Febuary 28, 1968
At the conclusion of our days of running as point man on platoon size patrols, calling on “spooky” gunships for air support, and hunting the enemy snipers and looters, the Battalion was formed up and ordered to move out to the South East through the suburbs of the city sweeping any remaining enemy from the area. I was assigned to stay with Alpha Company and my Team Mate Corporal Roland Mass and I took the point. The other Scouts were working with other Companies, guarding the Battalion Commander or other such duties as “interdicting strategic and tactical actions to adapt and overcome all manner of situations.”
“On the 28th of February, Maas and I are in charge of the point element of Alpha Company. I got a rare opportunity to deal with Chang in a man-to-man fire fight that required a great deal of speed, precision and brain work. A map I drew of the area makes it appear that the site was on a tributary of the Phu Cam canal in the Thon Van Duong district of East Hue.”
One of the reasons they called me ZAG was that when assigned point man, I moved in a zigzag pattern, like a hunter, taking it all in; often running, intuitive of traps and ambushes, sometimes foiling the ambush setup by surprise, or just dumb ass luck. I’d rather be lucky than smart any day. This morning I was moving Alpha Company forward with vigor and as it happened, I failed to see and therefore by-passed a charming bridge leading over to a suburb on my right. The little wooden bridge crossing a creek or canal. My focus had been on the houses and buildings on the left side of our thoroughfare out of the city. The buildup of the street of our route was my focus because the deep and wide canal on my right now turned right and changed into a little stream creating a border for a new neighborhood.
Now that the main battle fighting seemed to be over, I was wary of VC that I figured we were pushing ahead of us and out of the city. I didn’t pay conscious attention to the pretty little bridge, but made a mental note of it. The art of staying alive on POINT is the art of picking and cataloging “way points”, structure(s), nooks and crannies. An effective point man feels and senses just as much as he sees. “Zag is better at high speed than a creeping walk.”
However, a little further up our route of march street, I got a HOLD IT ZAG conviction, hair raising on the back of my neck, ears getting pink hot . . . A tap on my shoulder, one of those angelic things, the quiet little voice warning against getting greased. I stopped the Company of Marines about 30 yards past the bridge and yelled to Maas that I would go back and look into what was nagging me about that little bridge. Lt. Smith agreed, Maas kept the Company moving, but slow while I ran back to take a closer look.
The bridge was a lovely arched wooden planked affair, with hand rails and a width of about 10’ spanning a 15 – 20’ canal ditch with shallow water in it. The 3 Platoons of Marines, spread out, spread out to avoid losses from snipers kept slowly streaming behind me,
There in front of me, on the other side of the bridge was an x-shaped barricade of lumber and barbed wire, surprise, surprise!
Quickly, I commandeered a Fire Team of riflemen instructing them that they were to follow me across the bridge, with every other man pealing off / jumping to the opposite side of the dirt street leading South.
On the other side of the Little Bridge the 8′ wide dirt road ran straight away through a quaint neighborhood of grass covered homes, some made of all grass, some wood frame, plenty of cover for ambushes. I assured them that there was little likelihood for contact as this was off the main route of march. With that understood, I then dashed across the bridge pushing the x-shaped fence aside. Then came the awesome sound, the opening staccato of a Soviet made RPD machine gun’s cadence, chopping into dirt and wood from up at the end of that street!
It happened too fast to do anything but dive off to the right of the street, tuck and roll, get behind a low brick border wall. Instead of Fire Team of Marines pealing off with one following me, they all three ran into the hooch on the other side of the street. This change of plans was forced because the Marine directly behind me was hit badly. He took a 7.62 machine gun round just above his knee cap. I shouted to the Fire Team of Marines to give me suppressing fire from their secure position and I would come over to inspect his condition. But they hunkered down. Having pulled him out of the line of fire, they were more interested in looking him over.
My plan was now developing fast. I jumped to the conclusion that I had disturbed a cell of VC sappers or perhaps a squad to platoon of NVA waiting for night fall to continue moving out of the Battle of Hue. With a rare opportunity to get my shit out there on on one, I jumped at the chance to single and offhandedly take them on. After all this was what being a Scout was all about . . . to me and Maas anyway.
So, flashing through my mind were images I had captured and cataloged hunting and fishing on Grandpa’s farm, my dad teaching me how to breathe, how to swim, how to slip up on crows, snap shoot squirrels in mid-air with my rifle, was I scared, hell no, the viking blood was running in me and I knew I this was my time, my turn, why I had joined the United States Marine Corps.
I saw it clearly, I’d flank the gun by going low and suspected perhaps, but unseen along and up the river’s edge which was lower in elevation than the street by some 2-3 feet. Once there, some 40 or 50 yards, I could take out the machine gun nest with my Winchester M-14 rifle. It would work if the fire Team would keep them busy from their secure position. Alpha Company had come to a halt and was assembling . . . getting on line behind the wall on the stree of our Rout of March.
I gave no thought that the enemy machine gunner would be operating with security themselves; I figured they were just a simple ambush of Viet Cong remaining in the city. But it wasn’t VC. It would prove to be a NVA weapons section with excellent covering fire on the avenues of approach to their RPD gun; but, I had surprised them. Our passing them by – then doubling back, following my intuition-surprised them, only one of us was wounded. That was good.
About 50 yards up the street was a home made of grass thatch situated some 20 – 30 yards off the river’s edge, keeping low so that the gun kept shooting over me I got there and crawled up a short concrete – like yard fence seeking a shooting position opposed to the gunner, still on my right and at close range, to duel. I can get him with a left shoulder shot.
Dirt kicking up on my left side surprised me. It indicated I got myself in a position of weakness being flanked myself. From behind me and across the river behind me was a sniper or perhaps the machine gunners security. I guessed a sniper as he was lately come to the action. If had been on hand any earlier he would have greezed me on the river side. Then there came direct automatic rifle fire from in front of me – here I was lying on my left side kissing and hugging that little rock wall. I had to keep inching my way along the wall, I had to.
As I reached the terminal end of the short wall I realized I was not going to be able to get into a position to shoot effectively at the Machine gun nest, but another target of opportunity appeared right across the street from me. A series of rounds hit the wall and dirt around me wounding me in my left wrist which was I extending to pull me along. An element of the communist gunner’s security was coming alive and we had a duel between us. I stopped his shooting by shooting at his muzzle blast coming out of the grass wall.
Later we found that I had killed the man in front of me before he had detonated a series of claymore mines that he had been assigned to set off when and if the Marines crossed on the bridge! Following my Providential instincts paid off for the Fire Team in a supposedly secure position.
I eased over on my back, lying there on my back looking up into the clear blue sky, I could see in my mind’s eye, like a bird, the situation I was in. This wasn’t a small group of rice bandits, but rather a well positioned machine gun team with professional disposition and well healed with Soviet equipment – it dawned on me I was likely to be killed that day, so I laughed and laughed loud. It was a good day to die, and it be of my choosing.
I had a flash back to Gloria on top of me in front seat my ’61 red Cadillac convertible and then I remembered that day in Staging Battalion when I was the driver for the Battalion Commander. We set there in his command jeep observing a practice assault on a hill in Camp Pendleton, we saw a young Marine on his own initiative struck out on the right to flank the platoon in the defensive position. The CO said, to his aid, that young man would get a Silver Star for that action – if we were in combat.
So there I lay on my back looking at the beauty of the Viet Nam sky, I laughed some more, again said to myself out loud, “I can Do This, I can Figure This Out” and formulated another approach. It seemed to me that I was that Marine back in Staging Battalion right now, right there, only my ancestors would know of this duel, but they were the one’s that have always mattered to me. But shit, as wonderful as all that was, I was in too tough a position to even get a clear shot off at the communist gun.
(Continue to Page 4)