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A Feast Interrupted

Date: Thanksgiving Day 1968
Location: Somewhere NW of Saigon, Viet Nam
C Company, 1/12th Cavalry, First Cavalry Division

The terrain and vegetation was different from what they were used to. It was lightly wooded with very little undergrowth. The point man could see 3 to 400 yards to all sides. They were used to triple canopy jungle with dense undergrowth. 15 to 20 yards was the usual range of vision. Because vision was usually so limited, the troopers that had been in country for a while had developed a keener sense of smell to compensate. It was not unusual to smell the enemy long before he could be seen. Still; in spite of the increased vision and failure to sense any unusual smell they were uneasy.

The company moved through the woods, quietly and in single file. At 1500 hours they approached the edge of the clearing. It was Thanksgiving and the clearing was large enough to serve as an L.Z for the log birds (logistics helicopters) so the decision was made to stop a little early and dig in for the night. The perimeter was sketched out, the rifle platoon members dug fox holes around the outside and the H.Q. and mortar platoon dug their positions for the night. Everyone sensed the uneasiness, so the holes were all a little deeper and larger that night. Once the holes were dug the troopers finished their poncho hooches. By 1630 everything looked pretty good.

Two UH1H helicopters landed in the clearing that afternoon. They brought hot roasted turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, yams, and many of the fixings of a traditional thanksgiving meal. There was also milk, ice cream bundled with dry ice to keep it in a semi-frozen state, and a couple cans of beer or soda also cooled on dry ice for each trooper. After the meal a final check of weapons and foxholes was made; they also worked out a schedule for night sentry duty.

The Captain decided to send out two L.P.s that night. (Listening posts: 3 man teams that stationed themselves 150 to 200 yards outside the perimeter. These teams went out right at dark with only their weapons, ammo and a radio so they could warn of an impending attack. They couldn’t dig in, as the noise would give away their position, so they usually tried to find a clump of bushes to conceal themselves in. They were also unable to set up the usual poncho hooch, so rainy nights were even more miserable than usual. The similarity of a goat tied to a stake in lion country occurred to many, but they quietly accepted their assignments anyways.) As the rifle platoon members crept out to set their trip flares, the L.P. team members accompanied them so they would know where the trip flares were set and they also had a chance to point out the general location where they would station themselves. The rifle platoon members noted this, and adjusted their field of fire assignments so as not to direct any fire that way in case an attack would come. The claymore mines were set on the way back to the perimeter and Charley Company was prepared for another night.

Night had closed into a deep black when suddenly there was a hiss, and a bright white light from one of the trip flares on the outside of the perimeter. The troopers looked in disbelief as a large tiger gave his best impression of a startled tom cat. He hopped straight into the air, wheeled, and hauled ass. The air shook from the blasts of a couple claymore mines, M-60 machine gun tracers chased one another in graceful arcs through the night, automatic rifle fire from M-16s added to the light show of tracers, and the thump of M-79 grenade launchers preceded the flash and shower of sparks from the explosions of the 40 mm projectiles that hit where the tiger used to be.

Many of the tigers in the area had acquired a taste for humans because large numbers of enemy casualties of “Arc Light” raids (B52 strikes) were left unburied and were an easy meal for the big cats. One particular tiger probably reconsidered his dining habits that night.

For the rest of the night the troopers rested, even more uneasy now than before. Thankful that one feast had been interrupted and no one was the guest of honor at that meal.

©2001 Ed Boysun

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