NEUGARD GETS HIS NOSE PIERCED
We were a four man LRP Team looking for bad guys in the Plei Trap Valley of South Vietnam. Masoletti was the Team Leader. He was the all American boy, blond curly hair and blue eyes and like Roy Rogers or Gene Autry could come out of the toughest fight without a hair out of place or a speck of dirt on his trees (a style of camouflaged fatigues that we wore in Nam). Rennick walked point for Masoletti. He was a lean, red headed country boy, rather quiet but a good soldier who could be depended on to do his job. Neugard was Assistant Team Leader. He normally had his own team but was just back off R & R and his team had been reassigned in his absence. Neugard was a very good LRP but was quiet and tended to keep to himself. He did have a slight habit of being, just a little bit, accident prone - or maybe just a little unlucky. It is not that he was a danger to be around - but more of a danger to himself. For example he was once leading his team when he spotted some pungi spikes along the trail, he turned to warn his team to be careful and stepped on one the spikes himself. I was the fourth member on the team and walked rear security. Like Rennick I was a country boy but there the similarity stopped. At 5-11 and 210 pounds I was far from lean and though a good LRP I was far too slovenly to be a good soldier. I was a college graduate who had dropped out of OCS because I didn't want a gold bar on my shoulder bad enough to put up with the harassment necessary to get it.
It was on our second day out, if I remember correctly, that we began to descend the hill into the heavily jungled valley below. I liked hills, hills gave you the high ground and were usually closer to landing zones. Valleys were a different story. Bad things happened in valleys. The bad guys, V.C. and N.V.A., liked to hang out in valleys, and when you went into a valley you almost always lost radio communications with your base camp. We hadn't gone far when Masoletti turned and whispered (LRPs always whispered when they were on missions) that we had lost commo. I wondered what else would go wrong.
When we reached the floor of the valley we found a broad well used trail. Masoletti decided to follow the trail. Have I mentioned that I don't like trails. The bad guys who hang out in valleys tend to walk on trails in those valleys. We hadn't gone more than 20 yards down the trail when Rennick stopped and signaled Masoletti forward. Then Masoletti signaled Neugard and me and we all gathered around looking down at the distinct foot print made by a Ho Chi Min sandal. Masoletti, or any Team Leader for that matter, is called on to make a lot of decisions. Team members like me did not always agree with those decisions but we followed along, as we should because he was the leader. This time Masoletti made a decision of which I was in total agreement. He decided to find out where the wearer of that sandal had come from rather than where he was going. Common sense told me that there would be one less bad guy where he was coming from and one more wherever he was going.
Before long we came to a broad shallow stream, maybe 60 yards across and 24 inches in depth. We slogged across the stream, soaking our pants legs up to the knees, and set up on the other side in a small cluster of trees a few yards off the trail. Masoletti got out the long antenna for the PRC-25 and tried again to establish commo. He still couldn't get hold of base camp or even our radio relay station (called 2 Romeo) but he did reach an airforce Forward Air Control plane that was roaming the area. A few seconds later we heard the drone of the engines and saw the plane approaching. The pilot asked us to signal him so that he could pin point our location. Masoletti asked Neugard to go down to the river bank and flash a signal mirror at the plane.
Now in this world there are many bad shots, but I have to hold that in any ranking of bad shots the Vietcong come in second worst. They are slightly worse than the North Vietnamese (both have shot at me and missed, and though I pride myself in being a good shot I have to admit I am a better target) and, as proven by the outcome of the war, slightly better than the South Vietnamese. The Vietcong that stepped out onto the riverbank across from Neugard must have been a contender for worst shot among the Vietcong. Neugard on his side of the bank saw the black pajama clad figure out of the corner of his eye and while still trying to steady the mirror on the FAC plane, was reaching behind himself trying to find where he had laid his CAR 15. The V.C. raised his SKS rifle and fired all five rounds in the magazine and didn't come close to hitting Neugard. But one of the bullets hit a rock that was jutting out of the river and a piece of that rock, a fragment no larger than a grain of sand, shot up Neugard's left nostril and out the side of his nose.
Now I have already told you that the water in that river was two feet deep, that it wet our pants legs up to the knee, but I am here to swear that I saw Neugard re-cross that river, CAR 15 in hand, at a dead run, going after the Vietcong that had shot at him and I never saw his feet sink below the surface of the water. Neugard was ticked! He crouched down on the other bank and waited for that V.C. to stick his head up. Meanwhile Masoletti reported the contact to the Forward Air Controller and slipped part way down the bank to assume a better defensive position. I picked up the horn and, because I was the only one who could actually see Neugard, reported his condition and requested a Medivac. Rennick had taken up a position watching the rear and guarding against anyone coming up the trail from the other direction.
Every once in a while Neugard would take a handful of river water to wash away the copious amounts of blood that poured from that little hole in his nose or he would wipe the blood away with his sleeve, but mostly he stared steadily at the brush looking for his adversary. Masoletti had a good position behind a tree that was growing close to the water's edge, but he couldn't see Neugard. "Neugard are you all right!" he shouted across the water. Neugard raised his finger to his lips and then flattened out his palm and pushed downward on the air to emphasize that we should keep quiet.
"He says he's all right but we should keep quiet," I whispered across to Masoletti. But Masoletti couldn't hear LRP whispers his ears were attuned to noises from across the river.
"Neugard, are you all right!" he shouted again.
Again the gestures from Neugard, and again my whisper, this time somewhat louder than before. "He says he's all right he's trying to get the guy that shot him, keep it down."
Masoletti wasn't listening. "Neugard are you all right!" he shouted a third time.
"SHUT UP, B*TCH!" came Neugards reply at the top of his lungs.
"I told you he was okay," I now said in a normal tone of voice.
When in a few more minutes the V.C. had not reappeared, Masoletti gave orders for us to provide cover fire for Neugard's return to our side of the river. He sprayed the opposite bank up stream with fire from his CAR -15 and I popped M-79 rounds on the down stream side. Neugards return passage was not nearly so swift and his feet sank once more to a normal depth. The FAC pilot directed us to the nearest LZ, Neugard holding a bandage against his nose as he walked. He was Medivaced out leaving the other three of us in the LZ while the big shots at base camp tried to decide whether we would be reinforced with an Air-Rifle Platoon or whether we would ourselves be extracted. Finally they decided to extract us and we found ourselves heading back to Highlander Heights and Fire Base Mary Lou.
Cue Ball, our platoon clerk, was waiting at the landing pad with a jeep. He took us up the hill to the platoon area. Sergeant Hinkle greeted us when we got to the HQ tent to return our gear. "That was you on the radio that reported Neugard's condition, wasn't it?" he said to me as we entered.
"Yea, I guess so," I said. "Why?"
"Well I figured it had to be the college guy, when the FAC pilot said you told him 'he does not appear to be greatly injured but he is bleeding profusely.'"
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