A TYPICAL MISSION
Three days since my last mission. I see my team title & the assigned members written in grease pencil on the board. At noon, I am scheduled to go up in the small ‘Looch’ or bubble helicopter to take a look at my next ‘9 square click’ area of operation.
The pilot of the bubble chopper adds a small 5 pound weight to the tail to balance the weight of 2 passengers. Sometimes the platoon leader goes along, often not. It’s up to me to select an insertion & extraction point.
We take off & fly a few minutes. I check the map, the assigned area begins to take shape. LRRP’s are fantastic map readers! We circle the ‘9 square click’ area at about 2000 ft. I mark areas on the map for insertion, extraction...noting interesting terrain features, trails, rivers, villages & other interesting areas that will need to be looked at.
Back at the base, I go over with the platoon lead what my team will do. I fill out a mission outline. I take the time to write my wife & family....I always thought that if something did happen to me, they would be able to be a part of my last mission. Thank God that didn’t need to be the case.
The next day my team is ready. We collect our ammo, food & other supplies & head for the LZ. Before long, we are off.
We near the insertion point. Above is the command chopper at 4000 ft. Two gunships are also with us. I see the ‘white circles’ of their blades below us, zig-zagging through our area. We descend to treetop as we begin our approach to the insertion point. Suddenly, the front of the chopper lifts, the tail drops. We are there. I am the first one out. I have the radio. Within seconds we are on the ground, heading for the side of the insertion point. The sound is deafening. The gun ships still nearby...then they are just over our heads. We see our insertion chopper leave the area.
In a few seconds the sounds begin to fade. We are alone now. All is quiet. Slowly, the sound of the woods begin to come back...the birds, the wind, the animals, the insects. I make a commo check....all is well, but we sit still. After the natural sounds of the area return, I check the map, we begin to move slowly at first, but then at a quicker pace to at least 1000 meters before settling down. I pull my own point, carry my own radio. I carry an M-14 with a bayonet attached. I don’t trust the M-16’s. If I come up on something, I want to knock it down, not just shoot through it. I carry a tracer in my chamber...I always thought that if I have one shot, I want to see where it goes...last 2 shots in the clip are also tracers...that way I will know when I need to change clips.
We wait a few moments, checking the sounds..checking ahead, to the sides & behind for movement....If we are spotted on insertion, this is the time to be most careful.
That first night, I look for an area of dense underbrush, not far from an LZ. We set up camp, commo check. Everything still OK. We devise a plan to take turns staying up for our protection. More than once, ‘movement’ was detected in the middle of the night...giant lizards...wild chickens that sound like human footsteps...restless monkeys in tree nests...enemy movements on a trail!.....or just raindrops on from the trees.
We begin to prepare our LRRP rations. I remember my favorites were Chile Con Carne & Spaghetti....the worst were beef & chicken stew. I remember the odd chocolate bars, the small pack of cigarettes, the best were Menthol, the worst Pall Mall... the OD matches...the heating tablets. The coffee & sometimes hardened creamer that came with it.....how about them canned peaches & fruit cocktail?
Laying back for the night, I remember the stars....millions of them....the sounds of distance artillery fire....glows in the night from flares....occasional gunfire...all in the distance, but where? The war seems so distant from where I am. What kind of war is this?
Usually, our plans to stay up all night fizzle. It’s suddenly morning. No action. Get ready & move out. Conversation carried on, but forever forgotten. What did we say? What major life changing plans did we discuss. Most was talk of home....of what we were going to do when we get home, not what we did before Vietnam.
The rest of the mission goes on a moment to moment basis. A small & short ambush here, climbing a tree there...finding some interesting new trails. Stumbling on unexploded B-52 bombs. B-52 Strikes! What a disaster. Those areas were a shambles. 4 foot wide trees scattered like toothpicks. Craters 10 or 15 yards wide. Unexploded cluster bombs.... How could anything survive? Termites. Mounds 5 to 7 feet high. At night they sounded like snakes moving on the ground. Fire ants! Once, our Montagnard told us that they were ‘Number One-Chop Chop’. Tasted like mint. I ate 1, he ate a handful. Leeches, everywhere! During the rains, they would hunch up & move towards us. A cigarette held close to them made them disconnect. Giant grasshoppers, moving by the thousands down a hill side, past us. Giant lizards with their obscene speech!! Monkeys circling our campsite just before dark before they settle into their tree nests. Hootches near farm fields...hot peppers there too...wild MJ plants! Once in a while we come up on a Montagnard cemetery...strange statues! An occassional old base camp with trenches & trash....What went on here? Why did they leave? The big mysterious mountain, north of Kontum! ....the rumor of the lost company that disappeared on it...was it true? or just a story.....
The mission continues, never staying in one place for too long...always on the move.....then, when we least expect it......CONTACT!!!!!!! PANIC!!!!!!!
WHEN CONTACT OCCURS....EVERYTHING IS BLURRED, MOVING IN SLOW MOTION. NO TIME FOR FEAR, JUST ‘ULTIMATE ALERT’. THIS IS WHAT WE ARE TRAINED FOR, BUT IT IS SO DIFFERENT THAN WHAT WE EXPECT. I CALL IN AIR OR ARTILLERY STRIKES ON OUR LAST REPORTED LOCATION. WE MOVE QUICKLY TOWARDS AN LZ.....THE COMMUNICATIONS ARE FRENZIED & LOUD. IN THE DISTANCE I HEAR THE CHOPPERS COMING...GUNSHIPS STRAFING THE AREA.....C-47’S WITH A CONTINUOUS RED LINE OF FIRE FROM THE MINI-GUNS. THEN FINALLY THE EXTRACTION HELICOPTER........SAFETY!!!! THANK GOD WE ARE ALIVE!!!!......but usually, no contact occurs...in a couple of days the mission is over. You have a good feeling that no one else is in your ‘9 square click’ area. You are confident that you have had a safe mission. The enemy is not here. The war is somewhere else. I begin to doubt that I have done a good job. We didn’t find anything. We didn’t capture anyone. No evidence that the enemy is here. When we know extraction is near, we begin to take chances....studpid chances!! We fire off a few rounds for fun...what are we doing?....how stupid can we get? What kind of war is this?
The chopper sounds return....we make radio contact. I use the reflective mirror with the center sight. We pop smoke. The gunship noises, the command helicopter. The extraction ship......everyone on board, everyone OK. I take a last glance of the area. How small everything is as we quickly climb....why was it so hard to move on the ground?
Back at the base.....boy do we stink! Why didn’t we notice that when we were in the field? Within an hour after debriefing, everything is back to normal. I catch up on a little sleep, clean-up, talk to my friends, read my mail...perhaps write a few letters.......happy to be back.....but then.....a strange feeling returns......I want to go back out on another mission. I feel safe there, in control. Now I am aware of how many days I have left. In the field, I feel SAFE....how can that be...my life is in extreme danger there! Perhaps 4 or 5 can hide....a company cannot. Am I hiding when I am on a mission? Is that why I often felt that I didn’t do a good job because we had no contact? Am I really a coward! Once I had malaria. After coming back from the hospital, I had a 30 day excuse for not going into the field...I never turned it in...I had to be back in the field....interesting...my most serious contact was on that next mission. My first wedding anniversary, August 26, 1968!!! Major contact....made the front page of the ‘Stars & Stripes’. Still have a copy somewhere.......
In the field I felt in control....if I could only spend the rest of my tour in the field, I thought I would make it home.....a day passes, another...then the scenario repeats...
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