Southlands Snuffys

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

Chapter 27 (v.1) - Se Battre Avec les Serpents.

Submitted: April 15, 2015

Reads: 760

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Submitted: April 15, 2015



Se Battre Avec les Serpents.


“Three days of fighting the goddamn gooks leaves the Lieutenant dead, the Sergeant dead, and half my platoon all fucked-up! Now, if that's what you wanna call a victory, it’s a mighty fucking strange one! So, motherfucker! Semper Fi, and kiss my sagging ass!"

US Marine to a Combat Correspondent, VC Lake, South Vietnam, 1967.



To a sailor, nothing that ever concerns ships, the oceans and seas, can ever be called humdrum. Even common sounds, such as the mewing of gulls, the ocean booming against a reef, or the hoarse sound of roaring surf on a beach cant. Neither can the everyday tasks and chores that come with the sailing of a vessel.

The air was fresh, and a calm sea was devoid of any natural malice on a day that grew hotter as the sun moved further through its axis, baking all there on the steel deck of our boat like a cow-punchers camp-cakes on a griddle. It was the sort of day that would prove a Vietnam war sailors life was certainly not a humdrum one. For all aboard who were dreaming of a snug harbor of shady palms, or a safe and pleasant lagoon tempting us into its cool depths, knew that Charlie would, as always, be seeking any chance to spoil the daydreams.

Our boat lay at anchor in a shallow, rocky bottomed bay sheltered by a lonely headland,some fifty klicks from our home base in the D-10 Special Military Zone, the Rung Sat. Many of the bay’s shoreline mangroves had suffered severe die-back from the regular spraying of defoliant during ”Ranch Hand” missions, and now looked more like decayed broken teeth, rather than a vibrant habitat for hordes of nursery and adult fish as they once were. The die-back, and the incessant pounding from the oceans rush and pull had uprooted many of the dead and dying forest trees, exposing a previously unseen sea-piled beach bluff of sun dried mud.

Our radio-guy, the only person doing any actual work, had climbed out of the motor room humming tonelessly between his teeth, and poured a foul smelling mix of his urine and oily bilge trash from a bucket over the side, and I held my breath against the stench of that "cocktail" as it wafted over me. Then he threw what was left of his cigarette after it, before disappearing again to continue with bailing out the bilges with the bucket, which also doubled as our “heads”, toilet.

We had developed a very high regard for our radio-guy, for he was the only one among us who was happy to get “down-and-dirty” by first bailing out, then crawling around in the cramped bilge spaces of our boat’s hull to remove the bilge pump strum-box filters. The rest of us considered those filters to be the devils own spawn, and regardless of how clean and careful we were, the filters seemed to have a mind of their own. They would seek out all sorts of odd gash to choke themselves with, allowing the bilges to fill, and, if it was by river or canal water, eventually give off the foulest of odors in direct competition to our “heads” bucket.

Over a few months our Mike had collected so many repaired punched ordnance holes they made her hull look like a patched-over heavy weapons range target. The larger holes, from shrapnel, had been patch-welded, whereas the smaller holes, made by rounds, had been repaired by grinding off the inner steel rags, then using nuts and bolts with rubber backed washers, sealed up. Unfortunately, neither of the repair styles proved to be completely leak-proof, leaving a constant chore for us to do of bilge water pumping, and strum filter clearing.

His strange love for the boating sport of bilge crawling meant our radio-guy was always reeking of diesel fuel, motor oil and bilge, even when scrubbed red-raw for a furlough into Saigon. Regardless of that, he continually proved to be an enormous hit with the ladies. It was something that mystified all who knew him, for his mind, located beneath a crown of greasy slicked-back black hair, was always filled with lewd thoughts of women, and he had an impressive collection of porn magazines locked away in a “mermite”, a large food container, as a private picture-book library.

His favorite response to any Officer who happened to question where he was going, or coming from, what he was doing, or why he was doing it, was, “An idle Marine is an inefficient Marine, Sir!”, a somewhat perplexing answer for any Officer to deal with, but as it was stated fact it couldn't be contradicted. He knew that he had heard it used when at boot camp, but couldn't tell who said it, or why, but he had liked it, so remembered it, and used it at every opportunity, as if pulling out a pistol against a personal threat.

Incredibly, at any time, whilst strutting around as if he were Caligula on his fist day at being Emperor of Rome, he could recite our Corps history in its entirety from the first second of its conception. Also, without missing out one word, all fourteen and a half volumes of the infantry training manual, including their sub paragraphs and the codicil for weapons specialists. Unfortunately, those near biblical style recitals made him sound and look more than just a little mad. However, like all of us, he had an immense pride in the Marine Corps, and therefore subsequently in himself.

The radio guy had entered the Marine Corps as one of the first 1966 “ Project 100,000 New Standards Men", having scored exactly the required basic floor level mental category of 1V, of the new test for induction. That score tended to show up repeatedly during any classroom instruction at boot camp, requiring him to be handed over to one of the special companies.

However, by sheer guts and determination, supplemented by an impressive memory, he eventually graduated. In addition, he was a crack shot, the highest scorer in his platoon when at Pembleton, and should have been considered a candidate for sniper school, the best place to receive him after graduation. Unfortunately, his mediocre educational achievements before joining the Corps prevented it, so he went on to radio school instead, where his ability to memorize what he heard served him well.

Over our boat radio came a “sit-rep”, situation report, on a “ballgame”, a contact or an operation, taking place near us. The voice on the radio began calling for air support, and sounded overly excited and panicky, as it would be if the contact was an ambush rather than a planned operation.

Once you had been at it for a little time you could feel when a contact was coming on. Some guys, like myself, had a weird, niggling little heart flutter, others suddenly felt a chill, even when the sun was blazing down. The grunts called such a feeling the “fucker factor ”, and it was a sixth sense, a slow, but expectant build to sudden action. The “code of the grunt” said that the sensible should always follow the instinct, but the stupid tended to ignore it. And by the tone of the radio transmission I guessed that someone may have chosen to ignore their “fucker-factor”.
looking towards the grid-references given by the unknown radio grunt I could see a thin tracing of rocket smoke on the land horizon, then the sporadic sound of mortar-bursts and small firearms could be heard in the distance, but within a short period of time the sound of battle was coming closer,then getting ever nearer and louder as if a chase was on. Then I was taken completely by surprise when helmet-less, mud-caked figures began running down the slope of the beach bluff.

A running figure stopped, turned, and quickly fired a few rifle rounds in the direction from where his group had come, but it seemed to be wild shooting at no particular target, more like a defiant protest than anything else.There were shouted commands before a ragged volley of shots rattled out in the same direction as had the previous ones. Someone yelled, more men appeared on top of the bluff, then others appeared, the sharp cracks of frag-grenades exploding, some of those on top of the bluff screaming shrilly, clutching at their groins as they fell, before rolling down the sloping face of the bluff into the mangrove tree-stumps.

One of the first group ran over to them and blasted away with some type of machine-pistol. It bucked and stuttered in his hands, but due to the distance it was impossible to recognize what it was from the profile. However, an immediate recognition came from the echoing sound that bounced off the bluff. Hell, I had fired one often enough in training not to know the sound of a “grease gun”, an M3A1 sub-machine gun, firing. However, it may have been American made but that was no sort of guarantee it wasn't a VC or NVA grunt firing it.

The figure with the grease gun held it aloft in the “rally-on-me” position, and the rest of his group emerged from their swiftly taken-up single cover among the tangle of dead mangrove trees, and did as had been ordered, under a constant hail of fire from the group on the bluff. As they ran to the rally point one was hit and fell, another turned back to help him, probably the first guys buddy, and then he too was hit. Those on top of the bluff concentrated all of their gunfire on the fallen, giving the other runners just sufficient time to make the sprint safely, and start digging for a tight defensive position, and to return fire.

When breaking cover like that it is best to “squad rush”, run as a group, by taking a leaf out of the “herd book on survival”. Legs going like racing pistons in a drag-car’s motor, lungs searing, heart pumping fit to burst, no looking back, just concentrate on reaching the rally point, fear and flee reads as fuck everyone else! Slow down, stop or turn, and like an animal cut-out from the herd you are fucked, simple as that.

Another sound overlapped the beach-battle noise, this time from the direction of the headland, like the fluttering of gigantic wings, before a large flight of helicopters burst into view. Huey “Slicks”, a mix of armed and medivac, and the recently arrived in Vietnam “ Snakes”, Cobra attack helicopters , even more deadly than their reptilian namesake due to an array of firepower.

The helicopters took a sharp swing out to sea, turned like a squadron of fighter aircraft, then came in low, skimming the surface in an attacking run. Massed downdrafts produced a swirling mist-like spray, and with the “Snakes” leading they must have made a terrifying sight for anyone who would be an intended target. They sure as hell terrified me as they bore down upon us, for just one goddamned tiny mistake, like opening fire a split second too early, or just a fraction off in their weapons aiming, and we would have been cleared off the deck in the way bread crumbs are swept from a table.

One of the crew, who had been watching the onshore fire-fight develop when sitting on top of the wheelhouse, jumped-up into the vertical with some urgency, and held our American flag out from its halyard, stiff and full, as though it were flying in a hurricane of wind. Showing the colors, although not actually guaranteed to be foolproof, was the best thing we had against a “blue-on-blue”, a friendly fire incident. A previously agreed recognition panel would have proved the ideal, and if there had been a thirty-foot long, Stars ’n’ Bars fleet-flag to be found somewhere in the signal locker it would also have been used, just to make sure.

In a bewildering visual blur of green livery, the helicopters shot past us at our deck height, and at that point the “Snakes” opened fire with a near deafening snarling rumble, spent round casings cascading out from their fuselages in a glittering, golden rain. The fired rounds made joined-up spattering spurts of water as they raked and raced towards the land. Then similar spurts on reaching it, but this time they were made up from black ooze and mud, as the rounds plowed their way through the ground of the beach, then the bluff, and finally into the figures who were firing from its crest.

An arc of green tracer rose lazily from behind the bluff and hit an armed “Slick” as it attempted a premature recovery hover, it sheered off quickly, banked away, and headed out to sea squirting burning fuel. Now I was fairly sure which of the mud caked, and helmet-less groups was Charlie, at least it appeared to be so, for the fighting had been extremely fierce,chaotic and fluid, thus making it still too early for any absolutely positive conclusion on which side were which. Or, on the other hand, there was always the possibility that the “Snakes” had just creamed a shit-load of our Allies, or Americans, or both. It was the reason we hadn't intervened before, for blasting away with our boats weapons would have been, at the very least, idiotic. For after the cry for support there had been no further radio transmissions from the excited radio grunt.

In all probably he had been killed, or perhaps his “prick-90”, PRC-90 field radio, had been rendered useless. That part meant ,with no sure way of identifying “friendlies”, and no discernible enemy to shoot, which created the risk of killing our own, we had been forced to become no more than spectators with a ringside view of what seemed not far short of a sinister mass suicide by first one group, then the other, as if taking turns at it.

In response to the “Slick” being hit the “Snakes” climbed high, turned, and came back at the reverse slope of the bluff in a savage revenge run. With it, over the radio, came the confirmation I had been waiting for, and giving an opportunity to try out the boats shiny new mortar. The two guys on the mortar removed powder increments from the rounds, fiddled with its traversing handle, dropped a round in the tube, and I watched as a little black blob reach the top of its trajectory before falling and exploding on the top of the bluff. Smart shooting first time, then another little fiddle with the traversing handle and the next round sailed over the bluff to explode on the reverse slope. After that they just kept on feeding the tube with rounds.

However, unexpectedly a large group of figures carrying rifles appeared at the far edge of the bluff, obviously trying to work their way out on the flank, and attack the survivors of the first appearing group from the rear, now confirmed to be our own guys.

Without being ordered to do so, our radio-guy climbed on the wheelhouse roof with an M14 rifle on Iron Sights. Lay in the proper prone position, and calmly began firing at them in the deliberate way, as if out on a firing range. At first his aim was off a little, but not enough to matter as the first round hit its mark, tearing open a leg. A sight adjustment and he killed the first mark as the guy sat holding his freshly gimped leg, the next mark had his chest vented, another had his head shattered, a little puff of red mist proving the hit. On and on he went, eliminating them one by one. Even when they took cover, he drove them out to their deaths with his carefully placed shots. My final tally was eleven, but there could easily have been more, for my attention had to be turned elsewhere.

Shortly after, in the normal way, the action just petered out, finishing as it had started, quickly. The “Slicks” came down from a safe height ceiling, where they had gone after the other “Slick” was hit, which had crashed in the sea about two Klicks out, the crew survived, and made their recovery of our guys on the beach, the living and the dead. The “Snakes” continued to harry Charlies survivors for a little while as security for the hovering “Slicks”, and as a deterrent against any idea Charlie had of re-grouping, and counter attacking.

Our Mike was listing a little due to our leaky repair patches, so we weighed anchor and moved beyond the headland to finish clearing the strum filters, and pump-out the bilges. Anyway, there was already a funky stench of rotting flesh coming from the shore on an early evening breeze. In the tropics you have to get the dead buried in very short order, otherwise they swiftly give off a cloying stink.

Later I wrote in the boats log about everything I had heard,and witnessed, obviously including the part played by our Project 100,000 radio-guy. Slowly that log entry worked its way up the shit-hill to division, where someone put him forward to receive a Bronze Star, and there the story may have ended on a reasonable note. Unfortunately, he never received the Star, for by the time the citation recommendation was accepted he had been shot in the gut when on furlough in Saigon, by a street porno-peddler during a heated argument over money. As it was not considered by the “Higher-Higher” exactly best protocol to award such an honor to what they considered a now tarnished hero, the gallantry award was withdrawn to be replaced by a “heart”, purple heart.

Our radio-guy had no more, nor any less failings than anyone else, either past,present or future. He was a good Marine and loved the Corps as if it were a mother, and to him I suppose it was a kind of mother. For his mother Corps had fed him and clothed him, given him things he never had, and taught him things he never knew. Then, when all that was over and done, she sent him off to a place where he didn't want to be.





© Copyright 2020 Sergeant Walker. All rights reserved.


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