54 years ago, 16 December 1966, I was the Staff Sergeant E-6 Demolition Sergeant on Detachment A-422 (Vinh Gia), Company D (Detachment C-4), 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), in the western Mekong Delta (IV Corps) of South Vietnam, 2,000 meters from the Cambodian border.
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. —Mark Twain.
On the 16th SGT Stephens (team medic) and I headed down to Giang Thanh, my favorite place in HELL, AGAIN; this time with a large supply of grenades and directional firing Claymore mines (for the defensive wire), as well as electrical wiring! This time it wasn’t going to be as boring as usual, however. During the week before departing, there had been three acts of sabotage and a VC probing patrol at Giang Thanh. In addition, on the 13th a helicopter doing a reconnaissance flight between Vinh Gia and Giang Thanh was fired upon
Daylight hours were a feverish movement of bodies, all working to strengthen the camp defenses as much as possible. Stephens was sent because we had to have a minimum of two men at Giang Thanh at a time, and Stephens acted as my guard while I toiled in the defensive wire, replacing the decaying defensive weapons, and emplacing additional defensive weapons and wiring.
The decaying system had already been responsible for having killed the demolition sergeant I replaced, my good friend, SSG Daryl K. Stannard. Intelligence had been received, that Giang Thanh would be attacked, the objective being to overrun the outpost, during the Christmas-New Year timeframe. The intelligence was considered reliable enough to worry us the following days, knowing that the camp was extremely vulnerable to attack and there would be no escape route.
We increased the perimeter guard and placed the outpost on alert. The only personnel permitted to leave the camp were those required to obtain food for the camp, and combat security patrols outside the wire. The camp was also placed off limits to all civilian personnel.
Since only I had an intimate knowledge of the working of the new system, I was kept there, with Stephens as my teammate. We felt like fodder, waiting for the kill. We both realized that a concerted attack would most likely result in the overthrow of our little outpost. Our presence would only assure that we could hold out longer and kill more enemy.
Reinforcements at any time after an attack, was almost impossible. The outpost was right on the Cambodian border, across from the narrow Vinh Te Canal. Rules of Engagement (ROE) specified that no American personnel or equipment were permitted to cross the canal, into Cambodia. That precluded any air support. There were no roads, and travel down the canal would have been suicidal. The outpost was also nowhere near any allied troops.
Being killed was never a major fear for me, in fact such was the case with most Special Forces soldiers I knew. Being captured was a different story. The VC had a distinct fear and hatred of U.S. Special Forces soldiers. They especially enjoyed inflicting as much pain as possible on captured “Green Berets.” In one such instance, in later years, a VC officer was known to cut open the stomach of a live Special Forces trooper and leave him to die painfully, while other captured troopers looked on.
Stephens and I made a pact that the last one standing would make sure the other was deceased before turning their gun on themselves, in case of imminent capture. I was certain that the VC would know that I knew a lot about Vinh Gia defenses and other secret and top secret information about the surrounding Area of Operations (AO), making me a target for inhumane torture.
During the night hours Stephens and I took turns pulling guard duty. Because of the imminent danger, and the fact that the enemy almost always attacked during the late night/early morning hours (usually shortly before, or after, midnight), we had to make sure one of us was awake at all hours. Those CIDG soldiers not on guard duty were sleeping at their positions. We were at the highest possible alert status. I was sleeping with my pants on and loaded .45 caliber pistol in the holster on the pants belt.
It was confirmed, through several acts of sabotage within the outpost, that we did have enemy among us. It was a scary thought, but a reality that we lived with daily in all our camps. Even during the day, within camp, we always carried loaded weapons on our person. The day after I arrived at Giang Thanh one of our night ambush patrols became involved in a heavy fire fight with the enemy, with no known casualties, but plenty of expended ammo.
On 19 December, Bob Hope arrived in South Vietnam, to start his annual Christmas show, not that we would see any of it. That same day, the media reports of a U.S. Army unit being assigned to the Mekong Delta came true. The 9th Infantry Division arrived, 5,000 strong, on the shores of Vung Tau, in the southern Mekong Delta. The unit was assigned to III Corps, but would become the first, and only, American regular infantry unit to serve in the IV Corps area, and the Mekong Delta, up to this time.
On the 22nd I received a letter from headquarters with a set of orders in it. I HAD BEEN PROMOTED TO STAFF SERGEANT, as of 8 December (two weeks prior). Shades of Ethiopia! Good news travels oh soooooo slowly! I guess you could call it a nice Christmas present. My base pay now increased $37.50, to $322.50 monthly.
Effective 15 February of 1966 the Department of the Army had changed promotion regulations, establishing a requirement that all promotions to pay grades E-5 through E-9 would need to go through a selection board, to which complete military files, recommendations, evaluations and pertinent information (citations, commendations, etc.) be supplied for each candidate. A Commander’s Evaluation Report was also required for each recommended individual. Even though I had not been interviewed by the board (which was recommended by the new regulations), I passed muster. I guess the paperwork placed before the board looked good enough for my promotion, without my presence.
That same day I also received some survival equipment that I had ordered from home. It couldn’t have been timed better. I was now ready to survive in case of an emergency, such as the camp being overrun. I made a survival kit out of the newly received equipment. My kit consisted of a map, flashlight, tiny cook set with heat tablets, inflatable life vest (in a 2”x3”x1” box), survival food (in a 2”x3”x1” box), and waterproof matches in a waterproof container with striking surface (for the matches).
I spent Christmas at Giang Thanh. Oh, Joy! It was not “Joy to the World!” It sucked big time. Our Christmas dinner was going to be C-rations, since all our other food had spoiled. More joy! At least it wasn’t the Ham & Lima Beans variety of C-rations. The Ham & Lima Beans cans usually went into the garbage pit, unopened. On Christmas Eve we received mail and two turkey legs cooked at Vinh Gia, which we polished off immediately.
I got a Christmas present. It was two issues of Playboy magazine. Yippee! Poor Smitty (our radio operator at the Vinh Gia main camp)! His Christmas present was a snake bite that required that he be medevaced to a hospital.
As usual, the enemy didn’t abide by the holiday cease fire. That was nothing new. We couldn’t fire on anybody (unless fired upon), but they weren’t following the same rules.
From my book #4 (“SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences in Vietnam Book 4”), of my four-book set of “SLURP SENDS!” Books #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”), #2 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”), #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret in Vietnam Book 3”), and #4 are available on Amazon, or from me.
PHOTOS: A present-day Google map view of where the outpost was / SSG Hunter and our Christmas tree at Vinh Gia, before I went to Giang Thanh / SP5 Stephens relaxing in front of our “team house” / Cambodia (across the canal) as seen from our rooftop tower at the Giang Thanh outpost. (my photos)