Did I actually see anyone get killed in Vietnam? I was in country for a little more than one year. Most of that year was spent in the field with my unit, a towed 105mm howitzer battery. I served with the 1st Cavalry Air Mobile Division which meant that many times we were carried into battle by helicopter. If I remember correctly, at that time the effective range of a 105 was around seven miles. So we were always as close to the infantry as possible in order to give support up to five to six miles. Once the infantry moved beyond our effective range we had to pack up and move to get within supporting range again. Many times we were in a defensive position so we stayed put for up to several days. But we did a lot of moving around. The entire 1st Cav did a lot of moving around. It was the first division size unit in history that could move all its elements into battle mainly by helicopter.
Once, a group of us walked across an old battlefield and found the skeletons of a couple of enemy soldiers, Vietcong or North Vietnamese Regulars we couldn’t tell which, although we could recognize military backpacks. I did witness a Chinook helicopter that was bringing in one of our howitzers and its crew get shot down and explode into flames when it hit the ground, coming down on top of the 105 it was hauling in a sling and then flipping on its side. We were able to get everyone out accept one man but I didn’t actually see him die. He never made it out of the burning chopper. And of course I took part in many “fire missions” but our targets were always too far away to see what we were shooting at.
The closes I ever came to death myself, as far as I know, was once I was wandering around at night and ended up in another battery’s area just when they received the order to fire. In the near absolute darkness I was in front of a howitzer when it fired and nearly got my head blown off. Another time during the day I reached down into the tall grass to pick something up and it turned out to be a bamboo viper. Its bite causes nearly instant death and there is no known antidote. The snake slid harmlessly out of my hand, back into the grass and disappeared.
So no, I never actually saw someone get killed in Vietnam. Nor did I get killed in Vietnam myself. Unlike so many others, I guess I was just lucky.