Most wars fought in the history of the world were fought with men motivated by the fact
they could not return to a normal life until the war was over. This would have to be a
powerful motivation to do everything possible to secure the victory and make soldiers want
to follow a strong leader. The Vietnam war, on the other hand, was a one year war for the
soldier, win loose or draw. For the average draftee the year was an eternity as each day
was scratched from the calendar. While the average infantry soldier was drafted, it appeared
there was a surplus of career officers that needed combat leadership experience to further
their military careers. In our area Captains were only given 6 months to display their combat
leadership and the rest of their tour was spent in base camp. For the career officer six months
was a small window to build a military legacy.
I understood the frustration of the men, when we were told the Captain was going to be taking us out on patrol. The general consensus was the patrol had everything to do with the Captains resume and nothing to do with the protection and defense of the fire base.
Moving the APCís through the jungle was hard work. Periodically we would light a piece of C4 explosive and throw it into the dry brush. We were still in the dry season and the fire would move so quickly across the jungle floor the trees did not have time to ignite. It was our understanding the fires would lead us to hidden caches of ammo. Either there were none, or the fires moved to fast to ignite the explosives.
We were allowed to recon by fire, which meant we were free to fire our weapons single shot anytime, any where and at anything we pleased with no questions asked. On the other hand, automatic gunfire or AK47 (Russian rifle used by the NVA) fire which had a distinct sound meant serious business and was a call to action.
As each track moved slowly looking for the path of least resistance , the heat and the constant roar of the diesel engine would put us into a lethargic mood. The men on the track in front of us also seemed to be somewhere between day dreaming and sleeping with their eyes open. Their track bumped a tree and they suddenly found themselves in a rainstorm of tree ants. It was a sight Iíll never forget. In less than 10 seconds they went from being asleep at the wheel to being buck naked . They were slapping themselves and performing some dance moves that may never be introduced to the general public. They sprayed each other with bug spray. My team went over to reinforce them with bug spray, but we couldnít stop laughing. The men who were covered with ants failed to see the humor in the situation. Some humor must be a matter of perspective.
The patrol was finding nothing, yet we continued the pace looking for a fight. We found ourselves running short of drinking water. We had plenty of C-Rations (canned food) so we rationed out the fruit cans at night for liquid to drink.
The next day as we worked our ways through the jungle I heard a burst of automatic gunfire from one of the tracks ahead of us. The track in front of us swerved to the right and started firing. As we had been trained we swerved to the left and I started laying down grazing fire with the .50 caliber machine gun. After a few minutes we were ordered to cease fire. We stopped and I listened. I heard nothing. A soldier jumped from the track in front of us and walked back to our track to talk to us. He jumped up to the sloped part of the track and grabbed for the barrel of the .50 caliber to pull himself up. It was a simple maneuver that we had all done a hundred times and never gave it a second thought. Instead of stepping up to the top he yelled and fell back to the ground. I looked down to see what was wrong and the soldier was grasping his hand. He seared his hand on the still hot barrel of the .50 caliber. The medic started working on his hand.
My squad was ordered to stay behind with the mortar track and take care of the soldier while the rest of the force pursued the enemy on foot. I protected our position and waited. I could hear the men firing single shots as they worked their way down the hill. I heard a burst of friendly automatic fire. They must have seen something I thought to myself, as everyone started firing. I listened carefully for AK47 fire so I could pinpoint the enemies position. After a few minutes the shooting stopped. Over the radio I was told the Captain and Lieutenant were shot and they needed the medic. I sent the medic down to help out. A few minutes later the Captain and Lieutenant were carried back up to our position. They had both been shot in the leg. They would live and get their purple hearts. We called a dust off (Medical Helicopter) and loaded the Lieutenant and Captain onto the helicopter.
After things settled down that evening I walked over to the squad that had been with the Captain. I mentioned I had only heard friendly fire. One of soldiers grinned and said, thatís all we heard, too.
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