The long road from Vietnam to Quarryville By Jeff Hawkes, Intelligencer Journal Staff
Intelligencer Journal, Lancaster, PA
Published: Oct 06, 2005 - LANCASTER COUNTY, PA –
L-R: Bill Kahl, Willy Massel, Mike Gowan
Badly wounded in the right leg, Pfc. Bill Masel called out for help. Shrapnel had torn through his calf, and he lay on the jungle floor. He heard the enemy approaching. Time was runnin out. Masel was hit at the end of a day-long battle on May 27, 1969, with North Vietnamese regulars in the Central Highlands.
A 19-year-old infantryman from Queens, N.Y., Masel had been in South Vietnam two months without seeing action. His first taste of combat was enough to last a lifetime. Early on, walking through tall elephant grass, Masel suffered small shrapnel wounds to his back that a medic quickly bandaged.
A sniper must have spotted their movements. When Masel's buddy, Gary Fassel, left his side to move to the tree line, a bullet smashed into his jaw.
Masel watched helplessly as his friend died. Masel fired a grenade launcher in the sniper's direction. He and the medic made it to the trees and rejoined the 1st Platoon. There Masel found a buddy, Keith Gibson, slumped over a machine gun. He had been shot in the head.
Throughout the battle, Masel moved back and forth along his unit's U-shaped line, launching dozens of grenades. When he wasn't firing, he hugged the ground. As the afternoon waned, the enemy's attack strengthened. Staff Sgt. Pat Francis took a fatal hit in the chest, and a medic attending the fallen soldier was wounded. It was becoming clear that C Company was outnumbered.
Late in the afternoon, Masel assumed an order to pull back had been given because he saw soldiers, one or two at a time, get up and leave their positions. Some didn't get far. The enemy had moved close enough to pick off the crouching targets. Masel described the scene as "a turkey shoot." Masel fired a few rounds and decided to run for it. But as he ran, an explosion knocked him to the ground. He looked at his bleeding leg. It felt, he said, "like a hot bag of water."
As he lay in pain, Masel heard the enemy moving in the bushes. Alone and out of ammunition, he had no choice but to try and crawl away. As he crept in the dirt he called for help. He was heartened to hear a response.
Spec. Bill Kahl, 24, was a machine gunner with C Company's 2nd Platoon and had been in Vietnam for eight months. His unit entered the battle late in the afternoon to give cover for 1st Platoon's retreat. Kahl and his assistant gunner fired where they believed enemy troops were hiding. After they exhausted their ammunition, they retreated through the elephant grass, hoping to find C Company's perimeter. It was then that Kahl heard someone calling.
"I thought it might be a good direction to go to," Kahl recalled. "I thought it was coming from the perimeter." Instead, Kahl came across Masel and saw his mangled leg. Masel said, "Take me with you."
He ain't heavy
Kahl, at 6 feet, 180 pounds, slung the 150-pound Masel over one shoulder and carried him at least 50 yards to the safety of the company's perimeter. When Kahl put him down, Masel removed chains from around his neck -- one with a cross, the other with a Jesus medallion -- and handed them to Kahl, saying, "Thanks. You saved my life."
Thirty-six years would pass before the two men met again. Masel, now 55, of Quarryville, says not a day goes by that he doesn't think about how he got out alive, losing only a leg. He thought about his rescuer and regretted not knowing who he was. That changed last month when Mike Gowan of South Carolina, a C Company member who was tracking down veterans of the battle, corresponded with Kahl.
Kahl didn't know who he rescued, but Gowan knew Masel's story and put him in touch with Kahl. The mystery was solved.
Last weekend, Kahl, 60, and his wife, Jeannie, of Waldron, Mich., visited Masel and his wife, Lois. The vets relaxed on Masel's deck and in quiet voices spoke of the trauma and heroism of May 27, 1969. "You lost so much blood. I always wondered if you had made it," Kahl told Masel. "After you carried me out," Masel replied, "I couldn't let you down."
"Man," said Kahl, "you're the toughest guy on the face of the planet."