Southlands Snuffys

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

Chapter 21 (v.1) - Fin des temps.

Submitted: October 24, 2014

Reads: 660

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Submitted: October 24, 2014

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Fin des temps.

 

“I’m too godamned short timed for any more of this shit bro! And I aint gonna go burnin out on any fucking death wish action either! I just wanna go home! ”


Our quad-fifty gunner, Rung Sat Special Zone, three weeks before his DEROS, 1967.

 

The Marines who came ashore during the early part of 1965 riding in Mike 6 landing craft to be greeted by a large sign reading “Welcome Gallant Marines”, and Vietnamese women with garlands of flowers, had long since rotated home by the time I arrived in 1967. However,many of those who had flown into the Ariel Ports during 1966 as replacements for the last of “LBJ’s First” were approaching their own rotation, and were understandably starting to become just a little “nervous in the service”.For the longer a grunt served in the fighting areas the hazards increased rapidly, so in turn the more cautious he became, until he decided that the price of victory could prove just too high.

Against the popular urban myth that the average Grunts tour in the “Nam” was six months, the true average for those with an “ E” pay grade, the enlisted, was twelve months. However, those with an “O” pay grade, Officer Status, it was indeed six months, and understandably one full year of doing in-country shit, for those without “Butter Bars”, bred great resentment amongst some at the injustice of it. For it didn’t matter whether you were a draftee, volunteer, or a career “lifer”, battle grunt or an “immune”, a REMF with little or no risk to life nor limb, sadly if you had an “E” rank you did your twelve.

The only way to shorten it legally before receiving a DEROS, date eligible to return from overseas, and boarding the “freedom bird”, flight home, was by receiving a promotion of a type that required out-country training. Unfortunately, that didn’t mean you had a guarantee never to be returned, on the other hand, ending up in a “glad bag”, body bag, or being seriously wounded did. The “Short Timers” had to remain switched-on more than most, for letting your mind drift away from the job-in-hand was a mighty dangerous practice, and I suppose it goes without saying that absolutely no one in their right mind who were serving in combat units wanted to risk their life once “short-timed”, in that their out-processing date was fast approaching.

However, there were also the “burn-outs”, those suffering from survivor’s guilt, the guys with an uncontrollable death wish because they had survived as their buddies died around them, and who didn’t give a damn how long they stayed in theatre, or what risks they were required to take for to get the chance of killing just one more Gook!

Helicopters had been ferrying in stores, gear, weapons, and extra guys on a regular shuttle service until the base commander had to call a halt, for he was running out of space to put it all! The last Helicopters to land were medevac slicks, which stayed, one was full of “glad bags”, for those who would be “kool-aid” , killed in action, and any “expectants”, casualties expected to die. The bags were an unnecessary reminder to all that casualties were going to be inevitable. As the Marines squared away the now cluttered FOB, forward operation base, we Riverines prepared our boats for the coming action.

Normally a company, or more, manned a forward operation base, or a jungle fort, which had an operations control room, a helicopter landing site, and mortars to support patrols. They were defense fortified by wire entanglements and "Punjis", sturdy fire-hardened bamboo or wood sticks sharpened at both ends and driven into the ground at the appropriate angle at thigh height, presenting any attacker with an array of needle sharp spikes on which he would impale himself.

Trench and bunker systems were built to allow operating the perimeter in safety. The ground was cleared for at least 100 meters out from the perimeter to allow a clear field of fire in an attack, and Claymore mines finished the job. These were electronically connected to the CP, command post, and if a breach in the defenses occurred were the last line before sheer blind aggression was required to repulse the enemy.

Unfortunately, for us, Charlie’s camp defenses would be built in a very similar fashion, with the added exception of deep tunnel systems, improvised mines and booby traps. Poking out of sandbags next to trenches would be heavy steel tubes fixed at a ground level trajectory, and were “once only” firing. Being packed with small pieces of scrap metal, shards of glass, or small river stones such as quartz, they were devastating when fired, for spraying out projectiles in the same manner as the old “grape-shot” they cut-down everything within a twenty meter range.

The Viet Cong were brave opponents, and his fighting determination demanded our respect as it was never easy to defeat him. In addition, any jungle operation is extremely expensive in manpower, especially when attacking a fortified camp, so at the very least, we were going to need a three-to-one ratio in the attack for even a remote chance of success. But a more immediate worry for the average grunt was just how many of the estimated 83,000 VC, not to mention the 25,000 NVA, who were operating in the Delta at that time, he would be facing off against.

Our Zippo boat was detailed to follow the main group of Tango Mikes filled with platoons made up of South Vietnamese Marines, and some of their Sections had been specialist tasked to clear away any obstructions in the chosen assault paths through the enemy camp defenses. The paths had been marked by scouts, who had lain out for hour after hour only meters from the VC’s sentries, and watched their camp for weaknesses in its defense perimeter. They had also identified the primary targets of Command Post, Communications Hut, and heavy weapons support pits.

Once the platoons had been landed I was detailed off to work in a co-ordination  capacity by helping an S.V Marine Lieutenant command one of the assault units, if either of us were to be killed or wounded, the other would take over, if both, then, as normal, the next rank in seniority would take command, and so on. However, just like everyone else about to take part in the action I had absolutely no intention of being killed or wounded, if it were possible to avoid either.

Most of my designated unit was under eighteen years, and many had been in the South Vietnamese Marines from the age of fifteen, had seen action many times before, thus making my job much easier. The Lieutenant was also a veteran of Jungle warfare and went about the business with the ease of a professional, and I liked him from the moment we shook hands. Then a weapons check, a talk-through of our role, one last weapons check with a lock-and-load, then the order came for the SV Marines to board the Tangos, and we were committed to whatever fate the Gods had decided for us.

Then the battle objective was designated as strategic at the last moment. Therefore, regardless of losses, the attack would push forward to conclusion. It was to be a “hammer and anvil” operation, the tactic where we surrounded an enemy base, then sent in other units to drive the enemy out into the killing ground. The trickiest part of such an operation was to land the encircling troops with the minimum of fuss, and with the maximum of surprise.

Battle noise, in almost all small-scale military actions, starts with just a few rounds going off, and a grenade burst here or there, it then reaches a crescendo of noise, by which time the sheer volume of sound that is generated can be deafening as the air quickly fills with bangs, cracks, screams, shrieks, shouts and booms. Working to that maxim the whole operation fell apart at the exact moment an RPG round breached the hull of a Tango, and exploded with devastating results amongst the troops that were packed into her well-deck. It made a distressing sight when another Tango, at the point of reaching her landing area, suddenly struck a large mine and sank immediately, leaving the Marines and her crew struggling to stay afloat.

Then Charlie’s machine guns played their deadly tune, resulting in the river being cluttered with sinking corpses of men, being dragged down by weapons, and web gear filled with ammunition. The radio net suddenly burst into life with other boats demanding assistance after being damaged or disabled. In essence, the carefully planned attack had turned into a disorganized waterborne scramble to get out of an ambush killing zone, for Charlie had caught us in a cross-fire, and it was obvious he had previously zeroed in that section of the river.

My attempting to turn our Zippo in the battle trash constricted river without sucking into our madly spinning propellers the now floating living and dead must not have looked particularly impressive, for I rammed the river bank hard with her stern, tearing out great clumps of earth and grass, and left a long deep furrow like a ploughshare would in a potato field.  But the lack of any immediate action could have resulted in serious consequences for our boat, as B40 rockets, en mass, leaving behind smoky-brown trails, were fizzing their way over the river at surface height.

A little twin motored 0-2A Cessna flew over, and looking more like a tourist sightseeing trip than a participant made a couple of dry passes, then on the third fired its white phosphorous smoke rockets to “point-up” Charlie’s deadly riverside machine gun bunkers for a flight of incoming Skyhawks, who gave out their usual powerful display of pyrotechnics for the machine gunners to savor, by blasting with “Eighty- Deuce”, 500 lb bombs, complete half klick long sections of riverbank up into the air, and out into the river. Somewhere within that torrent of soil raining down were Charlie’s bunker positions!

Due to the intervention of the Skyhawks the battle pressure slackened off immediately, but we knew from past experience that the VC, and the NVA, never took very long in recovering their military composure from such a dent in their defenses, and sure enough, Charlie’s mortar rounds began producing water spouts, which shot into the air as if a pod of blue whales were blowing their vents.

In the end, only two of the boats that went into the action managed to give any genuine assistance to the others, and in complete disregard to the pleas for help made by men in the water, and in spite of the fact that they came under atrocious gunfire, managed to suppress Charlie’s mortar crews just sufficiently for a more measured withdrawal. The bravery of those on the two boats was of the highest order, for as each gunner was killed or wounded an SV Marine would scramble out of the well- deck and replace him, and so it went on, until those boats still under power withdrew for the re-group.

A momentary flash at our stern, then the explanation of it came in the way of huge clouds of black smoke, followed by sheets of flame, erupting from the exhaust ports, and I knew we had been hit by a mortar round! There was no need to go rushing down into the motor room to confirm it as a grinding and hammering from the propeller shafts finally brought our withdrawal journey to a shuddering halt. Up until then our boat had been the only vessel of the group left undamaged. Then we drifted a spell with the current before gently grounding on a sandbar as the air around us whined with high velocity bullets, but we were now so far out of range they posed no great threat.

Having remained at his gun position throughout our quad-50 gunner looked relaxed, leaning over the weapon as if he was checking something, but it didn’t take long before the realization set in that he had been killed outright by shrapnel, and one of the crew gently pulled him down and rolled him on to his back. He had enjoyed great popularity amongst the other guys, and with nerves stretched to the limit as the rotation time for some drew ever closer, the first cracks in the mental fabric of the crew appeared as great emotions swept unchecked amongst us at the loss of yet another of our own.


© Copyright 2020 Sergeant Walker. All rights reserved.

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