Getting Short

April 18th, 2005

The end of June came and went without incident. By this time I had about 45 days left in country. Believe me, I certainly didn’t want to get blown away after all the crap I’d already been through. It was an unwritten rule the short timers didn’t walk point nor did they take a lot of short timers out on night ambushes or squad patrols around a place the company CP was set up. One thing we did have to do was to send out at least one short timer on the same ambushes and patrols because of experience. Experience can save a life just a easily as inexperience can get someone or a lot of people killed. I was like most short timers, I knew if it got nasty I would rather be right in the middle of it than sitting back at the end of the column. Once an NVA ambush opened up we would just naturally move to the front of the column to make sure some FNG didn’t do something stupid and to help get them out of the killing zone of an ambush.

The killing zone was the most important part of an ambush. If you had a bunch of FNG’s in the middle of a killing zone that would be what would happen to them if we didn’t move up and overtake the ambush. The new troops are taught in all their training to turn into the ambush, lay down as much fire as they could muster, and move forward toward the ambush. Superior firepower saves lives. When an ambush is actually sprung it is a natural tendency to stop and take some kind of cover. That’s where the veterans and squad leaders came in. We would get to the ambush site and move the newer troops into the fight and lay down as much fire as possible. The vast majority of the time the people that sprung the ambush would pull out within minutes when we began to lay down all our fire and move in.

Now, that being said, if there was a larger force in the ambush they could pin us down and we would have to find cover out of the line of fire, pop smoke, and let the gunships do their job.

I was extremely fortunate to be assigned to the strongest unit in Viet Nam and also in the 1st Brigade. The Cav had more choppers than any other unit and could bring in gunships in mere minutes and Charlie didn’t want to stay around and face the gunships. I honestly believe that was why God placed me in that unit, so I could come home in one piece. Things happen for a number of reasons but I do believe there is a hand somewhere making them happen.

The majority of the last couple of weeks in July were fairly quiet other than the booby traps. That meant Uncle Ho was moving his little buddies into position for an offensive somewhere. The first week of August was very quiet. Simply a lot of air assults looking for Charlie after one of the Bell choppers had spotted troop movement. We were moved around from mountain to mountain to check out the trails. That was primarily the duty of the 9th Cav’s Blue teams but just about everyone was doing it.

The second week of August I was sent into An Khe on a chopper to get ready to go home. When I got on that chopper I simply prayed the chopper would make it to An Khe without incident. While in the air the chopper dropped into English because they were needed quickly to move some troops. I ended up driving back to An Khe in a jeep with nobody other than me and the supply sergeant. So guess what? We had to drive down a road that took you through An Khe pass which was notorious for ambushes of motor convoys. We had two M-16’s and that was it. Thankfully we made it back to An Khe and I turned in all my equipment, put on fresh jungle fatigues and hopped a Caribou to Cam Rhan Bay. I was then processed out and loaded on a C-141 for the flight to Oakland.

When a 141 is loaded with troops the seats are set up facing backwards and the way a 141 flies it feels like it is pointing down rather than level. That is a scary feeling. You think “I just made it through a year in the jungle and now this damned plane is going to crash into the ocean”. But, thank God, we made the trip with nothing happening. There is no way to describe the feeling when the plane touched down on American soil and began it’s taxi to the army’s in processing terminal.

I wasn’t home yet but I was on American soil for the first time in a year. The date was August 17, 1967, it was time to go home.

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