On a morning that had broke clear and sunny the detail had started off in an agreeable and pleasurable way, with a sun-warmed little flotilla of Mike boats heading down the placid mid-channel of a brown colored, kilometers-wide Vietnam river, towards the sea in a line astern formation. Thick, tall jungle, appeared as smoky purple in the misty early sunlight, and the lush bloom spangled trees along the rivers edge subtly tinged the air with their scent.
The flotilla had consisted of two GS Mike boats, general standard cargo “humpers”, working in a troop transport role with lines of round green helmets just barely visible above their gunwales, and looking like peas in pods. Ahead, as the ...view middle of the document...
“Sweep and Stop” operations were conducted for one reason only, and that was to clear out any VC from an area by completely annihilating him. There was never any quarter given, on either side, for Charlie soon came to realize that these were killing missions, so he reacted accordingly. Anyway, the VC very rarely gave quarter, only doing so when it suited their purposes, and even then our more seriously wounded would be killed. If taken prisoner it was a case of either being capable of marching, or you died.
I had been mighty grateful that my boots would not be stomping around in the boonie on that detail. Acting as a Sweep trying to push through twelve foot high elephant grass with a forward visibility of no more than two feet, accompanied by the ever present fear of a rifle, or pistol, round being fired at point-blank range at ones face, or being a Stop, slaughtering everything which presented itself that wasn’t dressed in the same uniform as I, was, to say the least, completely devoid of appeal.
Walking on the sand with not a care, warm sun on my shoulders, a summer breeze played with my hair as the ocean hissed a mournful tune on the beach. I was lost in my dream as I knapped on top of the wheelhouse in the early morning suns influence, until I was rudely dragged away from it, and back into the real world, by weapons noise. The Zippo’s forward 50’s had opened up with short test bursts, and then the aft quad joined them in the racket of weapons being fired.
Small, interspaced blobs of red and green light, produced by tracer rounds, lazily arced away from our boat with the normal illusion of slowing down as they reached the peak of their trajectory. Then the other boats joined us in the mad moment, for testing weapons before an operation was an imperative. The Lawnmower’s ranked mini-guns, Gatling guns, always proved the most spectacular. Firing with a sound similar to ripping silk, their muzzle flashes rippled along her hull in a terrifying display of fire-power, as if it were cannon at the battle of Trafalgar.
Going exactly as pre-planned we had left the first GS where she had disembarked her contingent of South Vietnamese Marines, and a small group of Special Forces who had bummed a ride, and were going off on their own somewhere. With them were a few Montagnards, a somewhat primitive highland people, who detested communism and were part of the CIDG, Civilian Irregular Defense Group, a paramilitary force working exclusively with our various Special Forces. As with their SF handlers, and trackers, they had been trained in Commando techniques at the British Jungle Warfare School in Malaysia.
Continuing down river and out to sea, and running close inshore as we dared, headed for the next deployment point, when two great water spouts shot into the air, one ahead of our three boat flotilla, and one astern, then two bracketed the GS. The down-shower from what we took to be artillery bursts saturated the packed troops in her cargo well. The...