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A Delta Man’s Tale; The Advance of Saint Bono

(Dedication for this write goes to Freq Media brother Alex Green.)

The year was 1996; the place was Croatia; the conditions were post-fall of former Yugoslavia (Jugoslavia). “Yugoslavia”… that country belonged to an exclusive (and very sparsely-numbered) league of nations that I never thought I would find myself in while serving with the Army’s Delta Force. But there was a war there, you see, and where there was/is war, you will find Delta.

We Delta pukes came to serve as a small personal protective force for the NATO Commanding General. The incumbent wanted army boys at his six, but he didn’t want his boys from Germany where he came from, he wanted Delta because the situation in Yugoslavia was just too… real.

Croatian_War_1991_Vukovar_destroyed_tank

A Serbian M-84 tank put out-of-action by a mine during the 1995 siege of Vukovar 

“He asked for you men by name,” consoled our operations officer.

“I didn’t come to Delta to be some old fucker’s butler!” bitched one of the men assigned to the 12-man detail that we comprised.

“You’ll do as your told, Mike!” warned the Major.

“I’m not taking a bullet for that guy,” the Sergeant rejected.

The Major was silent and grim, irritated but silent still. I wasn’t of the mind to complain about where I went or what I did with Delta. I was never the guy in the gym who got all shitty about the weights… I was just happy to be there and ready to work, all the time, and didn’t mind doing it, even if it meant taking a bullet while butlering around the old fucker.

I was the Advance.

The Advance was the guy who traveled out to locations a day before the general and the boys of the detail to scout routes, collect environmental details, handle logistic essentials and the like. I wanted to be with the boys in the detail, but Advance was a singleton gig. I liked working alone, for there was nobody there to see me screw up, and I could cover up tracks if the need reared its head.

“Never say anything to make yourself look bad,” rang the words in my mind from my best friend in Delta, Samuel Booth Foster.

“What they don’t know can’t hurt them,” chimed the words in my head from some genius on the playground of my junior high school days. I was full of all these acquired pearls of wisdom, and the Balkans would provide the scenarios to put those pearls to sensible use.

So I advanced

I found myself in the city of Vukovar, Croatia. Vukovar was sieged by Serbian forces and was ruthlessly shelled by Serb gunboats from the Danube River. In all of my time in the Balkan states, I had never seen such a granular instance of war destruction. The city had the appearance of a wax city that was built to close to the sun. My, but even the shrapnel holes had bullet holes in them. The whole enterprise seemed to just melt into itself from hate-rendered damage.

I learned to say Vukovar-specific phrases in the language because of my time there:

“Ja sam bio u Vukuvaru jedan put; Bože… puno šteta je bila tamo. Nije poznato koliko  boli mi srce zbog toga.”

The Google translator, to my glee, translates my words in such fashion:

“I was in Vukaruara one time; God… a lot of damage was there. It’s not known how much my heart hurts because of it.”

Croatian_War_1991_Vukovar_destruction

Destruction in the Vukovar city center

So the general, the boss, wanted to see the violated crypt of a Roman Martyr, St. Bono, the patron Saint and protector of the city of Vukovar. In 1995 Serbs reportedly broke into the crypt of St. Bono, doused the mummified remains of the Saint, and set it ablaze. Where’s the love, right?

The crypt was in the Church of Sts. Philipp and James, up on a hill above the city. I got a U.S. Army driver and the Army’s version of an SUV. We two drove up into the hills to the church, the driver grumbling and complaining every cobblestone of the way.

“I dunno why the old man thinks he wants to come to this miserable shithole and gawk at some dead guy. He must think he’s gonna see skulls and bones and creepy Halloween shit… claw hands sticking out of the ground. That dumbass. Why don’t he jus park his stank ass in Sarajevo and sip some milk.”

When he got too out of line in his rant I stopped talking to him at which point he would shut his pie trap for a breath. I got it; the regular army was miserable in the Balkans. Well, I had 99 problems to solve and his morale sure as hell was not one of them. Regular army grunts had zero responsibility and bored me. That’s just how it was.Vukovar-watertower-after-war

Damage to the city water tower by Serb gunners from the Danube River as it remains today a monument to the siege

I stepped from the SUV and pushed my way through the front door of the church. I didn’t know what I expected to find there either, though I was at a minimum less irreverent about it than my driver… oh but, there it was, painfully apparent in the heavy masonry wall to my left.

A large man-sized hole was fractured into the wall of the crypt. I drew near and gazed into the expanse. I saw only shapes wrought by the ambient light. Raising my M4 Carbine I washed the inside of the crypt in halogen white-light with my SureFire gun lamp… I scrolled it slowly to the right, to the left.

There he was; there was good ol’ Svijeti Bono in all his demise.

The interior was dank and stank and was dirty and burnt. There were bones and shreds of cloth, broken timbers and… clay pots… receptacles of a sort? In the center of it all lay the charred remaining thorax of the saintly saint. His rib cage was intact and vertical, still attached to his spine which ended abruptly and morbidly where his head once was.Ovcara_building

Ovčara barn Vukovar was the sight of the massacre of 260 citizens of the city

“Be careful what you ask for,” rang the words in my head. At least I had a head, and then there was poor ol’ headless Bono, there. “Be careful what you ask for,” a brother had told me when I left my then assignment to go join Delta. “Be careful what you ask for,” and at that moment all I wanted to do was punch that guy in the face as hard as I could. At least that guy had a face, and then there was poor ol’ faceless Bono.

“Soooo… here be the tomb of Sony and Cher Bono… kkkkkkkkkk,” my driver smirked as he be-bopped his way toward the saint’s improvised front door. He held a Stanly thermos with one hand and balanced the cap/cup in his other hand, sipping and be-bopping. He did a penchant at the waist to lean in and gawk into the crypt.

“I ain’t see shit!” he bawled.

I raised my gat and gun-lighted the interior. The driver froze. “Mmm… my Lord what the… oh dear God, that’s a body there!” he dropped the cup and put that hand over his mouth as vomit sprayed through his fingers. He dropped the thermos and put that other hand over his eyes as he flailed himself and his vomit out through the front door of the Church of Saints Philipp and James… and Bono.

Memorijalno_groblje_Vukovar

Casualties of the 1995 siege of Vukovar as they lay in the municipal cemetery

I looked at the thermos on the ground and I was put immediately in mind of the fact that the morning coffee at the TOC had run out unusually early that day; why had that been? I recover the cup and poured it full. I sat on the edge of the waist-high breech in the walled crypt of Mr. Bono and sipped. It (coffee) was toward the south end of hot and smelled a hint of vomit; everything did, you see.

In my mind’s eye I closed my eyes and “said”: Dear Saint Bono, you just made a man puke and cry and stumble away from your tomb. Were you really that revolting just now or was that a man weak of spirit and intent? Me, I’m not a man who believes in Gods, spirits, ghosts or saints… but I do thank you for the coffee.

The good general did advance to Vukovar that day, and he saw… skulls and bones and creepy Halloween shit… claw hands sticking out of the ground. That dumbass.

Screen Shot 2018-12-26 at 6.34.42 PM

The charred remains, mainly ribs of the thorax, as they appear today in St. Bono’s sarcophagus

By Almighty God and with honor,

geo sends

Brod_Sv._Bono_Vukovar

A local Vukovar vessel on the Danube River bears the name of St. (SV) Bono

Photos courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

69 comments on “A Delta Man’s Tale; The Advance of Saint Bono

  1. Oh geo, that was a fantastic Delta Tale! I have been missin dem George E. Hand IV Delta tales like crazy! I just listened to audio book (read book a few years back) “Love Thy Neighbor” written by a Washington Post Journalist who was covering the war there during the years of 1992-1993. As I read your essay there were a lot of visions flashing in my mind, and they weren’t pretty. Only those of you that were there can truly understand what you all must have seen and felt. But, no, I bet it was not to be understood, how could it be! That such atrocities went on in the 1990s, even while the dedication of the Holocaust Museum (the theme “Never Again”) was being televised on 22nd, April 1993, and similar atrocities continue today in parts of the world, is outrageous. “Never Again”!

    Now on the coffee, you really are a brave man with a solid gut. I do think I could have handled the sight of poor old Saint Bono, but the smell of vomit, ahhhh, that is another thing. Not too very long ago, I was in an urgent care center for something minor and not contagious. Someone vomited right there in the waiting room next to me. I was horrified that some splatter might have touched me. Then another bolted for the restroom and didn’t make it, then Mic-Mac had to go out for air and dry heaves. I contained myself, but it ruined my day.

    • georgehand

      McMac,
      in a place like that ALL the senses just go dead and they seem to stand off from each other in sort of an insular state. I think that’s why what I was seeing and smelling didn’t adversely affect my sense of taste. I have eaten with blood on my hands before (dried and not my own)… the senses get compartmentalized and necessity drives the train.
      geo sends

      • I gather those things don’t stay dead behind that door. They must emerge when your defenses are down and then come at you with claws and gnashing teeth. I’m sure that the things that men in combat have seen can never be truly understood by people that have not been there and done that. Perhaps, in some way by EMT’s and first responders, but even they don’t have entire rest of the Godless equation to deal with.

        Thank you for showing us another small frame into your long picture of events, George. I am fully aware you are cleaning them up in the delivery and I, for one, am grateful for that. You are answering my quest to understand on one level, but thankfully you are providing it without the accompanying demons. I’m grateful for that. Looking forward to the next….

        • georgehand

          Thank you, Ms. Susan
          I spent nearly my whole post-army life thinking that my time in was just par-for-the-course riff-raff that nobody wanted to hear. It was SOFREP that showed me I was wrong about that.
          Much love, sister
          geo

    • Liked your comment, MM. And, I would have been right behind you. 🙁

  2. Oh poor St. Bono. Now the Lord giveth and taketh away. You,my dear sir, were granted nectar of the gods-coffee! That which keeps me from sinning directly in the morning…oh, but then I get up. But I digress.

    A Delta tale and from Geo. My day is off to a grand start!!!

    The time you discuss does in fact make my heart hurt. However, Advance—-I can see how that prepared you for saving those souls that you are an angel to now. All things have a purpose.

    TexJ3

    • georgehand

      Sit up straight; it’s texj3!
      “coffee! That which keeps me from sinning directly in the morning” what a sweet phrase! If you’re off to a great start then so am I!

      geo affectionately sends

  3. Outside of yet another great article, that gives me a sense, of things I will never experience, and your life, that has shaped your thoughts and drives; we get the amazing background photos and vivid imagery of a past conflict. The bonus for me, was the photo of the M-84, being a minor tank buff, I looked at that photo, and thought to myself “well the rear looks like a T-55, but the turret is odd . . . “, so I googled, thinking “M-84, that sounds murican”, and sure enough, an indigenous tank design, based on Soviet tech, I had never heard of. So a bonus for me.

    • georgehand

      RGR all Mason. The Serbs and the army of former Jugoslavia, words to the effect J(ugoslovenka Narodna Armija (JNA), was teamed with Serbians in the siege of Vukovar. All their hardware was Soviet or Soviet derivative, them having been at one time members of the defunct Warsaw Pact league of nations.

      I’m honored to have laid eyes on what very few living beings today have.

      geo sends

  4. joyblack1196

    Geo, I hope you found somewhere to hose down the foolish driver before heading back with his smelly, disrespectful carcass. My very superstitious Great Grandmother would have wagged her finger at him and advised him to never disrespect any spirit regardless of his lack of belief. Joy

  5. georgehand

    In fact, Ms. Joy, once the detail with the general arrived I picked up and drove back with the motorcade serving as another flank gun. Puke boy drove home alone.
    geo sends

  6. Hopefully, the Army driver learned a valuable lesson while in your, gentle giant, presence that day.

    • georgehand

      Hello Ms. Suz
      I think for the day that guys lesson was never get out of your truck while in Bosnia.
      My compliments,
      geo sends

  7. Geo-I always feel like I’m silently there with you when you spin these tales. You have observed and reported in such a way that all of my senses are stimulated.

    • LPD256, such gifted writers are rare. How fortunate I feel to have come across a Georgia E. Hand IV article on google that led me to REP, back in the day. Words come together when the author adds heart and soul, humor and humility. geo accomplishes this every time. Hugs LP. It is sooo great seeing your comments in this community.

      • georgehand

        I’m glad you found that article that day, McMac.
        geo

        • Thank you geo. I have many wonderful friends because of you and your writing. Ms Joni S, was the first to reach out to me when she saw me comment for the first time. Love them all, and you too geo. Hugs to all.

      • Wow, Mic-Mac! That’s how you found Geo? That sounds like the hand of God guiding you.

    • georgehand

      LPD256!!
      I don’t mean to sound trite but the tales tell themselves pretty much. I almost have a hard time even taking credit for them… if that even makes sense.
      Sincere regards, brother
      geo sends

      • Geo-You tell the stories with humility which is a lost trait among the gifted. And I put you in that category. No brag, no BS. A guiet professional with a gift of storytelling. I don’t recall you ever being the hero in your tales of Delta. But I sure do remember Samuel Booth Foster, Chief, and others.

  8. “At least I had a head…” Haha, that part made me laugh. Great story, Geo. Some of my favorite memories/stories to tell from Batt were not the times when guns were blazing, but the weird, humorous, or just interesting moments — often the small ones.

    • Luke-My experience is that humor is a way to maintain sanity. Those of us that have been around the horror and brutality side of life use it as a defense mechanism as I know you understand. I once went into a bedroom where a recently headless person was laying in a bed. I turned around and walked down a hallway where I met fire paramedics that were rushing in to save the victim. I said “ You guys better hurry he’s in pretty bad shape…” They called me all sorts of names and we decompressed with a coffee at the firehouse later. I know that sounds morbid and disrespectful to the dead guy. But it somehow relieved the pressure of the moment.

      • Ugg, LPD. Identifying my brothers nearly decapitated body after an auto accident. It had me in a bad place for many years. Knowing the local police, they did the best they could to make him look the best they could. But, I couldn’t get the vision out of my mind. He was 24, I was 34. It took me years to rebound. The District Attorney asked me to be present at the trial as well as family of the other two victims. I walked into the courthouse and when the photographs taken at the scene were taken out and put on the boards, I walked out and didn’t return. Doing what those of you in LE and military do, and seeing what you see, is far beyond what most of us will ever experience in our entire lifetime. Y’all take it for us in so many ways. I am so grateful for all of you. .

        • Mic-I’m a tough guy when it doesn’t involve family for the most part. I try to put the horror in a little box to help forget which the shrinks call compartmentalization. Sometimes they escape the box and visit. Hearing about the headless Bono brought my headless guy out momentarily. I will say I about freaked out one time at my kid’s diaper rash. Death or injury of family or friends is different as is when the victim is a child. I hope you also remember good times with your brother and celebrate his life. My kid is 40. His diaper rash is fine. The ER docs gave me crap for a long time for bringing him in. Usually while they were repairing some gunshot or stabbing victim that didn’t bother me at all.

          • LPD256-I have been to ER for similar things with my daughters. Ya never know when diaper rash can turn to infection. Right?

        • georgehand

          I’ve never had it quite as bad as what you just described.
          geo

        • I’m so sorry, Mic-Mac. No-one should have to go through that.

        • I cannot imagine what that must have been like for you, MM. Even my worst imagination must fall far short. I am so very sorry that it is that memory that is your last. I have many regrets over Buzz’ loss, but I don’t have that horror to haunt me. Now, more of what we’ve spoken of makes sense. Hopefully, you are filling your mind with pictures of the good times and memories of the good times to chase that image back into the locked room where it needs to stay. Love you. 🙂

      • georgehand

        LPD256 that is gold, brother. I don’t fault you one damn bit for that episode. I agree with you.
        geo sends

    • georgehand

      Many thanks Luke.
      Short of stepping into the crypt I couldn’t make out the head in there though I did search. It’s not in the sarcophagus either. I never leaned through reading or hearsay what happened to it. I imagine that it was carried off as a trophy by the Serbs who defiled the burial.

      Yessir Luke, I think you an I could find a story in most anything. I’ve got a good book to pass on to you when I’m done reading it. Perhaps you’ve heard of it: The first Marauder
      geo sends

  9. Geo, been a while, think TexJ3 provided the Freq link to me, via the former SOFREP MiniMafia – which is still a group of like minded folks, led by recon 6, which is a good thing. I’ve missed reading your comms, which have always been great and interesting. I look forward to more!
    And may Saint Bono bless you withan endless supply of more better coffee!
    oldSquid

  10. Another great article. Thank you, Geo. Looking forward to the next one.

  11. I don’t know what’s worse, the headless corpse or the smell of vomit, I will have to agree with MicMac and say vomit will turn my stomach every time (except when the kids had a bug and would throw up everywhere and I would have to clean it).
    It’s nice to see everyone back. Thanks Geo.

    • Irene B, I must admit that even when my kids would throw up, I would throw up cleaning it. Not once did my husband offer! He cut his hand on glass once (a significant gash) and passed out looking at the blood LOL.

      • panzer102015

        My husband would often help, thank goodness, but yep I would try and hold my breath us much as possible or it would turn my stomach.

    • georgehand

      Hi Ms. Irene B,
      you can un-smell vomit, but you can’t un-see a decapitation.
      Sincere regards,
      geo sends

      • geo, I agree..vomit is only vomited, and I can get over it! I minimized the headless poor St Bono, that was thoughtless of me! On another note, how people can watch a beheading when shown on TV or the internet, is beyond me. For me the thought of it alone gives me visualizations difficult to erase from my psyche. As is often the case when reading Delta Tales, I went back and read the Jewish Bastard which reflects the reality of the time. Damn you write with heart.

        • georgehand

          Thanks, McMac
          I feel a bit like an ass about the Jewish Bastard, Jovan… when I first him down there in those ruins… when he waved me down… at the time I was oblivious to hi plight; I rather saw it as an opportunity to practice the language with someone who wasn’t already used to my same old phrases. I couldn’t even imagine burying a spouse out there in the yard. I’m an ass.
          geo

          • But you have honored him in a way that you weren’t able to then. If he could read your story, he would be pleased at how you remember him and what he meant to you. One only looks back on an event with regret when it holds real meaning. Otherwise…why bother.

            I loved that story about Jovan. For some reason, it reminded me of Tevye, the father, in Fiddler on the Roof, a character I also loved. 🙂

            • Susan, I love the story too. geo would have a hard time convincing me that he’s an ass. Hope you and your family have a great New Years! I will be in touch.

              • Thanks, Micky. As a matter of fact, it was a great evening with no drama at all. What a surprise! My ‘kids’ and I watched 2 movies and when the second one ended, we realized it was about 12:30. lol I was still too “under the weather” to get excited about anything. Well, maybe if Jason Momoa had walked into the room, I would have purred a lot. lol

            • georgehand

              Wow, Susan… if you could have seen Jovan you would realize that he matter of factly did look like Tevye.
              geo

          • 285/5000
            Ti, dragi moj prijatelju, nisi guzica. I vi imate mnogo srca, duše i suosjećanja da biste se smatrali takvim. Nadam se da je ovo ispravno prevedeno jer nisam mogao naći Vukovara u prijevodu, pa sam izabrao Hrvatsku. Neka sve dobro i divno bude s vama u nadolazećoj godini.

            • LOL didn’t need to include the word count.

            • georgehand

              Haijde duže! To je rijeć koju nisam vidio dugo vremena: “guzica”! Baš hvala lijepo na svemu, sestre. Sretan Božić i sretna nova godina!
              dzordz šalje

            • georgehand

              Haijde! To je rijeć koju nisam vidio dugo vremena: “guzica”! Baš hvala lijepo na svemu, sestre. Sretan Božić i sretna nova godina!
              dzordz šalje

      • panzer102015

        So true Geo.

        Wishing you and the family all the best for the new year.

  12. I really enjoy these take-aways from a time not long ago, yet far from our collective memory. It makes something that, at the time, seemed far away… but is now not at all removed from this life thanks to Geo’s perspective of having been there. Geo, the one who travels by Almighty God with honor and ‘returns with much’.

    • georgehand

      rynobucket,
      that what you just now wrote there is absolutely flattering.
      Sincere thanks,
      geo sends

      • It should have been your given name of ‘Returns with Plenty’, but I hit send before verifying my memory and well… I believe you understood what I meant.

  13. shooten1st

    Bravo Geo. I love these been there stories. Surprised at your driver’s reaction but different folks… I’ve been trying to post for a few days but WordPress is acting really weird on my iPad. I know a lot of good Serbs but their brutality during that war is up there with so many other heavy hitters in that division. As always, thank you for the respite.

    • georgehand

      Here’s a thing, shooten1st:
      before not long in-country as we relayed war crime stories among ourselves we just quit specifying if it was Bosnians, Croats, or Serbs; it just didn’t matter because all of us had stopped trying to keep score. It’s like the game we tried playing one day: who ever could point out a building that had one complete side with no bullet holes or frags in it would win some stupid prize; I forget. Days went by and nobody won and everybody quit looking. Even sides facing these narrow alleys had frags testament to high-angle mortars.
      geo sends

      • A retired army man I work with was in Bosnia about the same time as you. When I asked him a question he said what he remembered most was the bullet holes in the buildings; houses…. He said it was indescribable how many bullet holes there were. I hadn’t even mentioned your reference to that same thing.

  14. I’m behind reading so I am finally getting to catch up and I’m really late to the party. 😉 Sony and Cher Bono had me laughing. And it hurts to laugh right now. Love reading the misadventures of Geo in Delta. Always humor and food for thought. In this case coffee for thought. A gift for Christmas from RangerUp is T-shirt front caption – EGO BIBERE CAPULUS UT ALII VIVERE.. Back caption – I drink Coffee so others may live….. hahaha….There is truth to this statement. I love my coffee in the morning but I might have had to take a pass on coffee with a splash of puke smell.

    • georgehand

      Ms. Joni,
      I would intentionally welcome the smell of vomit to mask the smell of decaying human flesh; that’s a thing you can’t hardly un-smell.

      I am a huge fan of Ranger Up, as my best civilian friend works there now. He used to write movie reviews for SofRep.

      That stupid driver really needed to get out more.

      geo sends

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