Why is it a slow food? All you want is broth. We were sitting one lunchtime in Mr.
In honor of Sports Illustrated's 60th anniversary, SI. It was originally published in the July 23, issue of SI. The feeling had gone out of everything. It was like we were zombies. You didn't care anymore. July was terrible.
The [North Vietnamese] whacked Ripcord, that hill we were on, with mortars and rocket fire. Day after day, night after night. I was getting shell-shocked.
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I didn't care if I got out. At night you could hear the [enemy] yelling from the jungles all around, "GI die tonight! GI die tonight! We thought we were going to be overrun. There were always lulls between the salvos of incoming mortars, moments of perishable relief. The last salvo had just ended, and the dust was still settling over Firebase Ripcord. In one command bunker, down where the reek of combat hung like whorehouse curtains, Lieut. Bob Kalsu and Pfc. Nick Fotias sat basting in the jungle heat. In that last salvo the North Vietnamese Army NVAas usual, had thrown in a round of tear gas, and the stinging gas and the smoke of burning cordite had curled into the bunkers, making them all but unbearable to breathe in.
It was so sweltering inside that many soldiers suffered the gas rather than gasp in their hot, stinking rubber masks.
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So, seeking relief, Kalsu and Fotias swam for the light, heading out the door of the bunker, the threat of mortars be damned. It was Tuesday afternoon, July 21,a day Kalsu had been eagerly awaiting.
Back home in Oklahoma City, his wife, Jan, was due to have their second child that very day. They already had a month-old daughter, Jill Anne. The Oklahoma City gentry viewed the Kalsus as perfectly matched links on the cuff of the town.
Jan was the pretty brunette with the quick laugh, the daughter of a successful surgeon. Bob was the handsome, gregarious athletic hero with the piano-keys grin, the grandson of Czech immigrants for whom America had been the promised land and Bob the promise fulfilled. As a college senior, in the fall ofthe 6'3", pound Kalsu had been an All-America tackle for Oklahoma, a team of overachievers that wentbeating Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. The next season, after bulking up to pounds, Kalsu had worked his way into the starting offensive line of the Buffalo Billsand at season's end he had been named the Bills' rookie of the year.
While in Vietnam, Kalsu rarely talked about his gridiron adventures. Word had gotten around the firebase that he had played for the Bills, but he would shrug off any mention of it. What he talked about--incessantly--was his young family back home. Jan knew her husband was somewhere "on a mountaintop" in Vietnam, but she had no idea what he had been through.
In his letters he let on very little. On July 19, the day after a U. Army Chinook helicopter, crippled by antiaircraft fire, crashed on top of the ammunition dump for Ripcord's battery of mm howitzers, setting off a series of explosions that literally sheared off one tier of the hill, the bunkered-down lieutenant wrote his wife. He began by using his pet name for her.
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How're things with my beautiful, sexy, lovable wife. The time can't pass fast enough for me until I'm back home with all my loved ones and especially you Jan and Jilly and Baby K. I love and need you so very much. The wind has quit blowing so hard up here. It calmed down so much it's hard to believe it. Enemy activity remains active in our area.
Hopefully it will cease in the near future. I'm just fine as can be. Feeling real good just waiting to hear the word again that I'm a papa.
It shouldn't be much longer until I get word of our arrival Kalsu was, in fact, involved in the gnarliest battle going on at the time in Vietnam: an increasingly desperate drama being played out on the top of a steep, balding shank of rock and dirt that rose 3, feet above sea level and above the jungle floor. From the crest of this two-tiered oblong promontory, on a space no bigger than two football fields, two artillery batteries--the doomed s and the six mm howitzers of Battery A, Kalsu's battery--had been giving fire support to infantrymen of the st Airborne Division, two battalions of which were scouring the jungles for North Vietnamese while pounding the ganglia of paths and supply routes that branched from the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, 12 miles to the west, spiderwebbing south and east around Ripcord through Thuathien Province and toward the coastal lowlands around Hue.
Atop that rock, Kalsu was caught in a maelstrom that grew stronger as July slouched toward August. On July 17, four days before his baby was due, Kalsu was made the acting commander of Battery A after the captain in charge was choppered out to have a piece of shrapnel removed from a bone in his neck.
Kalsu and his men continued their firing missions as the NVA attacks intensified. With a range of 13 miles, Battery A's s were putting heavy metal on enemy supply lines as far off as the A Shau Valley, a key NVA logistical base 10 miles to the southwest, helping create such havoc that the enemy grew determined to drive the or so Americans off Ripcord. As many as 5, NVA soldiers, 10 to 12 battalions, had massed in the jungles surrounding Ripcord, and by July 21 they were lobbing more than rounds a day on the firebase, sending the deadliest salvos whenever U.
I told him a few times, 'It's good to run around and show what leadership is about, but when rounds are blowing up in your area, you ought to hunker down behind a gun wheel.
Or a bunker. The grunts loved him for it, and they would have followed him anywhere. David Johnson always did. Kalsu and Johnson, by most superficial measures, could not have been more different. Kalsu was white and the only child of middle-class parents--city-bred, college-educated, married, a father, devoutly Catholic. Johnson guy black and the seventh of 11 children raised on a poor farm dating of Humnoke, Ark. He was single and childless, a supplicant at the Church of God and Christ.
What the two men shared was a gentleness and childlike humanity that reached far beyond race. So James Robert Kalsu, 25, and Spc. That lull in incoming fire on July 21 nearly brought the two friends together again. Johnson was standing outside Kalsu's bunker on the pock-marked hill. Mike Renner, a gunner, was standing by his with a sergeant who was dressing him down because the jack on the gun had broken, leaving the crew unable to raise it to a different azimuth. At that Oklahoma Kalsu and Vietnamese rose out of the bunker. They stood at the door for a moment, Fotias with his back to it, and Kalsu started reading to him from a piece of paper in his hand.
He said, 'My wife's having our baby today. Some rounds you heard falling, some you didn't. Fotias did not hear this one. Jim Harris, the battalion surgeon, was across the firebase when he heard the splitting crack and turned his head toward it. The mm mortar landed five feet from the bunker door. Johnson fell sprawling on the ground.
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Fotias, at the mouth of the bunker, saw the sun go out. And being blown off my feet and flying through the door of the bunker and landing at the bottom of the steps, six feet down, and this tremendous weight crushing me.
I couldn't see. I couldn't hear.
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I had dirt in my eyes, and my eyes were tearing. I rubbed them, and then I could see again. I pushed off this weight that was on top of me, and I realized it was Bob. So why did he try to forget it? He laughed so heartily that he drooled, the spittle coursing from the corners of his mouth down around his dimpled chin and on down his chiseled neck. Once, on hearing the punch line of an off-color joke, he slammed a fist so hard on an ading barstool that the stool broke into pieces.
He had the appetite of a Komodo dragon, but he loved kids even more than food. Some valve must have been missing in his psyche: His ego, unlike that of most jocks, was not inflatable. He always favored the underdog he arranged the selection of one girl as high school homecoming queen because no one paid her much mindand he turned down a high school sports award on grounds that he'd already received too many.
Kalsu was born in Oklahoma City on April 13,and he came of age in the suburb of Del City at a time when coach Bud Wilkinson was leading Oklahoma through its gilded age. From into '57 the Sooners won 47 consecutive games, still a record for a Division I school, and finished three straight seasons '54 to '56 undefeated.
Twice during that run, in '55 and '56, they were national champions.