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Baptism of Fire5976 Reads  Printer-friendly page

Vietnam The next days are spent digging bunkers, filling sand bags and increasing the strength of our perimeter. We string endless lines of concertino wire, drive posts and set out trip flares, claymores and boo gas.( Buried 55 gallon drums that are a mixture of petroleum jelly and gasoline.) Instant crispy critter.
In the bunker area we haul sheets of perforated steel as support for the sandbags on top the bunkers. I never knew when I joined the Army I was going to be a laborer. Just one of the "perks" of being infantry. My skin is darkening in the hot sun and I barely recognize my own reflection. My mothers Indian blood mixed with my fathers Egyptian ancestory is showing up. I have lost 16 pounds since getting here. Several guys had to be treated for heat exhaustion. We take our salt tablets but they don't help that much. Sleeping on the ground doesn't help.

Our tent kits came in today and now we are carpenters. The kit comes prefabricated and with instructions. Had to have an NCO to read the instrutions (he thought) pain in the butt. It is just a wooden frame covered with canvas but they shipped Army cots with them. A big step up from sleeping on the ground. We use the empty packing crates standing on end as lockers for our belongings.

Every day with everything else going on we have to attend training in staggered groups. Right now we are being taught Helicopter assaults into LZ's. Proper deployment, reactions and a thousand other details. We are also zeroing our weapons on a makeshift firing range. We arrived in country with M-14's but the M-16's are arriving slowly.

Every night we set out LP's and OP's. Listening and outposts. Being that far outside the perimeter in the dead of night can be nerve wracking. We also send out night ambush patrols. We get to a location before dark, set out trip flares, claymores and wait for the VC to stumble into our position. That's the Armys idea of an early warning system. I consider us sacrificial lambs or cannon fodder. Thanklfully so far everything has been fairly quite with only a couple of minor contacts. The tension does get to you after awhile. One of the guys in my platoon couldn't take it. He started acting really wacky. They sent him someplace to see a doctor. He never did come back, they shipped him back to the states.

Sgt Harris told us to pack just our combat gear today. There has been a large concentration of NVA reported building up, several clicks to the west of us. Intelligence thinks that setting the brigade down at one time caught Charlie off guard. They are concerned they may be building up a force to attack the base camp. The decision has been made to take the fight to them. This is what we came to Vietnam for, lets have at it.

That afternoon we are loaded on trucks and driven about 20 minutes to a large LZ. I don't even know where we are. We set up a temporary defensive perimeter and told to get as much rest as possible. I learned later than when the Army tells you to get as much rest as possible, that means all hell is expected to break loose.

Everyone is nervous. You can tell a lot of us are scared but we would never admit it.

About three hours after dark we hear a rumbling in the background that increases. Eventually you can feel the ground moving under your feet. What in the hell is going on. We all start milling around nervously. It is B-52's carpet bombing the area we are to assault tomorrow. They fly so high you never hear them but you can sure hear the thousand pound bombs blowing hell out of the jungle. Hey, maybe they will take care of Charlie for us and we can just mop up. None of us got a wink of sleep that night. We spent the night talking in small groups. The tension could be cut with a knife.

At dawn we grab a quick meal of c-rations and then move through the tree cover to the LZ. You can hear the Huey's warming their engines. Coming out into the open I see three flights of 4 Huey's waiting. Impressive. They look like giant prehistoric flying insects waiting for action. I am paired up with Sgt Kirk, a buck sergeant. He is an old war horse. He has been in the Army forever and is a Korean vet. He is a hard drinking, hard fighting old vet that everyone is afraid of. Meaner than a junk yard dog. That is why he is still an E-5. As an 18 year old I could do worse as a partner. I feel lucky.

He and I are assigned to the first chopper in the line. Great. As we double time forward to board the chopper the Prick-25 (An/prc-25) on my back slips slightly. Need to tighten the harness. When I board the chopper I see the slidingdoors and seat belts have been removed. That is to make it possible to exit the chopper quickly under fire. (Where is Ralph Nader when you need him?")

We lift into the air and fly at top speed just above treetop level toward the west. Why in the hell doesn't this pilot fly higher, I feel like a sitting target for ground fire. I realized later that the higher you fly, the eaiser it is to hit you from the ground. DUH! I should have realized that. The noise in the chopper is terrific, you can't even hear yourself. The doorgunners on both sides are tense and scanning ahead. I look at the faces of my buddies around me. Everyone is tense. I look down at my hand and see it is trembling. I quickly hide it before anyone can see it. Leaning slightly forward I make sure my M-16 is locked and loaded over and over.

I keep checking to make sure I have extra ammo and grenades. Everyone else is doing the same.

I can see the other choppers just to the rear of us. An impressive sight. I hope it is enough. A Bird Dog is flying recon over the LZ we are approaching. I can see the pilots and doorgunners listening intently to their head sets. We find out later that the Bird Dog is receiving ground fire.

The doorgunners signal to us to get ready. We pop over a treeline, I can see bomb craters from the B-52's. Suddenly I see it.. RED SMOKE!!! HOT LZ!!! The Bird Dog has warned us.


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