Suppose you have an ongoing dream about a certain incident that plagued your nights for years. Not sure if it evolved from your imagination or is it something that really happened to you? If it was real, why can’t you remember? Where can you find the truth? Read about one soldier’s struggle to find answers and reasons for this ongoing dream.

By Ruben Yzaguirre 

I returned from Vietnam on July 4, 1970. The small hometown airport is at the edge of town. It was early evening and the Fourth of July celebrations had started. I departed from Vietnam on July 3rd and arrived at Ft. Lewis for our processing on the same day. It took me a while to realize that I had crossed the international date line for only the second time in my life. The first time was on my way to Vietnam a year earlier.

A few days before this, I was in the jungle and after I was notified that my orders to return home had arrived, I left on the next resupply chopper. After getting to Bien Hoa, I spent the next 36 hours waiting in line for my flight home. I dared not to go to sleep because if you missed your flight, you had to return to the end of the line. In the waiting area on the Bien Hoa runway, they called out names 24 hours a day. 

When I finally arrived at Ft. Lewis, WA. I was still wearing the same clothes that I wore out in the jungle for the last couple of weeks. While there, I received a “complete” physical exam, a new uniform, back pay, and the customary “steak dinner”. I was “out processed” from the US Army by the end of the day. My time in active military service” aka ETS was here and I was a civilian again. At out-processing, they told me they were out of all my combat medals and advised me they were going to be mailed to me. On that day, the last thing on my mind was combat medals.

After arriving home, I was walking outside of the airport terminal when some kids lit firecrackers. I “hit the ground” instinctively, and then realizing where I was, got up and made the excuse that I had tripped. My readjustment to civilian life started that day. Sadly, I sometimes felt that my readjustment would end on the day I am buried. I am not complaining. I would do it over again, no questions asked, no demands made.

About a week after my return, I enrolled in the second summer session at the local university to continue where I had left off.  I was in my third year of college when drafted. At the time, the university did not report that I had attended the fall semester, and I was drafted while in Detroit working for the summer.  I was asked by the local draft board to bring in a copy of my transcript and letter stating that I still had one year left on my student deferment, but I decided to go ahead and fulfill my military duty then continue my education upon my return with the financial help of the GI Bill.

The first few days back were the hardest. I was always looking for my rifle. Long periods of sleep meant someone had fallen asleep on guard.  Loud noises caused reactions.  I was always checking my surroundings, looking down at the ground when walking, and watching side to side, simply evaluating everything around me. As time progressed it got easier. However, some things, even after 50 years, have not returned to normal.  I guess my expectations of completely returning to normal was unrealistic. I understand and accept that.

I had the “normal” PTSD symptoms. Recurring dreams, cold sweats, hyperalertness, flashbacks, etc.  With time, those became more manageable and less frequent.  I understood why I had those symptoms and, after some time, accepted that it was “normal”. Talking to other Vietnam vets helped me realize that I was not alone. It would be many, many years later that help from the VA became available for veterans.

Sometime after my return from Vietnam, I honestly do not recall how long afterward, I started experiencing what I called “mini-flashbacks”. Very short, perhaps milliseconds, flashes of memory. Almost like a quick “snapshot”. Strange as it may sound to you, I sometimes even experienced the smell of long-repressed experiences. As time went on the “mini-flashbacks” got longer and more detailed. Slowly they turned into seconds, like mini previews of a movie. Previews of a very gross movie made me feel sick.

 In these “flashbacks” I would see an upper torso, just the head and chest of a fellow soldier.  The head had dirt, sticks, and leaves lodged in the eye, nose, and mouth cavities. I could not even tell the race of the soldier.  The chest, too, was covered with torn pieces of uniform. twigs and impaled jungle debris. Not only was this visually disturbing, but I could also smell him. It was a mixture of blood, bodily fluids along, and the damp, rotting jungle. Hard to describe, but for those who have experienced this, it is something you never forget. 

These flashbacks would come in frequent spurts and then be absent for long periods of time. I had no actual memory of such an experience, so I figured that my imagination was making all this up for some unknown reason. I had many traumatic experiences before the military as well as several more during my service. I saw death and dismemberment. Soon after my arrival in Vietnam, I loaded pieces of a fellow soldier into a body bag to be shipped home. I remember that experience and was OK with that. War is war and you expect people to be killed. These “flashbacks” were different. 

Again, I do not remember how long this went on. All I remember is that it was for many, many years. Over the years, the details of “the incident” became clearer.  In short, the incident was mainly about putting several body parts of a serviceman in a body bag. The soldier was killed when he accidentaly triggered a “mechanical ambush” while setting it up. This was a “bobby trap” where several claymore mines were daisy chained and set to explode when a single tripwire was disengaged. The mines were set up along a “high-speed trail” used by the North Vietnamese Army to bring troops and supplies into South Vietnam. I finally concluded that this was not a real experience and that for some reason, I was not able to explain why I had these “recurring dreams”. If it was real, I would have remembered, just like I could so many other things. 

Eventually, the ” incident” was much more detailed. Long story short, the dream was about one of our recon team members being blown up by a series of claymore mines. He and our Kit Carson Scout were killed, both blown up at close range by several Claymore mines. The bodies were unrecognizable.  As best we could, we put the body parts into two body bags. The only part that we were certain belonged to the American soldier was the right foot because his dog tag was attached in the laces. 

I was to report to the “rear” as a bodyguard with the body of the fallen Recon team member.  A chopper picked us up and flew to a small “firebase” where we were to catch another chopper to the rear. It was dark by the time we arrived at the firebase so we had to wait until morning to hitch a ride back to the rear.

The landing pad at that firebase was full of ammo crates and other supplies that went out to troops in the field. I had to stay on the chopper pad with the body bag until the next morning. I remember getting hungry and eating a C ration meal from the many sitting next to my team member’s body. 

I remember thinking about how his family would not know for days that he had died. I remember thinking about how they would never learn how he died, whether or not he suffered, was he a brave soldier, and so many other questions that would never be answered.  I remember promising him that after the war I would visit his family and assure them he was brave and did not suffer.

I did not keep my promise to contact his family. Sadly, I did not even know that this event was real until 38 years later.  For those 38 years, there was so much doubt in my mind.  While I could not prove it happened, I could also not disprove that it didn’t. With the help of the internet, I was able to research KIAs during that time. While I did not have an exact date, I was able to determine that it happened in late 1969 or early 1970.  

Adding to the confusion about units was the fact that Recon has many members who transferred from other units in the battalion. I served with Charlie Company before volunteering for recon. So I began a search for fellow recon team members to verify the incident. I left posts on many veteran sites to make contact with others who had served with Recon. 

I did manage to make contact with some fellow Recon platoon members, but none were able to verify the story. Some said that they had heard of a similar incident, but none could authenticate that it did happen as I remembered it.

I had pretty much given up on finding out if this was real or just a figment of my imagination. Yet, deep down inside, something told me that it was real. If it was a real incident then why would it be erased from my memory? I remembered many similar incidents, so why not this one?  The memory of eating a C ration on a lonely chopper pad in a small outpost sitting next to the pieces of a soldier in a body bag and promising to contact his family haunted me. How could I be so “mentally weak” to have forgotten such a promise? 

One day at work I was talking to someone who had come to our office for advice on an issue and mentioned that he was a DJ. I mentioned to him that in Vietnam a fellow Recon platoon member said he used to play with a very popular local band back in the 1960s.  I mentioned his name and he said that he knew him.  Having a common name I thought that he must be thinking about someone else.  Then he said that my friend was from Mesquite, Tx (Dallas area).  I could not believe that by chance I had stumbled onto a lead that might put me in touch with someone who served in the same unit. He gave me the name of my friend’s brother and where he worked in Corpus Christi. He gave me the contact info for his brother and I called him that evening

I made contact and sure enough, it was the person I had long ago been searching for. I was going to be in the Dallas area in the next few days so we made arrangements to meet. It had been 38 years since we had seen one another. When I left Nam he still had a few months to serve.

When we finally came together, one of the first things I asked him was about the Claymore incident.  He remembered the incident very well.  He filled me in on some things that had happened shortly before the incident and remembered that I had gone with the body as a bodyguard and that it had taken me a few days to rejoin the Recon platoon. He said he remembered me telling him that I had to “sleep” with the bodybag at a firebase chopper pad.

It was a huge load taken off my mind, but at the same time.

My Vietnam friend died a few months later. We made plans to never lose track of each other. I was devastated when I heard he died but was so grateful for having reunited with him for one last time. We were best buddies in Nam. Most of the photos I have from Nam include him. Rest in Peace Johnny Guajardo. 

Johnny did not remember the deceased soldier’s name as he just came into the unit. He did mention, though, that the man was a friend of one of the medics. I have looked for Doc for many years. Maybe someday.

I often wonder what I will do if I ever do find out his name. I question if after all these years contacting the family will be more painful than helpful. I guess I will cross that bridge when, and if, I get there.

Memorial Day is about remembering soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice. For some, Memorial Day occurs many times each year. And for some, Memorial Day is etched into our memory.

Rest in Peace my fallen brother in arms. Please forgive me for not keeping the promise I made to you. 


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