“This Assault operation must be supported by the maximum small arms fire available! This means, all machine gunners must produce the overwhelming firepower to win the fire-fight and gain the initiative! The position you will be attacking has no depth, therefore, a straight aggressive fight through! That is all, and good luck! “
Pre deliberate attack briefing, Plain of Reeds,1967.
Once more we were out in the boonie working with the South Vietnamese Marines on one of their expeditions into the Plain of Reeds. There were two other Mike boats in our little attack flotilla, both of which were the standard troop and cargo humpers who were carrying the main attack troops. That area of the plain was thick with tall elephant grass infested with large red ants and mosquitoes. The stagnant, putrid water was nearly heaving with leeches.
Peering out of our cover in the elephant grass into the man-made clearing, it was the first close look I had of North Vietnamese Regulars. These enemy grunts appeared tough and fit. Looked disciplined, and were armed with new Chi-com, Chinese Communist, AK rifles. Their fighting gear, uniforms and pith helmets appeared well cared for. In essence, we would be up against properly trained, and dedicated, soldiers.
I caught some movement out the corner of my eye, but it was only our group’s gunner squirming into position with his M60 light machine gun, digging his toes in against the weapons recoil, which would come once he started to fire.
He was lying in a little watery dip in the swampy ground, a good natural weapons position which reduced his ground profile to practically zero. However, he was soaking up water like a sponge, and probably collecting leeches at the same time. However, adrenalin always overcame discomfort prior to an anticipated fire-fight. His only other companions, besides the leaches, were red ants and the ever present mosquitoes, the usual cloud of determined insects that seemed to follow us everywhere when we were on land.
The M60’s gunner, just like all the others waiting to attack ignored their annoyance, and did not react to, or swat at them. To the trained eye, even the slightest movement can be spotted. So breathing shallow, we lay there, under cover, letting the leaches, red ants, and mosquitoes feast away on us. But better a drop of blood to them, than a bleed-out to a weapons round hit.
It was late afternoon when two young NVA, who looked no more than fifteen years of age, began walking towards our cover, as if without a care in the world. The M60 gunner, hidden from their view, must have been waiting in hope that they would about turn and head off the other way. Alas, it was not to be. He waited until the couple was only 150 yards from him, and then opened fire. The first boy was hit in the lower abdomen, the other on the point of his left shoulder, which spun him into his buddy.
As always in these situations, there was a second of complete silence after the machine gun fired,...