Southlands Snuffys

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

Chapter 18 (v.1) - Survie du plus Apte.

Submitted: September 11, 2014

Reads: 506

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Submitted: September 11, 2014

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Survie du plus Apte.

 

“Ok, here is something for you maggots to remember! When fighting in jungle there are no towns or cities to be captured or ground to be taken. The only measure of success will be in the body-count you produce, and the only way to achieve a large count is with aggressive offensive action. This Marine Corps has only one objective in battle, and that is to kill everything! “

USMCRD, Port Royal, Parris Island, South Carolina, 1966.

 

Helicopters, at first thought, would, to the majority, seem the obvious choice for quickly moving Fire Force teams in and out of their given task areas, and at times they were. However, helicopters are inherently noisy beasts, and can be heard klicks away from their destination. Consequently, being highly vulnerable to small-arms ground-fire, many were shot down by dedicated anti-aircraft weapons and missiles supplied by the ever meddling Chinese and Soviets. These weapons, along with various other types of ordnance, were smuggled in through supposedly neutral Laos by the NVA, VC and Chinese mercenaries, who were employed by both sides, but owed allegiance to neither.

In a land overly abundant of canals, creeks, wetlands and rivers, and with a long, estuary and cove studded coastline, not to mention its myriad of islands, only a fool would not exploit both the natural and man-made waterways, and relatively quietly, and effectively, move men and equipment around. Hell, the French had, and Charlie did, so following their lead, so did we!

Appearing from behind some trees they showed themselves, apparently physically intact, but looking ill, and shockingly thin, each of them wearing rags that once were well cared for uniforms. Scarecrows would have looked better attired, and much healthier, than the bearded men now standing at the river’s edge. The jungle, even with the sun blazing brightly in an azure sky above its green canopy, is at times full of an oppressive dark hostility pervaded with a clawing, dank, background smell of decay and damp. In that type of atmosphere, clothes and equipment can quickly rot on the wearer, weapons rust and boots fall apart.

I took our boats binoculars, and trained them on the men who began to wade out though the river shallows to stand on a whale-shaped sandbar, and patiently await our Mike boat to rescue them. Then I felt slightly embarrassed at the very thought that these men could possibly need rescuing, for I had met their bold creed many times before, and found them to be happier when out in the heart of the jungle than in the comfort and safety of their home town. Once securely aboard our Mike and heading back, the surviving members of the fire-force team hesitantly told their story, and I listened with barely a word of interruption, for what a dreadful one it was.

Their mission had become ill-fated when disaster struck, and Charlie marked up a real success as the low-flying Slick, detailed to deliver their Chalk, had been hit by a burst of cannon fire which instantly killed the door gunner, and passing up through the fuselage tore a great chunk of metal from the rotor gearbox. The helicopter, now mortally wounded, went into a mad, and uncontrollable, spiraling decent. It then crashed into triple canopy, immensely thick jungle where the trees grow at three levels, ground, intermediate, and high, and there it hung smoking for a short time, before tearing itself loose. Accompanied by broken tree limbs festooned with leaves it plummeted the final hundred or so feet to the ground, where, with the sound of a dull “pop”, it quickly started to flame. The short time between the helicopter wreckage hitting the ground, and the flared burning, gave five survivors just sufficient time for a scrambled escape from the crumpled carcass of what had been until minutes before, a flying wonder.

Once the wreckage had cooled sufficiently the band of survivors set about searching it for anything that could be useful in what was to become their battle for survival, and in the process they removed what was left of the helicopters crew and their Chalk. It was grim, terrible work, but like all service people they felt duty bound to their fallen and saw it through, burying what remains they could recover in a shallow grave beside the now melted, skeletal frame of the Slick, which would act as a marker. However, the wreckage proved barren of anything useful.

All communication with the outside world had gone; they were effectively cut-off without method of making fire, had no drinking water or food, nor weapons to defend themselves. So with two personal jack-knives, a marching compass and the uniforms they wore being their total stock they set about making weapons from bamboo, a stabbing spear each to double as walking staves, and pointed sticks as makeshift “stilettos” for personal defense. Then resting until first light they set out on the long march back, another day had begun, and the start of a journey which none of the men who eventually survived it were ever likely to forget.

Higher jungle has notoriety for low cloud, which spreads over it like a white tablecloth, and fills every nook and cranny with mist. This natural phenomenon added tremendously to their existing difficulty of navigating, for there were no landmarks by which a course could be set. As a compass is never a sure-thing guide in jungle, all they could do was take an approximate course for South, head downhill, and hope to find a good sized stream in the valley, follow it to a river and be content with that, for every stream leads to a river, and every river to the sea, eventually.

Because of the mist it was impossible to make any real progressive going, and the team’s leader, a Color Sergeant, soon realized they were getting into trouble, and to his consternation the going got steadily worse with huge tangled masses of creepers, vines, and thorn looming up, making it impossible to set a straight course. It was no good turning back, so they pressed on as best they could with the general downhill line of advance, and hoped the mist would disperse before their strength started to fade.

As a result of the helicopter shoot-down, all were well aware that the Viet Cong were scattered around, at times not far off, and if one of their prowling scouts spotted them and fired his weapon, and as they had nothing of any real consequence to fight back with, they would be fucked! Consequently, at the least noise they froze with every nerve jingling, waiting on a deadly challenge, in the knowledge that it could only be a matter or time before contact would be made with the enemy. It must have been similar to slowly walking down a dark alley waiting on your throat being cut.

For many weary days they fought doggedly on with admirable determination until the inevitability of meeting with the enemy came just as they finally reached the valley floor, where a small group of VC was encamped next to a small stream. So all night they had crouched in a flimsy hiding place where ants made a concerted attack on them, and bit unmercifully until the hiding men were near frantic. But if one of the VC had detected their presence it would have meant all being killed, so they tried to forget the malicious ants as best they could and waited for the dawn.

Abandoning any caution every man among them agreed the plan as had been swiftly set out by their leader, knowing that the only way to kill an enemy in the jungle is to surprise him, converting him in a moment from a living being into a dead one. There is nothing sinister in such an action, for it is simply a natural consequence of war. However, an added incentive to their dispatching the enemy mercilessly was that the Viet Cong not only killed Special Forces who fell into their hands, but frequently tortured them first.

Some months prior, four limbless and decapitated skeletons fastened to trees with barbed wire had been found by a fighting patrol, all proved to be the remains of a missing four-man “brick”. Meaning that such a find, and others before them, ensured that no one could forget the horrible cruelties inflicted by the Viet Cong if ever captured. With all that in mind the team leader already knew there was only one thing to be done.

Unarmed and with his hands up, he had walked deliberately toward the group of VC. It was an extremely desperate risk to take, and had said to me he felt very uncomfortable, and frightened, having to do so. More especially when he came within a few yards of the group, but it had worked, the gamble paid off, for when the VC saw that he was truly unarmed they didn’t fire and lowered their weapons, all the time shouting and gesturing for him to lay down on the ground, obviously thinking they had made an easy catch.

As he obeyed the command the other survivors grasped the moment, for the least hesitation on their part would have guaranteed the death of their leader, and rushed out from their night cover to attack the now startled Viet Cong. Descending upon them with brutish ferocity they impaled the VC on their bamboo spears, and stabbed at them with the “stilettos” until their shrill shrieks ceased. Unfortunately, the VC had managed to claim at least one or their attackers when getting off a few rounds, some of which had found a mark and ripped open his chest.

On the other hand, all the Viet Cong were dead but proved as near weapons, equipment, and food poor as their attackers. Just a small satchel containing some old French grenades without primers, a revolver, empty of cartridges, a small palm-wrap of sweet rice , and a few 1950’s era rifles, which were, as was the revolver, empty of rounds due to their recent firing, and thus rendered them useless, for a firearm without ammunition is nothing more than a hi-tech club. So, carrying their killed brother-in-arms they had set off once more, laying him to rest about a klick distant from their attack by digging into the streams bed and covering the watery grave with rocks to avoid any macabre revenge on him by the VC.

If there are no obvious tracks to follow then movement through dense jungle is painfully slow as it is hard to penetrate, especially if laced with swamp, and it had taken them over a month to cover forty five miles on foot, hiding by day and travelling at night. They had been continually soaked to their skin, turning it to the color of putty, and being in constant danger of starvation had taken to eating snakes and rats, which were plentiful. Jungle rats are on the large side, have an evil temper and can be quite hard to kill, but they make reasonably good eating as their flesh, as with snake, has been said to taste very similar to shark meat, even if eaten raw when starvation forces it upon one. However, it is imperative for future health to make sure all of the rat’s blood has been removed, or possibly suffer some horrific medical consequences.

As day followed day their condition became steadily worse, and the stream steadily transformed itself into an infant river. The traveling had been dreadfully bad, for every foot of the way was through virgin jungle, which had to be cut by hand with a near blunt-edged machete taken from one of the dead VC. Shaking with weakness from dysentery, and other jungle enforced ills, they somehow struggled on. Hundreds of little black blisters appeared on their flesh from bug bites, and the myriad of mosquitoes were perfectly maddening. It is beyond argument that the worst part of travel in swamp or jungle is the awful plague of savage biting and stinging insects.

It therefore came as no surprise when I learned that one of the survivors had expired on the trail, solely due to the unrelenting hardships. Bacillary dysentery and a resulting raging fever, brought on by drinking parasite packed water, had made him shout and sing in delirium before slipping into a coma. With no medicine to doctor with they nursed him as best they could, but he subsequently died within two days. His companions buried him in a lonely grave beneath a towering hardwood tree.

Once more they found the resolve to struggle on, getting weaker and weaker yet somehow still moving although falling down every few steps, till at last they had a stroke of good fortune, for upstream came a small sampan crewed by local fishermen, and although startled by the sudden appearance of the three emaciated individuals they took pity, and after cooking for them a meal of fish and rice they volunteered to take the trio of survivors to their village where the headman sent a messenger to one of our forward bases, and where the news was received with some skepticism. However, as it was deemed prudent to confirm the story, our boat and a PBR, to act in a roaming patrol come flank guard, was dispatched with the hope that three men, already listed as missing believed killed, were indeed still very much alive.

As they concluded the rendering of their ordeal it could have been due to the noise from our boats machinery and thrashing propellers that they did not hear my offered words of admiration and understanding, but it was more likely their minds were far away, trying hard to accept all, or any, of what had happened to them and hardships bravely borne. Undoubtedly, those three hardened soldiers had achieved by sheer stubborn purpose what would have been impossible for the ordinary man.


© Copyright 2017 Sergeant Walker. All rights reserved.

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