Booby traps that weren’t made with detonators or explosives subject to sympathetic detonation couldn’t be destroyed, disabled or damaged by the rolling artillery barrage I’d designed, and that the battery had applied so effectively. The machine gun had caused significant casualties before the artillery had blown it and its emplacement to hell. And now three lowly punji pits, along with one sniper, had brought the company to a dead stop. Punji pits were made by digging a shallow hole and then inserting sharpened up-pointing sticks into the mud at the bottom of the little pits. The sharpened sticks layered in human feces, and generally barbed as well, penetrated the bottom of any Marine’s boot unfortunate enough to plunge through the disguised hole covering. I’d heard rumors that the newest issue of jungle boots had a triangular aluminum bar built into the soles that made them punji pit proof, but nobody had seen or been issued such a set in the company.
The Gunny called me up to the point in order to attempt to deal with the sniper. The company came to a halt as the sun set. The evening mist and the lugging of casualties, along with packs and the other equipment necessary to operate a reinforced Marine company, had already slowed our progress to a snail’s pace before the sniper showed up and stopped it completely. As I moved forward the going became more difficult. Walking became climbing and the mist on the forest floor made the strewn plant life and blown-apart wood pieces as slippery as the mud. I labored toward the point, with Fusner cursing behind me as he carried the twenty-pound radio with extra batteries. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the company itself would never make the ridge before dark. The Marines I climbed around to get to the point were all digging in and setting up for a night that had not come yet.
I finally arrived near where the Gunny lay talking on the radio, Pilson not far away with his Prick 25. Each platoon had small radios called sixes leftover from the Korean War. Most didn’t work at all unless the operators could see one another. They looked like giant bent bananas, green in color. A Marine with one of the six radios talked on it. I presumed him to be the acting platoon commander, probably talking to one of the other platoons over the limited range radio.