Jan 12, 1966
Crossing Site Found Dangerous
NOTE: Charles Black, Enquirer military writer, has returned home
four months in Viet Nam. He was with men of the 1st Cavalry
during many of their recent engagements with Communist guerrillas, and
his articles on the war as he saw it will continue in The Enquirer
By CHARLES BLACK
John Oliver led us down the way picked up by P-Sgt. Jose Ortiz-Vasquez
and, I believe, a Sgt. Gray, in a single file.
With the need for urgency,
and whatever concealment was offered by a moonlit night made even
brighter by flares, muzzle blasts, rocket, bombs and napalm from the
nearby battle at our home base, we moved in the open most of the time.
Somehow, we always seemed to
have a bit of cover, however, and it impressed me that the wiry little
platoon sergeant could manage to feel his way along with such speed.
Twice Capt. Oliver had to
stop while men caught crossing a gully or who had turned off wrong in a
patch of elephant grass groped their way back to the column.
(Both times I was among the
groping group and the two events added some gray to my already
We decided to turn away from
the river, after skirting the thick bamboo there, at a deep gully and
follow it up toward the patrol base. There was an obvious
crossing site here where the river broadened into shallows.
We had taken cover while the
scouts and Capt. Oliver talked it out, and I remember that I was
wishing I could smoke when the burst of gunfire came from across the
There was a flickering line
of muzzle blasts which seemed to come from not only along the bank, a
dark line of brush 75 yards from me, but also from out in the
water. M-16 fire came almost before the echoes of the first
I threw my two grenades out
into the river and they made a satisfactory thunder, sending flame-lit
sheets of water up into the air about where the firing came from.
There were only half-a-dozen
of us involved here. The rest of the column was watching over the
edge of the gully, straining to see approaching danger from the flanks,
and the racket of the other fighting in the area actually covered our
little affair so that the front of the column didn't know we were
We shot up a couple of
magazines each and listened to the bullets coming back as they zipped
overhead or smashed into trees. One burst dug up dirt near my
shoulder, but most of it seemed very high.
We had the advantage.
Our bank looked down on their side and we had a bend in the gully for
cover, turning our position into a natural trench.
I suddenly realized that
there wasn't any more fire from across the stream and then had 30
seconds to assess the effect all of this had on me.
It was fairly
distressing. I was breathing as if I had just run a long way, and
my hand trembled disconcertingly when I changed magazines.
"Come on, move up the
gully! They won't come across there now. Move out or get
left behind," somebody hissed at me.
I slid back down the bank
into the bottom of the gully. There was a little water running in
it and the rocks were slippery, and saw a dim shape in front of
me. I followed it.
Somebody kept putting his
hand on my back to see where I was and I had to do the same to stay
behind the man in front of me. It was still moonlit but our eyes had
been dazzled by the firefight back there. I bumped into the man
in front as he stopped. We were all back together again.
Somebody passed up a count.
"Five," he said, tapping me
on the shoulder.
That meant there were five
men behind me.
I tapped the dark shape
ahead of me, it was a man carrying the radio but otherwise
unidentifiable, and whispered my "six" and he passed it up to the next
We moved then and my eyes
got used to the darkness again. I picked my way over the big
rocks and tripped on the small ones until Capt. Oliver led us out of
the gully into a grove of trees -- where we were immediately fired on
by automatic weapons.
"Get down, get down!" I
heard him say.
It was a fairly unnecessary
order. I had flopped down hard when the first flick of fire came
from the dark mass of a low hill on our right. I could see
perhaps six of those flickering spots in the darkness and decided that
we had hit a small patrol which was over-ambitious.
They put low, accurate fire
into the brush where we had taken cover, searching it out with
tracers. Our fire beat back at them almost in one burst and an
M-79 gunner landed an explosion right in the midst of their muzzle
We crawled back. There
was no more fire from that position although several single rounds
whizzed by us, coming from the direction we had been trying to aim for,
as if riflemen up there were attempting to draw our fire in order to
After a short crawl we got
up into a crouch and somehow Capt. Oliver and his wonderful platoon
sergeant led us into a patch of dark, thick brush. We counted
again and once more the miracle of nobody being lost or hurt came up
the line in a series of tremulous whispers.
Along with the tension of
this cat-and-mouse game we seemed to be playing, I noticed that I was
getting physically tired. It had been a grueling evening and I
had been out in the field since the Binh Khe operation, almost two
I told the radioman near me
that "if I don't get shot, I think I'm going to collapse anyway."
"If you do, you'll get
shot. You can't win, man. You might as well just stick with
the rest of us," he said comfortingly.
We were already moving off
again, making a circle and aiming toward the noise of the fight at the
patrol base, very loud and very close now.