I would have laughed at them, but that is what did happen. I think even then I knew that this upcoming year was to be the highlight of my Army career. It is hard to describe and very possible only a veteran Inf soldier can understand, A Inf combat unit is like a family, you depend on the rest of the family and they in turn depend on you. There has to be a mutual trust between all members of this family. Especially between the NCOs and the enlisted men. In most cases these are the men who actually get the job done. A unit can function quite well in combat with out the presence of any line officers , but take away the NCO and you have big problems. While on the subject of officers, Their is a old saying about the most dangerous man in the army is a 2ndLt with a map and compass. I must admit that this can be fairly true. I had one very good Plt Leader while in Charlie company, one who was a dud and fast became the Bn awards and decoration officer. And one who had the that ROTC attitude ( smart ass who knew everything ) this type is the one who will get his men hurt. My one good Plt leader joined the unit a few months after I did. Green, and smart enough to know it, He watched and observed and within week I knew that he would be a good Plt Ldr.
It looks like I kinda got away from the main subject, ( my 1st mission ) anyway when we got back I was a little wiser than when we left. It seemed that our future combat missions would be anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks, sometime shorter but if I had to guess for a average time I would say 2 weeks before we would see Lai Khe again.
When we made that 1st mission their was a rumor that after xamount of combat assaults by Huey we would get some kind of air medal, some of the greenhorns even kept count. ( I stopped at 73 )
It was just a few days later that I went on my 1st ambush patrol from Lai Khe. Our patrol area was the real estate in front of our companies position. We overlooked a low valley, that was perhaps 1500-2000 yds wide. Their were rice paddies and grassland both in the valley. ( I can not remember ever seeing anyone working these paddies?) Their was a rather deep narrow stream that ran through the valley. The shallowest part I ever found was about 31/2 ft.
On this patrol our plan was to move through our protective concertina wire just after full dark, move across the valley into the low foot hills to a road that led to the village of Ben Cat. Any thing that moved at night on this road was to be treated as VC. On this road we would sit up our ambush site and wait the night out. If nothing happened we would prepare to move back to Lai Khe just before daylight.
Well just to break me in right ( I guess ) nothing went as planned that night, (perhaps this is why my motto in life is to be flexible) Just after we forded the valley stream and while moving towards the foothills in Pitch Dark all of a sudden; their was a lot of loud movement to our front and right flank. We had startled something or somebody ,well believe you me the pucker factor was high , every one hit the dirt, perhaps a 1/2 dozen hand grenades were pitched in the direction of all this movement, no return fire! While this was going on my squad Ldr was on the radio to zippo six, the info to us from zippo six was " ground radar had been watching us cross the valley, and that we had VC to our front and right flank" his orders to us was to pull back to the
stream and set up a defensive position and that the mortar plt was ready to start firing on the area as soon as we were in position. It did not take long to pull back to the stream and set up position, claymores out and start adjusting mortar fire into the area we had just left. Well sir no body slept that night, but every thing was as quite as a graveyard , just before dawn we received orders by radio to pull a recon to determine what we had used all that mortar ammo on.
Daylight we moved back into the area and right away we found several blood trails going through the grass. From the way the grass was matted down in trails leading away it looked like maybe we had jumped the whole VC army, Then we made a very enlightening discovery! Several piles of fresh Water Buffalo Dung! We had sneaked right into a herd of Water Buffalo! The laugh was on us, but I for one was glad that it was.
In 1966 the 1st Inf Div was keeping its Troops in the field on search and destroy missions. Most of the time company size units would be dropped into suspected VC areas, If they didn't find anything there, they would be airlifted to another area. From a my point of view this kept the VC on the defensive. But the biggest advantage was that it kept moral at a high level. When I returned on my 2nd tour in the Fall of 67, it was like being in a whole new war. Gone were the days of Zippo Six and daily combat air assaults. Instead I found small base camps set up on the roads inviting the VC to attack. Idea being we could cause more causalities The most important thing that resulted from this policy was the erosion of troop moral. Boredom and drug use set in among the combat units.
In my tour with Charlie company I only encountered one case of drug use. I was still a fire team Ldr and while we were back at Lai Khe for stand down. two members of my team came to me and informed me that a member of the team was smoking pot while on guard; not in the field, just when we were in base camp. I very politely asked them why they were telling me this? It was their ass's that could get blown away because of this members pot smoking. I don't know what they expected, but they just looked at me and walked away. The next morning one member of my fire team had some bumps on his face, but their was no more pot smoking. As for ever who it was that made the decision to have our troops sitting on their rear waiting for the VC to get enough stuff together, well This person did more to help North Vietnam than a dozen movie star turncoats ever did.
As we were on the move all the time we pretty well kept the VC off balance, we had few causalities, the ones from the VC were mostly from bobby traps and sniper fire. Although short fire fights were not uncommon. Most of the time they would last maybe 5-15 minutes. The VC were not cowards but they were not strong enough to stand up to us. Instead they fought a very smart fight, but a very cruel fight.
Looking back, my job as a fire team and squad leader were the most rewarding that I had in my twenty years service. (Rewarding in the fact that I had found out about myself and who I was) In these two position I never had one causality. This I lay to several factors