May 28, 1966
Water Buffalo Charges GIs, Goes Down in Hail of M-16 Bullets
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Charles
Black, Enquirer military writer, is now in the field with troops of the
1st Cavalry Division in Viet Nam. His reports on the war in
Asia will continue daily in The Enquirer.)
By CHARLES BLACK
Enquirer Military Writer
VAN HOI, South Viet Nam - When
word came for us to move, I picked up my gear - too hot and too
heavy - and helped PFC Cecil R. Castle lunge to his feet with his load
of radio, extra batteries, M-16 rifle and ammunition - plus a poncho to
sleep in and a sock full of C ration cans.
Castle groaned as the weight settled on him and we climbed the bank and
got through a hedge which had vicious red ants on it. We fought
at the things which bit into our sweaty necks while we endured the
chafe of belts, straps and clothing dragged down by loaded pockets, wet
with sweat and full of sand and grit. The bottoms of our trousers
were coated with cement-like dried mud from the paddies we had waded.
Dives Into Ditch
Just as we walked across the narrow terrace and went over the next
stepwall - with another hedge and more ants - I heard a startled shout
P-Sgt. Jack Norman caught my eye for some reason. He was diving
into a ditch full of water. There was a confused background
flurry of movement; green fatigues, sweat-blackened, seemed to be
eddying back toward me. The shout of “. . . shoot the damned
thing. . .” Norman had given as he dived for the ditch turned me into a
series of conditioned reflexes I had no control over.
Flips Safety Off
I flipped the safety off of the M-16 I had been lugging around
Viet Nam, throwing it all the way over to full automatic, and
backflipped into the hedge, struggling and tearing at the brush and
vines behind me, almost swimming through them to somehow drop behind
the bank they covered. I lay very still and very tense for a
second, then wriggled down the bank toward an opening where I thought I
could see into the area apparently filled with danger.
A big soldier with belts of machine gun ammunition crossed over his
shoulders smashed through the thicket then and flopped down in front of
me, cutting off my view. I wriggled around to crawl the other way
and a burst of vicious firing came.
There was quiet then. I waited, then crawled some more and felt
rather foolish when Capt. Milton Baker showed up, looking over the
hedge and calling “. . . come on, come on, you men, no trouble up here,
There was a big, gray, water buffalo stretched in the center of the
little grassy shelf between hedges. He was riddled with M-16
bullets. His horns were long and very sharp and the 900-pound
bulk of muscle and bad temper looked too heavy for even an automatic
burst to have dropped. The bullet holes in the buffalo’s chest
and neck looked tiny, and we walked carefully around it, as if we
expected it to jump up again.
Norman, acting first sergeant of the company, stood there with his
fatigues dripping the filthy ditch water, no wetter than anyone else
because of the sweat of a 100 degree morning but infinitely outraged.
“That thing charged right out of the brush over there! It was 10
feet from me when I saw it. I didn’t have time to shoot, all I
could think of was to dive for the ditch! Why something like that
could kill a man, an animal that big!” he said.
We spread out and prowled through the village.
The village smelled bad - many jars containing fermenting
breadfruit and other mysterious things seem to blend an aroma only
found in these hamlets - and it felt bad, an edgy and itchy feeling
came from it. It was booby trap and sniper terrain.
An agent of the National Police, a neat, middle-aged Vietnamese in
khaki trousers, white sports shirt, white sun hat, wearing a very fancy
.38 pistol in a shoulder holster, had been walking with us since we
left Van Hoi. I was interested to note that he was perspiring,
the best indication for judging whether it is a “hot day for Viet Nam”
is whether the Vietnamese themselves seem to be sweltering. They
remain dry and cool looking on days I consider too hot to endure.
His face was beaded with sweat and his light sports shirt was stained
with it, so this was a scorcher by local standards.
He seemed to know exactly what he wanted to do. He hurried to
certain hootches in the village and coursed around them, suddenly
shouting into certain shelter holes and producing people from a
seemingly deserted area. He chose three of these and told Capt.
Baker that they were Viet Cong. The men were about his age and
seemed to know him. They came quietly along with him, one
carrying a green coconut along with his little bag of belongings.
A woman and two children suddenly appeared and she talked to this man
for a while before he was hurried off by the policeman.
Milk On The Move
We moved through a coconut grove and somebody handed me back a big
green nut with the top of the husk slashed by a machete and the nut
punctured. It was cool, very refreshing to drink. The milk
sloshed down my neck as we walked and I tried to drink it. Flies
and other winged things added to the discomfort of sweat, sticky
coconut milk, grit and mud and the occasional ant brushed off the
hedges we kept going through.
At noon, we approached a second hamlet after skirting yet another water
buffalo who only tossed his horns and watched us go by. We
stopped in some thick brush for a while and ate C-rations.
Two men were pulled into the shade and Sp5 Hector L. Borges worked over
them just before this stop. They were the first cases of heat
exhaustion. They were on their feet, pale, trembling, miserable
looking young men but staggering ahead as we left. Their buddies
had split the heavy loads they carried, each carrying something for the
heat-stricken ones. The half hour stop seemed to help but the sun
bore straight down now with no shade really worth mentioning. It
looked as if that sun would take the biggest toll of the day just then.