LOL - my employer has the power to require me to stay for an additional shift - a 16 hour day. That tends to interrupt my ability to post on this site.
A lot of guys don't like to talk about their experiences. When I first got home, I wouldn't either. But then the nightmares started. After a couple of years I had to do something to find some peace. Some other veterans suggested joining a group that got together over beers to talk about their experiences. I discovered that the more I could talk, the easier it was to deal with what had happened. I have become a "talk-a-holic" when it comes to Nam - because it lets me ventilate, which keeps the nightmares away. It has been 42 years since I came home. What had become nightly terrors are now, maybe, every three or four months - and that is fading. I will talk your ear off about Nam because it lets me sleep.
We had the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others. The area that I operated in had very small villages – sometimes only a dozen or so homes. When we met villagers on the paths we warned them off. We all had enough Vietnamese for that. If someone continued to move toward us after a verbal warning, we would fire a shot between us. If that didn’t work, we figured that they were too dense for their DNA to remain in the gene pool.
So most of the booby traps that we had to deal with were “delayed”. Probably the nastiest thing we faced were punji stakes. These were pieces of bamboo, sliced at an angle to leave a razor’s edge, and fired hardened. For an added touch, they could be “notched” to leave barbs along the edge and they were usually smeared with human feces to insure infection. They would commonly be embedded in the grass and brush along side trails. If you were stupid enough to walk down a trail (a great way to discover an improvised explosive device) someone would take a couple of shots at the column. Guys would jump into the brush for cover, to be impaled on the punji stakes in the grass.
The one that got me was a little different. It was a pit trap. A hole was dug, about 2’x2’x2’. Several punjis were embedded in the bottom. A couple of planks studded with nails (or more punjis) lined the two sides. The tops of the planks were connected by a string. When someone stupid enough to not notice the trap stepped on the leaves and brush covering the top, they impaled themselves on the stakes. Their foot caught the string and pulled the two planks against their calf. The natural instinct to pull your foot out of the trap caused the nails to be driven deeply into the calf.
The trap I stepped into should have been obvious – it was an old, neglected pit. I was just too tired, and maybe a bit over confident (read – stupid) to notice. Luckily, because the trap was old, the stakes were not as firmly set so only one penetrated my foot. The others got pushed off to the sides. The string broke so the nails didn’t get purchase in my calf. And, because I was so tired, I lost my balance a bit and fell to my knee (the one out of the pit) so I couldn’t have pulled my foot out if I had tried.
A couple of guys dug the pit out wide enough to get at my foot. They used the small bolt cutters we carried for just this kind of thing to free my foot without trying to pull the barbed spear out of my foot. The medic cleaned it up as best he could, we made an improvised crutch, and we hobbled a couple of miles to a landing zone. I had a really bad reaction to morphine previously, so the medic gave me a couple of Darvon (a pain killer). It HURT! A couple of hours later I was at 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon. The docs got the stake out and loaded me up on antibiotics. They told me that I was going to have an absolutely killer infection, and that they didn’t want to deal with it, so they were going to send me back to the States. Oh yeah. Clean sheets and round-eyed nurses! I didn’t argue at all.
Two days later I was in Oakland Army Hospital. The doctors there examined the wound and told me that I was going to have a terrible infection – but there was no sign of it yet. Three days later they still couldn’t find any sign of infection, and since I had so little time left in my enlistment, they chose to discharge me. Again, I was fully cooperative in being let free to go home!
Next, I’ll tell you about some of the booby traps I used!
R.I.P. Cyrano and Roxanne.
Jeez. Those guys sound like they were very engenious when it came to guerrilla warfare. Do you have a limp? Are you able to do outdoors stuff like hiking or camping? Or do they remind you too much of Nam? And why in the heck did you extend your tour in the first place? Can't wait to hear more. I feel like Ralphie in A Christmas Story waiting by the radio for Little Orphan Annie.
I extended for multiple reasons. One of the main reasons was that, if I had returned at the end of one year, I would have had a fairly long tour stateside. After Nam, I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to successfully deal with the level of chicken feces that troops were subjected to in the states, and would do something that would get me into trouble. As it was I had a period when I first got back where I had several contacts with local police. Each time I was lucky and the responding officer was a vet who cut me slack. In a couple of cases, a whole bunch of slack!
The other reason sounds a little self-serving, but is true nonetheless. I got to where I was really good at what I was doing. The expertise that I developed served to keep other guys alive. There were two other guys that decided to extend at the same time I did. We had talked about it and figured that if we stayed, we could keep a bunch of guys safer - and teach them so that they could pass it on. I guess by that time I was figuring I was bullet-proof.
R.I.P. Cyrano and Roxanne.
Now for a bit of a hypothetical question. If you were 20 again but with the wisdom and hindsight that you now posess, woild you sign up again?
Incredibly interesting insights. I'm a totally involved fly on the wall. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to avoid military service in Vietnam by virtue of my enrollment in dental school. While I had planned this career since I was thirteen years old, many of my peers chose it as a way to beat the draft.
Atrophy: what you get when you win atournament.
My original intent was to go career. My father had been a career NCO. I was going to do my 3 years and apply for OCS. After I got holes punched in me a couple of times I decided that maybe that wasn't the best career choice. As it turns out, I was right. After Nam the military did a Reduction in Force and thousands of young officers lost their commissions. I certainly would have been one of them. Not a huge market on civvie street for early thirties management types who's area of expertise is the "Platoon in the Advance" and setting ambushes.
Quinn - earlier I talked about booby traps a little. It might interest you to know that they were not a one-way street. I am not sure everything that I did was perfectly legal within the Geneva Convention, and I know some of it was outside our Rules of Engagement. But it kept me and mine alive and that was my primary concern.
Back to the geography. Most of the area where we operated was unpopulated. It was thick, triple-canopy jungle where so little light penetrated that at mid-day it seemed like twilight (no vampires, though). The civilian population was mostly on the edges of our AO, where the jungle thinned out and there were more clearings, and some areas of traditional farm land. If you were walking around in the deep bush, you were the enemy.
It was not uncommon for us to find small caches of enemy supplies. We were required to evacuate or destroy anything we found. (Medical supplies HAD to be evacuated, or left intact where they were found.) Food was usually evacuated and given to the local villagers. Weapons were usually destroyed on site unless there was something unusual which would be evacuated for evaluation. What I used to have fun with was ammo. Sometimes we would find a cache of ammo - usually only a few thousand rounds. Instead of destroying it, I would booby trap it. If you take a round and wiggle the bullet back and forth you can loosen it enough to remove the bullet from the case. In an AK-47 round, the powder takes up very little of the case space. So I would loosen a bunch of rounds, dump 2 or 3 loads of powder into one case, and reset the bullet. I would do maybe 10 or 15 of these in a batch of 2,000 - 3,000 rounds. If they were boxed, I would put one in a box and scatter them through the cache. If they were loaded in magazines, I would put a round 3 or 4 rounds down in the mag and reload it. Everything would then be put back as close to the original as possible. Eventually, Charlie would come along and pick up one of my doctored mags. When he started shooting, he would get a round that had way, way more pressure than the gun could handle. Most breech failures on AKs would blow right about face level.
Another thing that Charlie was famous for was policing the battle field after we had a fire fight to find any unexpended ordinance - or anything else he could use. I always carried some hand grenades with zero fuses - for booby traps. Sometimes I would leave one behind for Charlie to find. (US troops were very poorly trained when they came to Nam in the use of grenades. It was not unusual at all for FNGs to throw a grenade and forget to pull the pin. It was very, very common to have Charlie take the grenade and throw it back - but he WOULD remember to pull the pin.) Since the grenades I left had a zero fuse, Charlie would pull the pin and throw the grenade - but instead of the 3 or 5 second delay he would expect, it would blow immediately upon the spoon releasing - a few feet out of his hand.
Grenades came in a hard cardboard tube with metal ends. A piece of tape secured the metal cap. Remove the grenade (zero fuse), tie a piece of monofiliment to the grenade, pull the pin, slip the grenade back into the tube. The tube keeps the spoon in place. Some olive drab tape to secure the tube in the branches of a bush, run the line across the trail and secure on the other side. Instant (and usually fatal) warning of somebody coming down the trail. I used to set these on our back trail to prevent Charlie from working up behind us. I would also use them in various locations around our position when we were going to take a break. It is always nice when guests call ahead before just dropping in.
We were always supposed to go back and remove this type of trap, and I would if it was around a lager. But those back trail traps . . . .
What do you do when you get lost in the middle of the jungle? And, trust me, you do get lost. Visibility is 30 yards. You should have crossed that stream an hour ago. Where the h3ll are we? Easy. The maps are divided up by sectors. You won't have wandered so far as to be more than 1 sector off course. Have a spry young man climb up into the top of a tall tree. Call for one Willie Peter (White Phosphorus) round at "center sector". The artillery people will drop a single round in the mathematical center of the sector where you THINK you are. That young man looks for the hit, takes a bearing, and estimates distance. Piece of cake - of course, it would be really unfortunate to be standing at "center sector", but I never heard of that happening.
My wife is calling me to dinner. Next time I tell you some of the fun stuff we got into.
R.I.P. Cyrano and Roxanne.
A few quick questions, what is an NCO an OCS and AO?
Those are some interesting traps you all set. I'm assuming some grizzled veteran of the battlefield passed along that knowledge. Or were you that engenious yourself?