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The Lives I Took
THE ROTO-ROOTER man arrived less than an hour after the call. John Tuthill had just moved his family to Dallas and already had a plumbing emergency. Within a few minutes, he ...

The Lives I Took

It had been more than ten years since Tuthill had been in combat, and he had seldom talked about his experiences with anyone. For some reason, however, he shared with this Roto-Rooter man one of his most memorable days. It was a mission to help a unit in trouble:

Eight Marines were being pursued by an entire company of NVA troops and in imminent danger. Helicopters had gone in twice in attempts to extract these men, and twice they had been repelled by intense enemy fire. The enemy had closed within 50 meters of the Marines, and without immediate action, their survival was in doubt.

. . . It was easy to see where to drop after I rolled in and got the target in sight. The top of the mountain lit up like sparklers on the 4th of July as the NVA filled the sky in front of me with intense small arms automatic weapons fire. I zeroed in on the muzzle flashes and released my nape [napalm] to land right in the middle of the area where the muzzle flashes emanated. I passed over the target at 500 feet altitude, pulled off hard left at four to six Gs, and turned my head back towards the target to see if we got a hit. Right on, right on.

Back at base, Tuthill learned that rescue helicopters came in right after his bombing run and pulled out the beleaguered Marines without any enemy fire. He later commented: “Not a day has passed since I came home in June 1970 that I haven’t thought about those who served, those who survived, those who died, and those whose lives I took on a day like that.”

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