June 10, 1969

The helicopter noise left me alone with my thoughts as I looked out the open side door. I was going through my mental check list as we approached the insertion LZ for our next mission. I was leaning back on my pack to put my arms through the straps when I realized the pilot was trying to get my attention. He was pointing in a very antimated way toward the front windshield. I straightened up till I could see what had his attention. Someone had popped a red smoke grenade in the LZ where we planned to land. The enemy knew we popped smoke to show the helicopters where to land. I had heard that the enemy would pop smoke to lure a helicopter into a trap, but this was the first time I had seen it for myself.

Since, my team was suppose to be the only friendlies within miles and we were safe on the helicopter, the gun ships had a field day shooting up the LZ as we watched from above. When the gun ships had done their job we asked our pilot to give us a crack at the LZ. So we made two quick passes. The first pass we each fired a full clip of ammo into the LZ and on the 2nd pass we tossed our hand grenades into the LZ. It was an exhilarating experience. The contact automatically aborted our mission. It was a silly mistake on the enemies part. If the person that popped the smoke survived Iím sure he believes he was his own worst enemy.

When we landed in Mary Lou the big news was not our mission, but another LRRP team that made contact on the ground. The team was on the opposite side of highway from our complex find and was still trying to determine when the NVA regiment would move across the highway. They had found a trail that led to the highway. Beside the trail they had found several NVA back packs.

The working theory was the NVA soldiers had left their packs along the trail and had gone down to the highway to collect information or ambush the convoy. If this was true, they would return to the site to pick up their packs and leave.

Assuming that it would be a small group the LRRP team decided to set up an ambush. After waiting for several hours a patrol came up the trail just as expected. The ambush was triggered and within a moment the LRRP team had killed two soldiers and wounded four others.

We were glad to hear our LRRP team had been extracted and all were safe. As I talked to one of the team members that evening, I tried to relate to the pain he was feeling in knowing his role in taking two lives that day. I tried to reassure him that:

  • bad things happen in war.
  • you were doing your duty.
  • you canít take it personal.
  • get on with your life.
  • it wasnít your fault.
  • your team should have been told about the Patrol.
But the words sounded hollow, even to me. It didnít seem possible that the LRRP team could have ambushed and killed two members of a U.S. Infantry unit that was being sent up the trail to support them. Who needs enemies when we do this to ourselves.

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©1997 C. Warren Gallion
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