K Co, 75th Inf. (Ranger): Vietnam
“There I was…”
the following is as true as I can recall it, and I hope someone might find my teammates (all living when they left RVN) someday.
Circa March, 1970 – AO: An Khe, RVN – central highlands. Briefing says quiet AO, some intel about movement, but nothing exceptional, 13 klicks out, no biggie, morning insertion, side of a hill, just off the ridge. Heavy woods/jungle, double-canopy, no f****** elephant grass, etc. Dress for a picnic. So, after packing LOTS more weaponry, given the normal accuracy of Intel, we go for the pad (Siglow, TL – Crash, ATL & Point – William A. Dennis, Taildragger, – Wadley, RTO – big Polish fella (CRS) with an M60 – first time I’d walked with more than 4 men on a team – should have known something was wrong when he was included…) No one except the MG guy has more than 90 days to go before rotation, all should be out of the field by now so they can “humanize” prior to re-meeting their Mommies.
Dropped out of bird from about a million feet at some speed, rolling around through the short grass until some appendage brought me to a halt, bruised, pissed, scared and trying to be sneaky. Crawled around, found some gear that looked like I’d packed it, reattached it and found the team. Moved off the LZ 20 meters into the wood line. I made the comment that I sensed people, others gave me “that look”. Gathered around an eight inch tree, all looking out while recovering, etc. 5 secs later *BANG* right behind me! Look around, the MG guy is looking at his weapon with a real weird look, we all think he fired off a round (he HAD done that during a POW Camp mission earlier)….I am strongly considering cutting this idiot’s throat when Wadley starts grunting, drops ruck and spider-runs into the brush. Amazed, I look around, but nothing catches my eye. TL pokes me and sez, “Drop your ruck and move off”, points two feet above our heads on the tree. There, fitted into the three-branch fork, sits a SMOKING Chicom WITH PINEAPPLE STEEL JACKET (first of those I’d seen). The cap had blown, but the grenade hadn’t fired, or we’d be dead. After the heart attack, we all left the tree and gingerly recovered the gear. The trip wire was attached to a bamboo stick right up against the tree, so when we slid the rucks down the tree to sit…. Wow.. Now we’re REALLY scared. TL had reported the “shot”, so decisions were being contemplated.
Find cover about 25 meters away, look around, LOTS of these things all over the place. Trouble by the ton here…
Movement starts in about 5 min. Low brush is moving around, but looks like animals, not people… Here come 3 chickens (no kidding, CHICKENS), moving like they’re driven – right toward us. We’re checking this out, waiting for Papasan Farmer to follow, when all the chickens go berserk, spread out, making lots of noise. Immediately following that, all HELL breaks loose near our position and we start returning fire on every moving bush (and some innocent ones, too). People start running all over the place, dropping, etc., but the Dinks don’t quite know where we are, so we’re doing OK. Then the bad thing happened for me. I had noticed there were people everywhere, but until the TL said into the radio “We’re surrounded”, I hadn’t really thought about it that way. True, though, and no good place to E&E. Birds were on the pad being refueled, 20-30 min out. Damn, seemed like the end to me. TL says move out, points in a direction and I take off, followed at about 1 foot by my 4 real tight teammates. The wall of fire just drops everybody in our path and we break out of the ring into new brush. About 75 meters out, we go to ground and wait (I casually got my camera out at this point and took PICTURES of three of the guys until Siglow’s wide-eyed “what the f*** are you doing?” look made me put it away). Where are the BIRDS???!!! (Been about 10 minutes, or a week, maybe). People start coming again, but we move toward the LZ we’d just crawled off of, not allowing flanking to work. Grenades, small arms, lots of folks moving around, hazy stuff from here to LZ, feeding the MG guy who is working like an MG on a swivel from the center of the position (everybody got to carry a belt or two this mission), firing the ’79 (hit a branch 10 ft out, went straight up through the canopy and came down somewhere – TL gave me that look again, stopped THAT) waiting for the personal explosion within my clothing.
BIRDS are above, making circles – WONDERFUL sound!!! Smoke on the LZ, birds say they’re coming in, guns start making runs even though they can’t see us. Dirt fountains start appearing around us, so we have to move to the LZ. I’m first out, and as I break out, there is a Dink, running parallel to my left about 25 feet away. He’s DiDi’ing same as me, but I see him first. He sees me, tries to spin (long spin to the right if you’re right handed, oops), I gave him an entire mag, head for the chopper. Gunners firing at our faces, Dinks firing at our asses, we get aboard while the bird is growing pimples and the pilots are looking around like it’s another day at the office – amazing fellas. The right-seater is actually firing a .38 wheel gun out the little window! Flying out, working the woods with everything in the bird (I actually took another picture or two ’cause I hadn’t taken many for Mom – funny how you get when you’re short). Funny-looking sight for me right then, couldn’t believe it.
Body count (by chopper pilots – who couldn’t see well through the canopy) was eight NVA. Secondaries all over the hillside, so we knew we hit something big, but Intel questioned the whole story, as this was WAY too close to our base for the size of unit which carries the steel-jacket Chicom. There were some medals given for this 3-mission project (it had a name, CRS), BS for some (can’t remember what the others did – a bit busy to watch each other, but they were working the problem heavily), ARCOM w/V for me, I did not show for the ceremony, as these medals were being given because we were all short and it was our turn. Much redder things had passed for all of us with no mention, hence it was a bit hard to take. Blood-pinned by buddies later. Still have the orders, lost (threw out) the little thingie.
We would be re-inserted two more times within a couple klicks of AO in the next couple weeks, with similar results. Stories of those two and the end will follow when finger-cramps settle. It is a good end, as all on our side lived to see Mom.
After I had left the unit about 30 days later (to Military Intel to “humanize”, can you believe THAT?), I found out an entire team was lost when inserted 150 meters from there on the other side of the ridge – inserted directly into the 9th NVA Regimental HQ. Luck of the draw….
Whether from training, life, love or war, stories are great things to read if life wouldn’t put you there to live it.
“Crash” E/58th LRRP, and K Co, 75th Infantry(Ranger), 69-70
E Co, 50th Infantry (LRP): Vietnam
“I carried 3 M-14 pouches and 1 canteen on my web belt…
The M-14 pouches could hold 5 M-16 mags. We put a piece of black electrical tape on the butt of each magazine to form a tab so we could pull the first 4 out of the pouch easier and sliced the top half inch or so of the pouches so as to lay the 5th mag across the top. I generally carried 2 of these pouches loaded with tracer every 3rd round and the other pouch had all ball rounds for penetrating heavy growth or for firing without giving my location away so easily. I also carried 2 mags in my leg pockets loaded with straight tracer for marking my or the enemy location for the fly boys when the radio could not do the job accurately enough. I also had 2 mags taped together in a V shape in my weapon for quick reaction reloading at first contact. In the really bad areas, I also carried 1 or more 7 mag bandoleers made of OD cloth and from 6 to 15 grenades of various types and a claymore as well as the PRC-25. Needless to say, when the mud got thick, I was walking deep. Almost forgot the big starlight scope also!
The following mission explains why I was not a fan of all tracer loads. One night in January of 69, Herb Frost, Roman Mason, Leon Moore, Mark Durham and I were on a mission east of Ben Tre in a populated area with much tree growth separated by small rice paddies and Vietnamese hooches every hundred meters or so. We were moving from hooch to hooch looking for military age males or any sign of weapons when we spotted a man walking at us from a wooded area. When he was about half way across the rice paddy, we called to him to stop. He took off like a ruptured duck and managed to dodge our fire. That SOB could have been an olympic champion sprinter.
About 45 minutes later a bunch of his friends came into the area to return our greeting. We were in a hooch searching for weapons when a large volume of fire went over the roof. The local VC seemed to know there were 2 women and a small kid in the hooch with us so avoided shooting directly into the place. This gave us a definite advantage. I was on one corner and had cut a slit through the thatched wall just above a short mud wall and could see the VC firing positions every time they popped up to shoot. There was enough star light and a few klicks away someone was shooting illumination rounds that partially backlit their position. One of them must have been a FNG VC because he was shooting almost all tracer and each time he popped up to shoot, he cut loose with all 30 rounds just over my head but still above the roof. Keep in mind that this was not a heavy battle but, rather, just a friendly exchange of lead to let each of us know that the other guy was there.
I saw this guy pop up twice from the same spot and empty his mag so was waiting when he did it for the 3rd and final time. As soon as I saw his solid line of green tracer start, I was aimed in at that spot and cut loose with a full clip of mixed ball and tracer. I bet 3/4th of my load caught him in the upper chest and face. I watched as his tracer line climbed into the sky before stopping. At that point, the other VC reduced fire and quit using tracer.
A few minutes later they must have decided they had enough of us and pulled their X-FNG off for last rites. We also decided that it was time to go so called for extraction. I remember wondering if any had stayed behind to give us a going away party when the bird came but, if so, they did no more shooting as we pulled out. Tracers were a nice tool but they work in both directions. This also shows the kind of problems we had in the delta with LRP missions. Way too much population and too little solid cover in many areas.”
E/50 LRP 1968-69
BDQ: 67th Vietnamese Ranger Bn.
“I think the hardest time I had as a Vietnamese Ranger Advisor was persuading my counterpart to operate in smaller size units.”
His “mind set” was that there is safety in numbers. Although I was an advisor to a Battalion, it was more like a Company. The Battalion strength was about 400+ when I first came aboard. Which is about twice the size of an American rifle company. The Battalion Commander was only a Captain; his staff and company commanders were all Lieutenants.
After months of nagging him to send out smaller size patrols, he told me one day that he had decided to send out a small combat patrol. (Like it was his idea). I asked how many Rangers and he replied 10. I couldn’t believe it! His previous smallest size was 20+. I say 20+ because they always started with 20, for example, and kept adding on as the time drew closer for departure. I suggested to the Battalion Commander that I thought I should go on this one. My purpose was not to lead the patrol or even make suggestions, but just to observe. We were to move out early in the evening, after dark, to a location about 5 clicks (Kilometers) away. Three clicks were across open rice paddies. Spend the day hidden and then the next night move another click and set up a night ambush at a point that we suspected was a release point off the “Ho Chi Minh” trail out of Cambodia. Stay no longer than three days and return. Five days total. We took no C’s, no LRRP rations, nothing but rice, carried it in a sock.
Everything went good. We actually only had 10 of us. I was the 10th one. We cleared the Battalion area, made it across the rice patties in good order and into the jungle terrain. I was real proud of my Vietnamese Rangers. No noise since we left the Battalion. Everything was perfect. We found what appeared to be a good position. It was extremely dark. The PL (Patrol Leader) put out security and the rest hung their hammocks. I did the same. We had an hour or so before daylight. I had been on a few night ambushes with different Rangers, but nothing that extended out this far from the Battalion. To be quite frank with you, I felt kind of exposed. Not being able to speak Vietnamese, except for a few key words. Not that it made any difference as they hadn’t said a word since we left. I wasn’t very tired, but got in my hammock anyway. My mind was racing trying to cover all the “what ifs”. I laid there for a good while. It finally started getting light and I could see that the PL had indeed picked a good spot. There was plenty of concealment, lots of trees, and no sign of any previous activity. It looked good to me. I noticed that a few started a small fire with C-4 to cook some rice. That sounded good.
I got out of my hammock and decided I needed to take a whiz. I walked over to the edge of the area we were in, did my business and as I turned, all hell broke out! Heavy firing coming from the other side of our small perimeter. I started running for my hammock as my rifle was there with my ruck. (Yes, I screwed up). Just as I grabbed my rifle and looked up there was a sight that I will never forget! All I could see were khaki clothed NVA! It looked like a million, but was really only three or four.
My Rangers, almost in unison had already started charging the enemy, screaming, hollering, and shooting! I thought the Devil himself had just arrived. This caught me off guard so much it actually scared the hell out of me more than the NVA. I didn’t even get off a shot. They all disappeared in to the brush and I realized I was by myself. That was a real motivator to catch up! They were only about 20 meters away. Then it was deathly silent. I thought, oh no, that was just the tip of the iceberg. I could just see looking at a NVA Company or larger. I was wrong thank God. My Rangers had 6 NVA KIA. NONE of us was even wounded! All this time I thought they didn’t really know what they were doing. It was just one surprise after another, they way they conducted themselves. We quickly moved to another position and stayed hidden until night and then boogied on back. Our ammo was lower than what we wanted and if we’d got into something else we might be in trouble. We had no resources for chopper resupply or extraction. I for sure didn’t want to call on American resources as we were so close to Cambodia.
This little mission taught me a lot. First, my Rangers were very good fighters, better than I had given them credit. And second, ten meters is an awfully long way to be from your rifle when you need it.
Although, we never did get lower than 10 man teams we did conduct numerous 10-man hunter-killer teams as we called them. Sometimes we did very well and sometimes we got our asses whipped. But all in all, my Rangers did an outstanding job. I am proud to have been with them.
Advisor to 67th Vietnamese Ranger Bn.
E/50 LRP: Vietnam
Trapped in a mud-walled hooch by a superior VC force 29 years ago one of my team scouts went to sleep on rear security…
…on a night when 60 or more very unfriendly people were out searching for us in at least 3 groups. Unfortunately, one of their elements found us from that direction first and damned near bagged our whole team. Below is the story of that night. An earlier version of it was published in “Behind the Lines” magazine in 1993. For any of you active duty guys, please kick the shit out of anyone you ever find asleep on guard. It might help save the lives of them and others.
A Lurp team fights desperately for survival. With half the team KIA and the team leader blinded, gun ships and medevacs are the survivors’ only hope.
January 27, 1969 started out just like many other days for Team 17, with us preparing for yet another night ambush patrol off the Mobile Riverine Force. I served with E/50 Long Range Patrol from April 68 through January 69. We had teams scattered all over the 9th Division AO. Several months earlier, our teams were kicked off the Mobile Riverine Force for smuggling beer on board. Shortly thereafter a VC sapper team swam out to the USS Westchester County near Toi San Island with a large quantity of plastic explosives and blew two huge holes in it. We were quickly forgiven and invited to return to the ships. We began running ambush patrols along trails and canals within a few klicks of the MRF. In the previous three weeks, we had pulled several effective missions on the south bank area near a major canal intersection called the “cross roads.” This area was roughly between My Tho and Ben Tre and consisted of large sections of heavy forest and jungle swamps bordered by kilometers of wide open rice paddies. About half of these missions resulted in contact with a very active local VC force.
On this mission, I planned to insert by chopper near a heavy wood line and move the team several hundred meters to a position near one of the canals. Late on that afternoon, I flew over the area in a LOH to pick out some possible sites while on the way to drop off George Calabrese and Chuck Semmit at Ben Tre to be our radio relay. Shortly after returning to the MRF, the Huey arrived and carried six of us off into what turned out to be deep shit.
At our first insertion point, we were only on the ground about thirty seconds before a VC strolled out of the woods a hundred meters away with his AK over his shoulder like a hobo’s pack. He spotted me and jumped back into the woods just as I cut loose with a burst from my 16. I decided at that point to extract and move a couple klicks to see if we could get a clean insertion. We landed near a small hooch I remembered from a previous mission to be a water buffalo shed. It was almost dark as I scanned the wood line. At that point, I decided it was going to be an interesting night, because there was a Vietnamese man in the woods looking right back at me. When I reported this, I was told we were to keep the mission going anyway. I waited until full dark and got the team moving out of there. About an hour later, I heard a brief burst of fire from the vicinity of our last position. I figured we had escaped unseen, but we were not able to get into the woods because of heavy movement of people on their way home. We came to a cluster of five hooches scattered over an area the size of a football field. All but one appeared to be empty. We entered one that was isolated from the others and found it to be built like a fortress. It had thick mud walls, about four feet high, which ran all the way around except for the door opening and a large above-ground bunker of mud and tree trunks. Because of a dry thatch wall on one side, which would have caused too much noise to remove, I had to deploy two men outside on that corner. This should have caused no problem, as they could quickly jump over the wall and knock holes in the thatching if it became necessary. For the next several hours we waited and watched to see what would happen.
At 2300 hours, I put the team on 50% alert. Richard Thompson, Mark Durham, and Roman Mason took their shot at getting some sleep, while Norman Crabb, Leon Moore and I watched for any activity. Around 2320 hours I thought I saw movement in the woods about 150 meters away. It was a clear night with starlight so bright I could almost read by it. I moved to Moore’s position to get the starlight scope. He said there had been no activity on his side of the hooch, away from the woodline. For the next few minutes, Norman Crabb and I observed what appeared to be about twenty people moving around in the woods across from us. I was not overly concerned, because I had claymores set up in that direction.
Just as I decided to wake the team for possible action and to contact base, I heard voices behind me. Thinking it was Mason and Moore, I grabbed my 16 and started around the hooch to shut them up and get them inside. I had just turned the corner of the hooch when I recognized the voices were Vietnamese, and five armed VC stood four feet from me. They were so preoccupied looking down at the sleeping forms of my rear security element, they did not even notice me. I raised my 16 to waste them when I noticed about twenty more VC on the other side of a paddy dike ten feet past Mason and Moore’s position. I slipped back around the corner and had Crabb cover the closest VC while I moved inside to wake the other guys. I looked over the wall as I whispered into the radio for assistance. We were unable to figure a sure way to wake Mason and Moore and get them in before they would be hit. There must have been at least twenty weapons trained on them at point blank range. My radio relay people told me that division would not send gun ships until we were in contact. I told everyone to open up at once, hoping that we could put out enough fire to allow Mason and Moore to get inside. It did not work, and they were cut down before they could even start to move.
The mud walls of the hooch held up against the heavy battering from all those AK’s, and the thick roof thatching absorbed the blast from several grenades. So far, the people I spotted in the woodline had not started firing. I figured they wanted us to run from the hooch into their ambush, but I was not about to leave Mason and Moore behind, even if I could. I decided to remove my radio and crawl around the hooch to a point where I could fire along the right flank of the attacking force, when I spotted more people on my left flank. We were completely surrounded and taking fire from three sides. About that time, an RPG came in the door and detonated on the ground three feet in front of me. I think the blast caused me to do a complete back flip while flying about fifteen feet across the hooch. For the first few seconds, it felt like someone hit me in the face with a two-by-four, but it quickly numbed into a dull throb. I could not see anything, even though there had been enough light in the hooch before from tracers to see quite well.
I crawled back across the floor, feeling for my 16 and the radio, when I heard another large blast to my right. Thompson fell to the floor and died almost immediately. Only about five minutes had passed since the first shot, and half my team was KIA, and I was blind. I found my 16 and asked my radio relay team where the Cobra’s were. I was told they were on the way and Hotel-Volley 27, the call sign of a 105 battery at fire base Claw, came up on my frequency and asked if we wanted artillery support. With VC within 10 to 20 feet away and me blind, I said no. I could not pull one of my last two men off the wall long enough to call in 105’s on our own heads.
After about fifteen minutes of heavy firing, Crabb came to me to say he was out of ammo and Durham was on his last magazine. Since I had been blinded so early in the fight, I had plenty left. I started handing magazines to them and then finally handed my web gear to Crabb after removing a grenade to keep just in case we were overrun. I noticed that the VC firing was also slacking off and figured they were also running low. I told Crabb and Durham to start shooting semi-automatic at selective targets to keep us going as long as possible. I called once again to ask where the hell our gun ships were and to advise that in a few more minutes they would only need to send graves registration for a reaction force. One of the sweetest sounds I can remember hearing was when Charger 21 told me to mark my position so his gun ships could open up. I had Crabb throw my strobe light out the door and said anything more than twenty feet from it was all theirs. The VC that could, hauled ass out of there as rockets and mini-guns started tearing up the area. I told Crabb and Durham that we would first drag out our dead teammates when the extraction ship landed, and if there was no effective sniper fire they could go back for our equipment. A chopper crew with balls like King Kong landed in that mess and waited on the ground for us to load. Crabb led me to the bird to keep me from walking into the tail rotor. The gun ships did such a great job of building a wall of lead and fire that we had no problem extracting.
I spent the next ten and a half months recovering from wounds and learning how to live as a blind man. Well, it could have been a whole hell of a lot worse. I recently got back in touch with some of the old gang and it is great. My time at the Ranger reunions and at the Wall have been a terrific way to heal many of the old wounds.
E/50 LRP 1968-69
E Co, 75th Infantry (Ranger): Vietnam
“The killing of Lt.Gen Hai Tram actually had it’s start weeks earlier…”
It was in an AO we called the “Testicles”. The way the Vam Co Tay river flowed it looked like a pair of testicles on a map.
One of the teams from the second platoon ( Two One, Two Two or Two Four I don’t remember which) uncovered a Regional Hq/Hospital complex. The reaction force for the mission was an All hands fall out of E Co. The destruction of this complex is what flushed out Hai Tram. A few weeks later, gunships shot up some gooks “near” the Cambodian border.
With the available teams either asleep from the previous night’s mission or scattered about 3rd Bde 9th Div. Hq during the day, a team was quickly assembled from who ever was in the company area at the time. I believe the team was made up of Ssgt. Stevens, Spyder Valenti, Tom Dineen, Ray Bazini, Keit (the PRU) and Mike Kentes.
Mike told me later that they were in the air for a very long time. Much longer than to be in the normal 9th Div AO. He said that they even flew close to Nui Ba Din (Black Virgin Mountain for you 25th Division guys). Upon insertion they swept the contact area and took a prisoner. Mike saw some movement in the reeds as one of the “dead” gooks tried to arm a grenade. Mike stitched him with a burst of his M-16. They stripped down the bodies then boarded the chopper with their prisoner.
Landing back at Tan An, the prisoner was taken away for questioning. Mike gave the pistol and holster he took from the gook he killed to Kiet the PRU. Understand that at the time the PRU’s were not paid with any company funds. They were paid from the pockets of each team member $10 a month ($40-50 a month depending on the number of men on the team). The custom was to give captured weapons to the PRU’s to supplement their income.
The prisoner was being questioned while Mike gave the pistol to Kiet. The prisoner turned out to be the personal physician for Hai Tram. Once Intelligence found out who was killed, the team was re-inserted to bring the body back.
I remember waking up to the sound of someone running through the barracks saying “Kentes killed a General, Kentes killed a General”. I groggily remember thinking “was it one of ours or theirs”. Once the news got out, everyone went over to Tan An airfield to verify the body. I heard that Gen. Abrams and Ambassador Bunker even flew down for confirmation.
Kentes and the rest of the team were in 3rd Bde. 9th Div. Hq. being debriefed when the company commander Capt. Albert C. Zapanta confiscated the pistol, holster and belt from Kiet. When Mike Kentes heard of this he confronted Capt. Zapanta and demanded the pistol. Capt. Zapanta ignored the lowly Corporal (Mike was a Pathfinder, hence the rank of Corporal instead of Sp/4). Mike went right to 3rd Bde. 9th Inf Div. Commander Col. Dale Crittenberger with his complaint. After hearing both sides, Col. Crittenberger ordered Capt. Zapanta to turn the pistol into the Infantry Museum at Ft. Benning.
Mike felt that was a good place for it so he agreed. Thinking the matter settled Mike went back to the company area only to find that Keit had been arrested by the White Mice as an ARVN deserter. Mike and Tom Dineen went through the company area scrounging up as much money as he could to bail Kiet out of jail. The White Mice just laughed and told them it would take a lot more money to get him out. Capt. Zapanta ignored Mike’s plea. Mike found out later from the other PRUs that Kiet was sent to an ARVN unit as an ammo bearer and was not allowed to carry a weapon. Kiet was KIA soon after. A few weeks later Col. Crittenberger was killed in a chopper crash. Now with Col. Crittenberger dead and Kiet out of the way, only a Corporal prevented Capt. Zapanta from keeping the pistol for himself. That is exactly what he did. It took Mike Kentes and Tom Dineen 17 years to finally force now Col. Zapanta to obey his dead Brigade Commander’s order. There have been two different ranks listed for Hai Tram. One publication has him listed as a full Colonel, others list him as a Lt.Gen. The truth is probable that he was a Colonel in the NVA and a Lt.Gen. in the Viet Cong. Documents Mike took from his body show that he was a member of the Communist Party dating back to the 1930s. The Viet Minh were formed in that area of the Mekong Delta in the 30s. If Hai Tram was not one of the founders, he was one of it’s earliest members. The two different ranks are just like our Active duty and Reserve ranks many hold.
DQ Ranger: 67th Vietnamese Ranger Bn
“Myself, along with the Vietnamese Ranger Battalion I was advising made a combat assault into the Seven Mountains area in the Delta.”
The mountain we landed on was heavily infested with NVA (North Vietnamese Army). We didn’t know it before we made the assault but the mountain was like a big hunk of swiss-cheese. It was laced with natural tunnels and caverns, large rocks and boulders everywhere and all this was covered with lush vegetation and trees.
Our first objective was to take the top of the mountain, which was somewhat exposed, no trees and very little vegetation. There was no place for a chopper to land so we were inserted on a grassy ledge almost at the bottom of the mountain. Our Ranger Battalion had a total of 400 plus Rangers and two Americans. The American contingent was reduced by 50% before the day had really got going. We met heavy resistance as we came in. The chopper my Sergeant was in was shot down and he was killed. I didn’t like the looks of this right off. I think the term “an uphill battle” gained new meaning for me that day. As we worked our way up the mountain the NVA would go underground and come back out behind us, or in the middle of us. It was a mess, but they could not stand up to the Rangers.
We finally made our objective just as darkness was setting in and it started raining and raining hard! It felt good but it made a mess out of that mountain top. The NVA would try and bury their dead before the survivors escaped. Some got buried and some didn’t. There were dead everywhere. As the rain continued, it began to expose more bodies in the shallow graves. Heads, hands, feet began appearing out of the ground as the rain washed the dirt away. We continued to receive small arms fire and the mortar fire began increasing. We pulled into a defensive position and took cover where we could find it. I recall being between two rocks which was a good temporary position but I knew it wasn’t going to make it for my NDP. My counterpart was on the other side of the rock and I couldn’t see him which was important because we relied on arm and hand signals alot since my Vietnamese was almost nonexistant and his English wasn’t much better. I spotted what looked like a small opening in the brush a few meters away from me. I kept staring at it and trying to make out what it was whenever a flash of something would go off. After a few minutes I went for it and slid into it as a baseball player would slide feet first into a base. It was smaller than what it looked like but it got in. It was a small little cave-type hole. I thought, “man this is great!” A good field of fire, good cover. and was able to see my counterpart! It wasn’t long before I began dozing. It was great, a steady rain, incoming mortar rounds, topped off with sporatic small arms fire. I can’t believe the Army is paying me for this. It don’t get no better!
As dawn was approaching I noticed my little paradise had steadily filled up with water and alot of mud. The stench of the dead began to become apparent and the firing had died down. BMNT was here (BMNT is a term the Army uses for Beginning of Morning Nautical Twilight). I figured it was time to stop laying around and start earning my money. As I was trying to get out I felt my boots getting tangled up with someone else’s boots. Now how can this be? Oh, this little cave has another entrance. I kicked this guy a couple hard ones to tell him it’s time to get on with it. I got out and saw that it wasn’t a Ranger at all. I spent the night sleeping with a dead NVA! Some bed partner! Stunk up my hole!
67th Vietnamese Ranger Bn
BDQ Ranger, 32d Vietnamese Ranger Bn
“So you think you have had a bad day, huh!”
One day last week I was waiting in line at a local restaurant. Ahead of me was a young woman of approximately 23 years old and her equally young female companion. They were both complaining about their bad days, while I listened with amusement. One had been late for work and had trouble with her hair and had gotten spoken to by her boss. The other had gotten behind a “slow farmer” on the way to lunch, and had some other trivial interruptions at work. As they whined, I thought to myself, “Girls, you have no idea of what a truly bad day really is”. ” I wish I could share with you what a truly bad day can be like”.
In late 1970, I was sent to Vietnam for a second tour. I was stationed in the Delta region of South Vietnam as an Advisor to the Vietnamese Rangers. We spent a majority of our time in the field, hunting VC in a place called the U Minh Forest. The U Minh is always wet, the mud is at least ankle deep every where, and it stinks terribly, just like an open sewer. There are at least 3000 types of bugs, leeches, snakes and other pests in the U Minh, and 2999 of them bite! The mosquitoes in the U Minh are as big as the quail at home and they fight each other for your body!! The only friendly things in the U Minh forest are the guys with you, and I often wondered about some of them! This sets the scene for my “Bad day” .
In 1970 and 71 we operated under the “two man” rule, always two Americans in the field together. I knew I was in trouble because my team mate was due back from R&R, the same time that we were supposed to depart for a week in the bush. And as departure time came, He still wasn’t back. The second clue I had that this was going to be a long trip, VNAF choppers started setting down on the pad and my interpreter said they were for us!! We got on board and “flew” to the LZ we were supposed to use and after getting off, and checking my map, we were 8 klicks from the correct LZ!!! Gonna be a long mission!!! I was operating with a re-enforced squad of Vietnamese Rangers, setting up ambushes and generally trying to radically change the lifestyle of VC in the U Minh. After about a 5K hunt that first day we stopped for the night in what is called a Night Defensive Position or NDP for short. Since there was very little dry land in the U Minh, we usually set up on the edge of a canal for the night. We posted guards and the ones not on guard tied themselves to trees to keep from falling into the canal while asleep. Usually you left about, oh say , three foot of slack in the rope to be more comfortable.
All was well until about daybreak. You know, the darkest part of the night, when the wolves howl and ghosts walk about! Suddenly, from somewhere, the VC we had been hunting the day before found us! Now it is a very unpleasant and rude awakening to have about 20 mortar rounds drop in and wake you up!! Especially when they are accompanied by thousands of green and orange tracers as big as basketballs. Confusion is instantaneous and total! We always had a Escape and Evasion plan in case we were overwhelmed. As the mortars landed, I looked through the flashes of the exploding rounds to see the squad members running in all different directions. They were yelling “DI DI MAU”, which in addition to meaning “get out of here”, was our signal to each other to run and then join up later if we could, 2 kilometers to the North. I grabbed my ruck sack and M-16 and was running full blast after the first two feet. Remember the three foot slack in the rope? Good for you! I didn’t…. and hit the end of the slack full tilt! My feet went into the air much higher than my head, and my M-16 went where ever good M-16s go at a time like that. My breath left, due to what felt like crushed lungs, but I held onto that rucksack!
Now an Infantryman’s rucksack is his 2nd most important piece of gear. It carries extra ammunition, extra food, pictures of sweetie back home, different kinds of useful explosives, and in my case, a PRC-25 radio and extra batteries, and usually weighs around 70 to 100 pounds. Since I just lost my most important piece of gear, my M-16, it was amazing that I held onto the rucksack.
Well here I am, my feet higher than my a.., uh, head, coming down on my back, half in the water, half out. Now just guess where the rucksack decides to land!! You got it, right on my head, which is also the half that lands in the water!! The ruck hit, I lost what little breath I had left, my head hit the water, and I tried to take a breath, almost simultaneously. As my head went under, I tried to find my K-bar knife to cut the rope so I could stand up. The knife handle is slick with mud so I miss it the first try. After what seemed like two years underwater, I finally got the rope cut and stood up, amazingly still holding on to the rucksack! I looked behind me and little fellows in black clothing were running through the NDP. Now I’m a cowboy from west Texas, so even I know that bad guys wear black!! With discretion being the better part of valor, I got to the other side of the canal quick! As I stood up to run, dragging the ruck, something hit the ruck hard and almost ripped it out of my hand. I ran north as fast as my legs could carry me. After a minute or so, I turned a corner of the canal and somebody hit me in the mouth, knocked me down, and asked me what the capital of Texas was, as they shoved a gun barrel between my teeth, and I dropped the rucksack!
Now this is ridiculous, my face hurts, my chest hurts, my legs hurt, my mouth is full of gun barrel and this fool wants me to answer questions about Texas!! I push the guy away far enough to see he is one of the squad and mumble around the gun barrel something that hopefully sounded like Austin. Thankfully, it sounded like Austin to him also. He removed the gun from my mouth, and helped me up. I picked up the ruck and we ran some more. About two hours and 2 kilometers north from where we had started the day, we holed up to wait for the others, if any made it. The guy with me was a Vietnamese corporal named Trung Bien or close to it. As the sun came up, we took stock. He had lost his ruck, and his M-16 only had four rounds in the magazine. I pulled that darn ruck over to me and almost cried!! The radio was shot. Literally. It had bullet holes in it! The side pocket where I kept extra ammo was black and burnt. The claymore in the opposite side pouch had a hole in it. Lucky for me that it takes HEAT and COMPRESSION for C-4 to explode. As I opened the ruck main pouch to check out the food, a smell very close to a dirty diaper smote me in the nose. Cans of ham and eggs, pork and beans, all had been mixed with ham with lima beans that were blown open and mixed with fruit cocktail and peaches, STINK, what a smell! Thankfully my map and compass had been in the side pocket of my pants. And that reminded me, what the H..l is biting me? I check and I’ve got two leeches the size of two Armour Star hotdogs, one sucking on my left boob and the other trying to give me a new belly button. Got rid of those buggers in a hurry!! Finally the other members of the squad show up, and we are all accounted for and the squad leader has a working radio. But that’s the good news. The bad news is nobody else grabbed a ruck when they left, so we only have the bullets in the M-16s that 7 of the guys managed to hang on to. The squad leader has already called in and we will be getting picked up by chopper. That’s the good news.
The bad news is the LZ for pickup is another 5 klicks away. Headquarters is sending three choppers to get us all at one time and that’s the good news. The bad news is they won’t show up until almost dark so the boys in black won’t have such a good target! As I sit down for the first time that morning, I thought to myself, this is beginning to be a real bad day! I bet they won’t even give me any mail tonight when we get in, and the mess hall will be closed. I couldn’t have been more right than if I had called them on the phone and asked them to do it to me!!
As I stood there in line in Lawton, Good old USA over two and a half decades later, I could not stop the laughter. Those poor girls, somebody really ought to tell them what a bad day is really like, but not me!! I’m just proud I survived my bad day. SFC(Ret.) Ed “The Bear” Briggs
Lt Wpns Advisor, 32nd RVN Ranger Bn, Oct-Dec 1970
Hvy Wpns Advisor, 85th RVN Ranger Bn, Jan-Oct 1971
K Co, 75th Infantry (Ranger): Vietnam
“I enlisted in ’67 and spent some time in Germany…”
Although I had filled out a 1049 for RVN. Had MOS clerical (71H20), but wasn’t a very nice person, so I was in the warehouse humping boxes to and fro when Czechoslovakia got whacked and we went to the border to watch the Russian tanks and protect Germany. We had NO ammo and no one had fired a weapon for months. After it was quiet (the Russians won), it was determined we should requalify at the range.
Off we went. I fired 3 rounds and stopped, having qualified. Lotta noise and shit “What the fuck are YOU doing, Crash?” “I’m done, Sgt”. “Do it again, Crash”. I did. Little did I know, the USAREUR Rifle team fellas were there and watched. I had to qualify about 52 times, had no idea why, smoking my ass all the way. I was transferred to the Army rifle team. Spent a glorious 8 months or so firing on a 600 meter range without scopes (18″ bullseye) whenever I wanted, learned to shoot better from the amazing guys there. Placed in some matches, but there were some dangerous shooters there. So… There I was, shooting to my heart’s content. No “duty”, go to town whenever, sleep in, etc. A jeep came by and said “Crash! You got a phone call!” and drove off (he liked me too). I ran all the way to the office thinking family death, etc., as no one was in commo with me at all. Got there, it’s my old 1SGT, he says those horrid words “HEY! YOUR 1049 CAME THROUGH, BOY! YOU’RE GOING TO ‘NAM!”. I just fucking died. I had completely forgotten about that. Here I was in heaven and was headed for HELL itself.. Oh well, spent my 30 days preparing to die and got on the plane.
Landed in RVN in May/’69, sent to Pleiku Repl Depot. Spent 7 days there, every night watching this one company on the perimeter get blown to shit. Asked “who IS that?”, they said some weird word, we said “OH” (but I had some exposure to one of those “word” guys earlier – a dangerous and excellent loon – in the US).. About day 3 or so, four murderous-looking, scruffy, dark-eyed guys came to give a speech. Said they were “LRRPs” and went out in small teams for a week – did any of us think we’d like to do that? I kinda thought about it, had signed up for Airborne but wasn’t even given a shot (5’4″, 103 lbs in basic), but decided maybe I’d better have a little look around first and see what I drew. No hands went up, so one of them said “Well, if you change your mind, we’re the guys who are getting hit every night, we’re easy to find and you can volunteer any time”. They left.
Well, as you know, a fun game in Repl Depots is to run into someone’s barracks in the morning and say “Hey! You’re going to the Death Company (or whatever horrid duty one can think up) and watch the guy go running out, only to find he’s got some cherry assignment. I had been in the Army for almost two years, though, and was an “old” guy there. The next morning, a bunch of them came running in, said I’d lost my mind joining the LRRPS. I sauntered out, knew I hadn’t, didn’t have a nervous bone in my body. MY NAME WAS RIGHT THERE!
I RAN to the company Commander’s office, said “HEY! I didn’t volunteer for that whatever-thing!”. The CO smiled, said “Well, their clerk got hit, you’re a clerk, you’re in E Company, 58th LRRPs, but don’t worry, it’s an office job”. I died again. They came and got me, took me “home” and I was surrounded by murderous-looking guys who scared the bejesus out of me just looking at them. To make a long story a little shorter, we spent the next month or so getting blown to shit – running around all night dodging invisible falling objects, setting the RVN record (120) for unexploded satchel charges (sappers were VERY good) in a company area – they wanted this bunch real bad. We were flying a lit flag at night and stuff like that, so I saw a LOT of war without being able to shoot at anything.
They found out I wasn’t a clerk but was an asshole, I told the First Shirt I was going to the field if I had to hijack a bird, he said “Well, you’re out of your mind, but if you can find a team who’ll take you, you can go”. I found a HUGE black TL named Sims who took me to the “range” and found out I could shoot and move in the woods (raised there). He told me very seriously that he’d take me out, but if I endangered him or his team he’d kill me where I stood without a word. I kept a very keen eye on him for some time, then started moving from team to team as folks went down or home and slots had to be filled. I’ll never forget that man. He caught some in the chest late in my year and went away – they told us he didn’t make it, but his name isn’t on the wall – never wrote, so we had/have no idea how it went.
That’s how it happened. No CIB, no 11B, no Recondo skewl (didn’t “qualify”), went to Sniper Skewl but couldn’t be registered there due to 71H20 MOS, took UNLIMITED shit from all the 11BangBangs until I did the job for a while. Got orders for a shiny thing with my name on it for doing things we all did all the time, didn’t show for the ceremony, just got the orders – pissed the Top & CO off one last time, too.
Walked point from the 3d mission on, mostly because I didn’t want to hump a radio and couldn’t walk backwards, so on a 4-man team, the other position (except TL) was point. I liked it out there anyway. Became a Ranger because they changed the unit from LRRP, like many of us here. The really great part was training FNG’s after my eyes darkened.. When they found out this crazed man was a 71H20, their jaws would just hit the red dirt… Never forgot that look – it was a blast to tell ’em after a bit.
“Crash” E/58th LRRP, and K Co, 75th Infantry(Ranger), 69-70
E Co, 52nd Infantry (LRP): Vietnam
“My very first mission was to Cambodia.”
We made a last light insert & walked a long distance in the dark. Now, ya gotta understand that this was my ‘First’ mission & I really had the heebie jeebies. For some reason I thought that I could, ya know, kind of like put my toe in the water & see how hot or cold it was….I know, that’s stupid, but for some reason or another my brain told me that I could, kind of ease into the war.
Then, the next thing I know, here I am with five other guys, way out in the middle of the jungle a long, long ways from any kind of support, (read hours) and I had forgotten everything I had ever been taught. We set up in this AO in the jungle with a large open area in front of us. It wasn’t long before I saw some lights in the woods across from us. I brought this to the TL’s attention & we watched as someone walked across the field to our side & we could see his light as he checked out the area around us. He then walked to the edge of the clearing & signaled with his flashlight. Then a whole bunch of fucking flashlights came on, (I think it was a million, could have been more), on the other side & a company size unit walked across the open area & set up a night bivouac around us. My mind decided that it did not like me any more and started to Rant & Rave at me. “WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING OUT HERE? AM I STUPID OR SOMETHING? THIS IS WHAT THEY TOLD YOU THAT THEY DO, DID YOU THINK THAT THEY WERE LYING OR SOMETHING?” My mind also told me other things, but they are too embarrassing to tell anyone else.
We had no cover, and damn little concealment, some small bushes and it was dark. That’s it. Now, the TL thought to himself, ‘Cool’. I know just where they are, cause they are all around us’. So he started calling in Arty. We were on the far edge of any arty, but he got someone to fire for us. The NVA were setting up fires, cooking dinner, playing grab ass all around us. After the third round the TL, I can’t remember his full name, but his first was David, whispered to us that he wanted for us to make sure that we let him know where it hit, because if he wasn’t careful the next one could take us out. Well, lemme tell you, a artillery round coming right at you really does sound like a train. No one had to tell me what it was, & no one had to tell me where it was going to land. I knew. It was going to land on my head. I tried to crawl into the ground under my ruck. That would have really helped. All the C-4 & other goodies I carried in there would have protected me from the explosion. I am still here, but I don’t know why.
We had put our claymores out about 15 or so feet from us. You know, sideways so we could use the front and back blast for protection. The round landed between me and my claymore. The next morning when I was policing up my claymores I found that the claymore had shattered, but not exploded. The C-4 & shit was just kind of there at the end of the wire. David, told me later that at first he thought that he had killed himself, but then he noticed that my body was between him and the explosion, so he thought that he had killed the cherry(me). He reached over and touched me to see how bad I was hurt & I pointed to where I thought the round had landed.
Now, the NVA are not stupid, no matter what some people would want you to think, so after a while they came to the conclusion that someone was calling in the arty & got on line & swept the area. I never, never thought that they would have flashlights. With them being such great night fighters and all. The first time, this guy walked right between the TL and me & didn’t see us. I thought that my heart would stop. I took great comfort in the thought that if I got out of this alive, I was going to quit. Why this shit is dangerous. And probably wasn’t good for my nerves either.
They went out a ways, got back on line and swept back. Now here comes a kicker. This guy walked right up to Roy, put his flashlight in his face and looked at him for about a century or two, could have been three. Roy carried a M-14, and he kept raising the weapon, whispering, “I’m gonna blow him away. I’m gonna blow him away.” Over and over. David kept pulling it down and said, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it.” In the meantime my mind was going, “AHHHHHHHHHHH!” Funny how eloquent you can think when your asshole is slammed shut, ain’t it? Well, anyway, after a few years or so, the guy made a kind of grunt and walked away.
To this day, I have no idea what was really going on in that NVA’s mind. Did he say to himself; “Oh shit. Here they are. Now what? If I call out, ‘Here they are!’ They are going to shoot me. Maybe I will just grunt, walk away, and tell someone later.” I dunno. He could have been stoned out of his mind. They were smoking dope around us. Could he have thought that he couldn’t tell anyone because he walked away from us? When he left. I just started taking my frags out & straightened the pins cause I knew that it was all over. I thought that he was going to his CO & say, “They are right over there.” & they would come over & take our weapons away from us. It was insane. There were somewhere in the neighborhood of 180 to 200 of them and five of us.
All I knew for sure was that I was not going to be a POW. Nothing happened! I know, I know, all war stories have a beginning and an end, but the true shit is really strange. I mean they kept on fixing their dinner and etc. But no one came to round us up. I remember that one of them had put a radio up in a tree and they were listening to AFN. The song that really stuck to my memory was the Stones singing “I can’t get no satisfaction”. I remember thinking, “God, I hope not”.
David kept calling in artillery. He really started to get pissed and call them “Super Gooks” cause the arty didn’t seem to really bother them at all. I mean, one round landed right on this guys fire and put it out, but all he did was start it up again. Amazing shit. They would periodically sweep the area again, but they never came close to us again. This went on all night. Of course I got a tickle in my throat. I came to the conclusion that it would be unhealthy for me to cough, so I took my half a poncho liner and tried to cram it down my throat.
My mind got stuck on the fact that I had no idea where I was on the map. I knew that we were going to have to E&E, and I didn’t know where to go. Fear is an amazing teacher. After that mission I became one of the best map readers in the company. You could put me down in the middle of the jungle & I could walk around for a week in triple canopy and I would know almost to the foot where I was at all times. Anyhow, It was just about first light and the NVAs were all around us. You know how it is just before the sun would come up? We could hear them and could almost see them. Then the sun was up & there were helicopters all around.
Poof they were gone. Some guy in a Loach was hovering around at treetop level, kind of going from place to place, saying, well no one is shooting at me here and then move somewhere else and doing the same thing. I was so happy that we had survived the night and I was looking forward to getting the fuck out of there, when I realized that they didn’t believe us that there was a company of NVA around us all night.
My first inkling of how things were was when I heard the TL scream over the radio, “Well, FUCK YOU! WE WILL JUST STAY AND FIND THEM FOR YOU AGAIN.” Oh, no, I thought. So we played hide & seek with them for most of the day, finally got them into a firefight, blew the shit out of the neighborhood etc. etc. & were extracted. It seemed that everything I did was fucked up.
When we were walking back to the company area from the flight line I was thinking of what I was going to say to quit, when the ATL put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Well, Renfro, don’t feel too bad. Everyone just isn’t cut out to be a Lurp, you will probably be one hell of a grunt.” Well shit, he got right into my ego. I wasn’t about to quit then! So I stayed, and I am glad that I did.
E Co, 52d Infantry, and H Co, 75th Infantry (Ranger) 67-69