Skip to comments.The Dark
Posted on 03/13/2018 1:03:37 PM PDT by Chainmail
Some of you asked me to write some more about my experiences all those years ago. This one is about a close call and my memories of it.
In April 1967, our rifle company was on an operation south and west of Danang and it was the beginning phase of a regiment-sized attack on a suspected Vietcong battalion headquarters. The plan as briefed was that we would infiltrate by platoons by night after staging from a CAP unit (Combined Action Program a Marine squad that lived with and protected a set of villages). Then after moving most of the night, join up with the rest of our company that next day, then our company would link up with the rest of the battalion and we would assault near dawn the day after.
The whole thing required what I considered the most nerve-wracking kind of movement in Vietnam: slow, steady walking in long lines being as silent as possible through enemy-held territory. We kicked off from the CAP and moved down narrow trails threading through dark canyons of dense woods and thickets and extreme dark. You had literally had to hold onto the Marine ahead of yous pack straps, just keep from losing your way. The trails started with an archway above us, woven from vines with a star at the center, more or less announcing that you had entered the enemys home turf.
The trails were also mined, so each step was taken slowly and deliberately and the tension was immense. Every once in a while, the Marine just ahead of you would stop, find your hand and then carefully guide your hand to a wire about a foot above the ground and whisper mine in your ear and then you would grasp that wire with your fingertips and then do the same for the man behind you.
After several hours of this, we found an open area by the treeline and settled in for a couple of hours sleep. When I woke, it was just daylight and the word went around that two Marines were missing. We scanned all around to see if we could see them and as we were looking, we heard two shots across that open area and then two Marines in the distance emerged from cover, dragging two dead VC behind them. They got separated during the night and had stopped to wait for daylight and started to eat a C-Ration breakfast when two VC ran directly into them and their makeshift campsite and they shot them both. We resumed our march and met up with the rest of the company and headed for the next point. During our movement, we could tell that the enemy was watching us, moving parallel to us in the treelines about 400m meters away.
We stopped for the evening in a deserted village just short of where we were going to meet up with the battalion and set up our outposts around us. Almost as soon as it got dark, we heard a burst of very fast submachinegun fire and two Marines in one of our outposts were dead. We had an infiltrator somewhere near us.
I was with the company commander, since I was their artillery scout and because I was only a Lance Corporal, I was immediately put on radio watch, sitting on a concrete porch at the front of a large house. I had three radios around me: the Company Command net, the Local Security net, and my own artillery Conduct of Fire net. One of my jobs was to check the six outposts every fifteen minutes to make sure that they were awake and alive. I would quietly say Golf One, Golf One this is Golf. If all secure, negative contact, key your handset twice and the men out there staring into the dark would squeeze the rubber-covered button on their handset twice, making a Pssht, Psssht sound on my radio. I would do that one by one in turn.
It was the darkest night I have ever known. You literally couldnt see your hand in front of you, even inches away. It felt like you were totally blind. My uniform was soaked in sweat, so even though it was night and I shivered in the humid dark.
Then, I sensed something directly in front of me and I threw my M-14 in front of me and pushed the safety off and turned the selector to full auto. I was fully alert and staring as hard as I could in front of me but it was impossible to see anything and I couldnt hear any sounds. I waited, my arms holding the rifle shaking, using every sense I had but nothing. I couldnt just shoot, because there were Marines out there all around me and I couldnt take the chance of hitting them. I stayed put watching and listening for several minutes until I was sure that it had just been imagination. So I put the rifle back on safe and put it back across my lap.
Then I heard a loud Pop of a .45 and saw a brief flash to my right front! I whispered Who shot? and a voice answered Dog Handler and then, My dog saw something. I was back to being fully tense again, rigidly pointing my rifle directly forward, safety off.
Dawn came about 4:30 in the morning and I was mad at myself for wasting a night wide awake. I never went to find my relief in the dark because I was so damned scared. I was tired and I knew that we had the assault about to happen, so I was annoyed with myself. I got up and walked around to shake off the stiffness and saw dozens of Marines getting up from their night on the ground
Then I noticed a man lying on back, arms and legs outstretched, eyes wide open, wearing only loose black shorts, with a submachinegun on his chest, held by a thick black string around his neck. I walked over to look at him and saw that the top of his head was gone and that the Dog Handlers bullet had hit him in the left temple.
The Dog Handler told me that when the dog silently alerted, he put his hand with the .45 on the dogs head and fired at where the dog was looking.
He was heading directly for me and the sound of my radios, in the dark.
Thank you for your service, and for sharing this.
I broke out in a cold sweat just reading this.
Thanks for your service.
Amazing how your memory is so clear even after half a century.
Thankyou, that was a nice read, I’m sorry you had to go through that. Thankyou for your service.
1. Do you always keep a pistol on your nightstand?
2. Do you refuse to travel without a firearm?
3. Do you sometimes find yourself checking to ensure you locked the house...a second time?
4. Do you get anxious in tight crowds, so much so that you avoid them?
5. Are you often startled by your wife just because she approached you from behind in the kitchen...laundry room etc?...
A plausible fear of being killed often results in the above.
I met a man at the local VA...a group I attend...72yrs old. Viet Nam vet.
Diagnosed with PTSD last year. He had been living with it since his return and finally decided to see if he could fix it.
Keep it up!
Collect the stories.
You may have a very successful book at the end.
Fantastic recounting of this, CM. That must’ve been a mindfsck to realize hours later that your life was that close without realizing it. I bet you thanked God every day since for that dog and his handler.
Assuming the one killed by Dog Handler was enemy?
Thank you for your service and for sharing this.
We have some younger relatives, who had the problems that you listed below, due to their jobs, where they worked and lived.
Most have had successful career changes and relocation’s to safer work and home areas including their commutes.
Great piece of writing, recalling a chilling event. Thanks for your service and for posting Chainmail.
That’s one hairy story!
While it’s their job, and people were saved (Which again, is his job) that poor dog !
I have to know if he recovered his hearing.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.