I lay in the muck of oozing mud seeping slowly up through the packed, cracked, and broken debris of jungle and aging decay. The smell was of the damaged sort I’d come to know as my home away from home down inside the A Shau Valley expanse. I wondered if the smell would ever leave me, should I somehow have the good fortune to survive my experience in actual combat. I’d come late to discover that I, inadvertently, had built the confidence of the Marines around to such an extent that they had gone from being ‘dead men walking’ to believers that they might make it through the Vietnam war experience and one day go home without serious disfigurement or injury. I had, however, not built up that belief system inside myself. No matter what I did in the few moments of rest or reverie that I had it was impossible for me to believe that I could survive another year under such conditions.
The dawn came creeping up and over the far eastern wall of the canyon rim, with the first tendrils of light visible only like a faint glow across the clouded sky that had to signal a return to monsoon rains. The respite through the night had been too long and too good. The enemy would be able to use the monsoon rain during the next night to cloak another of its relentless attacks, and very likely a fully coordinated and successful one. I peered upward, toward the top of the western lip of that canyon wall but could see nothing. It was time to move from our position, I knew, and a plan was beginning to form in the back of my mind for our next survival attempt.
I knew also that the upper edge of the western face of the cliff that hung over us could not remain out of the building series of coming attacks for long. Supporting artillery fire could reach up to, across, and deep past that rim, but not accurately. Once the 175 rounds were fired they did not have the arc to go over or to one side or the other of Hill 975. The rim was basically untouchable by artillery. Air support was only truly available in the daylight hours, and then only if the monsoon rains were not at their heaviest. The enemy had time on its side. The NVA commanders could wait for the rain, risk the inaccurate fire of the 175s, and then take and settle onto the top of the rim. From there, all night long, they could fire at a high angle downward into our position. That kind of uncommon fire was called ‘plunging fire’ in training, and it was to be avoided at all costs, at least being on the receiving end of such devastating fire. The enemy wouldn’t have to be able to see well in such a position. All the machine gunners had to do was point down at the darkness of the jungle below and fire away.