Chapter 33: Aux Armes!

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

Reads: 609

Aux Armes!

“The guy is having a brain overload bro so let him police up his own damn crap. He blew the gooks away, so he can clear the fuckers away! Anyway, old butter bars there thinks he is back in Tennessee on a bear hunt with Crockett, and we are here to hump off the trophys! Just wait till chuck starts peeling his hide, betcha the motherfucker squeals like a piglet at a boucherie”

Hey! Sir! Lieutenant Sir! What did you say? We can’t hear a fucking thing back here! Man, what an asshole!”

Corporal “Bayou” Lejeune, Ong Doc River Patrol, South Vietnam,1967.


All week long we had been hurrying from one goddamn task to another, never still, continually on the move as there was always another sailing order awaiting our immediate attention. Sometimes it had involved humping a few Special Forces guys down the estuary, or up a river, along the coast or a canal, and at other times our boat would be guarding sand and gravel barges being hauled out to construct yet another forward operating base within the D10 special zone.

Occasionally a lone PBR radioed in saying they had shot-up or sank moored up sampans and river junks that belonged to fishermen and villagers. But those actions by the mad moment crazies went against protocol as they did jack-shit for the hearts and minds effort, and really pissed-off the local population who relied on those sampans and junks as transport, and for making a living. Such dumb excesses pushed the locals towards the very people we were trying to eradicate, the Viet Cong. It was similar to the land grunts that went around shooting pigs, water buffalo, and working elephants out of hand, another banned practice that the more unruly among us ignored.

However, regardless of all the waterborne activity going on, not once did anyone meet up with Charlie. The VC and the NVA had suddenly gone mighty quiet in the forest-of-assassins area; it was if they had vanished altogether, until along came Saturday.

A Zippo boat had been holding us back; her motors were giving trouble so she couldn’t achieve anything above two maybe three knots in speed. The rest of the patrol flotilla had left her to struggle on as best she could, and advanced along a canal towards two unusually large coconut groves situated on each side of the canal. A CIA paid local informer had spotted what was claimed as many VC and or NVA lurking about the groves, and as her previous intelligence passed on to her Saigon based handler was considered to be of a reasonably high quality, the latest merited sending along a strong Riverine group that included a two platoon sized detachment of Vietnamese Marines to act as an assault force.  

Maybe the gooks were still there, maybe not, and just to play it on the safe side leading our band of boats was a heavily armored Monitor. However, if the boats took fire they would be effectively trapped, and not just for the reason of a half crippled Zippo that would block our way, it would be impossible to turn or reverse in that narrow waterway, a constant hazard which just had to be accepted when cruising along the more confined side canals. Once in the only way out was by going forward, unless you were lucky enough to find a pre-constructed turn-around warping hole, or blown out canal bank from a B52 bombing strike. If it were a dead end canal, then there would normally be a turn-around at the end of it. Going onshore to warp a boat is fine in peacetime, but could prove mighty dangerous in wartime.

Without any warning signs gook fire came in from the portside grove, and we were as expected, fucked! More intense fire, this time from the starboard side grove, Charlie was, as had been reported, squatting on the real-estate, and firing everything he had at the boats. It seemed as if he had been pre-warned about our appearance,even relished it, and that made me wonder if perhaps the CIA’s faith in their informant may have been overdone, and a little double dealing had been going on.

A mass of sparks danced like fireflies along steel hulls from the chi-com rounds, some ricocheting off, the distorted rounds producing high pitched whines and whimpering, but the portside firing seemed a little imprecise. The inside of our boat sounded as though we were sitting in a conex roofed hooch during a hailstorm.

The Monitors forward gun, almost lazily, began traversing this way and that searching for a target, and then locked onto something as if it were a gundog sniffing out quail. It fired, the muzzle flash produced a lick of flame, and after what seemed like a nanosecond its heavy shell struck hard at the edge of a grove and exploded with a massive boom. A spear of dirt, coconuts, palms, and two rapidly spinning silhouetted figures shot into the air. The mundane hiss of our boat’s radio was interrupted by loud yahooing and yipping, quickly followed by some idiot’s manic laughter directed at the Catherine wheel like figures.

The dumbasses doing the whooping and laughing obviously had that false sense of superiority and security you get when encased in something made of thick steel, a delusional belief that nothing and nobody can get at you. Stupid assholes hadn’t realized that they were just as vulnerable in such a tight canal as would be if cruising in an M48 main battle tank up a narrow alleyway in Saigon. Anyway, a tank in Saigon can’t sink with you trapped inside wasting that last precious breath of life on pointless screaming.

A crackle from the radio meant someone was keying a mike, and then started the pumping-up each other dog-shit by those who were adrenalin excited. Inane crap about charging ahead with all guns blazing, just smashing our way through with the Monitor, and trash about making sure every goddamn round killed a zipper head, telling the Zippo boat crew to turn Charlie and their coconut groves into smoking charcoal, no one dies, everyone goes home. Sure, and everyone will return to the world as a goddamn hero with a shiny new medal dangling on his chest, and receive a no-expenses spared tickertape parade thrown in just for the hell of it. In the Pacific during WW2 the Corps had the bold “wind-talkers” on the net, but listening to the crap coming over the ether all we had were goddamn “piss-talkers”!

Thankfully the officer in command, who owed his rank to competence, an excellent military record, and a calculating sharpness of mind, was so angered by the foolishness he cut in with a growl filled with menace, telling everyone to shut the fuck up, stow the bullshit, and get off the net. He also told them to goddamn concentrate on giving covering fire for the Vietnamese Marines offloading from an ATC Mike boat, armored troop carrier, in an attempt to flush out Chuck.

Low in the water and looking more like an iron-skirted blockader from the war between the states than a converted Mike landing craft, the Monitor quivered and shook every time her main armaments fired a salvo, and if you happened to be a little too close as it did the ear-ringing bang would render hearing painful to bear. It must have felt to those at the receiving end in the coconut groves as if an avalanche made from sheer destructive power had invaded their world, but I guess it would feel like that when so many shells exploded in your face with the intention of pounding you into fragments.

More sparks on hulls, and small, thin feathers of spray lifted in the canal as the gooks opened up with heavy machine-guns, and chi-com type 63 mortar rounds, Chucks preferred point target weapon, came in accompanied by B40 rockets, all in reply to the shelling. An enormous bang and a blinding flash as The Monitor was hit simultaneously by a mortar round and B40 rocker that killed two of her crew and put holes in the hull, so much for the earlier gung-ho bullshit on the net. Another bang like a heavy door being slammed shut as an RPG round hit our bows stem and exploded, making our forward .50 gunners shout and duck in alarm. It was a lucky hit on our part, for if our Mike still had her ramp instead of the conversion to a proper bow with its reinforced stem, well then; it would probably have been the end for both gunners.

With an unexpected suddenness the return firing ceased, the silence causing everyone to believe that Charlie had finally been smashed into the ground by the Monitors bombardments. No way had he, in fact, Charlie the great survivor was nearly still intact, and had far more fighting spirit than many gave him credit for. It would take much more than just a Monitors fire-power, a boat mounted flamethrower, and a scattering of machine-guns and rifles to defeat him, if defeat is the proper word to use, for Charlie at no time ever accepted that he was defeated, and neither did we. Anyway, I guess defeat is a word not best use when it comes to an active battlefield. The whole of goddamn South Vietnam was considered a battlefield, and as long as it stayed active there could never be such a thing as defeat or a win either.

With the boats still placing accurate shots into the coconut grove, the now offloaded Viet Marines began moving forward like well-timed two-man acts in a circus show, one up and firing, weaving as he bounded forward and taking no more than five paces, then it was down and roll, new mag in if required, open fire, covering his buddy as he repeats the same maneuver, all the time taking ground. However, there is always a price to pay in an infantry action, and Charlie was about to collect what was due. The gooks held fire until the Viet Marines were fully committed to a point where going forward was easier than going back, then pumped fire into them just as fast as they could slap another full banana shaped mag into an AK.

No one ever fires a weapon in exactly the same way for many factors are involved, such as physical build, how they hold the weapon, eyesight and so on will all affect their ability as a battle shot, and those factors can also affect the important MPI, main point of impact, the killing shot. It was obvious that some of the groves defenders knew all about the killing shot, for the gooks were knocking down Viet Marines at a rate that showed much expertise. In essence, such accuracy meant trained soldiers were among them, and that guaranteed the Viet Marines would be in for a hard time. For when an enemy is advancing on you, and still in the region of 150-200 meters out, then accuracy of fire means a reduction of how many you will have to fight close in. Once the enemy closes to 75 meters, it’s time for curtain fire to begin, firing everything you have at him, and fuck accuracy, for it may just break up his attack formation, make him go to ground, and with that will go his battle momentum.

For although the VC always proved to be spirited in both attack and defense, when it came to accuracy of fire at distance their limited training tended to let them down, for their on-range training was practically nonexistent. Anyone can pick up a weapon, point and fire it on a benign range and hope to hit at least something. However, to use a weapon in battle conditions, and expect to be a competent quick-fire distance shot takes training, and lots of practice on a QBR, quick battle range.

Leaving their wounded, the Vietnamese Marines pressed on over the flat terrain. No more weaving as the gap quickly closed between themselves and Chuck as they advanced at a fast trot with bayonets fixed. Occasionally having to throw themselves down when mortar and B40 rounds exploded, they would rise and move on again, converging on a point at the edge of the starboard grove where the gook firing had been the heaviest. But once more Charlie’s fire just petered out to nothing as he began to fall back.

The grove was now a formidable barrier, a confused tangle of destruction, with fallen coconut trees, ripped off palm fronds, blown-out trenches and shell holes, ammo boxes, some still unopened, and the odd cloud of bitter smoke from where the place had caught fire. Here and there was equipment, severed limbs, and mutilated corpses. A fire-trench was cluttered with dead and dying, and adding flavor to that nightmarish scene would have been the inevitable accompanying whiff of burnt cordite and the sickly smell of corruption.

Instead of fighting through and then properly securing the grove against an expected regroup by Charlie, the Vietnamese Marines immediately began searching the dead for money, valuables, and papers. Whilst others went around gunning the wounded, and then raided the fresh corpses for any measly piasters and cheap trinkets they may have had, the ultimate in bad ideas. For the snap of AK rifles being fired started Charlie’s pay-back time, as a flood of gooks poured out of reserve fire trenches firing on the run. There was by far too many of them for the Viet Marines to handle, and once Chuck’s machine-gunners set up again the real slaughter began.

Now all helpless from being fully exposed to the intense gunfire, it forced the Viet Marines to break and start to run back, and it seemed as if every gook in the vicinity had opened fire on them. There began isolated acts of desperation with some flinging their hands in the air, and with wide terrified eyes yelled for mercy, but all they got back for the plea was exactly what they had dished out to the wounded, bursts of machine-gun rounds tearing into their bodies, for as always in the ebb and flow of war the tide had turned the other way

Having been watching through binoculars the advance, then the broaching of Chucks positions in the grove, and the unexpected deteriorating situation for the Viet Marines, I couldn’t help but think it was like a crazed theatrical farce enacted by cavorting gun toting lunatics in a state of chaotic disarray.

Even with fierce covering fire from the boats, the Viet Marines seemed to have no idea what to do or where to run for cover, some went one way and some went the other, at times running into each other’s wild rifle fire, then changed their minds and ran back towards the grove and Chucks gunfire. They seemed to be in complete shock at the sudden change of fortunes, so sudden there was no chance to adjust, one minute they were wearing laurels, and the next they were fucked. And somehow by watching so much unfortunate human misery it made the heat of the sun on my back loose much of its warmth.

Charlie appeared to possess an extra special sense of knowing the exact moment when it was prudent to disappear, melt away in withdrawal into the terrain or down burrows and escape, and just as the thump of rotors could be heard from a duo of “snakes”, Cobras, called in for support, the attack dropped down to the occasional rattle of machine-gun fire, and the tap of rifles, most probably from a few stay- behind badly wounded acting in a rearguard role, and who would fight to the end. But the incoming Cobras would quickly make short work of them. The “Snakes” always worked in pairs, just like riflemen, with one bird covering the gun bird as it tore the ass off a target with its Gatling gun.

As a rapidly dulling sky showed rain wasn’t far off, the final survivor from the Viet Marines somewhat clumsy action was taken back aboard the ATC, but the Viet Marine and Riverine dead had to wait for a flight of evac slicks, as the flotilla had been ordered to immediately press on along the canal. Charlie’s dead was a different matter altogether, their tattered remains would eventually be buried, even though some being little more than bloodied rags after being torn to bits by the Monitors gunfire. But if buried by our guys no time would be taken over identifying each as having been an individual, and no marker left on the communal grave.

As the first patter of rain brought a musty-smell to the air, one last shot was heard, and over the net came some really sad news, the skipper of the Monitor was dead. He had been killed on her deck by a negligently discharged rifle round fired by someone within his own crew. It sure made an upsetting sight him being carried from the Monitor wrapped up in a poncho, and placed alongside the two earlier casualties.

I wonder if sometimes he even considered becoming just a memory by that method, but hell, who among us would have. Falling in battle was one thing, dying due to the action of a friendly hand was quite another.










Submitted: January 11, 2016

© Copyright 2021 Sergeant Walker. All rights reserved.


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