The Shootdown of Rustic 02

submitted by: Alva Leon Matheson

23 November 1970, a date I will never forget. It was only twenty days until DEROS. I was short, and looking forward to returning to “the world.”
The flight began routinely enough. We had the first go that morning, “Dawn Patrol.” I was driving, and I had Gil Bellefeuille in the back seat. I enjoyed flying with Gil. He could always be counted on to do a great job, and he was fun to be around.
I suppose this is as good a time as any to make a comment or two about our backseaters. Theirs is a story that needs to be told; in fact it deserves a book all by itself. You have got to imagine a group of individuals from throughout the Air Force, from all ranks and backgrounds, united by the single fact that they spoke French, all volunteering to fly classified combat missions, not knowing much at all about what they were getting into. Just think about it, one day you are in the post office sorting mail or in the motor pool changing oil in a Jeep, and then there you are in combat, strapped in the back seat of an OV-10, helping to direct air strikes in Cambodia. With very few exceptions, they took to the mission like ducks to water. I could cite numerous examples of situations in which they were much more than “just an interpreter.” They quickly learned what a FAC did, what information we needed about the ground situation, and most important, what we were looking for. They were another set of eyes. They were a super bunch who made a significant contribution to our effort in SEA, and I’m proud to say I knew them.
While I’m digressing, I might as well explain how I came to be a Rustic. I was not in the initial Rustic cadre, as I had been gainfully employed in other missions during the first eight months or so of my tour. I arrived in country in late December of 1969, and was assigned to the Rash FACs as ALO to the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Air Cavalry Division, based at the Quan Loi FOL. In this capacity, I was deeply involved in the U S excursions into Cambodia during May and June of 1970. After the ground forces came out, I continued to operate as a Ringo and Pretzel FAC “across the fence” as part of a couple of other operations going on during that time frame. Consequently, even though I was not yet a Rustic and didn’t know much about what they did, I did have a rather extensive knowledge of the Cambodian AO. During the latter part of the summer of 1970, the FAC mission at Quan Loi was changed from OV-10s to O-2s, and the Bronco pilots were reassigned to other operations and locations.
It was at this time that I became a Rustic. At first, I wasn’t too excited about the job. My tour was almost over, and I’d seen quite a bit of action. I just wanted to finish up my year and go home. I’m not sure why, but I guess it was because of my rank, I was given the “02” call sign and made Assistant ALO. I suppose George Brower, who had the call sign at the time, wasn’t too thrilled to lose it to me, but if it bothered him, he never let on. Thanks, George.
It wasn’t long before I gained an appreciation of what the Rustics were doing in the “Far Western AO.” The folks living over there were seriously involved in fighting for their country. It was a different ball game entirely from what I had been involved with before. Things were happening. Needless to say, I quickly got wrapped up in the new job.
My checkout as a Rustic was uneventful, as I remember. They assigned only the most experienced backseaters with me for the first few flights, and they did an excellent job of teaching me the routine. Everyone was just great helping me get adjusted to the new job, getting to know the AO, and most important, learning to perform the critical mission the Rustics were involved with. Even though everyone kicked back whenever they could, they were all business when it came time to go to work. It was an important task the Rustics were accomplishing, and we took it deadly serious.
I soon discovered that there was considerable action on every flight. It was seldom we had to look for something to do, and the action had a way of finding us! Although I can recall many memorable flights, one that sticks out occurred during an afternoon in early November. Shadow, an AC-119 gunship, called and asked if I had time to check something out for him. At the request of one of the ground commanders, he had been firing on a patch of jungle for some time and was wondering what, if anything, was down there. I made a pass or two over his target, trying my best to look down through the thick jungle. I’ve never been able to remember what it was, but something caught my eye, causing me to make one more pass over the spot. That did it – the fatal third pass that other contributors to this book have mentioned before me. I had large orange flashes in the trees right under the plane! In fact, they were so large, my first thought was that artillery shells were impacting beneath us. I then realized I was seeing muzzle flashes from a number of large caliber machine guns. I immediately began jinking, and exited the area ASAP.
I informed Shadow that I had just been “hosed” by ground fire. Wouldn’t you know, he hadn’t seen it and requested I mark it for him. As soon as I could point the nose back toward the target, I launched a WP, drawing more ground fire for my effort. Since I had rushed it, the smoke was off the spot and of no value as a mark. I asked Shadow to stand by while I gained enough altitude to do a decent job of marking for him. As I dove toward the guns one more time, they all opened up once again. I assure you, I will never forget the look of all those muzzle flashes in my reticle. I just knew I would be hit at any second. I fired the WP and broke away from the guns, jinking rapidly. When I was able to look back, I saw the smoke was right in the area, so I turned Shadow loose on it while I got on the horn to call for an airstrike. Shadow successfully ran the gunners out of their pits, killing a few in the process. He observed several of them go into and under a nearby building. Soon, I had a pair of Huns check in with 500 pound slicks. They cleared the cover from about four .50 caliber pits, dug in the classic “doughnut” shape, and destroyed the building. Since no one observed any ground fire during this strike, I requested another; A-37s with high-drags. They finished up the job nicely, making scrap metal out of the guns. After landing, I found a neat little .50 cal hole near my right wing tip. Shadow told me later he found two hits on his plane.
Now, let’s get back to the events of 23 November. Shortly after Gil and I got into the AO, he started checking in with the various ground commanders. As Gil was exchanging pleasantries, one commander requested we attempt to locate a missing convoy. He advised us it should have arrived at his location the previous evening, but didn’t. We headed west along the route it should have been on. Well, it wasn’t hard to find. About ten klicks or so down the road we found the remains of the convoy. It had been hit real hard, with debris all over the road and surrounding area – a real wipeout. We spotted a number of the enemy still scrounging through the remains, but they ran like hell into a nearby pagoda as soon as they saw us coming.
Gil radioed this information back to the ground commander. He began to organize a relief column to go down to the ambush site to recover the remains. Since there was nothing else for Gil and me to do for him right away, we pressed on to other tasks. As best as I can remember, I think we may have put in an airstrike or two in other locations, as well as doing other taskings for a couple of hours or so.
During this time, the relief column was well on its way to the ambushed convoy. The road took them through a small village. As they approached, they began taking mortar fire from the village. Since we were close by, we were asked to help out. Shadow was in the area, so I asked him to fire on the mortar position. Just by coincidence, Shadow’s pilot was the same one that I had worked with a few weeks earlier when we found all the guns.
Once I saw Shadow was on target, I began flying a lazy circle at about 3,000 feet or so, well outside his orbit, watching him work out. Several minutes later, the ground commander called, advising he could hear .50 caliber fire every time I passed over a different small village, down to the south of our target. I went over to take a look, but since I saw nothing out of the ordinary, I resumed my orbit, keeping one eye on the village.
I guess it was about ten minutes later, while we were near the suspect village, that it happened. Gil and I felt the plane give a violent shake and heard a loud explosion. It was as if we had been hit by a cannon shell or a missile.
“Gil, we’ve been hit! Get ready to get out if we have to!”
“Roger that.”
I couldn’t believe how cool he sounded. In my rear-view mirror, I could see that the entire cargo compartment was an inferno.
To pick up speed, I made a diving turn to the northeast, toward PreyTotung, the nearest village known to be in friendly hands, the one the relief column had come from. The plane responded perfectly; the engines, all controls and instruments were fine; it was just burning up! I switched over to guard channel and got off a Mayday call.
I had thoughts of landing the plane. There was a strip not too far away, plus there was the paved road the friendly relief column was on. Of course, when I think back, if I had landed, the plane would have just burned up on the ground, but I really hated the thought of leaving a good- flying plane even though it was being consumed by fire!
The projectile, whatever it was, must have hit a fuel or hydraulic line, because it looked like the inside of a blast furnace right behind Gil’s seat. I could only imagine what it might do to Gil’s parachute, mounted on the back of his seat. I needed to get him out as soon as I could, but it would have to be over friendlier territory if at all possible. Then, I would decide what I would do with the plane.
Although we weren’t over the friendly village yet, I advised Gil to go ahead and eject since the fire was just too close to him. He didn’t hesitate at all and, with a “bang,” he was gone.
Gil’s punch out...
I recall ejecting immediately, as soon as Don gave the word. Don later told me that he was seriously considering attempting to save the airplane and was looking for a place to land. He also told me later that when I created that hole in the canopy, it caused a nice venting effect which sucked the fire around him. I believe this prompted him to abandon the idea of saving the aircraft, and he then ejected himself.
The ejection seat worked as advertised. I screwed up. I was looking down at the handle when I pulled it. I got a super stiff neck out of it. Anyway, all I really remember is pulling that handle and then hanging in a parachute. I forgot to deploy my seat (survival) kit. I did look around me; however, I don’t believe I was specifically looking to check my chute. Fortunately, I had a good chute.
I do not recall seeing Don eject; however, I recall looking to my left and seeing Don in his chute and the airplane going nose up and turning to the right. Don later told me that he did not retard the power when he ejected and, for a few seconds, he thought the airplane would come around and hit him. However, the back half of it was on fire and it appeared to stall because it just kinda fell off on the right wing and flew into the ground. It was an explosive crash but completely soundless.
I started looking to where I would land. I thought I was going to hit a tree but came down about 100 feet from it. I was briefly knocked out. I was told that my seat kit probably caught me behind the knees and may have banged me in the tailbone. I know I could not stand up straight for about 10 days and I believe I was cleared to fly again after two weeks.
Anyway, I finally shed my parachute and went to a tree and crouched down. I knew I was in “Indian country,” but did not know how far from friendlies. I was told later that I landed about two or three miles into bad-guy land.
I took a drink of water to calm me down. It didn’t work. I was still scared shitless.
Then I heard troops moving toward me. I pulled out my .38 revolver and rolled onto the ground and peeked from around the tree. I fully intended to use five rounds on the bad guys and the last one for me. I did not feel it was in my, or the Rustic’s, best interest to be captured. Two things made me guess that they were not the bad guys. First of all, they were noisy as hell, and they kept repeating “friend, friend” in French. Plus, they were a really rag-tag group of troops, the epitome of the saying “peasant troops.” Plus, I believe I saw an M-16 or two with the group. Anyway, I guessed right because they were friendlies. I was told later that they were working that area, had seen and heard the shoot down, and immediately started for my position. All in all, it was a great rescue. I couldn’t ask for better
Meanwhile back in the burning OV-10...
I immediately found myself surrounded by fire! His ejection took the top of our canopy off, drawing the fire into the cockpit with me. I could see flames between the instrument panel and me. As you can well imagine, this turn of events removed from my mind any thoughts of landing the plane. I can remember grabbing the D-ring and giving it a good firm pull. I’ll never admit I panicked, but the handle came off in my hand – AND NOTHING HAPPENED! I had finally made my mind up to eject, and now the damn thing didn’t work! What I had forgotten was
the fraction of a second delay built in to allow the rear seat to fire before the front seat went. I DIDN’T WANT A DELAY; I WAS READY TO GET OUT!
After what seemed like an eternity, the seat ejected, as advertised, and out I went. In fact, Gil told me later that he thought I had waited too long; he said the entire cockpit was a fireball when I popped out of it. I have no recollection of an upward thrust, but I do remember a sensation of looking between my feet and seeing the aircraft falling away from me, along with a blizzard of confetti caused by my map kit being shredded in the slip-stream. The next thing I remember was hanging in the chute.
Looking around, I could see Gil had a good chute also, but he was quite some distance away. I noted our now empty Bronco in a wide turn, streaming fire from the entire cockpit area. In fact, it continued its turn until it was pointed directly at me!
“What an inglorious way to go,” I thought.
“Shot out of the sky, survive an ejection, and then get run over by your own plane!”
Fortunately, it continued turning, appeared to run out of steam, and dove into the ground. It was a weird sensation – I saw it explode on impact, but I heard nothing.
There is no more lonely feeling in the world than to be hanging in a chute over “Indian Country,” watching your ride back home smash into the ground, and wishing you were in any one of a million other places. “What am I doing here?” – and with only twenty days to go. I could sense hundreds of evil eyes watching me. It was a naked feeling.
Before ejecting, I had put the plane into a dive in an attempt to pick up as much speed as possible, trying to get over the friendly village before the fire got to Gil’s seat. I could now see Prey Totung out in front of me, probably a mile or so away. If I could just get there, I knew I’d be in safe hands. Maybe I should try to slip the chute, as I’d heard could be done. As best I can recall, I was probably down to around 1,500 feet when I ejected. So now I’m going to slip over a mile before I get to the ground? Not too likely! All I accomplished by slipping was to accelerate my rate of descent. When I realized that there was no way I was going to reach the safety of the village, I decided I had better see where I was going to land. I had waited too long. Right below me, coming up at what looked like a thousand miles per hour, was a barn roof!
I instinctively reacted by swinging my legs up, hitting the roof butt first. Since it was constructed of thatched bamboo, I crashed right through it, finding myself sitting on the ground, with a most surprised Cambodian farmer and his cow right next to me. I don’t know which of the three of us was most frightened. You have just got to imagine – they didn’t see or hear me coming. The first thing they knew was when I dropped in on them! The farmer’s eyes were as big as saucers and the cow was jumping around like crazy. My first thought was that this fellow is really going to be mad at me for tearing up his barn roof, and might take a pitchfork to me. I wanted to let him know I was really a nice guy, so I jumped up and said, “Hi.” He nodded his head in response. My next thought was to get away from him while he was still in shock, and before he went for his pitchfork. Since I had lost my bearings when I went through the roof, I pointed in what I thought was the direction of the village and said, “Prey Totung?” Even though we spoke different languages, he understood and pointed the same way, repeating, “Prey Totung.” By this time, I was out of my harness, so I said, “Thank you very much,” and left, taking my survival kit with me. I left my chute draped through the hole I’d created in his barn roof. What the heck, maybe he could use it as a patch.
Outside the barn there was a trail leading in the direction of the village. After going down it a short distance, I realized that that wasn’t too smart; it certainly wasn’t the way we had been taught to evade. I started looking around for a place to get off the trail and hide. There wasn’t much. I was surrounded by open rice paddies and a few clumps of trees here and there. For lack of a better idea, I went over and sat down in the short grass at the base of a tree. At least I was off the trail, and I needed to settle down a bit, get my heart out of my mouth, and decide what I was going to do.
As I took stock of things, I realized I had a small cut on one arm and above my eye. My helmet was gone, probably lost during the ejection. I still had my kneeboard, which I took off and threw away. I longed for a water bottle, as I was incredibly thirsty.
About this time, while looking around, I spotted a guy in the shadows of some trees across the rice paddy, about 75 yards away! He was dressed in only a loincloth and was carrying an AK-47! Also, he was wearing my helmet! Here came my heart back into my mouth! I couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen me, as I wasn’t hidden at all! I guess it was because he was intently watching the trail I’d been on and not really looking around. Staying as still as I could, I slipped my .38 from its holster. “Well,” I thought, “here’s where it ends. “Gunfight at the Cambode Corral.”
Just for a moment, I hesitated. This is going to be a long shot (no pun intended) for a pistol, especially in my nervous state. Even if I were lucky enough to hit and disable him with my first shot, how many friends does he have in the area who might hear the shot? But if I missed him... well, with that AK he would just blow me away. I decided to put the pistol away and make a noise like a tree.
I’ll never know why he didn’t spot me. He just stayed there under that tree, watching the trail. I suppose he didn’t want to move around too much because by now there were several aircraft overhead. After what seemed like an eternity, he slowly slipped away...and I was glad!
Shadow had seen us go down and had moved over the crash site. Also, George Brower had been working two A-37s some distance away when he heard my Mayday, and had brought them over with him. I had a virtual air armada over me. I liked that! I got on my survival radio and George answered right away. I felt much better already. I assured him I was OK, but that I had seen a guy looking for me. George told me that if I spotted him again, let him know, as assets were available to rectify the situation. George also established contact with Gil, confirming he was safely on the ground and OK.
George gave us the typical “good news, bad news” story. The Jolly Greens had been launched from Bien Hoa, but they were delayed. I’m not sure I remember the reason; seems like it had something to do with making a “hot” pickup without Sandy (A-1) escort. The Sandys were all up north, helping out with the Son Tay raid. At any rate, George suggested we get to the friendly village if we could, so our pickup wouldn’t be “hot.” George also advised us that the friendlies in the village had seen us go down, and were sending out patrols to find us.
Radio communications were difficult at best. There were a lot of folks on guard channel, and George was talking to and coordinating with a lot of different people. Everyone wanted to talk at once. With all this confusion, interruptions,
interference, etc., the conversations described in the preceding paragraphs took quite some time to complete. In the midst of all the other distractions and problems, Gil and I were still separated. A high priority of mine was for George to assist in getting us together, and I was trying to get this concern transmitted as best I could.
About this time, I spotted about a half dozen rag-tag troops approaching my position from the north. They were coming down the trail at the double. While I wasn’t absolutely sure they were friendly, I guessed that they were. For one thing, George had said they were coming. Also, they came from the right direction, and whereas the previous guy I had spotted was sneaking around under the trees, these folks were running down the trail. I stood up and waved, and they came right over to me.
You sure couldn’t tell what they were by their clothing. Their leader, a lieutenant, was wearing fatigues, but the rest were in all sorts of mixed garb. Their weapons were a mixed bag also; M- 16s, AKs, – one even had a .45 caliber “Grease Gun.” I hadn’t seen one of those in years. One other soldier was armed only with a canvas bag of grenades; their artilleryman, I guess. I really felt much better now; I had my own army! Lets go find Gil!
Communication was a problem, but with the little French I knew and sign language, we got by. The lieutenant wanted to go to the crash site. I assured him there was no need to go there. Since I considered myself fairly secure now, my number one concern was to join up with Gil. Since George was talking to both of us, I thought it would be a simple matter to have him “vector” us in. I was wrong.
With all the confusion on guard, and all the other people George was trying to talk and coordinate with, we just couldn’t get it worked out. I’ve heard audiotapes of the rescue, and I still can’t believe all the confusion. George did a commendable job keeping his cool and sorting it all out. To some extent, the immediate need to join up with Gil went away when he reported to George that he, too, was in friendly hands. A patrol had also found him. This certainly took some of the urgency out of our getting together.
All of a sudden, I heard the distinctive sound of a Huey approaching my location. I grabbed one of my signal flares and prepared to pop smoke. To my surprise, I discovered it was securely tied to my vest by what appeared to be parachute cord. I couldn’t break or untie it, and I’d lost my knife somewhere during the ejection/barn roof penetration. As you may well imagine, I was hesitant to ignite the flare while it was closely tethered to my body!
Fortunately, the Huey passed quite near me, close enough for the door gunners to see me waving. The pilots began a turn toward me. One of the troops in the patrol, seeing my dilemma with the signal flare, handed me a smoke canister, which I activated and tossed into the rice paddy. I called George, advising him that there was a Huey in the area. He appeared more surprised than I was; none of us had any idea there were any helicopter assets anywhere in the AO. I assured him that I indeed had a Huey moving toward me, and that I intended to get on board.
Some time later, we found out that the ARVN had two Hueys on detached duty at Phnom Penh. Within the TACC at 7th AF HQ, there apparently was one desk with a phone, manned by a VNAF lieutenant – after all it was a combined effort, wasn’t it? When the word got back to 7th that we were down, this lieutenant, on his own initiative, picked up his phone and launched the Hueys. This is how we got rescued, while the bureaucratic red tape prevented our own Jollys from coming to get us. The lieutenant, by the way, was a special guest at my farewell party.
The Huey set down in the paddy a short distance in front of me. My “troops” accompanied me out to it. I waved a quick, but sincere “Thanks” to them as I climbed aboard. I left them the contents of my survival kit to do with as they saw fit. I’ve often wondered what ever happened to them. I feel I owed them much more.
The Huey lifted off and, within a very short time, we found Gil. I welcomed him aboard and was delighted to see that he was indeed OK. He had a cut on his chin, but it was overridden by a mile-wide grin. We weren’t sure where they were taking us, but at the time, we really didn’t care. After a bit, we were able to tell we were heading toward Phnom Penh.
It wasn’t long until we touched down at the airport. I couldn’t believe my eyes when we stepped out. There was a contingent of the Cambodian Air Force all formed up, standing at attention. They went to “present arms,” paying their respects to Gil and me. They welcomed us as returning heroes. I was told later that we were the first to come through alive for them to show their appreciation. We’d had an O-2 shot down a couple of weeks earlier, and the crew (Garrett Eddy and Michael Vrablick) were not so fortunate. Their commander led us inside a building where I was able to use a radio to contact George once again, advising him we were safely on the ground.
Gil and I were then shown to a small van, and were driven into town to the main hospital of Phnom Penh. They escorted us inside, leading us to an emergency ward for treatment of our injuries. I was rather embarrassed to be taken to the head of the line, past numerous soldiers on stretchers lining the hallways. Their wounds made ours appear totally insignificant. The Chief Flight Surgeon of the Cambodian Air Force treated us. In attendance was the Hospital Commander, who was also the Dean of the Medical University of Phnom Penh. The Vice Chief of the Cambodian Air Force also showed up.
After our treatment was completed (Band- Aids would have done the trick), the Hospital Commander invited us all to his office, where a couple of bottles of good Scotch miraculously appeared. I talked primarily with the Vice Chief, who spoke excellent English. He told me that the Chief expressed his regrets that he wasn’t able to join us, but that we were to be his guests at dinner that evening. Hotel reservations were made, entertainment was lined up, and someone was looking for clothes for us. They really wanted to express their appreciation by showing us a good time. Of course, that was fine by Gil and me.
After a bit, an American from the Embassy showed up. I think he was an Army Major, but I’m not sure. He was extremely nervous, and obviously was tasked to keep our presence low key and get us out of the Country ASAP. Apparently there had already been some questions from reporters. He advised us that the Jollys were now out at the airport, and that we should get out there right away. Two big USAF HH-53s on a Cambodian airport tend to beg questions, I suppose. Well, our hosts didn’t want to let us go. They wanted to entertain us; but at the same time, they didn’t want to cause any trouble with the Embassy. The Major was caught in the middle. Finally, the Flight Surgeon had what seemed to be the answer; he declared our injuries too serious for travel, and that we needed to remain under observation for 24 hours. Well, that idea floated for about fifteen minutes. The Major got a call from the Embassy. His answers were a series of, “Yes, sir; immediately, sir.” Within moments, we were back in the van, on our way to the airport.
Major Khon Om, one of the Cambodian pilots who spent some time with us at Bien Hoa, joined us for the ride out to the airport. It was great to see him, he had been a special friend of mine during the time he lived with us. By the way, he attended SOS at Maxwell AFB a year or so later, and I was able to spend a most enjoyable evening with him there. After the war I was delighted to finally learn he and his family survived the “Killing Fields” and escaped to the US, and I have had a number of good visits with him in recent years.
We arrived at the airport, but now the Jolly crews were missing. Since they had no idea when we were going to show up, they had pretty well scattered, and had to be rounded up. During this delay, Major Om took me over to one of their MiG fighters parked nearby and let me climb into the cockpit for a bit. This was a first for me.
The Jolly crews were soon ready to go, and within short order we were airborne again. Bob Heiges, an old acquaintance from years ago, was the pilot of the chopper I was in. I frustrated the PJs, I suppose, because I refused to lie down and act like a survivor. I kept going up front to watch Bob fly, especially when it came time for in-flight refueling. This was still another “first” in this most eventful day.
On our return flight, Bob picked up a Mayday call from Rustic 13. Jim Seibold and Walt Friedhofen had taken a hit flying in the same area that Gil and I had been in when we were hit, possibly from the same gun. That gunner was definitely a seven-level! Bob got excited; he figured he would be able to get a “double” rescue! As it turned out, Jim and Walt’s plane, fortunately, was still flyable, and they were able to return home. I looked at it the next day. The .50 caliber slug came in the bottom, right between the rudder pedals, went up through the instrument panel, and then exited through the windshield! That had to be exciting! By the way, it was this incident that gained Jim the nickname of “Magnet Ass.” And yes, the village the gun was located in “ceased to exist” at dawn the next day.
There was a crowd of folks on the ramp to welcome us home. We were really glad to be able to be there and be a part of it. I wouldn’t have enjoyed missing it. Someone took movies of our arrival. Since my head was wrapped turban-style in bandages (for only a small cut), I tried my best to look like a severely injured survivor. Of course, Gil had to ruin the effect. He flipped them the bird stepping out of the Jolly!
After a medical checkup, a debrief, and dinner, we went back to the Rustic Hooch, where we found the party had already begun. Gil and I had to drink extra fast to catch up – but we made it.
I don’t think this story would be complete without telling you about the feelings I had, beginning the next day. The real impact of what a close call I had experienced hit me like a ton of bricks. There were so many things that had worked out just right. If one of them had not, I’d have been done for. For several days, nothing could make me mad or irritate me. I found myself speaking to strangers I’d meet on the street, and being glad that I could. It was like being reborn.