Southlands Snuffys

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

Chapter 23 (v.1) - Bravoure Inutile

Submitted: December 31, 2014

Reads: 740

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Submitted: December 31, 2014

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Bravoure Inutile

 

“Amazing, isn’t it bro! With nearly the whole of the fucking Viet Congs’s 263d battalion lining up against us, here we are, offering these people things they don’t want and rebuilding what we have destroyed, then, when it suits the Higher-Higher, we will destroy it all over again and take back everything we gave them, but still expect their goddamned gratitude!”

Corporal "Bayou" Lejeune , “Hearts and Minds” mission, U Minh Forest,

Rung Sat Special Zone, 1967.

 

The 1966 decision to break Charlie’s grip on the Delta by all means available had come and gone by the February of 1967, but more had to be done, so Rinverine, SEAL, SLAM, and SOG operations intensified against the VC and NVA. It began by concentrating all efforts on the mangrove swamps of the Rung Sat, Southeast of Saigon, and less so in the vast Plain of Reeds to the Northwest of the City.

Charlie initially tried to thwart such efforts by standing his ground, but the sheer volume of firepower that was directed against him decimated his ranks, forcing him back into the guerilla tactic of hit-and- run, the simplicity of which worked perfectly in his favor. This resulted in a near constant contact-with-enemy situation for we Riverines, and with the VC’s three-man “Cells” out for blood, no one could sail anywhere within the Rung Sat without a near daily dose of Charlie’s small-arms, rocket, or mortar fire. At one point, we became the most fired on troops in South Vietnam, next to Charlie, thus enabling replacement crew members to become battle veterans on their first day of joining a boat.

During the training classes we had been taught how to conduct ourselves in battle, which included the strange notion that if a fighting situation became so dire it may require that we should not hesitate to expose ourselves recklessly when under fire to give others courage. The tragedy was that those who were overly keen, full of gung-ho enthusiasm and entirely lacking in combat experience did exactly as had been suggested, and died doing it.

But a more personal tragedy that came with the training, and even more so when I was eventually given command of a Mike boat, was, that the agony of any wounded hadn’t occurred to me as it had never been mentioned, nor that it would be my responsibility for getting casualties the proper treatment required. I simply assumed that such responsibilities were best left, and belonged, to people properly trained in such things, our Corpsmen. I was wrong in that assumption.

The stars were not bright and the moon had barely shown its face, and I still felt a little seasick, a touch of the old mal-de-mer, having just suffered the worst ground swell imaginable. For all the way from one river estuary to another we had taken it on the quarter and with our flat bottomed Mike having an excessive top weight and poor hull height when loaded, the swell had given her a slow, lazy, stomach-churning, pendulum style roll. Then after navigating the estuary it was the river with its myriad of small lonely isles fringed with rocks and silt, and shallow, narrow channeled tidal creeks, one of which had been set-out on our sailing order.

Mist hung in the dense mangroves and palms that grew to the waters edge, and seeped out over the surface with snaking tendrils as if it were something alive. This reduced visibility down to a few boat lengths, and made the creek banks barely discernable. Although the humid heat of the day had gone it was still very warm, but at least it was another night without rain, which was something to be thankful for in a land where the tremendous rainfall helped produce amazing plant life of a thousand shades of green and the splendor of vividly colored blooms, but made your life a washed-out misery in the process!

With throttles set for slow and heavy foliage trailing along the deck, we headed for a long shadowy black line that indicated tidal mud, and was our intended re-supply rendezvous point for a SEAL Spike Recon Team. I tensed and my nerves gave a little jingle as our hull scraped over something submerged with a grating, metallic squeal, and a sudden vibrating from the stern meant we had damaged a propeller, forcing the immediate cutting of our motors to avoid extending the damage by running a shaft bearing, or even worse, the wrecking of a gearbox. Hardly had I recovered from that unpleasant thrill before, for a third time in two days, we found ourselves in extreme peril!

A VC fighting patrol must have watched the boat being slowed by the unknown underwater obstacle and waited, holding fire until she ran out of momentum before materializing from what seemed like nowhere, and on the stroke of midnight a ragged fusillade of small arms rounds whined through the air and ricocheted off the hull, shattering the silence!

Caught off-guard, and with no immediately recognizable human targets to aim at we began firing with M16 rifles and a couple of M63 MPMG “Stoners” fitted with box magazines, that we had managed to glean from a SEAL team, at not much more than faint shapes, and Charlie’s scattered muzzle flashes that pulsed in the night like sex-crazed fireflies. The laying down of  suppressive fire from the only pieces of cover our Mike afforded us, the wheelhouse and flamethrower turret, was intended to slow down or deter any assault rush, and also in the hope of scoring a few lucky hits on the “shapes”.

The act of reloading in such cramped positions proved a nightmare, and the chance of being hit by an “ND”, negligent discharge, grew by the second as rifle muzzles swept dangerously about on weapons being reloaded, and as we jostled shoulder to shoulder for a more effective firing position. Then the inevitable happened, and an unintentionally fired round smacked into the steel of the wheelhouse just an inch from my head, leaving a coppery smear from its jacket before screeching away!

When out on the firing range you have time to follow exactly to the letter range safety protocol, but when locked in a night fire-fight there is no possibility of a “Safety-on, Show-clear” before changing magazines, you just drop the empty and get the next one in fucking rapid! Your life depends on the volume of rounds, “Trash Fire”, you can get heading towards the enemy, and not necessarily any intended accuracy. It is one thing being joyous at rendering great scores as a “battle-shot” on static range targets, but it is quite another when firing at darting "Feux Follets" type figures , in the near pitch blackness, over iron sights, amongst incoming rounds.

One disadvantage for the land grunts, and Charlie for that matter, was that they had a limited amount of ammo available as they had to hump it in their web-gear, ruck, or a sand-bag, but on the boat, we had literally thousands of rounds to throw at Charlie. That being if we didn’t go nuts and burn the weapons out with “Cook- off”, a point where an automatic weapon has fired off so many rounds the heat built up in the working parts sets off the remaining rounds in the magazine or belt without the use of its trigger, and possibly burning out the barrel. Undoubtedly, having such an enormous stock of ammunition the boat could be defended for a mighty long time against any small force.

 Then, during an unexpected slight slackening of the incoming fire, and without warning, nor by order, the replacement for our quad 50 gunner suddenly grasped the moment and broke into a crouched run, making a dash for one of the forward 50’s. But bad luck came his way as he tripped over a neglected mooring wire, and on straightening to retrieve his balance from the stumble received for a most courageous effort a burst of AK rounds. His boy stiffened as they impacted, and I could hear the dull thudding of hits on his torso, a sound very similar to that of a cushion being beaten with a metal rod.

He didn’t go down hard as someone would if killed outright, just sort of sagged on to his knees, then lay down on the deck as if suddenly terribly weary and had to rest. I have no idea why he took the gamble; perhaps he was overly eager for the fight, or thought that rockets would be heading our way and wanted to deter their rocket team. Or being a Newbie, an “NFG”, new fucking guy, felt he had to impress, who knows, but whatever the reason it hadn’t paid-off for him.

With the moonlight increasing by the minute the VC eventually just got bored with us and called off the attack, as the situation was pretty well down to a Mexican stand-off with us down to the use of one propeller, so couldn’t get the boat moving fast enough for a clean break-contact, and the VC too few in number to enable any proper assault. Also, Charlie wasn’t stupid, knowing that at first chance the flamethrower would be roasting their nuts!

But little did they know that we were running light due to the river being reported shallow and had been ordered to leave fueling-up for the thrower in favor of carrying a few extra supplies. Suddenly, several small dark shapes, faintly silhouetted against the fading mist, darted into the mangroves and the firing ceased, and as I watched them vanish it left me with an uneasy vision of them doing so wearing wide, tooth filled grins of ferocious satisfaction at their catching us with our breeches down.

A spreading pool of warm blood, which always looked oily black in poor light, enticed the first of the insects from their night hiding places in the nooks and crannies of the boat, who then busied themselves by gorging upon it. They were just as unwelcome as the assholes with the bullshit musical morning show on Saigon radio! Then, going from pitifully whimpering to sounding like some helpless human being under torture, our casualty started throwing his head from side to side and shrieking in agony, which became unbearable, as the wound-shock numbing started to wear off and the pain hit him.

There was something outrageously offensive about Charlie always preferring to gut-shoot our grunts whenever possible, as if wanting them dying in agony just for kicks, and although a couple of the holes in his midriff looked painful, to we the untrained in medical diagnosis, neither of them seemed to be life threatening. However, one round had entered side-on, cutting its way deep into the abdomen.

When we rolled him on to his side and inspected for exit damage a thick glob of arterial blood flopped out, for the distorted round had exited near the spine, and in doing so had blown out a massive amount of flesh and bone, leaving a torn kidney exposed and a strong smell of urine, and I knew in my heart it had been a fatal shot. The sight that had confronted us would have made even the most compassionate reel back in horror, as if they had suddenly come upon some awful disfiguring sickness.

With his life seeping away on the deck it made his appearance one that would have incited pity in anyone, and to ease his suffering we had given him morphine and wrapped the gaping wound with number 1 battle dressings, the largest we had, which stemmed the flow of blood for a short while before they became saturated, allowing the leakage to start up again, and leaving all there grim faced and anxious.

It was with a feeling of helplessness we listened to his tortured breathing, which indicated a gloomy outlook for any chance of survival, and then his breathing became even more ragged. He screamed one final time as if protesting against the inevitable; a momentary look of disbelief in his eyes, then departed this life, making the atmosphere around the fresh corps suddenly feel terribly oppressive. Then for a while we all stood in silence, before we spoke about the way of his death in hushed voices.

All that was left to offer him in consolation for that foolishly brave, but failed, run along the deck, was a green plastic body bag and a booby prize of an automatic Purple Heart donated at Division and processed by a “decorations” clerk. Our only comfort, if it could be called such, lay in the fact that even if our boat had been a floating Aid Station nothing could have been done to save him, for anyone with a blood-letting wound of that magnitude would had been a guaranteed “expectant”, and there had been no point calling for a “Dust-off”, medical evacuation by helicopter, to a hot area for one wounded grunt who was well beyond any medical help. Anyway, requesting a helicopter of any kind would have seriously pissed-off the Spike Recon Team if their operation had become compromised because of it.

The dead crewman had gone into the Marine Corps with the disadvantage of his father and older brother having served with distinction, and being a shy, reserved type, suffered more than most when at boot camp, but had proved not short in physical courage. He had stood a head higher than I in life, but as always, it struck me as strange the way people seemed to look smaller and raggedly untidy following such a violent death.

Our replacement had only been in Vietnam for nineteen days, one day for each year of life, and a weapon in his hands for less than a week, due to a crazy policy on not issuing weapons to replacements until joining the unit to which they had been assigned. That policy had pretty well guaranteed that his training edge, so hard won at boot camp, had been blunted, and perhaps his judgment, but not it seemed his sense of duty.

Marine Corps training and discipline taken together bred confidence, and in turn that confidence gave the courage not to waver at the touch of battle when, with the stench of damp decaying jungle in your nostrils, there was the near constant sight of torment, death, and noble sacrifice.


© Copyright 2020 Sergeant Walker. All rights reserved.

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