by D. Troy Johnson
I was in the foxhole with Mickey in ’69. Vietnam was not just a war; it was hell – pure hell.
“Incoming!” I heard Sgt. Cohen shout. He was a few yards to the left of me and Mickey.
It was seconds later when I heard the loud explosion and I saw a fireball inches from my face, and
immediately I became deaf for a short time and my vision was blurry.
“Help me!” I heard someone shout. Not just one voice, but many voices. I could smell the burning of flesh and metal together. The smoke was thick and soggy black mud covered our bodies. I shouted out for him.
“Mickey!” I yelled. Everyone was yelling, bleeding and dying all at the same time.
I walked a few feet and found him lying with his back braced against the ditch. He was shaking un-
controllably. I knelt down beside him and saw his arm had been severed from his body and it lay a foot or so away still clutching his M-16.
“You hold on, buddy!” I shouted. I took my shirt off, wrapped it in a ball and pushed it up against
Mickey’s severed shoulder. I took the needle out of my top pocket and stabbed it into Mickey’s leg, giving him instant pain relief. The medicine flowed through his veins quickly and his uncontrollable
shaking came to a halt. My hand was tingling and I could feel the hot blood slowly dripping. I glanced down and saw my pinky finger had been completely cut off to the bone. Nothing was left but blood and a nub and brittle cartilage. I was hurting, but I had no time to hurt.
I glanced all around with my ears still ringing and my vision still a little blurry and I saw Sgt. Cohen lying on his stomach with half of his face blown completely off. He had shrapnel embedded into his forehead. I tied the shirt around Mickey’s severed shoulder.
“Let’s go, Mick!” I shouted. I yanked him from the ditch and tossed him over my shoulder and I ran
heading south until I was spotted by a group of Special Forces. We loaded Mickey in the helicopter and that would be the last time I saw him until the Fall of ’79.
I had always wondered what had happened to Mickey. Even after I got married and settled back into a somewhat normal life in New Orleans. I constantly worried and thought about Mickey. I was able to locate him on the Armed Forces Registry in the Fall of ‘79. Like me, he was also residing in New
Orleans. Records from the VA showed he had recently had an appointment only some days before I went
searching for him. I tried to get an address on him, but I had no success. I was given a post office box only.
Then, in the spring of ’81 while driving through downtown New Orleans, I passed through the Central
District, the place where the homeless people live, and I spotted a one-armed man who resembled Mickey. Yet, I wasn’t sure it was him. He was tall like Mickey, but he had a long beard and he was a lot skinnier.
I made the block and I parked on the street. He had his back to me as I approached him. He was
talking to another man who was drinking a beer. The man saw me approach before I made eye contact with him.
“ Mickey?“ I asked softly. The man turn towards me and for a minute, he just stared and so did I.
“John,” he said. “You found me again.” His eyes welled up with tears. I rushed to him and we
hugged for what seemed like an eternity. We both cried like newborn babies that day. I had found my friend-again. I had found Mickey.
He had on a pair of camouflage fatigues and Army boots. My friend was dirty and his hair seemed like
it hadn’t been cut in years. His long, scraggly beard ran down to his chest. I didn’t care about none of that, I was just happy I found my friend.
I brought him home and introduced him to my wife and two sons. It had been a long and difficult road
for Mickey. He told me he had lost his mom while in the hospital in Saigon. He said his father had died some months after. He said when he moved back to Baton Rouge, he just couldn’t cope. He didn’t have no other family besides his parents.
“John, I saw myself in that foxhole every night since I left Vietnam, “ he said. “And I would
try to feel my arm, and when I would wake up in a cold sweat, I then realized my arm was not there.”
Mickey said he did everything to cope. He hated to go to sleep, so he got on sleeping pills. He said he hated to go through a day thinking about his arm lying detached from him in that foxhole.
Mickey had moved from Baton Rouge to New Orleans to get away, but things got real bad when he
lost his apartment and his job as a manager at a warehouse. He said that’s when he started using
alcohol and pills as a sedative. And he wasn’t able to snap out of it. He still heard the bombs going off around him. He still heard the screams, yells, and those voices crying for death over life.
Mickey often wondered if dying would have been better for him. There wouldn’t be any more
nights searching for his severed arm. There wouldn’t be any more nights hearing voices wishing
death was an alley and a friend.
“Your gonna stay here as long as you want, Mick.” I said. “My home is your home.”
“You mean I don’t have a choice?” he asked.
“Nope! you don’t,” I replied.
Mickey hugged me and thanked me for everything. We were friends for life. And nothing and no one could change that.
Over the next couple of days I took Mickey shopping, got him a haircut, and got him into a post
war intervention program for retired veterans. Over a short time, I saw the evolution and
transformation of Mickey Gett. The guy literally slept better, and he was able to deal with the war that had haunted him for years. Vietnam had taken not only his arm, but also his will to live.
But slowly he was turning the corner. He was the Mickey Gett I had known for years when we first attended boot camp together. Mickey had a renewed spirit and a will to live now.
He said not only did he have a will to live now, but he also said he wanted to help his fellow soldiers.
After a year residing with me and a year in intervention, he decided it was time to leave.
“Where will you go?” I asked.
“Don’t know yet,” he said. “Just going to help my brothers.”
Mickey hugged me early one morning before he left. As usual, we, grown men cried, but I knew a man had to do what a man had to do.
Mickey and I would talk on the phone about twice a week. He had moved to D.C., gotten a job
with some non-profit that was focused on the plight of the returning soldier. He said he had met a young lady named Debra and for the first time in his life, he was truly in love. I couldn’t wait to see my friend again. He said he would be in New Orleans maybe during the summer.
“But John, “ he said. “I want you to watch CNN tomorrow night. They will have a special on us.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Us,” he replied. “The soldiers.”
I agreed I would watch and I put it on my calendar on the fridge. After I got home from work I
went straight to the TV and turned it to CNN. I was eager to find out what was being said about the
soldiers. It was a basic general conversation at first, then I heard the announcer say, “We have a special guest here tonight. A man who has served his country in the midst of losing his arm. He is the president of LS, Lost Soldiers. We are happy to have with us tonight Mr. Mickey Gett.”
“What!” I shouted. “Honey, come quick!” My wife and sons rushed in, and there, right there in front of us, was my friend Mickey Gett. My friend was on CNN right there in front of us. I was literally shaking and my hands were clammy. I couldn’t believe it. But that was Mickey. If he said he was
going to do something, he would do it. He said he would run the mile under five minutes and he did. He said he would graduate top of the class as a sniper, and he did.
Mickey talked about the goals of LS and how this country had forgotten those who had protected us from those who wanted to do us harm. And he would bring an awareness to the plight of these soldiers, past and present-day servicemen.
Before he went off the air, he looked in the camera and thanked me. He said I had saved his life –
twice. “And I want to thank you for that, John.” He cried on camera and so did I.
I joined LS some months later, and today me and Mickey are helping to improve the lives of our
forgotten brothers. We will never let this country forget what we did, and how we did it, thanks to my friend Mickey Gett. Me and Mickey love our country and we were willing to die for it. Now, we need our country to love us back. We must help all our servicemen. We love the U.S.A. All we ask is that the U.S.A. love us back.
D. Troy Johnson graduated from Nicholls State University and studied creative writing at University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His daughter Jassidy is in the Navy and stationed in Japan. His son Jermaine graduated from New Mexico Military Institute and is now attending University of Idaho on a football scholarship. Troy writes about people’s struggles and how they overcome them. He played for five years in the NFL before retiring from the San Diego Chargers in 1990. He credits God for all things in his life.