Texas, historically, has been a low voter turnout State. Much of that is a consequence of a long history of voter intimidation and suppression, but also many people just thinking voting is not important.  

However, in the recent early voting, more Texans have voted than the total vote count in the 2016 election. With the general election on Tuesday, Texans will set a new voting record; one we can be proud of.

For those registered voters who have not voted, please, PLEASE vote on 3 November. Set the voter turnout bar high for all future elections in Texas.

It is understandable if people have concerns about voting. The most important concern every voter should have is the threat of COVID, and the risks of standing in line and being in an enclosed space. Also, we know, at least in some places, there will be blatant efforts to disrupt the voting process, intimidate voters and suppress the vote. We in south Texas are no strangers to voter intimidation and voter suppression, for there is a long history in the State of depriving voters, particularly African and Mexican Americans of their inherent right to vote. Hopefully, there will be no such efforts in the Valley Tuesday; but it is something some citizens might be considering while deciding whether to vote.

This potential dilemma of whether to risk contracting COVID, and endure possible attempts to disrupt the election process reminds me of a dilemma I faced in Viet Nam (two words, not one) in late February, 1970. Please indulge me, and I will explain how this relates to the importance of voting on Tuesday.

I was an advisor to a company of the South Viet Namese Airborne Division. We were in dense jungle near the Cambodian border, trying to interdict North Viet Namese forces entering South Viet Nam. After an intense firefight in which three of my men were killed, we captured a food supply depot containing about 40 tons of rice. To extract the rice, we needed a landing zone (LZ) large enough for a Chinook helicopter to hover over so we could load the rice into cargo nets. A company of Airborne Engineers was flown in to cut down several tall trees to create a small, but adequate LZ.

One of my responsibilities as a company advisor was to coordinate and direct all U.S. air support. This included air assaults, re-supply, medevacs, extractions, directing fire from Cobra gunships, and if needed, U.S. Air Force strikes. On an air assault, I was on the first helicopter (bird) in, and on the last bird out during an extraction. When birds were coming into an LZ, I was in the LZ directing the landings. On this particular day, as one can imagine, I was in the middle of the LZ most of the day; first bringing in the Chinooks to extract the rice, then bringing in Hueys (birds) to extract the engineers. Because the LZ was small, only 2 birds could land at a time; and we needed 9 birds to extract the engineers.  So, there were five sorties into the LZ.

We were on high alert because we knew “Charlie” (our not so affectionate term for our enemy) knew exactly where we were, and also that Charlie was extremely angry we were stealing his rice. Fortunately, everything had gone very smoothly until the last bird was coming in to extract the last engineers. I was in the middle of the LZ.  The bird was perhaps 20 feet off the ground when there was a flash of light directly under the bird and a loud explosion, immediately followed by machine gun fire and multiple explosions on and around the LZ. Charlie had tried to take out the bird with a B-40 rocket. Fortunately, the chopper was not seriously damaged and the pilot immediately went into a steep climb to escape enemy fire.

I dove to the ground. When I realized I still was alive, I assessed the situation. I was in the middle of an LZ with no cover. Dirt was kicking up around me from enemy fire. My radio was in the tree line beside my foxhole. Fire was coming from three directions. My men were being hit with B-40 rockets and RPG’s (rocket propelled grenades) in addition to AK-47’s. I could see three or four wounded men. Things were not good.

I had two choices. I could continue to lie in the dirt and hope a bullet didn’t find me. But staying there meant I could not get to my radio to get Cobra gunships on station to lay down suppressing fire to protect my men. I could stand up and run about 15 yards to the tree line and my radio. I thought, “if I stay here, it is just a matter of time before a round finds me, and I’m dead. If I get up and run, with all the rounds cracking over my head and landing around me, Charlie surely will shoot me, and I am dead.”

Ultimately, it came down to the question of how I wanted to die—groveling in the dirt, or trying to get to my radio to call in air support. I confess, I had to think about that for a moment before jumping up and running fast to the tree line, my foxhole, and my radio. Fortunately, Charlie missed; although, after the firefight, I discovered holes in my uniform that were not in me. An inch to the right, an inch to the left, and a round would have found its mark. Yes, I definitely believe in God.

Cobras were on station in a few minutes and Charlie broke contact. Over 30 of my men were wounded. Thankfully, none seriously; and only four needed to be medevaced.

How does this relate to voting?  

Without any question, this is the most important election in our lifetimes. For those who have not yet voted, there are two choices. 1. Lie groveling in the dirt and hope, by doing nothing, everything will be okay. 2. Get up and run to that tree line to vote—to call in that air support—to protect the lives of others and also yourself.

Sometimes, to choose life, we must risk death. For those who have not voted, on 3 November, please, PLEASE vote. Just as that day in Viet Nam, lives truly depend on taking action.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Rio Grande Guardian contributor Samuel Freeman. It appears in our pages with the author’s permission. Freeman can be reached via email at: [email protected]

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows Samuel Freeman with a Viet Namese child during his years of armed service to the United States.

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