Backing Out to Regroup:
Unbeknownst to me, waiting for me to get as close as I would, and not wanting to draw fire from the Alpha Company Marines grouping up on the north side of the canal back at the bridge crossing, trying to see the action, a NVA sniper was positioned in a tree across and further up the river, directly across from his gunner, probably providing security to the rear and Easterly side approaches to their gun position. As I returned to waterside, crawling backwards along the little wall, crack, crack crack, the AK-47 shot and hit me in the heel of my right jungle boot. I rolled over, bunched up, braced my M-14 over on the wall and dropped him out of the tree, lying back down quickly; as the RPD Soviet Machine gun continued to try to make contact with the “Fuck-it Cover” on my head. Since no more fire came from across the river, I assume I killed him outright or he died from the fall.
Quick as I could, I slipped back down the river side and up the embankment to the Fire Team I left in the Hooch; they had not fired a shot. Fortunately they had with them 2 M-72 LAW rockets however.
Standing upright on my side of the canal I shouted to Maas on the other side of the bridge to get me some covering fire going but he refused saying the Marines would likely shoot me in the process. So, turning I yelled to the Fire Team leader to toss me one of their LAW’s but toss it high so that the Gooks would be able to see it hit and roll on the road toward me.
The LAW hit the road alright and I had to jump out and snatch it up – making a show of it to the NVA gunner firing down the street. He saw it alright. He proved it by chewing up the gravel and dirt between the Fire Team and me. Opening up the LAW for action, I jumped back out on the road. Now jumping square in the line of fire on my side of the road, I depressed the igniter, launched the LAW off flying down the road at the machine gun nest, and jumped back just as quickly. But the little rocket went too high in the air doing an aerial explosion above the house he was dug in front of. With that boom, the communist gun stopped.
I had the Team Leader toss me another LAW and repeated the process so that the Communist gun team could see me again. They fired their gun; but when I jumped back out on the road they stopped and ducked down I guess. I took my time actually aimed and fired but again missed, just like in Staging Battalion, I couldn’t hit a damn thing with that rocket thing.
This time, instead of jumping back to my side I scooted over to the waiting Fire Team. The wounded Marine was bleeding bad and groaning in pain. Still, to this day,I don’t know why, but I threw the big bastard on my shoulder in the fireman’s carry (right out of boot camp) and ordered the Team Leader to start firing down the street. I stepped from under the houch, right out onto the street and started across the bridge with Soviet 7.62 mm rounds kicking up dirt and wood splinters around my heals.
Once back on the other side of the Bridge in the safety of my Team Mate Maas and Alpha Company the wounded Marine and me were tended to. One of the Corpsman bound me up and insisted I accept the citation for a Purple Heart. Maas was my senior and put my actions up for the Silver Star, I still have a copy of his report, in pencil, on tablet paper today. I would meet the Marine I foolishly carried across the bridge under fire again upon my return to the “World.”
Giving my report to the Lt. Smith, a Marine M67A2 Flame-Thrower Tank with napalm flames was brought up – waiting for the Fire Team to clear and they fired away along the canal side arching flames across the water. The communist gunner, his ammo man and what was left of his Fire Team “grabbed hat as they say,” and beat a hasty retreat.
A S-2 situation team wandered around the area and asked questions. I found out why the Communist machine gun team’s setup was foiled. It was because the machine-gun team at the end of the road was not paying attention to the reverse of line of march. He thought we had passed his ambush by and went back to reading his magazine – I found a playboy magazine in his bunker left behind in his get away. The assessment team found blood from our duel but as usual not a body. It was a great hunt for me, it was my day.
When the dust settled, a couple of hours later, Maas and I went back on point. As directed, we moved Alpha Company on toward the East, but I wouldn’t make it. I was more messed up than any of us had imagined.
One of the most valuable assets of the successful Scout as a class of warrior is the man’s ability to act fast seemingly without having to pause, think or question and be able to recognize and be willing to take advantage of combat opportunities. With that, however, goes a weakness of not recognizing the need to or usually being willing to set down and rest or recognize personal wounds.
Later that day I shot at some gook snipers taking pop shots at the column and used an M-79 grenade launcher to no effect. After a day on the march and taking sporadic fire on the right flank, that night we bivouacked in a Ville somewhere on the way to where ever we were going. As I remember it, after sweeping the East of Hue City, we were to hook up with choppers and be flown to a place called the Rock Pile.
The mosquitoes were always plentiful as evening came on, regardless of where you were. In the Ville, Maas and I found a store front full of incense, all kinds of incense, left over from Tet I suppose. Without hesitation we started clearing the room of mosquitoes by lighting several sticks. After a while I got bored, went out and just wondered through the streets, lonely and bored are emotions that often accompany the conclusion of a good day of hunting. Through a window of the front room of a home I saw a man by candle light lighting candles in front of his family shrine. He was intent on prayer though I could not hear his speech. He too was alone and I wondered about where he had sent his family to escape the battle that had been raging in the area for a month or so now, maybe somewhere up in the mountains or out to a farm of relatives. I thought for a few moments about my grandpaw and granny back in Middle Tennessee, about my mother and step dad back in Charleston, about my ancestors back to the seas of Falster Island in Denmark. In my mind’s eye, seeing clearly, I ZAG of the Falsters was standing at the head of the table in a great mead hall, something no one ever told me could happen — they raised their glasses, their mugs, their flagons, the women waved their scarves: in salute, I had done them proud that day.
I seldom allowed myself to think about returning to the “World.” Life at that time was in the now: hot as spilling blood, mediocre as a patrol, or boring as sedimentary hell. I’ve been told hell is full of fire, but to me it would be worse if it were just boring. My people, they smiled and we all laughed in acknowledgement of the high glory of success in mortal combat.
It flashed in my mind to thank them and my God, the creator of all things good (to reward me,) and evil (to entertain and train me.) As I continued to be taken with the man standing before me in prayer, in front of his family shrine, I remember that only days before I had felt the restraining hand of an angel as I was entering a booby trapped house on the NVA side of my block back at the Phu Cam Canal.
I became faint, dizzy, and sick to my stomach so that I had to seek cover and lay down. Clear as those events are, I have been unable to recall anything that happened after
that, until I was stumbling up to a gate at an Army medical unit. I remember the look on the faces of the two sentries – like they were looking at a dead man. Next thing I remember is wakening on a gurney with an I-V in both arms, and faces peering down at me. I remember the Doc saying I was dehydrated and suffering from cranial concussion and from the looks of my Tiger Stripes Utilities (uniform,) lucky I had not been shot by the guards at the gate.
This would not be the only time I would pass out and be left in the field (not during an engagement but afterward.) But, that is the risk a Scout takes to be free to come and go, to think and take advantage of combat opportunities that are Providentially placed in front of him. “Scouts are prima donnas” some officers say, unpredictable and ruthless. But like the knights on a chess board, as a class, we were able to jump like no other, and to the knowledgeable Battalion Commander, often his strongest pieces.
I have many ignoble thoughts of my life in Viet Nam and many lovely thoughts too, many humbling observations and yet remembrances of many proud and shinning moments. No better friends have I ever made than those that nearly shared death with me (but that’s another story).
Final Note: These events have dictated the wellness of my life over the years since. They say the suicide rate amongst current day returning vets is at 20 per day. Frankly most of those causalities are avoidable if the individual can be given a track to continue “service” on, I’m convinced of it so much, along with my wife we are converting our sustainable farm into a Warriors That Farm opportunity. Please jump over there and make a donation or at least look over the issues.