|Anh Nhut Tan was at night--4 am to be more
precise. Yes, I remember LT Shreenan. He got his Silver Star for retaking a
bunker via a 90mm recoilless. Crawled up on it after it had be captured. Blew
it apart. Probably would have gotten a CMH if there had been any bad guys left
inside. I was listening on the PRC 25---I had already been wounded, but was
adjusting and calling fire as best I could. He said he was going to destroy the
bunker. If he failed we'd have to fall back. Problem was that our backs were already
on the river. No place to fall back to. I was hit at ANT and taken off line. I
became the 2/4 Artillery assistant FDO (fire direction officer), and was on duty during
Tet. Interesting times. I was then levied to be an infantry unit advisor.
Went to southern I Corp, but those are stories for another time.
formally Daring 63
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|We were doing a sweep
northwest of the pink palace with LT Mancuso in the lead element..he got hit by VC in a
dug in bunker line..he kept calling in arty and air until his RTO was KIA and went under
with the radio still on. We had no commo. I brought my platoon up and found the RTO,
turned off the radio and called in a slow flyer with clusters to cover us till we could
get Mancuso, the RTO and other medivacs out. I became acting CO till dark when CPT
Forsberg came in. I ran into CPT Jim Forsberg several years later and at that time he knew
where Joe Mancuso was. I have since lost contact with Jim.
Gene Richardson 67-68
|One Sergeant was from Tennessee, the other was from
Texas, and both were as stubborn as mules. Neither was likely to concede and
argument to the other, and they had apparently found a subject worthy of their
debating skills: Can white ducks fly?
We had just done a sweep through a small village without results and had stopped for our lunch of C-rations and Kool Aid. I was setting up my stove, which was an old "tuna fish size" tin can with a few church key holes punched in its sides for ventilation. It was fueled by that marvel of modern technology: C-4 plastic explosive. (Interesting stuff, that plastic explosive. You can take a brick of it and slam it around like a salami and nothing happens. Or, you can break off a piece, light it with a match, and use it to cook up what the Army considers to be a meal. Neither pressure, nor heat would cause a problem. Pressure AND heat, however, was a different story.)
Anyway, my platoon had just settled down to our lunch 'al fresco', as the argument slipped into high gear. It was acknowledged that domesticated brown or gray ducks could fly, but no ground would be given on whether their white cousins still had this capacity. Unfortunately,
for one white duck in particular, a method of putting the matter to the test was readily available - helicopters.
As we finished our meal and prepared to "saddle-up," one of the sergeants snuck over to a little hootch in the village and grabbed a white duck from the nearby pen. With his prize, and the hope of providing a posteriori evidence ("Wait a gawdamn minute, and I'll PROVE it t'ya!) that white ducks could fly, he scrambled into the waiting chopper. The debate, as well as the betting on the outcome, now spread to the rest of the platoon. No one could ever remember seeing a whiteduck fly, but aside from their color they seemed exactly like other, flying ducks. As the helicopters rose above the village in a wide, spiraling ascent, the bird was ceremoniously tossed out the chopper door.
It reached terminal velocity almost instantly.
Not only didn't it fly, that bird dropped faster than any of us had ever seen anything fall before. It went straight down, trailing feathers and duck shit until it crashed through the roof of the same hootch from which it had been pilfered. The argument was closed and all bets settled. White ducks don't fly!
Now, at this point in my military career I was only a lowly PFC, and I knew enough not to involve myself in debates between lordly sergeants. I had, however, noticed a factor that seemingly no one else had - the down wash generated by the blades of a Huey helicopter is strong enough to blow a falcon out of the sky.
I still don't know if white ducks can fly.
Edward G. Sanicki
1st Platoon, Delta Company - March '69-January '70
|I was in my first month in-country. As a new guy I
was expendable and therefore "walked point." Walking point puts your
senses on a level of awareness akin to having your skin flayed. I have never, before
nor since, been so conscious.
It was OK during the days. They did give the new guys a few weeks to acclimate before sticking them out front, and I got a chance to see how pointmen handled daytime operations. But, on night ops, I had no chance to see whatever was going on up there, so my first night "on the point" was bound to be a learning experience.
Night operations often involved tango boat insertions. Big, flat, rectangular boats churning through the thick brown delta water. We'd get three platoons loaded onto the landing craft and head up river. Of course the boat noise could be heard for miles, so the tactic was to cruise back and forth a few times in the general area of the insertion point, then suddenly swing into the jungle-lined shore and drop the gate.
Now, I had followed others off the boats in similar ops, but this time I had to lead. What's the frame of reference? Tango boat operations were unique to this one part of Vietnam, so they weren't covered in our training back stateside. How do you lead the platoon off the boat in complete and total darkness? Of course, like every American male of my generation I had seen this type of craft before, in movies about World War II. So, taking my cue from memories issuing out of the darkness of the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey, I hunched over and charged off the front of the gate...and instantly sank.
A rifleman in my unit wore a metal helmet, carried his M-16, about 200 rounds of ammunition in metal clips, two fragmentation grenades, several smoke grenades, a couple of parachute flares, two canteens with a quart of water in each, canned C rations for two days' meals a web belt with knapsack and a few changes of socks. On point, I also was loaded down with a night 'scope. This was all heavy stuff. As I plummeted below the surface of the tepid water, instantly feeling the tug of the river's current, I had a revelation - I am about to drown.
Unlike the sandy beaches of Iwo Jima, the Mekong River delta is bordered by thick jungle...jungle that extends right out into the water. When the boats swing into shore they use their great weight to crush back much of the nippa-palm growth. When the gate swings down it pushes back even more. But, as often as not, it would still be some distance from the edge of the gate to what passes in the delta for dry land. The proper disembarkment procedure was to gingerly step onto the thickest palm frond you could find, hug the trunk, then shuffle from one cluster of vegetation to the next until you reached shore. I knew none of this.
As I said, the immediacy of my demise came to me in a flash, and just as quickly, I felt a tug on the back of my collar. My squad sergeant, somehow sensing through the dark what was about to happen, dove for the deck and lying on his belly reached down over the gate's edge. He had just been able to grab onto me. As he pulled my head clear of the water, he whispered into my ear some of the best advice I've ever had:
"Don't EVER do that again!"
I never did.
|When we were first constructing Delta Company's
living quarters at Tan Tru, we killed about an eight foot cobra just inside the perimeter.
Just another use for that handy, all-purpose tool, the M-26 Grenade, Fragmentation,
On another day long ago and far, far away I was playing RTO and riding in the C&C with LTC Lindsey et al. We were somewhere out in the Plain of Reeds, my guess is about halfway between Tan Son Nhut Airport/Base and Cambodia. Colonel Lindsey was getting ready to extract a company (maybe Charlie Company) and reinsert it somewhere else when the company CO radioed that he was moving the PZ 300 meters in some direction or the other. A conversation ensued and it turned out there was a "huge" (his term, maybe twelve foot) cobra occupying the PZ with the company. When asked why he didn't just kill it, the six answered that he didn't want to do that, he wanted to leave the cobra for the VC.
That same day when I was getting OJT training in airmobiling by being LTC Lindsey's RTO was the day in Hua Nghia province a couple of clicks west of Tan Son Nhut where we participated in another "not quite" classic military operation. It seems when Higher Higher gave 2nd 60th that TAOR and cleared us to run airmobile operations there, they cleverly did the same thing for a battalion of the 3rd Brigade 82nd Airborne Division. (3rd Bde 82nd Abn was brought in-country and deployed in the Saigon area after Tet. They departed Vietnam about July 69.) Anyway, Lindsey is inserting a company into an LZ, we're circling, the gunships are doing their thing, the slicks are on short final, and ... the 82nd's C&C is circling, the 82nd's gunships are doing their thing, the 82nd's slicks are on short final, and ... we have 2 flights of 10 slicks heading directly towards each other both trying to drop a company of infantry in exactly the same location. There were hueys everywhere. Quite an eyefull, let me tell you. And man, was Colonel Lindsey ever HOT!!! Equalled perhaps by the light bird from the 82nd!
But Oh ! Look out for those boa constrictors.
|By the seventh month of my tour in Vietnam I had
been wounded three times, the rainy season had settled in with a vengeance, and every one
of my closest buddies had been rotated out to Hawaii. I was developing a classic
"thousand meter stare," and was still, certainly figuratively
and often enough literally, neck deep in the Mekong delta. I couldn't see how I was
going to keep going for another four months. I was one sorry-assed, demoralized
It was just another day in the boonies when the Delta Company Top Kick showed up on a re-supply chopper late one afternoon. As it's contents were being distributed, he walked right up to me and said, "Sanicki, I been lookin' at your records and see you're a college boy."
This was something new. No one in the Army had ever shown the slightest interest in my level of civilian education. "Yeah," I answered. The implied, "So what?" lurking just below the surface.
Then he asked me the single most loaded three-word question that has ever been put to me. "Can you type?" (The single most loaded four-word question I'd ever been asked was posed a number of times under much different conditions when, in an earlier lifetime, I was still a civilian ski instructor: "Do you love me?" Well, technically...)
I instantly calculated that there weren't too many different reasons for the King of the Orderly Room to ask about typing skills. Had I never seen a typewriter before, or had I only used one to crack open walnuts, you could be pretty sure what my response would be. I straightened myself up adding just the right touch of military demeanor and trying to keep a poker face answered, "Yes, Top. I sure can."
"Can you type 35 words a minute?"
Now, I had taken a typing class in high school. But, as the center on our varsity football team my fingers were constantly getting stepped on, bent and bruised. I just couldn't get the hang of it. By about Thanksgiving I threw in the towel and dropped the course, having just about learned where all the keys were. In fact, on my last speed test I averaged only six words a minute...with errors. I hadn't touched a typewriter since.
So, I lied. And I lied in a tone of voice and with manner of speech that I hadn't heard myself use since Basic Training, "Absolutely! Top Sergeant!" I mean, I laid it on thick. Not to say that I snapped to attention or anything, but if I thought it would have helped - who knows?
Then he said some of the sweetest words I have ever heard. "OK. Get in the chopper. We're headin' back to Tan Tru and you're our new clerk."
Ten minutes later I was up in the air on what was to be the last of my more than a hundred helicopter flights. Just like that! Like magic. No more humping. No more fire fights. No more paddies, swamps, booby traps, or fire ants.
Let's talk for a moment about motivation. It's a wonderful thing. Within a week or two of getting my job in the rear I was doing 35 words a minute with no trouble at all.
That's how touch typing saved my life.
Our battalions base camp perimeter was defined by a six-to-ten foot high berm of dirt accented every hundred yards or so by bunkers. Since you would hit ground water if you dug into the ground of the delta we constructed our bunkers by building up layers of sandbags, topped with 12x12s, corrugated metal sheeting and more sandbags. Each had about a 8x48 inch gun slit facing out and was fronted by a makeshift metal fencing contraption that looked something like a little league baseball backstop. The fencing was there to catch rocket fire. The theory being shells aimed at the bunker would spend their explosive energy when they hit the fence rather than impacting on the side of the bunker. The occupants would therefore be spared the problem of dealing with the concussion in order to give their full and undivided attention to the shrapnel this arrangement generated.
Ive got two "bunker" stories.
Each night our battalion would slip four squads out under cover of darkness to operate as "Listening Posts." Just after sunset, each would move out of the base camp toward a different point of the compass, find cover several hundred meters out, and post guard overnight. Their job was simply to sit quietly and listen in order to warn the base camp by radio of any enemy movement they might sense.
At our battalions northern border the small hamlet of Tan Tru pressed within a few hundred meters of our perimeter. This close proximity meant that the LPs north of camp would, of necessity, often be set up in the same, somewhat predictable positions. We were told that several months before I arrived in-country, four GIs had been caught unawares while pulling this duty and had their throats slit by the VC.
Because of this incident, by the time I had to spend my first night guarding the north end of camp the battalion had, somewhat curiously, built a bunker to serve as a permanent Listening Post. It was an unusual bunker in that it was a story-and-a-half high. On the flat roof above the conventional bunker an additional, waist-high wall of sandbags surrounded the structure. It was also now manned by a double complement of troops. A squad of ARVN soldiers was detailed to the bottom floor, with a squad of GIs manning the roof.I was scheduled for the 3:00am watch, and was asleep on the roof when I felt something moving in my fatigue pants pocket. Fatigues have those big, expandable pockets on each thigh, and I had put a Snickers bar in one of mine for a late night snack. I had forgotten to button it closed. It seems a rat had slipped up the bunker from the muck of the rice paddy below, sensed the candy bar and had been bold enough to go after it.
When the surprised realization what was happening hit me, I jumped to my feet (remembering I was in an exposed position, where any noise could announce my exact location), and began to yell silently...fists clenched, mouth agape and eyes wide with revulsion.
By standing I had inadvertently trapped the rat in my pocket. It began thrashing about and now I had to worry if it would try to chew its way out, and if it did, would it choose the right direction. All I could think to do was to reach down, grab the pocket with both hands and squeeze the damn thing to death.
I then rolled the corpse up and out of the pocket and over the side of the bunker, where it made a maddeningly loud splash in the muddy water of the paddy.
The second bunker story is about an incident that happened about midway through my tour in Vietnam.
For several months rumors had been circulating that one of the perimeter bunkers was inhabited by a boa constrictor. Quite frankly, no one paid this petty rumor much mind, because among others we had big-league tales going around of Viet Cong cavalry operating by night, tigers left in bungie pits to snare the unwary, and North Vietnamese troops on elephants. Besides, boas were South American, not Southeast Asian, right?
I was standing one of the late watches, peering out through the gun slit of the bunker. Sitting on the end of a cot with my face six inches from the opening, I was concentrating on the distant darkness to such an extent that I didnt notice the rustling just below my nose until the last minute. It was a snake all right, but no boa constrictor, only a little green skinny thing about the size of the garter snakes we had back stateside. No big deal.
At this point in my military career I was one of my platoons two radio/telephone operators (I was more than willing to carry the radios extra weight if, by doing so, I could get any information about what the chaos that regularly erupted about me was all about). As an RTO I was often required to hack the radios antenna out of the entangling jungle. Many radio operators carried machetes to do this job, but I preferred a great big, razor sharp, kitchen cleaver (unknowingly donated by battalion mess) that I kept strapped to the side of my radio until needed.I had my radio with me on bunker duty that night, so I grabbed my cleaver and slammed it down on the gun slit rail, slicing the snake in two. Both halves fell to the bunker floor, and the scurrying sounds that followed told me the rats had found another meal.
Back in the company area the next day I was talking up my big adventure with a little snake, when the Top Kick showed me an illustration from some Army jungle manual of the exact type of little green snake with which I had recently been so familiar. The caption read, "Green Pit Viper" One of the most poisonous snakes on earth.
From that day forward, in mutual recognition of my reptilian experience and New Jersey roots, I was nicknamed, "Da Snake."
1st Platoon, Delta Company - March '69-January '70
|Strangely enough, one of the
choicest details a sergeant in my unit could pull was escorting GIs who were trying for a
"Section 8" discharge to Saigon for their mental examinations.
Occasionally the battalion would produce a soldier who wanted out of the infantry so badly as to claim they were becoming mentally unbalanced (Picture M*A*S*H's Klinger, but without the wardrobe). In setting up their case, the GIs unfailingly had to break at least a few military rules. The patient was therefore a prisoner and the Sergeant, armed with a .45 caliber pistol, a guard. Whether the soldier had any real hope of being relieved the trip was generally considered to be a vacation by both the prisoner and his keeper. And, since as likely as not, they had fought side-by-side during their early months in country, not many formalities were kept -- the prisoner knew the guard was enjoying his time away from base camp and the guard knew the prisoner had no place to go.
On the one occasion when I pulled this escort duty no transport from the battalion was headed into the city, so I had to improvise. I picked up my prisoner at dawn and went down to the base camp's main gate. I knew that each morning two jeeps followed the mine sweeping crews that checked for any explosives set by the VC the night before on the dirt road between our compound and the main highway. Banking in on the fraternity of sergeants, I was able to get the patrol's leader to give us the two seats in the back of one of the vehicles.
At the understandably slow walking pace of troops with mine detectors, we gradually traversed the distance to the highway without incident. This leg of the trip took quite some time, but it was a beautiful day and I was happy for the chance to soak up the view. Vietnam is actually quite a lovely place. On fair weather days I remember the Mekong Delta as being a place of verdant fields and jungles topped by a crystal clear azure sky.
There was always a knot of peddlers at the junction of the battalion road and the highway. Had the war ended differently I'm sure therewould be a 7-Eleven there today (remember the three rules of real estate: location, location, location). This was the turn around point for the road sweepers, who were no free to bounce back to headquarters at top speed to catch their lunches in the mess hall. The junction was also a natural stopping point for truck convoys using the highway as well. Attracted by the peddlers, they stopped to pick up Cokes, pineapple slices dipped in salt (the Vietnamese love it that way, but we never could convince them that we didn't), and whatever contraband the individual favored.
We were able to get a lift with the first set of trucks headed in the right direction. By evening, the convoy had reached its destination, the huge Bien Hoa Replacement Depot on the outskirts of Saigon. On the next day they'd be carrying a nice big bunch of FNGs to their assigned units. Since travel at night was dangerous and because I was familiar with the Repo Depot from my own initial in country processing, I requested and was granted billeting for the night for my prisoner and myself. Like any other US military encampment, the Repo Depot was fortified and guarded. Since once evening fell you were effectively locked in, I told my prisoner where to meet me in the morning and headed off to the NCO club.
Here, quite unexpectedly, I ran into three other Sergeants from my own company who were going to be rotated home the next day. To say they were in a party mood is just a bit of an understatement. Of course I joined them, vicariously enjoying their impending freedom while mentally going over the number of days I still had left. Every GI I ever met in Vietnam knew exactly how many days he had before DEROS -- his Date of Estimated Rotation from Over Seas. Those who had completed most of their year long tour were called Short Timers, but there were plenty of so-called Short Timer Calendars hung on bunker walls that still had nearly all of their 365 little boxes to be slowly colored in.
Anyway, the four of us were sitting on benches at one end of a long trestle table. Four "Sudden Sergeants" sat down at the other end. You could tell without asking. Hell, you could tell without even being much interested. They were so clean! Their uniforms were still stiff and unfaded. The blacking on the toes of their boots hadn't been scoured off yet. And their eyes were so wide! They needed a drink a good deal more than we did.
Let me explain. As the result of the attrition rate in infantry units there was always a high premium placed on experienced NCOs. Additionally since the infantry was largely made up of draftees with a two year service requirement, with only a year of that in Vietnam, it was common for a soldier to come up through the ranks to Sergeant only a month or two before his DEROS. As soon as he got his stripes he was gone. So the Army instituted a stateside training program which pulled individuals out of the normal training cycle just after their Advanced Individual Training. Then, following an additional six weeks of classes, they were shipped to Vietnam as Sergeants...having never lead anyone, anywhere. Called Sudden Sergeants or Shake 'n' Bakes, they didn't receive a great deal of respect from those of us who had earned our stripes in months of fighting. But, given enough time, they either made the grade or fell by the wayside at about the normal rate of success.
It isn't surprising that at moments of great transition, like leaving Vietnam for home, folks tend to reminisce. That's exactly what my buddies and I were doing. Among veteran infantry Sergeants reminiscences tend to be somewhat gory, especially if the amount of liquor consumed is appropriate to the importance of the occasion. The FNGs were trying to be unobtrusive, as they had damn well better be, but were hanging on every word. I was sitting closest to them and after a few drinks one of them screwed up enough guts to ask me a question.
They were all going to be assigned to their units the next day and were eager for any information about what difference it might make to their futures between going to the delta, the DMZ, the highlands or wherever. He had seen by our insignia that we were from the 9th Infantry Division. We were delta soldiers and he wanted to know how tough it was in our Area of Operations. I'm pretty sure I ruined his evening when I told him, quite truthfully, that between myself and my buddy across the table we had a total of six Purple Hearts. I have to say that I think my partner went a bit over the top when he chimed in, "Hell boy, we use'em for poker chips!"
For a just a moment there I thought I could hear the sound of our little audience's bowels loosening in response. But I did have one question for him. Nine months before it had been at the airfield adjacent to this same Bien Hoa Repo Depot where I had first touched down. My earliest remembrance, even before I got out of the plane door, was of the stink. As a new guy I couldn't figure it out. What was that awful smell? The jungle? Napalm? Nothing in my military or civilian lives smelled anything like it. Of course the simple fact was that in Vietnam the US forces burned their shit. Fifty-five gallon drums were cut in half and shoved under each hole in every latrine. Each morning across the country details would go out, flip up the back skirting from the latrines, pull out those big buckets, throw in a gallon or so of diesel fuel and set it afire.
After nine months I guess I had grown accustomed to the smell, because the only question I could think of asking him was, "Does this place still stink?"
His jaw dropped and he just stared at me. He had been struck speechless. The guy was actually more impressed that I had acclimated to such a point as to be completely unaware of the stench around us than he was by any of the war stories he'd heard that evening.
The next morning I met my prisoner, we had a little breakfast, then headed into Saigon.