Exert 5 - The Voice of God
     Next morning it was business as usual for us. After our continental breakfast and halfway through my half-filled canteen-cup of coffee, Bartee appeared from his morning briefing and immediately delivered the word, that our squad would be running a patrol this morning. He and I began reviewing the route drawn on his map, while his RTO hung close and listened. This guy never seemed to hold a grudge against me for yanking his rifle out of his bullying hands, but from that day forward, I never liked him. I 'am sure that's why I can't remember his name. As we continued to review and commit to memory the azimuths for each check point, on the map, the other men in my squad automatically started rounding up what they needed for the patrol. They began sorting out what would be carried on the patrol and what would be left behind, as dead weight. Bartee had an experienced crew here, so he made no inspection of each individual grunt. He was not a "hen-pecker" and we liked him for that. The other four guys, including Walker, as usual, didn't look on, while Bartee and I studied the map. They couldn't have cared less because it wasn't their job to navigate. So, why should they listen to us discuss the route, when they could be enjoying the last few bites of "Tex's" home-made donuts and maybe a good smoke? I dread thinking about how they would have gotten home if something had happened to Bartee or myself, but then, I was the eternal "over-thinker".    

     A mild drizzle began to fall as we left the perimeter and headed out, following our first azimuth, through the virgin jungle. The drizzling rain was protection against our patrol being detected by the "black pajama watchers" staked out around the clearing. It muffled the noise we made. Rain also prevented the enemy from smelling us. Not far into the jungle, I walked past a few dead enemy bodies left lying around from yesterday's battle and crossed an ox cart trail. It had been drilled into us, by Dick, not to walk on those trails and I thought that I understood the entire reason for that. However, I only understood in part. You see, enemy ambushes on trails were not the only thing to fear. Booby traps were also to be feared and they were almost always placed on trails, around camps and in tunnels. However, they were almost never placed in the wide expanses of the jungle. I walked point on many patrols, while serving in Vietnam, and I never walked a single trail, except for that day at "Thrust". I also never ran across a single booby trap. Not walking trails, and the fact, that I had been raised by a father who taught me a little about navigating the woods, contributed greatly to my survival. Itís true, that my father put no emphasis whatsoever on encouraging me to become involved in sports, as other fathers did. No doubt sports and other school activities encouraged by the other fathers gave their sons a head start over me in the civilized world. However, this world was not civilized and I don't think that I would have survived this uncivilized one to return to that other one, if not for those alternative lessons, which I learned from my father. Those learned lessons meant that I had no problem holding the compass, shooting a bearing, and continually counting paces, with no help from anyone else, although it would have been nice if Milliron and Bowman could have been there. The distance to the first check point was around 800 meters. The second check point would be almost twice that. This was no short security patrol. It was more like a recon patrol and the longest squad patrol, which I had ever run. There was one more thing, worth mentioning. It was something which was hugely important to the survival of any patrol.  It was our squad radio, and, on this day, it would literally save our lives. Truth is, it could be a big distraction for a point man like me, so I almost always tuned it out. Lately, I was able to count on Sergeant Bartee more than when he first showed up to take over the squad. Since the volume on the radio would always be turned down, he would relay to me, what I needed to know. Today, without Milliron and Bowman's help, it was more important, than ever, to ignore the radio and give my full attention to the job, at hand.

     Looking back now, after analyzing various "after action reports" it was apparent, that there was a lot of signs, indicating a heavy enemy presence still in this area of operation. The enemy unit, which attacked Lazzell at LZ X-Ray, was also the same unit, which attacked Alexander Haig near the Cambodian border, on April 1. That was only two and a half months ago. Now, this same unit had just mounted a full-strength attack over sixty miles closer to Saigon. Something wasn't adding up. Could it be, that decimated units like the 271st were not retreating to Cambodia every time they got "shot up", as we naive Americans believed? Given time constraints, that just didn't seem to be plausible. How could Thanh have Triet do that, and yet, show up again, so soon, sixty miles further south? It seems to me now, that we Americans, who are so susceptible to any Svengali with a smooth talking voice in the media, were easily swayed by the leftist leaning viewpoints. Those viewpoints not only seemed to give too much credit to the enemy's fighting ability, but also way too much virtue to the leaders of their side of the conflict. There simply would not have been enough time for Thanh to have reconstituted this unit, transforming raw recruits, into what is described as the "fabled" and "storied" veteran jungle warriors, whom we read about even to this very day when doing a "Google search" using a key word like "Vietnamese murdering communist sociopath". Here is a much more plausible explanation. Shortly after the battle of Ap Gu, the surviving conscripts of the 271st kept moving south, and their ranks were replenished, on the march. They took temporary breaks to resupply and rest along the way, in the numerous base camps, scattered from Cambodia to the outskirts of Saigon. These NVA forces were not "long time" veterans, as we supposed, but instead, were "doped-up" brown and green uniformed teenage conscripts, whose jungle fighting skills were limited to, not much more, than a ten-minute lesson, on how to fire an AK 47 or a handheld rocket launcher. They were also given a very short lesson on how to respond to a whistle or a bugle, so their hard core communist cadre could more easily herd them into their "suicidal death charge" positions. My guess is that anyone refusing would have been immediately shot in the head.   

     On this day, as on many other days, my squad patrol was in close proximity, to many enemy forces of all sizes. So, with this heavy enemy presence, why weren't our unit's small patrols making more contacts? Here is one major reason Dick made sure our patrols stayed off trails. However, because speed was essential to the enemy, they mostly stayed on the trails. They didn't have helicopters and other transport aircraft. So, their vast network of trails was how the enemy got around so quickly, staying on course, to perform a myriad of murderous, but time sensitive missions. Clawing through thick jungle vegetation, to ambush a small American patrol was not a wise use of their valuable time. They usually had "bigger fish to fry", than ambushing a small patrol, like our patrol on this particular morning.

     After we had gone almost due west for three or four hundred meters, it's possible that we heard the blades of a Huey, as it brought General Hay back to our location for a second time. It is also possible, that we heard Westmoreland and the news crews, when they landed at LZ X-Ray. However, whether we did hear and whether we did know, or not, would have made little difference. In Vietnam, a small patrol like ours was a world unto itself. It would be over fifty years later before I learned from Hearne, that the brass had paid a visit to LZ X-Ray. Westmoreland stayed quite a while. Medals were handed out, which, except for the Medal of Honor, has always been a very subjective undertaking. Medic, Mike Stout, received a silver star, but machine gunners Garcia and Pointer, who prevented the entire northeastern section of the line from collapsing, the day before did not.

     Not long into Westmoreland's visit, a new guy in B Company 2/28th, David Aldridge, was making his very first security sweep, just outside the perimeter, along with Staff Sergeant Jiminez, the team's RTO, Buck Sergeant Glover and point man Guy Clinger. New guy, Aldridge, had been assigned to Guy Clinger's position soon after he arrived the previous afternoon. His clothes were still bloody, from riding to X-Ray on a blood soaked Chinook, which had been evacuating the wounded. Before loading aboard, at Lai Khe, Aldridge had watched in horror, as many of the flying beast's "walking wounded" had helped others stumble down the off-ramp. When Aldridge arrived at X-Ray to join his unit for the first time, my unit was already there. He was assigned to Guy Clinger's squad. He arrived too late to take part in the big battle, so he and Clinger immediately started digging in and talking non-stop. With only their entrenching tools, to do the job, digging their DePuy bunker took almost the entire night. Now, as the tired Aldridge began his first full day in the field, I am sure he had no idea, that he was about to earn his Combat Infantry Badge so soon. Here is how that happened. Since Westmoreland was nearby and walking the perimeter, someone sent Aldridge and members of his squad to check out one of those dangerous ox cart trails. That's when trouble found him. His fire team had walked only a little ways down the trail, when they surprised some sappers assigned, by Triet, to keep an eye on us Americans. When the fire fight ended, David Aldridge had earned his C.I.B. and lost his new-found buddy, Guy Clinger. This all happened within his first 24 hours in the field. I thank God, that we had a commander who unilaterally took the initiative to enforce an order for us to stay off trails. We crossed trails, walked beside trails and ambushed trails, but we never walked on trails. As a matter of fact, I was now leading my squad alongside a well-traveled ox cart trail, which skirted the bamboo ticket to my left. The 25 meters or so, of jungle foliage between us and the trail, however, concealed our movement and the wet jungle deadened the sounds we made, to any foot traffic passing by our patrol on the trail.       

     I am sure my patrol was still close enough, to hear the shooting going on back at the NDP. However, random shooting was common. If we heard the fire fight, we would not necessarily have associated it, with being a hostile action. It could have been "practice firing" of some sort. Furthermore, while on patrol, for noise abatement reasons, no news of a small fire fight would have been transmitted to our ears by radio. Generally speaking, base rarely called us, unless we called them first. So, I continued to lead my little band further and further into the virgin jungle, skirting the thicker stuff to my front, by going left this time and right the next time. This technique worked, to cancel out errors in navigation. Staff Sergeant Bartee walked along silently about 10 meters behind me. Since our time at "Fire Base Thrust", he had gained an unwavering trust in my judgment calls.

     Somewhere in the jungle, to our front, the shrill shriek of a blue pitta could be heard above a chorus of other jungle birds. There were also bands of gray langur monkeys hiding high in the treetops, being completely quiet, as we passed by. I didn't spend a lot of time looking up. I knew that most threats would come from stumbling onto a patrol or a base camp and not from tree snipers. So, that's where my eyes "stayed peeled". We were passing through rather thick secondary undergrowth, it would have been hard for a tree sniper to look down and see me, as we passed by. Besides, why would tree snipers hang out in the middle of the jungle, waiting on a small patrol, like us, to come along? They wouldn't. I also rarely looked back unless Bartee whispered for me to do so. When walking point, I suppose I was in what some point men called the "zone". I, personally, didn't have a name for it, but if I had, I would simply have simply called it "hunting". I just did what I had done in the George Washington National Forest of Virginia, so many times before, which was to spend one boring hour after another giving my full attention to spotting "out of place" details or movement to my front when I was deer hunting. I had also recently picked up a little trick from Walker, which helped a lot. Like him, I started draping a green towel around my neck, to periodically wipe the sweat and rain from my eyes, so I could see "better".

     I quietly announced our arrival at the first check point. With little ado, Bartee nodded. I then began "shooting " a new compass bearing. It was on an azimuth, which would take us almost due north. I can't remember whether Bartee allowed the men to pause for smokes, or not. More than likely, he did. The rain had now stopped completely, as we started the second leg of our journey. It would be almost a mile to our next check point. It was an easy walk. The route took us up a gentle incline, where the undergrowth thinned slightly. The thinner undergrowth allowed me to travel in a much straighter line toward our second check point. I could "sight in" my compass on objects, which were much further away. This increased our ability to stay on course while incrementally saving time, because I did not have to stop and reshoot headings, as often. The sky cleared and the sun above us was brilliant. Shards of almost liquid sunlight pierced the canopies of giant jungle trees, around us. These brilliant columns of light streaming from above to the jungle flooring below created the sensation, that I had just entered into the interior of "some grand cathedral". If not for the present circumstances, I am sure, that this little spot of earth, could have fooled even an "angel of God" into thinking that he was walking through the Garden of Eden. Thirty meters to my front a mongoose hopped from "spot to spot". While watching that mongoose, that same peaceful feeling came over me, which I had experienced months ago, as I sat along that riverbank. I know now that it was the peace associated with the "rising up" of the Holy Spirit, in my soul. He knew something, which we didn't. He knew, that left to our own devices, we were not going to live long enough, to reach our second check point, and He had known this since before the beginning of time. That's one reason He had already made sure that my squad now had the right squad leader and the right battalion commander for what was going to happen next.

     On and on we went. The men following behind were being exceptionally quiet this morning. They weren't dumb. They had arrived on the same chopper as me. They, too, had seen all the black body bags of our boys who had died in that battle the day before. They, too, had walked by the same enemy corpses strewn about, in the jungle around us, as we went about our business of preparing and improving our DePuy bunkers. That sight had already set a somber mood for our patrol. Furthermore, most of my squad members had been on enough security patrols to realize that we were going much further this time, than usual, which meant we would be much further away, if we needed help. The further we went, the more I could sense the growing fear in them. I could also sense that same fear starting to overshadow that brief Holy Spirit peace, which I had allowed myself to experience, as I momentarily soaked in the majesty and almost prehistoric grandeur of the jungle around me. Somewhere to our front I could hear the cry of another blue pitta. Within seconds after hearing his second shriek, I heard the voice. It was not an audible voice. Actually, it had a much more powerful effect on me, than if it had been an audible voice. This voice momentarily over-rode everything, which my five senses were telling me. It was the voice of The Holy Spirit and He simply said, 
"If you go any further then you are going to die". That message made me freeze, in my tracks. I then slowly turned, and just stood staring at Bartee, who was fifteen paces behind me. He knew I had something important to say, so he kept walking toward me, until he was within whispering distance. His radio man followed close behind, while the rest of the squad remained motionless. As he closed the gap between us, he never took his eyes off mine, and he never uttered a word. When he stopped, his face was five feet from my face. He just stood there as quietly, as if he was a "church goer" waiting for the praying to start. In that instant, as I stared into his handsome "twenty-six-year-old" countenance, his features became so ingrained in my mind, that I can still see them today, as clearly as I did then. He was five foot nine with sandy blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin. I can also see the droplets of sweat "beading up" on his face and dripping off his nose and chin. He had a very compliant expression, which said that he was willing to receive whatever I was about to say, with the same respect due the voice of God. At this instant, with all his faults, our squad could have asked for no better leader, than Sergeant Bartee. "They are just in front of us", I said, in a very "matter-of-fact" whisper. When this communication was given, Bartee's trusting demeanor never changed. There was not a hint of doubt in his face, as to the truth of what I had just said. However, I had no natural proof, whatsoever, to back up what I had just said. Without that proof, I am convinced no other squad leader in the entire First Division would have taken me at my word. Over the last few months, however, Bartee had developed the rare ability to trust me and the rest of his men, much more than before. You see, trust breeds trust just as suspicion breeds suspicion and Dick had by now laid a good foundation for trust instead of suspicion to start spreading amongst our ranks. In this present situation, however, here's the truth of the matter. Bartee trusted me more than I trusted myself. If he had questioned my judgment this time, as he had done, when he had first become our squad leader, there would have been no flak from me. In fact, I would have been the first to agree with any second guessing from him, in the absence of hard proof. Truth is, I, myself, was now starting to have doubts about whether I was correct or not. However, Bartee took my original unfiltered announcement and acted on it before I had time to verbalize a single crippling doubt. That was a mile stone for Bartee. Looking back now, I realize that Bartee, with all his faults, was the right person to be leading this patrol at this time. However, though Bartee wholeheartedly believed me, the final decision on whether or not to continue our patrol on course was not up to him.

Sergeant Bartee 1967

Picture of Sgt. Bartee Sent to Me
in 2017 by Fred Walters

     "I'll call "command" and see what they want us to do", Bartee whispered. Fortunately, Dick, himself, was made privy to the call. I say "fortunately", because there were many command levels between a security patrol and the battalion commander. In most cases, any of those levels could have unilaterally made the decision, to tell us what to do next. For example, Captain Brown was the CO of my B Company and the decision, on whether we were to continue our route, could have easily fallen to him, alone. Here was the problem with that. There really was an entire battalion sized enemy base camp located less than one hundred meters to our front, but I had no visible proof. Acting on a point man's word alone, was not something, which most leaders, at the time, would have done. The First Infantry Division just didn't operate on that level of trust. One major reason for this is because building trust takes time. The short rotation periods, of officers and men didn't give a unit's leaders enough time in combat to know themselves, much less many of their men. Bartee and Dick were perhaps the only two people in my entire unit who would have trusted me to this degree at this time. When Bartee called our command post to say that his point man believed there was an enemy force located directly to our front, not only did Dick not hesitate to tell us to turn around and back track the way we came, but he also told Bartee to mark our present location on the map. "America makes plenty of bombs", he told Bartee. "We will bomb this spot tonight and see if there is anything out there in front of your patrol. I don't want to take the chance of getting any of "you boys" hurt". As our patrol arrived back at base camp, I cannot describe how relieved everyone felt. Yet, there had been not the slightest contact with the enemy. It was uncanny, to feel that much relief for seemingly no reason. Even after surviving the last mortar attack, I had not felt such relief. I had no idea until over fifty years later that men had died that morning at the NDP while we were on what was seemingly a much more dangerous undertaking.  

     It was now mid-afternoon, and we were already looking forward to settling into our perimeter positions for the night. There would be no ambush patrol for us tonight. I learned nothing about the arrival earlier in the day of our high-powered visitors. I also learned nothing about the fire fight, which took place just outside the perimeter, while we were on patrol. After settling into my position on the perimeter, the predominate thought was to keep my ears tuned to hear the helicopter, which would bring one of Tiny's home cooked meals to us in Mermite containers. I did, on occasion, write letters home. So, maybe I settled down to write a letter. I can't remember. One thing that I do remember not feeling, however, was this. I felt little concern, at all, about whether I was right or wrong, when I warned Bartee that the enemy was where I said they were. I was just happy to be alive, and at the same time felt I had no professional reputation, whatsoever, to uphold. The Army had just recently helped reinforce that feeling when it had demoted me to E-2. It was an unjustified attack on my character, and I will never forgive the Army for doing that. As Christians, we are called to forgive people, but we are by no means called to forgive the evils of an organization or an idiology.  

     That night, while sitting in base camp, sharing a canteen cup of my concocted brew of hot chocolate, the ground began to shake slightly. Along with that shaking, came a low rumbling sound, the kind of sound made when 750-pound bombs tear "swimming pool sized" holes in the ground. The shaking of the earth around us lasted no more than five minutes. I finished my cup of hot chocolate. Tomorrow my entire B Company would return to the bombsite to see, if indeed, there had been an enemy presence near where I had said it was. Tonight, I just made sure that I could find each claymore detonator in the dark, in case, we were attacked in the middle of the night. Six extra hand grenades were always stashed in my ruck sack and my rocket launcher was always laid out near the back door of our bunker for anyone to use in a "pinch". Walker was next door, sleeping with the deadliest "thump gun" in the division, so I had little concern about how well I would sleep tonight. I believe the correct description is, again, "I slept like a baby", a baby, who was awakened every three hours to pull guard.

     The next morning, on the 19th of June, my entire company moved out early to survey the results of the bombing, which shook the ground during the night. We took a more direct approach than my squad had taken the day before. I believe my platoon was in the lead, but my squad was not the point squad. It was easy to tell when we had arrived at the bomb site, because the majestic rain forest, which had looked to me like the "Garden of Eden" yesterday, was now devastated. The bombs had left deep craters in the ground. Huge trees, which were hundreds of years old, had been uprooted and it was very hard to navigate through the tangled mess. The first thing that alerted me to the fact that human life had been destroyed, was the uniquely sickening sweet smell of dead human flesh. I had smelled this odor too many times before. It was impossible to locate the exact spot, where we had been standing, when I heard the warning voice of the Holy Spirit, because the bombing had changed the appearance of the area so much. What wasn't hard to determine, however, was the destruction of a very large enemy base camp, which had obviously been located directly in the path of our security patrol. Large, disheveled pieces of bamboo, used as supports for overhead covering, were scattered everywhere. Most of the 53 ten-man earthen bunkers and underground connecting tunnels were caved in. I am sure there were hundreds of enemy conscripts buried beneath the rubble, making it impossible to get an accurate body count. Some rather intact bodies had been flung in all directions, landing in grotesque poses. No doubt, many of these "slave victims of tyranny" had been resting in a relatively peaceful state, before their earthly souls were translated from one hopeless situation to an infinitely worse one. The enemy had no clue, that they were going to be targeted by an air strike. I believe that almost every person in that camp was killed. At the time, however, that sobering fact gave me nothing, but a feeling of relief. Why? Because these enemy soldiers could no longer be used to hurt us. The anguish came later, as I realized, not only had they lost their natural lives, but they had also lost something of much greater value. They had lost Jesus Christ, who is the key to eternal life, and the only means by which to perpetuate the infinite potential hidden within every human's eternal soul. Yet, I was not responsible for their deaths. Nor was Dick responsible. Nor was President Johnson responsible. Nor was God responsible. All responsibility for their eternal deaths rested squarely on their own shoulders, when each at some point had chosen to reject The Holy Spirit's beckoning, to confess Jesus Christ as Lord. Yes, I say again, although the responsibility for their natural deaths lay squarely on the shoulders of less than a hundred evil ideologues, living in Hanoi, Moscow, and Beijing, the responsibility for their much greater eternal death rested squarely on their own shoulders.

      There was little doubt that this was the camp of those responsible for the ambush of the 1/16th and the 2/28th on the 17th of June at the battle of Xom Bo II.