near the border. Lieutenant Lane Carson, leader of 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1/11, 1st of 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized), heard the artillery coming toward his group; they curled up, hiding their faces, trying to make themselves very flat and small, but it was of no use. He felt, at first, as if he had been buried alive, as if he had been hurt everywhere. He was dragged to a bunker, treated by the platoon medic; others kept offering him cigarettes, but he didn't smoke. His glasses were gone, he prayed, the helicopter did not seem to come for a very long time, once on it he felt freezing, and then the morning was at last over. He did not remember B Med. He did not know where he had lost the Bible.

I never found him at Quang Tri, or any other hospital in Vietnam, for many of the wounded were quickly sent to military hospitals outside a combat zone, in other countries. It was nearly a year and a half later that I wrote to the postmaster in Iuka, Mississippi, asking if the Carsons still live there. The answer came in a letter from New Orleans, a polite and neat letter from Lane Carson, saying how much the Bible meant to his family and offering to reimburse me for any expenses incurred returning it. I was invited to visit them. There was no way of telling, when we met in New Orleans, if I had seen him before, among the dozens of men in a place called B Med.

Source: Emerson, Gloria (1976). Winner and Losers: Battles, Retreats, Gains, Losses and Ruins from a Long War. New York: Random House, Inc.



Charles  Ames


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