The M-60s had opened up from in front of me, but I could not estimate the distance or the true direction the machine guns might be firing from, what with the sound of the nearby rushing river water and the incessant beat of the rain down upon my helmet. I knew all the Marines understood that there was no alternative to a full-frontal attack that would take us to the very edge of the forest line. Digging in, and then holding that position would take every bit of supporting fire in the night that the Ontos could provide and then every bit of fire support from the air to hold the position during the next day.
I pushed forward, with Fusner at my left shoulder and Nguyen breaking the jungle in front of me as best he could. The rain beat away the mosquitos and cooled my skin a bit, although the pain from the leech bites all over my back would not retreat as much as I would have liked. I knew the three of us had to be within five hundred meters, or so, of that front edge of the jungle. From there we would command a full view of the waterway cutting into the side of the Bong Song, and also the southern exposure of Hill 975. The Starlight Scope would once again become very important in sighting in to suppress fire, if we could get it into position.
More M-60s opened up and I was momentarily heartened until I head the distinct ‘whooping’ sound of mortar rounds leaving their tubes. Our 60 mm mortars had been left in our foxholes alongside the river because we hadn’t had ammunition for them until the resupply came in. I realized before the mortar rounds struck, that I had not checked thoroughly to see who had gone to pick up the supplies, or even if anybody had. I burrowed into the floor of the jungle. I hadn’t been counting but I knew the mortar rounds would only stay in the air between fifteen and twenty seconds, depending upon what charge they’d been loaded in the tube with and how far they were from us. The mortar charges going off, driving the seven-pound projectiles had sounded very close. The only fuse the Soviet weapon, also manufactured in China, was capable of firing was either a dummy training round or a high explosive anti-personnel shell.
The muffled explosions from the mortar strikes rattled through the jungle in front of me, followed by more intense M-60 machine gunfire. Somehow, the NVA had been able to set up one or more mortar tubes, or those tubes had been at the ready all the time near the base of Hill 975. High explosive anti-personnel shells were not very effective when impacting into the kind of dense jungle we were worming our way through.
The old fear returned with a vengeance, as I tried to insert my body under the thick matting of the jungle. I felt the tiny animals moving under and around me as my larger anthropoid body displaced them. I didn’t care about being bitten or anything else. My fear wasn’t logical, I knew, but I could not shed it. I could only imagine some speeding chunk of hot metal plunging down and through my body.
I felt a hand reach down to grip my left shoulder and I shrugged it off. But there it was again, pulling me upward. The mortar explosions had stopped, but my fear had not.
The sound of more mortar rounds being loaded into tubes and being launched struck deeper fear into the center of my torso. I pushed down until I realized that the sounds of the mortars firing were different. The mortars launching were 60s, which meant that they were ours. Somehow, Sugar Daddy had gotten the supplies, set up the mortars, and then was no doubt aiming in the night toward where the brief flashes of muzzle blast from the 82s were coming from. The 60s fired on and on until a rainy, river water rushing sort of conditional silence returned to the jungle battlefield. I had no idea about casualties on either side, but there was little doubt that the resupply had brought in plenty of 60 mm ammunition and the enemy would now know that. The 82 mm enemy mortars would not be firing from holes, caves or other openings in the mountain. Mortars needed bare air to fire, almost vertically, up into.
“Monday morning you gave me no warning,” whispered into my left ear.
“What?” I whispered back, wondering why I was whispering, except to maybe avoid being targeted by the not too distant enemy mortar team.
It was Nguyen. I could not deny him. I let him pull me out of the mucky debris like the Gunny had so many weeks before. Nguyen was repeating the words of one of the rock and roll songs he’d no doubt heard coming out of Fusner’s radio. Monday, Monday, by The Mamas and Papas
I almost laughed in my misery and fear. A Montagnard who was not conversant in English in a place thousands of miles from the USA was quoting me song lyrics to try to help me overcome my fear. I came erect, sitting, preparing myself to go forward once again. I realized that we needed the 60 mm mortars. We had to have plenty of ammo, after resupply. The sixties could fire upon the 82s at the direction of MacInerney using the Starlight Scope, if he was still alive. Getting to my feet, I reached toward Fusner in the dark and rain. The handset was slapped into my hand like Fusner somehow knew I’d be asking for it.
“Gunny,” I said into the handset, knowing everyone was on the same combat frequency for the attack.
“Junior,” came back out of the radio, but it was the radio operator’s voice, not that of the Gunny. I didn’t care.
“We needed the sixties, which somehow Sugar Daddy’s platoon got up and working. The Ontos isn’t even up to our position yet, however, which means its got to go up to maximum speed to cover Sugar Daddy’s forward element now occupying our old position.”
There was no reply. I pushed the handset back at Fusner. I knew the message had probably gotten through, as there were many ears listening to the transmission.
I knew that Sugar Daddy had his own radio operator and had to be up on the combat net like we all were. There was no response from him over the radio, and the Gunny didn’t say anything either, but there was a distinctly different sound in the distance. The sound was an engine, working at maximum RPM, it’s noisy staccato exhaust not overpowering but definitely loud enough to be heard over the sounds of the river’s waters and the rain. The Ontos was moving and moving fast. I realized that I might have to write up Sugar Daddy for a decoration like I had Jurgens. I wondered if that was what it was like with guys coming home with medals on their chests from being involved in real combat on the ground. Were they all scumbags who somehow managed to be able to fight, kill and survive, in spite of their lack of any identifiable moral compass?
I tried to remove as much of the mud and jungle bracken from my body as I could. There were no leeches, which surprised me. But the rain was unending. The mud, beneath the jungle matting, was sticky and darkly smelling of earthly burial and death.
I called for MacInerney on the net. Although he’d left the scope to be carried by Fusner, along with his radio and battery gear, he was crucial in any attempt to use the device to sight in on launch points or bases of fire in and around Hill 975, if our occupation of the adjacent jungle was to succeed and we were able to push the sapper regiment into the hill fortifications.
There was not much further to move, as I quickly came upon Marines lying in prone positions, their faintly shiny and water covered weapons thrust out before them. I knew there was only open area to the front so went down in a prone position, as well.
I stared out where I knew Hill 975 had to be in front of me. I wanted to look at it through the Starlight Scope that MacInerny once more possessed. He had gone down to a prone position near my right side. The three lieutenants had come back as one, and I had to admit the presence of them nearby gave me a feeling of relief and strange warmth. There were other living officers in the company perimeter and I didn’t have to follow any damaged orders they might give.
“The Three Stooges return,” I heard Fusner whisper nearby, no doubt talking to the other RTOs he secretly maintained communication with.
I knew he had probably intended for me to hear him, although I didn’t have a negative enough opinion of the corporal to believe he wanted the three lieutenants to hear, as well. I ignored the snarky comment, as I presumed he knew I would.
I decided that I didn’t need to look through the scope. There was nothing but the hills’ outline to be viewed, and I knew that outline pretty well from memory.
I’d climbed that deadly peak twice and many Marines had died on top of it and around its base, and here were two more rifle companies likely to part with a few more.
The hill emitted no light in the stygian murk created by a monsoon overcast night and a densely falling rain that would not let up. The sound of the water flowing through the inlet to wedge its way into the Bong Song penetrated the darkness, and I realized that that body of water might also be a problem. Earlier, we’d been able to move the Ontos across it because it hadn’t been that deep and the water, not that fast-moving, but with the hard rain coming down for some time that stream-like thread of water running hip-deep could be considerably deeper and running much stronger. How had the NVA regiment we pursued crossed the water since there was no fire at all coming from the positions they’d fired their mortars from in the jungle area we now occupied? If they had a way to cross the water then so our Marine rifle companies might have that same way, given it was natural and not some sort of temporary bridge they could destroy or takedown.
Our two companies were in line, according to Fusner’s whispered reports, from the canyon wall to the west all the way to the river’s edge on the east, a distance of about four hundred meters. One Marine for just about every meter if stood shoulder to shoulder, which they were definitely not. Resupply contents had been rescued out from under the nose of the NVA occupying Hill 975, with the Cobras and the Skyraiders providing heavy murderous cover during the daylight hours of the day before. Our stuff had not been disturbed, when Sugar Daddy’s platoon returned for it, which was the greatest godsend of the whole operation. The company’s ammunition, water, food and the 60 mm mortar rounds we’d used to suppress the 82s had been there and were intact. I ate a full can of Ham and Mothers in four big gulps, and then consumed a whole canteen of freshwater brought in from the rear area. My energy level skyrocketed. I hadn’t been near as tired from lack of any decent sleep as I had been dehydrated and starving from only taking in small amounts of water and no food at all.
The Gunny settled down into the newly dug foxhole that Nguyen and Fusner had been kind enough to dig. It was a poor excuse for a foxhole because the ‘hole’ part of it only reached four or five feet down through the packed jungle floor. Any attempt to penetrate the mud underneath that dense debris only ended up with water completely filling the hole. The water table was too close to the surface to do anything underground unless there was a mountain like Hill 975 above to block the rain and let it run off to lower elevations.
“It’s not going to stay this quiet,” the Gunny said. I took in the strong aroma of the unfiltered Camel cigarettes he smoked.
Most of the other Marines in both companies smoked, from time to time, but none of them did so as consistently and as close to me as the Gunny.
The rain muted everything, the sound of its heavy patter becoming unnoticeable to me, except when other sounds penetrated through, other sounds that were not the river’s water rushing by, which was always there, as well.
“The 175 artillery was more accurate than in the past,” the Gunny went on, “and that made the 60mm’s a whole lot more effective. Got the Ontos into position, finally, and it can sweep the whole base of Hill 975, or even the hillside itself, if necessary. They’re regrouping in their holes, but they’ll be back well before dawn. They know what our plan is now and that the key to it is holding our position until daylight. I don’t think they have tunnels coming under the stream or under the bed of jungle we’re in. Too much water at this time of year, so I’m not worried about that.”
I wondered what was on the Gunny’s mind. He almost never went into a conversational mode, even where it involved the enemy, and what that enemy might be up to.
“We need the Starlight Scope with Hultzer and the Ontos crew,” the Gunny said, adding to my level of discomfort. “When the attack comes that’s about the only way we’ll stop it, or at least funnel it over to the canyon wall where we’ve got plenty of M-60 firepower online and still a load of ammo for the three mortars.”
“Fusner, have Nguyen hustle the scope over to Hultzer,” I ordered. “They won’t need MacInerney. Hultzer’s pretty good all by himself with it.”
In seconds Nguyen was gone, the scope, case, and tripod whisked away like they were made of some light Balsa wood.
“I agree,” I finally said, turning to face the Gunny, but staying as prone as I could be half inside a foxhole dug too shallow to do much other than allow me to pull my poncho over the edges and fight back the rain. But I couldn’t get to doing that and talk to the Gunny at the same time.
“I want a full platoon online downriver,” I continued, “about half a click to make absolutely sure we don’t get hit from that direction, and I want the three lieutenants here to go over to the Ontos and get some OJT on it. None of them are artillery so they didn’t go through Fort Sill to meet up with the little beast in training.
“Yes, sir, Junior,” MacInerney replied as if I’d been speaking directly to him. The three lieutenants were gone in seconds. I realized that I was liking MacInerney more and more, and that made me uncomfortable too. We’d never done the seniority proof thing so I simply presumed that the other two lieutenants, Russell and the one I couldn’t remember his name, who acted as his assistants, were junior to him.
When they were gone, with only Fusner remaining outside, and the Gunny closer, right near the edge of the hole, I asked the question that had come to the forefront of my mind.
“What is it?” I asked. I was determined to not speak again until the Gunny answered.
He didn’t answer. Instead, he snapped his cigarette off out into the rain, moved closer and began helping me get my poncho arranged so I’d be able to duck down under it, curl up best as I could, and then get what little sleep I could manage until whatever attack had to be coming showed up.
I got under the poncho and took off my helmet for the first time in hours. My neck was sore from the weight of the thing. I rubbed it, still not saying anything, but I made no attempt to curl up under the waterproof poncho. I sat and waited, holding the edge of it up so I faced the Gunny, laying on his belly atop the jungle debris, his face less than two feet from mine.
“Jurgens,” the Gunny whispered, his voice seeming clearer because the rain made less noise hitting my poncho than it had the metal of my helmet.
I waited some more.
“He didn’t do anything to the lieutenants, even though they’re the usual idiots they send us,” the Gunny murmured. “He didn’t do them and won’t do anything else because you’ve got him. He knows you know about the helicopter guy.”
“Macho Man,” I whispered back.
“Yeah, that guy,” the Gunny continued. “The guys in the company didn’t like it, any of them. He knows that. He doesn’t want them to be with you. And he knows you put him in for a decoration. He doesn’t understand you at all, but he’ll do what you tell him from now on. I need you to promise that you won’t kill him or put him out there to be killed.”
“You’re negotiating for him?” I asked, in shocked surprise. “Like you’re his representative?”
“I’m the Gunny,” the Gunny replied. “I represent everyone in these two companies right now, like I have for some time, and that includes you.”
At the end of his comment, the last few words hissed out, much different than his lighter whispering tone had been in delivering what came before. I flinched inside at those words. The Gunny had saved my life. He’d represented me a number of times, most of them I still probably knew nothing about. For some reason, he was requiring that I verbally, and in reality, promise that I would not finally give Jurgens the justice he so badly deserved. I thought about lying to the Gunny, my mind racing, but I knew I couldn’t do it. The Gunny, in his twenty-seven days of eternity with me, was more a father to me than my own father had been for the earlier twenty-three years of my entire life. I didn’t reply. I breathed, knowing I had no way out, but not wanting to give in or say the words. The Gunny read my mind.
“Say the one word, Junior,” he said, the patience in his voice surprised me.
My promise was important to him for reasons I’d probably never know, and he was willing to wait me out to get it.
I didn’t know whether to say yes or no. Yes, I’d kill him, or yes I wouldn’t kill him, and there was also the two ‘no’ possibilities.
“Yes,” I finally said, guessing that that meant I would not kill the man.
The Gunny’s right hand appeared out of the mud, his arm extended.
I was taken aback. Marines saluted or followed orders. They didn’t shake hands, especially not in a combat situation.
I took the Gunny’s hand, realizing we weren’t shaking hands as officer and non-com, or even as Marines. We were shaking hands man-to-man. The Gunny’s grip was muddy but very firm, and then it, and he were gone.
“Sorry Macho Man,” I whispered into the raining night, before pulling myself under the poncho and curling up as best I could. I tried to close my eyes and think of any good things. There seemed to be no leeches in my hole in the jungle and the mosquitos could not fly in the heavy rain, but that and the Ham and Mothers were about it. I finally closed my eyes.
But my mind would not stop running at full speed. The artillery might possibly save us again if it could be finely adjusted. The Starlight had to be used in such a way that an attack could be visually spotted instead of simply and violently felt when rounds began being exchanged on the ground. I opened my eyes and came up out from under the lip of my poorly constructed shelter.
“Fusner,” I said, the rain beating down upon my unprotected head and flowing back behind me down into my marginally protective hole. “Get me the 175 battery on the arty net,” I ordered.
“Have you got the last fire mission registered, with bag weight and the same range approximation?” I asked the battery fire direction officer, as soon as I had the microphone in my hand and the transmit button depressed.
“Affirmative on that data, Junior,” came back.
“Circular error probable?” I asked, waiting tensely, hoping the FDO could give me anything at all. The CEP was the likelihood, in meters of radius, that half the rounds of a salvo would strike in that zone.
“Two hundred meters,” the FDO replied, sounding like he was fairly certain.
The barrage I’d called in earlier had been exceedingly accurate, given that the distance was beyond the 175 mm gun’s table-rated range. The rounds would drop from the battery, passing Hill 975 on its eastern face while coming down into the valley just beyond and over the lip of the A Shau’s western canyon wall. Our position was just under two hundred meters from the stream of water feeding into the swollen Bong Song. It was another two hundred meters to the base of Hill 975. Deflection, the rounds aim from side to side, would not be affected much by the extended range. Calling in another 175 fire would be a bit of a toss-up but our situation was tenuous without that fire, and without that fire coming down where it was needed the most.
“What is your position, Junior?” the FDO asked.
I’d called in the previous mission from across the river. There had been no ‘rules of engagement’ to consider. But now I was calling for fire, from an artillery battery firing beyond its effective range and the rules of engagement might be strictly adhered to. I was calling for a mission that would not doubt be closer than the ‘danger close’ limitations allowed for. The battery would not fire if we were too close to where the rounds might be expected to come in. No artillery officers in the battery would risk their careers by firing, not if it was likely that those rounds might kill friendlies and should not have been fired in the first place according to the rules of engagement.
I backed our position up five hundred meters down the valley from where we really were, and then called that fictitious position in.
“You want to adjust using the gun target line?” the FDO asked back, almost immediately.
I understood that the FDO knew I was lying. He was agreeing to fire, however, and wanted to make sure that I would not have a problem adjusting fire by having to adjust from a position I wasn’t really occupying, which would be damned difficult, especially at night. An Army officer, a battery FDO was taking
a potentially massive risk in helping a Marine unit in trouble. I knew if I lived, that I could never say a negative thing about the Army again.
“Affirmative, and I’ll need adjusting and battery fire,” I replied, while silently hoping that the heavy rain would cause the rounds to reach out a little less further than they otherwise might. Zone fire would be too dispersive and potentially much more dangerous to have an impact than directing the battery to fire at targets registered in real-time by using single round adjustments.
“Do you have a request for a fire mission, over?” the FDO asked.
“Stand by, as we’ll be in a danger-close attack situation sometime before the dawn, over,” I replied, handing the headset back to Fusner.
“Call Hultzer in the Ontos,” I ordered. “The Starlight is going to be everything when it comes to letting us know when they attack, and where.”
I wondered if the NVA was on top of the artillery potential of the situation to be smart enough to attack only along the western-most part of the canyon wall, where artillery rounds coming in from the firebase located way up the valley would be partially blocked by the bulk of Hill 975’s eastern flank. “And tell him to aim and concentrate six rounds loaded with flechettes, with fuses adjusted to set the rounds up close to where the stream moves by the western face of the parapet.”
“What’s a parapet, sir?” Fusner asked, “Hultzer wants to know.”
I frowned but understood. Parapet wasn’t the right word to use, even if Hultzer had understood. The canyon wall was the canyon wall and not a fortification or breastwork to hold off an attack or protect from incoming fire.
“The wall of the canyon below Hill 975 and as east in the distance as the fuse range will allow,” I answered.
If the artillery could handle sixty to seventy percent of the forward area we were facing then the Ontos might be able to handle the remaining area, even though the distance and the likely density of attackers would be much greater if the enemy calculated properly.
I crawled back into my hole and pulled the poncho cover back over the opening. I curled up to get some badly needed sleep, realizing that there had been a time in the very near past when an impending attack wouldn’t have let me sleep at all.
Seconds later, I felt the cover of my poncho eased upward and someone sticking his head inside.
“I’ll do my part,” the man said, his voice quiet but clear.
The crease between the poncho cover and the mud lip of the hole disappeared and I was in complete blackness again. I closed my eyes, only recognizing Jurgen’s voice as sleep overcame me.
This is the second time I have written you. I’ve devoured all the chapters, felt excited and sad at the story–all at the same time. Just to recap my experiences because with the number of guys writing you and all the names, I’d be surprised you would recall me.
I was USAF in Vietnam, two tours. One as a bomb loader and one as a gunner on a AF Special Ops Huey. Our entire mission was to take recon troops into Cambodia, drop them off and come get them. And we did come get them, come hell or high water. We did not lose a lot of our men or choppers due to the sneaking in and out tactics we employed.
But I digress. The thing I want to know is if you are anywhere near the finish of the story. I understand the difficulty of writing such an epic tale and would love to see the finish.
Thanks, Steve, big time.
A really great comment and some really terrific compliments.
I am now back and working to finish the story since we are so close,
but life went from open-heart surgery straight into the greatest panic the nation has ever participated in and there is no avoiding that.
I also remain weakened, they say, although I feel tough as old shoe leather.
I must respect the fact that I am not as tough as I think I am.
Thanks for the great comment.
Hello jr. I check my e-mail and Facebook every morning and night for the next chapter. When I start reading one my wife leaves the room as she said I shouldn’t read them as it always causes my eyes to leak. She’s a few years younger than me so didn’t know me before the war. I can’t imagine what could have been like To go through so much every day and night. I did 3 tours back to back to keep a couple brothers out of the crap and saw my share of crap but it was spaced out. I don’t think my body or sanity could have taken as much as you and your men did. Thank you for sharing it helps a lot of us.
Thanks Sag! Means a lot to me that some of the real deal guys, and many serving in the rear areas (and I have a lot more respect for those guys than I used to. What the hell did I know? I want the guys to have lived and not died). Anyway, I sure bet you saw a lot and maybe it was better that way, with some breathing space. The ability to accumulate stuff and take it home. The ability to know what the guys around you outside your unit were doing. I’m a bad judge through, as you are reading my experiences now…
Great LT. glad to hear you said us ARMY artti guys are ok. Was only buck sgt. in the motor pool but good to hear the comment.
My brother died as an Army 1st Lieutenant. He was a terrific guy. My experiences with the Army were all great, in and after the Nam. ALL OF THEM!!! They fired for us, flew for us, and never complained and in fact said time after time how great we were. I was my blues one night at the Surf and Sand in Laguna Beach with my wife. He had enough money for chicken dinner and a drink apiece and that was it. The 101st guys came walking in, about ten of them in uniform, saw us in the corner, checked out my ribbons, and then came to our table. They were wonderful. All enlisted guys from the Nam. They bought us dinner and drinks and we stayed until they closed the place at two a.m. That’s the Army I know.
Never forget. Ever.
Lt spot on. As always a great read. To enthralled to catch any Grammatical errors.
Thanks a lot Roger and I really appreciate how long you have been with me, as well as the compliment written on here for all to see…
A couple of weeks ago I rode in a van from Hue to Khe Sanh, in comfort with my 60 & 70’s music playing.
Along the way we stopped here and there on 548 and other roads enjoying the lush jungle and speeding rivers
And a one-stop it dawned on me that perhaps I was covering the same ground you did back then. My view of that jungle and the rapidly flowing river suddenly changed. Your story echoed in my mind and I could almost hear the drums. (perhaps the tumbling water beating the rocks) and I thought about that young Lt. with those rugged men who once walked there. I said a little prayer for those who died and another one for those who lived, not knowing which needed it more. Then went on my way, still, in thought, I was to face my demons a few days later outside of An Khe and I did. I had met four men who at one time where my enemy and we became friends. Just old soldiers remembering the past. We laughed and joked and put the war behind us. Then I went to the crash site of my mentor, in a lonely field far from anything and faced my dreams and my dreads then laid it all to rest. James, I am now happier than I have been in 50 yrs. I thank you for your books as they helped me write my story for my family. That led to my return to Vietnam and that has led to a better life. I hope and pray that it will give you the same peace it has me.
Gordon, I as so taken by your comment, and by the baring of the soul you did in it so eloquently, I put it up on my Facebook sites. The depth of your
compliment cannot really be described. It’s like a religious experience and without this kind of fiery horsepower of emotion directed upward toward the heavens and to include
me and my work, I could never finish this work. I cannot thank you enough for what you have said…
Semper fi, brother,
What an honor it is to read your account and to have followed you through this journey for the past couple of years. One question: Do you ever plan to provide any maps of the area of operation? I often get lost in direction like is the river on your left or right, where is the fire base directionally, how far was that night march, etc. A few figures combined with your vivid descriptive powers would surely help me visualize better.
Thank you again for your service and your willingness to dig these memories out of your historical mind vault.
I have been preparing that ‘book’ and manual since I was mid-way through the first book.
I have not published or provided it simply because I have not wanted to unfictionalize the printed
version even more than I do by allowing comments here and answering them the way I do. There is risk here.
There is also credibility and the continued reinforcement of that by doing just what you say…which I will
do once we are done. Sorry it is not to be right now.
and thanks for being there through all this whole odyssey, the most unlikely war novel I have ever seen written and published.
Thanks again Sir, for another great read. Semper Fi
You are most welcome David, and I much appreciate your comment and your writing here on this forum.
Lt, although I drew combat pay and hazardous duty pay I was never in combat. Although an operating flight deck can get hairy at times. When I finally left the Navy and started back to college, in 1975, we vets would sit around over coffee or beer and talk. I have heard parts of your story or some like it. It helped the real combat vets to have someone listening, that didn’t ask stupid questions. You are a fantastic writer! I feel like I am some how standing next to you. I was supposed to become a Corpsman, but decided I did not want to be shot at. I still wonder if I could have hacked it. I can’t wait to read the rest. Oh and Welcome Home! I’m glad you made it!
It was less about ‘hacking it’ than being hacked. To pieces. Combat is not
a place for training to play itself out effectively or for clever tough warriors to navigate through
because they are clever tough warriors. That little piece of errant artillery metal, traveling at 22 thousand
feet per second across the battlefield takes down a regular Marine or Rambo himself if it encounters him.
I have come to find I was not so bad at what I had to do but you will note that I only lasted 30 days and even
then was amazingly lucky to get out alive.
Thanks for the interesting comment.
Opened my email just before heading to my three times per week PT. Only got to read the first half of this post before I had to head out the door. Started from the beginning when I got back to savor the whole post. I am torn between wanting to read the climax of the 30 days as soon as possible and having the whole saga come to an end.
Thats a really neat compliment, when you put it that way SGT and I much appreciated the reading of it.
Thank you and thanks for the support and the kind of study and analysis of the material you put in…
Lt, once again my jaw tenses and toes curl in anticipation of the next event.your words cast an obsseve trance that finds my focusing with tunnel vision y’alls progress. This A. O. Is alive in my memory . We’ve flown in there, inserted as air cav “Blues” platoon. It’s pretty cool I can still see it through your descriptions. Revisiting emotions past …lol, not there/cool yet.
thanks for the great comment Doc. Yes, the sights sounds and valley…they will live on as we live on,
thought to have forgotten but that is never to be…thanks for being there and now being here…
A slight correction coming from a musician…
Your phrase: “Monday Morning, by the Mommas and the Pappas.”
The song is actually called, “Monday, Monday”
And the band is called, “The Mamas & the Papas”
I turned 18 just as the war in Vietnam ended or I probably would have been headed there as well.
I have been reading your story ever since I stumbled upon it on FaceBook…great writing.
Thanks most sincerely for the help. Sometimes my memory gets a bit screwed up, especially about the music. I ought to check everything
out on the Internet but when I am writing the story I just write it from memory and my diary and notes. I should edit much more professionally
after that but I get emotionally spent and just want to get it off. And that’s where you guys and gals come in. My editors and my friends who
are there to become, in many ways, part of the story…
Semper fi, and thanks so much.
You know I led convoys all over our 4th division a.o. and
moved troops and the supplies that support a war.
Of course I knew these men were out there fighting this war but never realized the extent of their actions until I read of them from men like you.
May God bless you and your men
Yes, the enormity of the gulf between being in the rear areas and really separated from the combat arenas…and the guys coming
out not talking about it all when they made it out, like that would somehow jinx their bid to make it back into the real world.
Thanks for the great comment.
Once again Jim–powerful.
Thanks for the powerful one word compliment. I get it and got it and appreciate it very much.
But now I was calling for fire, (dele comma) from an artillery battery firing beyond its effective range (insert comma) and the rules of engagement might be strictly adhered to. I was calling for a mission that would not (no) doubt be closer than the ‘danger close’
“Mamas and Papas”
From the quality of comments, it seems others agree this segment might be your best yet! Let it flow!
I have had so many ‘best ever’ segments and I have no clue when I’m writing the segments that that particular segment might be
considered that way.
In fact, I only think about living back down in the A Shau while I am writing
and I usually do the writing at a local coffee shop or restaurant (Avant on Broad Street or Speedos down near the Riviera Pier).
They have come to know what I am doing and
are really great about not interrupting and bringing me back to this phenomenal world.
Crap you stopped !!!!!!!!
Once again on the edge of my seat Lt.
One thought kept running through my head as I was reading this one, the importance of the poncho !! I know it might sound frivolous to some, but for those who know it became invaluable in the constant rain.
Damn if I believe Jurgens will actually man up, but I’ll wait it out.
Thanks for the intense read !!
Jurgens was driven by the same forces the rest of us were but his survival direction manifested differently.
There was no real evil in combat, as the combat is the evil environment. There is only fear and trying to
somehow make it through.
I wasn’t t sure what I hated the most over there the heat or the rain. Then when I think about it what I hated the most was how alone we were. Individualy and collectively. Hot ,wet, and alone!!
Yes, corporal, that alone thing was, indeed, the worst of all, except for the times of outright terror and deep abiding fear.
Semper fi, and thanks for saying it the way it was…
Stygian darkness….. wow … anyone who has stared into the night over a gunsight will feel that turn of phrase in their bones and in their worst moments.
Yes, the dark was a pretty terrible thing, with noises masked by other noises
and the terror suspicion that anything and everything was coming at any moment.
Thanks for the description…
What a piece of work Jurgens was.Wow what a great read. Thanks Jim
You are most welcome Milt, and I much appreciate you writing the compliment on here for all to see…
Thank you for another riveting installment, Lieutenant. Excellent as usual. One edit: third paragraph, first sentence should read “ I heard” rather than I head.
Got it Gunny, and thanks for the help here…
“Representative” what a neat way for the Gunny to explain one of his many roles. One who smooths (as best he can) the conflicts within the Company… and has the wisdom to know when to back off. He was definitely plugged into the mental state of the Marines.
“… guys coming home with medals on their chests from being involved in real combat on the ground. Were they all scumbags who somehow managed to be able to fight, kill and survive, in spite of their lack of any identifiable moral compass?”
From my reading of military history many combat heroes came from rough backgrounds – street fighters & juvenile delinquents. They played by their rules and not that imposed by others. They don’t wait for someone to tell them what to do. They are great in battle but often could not fit in a peace-time military. Yet there are many unassuming folks who performed heroic deeds. The Quakers who served as medics come to mind.
Some editing suggestions follow:
I knew all the Marines understood that there was no alternative to a full-frontal attack the would take us to the very edge of the forest line.
Maybe substitute “that” for “the” in front of “would”
I knew all the Marines understood that there was no alternative to a full-frontal attack that would take us to the very edge of the forest line.
The discussion of the NVA mortar fire left me a bit confused. My first impression was they were firing 60 mms because you mentioned your 60s. I’m getting that initially you figured it could not be your mortars – so it must be theirs. The sound of a 60 firing vs that of an 82 is different. Also the seven-pound projectile sounds more like a 60 mm rather than an 82 mm (but I have
limited experience there). In later paragraphs all is clarified. The NVA is firing 82s and Sugar Daddy is firing 60s.
“We needed the sixties, which somehow Sugar Daddy’s platoon got up and working. The Ontos isn’t even up to our position yet, however, which means its got to go up to maximum speed to cover Sugar Daddy’s forward element now occupying our old position.
Just close quotes after “position”
“We needed the sixties, which somehow Sugar Daddy’s platoon got up and working. The Ontos isn’t even up to our position yet, however, which means its got to go up to maximum speed to cover Sugar Daddy’s forward element now occupying our old position.”
There was no response from him /space/
over the radio,
There was no response from him over the radio,
I knew he’d probably intended me to hear him,
Maybe add “for” in front of “me”
I knew he’d probably intended for me to hear him,
Earlier, we’d been able to move the Ontos across it because it hadn’t been that deep and the water, not that fast-moving, but with the hard rain coming
Picky punctuation suggestion. Drop one comma and substitute a semicolon for the second comma
Earlier, we’d been able to move the Ontos across it because it hadn’t been that deep and the water not that fast-moving; but with the hard rain coming
I don’t understand “How had the NVA regiment we pursued crossed the water since there was no fire at all coming from the positions they’d fired their mortars from in the jungle area we now occupied?” Initially you thought their location was: “or those tubes had been at the ready all the time near the base of Hill 975.” … and shortly after the incoming rounds said “There was not much further to move” that would have made counter fire by Sugar Daddy really dicey had they been in the jungle immediately to your front.
Any attempt to penetrate the mud underneath that dense debris only ended up water completely filling the hole.
Maybe add “with” in front of “water”
Any attempt to penetrate the mud underneath that dense debris only ended up with water completely filling the hole.
The 175 artillery was more accurate than in the past,” the Gunny went on, “and that made the 60s a whole lot more effective.
60s either M-60s or 60 mms ? I’m guessing your 60 mm mortars.
And he knows you put him in a for a decoration.
Drop “a” from in front of “for”
And he knows you put him in for a decoration.
FDO, was taking /space/
a potentially massive risk in helping a Marine unit in trouble.
Just backspace to fill the hole.
I really need a map to figure out directions.
Our two companies were in line, according to Fusner’s whispered reports, from the canyon wall to the east all the way to the river’s edge on the west, a distance of about four hundred meters.
I wondered if the NVA was on top of the artillery potential of the situation to be smart enough to attack only along the western-most part of the canyon wall, where artillery rounds coming in from the firebase located way up the valley would be partially blocked by the bulk of Hill 975’s eastern flank
Somehow I thought you were on the west side of the river facing north. If that is correct then the first sentence should be:
from the canyon wall to the west all the way to the river’s edge on the east, a distance of about four hundred meters
I’ll leave that to folks who are keeping track of position.
James, Always at your own pace. There is no deadline. Stay in your comfort zone.
Blessings & Be Well
I cannot thank you enough for this assistance Dan. You are simply the best and I don’t think I could successfully do this without you and few more truly dedicated souls on here…
and then there is the rest of the wonderful mass of men and women who read but don’t comment. A hundred comments probably means five to then thousand readers.
Than you again for your help, Dan.
I think all are corrected.
Holy shit Sir, you’ve cranked it up the most it’s ever been with this segment. Seriously. The “guys coming home with medals on their chests” really hit home. Ron Shallo justified extending to go to Beirut and tried to get me to do the same by saying that “we’d come home with some ribbons on our chests and some stories to tell our grandkids.” Ron came home in a box, and I try to tell my grandkids about Ron and all of the others that didn’t come home, I hope that some day they’ll understand. Just like I try to tell them about my Dad, gone fifty years ago yesterday. He wasn’t a Marine, but he was Air Force and kept the B-52s that were pounding the north and the south from Okinawa flying. Dead at 37 from phlebitis, the climate killed him days before we were to be medavaced back to the states. It’s up to us to tell the stories and share the memories, I for one thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing yours. Semper Fi LT.
Thanks, Mike, from the bottom of your heart to the bottom of my own. I am trying to remember and lay it down as it went down. I was very surprised about
how many people reacted to the agreement I had to come to with the Gunny, just as I am about the medals thing. It was weird but what was not out there in
that shit? Thanks for adding your own story to my own and I am sure sorry about your Dad…
Semper fi, brother,
Another episode already up and the adrenaline is flowing here.
Ready to address the “things that go bump in the night.”
Palpable sense that a climax is building.
Thanks Walt, and yes you may address me as Junior, a name I fled from over the years but have now accommodated because of you and the people who write on
here to encourage and to help me along. Much appreciate the compliment and the care, and writing it on here…
Wow! My mind has been left darting between two bases! Even as the proverbial ball is about to be tossed above your ears! What a pickle! Where the only means of being tagged out seems to be with words whispered in blackness! Yet…Junior’s got a lock on it, I think!
Somewhere between the straw that breaks the Camel’s back and the blue smoke rising for a Lucky Strike still burning within a wet and muddy handshake is that chance. That one chance in a thousand, where a Marine chooses to remain “always faithful” to their integrity…
Semper fi, James
Thanks, as I have become to writing when I read your comments. I always smile when I see one, knowing how great and insightful as it is going to be.
Like this one. Can’t thank you enough Hayes…
Great Scott’s! Monday morning ! Then hear , “ I’ll do my part”. Just the beginning of a long night.
Thanks W, for the compliment in the writing on here.
Means a lot…
Yes sir this is really getting sticky now, man LT you leave us hanging more and more. Great read!
I do not mean to leave everyone hanging, although you will note that stopping this thing at almost any
point would kind of do that, anyway. Thanks for being with me all the way through and the compliment you give me…
Great as always.
Thanks Chuck, it is certainly nice to read this sparse but meaningful words from you…
James, I know what a solitary effort it is to write. I also know that to journey as deeply into your psyche as you are doing can be a painful, lonely thing. Thank you for that. As I was one of those who avoided the draft by going to college, I’ve never really gotten the gut-level feel for what it was really like for the average soldier…and I’ve read every book written about it in my trying. I think I finally have an idea now. Thank you for that! I’ve never known how to think about our generation’s war, but now I think I have a way to frame things. You’re a way better than average writer writing a gut wrenching story. I think this is the best heroic tragedy I’ve ever read! Thank you for serving in my place, and thank you for this book!
Loved your comment Bobby and I hope you don’t mind that I put it up on my Facebook sites.
Tremendous compliment and it reached me deeply. Thank you for keeping me going…
Great as always, why was the gunny so concerned to get your promise?
You will have to wait for the answer to that question Joshua. Thanks for the compliment though…
I’m not a Marine and have always maintained a true teasing rivalry with them, but as an Army DUSTOFF medic in the Central Highlands 70-71 I’ve gained a vision of what y’all went thru on the ground. Damn!! Y’all were some wild and crazy people! 🚁🇺🇸
Y’all should’ve volunteered for DUSTOFF where it was so much safer!! 🤪🤪👍👍
Well, there was no volunteering for anything once I got in at that time.
I was on a sleigh ride until I was finally hit and then entered the medical system
and began the process of recovery back into civilian life…which I never quite accomplished.
What a wonderful thoughtful and caring comment, much less a terrific compliment. I mean the best heroic tragedy writer and not the ‘better than average writer’ part!
Anyway, it is a pleasure to read such a comment and it makes me feel pretty damned good.
Thanks for that.
Outstanding segment James, this will be a very successful book, looking forward to the next!
Thanks James, I am hoping your are correct, of course.
Appreciate the outstanding in the compliment…
Well James….I have been in this saga with you for quite a while now and you never cease to amaze me with your ability to tell the story the way it really was and to put us right there with you….so many, many people have gotten an “education” of sorts as to the real world of combat….so many vets have, I think, felt a sort of healing process because of your ability and the format that allows us to speak when we want and read the comments of others that have been there….I have said before it is almost like you are holding church here….we come to feel others pain and realize that there are shared pains that we have thought for years were only ours….some only read the comments and feel better….some come to the alter and kneel silently….and some come to the alter and share their inner most feelings….but either way, it has been a healing process for many and many have you to thank for that….because of your ability to tell the story….the horrible and ugly truth….and even your leadership on this website can not be denied….as for myself, it has been an honor, to share in this journey….even though I do dread it’s ending….
I don’t think a writer can get a more sincere or greater compliment than what you brought here in the totality of your comment.
I read it three times and smiled all the way through each time. Thanks so very much for helping to keep me going.
Your sheer will is what keeps you going…and the fact that you know what an effect you have on all that passed through the jungle with fear and the determination to survive pushing them onward…I am glad I could make you smile but I take no credit for your “keeping going”…it comes from within…just like the strength and power that drove Junior to do what ever it took to protect his men and try to see that they survived…one of the characteristics of a true leader…
Thanks Mark for the tremendous compliment. Only on here and through men like you interpreting the writing have come to make be believe
I was not so bad, that I might have been a good Marine too. Yes, I persevere on here to the finish and I guess some of that is intrinsic
to the animal, but you will recall that last time in the Nam I had a lot of help too…so your guys are my Gunny…
Another great chapter. Can’t wait for book 3.