NEW ORLEANS - Blood is the color of hell.
Noises, faces in the mist and the entrails of men wallpaper the psyche of those who walked point up a mountain and came down the other side of sanity. In the summer of 1970, Firebase Ripcord, was headquarters for the U.S. Army Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne located in a hardwood forest of scattered, felled and clustered trees wedged between the Nam Hoa mountains near Hue in the Republic of Vietnam.
The Delta Raiders moved by land to Hill 805 which they assaulted without opposition and established a defensive perimeter around the crown of the hill July 12, 1970. Beyond and below the hill lie the devil’s waiting room as morning dawned the beginning of the Battle of Hill 805. Dense foliage concealed concrete bunkers housing Viet Cong regiments and large caches of weapons and ammunition, which was superior in numbers and training than Delta Company. A vast Atlantis of adversaries lurked beneath the boots of Delta dug into Hill 805.
The Delta Raiders formed as a fourth rifle company within the 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment. In October 1967, the battalion commander referred to the “raiding” of one of the other company’s supply rooms, allegedly by members of Delta Company and that such a reputation was unbecoming.
Shortly thereafter, the Delta Company earned a reputation for resourcefulness. If the battalion ran one mile, the Raiders ran two. If the Battalion ran two miles, then the Raiders ran three, and so on. They also did extra push-ups and the “front-leaning rest” in formation as part of the daily routine.
At nightfall of July 12, the company received 30-40 rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire from an unknown size enemy force of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars. They returned fire and the enemy withdrew in an unknown direction. The brunt of the attack was received by the 2nd platoon sector of the perimeter, which faced a trail along a ridgeline leading up to a hill. In all, the company employed 81 mm mortars, aerial rocket artillery and airstrikes.
Two days later, July 14, 1970, the Delta Raiders received a heavy volume of RPGs, satchel charges and small arms fire from an unidentified size enemy force about 20 meters northwest of their position. One of the satchel charges blew off the left leg of Sgt. Jack Godwin, a Delta Raider and Selma, Ala., native. Godwin hunkered in the foxhole with his left leg below the knee gone, plus multiple injuries to his right leg and back.
Platoon leader 1st Lt. Terry Palm bolted down the hill to help Godwin. A Viet Cong prowled the perimeter around the foxhole and shot Palm in the chest. Palm fell into the foxhole and now covered Godwin.
Fortunately for Godwin, the VC observed no movement and assumed he killed everyone. The VC then ran up the hill. Nearby, Paul “Rat” Guimond cut him down with an M60 machine gun in what seemed like 700 or 800 rounds at the time.
“Rat blew him all to pieces,” said Godwin.
Then, Delta’s medic, Ron Grubidt, got shot as he ran down the hill. Godwin and the medic bandaged each other up as they both crawled up the hill.
“The medics didn’t realize that VC shot the LT [Palm] right through the heart and bored a hole in his back,” said Godwin, currently a U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliarist. “I put my hand in it trying to get him off me. When his heart exploded, he just covered me with so much blood.”
As a result, Godwin received the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his wounds and heroism in ground combat. He was one of about 30 from the company who survived. Two-thirds of the rest of the Delta Raiders, 100-200, were all killed. Out of the 30 who made it, Godwin was the least wounded.
“I should have been the one who died – not him – because he had a wife and kids. I felt guilty for it for a long time,” Godwin recalled as he dammed tears.
Then, at about 3:30 a.m. the medevac helicopter arrived on scene and lowered its jungle penetrator [rescue basket] into the foxhole and began to hoist Godwin. As the chopper’s winch hoisted him up, the strap snagged on to a teakwood tree, all the while the VC barraged the helicopter. Now hanging upside down, Godwin clung for his life by his right hand. The aircrew nearly cut him loose, but they eventually medevaced him to a hospital in Da Nang.
“I knocked that strap that was stuck in my thumb out [knocked it loose] – I was just hanging on,” said Godwin.
The helicopter received heavy machine gun fire from the VC en route to Da Nang. Godwin could see the green tracers the whole way.
“By the time I got to the hospital, doctor hollered, ‘Blood stat! No pressure!,” said Godwin. “Seven days later I woke up, so I was lucky.”
However, the hospital was in short supply of Godwin’s blood type, O positive. They gave him a different blood type anyway and gave him carbuncles, which caused sores to break out all over his body.
Killed again – almost.
“I was severely wounded. They almost killed me three times that morning,” said Godwin.
Upon discharge from the hospital, he transferred to Camp Somma in Japan for 10 to 12 days. Then, he had short stays at Travis Air Force Base, Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., and the Army finally brought him to Fort Gordon, Ga., where he rehabilitated and was discharged from the Army for good Oct. 31, 1970.
A year, five months and two days, as Godwin puts it.
For the next 20 years or so he worked for a packing company in Selma and had a son who would eventually enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard. In 2006, Godwin decided to join the Coast Guard Auxiliary and became Staff Officer Program Visitor for Flotilla 32 in Foley, Ala.
“I enjoy serving my country. You know, I don’t feel like it is up,” said Godwin.” I enjoy the work with the Coast Guard Auxiliary.”
Godwin and his fellow Auxiliarists set up program visitor boxes at various marinas and boat launches in and around the Sailboat Bay area to supply the general public with safe boating information. He also visits schools and encourages the children to automatically have a life jacket on prior to boarding a boat.
“Put it on, and make sure it fits properly. If we could just save one kid’s life …, but we want to save all the people,” said Godwin.
On a dark, numbered hill in Vietnam, a young lieutenant preserved Godwin’s life. Now, Godwin aims to ensure everyone wears their life jacket while he keeps good faith with the oath, bond and brotherhood of the Delta blood.