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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Panama 3

Panama Pundit 3

Jan. 3, 1991

We convoyed over to Camp Russo to deliver a 5 Ton truck and pick up two smaller vehicles for the return trip to Base Camp.  We almost had to transport a large sum of money back to the Base Camp, which I was not looking forward to, but it got cancelled at the last minute.

While at Russo we heard that an American helicopter got shot down in San Salvador.  The American soldiers that survived the crash were executed by the rebels.  It was a couple of hundred miles away but it did make us stop and think.  We realized that we “weren’t in Kansas anymore” and there were people in the general area that didn’t really like us. 

Captain Johnson said he had heard that Air Force One had landed at Howard AFB near Russo, but I didn’t believe him, so we decided to check it out before we returned to Base Camp.

Jan 4, 1991

The trip back to Base Camp was uneventful.  I did miss a turn in a town called Solo Palto.  There were five Panamanian bar fly’s hanging around the outside of a bar.  I guess they had been there all day according to their appearance, watching all the trucks go by.  They all pointed in the direction we were supposed to go.  As I was turning the convoy around I drove by them, leaned out of the jeep and yelled, “American Stupido.”  Which is Stupid American in Italian.  They understood what I meant and laughed very heartedly.

The set up of the Base Camp had made a lot of progress in the two days we had been absent.  We put our gear away and walked into town, if you can call Numbre a town.  They have a dirt road, shacks, two grocery stores (or a least a place where you could buy food), a cafĂ© operated out of a house and an Asian Restaurant that also doubled as a grocery store.  One of the grocery stores had a bar.  We went to the one that had the bar.

There were a bunch of Panamanian playing something that looked like dominos and a pool table that was infested with beetles.  We didn’t play pool, just drank their $0.25 bottled beer, called Panama oddly enough.

Jan 5, 1991

We got up and took a ride to Ft. Davis and requisitioned material to paint directional signs for when the main body arrived.  Captain Johnson and I took the material down to a rocky beach and painted them.  We needed to clean our brushes so after soaking them in kerosene we cleaned them in the ocean.  I had been watching the waves and had figured out that every 5th wave was larger than the other 4.  So when the 5th wave was coming in we would dash back up the rocks.  I did not count on any abnormality in the wave cycle.  One wave took us by surprised and drug us both off the beach into the Atlantic Ocean.  Lucky for us there was a large boulder that we latched on to or we would have been picked up by some sort of current and our bodies found floating in the Gulf of Mexico or off the tip of Florida.  We took longer to dry than the paint on the signs.  We returned to Base Camp after driving by the supposed Air Force One, which it was not, and finished our brush cleaning on a sand bar in the Numbre River next to Base Camp.

Jan 6, 1991

We got up early and drove into Ft. Sheridan to pick up a truck convoy to lead to the Base Camp.  Just as we were about a mile away from camp we heard over the radio that there had been an accident on the road just ahead and a medivac helicopter had been requested immediately.  From a hill we watched as a group of men tried to save another man’s life.  We halted all traffic going down the road and took in the event.  Apparently the driver of a fork lift had lost control of his machine, the fork lift started to bounce, he un hooked his seat belt and stood up trying to get a better view of the road and guide the lift around the pot hole and large rocks.  The lift turned over and trapped the young man under the lift just below his waist.  It crushed him but he was still conscious.  Controlled panic developed.  His band of brothers immediately called for assistance, but the only medical helicopter available was in Panama City.  It was dispatched immediately but distance was against him.  They did what they could for the young man but by the time the helicopter arrived the 19 year old National Guardsman from Sikeston, Missouri was dead.  The Base Camp was named after him, Camp Thomas.  Some day I might write a story about that.