May 28, 1966

Huge 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 Southeast Asia will continue daily in The Enquirer.)

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 in front.

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.

‘No Trouble’

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, come on.”

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.

Treacherous Terrain

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.


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