"HOTEL2ALFA this is FORWARD AIR CONTROL (FAC) ONE over."
"FAC ONE this is HOTEL2ALFA over."
"FAC ONE here, Your SIX has been trying to raise you on the radio for hours and sent me to locate you over."
"Roger on that. We have been trying to call in but no one seems to hear us over."
"Roger. I will relay to your Six over."
"FAC ONE, Can you do us a favor first? over. "
"Go ahead. Over"
"While you are here can you plot our position. We have not been able to orient ourselves since we were dropped in earlier, over."
"Roger. Can you use your mirror so I can see your position over?"
"Roger." I took my signal mirror and aimed it at the airplane using the little cross etched in it. It was not long and he provided me with my location and relayed it back to Battalion Six.
I plotted the coordinates on my map and it became immediately obvious why we could not get oriented on the ground and not send or receive transmissions. We had been inserted into the wrong LZ. We were not even close to our assigned area of operation.
The FAC pilot relayed my orders from Battalion Six. I was to move to the Ia Drang river and cross before night fall. I calculated it to be over two miles to the river from our present location and it was already about 1630 hours (4:30PM). Knowing there was no way I could safely move my team that distance before nightfall, the FAC pilot relayed my protest. Then the pilot relayed a message that sent chills down my spine. "HOTEL2ALPHA you have to move quickly out of the area. Your SIX says you are in a target area scheduled for an Arc Light visit after dark."
With the FAC pilot agreeing to stay close until we reached the river, we started moving across the jungle floor at a near run. Our travel pace went against everything I had learned as a LRRP. We liked to move quietly and slowly through the jungles using all of our senses to detect the enemy. This pace called attention to our team of four men. If we were to get in trouble we would be to tired to fight back effectively. However, the risk was necessary as my mind drifted back to a previous mission near the Cambodian border and my last encounter with an Arc Light.
On that mission, an Arc Light had been scheduled to hit a Regiment size force. An Arc Light mission generally involved several B52 bombers flying from Thailand or Guam. Despite the size of the B52 bombers, they could neither be heard nor seen from the ground. Each bomber would drop its ordinance of multiple 500 pound bombs. On the ground the bombs would drive into the ground about twenty feet and then explode to leave a giant crater in the jungle.On that mission Division headquarters wanted an immediate assessment of the B52 strike. To accomplish the mission our insertion helicopter flew at a safe distance from the target zone. Even from this distance we could see the bombs falling in a pattern. As the bombs hit the ground sections of the mountain disappeared before my eyes. As the last bomb exploded, our insertion ship dropped us onto one of the newly formed craters.
It was to be an In and Out mission, we traveled light. Weapons, ammo, grenades (hand and smoke), radio and cameras. The craters plus the landscape around them were mangled. I had never seen trees so twisted and splintered. It was as though someone had tried to weave them together. We were in for two hours and found no trace of the enemy. What we had was a tree mission. We did our job. We took pictures of nothing. We were exhausted in a short time. I was glad we never had to fight before we were extracted.
The FAC pilot continued to direct us to the river. It was monsoon season and we were concerned the weather might not allow the pilot to stay with us. The pace we were moving should have made me tired, but the rage I felt inside for being dropped at the wrong LZ and finding I was in a target zone only seemed to energize me. I would think about the stupidity of forgoing security to move through the jungle at this pace, only to be replaced with the fear of the ground under my feet being removed by a 500 pound bomb.
Lucky for us Charlie must not have been in the area, because we made it to the river without incident. Once at the river we were able to contact Six by radio. We thanked the FAC pilot and he flew off.
The river we were to cross was swollen by the monsoon rains. The water was the color of mud and was full of debris being washed down from the mountains. Doc and Moui the two Mountangnard soldiers did not know how to swim and expressed their concerns about crossing the river. I could swim, but I too was terrified at the thought of trying to cross this raging river as I'm sure Wertz my assistant team leader was also. We searched for a place to cross as Battalion continued to insist we cross the river. Unable to convince Battalion of the severity of the river and my concerns for Doc and Moui, I made them happy by telling them we had crossed and were stopping for the night.
The night passed quickly. At first light, I got the team up and we ate our rations before starting our move. After scouting around enough to determine we didn't have company, I decided it was time to find a way to get across the river. In training we were taught how to use our ponchos and weapons to make a raft for our gear, but it was obvious the training was not done with this war or this river in mind. We were already wet from the monsoon rains and we felt any raft we put together would be swept away from us.
We finally found a spot that had large rocks jutting up from the water. We hoped that the rocks might help against the strong current. Wertz led the way. When he reached the middle I started in with the yards. One was hanging to my backpack and the other was hanging on to his pack.
Wertz was about two thirds the way across the river when I see him slip. Between the pack that appeared to be floating and the strong current Wertz seemed unable to regain his footing. I watched helplessly as Wertz was swept around a bend and out of site. The yards were pulling on me so strong that I could barely stay up and I struggled to keep my weapon out of the water. I was not a Christian at the time, but all I knew to do was call out for God to help us.
With the yards in tow I continued and we finally reached the other side. As we pulled ourselves up the opposite bank, I was relieved to see Wertz coming from down river looking like a drowned rat. He lost everything including his pack and rifle. The only thing he had saved was himself.
I called battalion and reported that Wertz had slipped while walking along the river and we would need to resupply him. The decision was made to abort the mission rather than try to resupply us.
It was a long three hours we had to wait for the helicopters to come and extract us. The fact our cigarettes had been soaked made the wait seem longer. As I reflect back today, I think about how often our lives were in danger while serving as LRRP's. I do not think we concerned ourselves so much with the danger, but applied ourselves to the job at hand.
Finally the sweet sound of the clattering choppers was heard. I popped smoke and we were in and up. I always felt a great relief each time a mission ended, but this mission I was left with a strange urge to Thank God I was returning safely with all of my men.
This is a true story. I am proud of all the men and women who have put their life in danger for this country. I dedicate this story especially to the guys in 'Tiger uniforms and carrying, in most cases, the short black weapon known as the AR-15'. This story should not to be used without permission from the author.
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