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1966_12_03--27-33--I_Escaped_From_a_Red_Prison

I stuffed the parachute panels into my rucksack and fell down the ridge. The skin had ripped off my feet and they were just bones. But there was no particular pain. I couldn't feel a thing. I thought of all the things I'd missed. I wanted to go deep-sea fishing. I wanted to ski and build a chalet in the California mountains, and I wanted to buy a Porsche. All these hopes were gone. I remembered that once—back at Lackland Air Force Base six years before—I had thrown away a piece of bread. I swore that I'd never do that again. My body kept rolling down that ridge and stopped by a river. I had just taken a drink when I saw them: Five or six villagers in loincloths, carrying machetes. I lay very still. and one of them almost stepped on my hand. Then they crossed the river and walked toward another ridge. I must have passed out dozens of times. Five minutes, 10 minutes, half an hour; I dcn't know how long. But in my dreams I saw men skiing on fresh snow. Big doors opened, and people came out blowing trumpets. I saw chariot races in heaven, and I heard Duane calling my name. Then I woke up and saw ants crawling over my feet. I stuck them in my mouth; they bit my tongue before I swallowed them. Next morning—this was the 22nd day after our escape—I took the parachute panels out of the rucksack, tied them end to end and laid out an SOS by the river. I wrapped another panel around a bamboo stick. Then I passed out again. When I came to, I thought I heard a plane. I knew he'd have only half a second to see me. The river was just 30 feet wide at that point; there were steep cliffg on both banks. I gathered all my strength, started waving that bamboo stick andzoom— the plane was past me and gone. But he came back several times and wiggled his wings. A Spad—one of ours—and he'd spotted me. 1 was so happy that I started crying and shouting and rolling around on my back. Then 1 collapsed. Suddenly I heard the helicopter, 200 feet above my head. The steel rope began falling slowly to- ward me. And there was the rescue harness: a slen- der device with three little arms folded into its side. I had to press the arms down to make a seat, but I couldn't unzip the plastic cover. I clawed at the harness and iinally wrenched one arm free and gave a little signal. I was hanging sideways; I didn't know if I could hold on much longer. Every- thing was turning around and around and I said, "God, don't let a bullet hit me now. Not after all this hell I've been through." Then I saw a leg and green pants standing in the chopper door. An American leg! I grabbed onto it and cried. I went back into shock at the hospital in Dancing. I weighed only 93 pounds. I couldn't move my arms or legs or head. Yet everything was pleasant and nice. I thought that this was all a dream; I thought this was how it was after death. Back in San Diego they treated me for kidney disease and liver disease. They fixed my teeth, and when I got malaria—right there in the hos- pital—they cured me of that as well. At first, I had to sleep on the floor; a bed was just too soft. I had lots of bad dreams, too, and I'd wake up three or four times a night sweating and screaming and yelling. The doctors say I'm doing pretty well now. I weigh about 150 pounds, and I've got as much energy as anyone else. I still have some ringworm on my feet; there are a couple of bugs inside me that they have to take care of, and I'm losing all my hair. I feel pretty bad about that, but they tell me that it will just be temporary. Anyway, Marina doesn't seem to mind. We flew to Reno in early October and got married, and I have to admit I'm pretty happy about that. In a few more weeks I should be able to fly again. That will make me happy too. q Ten thousand miles and an entire existence away from Vietnam, Dengler and his bride Marina enjoy the sun. 33


1966_12_03--27-33--I_Escaped_From_a_Red_Prison
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