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A New El Tee

Date: December 1968
Location: Tay Ninh Province, Viet Nam
C Company, 1/12th Cavalry, First Cavalry Division


In the absence of an officer, Second platoon had been led for the last couple weeks by Sgt. Murphy. Top, as the troopers called him, was about 45 years old, slightly over-weight, and a veteran of the Korean War and two previous tours in Viet Nam. In a situation where officers and NCOs wore no signs of rank, and no one saluted the officers for fear of triggering an ambush with one of the leaders as the target, Top’s attitude was dead on. He always said “One look at me and they know I’m someone special so don’t walk too close to me.” He was the trooper that dropped the first mortar round into the new tube the night after Doty and the others were killed. His stock answer for every dangerous situation or experience was “Good training”.

That morning, a new officer arrived to lead second platoon. Lt. Pozman was from Cincinnati, OH, and fresh out of O.C.S. When he arrived at his new platoon that morning he had a wild look in his eyes and a gung-ho attitude. Top looked the situation over and asked the Captain to assign him to duties as field first sergeant. You don’t get to be an old and fat infantryman in a combat situation by being stupid. The squad leaders and troopers that had been there for a while exchanged glances and looked at the ground.  D.K. Vadikan, the assistant machine gunner, was also from Cincinnati and had been in country for a while, so he took the L.T. under his wing. Still everyone knew that second platoon was in for a lot of “good training” with a green L.T.

The L.T.’s first day was spent on patrol with his new platoon. Everything looked wrong to the L.T. Instead of avoiding trails, they walked right down them. They failed to send small patrols to watch the flanks of the advancing column, and they never sent out small recon patrols to the front. Even the “Recon by fire” where a few riflemen and the machine gun would gather at the front of the column and spray a suspicious area with small arms fire wasn’t used. No one had bothered to tell the L.T. that the war had changed from one of territory possession to a body count contest. The U.S. leadership chose to do this with “Fire-draw” missions. These missions worked by sending troops into situations where the enemy would be tempted to fire on them. The troopers would return fire and keep them pinned down until the Air-Force would arrive and strafe them with canon fire and burn them alive with napalm. The enemy quickly realized that they paid a high price for ambushing a patrol and killing only a few troopers so they waited for situations where they could kill more than one or two. The U.S leadership then realized that it took a fatter & fatter target to draw fire, so the troopers were put in ever more perilous positions, and on and on it went.

After a day of this new mission the company reached a clearing that could serve as an L.Z. They stopped and began the usual routine of establishing defensive positions for the night. The Captain had decided to send out a night-time ambush team that night. (Ambush team: A scarier version of the L.P. usually consisted of an 8 man rifle squad and a 3 man machine gun team. They would leave the perimeter shortly before dark and station themselves along a trail about 4 to 500 yards from the main formation. Unlike the L.P., the mission of this team was to engage the enemy.) Normally, the officers had enough sense to avoid actually going on these missions, but the new L.T. was determined to go. Nothing D.K. said could dissuade him so the troopers had to take him along. The team left the perimeter and crept down the trail for about 400 yards. The senior N.C.O. on this mission was the machine gunner, a young Sergeant. There was no real outstanding place for an ambush that night, so Sarge picked a place that was safer for the troops than it was dangerous to the enemy. Darkness was closing in and the L.T. was discovering just what a scary place the jungle could be. Sarge had no trouble selling the L.T. on the position he had chosen. Trip flares and claymores were set and nearly total darkness closed on the triple canopy jungle as the troopers settled in for a night of silence and vigilance. It wasn’t long before the L.T. heard a noise to his right. He ordered Sarge to move a couple troopers in that direction. Ten minutes passed and he heard a noise to the rear, he had Sarge move a couple troopers there, then he heard a noise from another direction, and another, and yet another. Every time he heard something he ordered Sarge to move a couple troopers there. An ambush patrol had to be prepared to engage much larger forces, stealth and surprise were the only way to survive. All the moving and whispered orders made a lot of noise and the troopers were not happy. Finally Sarge told the L.T. that all the noise would expose their position and they would all probably have their throats cut. The moving stopped. The troopers took turns sleeping and keeping watch for the rest of the night. After an un-eventful night, dawn finally came. The troopers gathered their gear and headed back to the main perimeter. When the patrol got back the L.T. looked very tired; like he hadn’t slept at all. The other squad leaders asked Sarge how it went; he muttered a four letter word and looked down at the ground. The L.T. never went on another Ambush.

© 2001 Ed Boysun


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