MY SECOND COMBAT PATROL, Vietnam

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Richard H. Dick James

55 years ago, 1 March 1966, I was a SGT E-5 assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group in South Vietnam. I had arrive at my new camp, Cai Cai (A-412) on 23 January and already had become battle tested the following day.MY SECOND COMBAT PATROL U.S. military strength in South Vietnam was 213,000 on 1 March, 12,000 more than a month earlier. That same day, I accompanied a patrol of about 150 CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group, our VN “mercenaries”) to the same location of my first patrol. Some Special Forces teams assigned a CIDG radio-telephone operator (RTO) to “hump” the radio on patrols, leaving the SF advisors with their hands free to do other duties. The teams I was on didn’t. All too often we heard reports about CIDG RTOs running full tilt, with the radio on their back, upon the first sound of a firefight. That put the remainder of the patrol in jeopardy, with no means of communicating with, or requesting, support. On that patrol, I carried the AN/PRC-25 radio (usually referred to as the “Prick-25”). It was fairly heavy (twenty-six pounds) and was carried on the back, with a tall antenna sticking up from the radio, much like an aiming stake, saying to the VC, “I’m the guy who has the capability of requesting fire support and reinforcements from main camp and talking to any aircraft who might come to bomb and strafe you. Blast me and my radio and you won’t have to worry about being strafed or bombed.” Not that the radio was the only thing making me a target. At 6’2” tall, I stood head and shoulders above all the Vietnamese, adding to my targetability. The handset hung over my shoulder and rested on my chest. The PRC-25’s range was only three to five miles, but it was the best we had at the time. I always volunteered to carry that aiming stake. Yes, it made me a target, but it also gave me peace of mind, knowing that I could talk to friendly forces in case of an emergency. It always felt good to know that when the shit hit the fan, I had the radio that made it possible to get help ASAP. We also took Hallicrafters HT-1 radios (bulky walkie-talkies weighing four to five pounds with batteries) on patrol. With a range of just over a mile and operating only on one frequency (that frequency corresponding to the crystal placed in the radio), they were utilized for communications within the operation or patrol. They were worthless for any other utilization. The HT-1 was powered by eight D-cell flashlight batteries. While on patrol, I would regularly call in our location on the PRC-25, using map coordinates from our military issue maps. The coordinates would always be given in code and in two four-number grid coordinates, one longitudinal, the other latitudinal. This had to be done to keep the VC (Viet Cong) or NVA (North Vietnamese Army soldiers) from being able to determine our position. This method was also used to report the position of the enemy. M-16 magazines only carried 20 rounds, with backup magazines carried in containers in the web gear. I would have preferred magazines that held more ammunition, but no such thing was in our supply system then. 30-round magazines later became available, but only for the special reconnaissance projects. I also carried my little Kodak Instamatic camera, that was with me in Ethiopia, in one of my pockets. Sometimes I even added my .45-caliber pistol to the mix. We became involved in two firefights, with about 200-300 Viet Cong. We had them on the run deep in VC territory. Deep in VC territory was three miles south of our camp. There was a large volume of fire from the VC, but very ineffective. In fact, we didn’t suffer any casualties from mines or enemy fire that time. I can’t say the same for the VC. That was the only time I remember ever throwing grenades during a firefight in Nam. I removed the grenade from my vest, pulled the pin, let the arming “spoon” flip off, waited a second or two, and hurled it at the enemy (don’t do this at home kids). Waiting the couple of seconds was not recommended, nor condoned, but resulted in the enemy not having much time to react when the grenade reached its intended target. I had been near the rear of our column, carrying the air-ground radio. Lieutenant Doht called me forward to his position, so he could call for air support on the radio I was toting. Once again, I had to run through a hail of bullets and mini sonic booms from bullets passing close to my head. When I finally reached him, he called in for air support. Unbelievably, the Vietnamese had no air support in range of us, so the U.S. Air Force volunteered to help with our situation. Double checking our coordinates, and those of the VC, on the map, Lt Doht gave them the information for the upcoming support. It doesn’t pay not to double check coordinates. You damn sure don’t want the bombs dropped on your own position, unless it’s absolutely necessary, and you’re expecting it. “We have never been likely to get into trouble by having an extra thousand or two up-to-date airplanes at our disposal. As the man whose mother-in-law had died in Brazil replied, when asked how the remains should be disposed of, ‘Embalm, cremate, bury. Take no risks.’” —Winston Churchill. Our support consisted of three U.S. Air Force North American F-100 “Super Sabre” jet fighter-bombers (known in Vietnam as “fast movers,” as were all jet fighter-bombers). They came in from the east, flew over our position, where we had popped colored smoke to show our position. They peeled off to the left. The first jet came in low over our heads, flying from east to west, strafing with 20mm cannons. The Burrrrrrrrr sound of the cannons sounded reassuring. The jets had to fly east to west, due to the nearness of the Cambodian border. The second and third aircraft came in shortly afterwards, imitating the first jet. On the next run, each of the jets dropped 250-pound bombs. The ground shook and rumbled something fierce, upon impact of those bombs. On the third, and final, run they dropped napalm bombs. What a show! When the napalm was released, the pods tumbled lazily, end over end, seemingly in slow motion, as they neared the ground. It seemed like I was watching a movie, in slow motion. It must have been a horrible sight for those VC soon to be on the receiving end of those pods. Napalm bombs contained flammable jellied gasoline. When striking the target, there was a loud kwoosh, as the massive fireball of black, yellow and orange spread, up and out, causing enormous damage by fire, burning everything it came in contact with. We were sure the VC were toast, by that time. Napalm’s fireball could suck all the air out of a person’s lungs, suffocating him. We felt a burst of heat, lots of it, and smelled the kerosene, even where we were, on the opposite side of the river. When napalm hit skin, it continued to burn through the body until it either burned itself out, or was deprived of air by covering the affected area with mud, or some similar substance. Napalm was also a great weapon to ruin the morale of targeted personnel. All firing from us, as well as the VC, ceased. Not long after the aerial show, we found a place to cross the river, and did so, to make a damage assessment. The jets had destroyed a lot of VC structures, including an arms factory and, we were sure, caused devastation among the VC personnel, although there were no bodies to count by the time we arrived. The surviving VC probably carried off the dead and wounded, as they were known to do. Our casualties included just two CIDG WIA (wounded in action). That was the only time in my 1½ years in Vietnam that the U.S. Air Force responded to a request for air support by a patrol I was on. The other requests were always answered by the appearance of Vietnamese Air Force Douglas A-1 “Skyraider” radial engine propeller driven ground attack bombers. Because we were acting in the official capacity of advisors to the Vietnamese, any requests for air support requests were always funneled first to the Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF). If they could not supply the requested support, the request was forwarded to the U.S. Air Force. The USAF came down close to the ground right over our heads, dropping the bombs as the passed overhead. They were right on target. The VNAF A-1 Skyraiders (known as “slow movers”) would almost always dive down to cloud level (high enough to avoid ground fire), where they would release their bombs. Where the bombs would land, was sometimes a guessing game. We sometimes had to duck, along with the VC. Medevac air support was another item we had issues with. As far as we were concerned, our CIDG troops were an extension of us. This was especially true of the teams in the highlands, who had Montagnard troops who were loyal to us, to the ends of the earth. They would give their lives to protect us. Yet, if a Medevac was called for, the first question was always, “American or indigenous?” Some U.S. forces other than Special Forces, treated the indigenous as inferior beings. U.S. aircraft would therefore not evacuate an indigenous soldier. That was up to Vietnamese air crews. There were some cases where helicopter crews were threatened by SF soldiers, to evacuate severely injured allied indigenous personnel. It was not right that we were forced to threaten an American to save a man’s life. That was a major difference between Special Forces and conventional American units. We loved the men who fought beside us, while some conventional units sometimes didn’t share our love for the Vietnamese, in fact, in many cases turning them away from safe havens. That was pure bullshit! One result of that patrol that incensed me was the medical supplies we found in the village VC first aid station. The containers of medications had labels, with “donated to the freedom loving fighters of the Vietcong, by the students of Stanford University” printed on them. I disliked Stanford while I was at San Jose State because they were rivals, but since that find, I have utterly despised Stanford. Later in life, I had a chance to attend Stanford (all expenses paid) and I said, “HELL NO!” For decades they were one of the few large universities in the U.S. that did not permit R.O.T.C. on their campus. In fact, it wasn’t until 2010 or 2011 that they finally began permitting R.O.T.C. on campus. Does it sound like I will ever forgive Stanford? Not likely! From Book #3, 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 (“SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences In Vietnam Book 4”) are all available on Amazon, or from me.PHOTOS: A lucky photo of the results of a bomb drop during our air support/ me reporting to camp / damage done by the air raid (my photos)SLURP SENDS!

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