Chap 10

  
 It was finally time for our unit to join Operation Junction City on the 13th of March 1967. The "After Action" reports are not very clear on which location we flew out of but it was either from the air strip at Phuoc Vinh or Lai Kai; I believe it was Phuoc Vinh and I also believe that this was the day that a remarkable event happened which was unrelated to combat, and which I would remember for the next fifty years.

    To preface this event, let me say that my unit's rest from combat in 1967, our "down time" if you will, consisted almost entirely of pulling perimeter guard and running patrols around places like Lai Khe, Phuoc Vinh, Phu Loi and Quan Loi where members of my battalion were mortared, sniped at, booby trapped and engaged almost daily in small squad sized shoot outs. We looked forward to this type of "down time" because it was so much better than enduring the stress of regular search and destroy operations into the deep jungles of War Zone C and D, where we only had an N.D.P. to return to each night. Now, while standing around waiting to board cargo planes, I was about to cross paths with a very poignant reminder of the existence of another lifestyle being lived by most of my fellow soldiers in Vietnam. It was a lifestyle which had perks far removed from those afforded us grunts. A clean cot sheltered from the rain was probably the most desirable one. Hot meals were a close second. Yes, we had heard of U.S.O. shows with big name stars but in our minds that was just a fantasy to be experienced in dreams only. Then it happened in the form of a very strange encounter, an encounter, which would not only remind me of my lowly status in life, but also more importantly, how I should not let that lowly status influence the way I judged others, who seemingly had it much better in life than I. The event, which brought about this enlightened way of thinking, though it took years for that to happen, was a chance encounter with the movie actor Hugh O’Brian.

    Here we were, waiting at the air strip, waiting to load onto C-130 cargo planes, where Hugh and his entourage were also waiting to be flown out to perform a show called "Guys and Dolls". They were in their world, and we were in our world, two very different realities colliding for just an instant in time. Most of the guys with me scattered out to get closer to the girls in the group, but a sick little feeling in the bottom of my stomach said, “Why bother”? As everyone around me drifted away, suddenly, I somehow found myself staring Hugh O’Brian eyeball to eyeball. He had been my boyhood hero when he played Wyatt Earp on TV. Now, here I was, standing in front of my unarmed hero of years past, with rifle in hand, machine gun ammo belts draped across my chest Poncho Villa style, a grenade clipped to each front strap of my "web gear" and a rocket launcher and machete sticking out from the back of my ruck sack. In a very surreal sense, times had really changed, and it was fair to say that all my boyhood thoughts toward him had been completely shattered. Having now been face to face with one of the harshest realities that life can offer, I no longer regarded him as my hero.

    As I stood there, starring into his handsome face, it could just as easily have been a taunting image in a bad dream. Anyway, all I could do was say “Hi” and all he could do was stare back at me, with a very mysterious expression on his face. Quite frankly, at first, that expression coupled with his momentary silence made me think that he was being somewhat aloft, and yet it was not that. I knew what an "aloft" look was, and this was not that. Finally, after continuing this haunting stare for much too long, he grunted a “Hi” back at me and that was that. We both turned and walked away from each other forever, but the mystery of that expression on his countenance would remain frozen in my mind for many years to come. In the big scheme of things, it was a little thing and something to be forgotten yet it was not forgotten, the look "I mean". Yes, it would take years for the Holy Spirit to show me the reason behind that strange look on his face, but I thank God that He did. Like so many fleeting events in times past, the Holy Spirit resurrects and restructures thoughts in an anointed believer's mind so that I now have the truth behind Hugh's long stare. 

    That restructuring of my thoughts toward Hugh, however, didn't begin until years later, when I learned some personal facts about him. He had served as the youngest D.I. to train marines in World War II. Later, he also became involved in causes supporting those less fortunate in life in a variety of ways. Armed with this revealing information, I now know that the long pause and strange look on his face was in response to an all too familiar look on my own face. That look on me shocked the "day lights" out of him. Why? Because, he had seen this same look many times before on other soldiers in his past, as they finished their training, to go on to face death in the Pacific. The "look" is a detached "faraway look", a “going to the grave” look, if you will, and it can only be recognized by others who have the heart to recognize it. D.I.'s like Hugh O'Brian certainly had that kind of heart. I had seen that same reactionary look on my own D.I.'s face in response to the look which he had witnessed on me and Winstead's face, as he told us that we would be the only two out of forty men in my training platoon to be chosen as combat infantrymen. Any war mentor "worth their salt" recognizes that look on those they train as they release them to the killing fields of war. It is very disconcerting to all who know what they are looking at and as I said, Hugh certainly knew what he was looking at. He also knew that there is very little chance of engaging in small talk with anyone who is wearing this look, nor would he have wanted to do so anyway, because He knew nothing, he could say, would be appropriate. Having said all this, I regret that it took me so many years to realize that I had not been looking at the face of a dethroned boyhood hero after all, but instead, I had been looking into the face of a real live hero who helped save the world, by instilling in many others those same unselfish values which resided in his own heart, and for that he will always be my hero.  

   Now back to my story. After action reports indicate that operational control (OPCON) of individual units was assigned back and forth a lot, especially at the brigade and division levels, subject to operational demands. We, ourselves, were assigned and reassigned many times. Of course, at a grunt's lowly level, there was no effort to make us aware of these changes in command structure. Knowing what I know now, however, I do not believe any unit was moved around more than the 3/5th mechanized unit. During the war, they were attached at one point to the Marines operating in the northern provinces and in the far south near the Mekong Delta. On the 13th of March 1967, after we were flown from Phuoc Vinh to Quan Loi and the next day dropped in by helicopters on Route 246 near a bridge construction over the upper reaches of the Saigon River, we got to say hello to this unit for the first time. Here, along route 246, probably at the bridge, we met the fellows of A company of the 3/5th. Neither of our units had seen any major action and that was par for the course. Combat units were always under constant threat of sniper fire, small ambushes, mortars and harassing encounters with sapper teams pulling all kinds of dirty little tricks, but most combat veterans killed in action died without engaging in a single big battle. The two major actions associated with Operation Junction City up until now had occurred deeper in War Zone C, and much further north and west of Lai Khe and Phuoc Vinh where we had been operating out of during the first phase of "Junction City". The men, of the 3/5th, were shipped to Vietnam by boat so they knew each other, all arriving at the same time. Her men did not have to deal with the isolated mental state that most grunts were forced to deal with. Now, as we joined forces for a few days, they had only been in country just a little over two months. The absence of any major contact around the areas off Thunder Road had helped give every grunt in my unit the impression that this area, at least as far north as An Loc, was relatively safe from any large enemy build-ups. Phuoc Vinh, and Lai Khe, were much farther south than An Loc, and seemed safe to me. When operating around Phuoc Vinh, I had several chances to go to town by myself and enjoy a particular Vietnamese restaurant which had delicious fried rice patty shrimp. In 1967, one would have been hard pressed to find any better cuisine stateside than what this little tin shack produced. Looking back now, I do not believe any of us grunts understood the danger we were in as we casually went about these rare "off time" forays. We certainly did not realize that there was an entire NVA regiment lurking just a few miles away from Phuoc Vinh as I sat by myself eating delicious fried shrimp. One of the wrong perceptions which reinforced this naive thinking was the perception that we were mainly up against home grown V.C. To reinforce this wrong thinking even more, civilian traffic around places like Phuoc Vinh and Lai Khe was very heavy during the day, and everyone was seemingly going peaceably about their daily activities. I knew nothing of the two battles which had already occurred with the NVA, involving the 1/16th and the 2/2nd and would know nothing about them for over fifty years. I certainly did not realize that in just a short time a big battle was about to unfold with the NVA near Lai Khe on Thunder Road and it would involve these "damp but dusty looking" men of the 3/5th, who were now settling in with the rest of us for the night of the 14th of March. My personal observation told me that they were like any other mechanized unit which I had ran across. They had the "damp but dusty look" which many mechanized soldiers had from riding up and down the dusty red clay roads during the "dry season". Now, you may ask, "how can someone be "damp but dusty" at the same time?". Well, you see, a brief rain was starting to fall on us in late afternoons, but not enough to completely inundate the thick layer of red dust on Thunder Road. There was still plenty of this fine red powder to be stirred up by tracked vehicles and then deposited on the sweat and rain-soaked jungle fatigues of the men operating those vehicles. "Voila", I have now given the reader insight into one of the many phenomena's unique to this part of the world in 1967 and it created a "look" which I call the "damp but dusty" look. It was a "fashion statement" to behold. The brilliant Westmoreland, for all his savvy, never realized the impact that this "look" would have made, had he had the humility to have worn it during just one of his important briefings. I can assure you that Patton would have understood the importance of doing so.   

    Every grunt in every unit in Vietnam were in their own "little world" whether we were twenty feet apart or three hundred miles apart. One thing, however, that we all had in common was that we made observations and formed opinions of the bigger picture according to what we saw going on around us. By the way, that's how most human beings form opinions. Lasting impressions were formed by personal experiences and by listening to the grapevine, but the grapevine was severely limited. It was silent about the Battle of Prek Klok I on February 28th where the Medal of Honor winner, Sergeant Leonard gave his life for his men. Perhaps, if it had not been silent, it would not have taken me over fifty years to change my negative opinion of "lifer Sergeants". The "grapevine" was also silent about The Battle of Prek Klok II which happened on March 10th. This debilitating breakdown in the flow of important Division news reaching our grunt ears left the door wide open for some very naive lifelong opinions to take root in our minds at best and some blatant falsehoods at worst. Those lasting impressions would stick with us for life and many of those impressions would do little to help the rest of America form a truthful picture of the war. Many of our ill formed viewpoints would hurt more than they would help. Like me, many millions of returning veterans formed wrong opinions because they were only privy to those facts which they saw with their own nanoscopic eyes. Some of my own preconceived but erroneous notions weren't toppled until I researched information to write this book and reached out to other veterans to hear their stories through the filter of The Holy Spirit. He alone gave me the ability to understand what I was reading and hearing. Wow, probably losing a few readers with that statement! However, changing some of my opinions took more than fifty years. Just imagine the negative effects millions of returning Vietnam veterans had on the rest of America, at the time, because they had no access to pertinent information, which could have helped change their erroneous personal opinions to more realistic ones in time to make a difference on a national level. The nation is still suffering the consequences of that neglect. Some of this national pain could have been avoided if our leaders had only understood the value of informing us grunts of the "blow by blow" facts as those events occurred. Lack of information made it next to impossible for the average soldier to later form a truthful understanding of the war. Let me make it clear that I am not talking about broadcasting sensitive intelligence information, but just public facts of events as they occurred. The evil communist party recognized the benefits of assigning special propaganda teams to do nothing but "blow smoke" into the ears of their troops, day in, and day out. How much more important would it have been to assign special communications officers to see that our combat soldiers in the field were constantly informed in a truthful way. The trouble with that statement, however, is that many our leaders in the late sixties were losing a grasp on the truth, themselves. This void led to our opinions being formed for the entire war based solely on snapshots taken by individual soldiers. The appalling lack of official communications people to become the 'Ernie Piles" of the day did nothing but strengthen the position of a very dishonest mainstream media, giving it free reign to become the preeminent reporting entity, twisting the facts anyway it saw fit. Many veterans, themselves, bought into these lies. I believe that the very influential Oliver Stone was one of those veterans who fell prey to these falsehoods, but then, so did I. Yes sir, ignorance of the facts, contributed greatly to a lack of understanding of what a noble undertaking we grunts were actually embarked upon. This left the door wide open for an extremely distorted historical picture to be spun by any dishonest mass media power broker who came down the pike. Truth was and still is, in the grander scheme of things, it is always righteous in the eyes of God for a free nation to be willing to shed blood to purchase individual freedom for the citizens of other nations, who are struggling to gain those same freedoms themselves. Here is an even greater truth. When a free nation becomes so complacent that it is unwilling to shed that blood, it will soon find itself in danger of losing those same freedoms, itself. Yes, because America's citizen soldiers were treated like "mushrooms", it became much easier for a distorted picture of the war to not only become accepted by Americans in general, but it also became easier for us veterans to also be sucked into these lies. Aggravating the situation even more, was the fact that war veteran's returning home passed on their blurred perceptions of the war to their personal spheres of influence. The American public became very confused indeed and guess what? God is not the author of confusion. (1 Co. 14:33) Satan is. The war dragged on, and the general public didn't know what to believe. Yes, it’s a real shame that our war leaders never understood the importance of passing on basic information, to us grunts, while we were held as a captive audience. Getting ahead of lies with the facts should be a basic tenant for any organization to follow. Worse yet, the erratic behavior patterns of many returning vets which was bred in the crucible of war through the lack of understanding of our leadership, gave fuel to the proliferation of all kinds of negatively stereotyped impressions of those returning veterans. Individual citizens began initiating attacks on these "hamstrung" veterans in a verity of ways. At the same time some returning vets bought into this non-sense, themselves, giving more "wind to the sails" of a growing Anti-American movement which would eventually turn into the monstrous hurricane which it has become today. My own company commander, upon returning from his tour of duty, actually had a well-dressed young man spit in his face in a California airport. I personally lost educational as well as job opportunities due to my military service. The spinning of half-truths and outright lies, flooded the air ways day after day, defaming us Vietnam Vets, costing us jobs, educational opportunities, veteran benefits and more importantly our own self-respect. Here is a dirty little secret. Almost every single veteran bought into those dirty lies to some extent. One veteran who drank the entire glass of "cool aid" was John Carry, caught on camera, throwing away his medals. John, I love you, but you should never have done that. Without access to truthful knowledge of the facts and then being able to act upon that knowledge through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, no human being can ever hope to form correct opinions on which to successfully act. Great societies do not just happen. They happen because a lot of people make the right decisions considering the facts of life around them. Great nations like ours die from moral decay, and that decay always starts with the withholding and distorting of information for public consumption. The following account is one small personal example of just one of my own misconceived opinions due to my ignorance of the facts.

    Over 50 years after I served in Vietnam, I would learn that the 3/5th squadron, the one sharing our NDP on this night, was one of the finest performing American units to ever serve in any war, not just Vietnam, but all of America's past wars. I found this out through my research of the hard cold facts and not through my own experiences or the opinions of others. At the time, only generals were privy to enough facts to accurately form correct assessments like this, but in a free country, generals usually aren't in a position to make enough noise to shape national opinions. Studious citizen soldiers like me would have to wait for the invention of the internet to learn these pertinent facts concerning the magnificent performance of other units besides our own. By then, however, most of us vets would be dead or too old to care. Truth is, this mechanized unit and mine were just strangers passing in the night when we bumped into each other at this NDP. They looked like just another weather beaten and war torn unit, joining us from some other combat mission somewhere off our grid. Of course, this assumption was made without any knowledge whatsoever of the facts. I really didn't know where they had come from or how they got here, nor did I care. Actually, there were other opinions already shaped in my mind about every mechanized unit that I would ever run across for the rest of my tour, this one included. No matter how much fire power they could bring to bear in the event of a massive enemy attack, I hoped that I would never have to operate with any mechanized unit ever again. Besides, we were just fighting a bunch of home-grown guerrillas. We did not need all that fire power which I perceived through some very personal but compelling reasons to be much more dangerous to me than the enemy. Of course, I was as wrong as wrong could be but without the flow of truth news concerning events happening very near to us, I had no idea how wrong my opinions really were until very recently.

    I have already described how I was left alone, as a last "goodbye" jester from "good ole" Sergeant Rook, to be bossed around by a mechanized unit's officer, who soon gave me the impression that he was in over his head, as we halfheartedly took a stab at clearing that tunnel complex, which I described in an earlier chapter. Also, by this time in March of 1967, my unit had been on several operations with different mechanized units. On one such operation, enemy patrols had been trying to unnerve us by taking "pot shots" at our forward line of march, while staying hidden in thick jungle. This happened several times, so, finally, in response, this mechanized unit's weapons platoon, positioned behind us, started routinely firing mortar rounds, adjusting their fires to explode in front of our line of march about 100 meters. The military term for that is "marching fires". I was running point with no other help on this day. I would listen closely for the distinctive "thump" each time a mortar round left the mortar tube and would stand still until the shell exploded to my front. However, on this one occasion, as I heard the "thump" and waited the few seconds for the round to explode, The Holy Spirit spoke softly into my subconscious mind, "You need to get down", He said, so I ran forward a few steps and squatted down behind a fallen tree, thinking, that the shell might land short but surely still land in front of the fallen tree. "For goodness sakes", the margin of error was a healthy 100 meters. I told myself that no competent mortar team would ever be off target that much, but I was wrong. The round landed directly behind me and remarkably close to the spot where I had been standing. If I had not ran forward those few feet to hide behind the fallen tree, I would have been blown apart. (Who do you suppose arranged for that fallen tree to be where it was, enticing me to run forward just enough to keep from being killed?) Bartee and his RTO, directly behind me and slightly to my right were also miraculously spared, but 3 or 4 men in my platoon, including our platoon leader were gravely wounded. This became "strike one" in my mind against mechanized units. Another time, while operating with another mechanized unit, again we received some sporadic enemy fire to our front. A track behind us immediately open fired with his .50 caliber machine gun catching us in a crossfire situation. Those big rounds could go through a couple of trees, two or three men and keep on going. that's how powerful they were. Fortunately, this time, no one was killed, but now there was a real growing mistrust in our ranks for mechanized units in general. This event became "strike two". It got worse. Shortly after the crossfire incident, the brass gave us a night off and supplied a little too much booze as we spent that one night in a small base camp in the middle of nowhere. Another unit pulled perimeter guard for us. As usual in these rare situations, I was getting some much-needed sleep, while many of my guys and the mechanized unit's crews got drunk together. This was a recipe for disaster. Near midnight I was awakened by the metallic sound of several of the .50 caliber machines guns being cocked and a lot of screaming going on. As it turned out, the previous crossfire incident had become the catalyst for the deadly event now unfolding before my sleepy eyes. Some of the mechanized unit crew members, fueled by too much alcohol, had mounted their tracks and were cocking their machine guns, coming within a hair’s breadth of spraying G. I.'s like me with machine gun fire to settle the ensuing argument. Fortunately, a couple of cool-headed NCOs were able to defuse the situation and our new commander never again allowed us to mingle with a mechanized unit during down time. This was definitely "strike three" in my mind for all mechanized units. After this I really had no use for any mechanized unit whatsoever and that included the mechanized unit that we were bedded down with on this particular night, which just happened to be A company of the 3/5th squadron.  

   Yes, it’s too bad that these negative personal experiences became the only criteria by which I judged all mechanized units. It’s too bad that it took over fifty years for me to learn that in just a few days this "rag tag" mechanized troop of around 100 men, who were now sharing this spot of earth with me, would repel a major and well-coordinated attack by the "hardcore" 273rd NVA regiment, which had been camped within a stone’s throw of the restaurant on the outskirts of Phuoc Vinh, where I had been regularly "chowing down " on some succulent rice patty shrimp, away from my unit and "all by my lonesome". it never dawned on me that one day when the restaurant operations suspended around me and I was grabbed bodily by the waitresses and pulled away into a darkened back room that it well could have been a patrol from that 273rd regiment coming through, which they were protecting me from. This same unit attacked the 3/5th just north of Lai Khe on "Thunder Road several days after they left us to escort convoys down "Thunder Road" toward Lai Khe. Yep, "A troop" reinforced by the hard charging platoons from B and C of the 3/5th squadron would hold out in a night long fight, led by a "cool headed" Captain Raoul H. Alcala and an undeterrable squadron commander, Lt. Col. Sidney S. Haszard. The troop lost only 3 men, while the body count for the enemy was by all personal accounts underestimated at 227. The fighting was "close- in" and the enemy fighters were relentless in what became known as the Battle of "Ap Bau Bang". The "after action" reports tell me a lot. Although the glory was given to air power, it was the incredible amount of return fire from the machine gun crews, the canister rounds from "on-site" tanks "dusting off" other armored vehicles of their unwelcomed human boarding parties, and some very skillful maneuvering of squadron forces by Alcala and Haszard, which blunted the determined "human wave" attacks. This little band of fighters in the 3/5th was responsible for holding things together, because the fighting was too close quarters for all the air support in the world to be of any immediate help. The perimeter was breached so quickly, that "offsite" artillery support would have been of little help either. It took some very agile thinking throughout the night on the part of these citizen soldiers led by a few "lifer" N.C.O.'s to turn the tide. They literally wrenched away any surprise initiative that the enemy had at the onset, just as Sergeant Leonard and Sergeant Worbington had done when they rallied the survivors of their badly mauled B company of the 1/16th Infantry Battalion to start laying down deadly return fires.  Do not get me wrong. The air strikes did help prevent the enemy from easily reassembling, but it was the "toe to toe" slugging defense by the men of Troop A, which kept a wretched and dehumanized enemy, from winning the night.

    It’s too bad that "after action analysis of this battle as well as that of many other battles fought by our citizen soldiers gave them so little credit, and air power so much credit, thus robbing these young Americans of a little bit more of the respect, which was due them. However, that was par for the course. In this battle, as well as in so many other ways, all our "boys" were chipped away at, by a little dab of misinterpreted information here and a little dab of misinterpreted information there, which for the most part would never be corrected.

    As I have already touched on, one of the most blatant misconceptions which I ran across again and again was the placement of so much importance on body counts. The truth is that many times air power got more than its share of the credit for one reason and one reason only. That reason was because success or failure was judged by enemy body counts in comparison to the number of Americans killed. This very false perception of strategic success as measured by the simplistic criteria of enemy body counts was a ridiculous notion then and it is a ridiculous now. Here is a universal truth for the New Testament Age in which we live. One group of humans, killing as many people as possible in another group of humans, will never provide a long-term solution for any human endeavor and it does not matter whether those targeted groups are killed in war or through the efforts of "Planned Parenthood". For us, as soldiers, the side effect of this wrong way of thinking biased military analysts toward underrating the effectiveness of the individual soldier and overrating the effectiveness of air power. Here is why that happened. You see, it is highly likely that most of the official count of 227 enemy dead at the battle of Ap Bau Bang was indeed killed by air strikes. Most of the dead bodies in many other battles of the war were also found to be victims of air strikes. Yet, body counts alone did not tell the whole story. Why? Because a bomb dropped in the middle of a group of people will severely incapacitate if not instantly kill everyone within a certain radius of the blast, so there is no one left standing to drag another wounded comrade off the battlefield. Therefore, dead and dying soldiers lay were they fall and are easily counted later after the battle is over. Shootouts are different. There is no shock wave from a blast to kill or disable everyone at once. Therefore, people will be left in good enough shape to drag away their wounded comrade even if both died later. Many times, these bodies would never be found to be added to the count. Yet, these wounded and dying were still out of the fight along with the person who dragged them away. I am saying all this to say that in almost all fire fights in the jungles of War Zone C there were many times more enemy wounded then dead. In the aftermath of shoot outs, which I witnessed personally, blood trails were everywhere, but we would find very few bodies, compared to the number of blood trails that were found. The next day, after the battle had ended at Ap Bau Bang, any soldier who was there to search the jungle and who is still alive today will confirm that there were tremendous numbers of blood trails and they will also say that they are sure many more of the enemy were killed, than the official report says. Yet, it’s too bad that it would be so long in the future before I would learn about the details of this battle so I could be armed with the truth to refute one more falsehood concerning the fighting ability of the average citizen soldier in Vietnam. "A Troop" was awarded an exceedingly rare Presidential Satiation, for their combined actions that night, having been "in country" only a little over two months.

   Like me, most of my fellow grunts never knew that a powerful NVA force like this was anywhere near Lai Khe. We had combed the area around Lai Khe, ourselves just a few days before, thinking we were only up against localized guerrillas. Looking back, armed with the facts, I now realize that it was NVA patrols that we were engaging from time to time, thinking they were just these local home-grown guerrillas. I know this now because the "after action" reports of the battle of Ap Bau Bang along with personal experiences give me enough information to make these informed assertions. Some of these reports mention that NVA attackers sometimes wore black. Yet our common belief was that only local guerrilla forces, which we called Viet Cong (V.C.) wore black and that the "much more to be feared" regular NVA soldiers wore green or khaki uniforms with helmets. So, when we ran across enemy patrols, who were always dressed in black we incorrectly assumed that they were always just local inhabitants who had taken up with the Communist, the "B" team if you will.

    After reading a number of these "after action" reports, I will always wonder what really lay just ahead of me on the day that I almost got squashed by the big tree. It very well could have been elements of this 273rd Regiment who were waiting to "waylay" my unit, as the 101st NVA regiment had done to B company of the 1/16th battalion at the Battle of Prek Klok I. Did our new commander spot signs of the trap, maybe from the H-13 bubble helicopter he had just been issued? I simply do not know. However, he would not have bothered to call in an air strike so close to the leading edge of our line of march unless he had good reason to do so. That, I am sure of. However, I may never know the exact reason for calling in that air strike.   

    We arrived at Quan Loi in the afternoon of March 13th and were then dropped in by helicopters the next day to secure a portion of Highway 246 west of An Loc. It was not unusual for artillery flares to be dropped on our NDP throughout the nights, giving a strange white glow which created dancing shadows on the jungle landscape around us. Each time we heard the popping sound of a "flare chute" as it opened, it caused a jabbing little pain inside us somewhere, becoming a constant reminder, that we were on extremely dangerous ground. If captured on film, these little lights, fired from artillery located at another NDP as far away as seven miles would have provided an enticing prelude to any war movie battle scene. In our case, however, this was just a prelude. The main battle scene was never staged with us as part of the cast. Instead, the enemy chose to attack the 3/5th on the 20th of March close to where we had just come from. On the 19th of March two companies of the 3/22nd battalion made a landing in a hot LZ code named "Gold" and lost three helicopters with six others damaged. 15 men were killed and 28 wounded. We were only 15 miles northeast of them when it happened, but again, the enemy chose on the 21st of March to attack this same unit in their night defensive positions, instead of attacking our unit. That battle would win the dubious distinction of being the largest battle of the war to date. A force of around 450 Americans was attacked by over 2500 NVA soldiers at fire base "Gold". When the battle was over, we Americans had lost another 31 killed in action and 109 wounded. I do not have the heart to list all the tactical mistakes that were made. It was excepted as a grand victory by Westmoreland. His simplistic way of thinking told him that trading over 850 enemy dead for 31 of our boys was a big win on the path to victory. I have only one question. If this was the largest win, to date, taking the American military down the correct path to ultimate victory, then why weren't we grunts informed of this great victory? Again, I would know nothing of either of these battles until I started my research to write this book. At the time I still labored under the false perception that we were fighting "hit and run" fire fights with a bunch of "home boys".

    For the next couple weeks we operated in and around a bridge construction on Highway 246. My squad, as usual, pulled our share of the ambush patrols, but time after time we made no contact, and things were relatively quiet around the bridge. Every now and again the sounds of machine gun fire and artillery shells could be heard, but our focus was on the traffic coming and going down Highway 246. The month of March was fast fading into April and none of us grunts had been exposed to anything that anyone would consider trouble too big for a powerful unit like ours to handle. Yes, we were ever vigilant for snipers, small ambushes, booby traps and I.E.Ds on the roads, but those were facts of life no matter whether we were patrolling in triple canopy jungles or in the rice patties just north of Saigon and the small hamlets dotting their outskirts. In this present location around An Loc and Quan Loi, which was seven miles further east, there were fewer civilians traveling the roads during the day but during this operation that void was filled by the increased number of military conveys. Tanks and tracks were everywhere providing security for these convoys. When we ventured out of the rubber trees surrounding Quan Loi the landscape became triple canopy jungle terrain with much steeper hills to the north of Quan Loi than those to the south and southwest. The ground was mostly hard laterite which was ideal for digging tunnels and the enemy had been doing that for years before we got there.

    Through the rest of March we played a kind of "musical chairs" with the rest of the battalions in Division, as we moved back and forth between locations on highway 246. In reality, we were just waiting on the music to stop and the enemy to try and "yank" one of these locations away from us with an all-out attack on one of our nine battalions. Morale in our own battalion was higher than it had been, ever, since I joined the unit. There were several reasons for this and one of those reasons could be found in the fallen nature of all men everywhere.  You see, natural feelings, which fuel morale, seldom line up with reality, especially in war. If it had, our morale would not only have been nonexistent, but every soldier, lacking a relationship with the Holy Spirit, would have lost his "ever loving" mind. The prospect of us having to face the horror of a big battle, however, was the furthest thing from anyone's thoughts, save our battalion commander. Russell Johnson was killed by a booby trap, Donald Mills by an I.E.D., Alanzo Matthews by a "short" round and Harold Vanbuskirk by a sapper. People were getting killed and wounded one or two at a time in ambushes, mortar attacks and by sappers. Sappers were blowing up convoy vehicles daily, but that had somehow become okay. However, I heard none of our people express any concern whatsoever that we might be over run in a human wave attack. "Mushrooms" don't have concerns like that. If a Korean veteran or two did believe in that possibility than none of us older grunts would have heeded his warnings anyway. So, "there you have it". Sadly, many of these old combat "lifers" kept their mouths shut and did their time just like the rest of us. At least our new commander had given us a few good pep talks, assuring us that he was not going to have us stick out our necks unnecessarily and we believed him, because his actions were already beginning to match what he was saying. By now, we had observed his commanding use of artillery and air power and that command was impressive. I had been able to experience it "up front and personal" during the "flying tree" incident. Having said all this, I will repeat again, that, yes, the morale of our unit was very high. However, that was of little importance for America as a whole and especially for the Vietnamese people. Hundreds of thousands would die over the next few years at the hands of the Communist, and even after the Communists had won the war, as well.

     This following incident has nothing to do with any of these larger points, except that it happened during this moment in time, while I was riding on an APC. I am only mentioning it so it can become recorded for posterity. One day, while riding down highway 246 on top of this "mechanical death trap", the driver got orders to reverse course, so he did a reverse turn in the middle of the road, while never slowing down. Centrifugal force sent me sailing over an embankment, rolling head over heels down through the jungle. When I stopped rolling, I was standing upright with my M-14 at the "present arms" position. I could have broken my careless neck but I wasn't about to let go of the "dearest friend" I had in the world at the time, which was that M-14 rifle.

    Being a grunt on any operation was always filled with stress, but on March 28th that stress level was ratcheted up a notch as we watched the 2/16th Infantry battalion ride into our positions around the bridge construction on top of APC tracks. It was early afternoon when they spread out to relieve us at each of our positions, which they were now going to get to enjoy without having to shovel a single "shovel full" of dirt. We were ordered to "saddle up" and load onto other ACP's which eventually showed up and carried us down route 246, west, to another base camp (I believe it was a location known as fire base C). After arriving, we stood around at this new fire base for an hour or so, waiting on orders to replace the present occupants "in place" as had been done to us earlier in the day. We were really looking forward to getting settled in as soon as possible so we could take advantage of their hard work digging bunkers, as we had been taken advantage of earlier. We waited and waited for orders. Then I glimpsed Sergeant Bartee, walking back from the meeting, which officers and NCOs routinely attended, each time we arrived at a new location. However, this time his head was down, and his feet were dragging a little more than usual. That told every "ole guy" in the squad that we were not going to like what he was going to say. No, the news coming out of that meeting was not good. As he approached the squad, out of habit, we bunched together close enough so everyone could hear. "Don't get too comfortable", he said, raising his voice just a little in anticipation of some "moaning and groaning". We are waiting for enough APCs to finish road security details so they can take us to another location. The 1/2nd Infantry battalion guys standing around behind us, were as quiet as "church mice", after the bad news was delivered to us because, at the same time, it was good news to them. They were the guys we thought we were going to relieve, "in place", so they had good reason to keep quiet. They knew that we had just drawn the short straw, and they weren't stupid enough to invite a fist in the face, by opening their big mouths. Now, it would be us instead of them who got to dig in after dark in a new location, possibly getting ambushed in the process. 

    As we loaded onto APC's and headed west the sun was going down in our faces. There was no one on this narrow road but us now. All the American convoys had bedded down somewhere for the night. The jungle came to the very edge of the dirt road in front of us and as our vehicle tunneled through over hanging branches, we were forced to duck, periodically, or be sweep off our ride, to possibly be run over by the APC following behind. This entire episode began to give me a "down right" spooky feeling in the pit of my stomach. Here we were, riding on "aluminum ten cans", yes aluminum, making enough noise to let everyone know that we were coming for at least a couple miles away. That was plenty of time to allow the enemy to set up a "whale" of an ambush. I remember thinking, "Give me the closed-in concealment of the jungle any time, day or night, instead of riding out here in the open on top of this "I.E.D. magnet". Yet, on and on we went while the sun was beginning to set. Our destination was only about five miles away, but it seemed like it was much further than that. We had not had a hot meal the entire day, and we had begun the day at 0500 hours. We had been pulling patrols and road security all day, before the decision was made to move us to this new location. Some grunts in my platoon had spent all night the night before on ambush patrols. Just before we reached our destination, a bubble helicopter skimmed the treetops, and came straight at us. It then circled out of sight, briefly reappearing over us again, and vanishing for good in the distance down the road. When we arrived at our destination, a twenty-acre clearing, the armored unit which we rode in on held down the fort until we "dismounted" and established a perimeter. To my surprise a hand full of mechanized 155 MM guns, which had apparently been bringing up the rear of our convoy joined us and immediately began to set up shop. Their crews began unloading several "duce-n-a-half" trucks which had also been following us. The little bubble H-13 helicopter was now parked in the middle of the clearing up a slight incline behind where my squad ended up staking out our positions. Two of the big guns, pulled in and parked on either side of it. A short, but stout framed figure was standing beside the chopper with several radio operators and a couple other officers surrounding him. The figure was our very recognizable 38-year-old battalion commander, radio call sign "Dogface 6". It was obvious that he had been the one in the helicopter who "buzzed" us on the road. Oh, and I just remembered that I have not yet bothered to tell my readers his name. He was the little brother of Lauro Cavazos and his name was Richard Cavazos.

    Very soon the night closed in around us and it became almost pitch black. Flares began to "magically" appear overhead, but it was not magic at all. It was delivered by flare canisters being shot from the big guns of another fire base located several miles down the road. Their lights illuminated the area so we could see to dig in. However, the ground was extremely hard, and it quickly became clear to everyone that this job was not going to be easy. When midnight came, we were still digging. The flares kept coming, making little popping sounds as their parachutes opened above us. As they descended to the ground, they created weird shadows which danced against the jungle backdrop. The effect was enhanced by the flare, itself, as it swung back and forth below its little white parachute, giving eerie motion to those shadows.

    One of the guys in my platoon was especially perturbed about the situation. His wife had recently sent him a "Dear John" letter and I am sure that aggravated his mood even more. As he was digging, he started cussing louder and louder. He could be heard a long way off by everyone on our side of the perimeter and there was not a single N.C.O. who bothered telling him to calm down. We were all "bone tired" and if the truth be known he was probably saying nothing more than what the rest of us, including the N.C.O.s, felt like saying.

    As this loud cussing streak continued, this "red faced man" became so focused on digging and cussing in cadence with every blow of his entrenching tool that he failed to see two shadowy figures quietly approaching from the direction of the big guns behind us. It was Richard and our B company C.O. They managed to walk within six feet of the hole this guy was digging, without being seen by him. Richard now stood directly behind and above the man, with his hands on his hips, looking straight down at him. Oblivious to their presence, the "cussing soldier" just kept digging and cussing away. It seemed like a long time but was probably no more than fifteen seconds. Finally, the man glanced up from his work long enough to notice that the rest of us were standing "dead still" looking steadfastly at something behind him. This caused him to stop digging and look to his rear as well. When he did, he immediately threw down his entrenching tool, did an "about face", stood straight up and saluted our battalion commander, which was something we really were not supposed to do while in the field. There was no return salute, as everyone including the cussing soldier waited on the inevitable "dressing down" which would surely come from Richard, or any commander, for that matter, in the First Division. Yet, the "dressing down" never came. Instead, as the soldier slowly lowered his salute, Richard, with a very measured tone in his voice, beckoned the soldier to come up out of his hole and face him face to face. The man meekly complied and climbed out of his half-dug foxhole. Then, as the soldier stood very still before him, he calmly spoke to the soldier as if he were speaking to his own son. I have never forgotten those words to this very day. They were not rebuking words. Nor were they angry or accusatory words. They were just remarkably simple and very direct words which stated the facts. "I know how tired you are and how hard this ground is, but you have got to finish digging that hole, because it will save your life". Now, get back down there and finish the job”. As the man turned to jump back into his foxhole, Richard then caught him with a gentle tap of his right boot to the man's rear end. That was the icing on the cake in this model display of command presence and the man responded appropriately, with a loud fake grunt, while looking back over his shoulder with a smile on his face. There is no doubt in my mind that this entire scene had been choreographed during past command experiences in the life of this veteran commander, possibly as far back as some of his interactions with his own father as a child. Now, it was not only being replayed for the cussing man's benefit, but for the other fifteen or twenty grunts standing nearby, as well. It was also a lesson in real leadership for our "numb-scull" company commander, Captain Brown, to make note of. It is too bad that Brown lost his pencil, before he was able to jot down anything. After the two commanders moved on and everyone went back to their digging, far from being angry, the cussing man kept looking around at the rest of us, with that same sheepish grin on his face. That silly little grin “pretty-well” said it all. It told how this seemingly insignificant encounter between "Dogface 6" and us frustrated grunts could not only be used to defuse our growing frustrations, but it also was a good example of how great leaders are able to bond with those they lead in the smallest of ways long before the big the battles take place. I have remembered this moment for over fifty years, while forgetting many other times when I was shot at and mortared by the enemy. That I remembered this particular incident for so long, is "proof enough", of the power that a single caring encounter could have on people, even during otherwise depressing, dark and dangerous times. The carefully chosen and caring words spoken by Richard is an example which should be emulated by all humans in their verbal interactions with their fellow sojourners in life, no matter what the relationship, or the status of either. Before the cussing man incident, I had already come to respect this commander's judgment in the field. Now I was beginning to admire the man, himself. It would take over a half century, but I would eventually discover that I was not alone in my life long perceptions of him.

    As the sun was coming up the next day, after hastily eating a hearty canteen cup full of dehydrated vegetable soup, we were told to assemble by squads. I loved that soup and slurped down a third cup before hurrying to join my squad. It was flown out to us in insulated Mermite containers and served by our company cooks. By this time in my tour of duty, I was so tired of eating C-rations that many times this would be my only meal for the entire day, unless I could scrounge up a can of apricots or peaches. Each night the enemy would mine the road that we came in on and each morning squad sized patrols from my unit would take turns walking inside the jungle on either side of the road as the mine clearing crews walked down the middle of the road, sweeping it with their portable minesweepers. It is important to note here that the entire area was considered a "kill on sight" zone. There were no civilians traveling on this road unless they were part of a military convoy. That first day after patrolling each side of the road while the mine sweepers walked the middle of the road, we sit inside the jungle canopy some 20 meters off the road for the rest of the day, providing security for passing traffic. In late afternoon, we would be picked up by our platoon sergeant and led back to the NDP for the night. That first night I listened as several other grunts in my platoon described getting quick glimpses of camouflaged Viet Cong soldiers near their security positions on the road. I was amazed at one grunt's detailed account of what looked like a slow-moving bush gliding quietly toward him and then slowly fading away. He said that he was so mesmerized, that he was not able to act, as the figure melted back into the jungle foliage. Go figure. "You mean you just sat there and watched as this "bush" disappeared from view?", I asked. The soldier turned around and walked off, never answering me. Like him, I was a PFC, so I felt I had no power to correct him on anything. Also, although I was one of the oldest grunts in the platoon, and had performed flawlessly up until now, not a single NCO "saw fit" to empower me to correct the newer guys. I know now that this was not something which commonly happened throughout the division, but was something which happened a lot in my platoon. I am convinced that this oversight of our platoon NCOs was a blindness put upon them by Satan, especially designed to get at a Holy Spirit anointed believer like me, and it worked to some extent. Satan is a master at discrediting God's people in the eyes of the world. In other units of the division it was not unheard of for a PFC like me to be running an entire squad.

    In the middle of the night on the second night at "Thrust", the entire battalion was awakened and put on "alert". One of our squad ambush patrols had gotten into a fire fight with an unknown number of enemy troops. Several patrol members were shot up and the patrol was forced to leave equipment and weapons were they fell. At least they were able to get everyone back to the perimeter alive, even if they were wounded. It wasn't long until a dust-off arrived and landed inside the perimeter to take those wounded men away.

     The next morning my squad joined "Mike" platoon for a patrol to retrieve the gear, which had been left at the ambush site. It was one of "Mike's" squads which had been hit the night before and now my squad from "November" platoon was being loaned to "Mike" on this one patrol to take the place of their wounded squad. "Mike" had just gotten a new platoon leader recently. He put my squad in the rear of the patrol. That was a little disconcerting for me because I was used to being up front most of the time. As our single file column left the perimeter and  began to "snake" through the triple canopy jungle, "after action reports" say that we would have been able to hear the sound of bulldozers from the 1st engineering battalion led by Lt. Colonel Kiernan. They were busy improving our firing lanes for our positions at the NDP here at "Thrust". That was a good indication, in itself, that we were probably not going to be leaving this location anytime soon. There was another very good indication that we would be staying a while. The jungle around us was "crawling" with enemy patrols.

     The patrol of some 35 or 40 men seemed to be taking a zigzagging course to get to the ambush site, which was the smart thing to do. I don't believe the new platoon leader had enough combat experience, however, to choose that tactic on his own. No, that order came directly from "Dogface 6". I can be reasonably sure of that, because of the way the rest of our day unfolded. Besides, new Lieutenants just didn't know enough to know when and when not to zigzag. If we had walked directly on a straight course to the site, we would have been ambushed, for sure, before arriving at our destination, given the amount of enemy activity which we had been experiencing in the area. Many a new Lieutenant walked to his death this way, because most battalion commanders, themselves, didn't understand when to use this tactic. Lazzell , was one of those commanders. Woeful lack of tactical knowledge like this could have been so easily dealt with, by allowing returning veteran NCOs to school these officers in a simple three week course on how to counter the enemy's sapper tactics before they arrived "in country". Instead, field officers were only trained in traditional maneuvering tactics which got a lot of people unnecessarily killed in Vietnam's jungle combat environment.

     Bartee didn't go with us on this little outing, nor did Milliron. I believe Walker and Bowman were there. The squad leader from the "shot-up" squad took Bartee's place. He had no RTO with him. Maybe he had been wounded the night before. Anyway, my squad fell in last and began to follow the guy in front of us on this meandering course to the ambush site. The column slowed as we filed past a "Chinese looking" guy sitting against a small tree to our left. His lifeless hands were clutching a cloth tourniquet wrapped around his left leg. By now, I had seen a number of dead enemy bodies but this poor fellow gave me an especially eerie feeling, which I will never forget. As we filed by, everyone gazed at him without saying a word, but no one touched him. He had thick bushy hair and his skin was stained a dark red from living in red earthen tunnels for who knows how long, perhaps years. His leathery skin was more evidence of that fact.  It was obvious that he had been shot during the "fire fight" with our ambush patrol the night before. He had probably then become separated from his comrades in the darkness. As he sat there, with that spooky death gaze on his face, I had a flitting thought flick through my head. "Was he silently heralding to everyone who past by him, that soon, some of us would be joining him in his ghastly silence? Little did I know that this morbid thought was even now becoming a real possibility. and certainly would have come reality, if Richard had not brought along a part of the legacy of Henrietta King, when he joined the battalion.                               

    It was a very hot day and by the time we reached the ambush site and everyone was wringing wet with sweat. The huge trees of the triple canopy jungle seemed to hold the smothering heat in, but at least their shade also prevented the light starved undergrowth from becoming as thick as it would have become otherwise. All anyone wanted to do after securing the lost gear was to make a hasty retreat back to our NDP. Since all the equipment belonged to "Mike" platoon members, they were tasked with carrying it back to the perimeter, while my squad remained "hands free".   

     The NDP at "Thrust" was located on the south side of the intersection of Route 246 and 244 and just barely on the west side of Route 244. The ambush patrol which ran into trouble had been positioned along a couple intersecting trails due south of the NDP and maybe only a hundred meters or so off Route 244. "Mike" platoon leader had his point men shoot a compass reading straight to our NPD from the ambush site and we then started following that azimuth home. Since everyone was extremely hot and tired, including the Lieutenant, he ruled out any zigzagging on our way back. For better or worse, we followed a straight "bee line" course to within approximately 300 meters of our NDP, when the men in front of me stopped and the entire column stood still for what seemed like the longest time. The more open jungle became closed in now with much more dense foliage, because our line of march had angled closer and closer to route 244 and as a general rule, the jungle was thicker here. The Platoon leader and the point men up front, were the only people in the patrol who had the map and the compass to plot our way home. My squad in the rear of the column had no idea were we were going or how far away our base camp was. For all we knew, we could be on our way to Hanoi. About fifteen minutes passed, before we saw the platoon sergeant and the platoon leader working their way toward us from the front of the column. In a low voice, the platoon sergeant said that we were getting ready to do an "about face" to the left and walk about fifty yards to the road. For years, I have always believed that the new Lieutenant had taken it upon himself to ignore the "walk on no trail S.O.P." and instead used the road to travel the rest of the way home. Now, I am not so sure. Maybe "Dogface 6" told him to do that. Anyway, we did the "about face" and all walked "on line" until we all reached the road at about the same time. As I stood in the middle of the road, when I squinted through sweaty eyes, I could just glimpse the outline of a bunker and a 155 MM gun barrel sticking up in the air down the road. We were almost home and it was much easier walking on the road than it was clawing our way through the jungle. Now, in two columns, one on ether side of the road, we all started walking toward base camp in what could have very well been the last 300 meters of our lives, at least for some of us, if not for the next miracle of God.        

     My understanding of events like the one which I am recanting here have deepened over time as personal experiences in life have broadened my ability to reason. With that said, I believe it is possible for me to realistically fill in gaps in my stories with plausible explanations of events, conjectures if you will. This particular event is a case in point. Until just recently, has I have said, I had always believed that the new Lieutenant made the decision, himself, to walk on the road, without getting permission from the "ole man" thus personally violating the Richard's standing S.O.P. Now, thinking back, it also seems plausible to me, that "Dogface 6", himself, could have broken his own "standing" order, but immediately put some tactical safe guards in motion to compensate for breaking that rule. One of those safeguards was the use of the H-13 observation helicopter. Within a few seconds after starting our double column march down the road toward camp, that helicopter buzzed past us just above the tree tops. It was "Dogface 6", like a 'mother hen", trying to keep watch over us, as we walked the last several hundred meters to the relative safety of the NDP. Unfortunately, it was impossible for him to spot the well concealed ambush, hidden away by the triple canopy jungle below him. However, he had already anticipated this possibility, and had ordered our company commander to send "Lima" platoon in my company out to meet us. His experience told him that all ambushes had a few fundamental things in common, because he had been involved in his share of ambushes, during the Korean campaign. He, knew, with us walking down the road, any ambushers would have necessarily situated themselves just inside the wood line on both sides of the road between us and base camp. There they could watch our approach and get very accurate first shots as we came within range. More than likely, he also knew that the ambushers would be watching us so intently that they would not be watching for "Lima" people approaching them from their rear. "Lima" platoon left the perimeter, walking in two columns on either side of the road, just inside the wood line. They were inside the wood line so they could not be spotted by the ambushers. Headquarters then radioed our platoon leader to let him know what "lima" was doing. That word was passed down to every member of my patrol by word of mouth so we would not accidently shoot at them.                    

     A point man acquaintance of mine was leading the "Lima" column on the right side of the road, inside the wood line,  while the other half came down the other side. This was a guy whom I had known for a while. He was only about five feet six inches tall, but he was as "cool as a cucumber" under fire. Recently his dad had mailed him a "Smith & Wesson" revolver. When he got it, he was so proud of it, that he showed it off to everyone in the entire company, me included. Little did we know at the time, that a bullet, from that revolver would be the first shot heard in this upcoming fire fight. Indeed, as "Dogface 6" had suspected, ambushers were waiting for our patrol to come within range.

     My point man friend in "Lima" later told me that he was quietly walking toward us, watching closely for any movement to his front, when he spied one of the ambushers standing on his side of a small tree, and about ten meters away form him. Without much hesitation, he pulled out the revolver from a "makeshift" pouch attached to his ammo belt, aimed, and then squeezed off three shots into the sapper. He hit him in the upper torso with all three shots. The man had been so focused on watching us coming toward him, that he had become completely oblivious to anyone who may have been sneaking up on his "six". Again, like the dead sapper whom we saw earlier, leaning against the tree, this sapper's rough appearance was more evidence of the same sad story. Though he was my age, it was obvious that he had spent years in the jungles of South Vietnam, first victimized in early puberty, and then routinely subjected to increasingly stronger doses of venomous propaganda and intimidation by the criminal Communist regime in North Vietnam. That satanic ideology had ensured the transformation of his soul away from the unique and blessed life intended by God. Instead, he was forcibly put on a path to perdition, becoming "cannon fodder" for human wave attacks and later, an elite executioner, operating in smaller more trusted units. The transformation from pitiful hostage to potent perpetrator had been assured by the "iron clad" grasp on life and limb of the 18 "Hanoi Hoodlums" (the politburo) who controlled everything. First, these fiendish fellows had used fear to break apart his mind, and then they had reshaped it into the rabid sociopath which he had now become. He was a murderer, who upon orders from his thamuzian taskmasters, could as easily put a bullet in the head of a Vietnamese child as he could an American soldier. Indeed, an infamous sapper in Saigon, during the upcoming "Tet Offensive" would do just that. That sapper's picture would go around the world, showing him getting his brains blown out on the streets of Saigon. However, what was not shown was the grisly results of his last assignment in life, which was the murder of an entire South Vietnamese family, including all six children.           

     Very quickly after those first pistol shots rang out, I could hear rounds popping by my head and see dirt being kicked up as the ambusher's bullets slammed into the road bed around my feet. Everyone started running forward as fast as we could, while laying down suppressing fire on both sides of the road. The ambushers didn't have long to shoot at us before they, themselves, were forced to duck hot lead coming from the men of "Lima" platoon. "Dogface 6" had really put the veteran "Lima" platoon in the "catbird seat". All they had to do was run two or three abreast, laying down suppressing fire inside the wood line. Since that fire was directed inside the wood line, there was very little chance of a stray bullet hitting us on the road. This situation now left the ambushers with two choices in life. They could either choose to stick around and be overcome by withering fire, or they could go home. They very wisely choice to go home.

     A man from "Mike" platoon, who was running in front of me during the short fire fight was very nervous. He kept trying to jam another magazine into his rifle but kept dropping the magazine. He would then reach for another magazine in his ammo pouch, instead of stopping to pick up the one he dropped. Since we both had M-14's I remember grabbing his dropped magazines on the fly and using them myself. M-14 magazines were not that easy to come by and I wasn't about to leave one lying in the dirt, if I could help it. Later, I don't remember ever returning those magazines to him.

     We soon met up with "Lima". All firing at that point had stopped. One man in "Mike" platoon received a flesh wound to the leg. Other than that, everyone returned to our NDP unscathed. The rest of the afternoon was more enjoyable than most afternoons. It seemed that narrow escapes from getting killed or badly wounded always evoked a kind of euphoria in us grunts. This harrowing event also reinforced the fact that "Dogface 6" was there in the thick of things, taking very sensible actions to help all his boys survive to fight another day.

     On this same afternoon, shortly after our shootout with the ambushers, the men inside our perimeter would have been able to see in the distance and hear the noise made by beating rotors of a swarm of Hueys" as they passed by us on their way to land the "Blue Spaders" led by Lt. Col. Alexander Haig. They were making an air assault landing three miles away into an LZ named "George". There would be no enemy resistance as they landed.

     Haig was not the kind of man who left anything to chance, yet he was not a "fretter" either. In addition to overseeing the initial landing and the exact placement of his own battalion's defensive positions, he also would have met soon afterward with his officers and key N.C.O.s including the F.O. (forward observer) assigned to his unit. His faithful S3 (operations officer) Capt. George Joulwan would have been standing at his side. In that meeting, as he stood in the middle of tall grass, a good analogy for comparison would be to say that the overkill placing Haig in command of an infantry battalion was like placing a P.H.D. as chaperon on field trip for "grade-schoolers". His highly developed interpersonal skills forged during any number of combat situations in Korea would have allowed him to ask concise but probing questions of battalion leaders under him specifically designed to quickly and accurately assess for himself the state of combat readiness of the battalion at this present time. Vast and fortuitous interactions in his past, with other humans, in all walks and levels of life, some on a much grander scale, mixed with his own ability to accurately deal with reality was now allowing Haig to not only sort out the truth in every response he received from his jungle subordinates but also how to apply that true to the situation at hand. It was a rare thing for any fighting man in Vietnam to be blessed with a leader like Haig. It was even more rare for a person like Haig to be in command of grunts in the first place. Almost his entire career he had been an underling in the courts of very elitist human endeavors, yet he had never quit striving to be lowered into his present position. Simply put, he was his own man and a unique drop of fresh water amongst a misty cloud of clones.

     God had stenciled common sense understanding a little more deeply on the heart of Haig than most. Yet, giftings without opportunities are wasted. This is where the fortuitous part of Haig's life came into play and there are only two rulers in control of opportunities, "The Ruler of heaven" and the "ruler of this world" (Satan). To be sure, it was not the ruler of this world who arranged the opportunity for young Captain Haig to be the officer on duty manning the phones on June 25, 1950 when the Ambassador of South Korea called Japan to inform General MacArthur that South Korea was being invaded by the North. It was not the ruler of this world who allowed Haig to be placed as aid-de-camp to Almond who was MacArthur's "crusty ole" Chief of staff during the Korean conflict. It was not the ruler of this world who placed Haig in key positions at the Pentagon to be able to observe the inner workings of America's national diplomacy first hand in the Middle East as well as Europe.                 

     Upon setting up his defenses, the forty two year old Haig made the rounds, inspecting each "DePuy" bunker to make sure it was constructed and positioned correctly with proper firing lanes. He noticed one spot on the north side of the perimeter, that was particularly worrisome, because the thick jungle came awfully close to a couple positions on the perimeter. Yes, this was a weak point in his defenses, but Haig also understood, that there were always going to be less-than-perfect situations in life. He wasn't going to have "tired men" shift an entire section of the perimeter defenses at this juncture in time. That would be foolish and Haig was no fool. He was, however, a man who wore a chip on his shoulder and I might add a man who wears a chip is in danger of becoming a fool if he does not wear that chip well. However, Haig wore his well. That chip was created in the aftermath of his father's sudden death, when he was only nine. It was during the height of the Great Depression and his entire family struggled sorely, emotionally as well as financially. A "God sent" uncle provided the emotional as well as financial support that the family needed to not only make it through this difficult time but to also flourish. It's another version of the "Henrietta and Richard Cavazos story" which gives more evidence to the fact that God's blessings flow through a wide range of human personalities, for the good of future generations, especially when those personalities actively promote the Godly principle of unselfishly helping meet the material needs of others. This same uncle opened up a door of opportunity for Haig to attend Notre Dame and later West Point.   

     Safely back in our positions, we resupplied ourselves with ammo, cleaned our weapons, and checked our claymore mines and trip flares to the front of our fighting positions along the perimeter. The big guns behind us kept firing away. Much of the firing was still in support of the helicopter landing at "George". The artillery officer embedded with us was having his crew register coordinates for quick firing reference on potential trouble spots around the perimeter of "George". For sure, he would have been communicating by radio with the FO (forward observer)  attached to Haig's 1/26th battalion. Registration coordinates written on a small note pad by our position's artillery officer would have ensured later reference for placement of quick accurate "fires" just in case of an attack on that NDP. From our standpoint, however, it meant that we had to listen to a lot of noisy guns blasting away for most of the afternoon.

     "Fire Base C" to our east (2nd Brigade Headquarters) also provided artillery support for both "George" and "Thrust". We also had the 173rd Airborne, to our south, which was in range, providing artillery fires for us and I believe the others too.

     Now, let's go back to my squad's situation on those few fateful days after the foiled ambush. The loud noise produced our big guns was creating imperceptible but eruptible damage to the cochlea of everyone's ears. As I have said, they kept shooting until late afternoon on the 30th. However, their noisy business didn't stop Bowman from falling sound asleep, laying on his back beside our "fox hole". The "poor boy" needed his rest to recuperate from the "running fire fight" which he had endured earlier in the day. Indeed, it had been a trying day for all of us but "no sweat". We would later be rewarded by being branded as "baby killers", son's of "white privilege" and worse yet, Walker would be portrayed as some one too stupid to fill out a voter registration. Bartee and Milliron were "Who knows where?". I was lying beside Bowman starring up at the sky, listening to Saigon radio through an ear plug attached to a small transistor radio, which I had picked up at the PX at Di An. Our camp's artillery guns finally went silent, which caused a strange sense of peace to fall on everyone. Then it happened. The sun had almost set when I heard an incoming round explode just outside and north of our perimeter. I didn't bother to look up because it wasn't that unusual for one of the other fire bases to lob random shells around the outside of our perimeter. Another blast hit closer to our perimeter. This time I simply rolled over and allowed myself to fall into our three man foxhole, just to be on the "safe side". I saw no need to wake Bowman who seemed to be resting so peacefully. Another round hit and then another. They were landing inside the perimeter now and much closer to our position. It was obvious that we were being mortared by the enemy. At the same time my mind came to that realization, another mortar round landed about twenty meters behind our position and almost immediately Bowman started screaming. He had been hit, but he laid still in the same spot where he had fallen asleep. He was stretched out, on his back, clinching his hands into fists, with arms straight beside him. The screaming turned into moans, which turned into words. Those words kept repeating over and over, "Its my stomach. Its my stomach. Its my stomach". The mortar attack ended as quickly as it started and within a few seconds Milliron appeared "out of nowhere". As he knelt beside Bowman, I reached up from where I was standing in the foxhole and unbuttoned Bowman's Army green fatigue shirt over his stomach. He was still moaning as I grabbed a very hot jagged piece of spent shrapnel laying on his bare skin. That hot metal was causing the pain. It had burned a patch of skin near his navel. I quickly flung it away but not before this three inch chunk of smoking hot shrapnel left a burn blister on the thumb and forefinger of my right hand. Oh well, at least it wasn't my trigger finger. I was left handed. The entire squad was relieved that Bowman was okay and I made the three of us a big cup of my famous C-ration hot chocolate to celebrate being alive to see the sun go down. Although there were over 2000 NVA of the 271st NVA regiment near us and only around three hundred of us, when we were mortared, no assault followed the mortar attack on our position. It seemed that the enemy was formulating other plans with Haig in their cross hairs.   

     The next day, March 31st, the 1/2nd Infantry Battalion was landed at "George" and immediately marched south,  crossing to the south side of Rt. 246 about one "click" (Kilometer) due south of their "drop zone" at "George". They then established an NDP which was six "clicks" west by north west of our position. The 1/2nd was led by " Lt. Col. William Simpson.

     This same morning Haig's Long Range Recon Platoon (LRRPS) started out from base camp, making a probe in a northeastern direction into the thick jungle. The day before, shortly after landing, security patrols had discovered lots of freshly dug enemy positions around the grassy LZ and freshly traveled trails within the wood line of the triple canopy jungle. Grunts on this patrol who had been accepted into this LRRP platoon were not your average grunt. They had proven themselves to be highly proficient at their jobs while in a "line company" like mine. Twenty one year old Pete Petersen from Garden Gove, California was walking point for the LRRP patrol that morning. Like me, he was a draftee who had started his tour of duty a month before I had. I believe it is highly possible that he was the point man leading his battalion during those same dark night marches where I had that "Doubting Thomas" 2nd Lieutenant question me about the accuracy of of my readings on our location. The main reason I will always believe that Pete was on point for the "Blue Spaders" during this time is because he was later accepted as a LRRP point man and LRRPs only accepted the best. Secondly, I have recently learned that it was General DePuy who put us up to making these rare night marches and that his favored "Blue Spaders" was definitely in on the fun. Since Pete, by this time,  would have obviously shown himself to be a superior navigator, its more than probable that he was up front, leading the battalion, during these moonless adventures. This exposer would have made him a shoe-in when he volunteered to join the LRRPs. As a side note, I have also learned that some areas Pete's battalion crossed through on those black night marches were heavily booby trapped. Of course, all this is just speculation on my part, but what is not speculation is the fact that Pete was the best of the best at what he was doing on this day. Also let me note here that Pete was not just at the tip of the spear. He was the very point, itself.