May 12, 1966
Viet Nam Soldier Carries His Share
NOTE: Charles Black, Enquirer military writer, is now in the
with troops of the 1st Cavalry Division in Viet Nam. His
the war in Southeast Asia will continue daily in The Enquirer.)
By CHARLES BLACK
Enquirer Military Writer
- Despite the major commitment of American men to the Vietnamese
battlefields, it is still the little South Vietnamese solider who is
carrying on the bulk of the deadly day-in day-out fighting in that war.
He leads a tough life but usually is a
remarkably cheerful trooper and, when well led, he usually is a brave
The Vietnamese soldier, marine, ranger
or paratrooper, looks too small to carry the load of weapons,
ammunition and gear he must take into the field. He must carry
his rations and cooking utensils, for example.
Most of the troops live on food which is
a test of grim proportions for an American, and it really isn’t a
favorite kind of diet for Vietnamese. As one young marine
lieutenant told me, while watching rice and dried shrimp boil in a pot
shared by privates and sergeants in his platoon, with his radioman
acting as chef, “. . . this is not what I order when I eat in a hotel
A Vietnamese soldier carries cooked pork
wrapped in a newspaper, sometimes sausages of rather doubtful health,
sun-dried fish which smell horrible when thrown into the coals of a
fire to splutter and char until judged ready to eat, and a sack of
sun-dried shrimp which are actually almost good. The shrimp boil,
absorb water, and taste almost fresh, in fact.
There is always a bottle of Nouc Mang,
the pungent sauce made of fluid distilled from fermented fish and laced
with chili peppers, the universal seasoning of Viet Nam. Soy
sauce is also popular. American advisers serving with the Vietnamese
troops, and who eat their rations, learn to handle Nuoc Mang and say it
is one of the few available means of getting sufficient salt in their
diet while with the local troops.
The weapons we have given the South
Vietnamese soldier, aside from the carbines seen all over the country
in both friendly and unfriendly hands, are not as good as the ones the
Chinese and Russians have supplied the North Vietnamese soldier.
The Vietnamese have M1 rifles, venerable
weapons with worn barrels and minimal accuracy because of the erratic
bullet tumble, the reliable and effective - but very heavy -Browning
automatic rifle, and 81mm. and 60mm. mortars. The American GIs
envy them the latter. They have been taken out of our equipment
roster but they have great value in jungle and woods fighting and are
light and easy to carry.
Field artillery support usually comes
from either an American battalion, a fixed position battalion of 105
mm. howitzers, or 75mm. pack howitzers hauled by truck. A marine
task force of two battalions had four of the old 75s supporting it in a
The four trucks which pulled them were
the only vehicles the two battalions possessed except for the
helicopter support from American aviation companies in the area.
Americans serving with such units have
one very important assurance all too often denied the Vietnamese
trooper. If he is hit or becomes ill and circumstances permit -
and heavy fire is often not enough to stop the process -
the American will be evacuated by one of the brave “dustoff” pilots in
his area and will receive quick medical attention on arrival at an
Sometimes the Vietnamese casualties are
treated in a less prompt manner. Their medical attention, even
when an evacuation is finally called for is not the best in many cases
and often there is little sense of urgency over the matter.
Viet Nam is a country where siesta is
observed from 1:30 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. and refusal by Vietnamese Army
doctors to change this schedule simply because battle casualties have
been brought in is not an uncommon thing. There also seem to be a
readiness to perform amputation of arms or legs which - to a layman’s
admittedly unskilled eyes - don’t look that badly injured.
In one instance I am familiar with, for
example, a heroic Vietnamese Civil Irregular Defense Group radioman,
(these CIDG troops are called “strikers” and are hired and trained by
U.S. Special Forces teams) was hit in the arm by machine gun
fire. He was credited with saving an American’s life.
He was evacuated to the Vietnamese
hospital at Qui Nhon and later the men from the Special Forces team he
had fought with went to see him. They found his arm had been
amputated and were shocked at the man’s poor condition and the general
lack of care and cleanliness. They used their own money to move
him to a private hospital with a French staff where the youth
recovered. They then brought him back to light duty at a green
This particular soldier was lucky, very
lucky, because the Vietnamese wounded have nowhere near the remarkable
recovery rate of American wounded.
Vietnamese battalions usually are just
as good as their colonel. Junior leadership and staff work is not
up to very high standards in most instances and the battalion commander
- if he is good - is forced to “overcommand” his unit to keep up its
morale and efficiency. If he is lazy or has other command faults,
the battalion reflects this in its fighting ability.
American advisers with poor units lead
an edgy existence, wondering if they will suddenly find themselves all
alone on a firing line. These men are apt to have very little
good to say about the soldiers they worked with.
Americans with a good battalion
commander, however, often find it hard to adequately express the
admiration they feel for the same kind of soldiers.
In Field Forever
The Vietnamese officer who goes into the
field is apt to find himself out in the field from then on.
Political ambitions, connections, all of the other old games are played
with a vengeance in the scramble for good jobs and a way up in the Army
hierarchy and the field soldier often is simply stuck.
The strain of long service in combat
situations tells on these men sooner or later. An exception is
Col. Yen of the Vietnamese Marines, the most decorated single
individual in Vietnamese service. He has spent more than 20 years
fighting out in the brush in one war or another in that country and
looks good for 20 more.
A Ranger officer in a recent action, a
man who had been through years of ambushes, attacks, and all the rest
of the wilderness hell of Vietnamese fighting, simply reached the end
of his span.
The American captain with him, an
ebullient fighter who loves his little Vietnamese comrades and is
deeply involved in the conflict there, said his “daiwi” (Vietnamese for
Captain) simply “resigned in the middle of the fight.”
“He just suddenly withdrew and quit
running things. He just resigned it right there. I was
shocked. Then I realized what that man had been through. I
know that my time is up in three months and I’m going to get a break,
he just kept going out there with nothing in sight but more of it. This
was just one more than he should have been asked to fight. I took
over and he didn’t ever change during the fight,” the American told me.
The Vietnamese was promoted, after he
had rested and regained his control, and given a job which would keep
him out of direct contact with enemy - but he was a well worn and
nearly broken man when the event came.
The Vietnamese is a stubborn and brave
ally. Properly led he is pugnacious and aggressive. There
are many exceptions to the general high caliber of these troops and
there are many problems caused by these exceptions, but it has been a
long and bitter war there.