Chapter 11: Combattant pour gagner

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 702

Combattant pour gagner.

“This Assault operation must be supported by the maximum small arms fire available. Which means, all squad machine gunners must produce the overwhelming firepower to win the fire-fight, and let you gain the initiative. The position you will be attacking has no depth, therefore, a straight aggressive fight through! That is all, and good luck. “

Squad Commanders briefing,  pre deliberate attack, Plain of Reeds, South Vietnam, 1967.


Once more our Mike boat was out in the boonie working with the South Vietnamese Marines on one of their expeditions into the Plain of Reeds, a place so vile that the least false move could mean drowning in its putrid waters, where rifles, machine guns, and side arms became jammed with fermenting vegetation based mud, and into which men laden down with equipment sank up to, and at times above, their waists. To the Grunts who had to fight there that area of the Delta gave over the impression it was floating on a sea of glue-like slime.

Two other Mike boats made up the numbers of our little attack flotilla, both being Tangos, the standard troop and cargo humpers carrying the main attacking force, and the chosen landing point for this force was thick with tall reeds and elephant grass, which in turn was infested with large red ants and mosquitoes, and the stagnant water was nearly heaving with enormous leeches, which, to we the Delta grunts, were considered the devils own spawn. Those vampire-like aquatic parasites fastened tightly to flesh, as would a limpet mine to the hull of a ship, and were just as hard to remove.To avoid infection their removal had to be done carefully by either douching with “bug juice”, insect repellant, or by the old tried-and-tested method of burning off with a lighted cigarette.

Peering out through our cover within the elephant grass, and into the man-made clearing, it was the first close-up look I had of North Vietnamese Regulars. Unlike the irregulars of the VC those enemy grunts had an air of capability and self-sufficiency about them, and appeared tough, fit, and disciplined. All were armed with new Chi-com, Chinese Communist, AK rifles, with their fighting gear, uniforms and pith helmets well cared for. In essence, that time we had been up against properly trained and dedicated soldiers.

I caught some movement out the corner of my eye, but it was only our squad’s machine-gunner squirming into a firing position with his M60, digging his toes into the mud against the weapon’s recoil which would come once he opened fire. He was lying in a little watery dip in the swampy ground, a good natural weapons position which reduced his ground profile to practically zero. However, he was soaking up water like a sponge, and probably collecting leeches at the same time. Anyway, adrenaline always overcame discomfort before an anticipated fire-fight. His only other companions, besides the leaches, were red ants and the ever present mosquitoes, the usual cloud of determined insects that seemed to follow us everywhere when we took to the land.

The M60’s gunner, just like all others awaiting the attack order, ignored their annoyance, and did not react to, nor swat at them. To the trained eye, even the slightest movement can be spotted, so breathing shallow, we lay there, under cover, letting the leaches, red ants, and mosquitoes feast away on us. But better a drop of blood to them than risk an enemy weapon round hit, and its probable resulting fatal bleed-out.

It was late in the afternoon when two young NVA grunts, that looked no more than fifteen years of age, began walking towards our cover, as if without a care in the world. The M60 gunner, hidden from their view, must have been waiting in hope that they would about turn and head back the way they had come. Alas, it was not to be, for he waited until the strolling pair was no more than 100 yards from him, and then opened fire. One of the NVA grunts was hit in the lower abdomen, the other on the point of his left shoulder, which spun him into his now crumpling buddy.

As always in these situations, there was a second of complete silence after the machine gun fired, as if the world was holding its breath, then mayhem erupted! The NVA grunts who had been hit by the M60’s burst of fire started screaming, and their buddies in the clearing, who had stood like statues in a park when the automatic weapon fired, came to life, and started firing their own weapons in all directions, unsure of the exact direction from where the attacking threat was coming from.

Within that split second of indecision on their part we had taken advantage of it and were up on our feet. Then, running forward, began firing by instinct at any target that suddenly presented itself, at the same time trying to avoid hitting any South Vietnamese Marines, or our own guys, if possible, as the attack force flooded into the clearing. The attack squads quickly broke down into rifle pairs, and then to individuals as the fighting turned from a controlled action into a muddled melee, and I could see that the inevitable hand-to-hand fighting had already started as the NVA tried to make a fighting withdrawal, and the SV Marines being just as determined to stop them. Personal survival, being of the utmost in the mind, made these small individual battles extremely vicious, as each man tried to gain the upper hand over his opponent by kicking, punching, biting, and using any weapon available to hand, even helmets.

In these skirmishes, if one of your opponent’s buddies ran past, he would fire at you, or slash with a fighting knife to assist. Otherwise, if left to the original gladiatorial pair were fought to a standstill, either through exhaustion on either side, or the death of one, or both, of the combatants, just as in the games arenas of ancient Rome. To anyone who happened to pass by, these struggles would probably have resembled a Saturday night drunken fight, resulting from idiots spilling from the bars into the highway, completely wrecked out of their skulls from the consumption of alcohol, and full of fighting bullshit. However, these particular little personal battles were by far more deadly.

A hard faced NVA non-com, with a Nagant revolver in his hand, who, whilst ignoring the stray rounds that were flying around looking for a non-intended target, was standing bawling at his men in the knowing that their situation was becoming desperate as we had experienced little difficulty penetrating deeply into their positions. It appeared, at least to me, that he was trying to form a fighting withdrawal line, exactly as any other experienced non-com would have done. For the last thing any commander wants, regardless of rank status, is a mad scramble by the herd to the rear, and possibly beyond. Anyway, you can never tell if the fight could be turned around, for it is all about the judgment to make your counter-attack at precisely the right moment, and a battle win could be secured.

But he may just as well have been shouting at the wind due to the battle din, which seemed to poise in the air as if it were a natural atmospheric phenomenon and not a product of war. The din was made up from people shouting and screaming orders, or in pain, machine gun and rifle fire, sharp bangs from detonating grenades and the dull thump of pistols being used at extremely close range. At so close a range people’s clothing smoldered as a result of a pistol’s muzzle flash, after it was pressed into their torso when fired.

Pistols were immediately discarded after having a “smoke-stack”, or any other form of blockage which rendered them useless until cleared. You simply didn’t have time to go fucking around trying to clear any weapon of a blockage; you just brandished it in the way a medieval club would have been, or dropped it. If discarding was the choice, then, pulling your bayonet from the scabbard, or fighting knife from its sheath, you got right back at it, full of the fighting madness.

The NVA non-com, in obvious frustration at his orders not being heard, or disobeyed, fired his revolver at a fighting pair, hitting an SV Marine in the back of the head. Unfortunately, the heavy round from the revolver traveled straight through the Marines head and smashed into the face of the NVA grunt he was struggling with. Both went down immediately like pole-axed cattle.

At that instant, from my left, a figure ran at me, and as I turned to fire he came in at me unchecked like a football lineman would, hitting me so hard it knocked the wind out of me. As I went sprawling from his body-check my rifle flew from my grasp, I scrambled onto my back, and at the same time tried to pull my pistol, but my attacker was on me in a flash. With a knife in one hand, and a US "La Gana" tomahawk in the other, in all probability a battlefield find, he started to slash and hack at me with the ferocity of the demented.

I dropped my pistol in the rush to free it from its holster, just as a swinging blow from the tomahawk cut deeply at the base of my left thumb, and a knife stab went into the muscle on the side of the palm. As I tried frantically to fend off the attack with my left hand, his knife blade made a deep cut on the inside of that wrist, just missing a vein. All of this was going on as I groped away frantically for the pistol with my right hand! In that instant I was already starting to lose the fight, so abandoned the pistol idea to one of defense only.

Kicking, trying to dislodge my attacker, who had a leg grip on me like a professional wrestler, and trying to grab for the knife, also fending off more attempted tomahawk blows all at the same time, I understood how a murder victim must feel during a frenzied knife attack for my stamina and strength were fading fast, as I fought to defend myself from a fatal stab, or life finishing blow from the tomahawk.

If I had been an actor playing out a scene in a Hollywood movie, or in program made for TV, then I would have come up with a fantastic martial arts move, which won the day. Alternatively, a novel hero, whom it appears, is a super-soldier capable of killing his enemies by just using a thumb. Even if I had been capable of using these far-fetched, unbelievable magical methods, my left thumb was in a bad way from the tomahawk blow, and my other hand was busy trying to grab at my attacker’s knife wielding hand.

The Marine Corps taught us some great self-defense moves; no doubt about that, and they may have proved very handy in a more controlled situation. However, they taught only one form of self-defense move when unarmed, and then attacked by a battle crazed nut wielding a knife and tomahawk, and that was to run, just as fast as your legs could carry you, and don’t look back, nor trip. Similar to running from a bear in the woods, except trying to keep some self respect and not scream, unless caught. If caught, and can stay on your feet, you may just have a chance to break away, and start running again. But once down on the ground, your defense becomes extremely limited, as it was in my situation.

When on the ground and someone is on top of you slashing and stabbing away, your immediate reaction is to limit the attack result by blocking with your hands and arms, trying to protect your vital organs and face. The size of your attacker can be a major hurdle to overcome, but it is frankly an irrelevance, as you must survive to win. It becomes a battle of wills, and stamina, rather than one of strength.

My attacker was smaller, and of a lighter build than I, but I am no giant either, being considered small by American standards. But I was strong and fit in those days, and gave me just that modicum of an edge in trying to save my life. As the next knife stab came, intended for my face, I just managed to dip my head sufficiently allowing my helmet to take the blow, and my attacker lost forward balance slightly as the knife glanced off the steel. Lifting my head again, the rim of my helmet accidentally caught him under the nose on the philtrum. Luck is luck, whatever shape it comes in, and you should always be grateful when it appears.

Had I not fastened my helmet before the assault on the clearing, which I seldom did, it would probably have been lost in the struggle. That accidental blow was sufficient enough to break his determination for a split second, and enable me to muster one last supreme effort, and kick him off me, and on to his ass.

Rather than come back at me before I could recover sufficiently for a more spirited defense, he jumped to his feet sporting a spectacular nose bleed, which had resulted from his nose encountering my helmet, and ran off towards the far side of the clearing after his retreating buddies, who were now doing a controlled fighting withdrawal, and off into the elephant grass he went. Sitting there with legs outstretched, and so physically fucked I couldn’t even find sufficient energy to pull over my pistol, as it lay there not a foot from me, and fire it at the murderous little fucker as he ran after his buddies.

It is ineffable as to why he did not press home his advantage, for it must have been obvious to him that I was seriously on my chinstrap, and vulnerable from the damage to my hand. It could have been that he had felt vulnerable being out in that open clearing, and fighting alone, whilst his buddies took to the cover of the head-high elephant grass, either trying to make good their escape or to re-group for a counter-attack. Then again, his nose must have been blindingly painful, but regardless of the reason, I was mighty thankful for it as I was when no immediate counter attack materialized.

If you could, you had to see to yourself after being wounded otherwise whoever got to you first would help you. Lightly wounded men could carry on fighting once treated, and were actively encouraged to do so. An encouraging word from a Corpsman could get them going again, but sometimes it could take some physical encouragement like pushing, slapping, or a good kick in the ass to motivate them.

Self-help for me came in the form of making up a strong saline solution from my salt tablets and water bottle contents, and dowsing my wounds with it as a hopeful preventative measure against infection. Then I stuffed my hand into a semi-clean spare sock, and strapped up the whole thing with electrical tape which most of our guys carried, as a roll of it was ideal for tailoring or repairing gear. My hand now looked as if it were encased in a black winter mitt, but I have to say that I was really quite proud of my fist-aid effort, as not being a combat medic. Looking around the clearing I could see there was still the occasional running SV Marine and NVA figure, and here and there a few dazed, bloodied wounded, slowly and painfully trying to crawl away, others just standing stupefied in battle aftershock.

Whilst our Corpsmen helped both friend and foe the carnage wasn’t over. It was obvious that the NVA had no available reserve squads to bring into play, or they would have used them to break our battle momentum. However, we had, and still within the cover of the elephant grass witnessing the spectacle of their buddies in the life or death struggles, and being relatively newcomers to such a close fought action were in all probablility praying to whatever god they worshiped that they wouldn’t be required.

However, being in a state of nervous tension, and thinking that a large group of wounded NVA was in fact a counter-attack, our reserves opened fire and killed most of them, including one of the attending Corpsmen, before the ceasefire order was eventually given. Everyone longed for the relative cool of the evening as the day’s heat had become stifling, and many a wounded mans raging thirst was quenched by water taken from the dead.

Starting from the first round being fired and the fighting finally dying away, people had discovered that contrary to their basic training it was by far more important to shoot fast than accurately, that a knife or bayonet had much greater value in close proximity fighting than did rifles or pistols, and even something so simple as a good hard punch could save your life.

After the struggles of the day were over it also became obvious that our main strategy, being a war of attrition, was not going to result in a win for us in the marshy lands of the Delta. For when we cleared out one stronghold, Charlie just made another, but stronger and more impregnable than the one prior. As his Command and Control structure became more astute in battle planning they chose the fighting ground well, and fought with an admirable idealistic bravery in the effort to retain it.




Submitted: March 06, 2014

© Copyright 2021 Sergeant Walker. All rights reserved.


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