Carlisle Bridges heard – then saw – the F14 jet fighter flash before the explosion jolted him off the ground.
Carlisle Bridges heard – then saw – the F14 jet fighter flash before the explosion jolted him off the ground. When his eyes opened, his body was on fire and his back stung. After a gasp for air he got his wits about him. “The first thing I remember thinking was we've got to call off that strike, or we're all doomed,” he said. The retired draftsman and Bastrop resident has mostly overcome the once-frequented nightmares from his service as a reconnaissance medic in the jungles of Vietnam with the Army's First Battalion, 28th Infantry. He was drafted into the conflict by armchair generals vexed that Communism would encircle third-world nations like many in post-WW II Europe. His first day in the field, he says he should have been killed three times; to come home alive – that was only his fancy. When Carlisle returned he began a career, married and became a father, yet was unable to cope with the hauntings of carnage. Decades later his wife, Wanda, has recently begun to organize her husband's war-time letters home to his mom. They are emotional and “wrenching” for her to read. He's never been outspoken about his experiences. For Carlisle, they are not worth reliving. “It was war and you had to do what you had to do,” he said. “Before service I was a clown. When I came home people who knew me didn't recognize me. “I was emotionally flat.” Like the many number of local veterans, Bridges remembers enough, and in some instances, too much. For several years he has continued to attend group therapy. Before he found measured peace by an increased relationship with God, he said, the war “tried to put him down the wrong road,” as he put it. “Dealing with the war affected him. When he came back home, there was no such thing as post traumatic stress disorder,” Wanda said, holding back details. Among Carlisle's Army photos is a general's citation noting his Bronze Star, awarded for his “acts of bravery” that day in September 1967 near Lai Khe after he reached radio communicators. And this is where adrenaline, or the “do what you have to do” part is manifested. First there was “Choo Choo” – most soldiers had nicknames. After dragging him 100 meters to safety, Bridges – all 120 pounds of him – turned, raced back and carried two more downed soldiers one at a time over his shoulders as grenades and small-arms fire peppered their location. “I don't remember them too much. I only knew them a little, but I think they lived,” Bridges reflected. As the doctor finished securing the wounded onto the helicopter, he looked cockeyed at the medic's shirt. “He told me, 'Hey, you've got a lot of blood on your back. You need to get on that copter too.'” The sting in his back was shrapnel. Though Bridges has high regards for fellow soldiers, his view of war is ambivalent based on his experience. He's skeptical about the decisions that led him and others to the Far East. “You can't say we accomplished anything,” he said. Added Wanda: “But God was with you and you helped save others.” The Bridges are attending the Veteran's Day reception tomorrow afternoon starting at 2, which includes a slide show of photos of veterans from the parish, at the Visitor Center. The public is encouraged to attend.