Chapter 30: L'embuscade (unredacted)

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

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L'embuscade (unredacted)

“My comrades hunt imperialists like wild dogs. They feel no pity for the Yankee invaders, and the more they kill, the more the American people will hate this War, and turn against their government, and when they do they will join with us!”

Viet Cong political officer, POW interrogation, SEAL Hatchet Force Operation, Bassac River,

South Vietnam, 1967.


In the majority, the guys who enlisted in the South Vietnamese Armed Services were, like their Viet Cong counterparts, peasant farmers, and just as poor as any American rail-riding hobo. Their gear was poor, their pay was poor, their food was poor, and their chance of finding a woman was even poorer, once the US Military arrived. They never received  a furlough, nor any out-of-country R&R to the fleshpots of Bangkok or Hong Kong, but then, as an upside on missing out on those Cities of pleasure, they avoided having to ship home with something sexually sinister, or as a dependent on mind blowing drugs. Nor did they get the chance of giving their mom or wife a $1.00 poorly carved hardwood religious figurine as a “conscience” souvenir, in an attempt to keep their own night daemons at bay.

Those guys were neither pro-government nor anti-communist, hell, their close relatives had fought the French, and some even had a brother or cousin fighting with the Viet Cong. In essence, they fought only for their personal finances, and if they judged it to be in their best interest to do so, deserted.

An incredible 120,000 went “over-the-hill” in 67, and  even though a Viet Cong  grunt’s pay was many piasters less than those serving in government forces, sometimes being no more than a few cigarettes and a reasonable meal, quite a number of those worked “part time” for the VC. Then there were others who swapped over to the Viet Cong "full time" after the wanton burning  of villages and hamlets, and the killing  of their relatives within the “Free-Fire zones", areas designated as not fully restricted by the rules of land warfare.

However, that did not mean that some of the Viet Cong grunts didn't swap over to us. The bush-beasts termed those ex VC “Kit Carson Scouts”, and never fully trusted them, although their new military masters, the CIA and Special Forces apparently did. Unfortunately for a “KCS”, there was no returning once he had “jumped ship”, as Charlie wanted them back real bad, which made it preferable for them to blow their own brains out rather than be captured by their old buddies.
Such activity made the war even more complicated for our grunts, in that some people who had defeated the French at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu were fighting alongside them, whilst others, who the day before had been doing likewise, were by the  very next facing off against them with the VC. In essence, the war, as with most wars, began to deteriorate into a mire of ruthlessness, being driven on by feelings of distrust and uncertainty.

On the other hand, there certainly was a psychological advantage to be had when we went riding around on our Mike boat rather than crawling around in the jungle with the more trustworthy South Vietnamese Marine grunts, in that we had a sense of detached security due to the ready made steel cover it provided. However, either out on the water, or when taking to the jungle, Charlie always did his absolute utmost to kill us, and we the same thing to him!

The Plain of Reeds was an area which fell within our vast operations zone. It could be reached via a main river, where in places was wider than the Mississippi, and then tree lined canals which, like the Canal Du Midi in Southern France, had a pleasant, even tranquil, feel to them being lined with shade giving mature trees. The Plain itself was klick upon klick of wind-rushed, reed choked, stagnant and disease ridden creeks and swamp, and not all that dissimilar to some parts of our training ground in Florida . It was designated as prime “Indian Country”, and where our Special Forces and the South Vietnamese Special Forces, the Lien Dei Nugel Nghai, had operational control over all clandestine missions.

The CIA knew that the higher-higher “big battle” pacification policy at the time of  “make the VC bleed for their every grain of rice ” was heading in the wrong direction, for as in the Korean War, the communists’ willing ability to absorb massive losses could be considered as mind blowing. On the other hand the agency preferred a more subtle tactic, which was one of using Special Forces, ours and the South Vietnamese, bolstered by ex Viet Cong “Kit Carson Scouts”, “Indits”, indigenous people, and Chinese, Malayan, Burmese, and Cambodian mercenaries.

Many of the Vietnamese Indits, Malayans and Burmese had been British trained, and as such were very highly regarded for their jungle warfare skills. It goes beyond any argument that British Special Forces jungle training took center stage when it came to initiating such warfare, and much of what was to be later written into our own jungle training manuals was directly influenced by British expertise.

As a result of that CIA policy, which, like most of what they concocted, proved highly effective, and many strange, and at times weird, people were sent  forth to seek out and destroy the Viet Cong.  One of whom was an ancient, squat little Chinese guy the CIA had operationally coded with the nickname of  “Bigfoot”.

There was absolutely no derision in their choice of nicknames, although it was regarded by some within the intelligence community as being a little overly melodramatic, and hinting somewhat of a nickel-and-dime spy novel. Whether it was or not, “Bigfoot” obviously knew of his code name, and when it was explained to him that a legendary great beast of the American forests shared that name, he reveled in its significance.

“Bigfoot” had become a legend in his own right during WW2 when running a bunch of Chinese cutthroats supporting Allied Special Forces operating against the Japanese, and his new band of young Chinese mercenaries would be helping “allies” again. But do not get this wrong, for he did not help out of any love for democracy, or for that matter the United States, nor any other country, absolutely no way, for just as in WW2 to him it was simply all about money, preferably paid in gold coin, regardless of its currency. 

Within the Plain of Reads there operated a highly dangerous VC leader, who was a self styled “cleansing” figure to the people, and went about rooting out those without complete loyalty to the communist doctrine. Being disgustingly ruthless in this endeavor, he had guaranteed himself a safe, spy protected, working base. The leader commanded in the region of fifty or more VC, all well armed, and like he absolutely dedicated, and who, like the Government tax collectors, were hated by many of the rural population. Incredibly, they operated quite openly, and were high on our agency’s wanted list.

Like any other VC, they would attack and kill any military or police they came across. But where they differed, was that if their leader considered certain civilians as not staunch supporters of the communist cause they would torture and kill them, at times in the most abhorrent of ways, and whenever any “Sat Cong”, kill communists operation, or “SLAM”,  search-location-annihilation mission, were mounted against them, they dashed back to their well hidden den in the Plain of Reeds.

Their leader was a local born to the Plain of Reeds and therefore knew the area intimately, and,  like many of the Viet Cong NCO and Officer cadre, was an NVA military trained returnee from the North. In addition, he had been a member of  the NVA’s political warfare unit, renowned for their atrocities against what they termed “cruel tyrants and reactionary elements.” However, in essence, they were simply Hanoi’s death squad.

The guy had but one weakness which was women, and that really pissed-off his wife, and on hearing of this, the LDNN decided that the wife should become an ally by befriending her. To achieve this they called in the services of “Bigfoot” who on their behalf plied her with gifts, cash, and a handsome young bodyguard, come lover in exchange for intelligence on her husband.

The designated bodyguard was a trusted aide to “Bigfoot” and a vicious, nasty, arrogant piece of crap, but extremely loyal. Through this arrangement, it was not long before the LDNN knew exactly the location of the VC’s well defended bolt hole, and its strength of defenders, built defenses, and layout.

It was obvious from that intelligence an attack on the bolt hole, either Ariel or land, would prove to be tactically impractical within the reed beds of the plain, if all of the VC were to be killed or captured, so a plan was developed in an attempt to force the VC out into the jungle. There to receive an ambush, which would hopefully result in their total annihilation.

Bigfoot arranged that the VC leader’s wife would send her young lover to advise when her husband would be returning to the bolt hole after a “ nonconformist ” cleansing excursion. “Bigfoot” and the LDNN would throw a rough cordon around the area of the VC camp, leaving a weak gateway towards the jungle, and a known track used by the VC. Approximately one klick down that track, the LDNN instructed ambush would be waiting, made up with part of  my boat’s crew and a squad of South Vietnamese Marines.

True to her word, and with the probable hope of being rid of her husband, the wife duly sent her lover with the information. The LDNN, “Bigfoot” and his mercenaries piled aboard a large civilian river junk, and set the plan in motion. There was no turning back on the mission, for there was but one chance to clear out the rat’s nest in the reeds, and that was it!

Normally, Special Forces operation radio communications were relayed through the “Leghorn” Radio Relay Site in southern Laos.  However, as that operation had been classified as strategic, a runner had been sent to our positions in the jungle, rather than taking the risk of being compromised by Charlie if he triangulated a transmission. The messengers English was as piss-poor as was our Vietnamese, but we still got the drift of the message by using a pot puree of Vietnamese, English and French. Obviously, the SV Marines understood him straight off, and couldn’t stop laughing at the guy’s frustration over our antics when trying to do the same, but to our great annoyance made no effort to help out.

The rain had stopped, it had been thundering down for hours in a warm, continuous, unrelenting flood, then it just suddenly ceased, as if someone had turned off a bath faucet. My crewmen headed over to a mass of Nipa palms, and spent a few minutes going over, and rehearsing ambush procedures, before allowing another five to prepare their gear, for everything to be used in a preset ambush has to be checked again and again. We had everything required , weapons, grenades, flares, and information on other red forces in the area from hot tips supplied by the LDNN.

The SV Marine leader and I moved off a short distance to form an “ O group”, orders group, and prepare a plan. we took our time, as one difficulty to overcome was the difference in combat drill styles used by the South Vietnamese. Especially with the “break contact drill”, which is a carefully choreographed squad drill that ensures maximum small arms covering fire is used for withdrawal if the enemy strength proves greater than first imagined. In addition, we tried to think like the enemy, from their point of view. However, we did not discuss the planning of the action with the others as it would have downgraded our command appointments by being considered as indecision, even weakness.

From experience, we knew that the VC would scatter at speed the moment any firing started, or, if trained for it, initiate their form of anti-ambush drill by firing off a volley of rocket launcher rounds towards the ambush, then attacking in waves. So a decision was reached to use the simplest style of deliberate ambush, the “linear”, which is a type of ambush that is preset by a squad strength of grunts, and at times, as then, two squads. Any more would have made the choke point of the killing area just a little too overcrowded.

A “linear” consists of  using manually controlled spray-burst mines, to be in effect the “doors”, and two “stops”, grunts armed with general purpose machine guns at each end of the ambush, and a “killing group”. However, it also requires to have “depth”, with a couple of grunts positioned beyond the killing ground to shoot down any escapees, and act as the “protection group” to cover the withdrawal route to the rally point.

Unlike in the movies, where a few guys hide behind bushes and fire uncoordinated weapon bursts at an unsuspecting enemy, in the real life, the ability to set an ambush is classed as a military skill, even an art, and requires professional expertise to set properly, and if to be initiated effectively constantly practiced. It is without doubt a short lived, brutal, and callous thing, for its only function is the intended total destruction of an enemy formation, and if done in a forest or jungle it is at so close a proximity you can see every detail of opposing grunts features,you can smell them, hear their breathing and voices.

Part of Marine training is so intended as to make your enemy lose their life's meaning and personality, dehumanize the target, so to speak. Nevertheless, it still becomes a very personal action,and it is not that unusual for an inexperienced grunt to close his eyes when firing, in an attempt to shut out the ghastly carnage unfolding in front of him.

As time droned on, all waited in a rain-soaked silence, eyes watching for even the slightest movement in what seemed like an eternity of time. Hell, a Riverine Marines life seemed to be made up of waiting for something to happen, interspersed with a few minutes of violent action. It was a test of discipline, and  concentration, something ambushing troops must be strong with. Then the forward “stop”, who was located near the true jungle edge, spotted movement on the track and pulled the communications cord looped around my left boot.

Normally, having only a small force, along with our “bloopers”, grenade launchers, there would have been a LAW for a heavy weapons punch if required, but the South Vietnamese Marines had insisted on having a flamethrower. A weapon which was obviously close to my crew’s hearts, and not that unusual to have, if they didn’t go about clicking the fucking thing for a “flame-on” before the ambush door was slammed shut.

My  guys had the task of closing the “doors” and preventing any escape attempt with our “stops”. The SV Marines would do the main business of the ambush by acting as the “killing group”, and blast, or toast with their flamethrower, the VC to oblivion. Then, through the deep gloom beneath the jungle canopy appeared our targets, moving quietly but at speed in a kind of half run, which meant we had to be damn quick to catch them all in the net for sure.

In an ambush, all of the guys in the “killing group” must initiate a rapid fire, shooting to kill as soon as a mine, or mines, go off, and keep on firing until the order comes to stop. So, as the last of the VC passed our forward “stop” he pressed a clicker wired to a Claymore mine. A loud, sharp crack, and the running Viet Cong grunt had his flesh shredded like ground beef, and bones shattered by hundreds of steel balls, and at that precise moment the explosion slammed shut one “door” of the ambush.

Our “stop” then ripped into the now disorientated VC with his M60, and their fate was guaranteed sealed! They literally had nowhere to go, but some did manage to get a few AK rounds off in retaliation, and tried to run up the narrow track, but were quickly repulsed by the second  exploding mine that closed the second of the “doors”, and fire from the M60 manned by the rear stop. They fell back, and were forced into the killing zone, where they came under a continuing storm of M16 rifle rounds from the “killing group”. The air filled with the zing and buzz of automatic weapons rounds, sharp cracks from exploding grenades, and the screams from the mortally wounded and dying.

Finally, the SV Marines team leader shouted  the standard ambush command of Stop! Stop! Watch and wait! Then in response, and with  eyes stinging from the gun-smoke, throats that felt as if filled with sand, and ears ringing from the battle din, everyone immediately ceased firing, but still remained on the alert. 

Lying motionless in soft jungle moss, and on the track, amid streams of blood were the VC force, some nothing more than pulped flesh and bones. But quite suddenly one figure sprang to life, and took off at a tremendous pace, fear lending wings to his heels. Crack! Crack! Went a dozen or so rifles, but the fleeing figure kept on running, for with eyes still streaming from the battle smoke everyone had goddamned missed!

My only thought at the time was, “another fucking screw-up” Then the figure ran straight into a grenade "Necklace", and was quickly and viciously cut down, his head had instantly disappeared in a bloody shower. Prudently, grenade necklaces had been stretched between Nipa palm trunks on the opposite side of the track from the ambush as a precaution against any such bug-outs.

Much to my surprise, as the VC force had obviously been decimated, the gloom was suddenly lit up by the flamethrower in an effective and terrifying display. The SV Marines then lobbed hand grenades into the burning mix of humanity and foliage, and poured in a torrent of small arms rounds, in a mass overkill mad-moment just to make sure!

The ability of some within the South Vietnamese Military to overdo even a small victory always amazed me, for somehow they never seemed quite satisfied with just winning. They always went that extra distance, at times crossing the line of what to us would be acceptable military behavior. Regrettably, it was something that would later rub-off on a few of our guys when Charlies guerrilla war neared a fevered pitch, and their constant use of ground and booby traps killed our grunts. In turn, that practice fostered in our people a hard bitterness towards the enemy, which manifested itself in some very vicious payback. 

Inevitably the jungle caught alight, and flared at a tremendous speed. Everyone had to run for it, plunging into the side canal to escape the flames. After swimming across the canal there had been a three klick walk back to where our Mike boat, camouflaged by bundles of reeds tied to her, had been left moored up

The one casualty among our crew was an “NFG”, new fucking guy, with grenade fragments in his face and an eye.  For lack in “trigger-time”, experience, and being caught up in the excitement of the moment, had forgotten his jungle training and thrown, rather than lobbed, a grenade. It had bounced off a tree and come right back at him, catching him within its burst radius, but luckily no one else on our side. The “NFG” was in great pain, but to his credit suffered the wounds with a magnificent fortitude, and never cried out. Unfortunately, his eye looked well beyond any possibility of repair.

The flame thrower induced fire eventually burned itself out two days later, but not before destroying acres of jungle, and once everything had cooled down, we were ordered back to the ambush site to search for evidence. However, apart from some charred human remains, and a few fire twisted weapons, nothing else was found. Anyway, as always, the jungle would have quickly grown back and covered the scars of our little side action, as if it had never happened. For, if left alone to its own devices, then in all cases, nature will eventually eradicate nearly all traces of humanity’s follies.

We never did find out if any of the VC had managed to escape the carnage of the ambush, but I seriously doubt if they had, for enemy activity dropped off in that particular section of  Plain of Reeds whist we were there, but it did eventually return with a vengeance when NVA Regulars with VC support started pouring in via the “Ho trail," as the North’s General Giap, who had a known reputation for recklessness, prepared for his Tet offensive.

However, the idea that perhaps the leadership in Hanoi had a hand in feeding the intelligence which made the elimination of that particular VC group possible, has always played on my mind. In that their overly zealous viciousness towards the local populace proved perhaps counterproductive to Hanoi’s carefully crafted propaganda that claimed it was the invading Yankee imperialists who were the enemy of the South Vietnamese peasant, whilst they, the North Vietnamese, were their saviors. Yet, that “hearts and minds” strategy was in complete contradiction to their one of intimidation and murder.

Of the Wife who helped the LDNN via “Bigfoot” so effectively? Well, she moved into a large villa in Saigon with her lover, courtesy of our intelligence agency. Most likely the CIA had future plans for her as quite correctly, they never wasted an intelligence resource once it was found to be effective. However, in 1969 she was found floating and bloated in a Saigon cesspool, having been savagely beaten and strangled to death by a piano wire garrote, which was still fastened around, and embedded in, her neck. Therefore, it seemed that Hanoi also had plans for her.

Regretfully, our NFG casualty died from wound complications in the Naval Hospital, Yokosuka, Japan. But unlike the ever growing number of his peers who didn't, had boarded the Freedom Bird back to the world whilst still alive.

Submitted: July 15, 2015

© Copyright 2021 Sergeant Walker. All rights reserved.


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