Chapter 26: Les Lignes D'animosité

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

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Les Lignes D'animosité

“For the benefit of those who don't know, the general consensus from the Pentagon is that those serving in Vietnam are about to be fucked-over by the United Nations”

Up-sight Briefing, American Embassy, Thong Nhut Street, Saigon,Vietnam, 1967.


One morning found me moving stealthily along a makeshift wooden jetty, which the previous night’s rain had left extremely treacherous underfoot, and towards our Mike boat with the purposeful intention of drinking coffee, the real stuff, not the C ration bitter variety. When, just as I was about to set foot on her deck, our radio guy in an excited state began waving a signal flimsy at me.

The radio net had gone crazy with the disturbing news that some 2000 plus Viet Cong and NVA regulars had infiltrated the Rung Sat.They overran an FOB, forward operating base near an abandoned rubber plantation, inflicting a high amount of casualties before dispersing in smaller groups throughout the zone.

What had amazed and alarmed everyone at MACV, Military Assistance Command Vietnam, was that such a large column had managed to pass within a few klicks of Saigon completely undetected after crossing the Cambodian border in the thick jungle of what was called “The Iron Triangle”. That stinging news meant our forces would no longer be walking in tall cotton, for all the hard work of trying to deny Charlie the zone up to that point had gone by the wayside.

Every Riverine knew that the VC were drawn to their boats like iron filings are to a magnet, and it took very little time before the first fire contacts were being reported. Small at first with single sniped shots, or charlies three man cells using small arms and mortars. They would rapidly send two or three short-spaced rounds out of the mortar-tube, quickly followed by long spraying bursts of automatic gunfire before scooting back under cover.

Charlies guerrilla tactics when used in the terrain of the Rung Sat proved to be an inexact science for both sides. One example concerns the Viet Cong sharpshooters who were dead shots, and must have diligently studied the old three-card-trick. For they would fire once, quickly show themselves, then switch positions in the jungle so fast it deceived the eyes of any grunts looking on, and leaving their returned fire doing nothing more than trimming the leaves and branches. 

But we had witnessed that tactic many times before, and learned their dashed move would be no more than a maximum of 30 paces before going to ground and firing again, a prime example of predictability in war becoming a disadvantage. So we developed our own unconventional counter tactic, which was to trash-fire with the boat’s 50’s on the left and right of where the sniped round had come from, at the same time blasting the firing position with mortars, or if close enough,“blooper” grenade launchers.

The success rate of our tactic could never be verified as we were prudent enough to quickly increase the boat’s speed after the fire-contact. Anyway, a good blasting by such firepower would most likely have left very little of the sharpshooter intact, other than his weapon and gear. However, as in the majority of cases the firing ceased it can be reasonably assumed that our tactic had proved successful.

Those apparently ad-hock attacks were in fact carefully planned, just like many others before them, and were designed to create a sensation of random and uncoordinated military action. However, what actually lay behind them was a well thought through strategy of fighting mobility, and the dividing of enemy forces before any larger operations were mounted. It also gave Charlie a wider area for the infiltration of his troops , for we couldn't be in two places at any one time. Meanwhile, as a proper response would take time to coordinate, all we could do was as Charlie had predicted in his planning, by reacting to each attack as best we could. Unfortunately,as always, for lone boats the further out they traveled from an operating base the greater the risks became of a full blown attack.

Military planning can reach such a fevered pitch that common sense begins to disappear. However, the CIA were there to steady the ship, to put the common sense back into the planning. They knew that no battle is won without first gathering intelligence on an enemy so they gave over the task of doing so in the Delta to the Navy SEALs Spike Recon Teams.Which were units born from Combat Swimmers, the Navy’s underwater demolition teams, and of course being the specialists in such things. 

The Navy SEAL of the Vietnam War was a do anything, go anywhere fighter. He was supple,tough and knew how to survive in the worst case military scenario, and was by nature completely ruthless. He also knew no thanks would ever be given when he succeeded as it was expected of him, for failure was not in his creed. Neither was surrender, as that was not consonant with the training, and in times of difficulty he acted on his own initiative, with no one and nothing to tell him what to do but discipline.

However, those words could just as easily be used to describe the men of the unit on which President Kennedy instructed the Navy SEAL was to be so closely modeled, the British Royal Marines Special Boat Squadron. His high regard and admiration for the British Special Forces meant he also instructed that the US “Green Berets” wear a color and style of head gear as did the British Commandos.

In Vietnam during the war, a Navy SEAL reveled in a reputation of being a tough guy. Even more so as a troublemaker when on furlough, especially if let loose in Saigon where the SEALs had established their own “no go area” of bars and brothels. Anyone entering their “domains” uninvited risked being humiliated by some very rough handling at the hands of their “defenders”. In addition, they openly challenged the SO,standing order, that military personnel on furlough could not enter the city armed. Whereas the Shore Patrols, MPs, and “White Mice”, Vietnamese Police, rigidly enforced that SO against everyone else, they wisely turned a blind eye to the many examples of “disobedience to orders” practiced by SEALs openly carrying a variety fire-arms when in the City

The leading SEAL, known in the game as the “wheel”, of the Spike Recon Team that our boat had been detailed to assist, appeared to have an ambition of being the toughest and most troublesome of the whole damn batch. However, although loud, big, looked clumsy, and like myself seemed a little too young for his rank, there was something about him that impressed.Which may have been that he was in no doubt as to where his duty lay, and had played the clandestine operations game for a long time. To be exact, ever since the birth of the Navy SEAL in 1962, and their subsequent arrival in Vietnam during 1966.

He looked the sort who took great care that his war work was never likely to need any form of investigation. The sort who would never let the masses of blooms, bright birds, stunning butterflies and dragonflies that softened the harsh reality of the jungle, at any time drag his mind away from any cold mission of assassination, where he would hurl his victim into eternity without the need for any prior provocation. Above everything else, it was guaranteed that his particular military skills set would be required by the agency long after the war had ended. Although most fighting in the “zone” called it the Rung Sat, somehow appropriately a Navy SEAL would always prefer to use its other name, “The Forest of Assassins”.

Being considered separate but still equal in the service to everyone else, Riverine Marines, everything taken into consideration, including normal unit rivalry and friendly banter, tended to get on very well with the various Special Forces and Vietnamese Indits they worked with. Perhaps, if nothing else, it was that the Riverine field training staff had been in the greater part those of the Special Forces. In that training, as when out on operations, they never held back, and the worst beating I ever received in the Marine Corps was at the hands of a Navy SEAL “interrogator” after being caught during the “escape and evasion”. At boot camp, the open hand slap was an accepted “punishment” to be meted out by the drill staff, and you just had to take it or for ever be branded a pussy in the Corps. However, the SEAL  “interrogator” used a clenched fist and a shortened broom handle, and after that “instruction” I did absolutely anything to make damn sure they never caught me again.

When it comes to survival in interrogation most human beings are selfish, but everyone involved in a special forces operation has to rely on each other, trust each other explicitly or it will fail. In that vain, at Florida, you had to brave-up and take the beatings and humiliation, and, if caught in the real life by Charlie, there was the strong possibility of a very long and painful death. Therefore, the rule, as always in the military, was a simplified one of, don't get fucking caught.

My first confrontation with the ”wheel” came when the decision had to be made regarding the departure time. Whereby he used the approach of trying to bully me into accepting that he alone was in charge of the operation, and I was no more than a bus driver, the “bus” being the boat, taking his team into action. However, as it is always best to be unbending and decisive with that type of personality by not showing any weakness that could be utilized by them at a later date, I loudly pointed out that the Navy, whose boat it was, made the safety of all on board my responsibility, and mine alone, and there was no proviso mentioning the sharing of her command.

After staring at each other with a mild hostility for a few seconds, he gave a fleeting wry smile, and I decided to do most of the trip in darkness, a decision that drew from him another little smile and a nod of the head.

It was not in any form a flash of brilliant thinking on my part as night departures for operations were becoming very much the norm for us, and wanting to leave as little to chance as possible we had personalized the modifications to our boat. That personal touch included the fitting of more effective exhaust mufflers, painting everything we could in a mat-black, and the removal of all glass surfaces to avoid reflecting moonlight.

As our Mike boat slipped from her berth leaving behind swirling pools of oil slicked dark water, dim figures of other boat’s crews appeared on the jetty to watch us head out, and bid us “bon chance”. On the other hand, my interpretation of their unexpected appearance was they wanted one last look at our Mike as not expecting to see her, or we, ever again. Understandable, for two other boats, a PBR and a Swift, when out on previous missions with Special Forces never did return. Eventually their depleted crews did, but not before first experiencing the joys of true jungle fighting, with Charlie constantly harassing and snapping at their asses.

Sailing up the river to the drop point for the Spike Recon Team proved to be uneventful, other than when we disturbed a small fishing fleet of sampans. For just as the early-morning sky cracked with blood-red shards of color we had sailed round a wide bend in the river to suddenly find ourselves surrounded by angry fishermen who resented our presence among their boats. They certainly had good cause to be so pissed-off with our unexpected arrival, being aware that Charlie could open fire on a Mike at any time, consequently putting them at great risk.

The last two klicks upstream was covered by using an inflatable rubber boat, minus an outboard motor, just paddles to propel it. The four-man Spike Team acted as security with three of my crew and I paddling until we reached a small mud beach with heavy overhanging foliage, and ideally suitable for landing. By which time we paddlers were near collapsing with exhaustion and sweating profusely, much to the amusement of the physically fitter Spike Team members.

During the Vietnam war at times there was a curious “dead time” in the early afternoon when nothing seemed to happen, a little similar to when in Mexico during a siesta and everything around you appears to be asleep. But not on that particular time, for the “wheel” was staring over my shoulder at the far bank of the river with a killers cold eyes, as if sizing up his next victim, making me whirl round expecting to see a cell of VC. Instead, standing motionless and staring right back at us ,was a young girl.

She was not beautiful but had a serene quality about her, and the way she had slightly tilted her head when examining what she could see reminded me a little of my sister, then she gave what seemed like an uncaring shrug and walked on. The very thought of killing that girl was a horror beyond my imagination, but when I looked at the “wheel” I could see that he had no such qualms when it came to eliminating anyone who might have threatened the success of his mission. At which point I knew had she been within the acceptable range of his “Hush Puppy”, Smith and Wesson Silenced 9mm pistol, he would have killed her without any compassion or regret whatsoever.

Apparently, from what I had been told by the Spike Team’s “powder train”, explosives expert, the “wheel” knew exactly what to do in any situation concerning Charlie that just happened to present itself, and had the uncanny ability to deduce VC intentions from even the minutest of intelligence data. But to that the “wheel” made no reference when stating that the girl was beyond doubt a VC scout, and it was time to part company, and they to “take some names”, recon the enemy. 

We never shook hands, perhaps it was the lack of friendliness in his personality that prevented him, only an understanding look from one soldier to another. Then he and his team were gone, as if suddenly swallowed up by the jungle.

It had been agreed that we would give the Spike Team an hour to make some distance before we headed back to the Mike, in the chance that if either group became compromised, the other would not be too far away to make up the distance if any assistance was required.

Although making observation of the river bank difficult, squatting behind  dense bamboo, palm, and river scrub gave good cover, listening rather than looking as the hours minutes slowly ticked away, the thick and heavy air seemed packed full of insect noise. Such loose time when in a fighting zone can corrode the mind, and the “fucking shit-loaded country” classic grunt mind set was an easy trap to fall into. It was the result of months in and out of the boonie being forced to exist on nerves, and it seemed to me I had been relying on doing so in that stinking watery wilderness for ever! But a man can only do that for so long before he starts to worry that his nerves would no longer sustain him, before he reaches the point of a burn-out. Then a metallic tinkle made me start, and the time wasting, corrosive navel-gazing ceased, in an instant wiped away, to be replaced by weapons drilled-in discipline, which immediately kicked in. 

However, thinking it might be the Spike Team returning due to some unexpected reason or other we held fire, where normally a full magazine of rounds would have been blasted off in the direction of the noise as recce-by-fire. For when meeting with the enemy in jungle warfare there is only the quick or the dead, stealth and silence keeps you alive, fast movement and noise gets you killed, and it only takes a split second of indecision to be quickly transformed into a casualty. In dense jungle there are no long and weary battles to be fought, just a primal struggle for survival in a fire-fight that can last no longer than the exchange of single rounds.

Moving with a speed no faster than poured molasses in wintertime, I carefully spread apart some foliage and saw an NVA,VC mixed squad led by a sergeant reach the water’s edge. Shortly after an NVA officer joined them waving a revolver, and to my immense shock, next to him stood the teenage girl who had earlier walked off so casually and uncaring.

I could clearly hear their talking as they began searching for spoor, but the “wheel” had advised on removing our boots and socks before landing the rubber boat, and it had worked just perfectly. All the searchers found were some muddy prints made by our bare feet, which could easily have been left by the local fishermen.

There is more than just an irritation when in such close proximity to your enemy without taking action against them, and it sure as hell can get the blood racing. It takes a lot of discipline not to open fire, as that is any soldiers natural reaction when an enemy blatantly presents himself so off-guard and in a formation that makes the perfect target.

Then the officer gestured with his revolver towards upstream, and, as he did so, the firsts large spots of rain began falling, before the heavens suddenly burst in a torrential downpour. The noise produced by the rain battering down on heavy, broad leafed foliage gave just sufficient noise cover for us to head unheard for the rubber boat we had hidden among the jungle scrub, and, paddling like demented, we got safely back to the Mike unscathed and unchallenged.

There is a crude thinking among some of those who were not participant in the Vietnam War that the Special Forces were nothing more than people with an automatons mechanical indifference, and disregard for human life. However, there are others with the vision to see the truth, that they were men who were constantly called upon to pay the highest price a human being can pay for doing their duty. Undoubtedly ruthless, their duty demanded it of them, but at the same time they had the frailties of being flesh and blood, like everyone else. 

Submitted: April 03, 2015

© Copyright 2021 Sergeant Walker. All rights reserved.


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Nothing has changed for the average soldier. It is the same now as it was then.

You do great justice to the lads you served with.

Mon, April 13th, 2015 11:58am

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