February 14, 1969
There were three Montagnard villages in our area of operation. They knew
we were in the area because some of our tracks would pass their villages
almost daily. We always waved and tried to act friendly as they would
continue their work and nod their head to acknowledge our presence. We
even dropped in on occasion to shower, provide medical attention, play
with the kids and hand out candy and cigarettes.
Our orders for Valentine's night, were to leave our tracks behind and march to the second village and surround it during the night. The local authorities would go into the village the next morning and search for VC (Viet Cong). In theory, if there were any VC they would try to escape only to be captured by us.
To get to the second village we had to march past the first village. We were told to talk loud and use normal US soldier vulgarities so it would be obvious we were American GI's as we walked past the first village. The front of our column had already passed the village and was walking across a dike in the rice paddy. Suddenly, I heard the first shot ring out over the village wall just a few yards away. I dropped to the ground in the middle of a dirt road and tried to get as much of my body behind my steel helmet as possible. We yelled through the darkness to the villagers, "WE GI's". They responded with "YOU LIE! YOU VC!" followed with a few more shots. We were ordered to not fire on the village. As I hugged the road feeling like we were losing the debate over our heritage, I had to question why the military buttons on my shirt had to be so thick.
We continued to lie in the road with the Montagnards firing at us periodically until our APC's came to pick us up. I guess it didn't make any sense to the Montagnards that we would be marching in the middle of the night. After all, VC walk; GI ride. As we aborted the mission and rode back to camp, I couldn't find anything comforting about knowing the first person to ever shoot at me was called a friendly, except I survived and I didn't have to lie in the rice paddy water like the guys up front in the 3rd Platoon.
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