Under Fire

I’ve known Deacon Wainwright for seventeen years. We met in the service of our country. We were both 19 when we met, but Deacon seemed much older. He had close set brown eyes set atop high cheekbones, and a square jaw. His tall muscular frame was lean and strong. He had large hands and feet, and his long arms made it difficult for him to find a dinner shirt. Deacon was an intimidating looking man with a booming baritone voice. But as the old saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Deacon had to be the nicest big man that I have ever met. He would give you the shirt off of his back if you needed it. Hell, he’d probably give you mine too, and I’m not joking. But that was Deacon, always willing to help. He had a way of putting you at ease when you were around him.

I can remember one day while patrolling through a cluster of rice paddies just southwest of Dung Hoi we walked into an ambush. We were tracking a unit of Viet Kong that had attacked a friendly village. I was on point that day and it was sauna hot that afternoon

What happened next took me by surprise. I remember Deacon grabbing me from behind and throwing me to the ground, after that the shooting started.

I looked up and all that I could see was Deacon’s wide back jerking from the recoil of his M-16 as he laid down cover fire. He grabbed me by the arm and hoisted me up then we both ran and ducked behind a big rock on the shore of the rice paddy. Deacon propped his back up against the rock and pulled a grenade from his belt. As he pulled the pin I could see blood streaming down his massive right arm. He had taken a round while he was protecting me. He tossed the grenade and rolled his big body behind another big rock. Just as the grenade exploded Deacon quickly rose to one knee, squared up his sight on his target, and squeezed off several more shots. Moments later air support arrived and the entire tree-line where the ambush came from was incinerated.

Deacon immediately ran back over to where I was and asked me if I was ok. His big brown eyes were hard, but filled with concern. I nodded my head absently and pointed at his arm. He placed his huge hand on my flak jacket and pulled me to my feet.

“I’m ok. Bullet just grazed me,” he grumbled. After that he checked with every man in our unit to make sure that we had all made it through in one piece. Needless to say my opinion of Deacon changed from that day on. In fact, everyone in the unit began to see the man for who he was. A good man, even though the men in our unit weren’t good to him.

Deacon was African American and proud of it. I say was because he’s dead now, killed by friendly fire in Germany. I miss him. I miss the way his eyes closed to slits when he smiled or the way he could put a positive spin on every situation. Deacon had a way of making the whole room feel a little warmer when he entered it. He is a man that I will always respect, and never forget. My friend, Deacon Wainwright.