William R HayesThe war in south East Asia manifested a lot of new terms that could be placed upon a person on his arrival in country. Some of the terms used are as follows.
Cherry = person new to combat a virgin.
FNG = fucking new guy
New Jack = newest member of appointed group
Newbie= just arrived member
Rookie= no combat experience
There were times when the new guys came to the company as replacements, thought because they completed basic training, advanced infantry training, or instant NCO school, which we called shake and bake, they knew all there was to know about combat and tactics. This sticking thinking was prelude to a death sentence for many fngs regardless of his rank.
The battalion had been given orders to build a fire base on a main infiltration route in order to halt the movement of NVA forces headed towards the capital city of Saigon. This placement of our forces meant that combat with enemy forces was a constant issue day end and day out, Hence the need for replacements to shore up our depleted ranks.
The day was like many others while in the country of Vietnam, Hot, dry and dusty. While sitting on my now completed bunker, the company XO was placing new jacks who had just arrived by chopper with their new company, platoon, and squads.
The XO approached me with a new jack in tow and began the introduction. The new jacks rank was that of an E4 which is a grade below me as I was an E5 hard stripe SGT. I stuck out my hand and received a vigorous hand shake in return.
I began to give the new guy information on the why we were here at this particular location and the need for a constant alertness. The doo’s and don’ts of combat became the next item on my FNG orientation do as I do check list. Before I could get started on the task at hand, the NJ began to speak and the words coming out of his mouth made me step back a little.
Sergeant I have just graduated from NCO academy and I volunteered to come to this country to kill the enemy, and I learned how to do that without your help. So you can spare me all that other crap you tell the new guys that will scare them. I don’t scare.
All I could see was RED before my eyes because here I am trying to pass down tips for survival and this dude already knows it all, a shake and bake NCO with a death wish.
I began to tear into the new be. Your life expectancy while in a leadership position is a tenuous one at best. So you better listen and learn from your more experienced comrades or your tour of duty will be cut short and you will taking a long trip back home in a body bag. The new jack and I are standing in a small opening between and behind two bunker emplacements and I am chewing the nj`s ass out when my ears pick up the unmistakable sound of mortars being fired from out side of our perimeter.
I shouted a warning “MORTARS” take cover. All that shouting was a waste of breath, because everyone on the fire base were diving into their bunkers and such, that it reminded me of roaches scattering for cover when the lights comes on.
My machine gun bunker was as close as a step and a hop from where we were standing. I put myself in position on top of the bunker so that I could get an azimuth and approximate distance to the enemy mortar tube so that an effective counter battery fire could be unleashed upon it. While reaching for my compass, I felt a presence behind me. Turning put me face to face with the new jack, what the HELL”.
I shouted at the guy what are you doing up here? His reply, I want to find the enemy. Without further ado I pushed the new jack back down into the bunker while stating, that’s my job; keep your ass down cherry.
The CO came on the horn asking me if I had gotten the location of the enemy mortar tube pin pointed, I answered in the affirmative and commenced to give him the information of my findings.
The sound of are fire based artillery unleashing its hell storm of hot lead on to my given coordinates now permeated the air. Looking through a pair of binoculars, I checked to see if the impact of the shells were on target or if a correction was needed. The artillery struck the ground, right on target.
The company commander was old hat at calling in support, because he was on his second tour of duty in Vietnam. The commander’s first tour of duty in country was with the Special Forces group, so he became very efficient at calling in support. The co also trusted my judgment when giving mission feed back. This trust was battle tested, and when a call for direction and distance came my way, the commander knew I had the right information for him.
The co was so good at calling in the big guns, marking rounds were not needed. This was a plus for us, because the enemy does not know if the battery fire is on target or not. This small hesitation could be his undoing, for he will be kissing his ass good bye as the steel rain shreds him and his comrades.
The steel storm fell silent. I knew what was to come next and come it did. The co came on the horn and I was told to go out side of the perimeter and check on the results of the fire mission. I called my squad together and I gave orders of who was to stay back and guard the bunker and our sector of the perimeter.
Another squad did the same and we teamed up. One squad will be the search element while the other would provide security. All were not happy with their assigned roles, especially my new jack. I had ordered him to stay with the bunker and be the assistant machine gunner while the rest of us went out to play. These orders were not to his likening and he told me this in so many words. I told the NJ that his turn will soon arise but this called for more experienced people than himself.
The sergeant from the other squad was put in charge of the scouting mission out side of the perimeter because he had more time in grade then me. We put our heads together and planed our execution of the mission.
Once plans of action were in place, the first phase began. This first phase was to negotiate through the mine field safely. This was done by walking through the minefields safe lane. The safe lane was laid in a zig zag irregular manner. This was done in order to hinder the enemy’s movement in assessing the fire bases perimeter.
The location of the enemy’s mortar was found in an old bomb crater. The crater was large and surrounded by tall grass. The mortar crew had vanished, most likely into one of the many tunnels’ that permeated the Chu Chi region.
Once back at our base of operations, a sit rep was given to the company commander. The commander released us back to our previous position. On getting back to our bunkers information about what we found was disseminated to the rest of the squads.
After I had given out the mission results, the new jack continued to express himself about how he wanted to get into the fight and kill some cong. I told the NJ that his time to kill or be killed will come soon enough, and how right I was on my prediction.
The combat missions came with increased regularity and with this regularity came constant contact with the enemy. The increase of combat actions, not only put me and my mind in a constant state of alertness but it also increased our causalities through combat attrition.
The word came to saddle up. Our mission was to link up with the rest of the company that was now in engaged in heavy contact with the enemy. I gave my squad the situation report on the on going action and how we were to maneuver our forces in order to engage and defeat the enemy threat.
I told my squad to stick close because the action fore seen will be fluid in its nature and the action of staying close was emphasized to all.
Combat with the enemy was hot, heavy and fluid. The noise and smells of combat permeated my brain. The constant orders of firing and maneuvering given to the squad was of a second nature for me because of being in continuous combat with the enemy, lessons were learned.
Lessons learned still were no guarantee of your survival while in combat, but your chances of living after your walk through hell was increased. The hell stroll took me and my squad through villages, rice patties, hedge groves, and jungle while all the while ducking and dodging enemy bullets and RPGs. The action is fast, furious, and deadly. Contact with each squad member becomes dubious at best, but you do your utmost in completing the mission and surviving.
The company had just assaulted through an enemy held village and we were now faced with an open rice patty which had some small clusters of hedge groves. Standing and contemplating what was to be next, the LT came over and stated that our next objective would be that village across the rice patty which was still in enemy hands.
The company was put in a spread assaulting formation and given the command to move out. On getting the orders, I told my squad to be mindful of the situation and keep in contact and do not separate from other company members.
The assault began and as the company moved out, a rolling artillery barrage began to lay down a carpet of steel ahead of us. The steel curtain raining down before us gave me the willies, because while my mind was focused on the task at hand, the thoughts of short rounds still fostered in my mind.
The village across the patty now became clear in my view and the barrage became silent. The abrupt ending of the shelling could mean only one thing; air power was on the way.
Over the villages outer rim, came a silver arrow. The arrow was a F100 super saber jet and it was making its pass low and fast. I saw a black object detach its self from the aircraft, break open and spread its seeds of destruction on the village’s tree line.
The village tree line erupted with violent flashes of light, bonbons of black smoke and thunder claps of sounds. The plane had just dropped a CBU (cluster bomb unit) an anti personnel device on the villages defense line. What an assume sight.
We continued our slow but deliberate pace towards the village and the enemy. I am in the lead of the assault and another f100 makes a pass. This time a silver object is released from the belly of the aircraft, snake eyes, a five hundred pound high explosive bomb impacts the ground, sending shards of shrapnel through the air and over our heads. By instinct I pulled my head down as if I were a turtle, and continued forward.
The closer my platoon got to the tree line the more incoming fire we took from the now dislodge and desperate enemy. Fire and maneuver, leap frog, and close with the enemy were the tried and true tactics we used.
Soon we were in the enemy held village and continued to push the enemy towards a blocking force located on the other side of the village. I was surprised by an enemy soldier that popped up behind me and he was immediately taken prisoner by my trailing platoon member.
After the prisoner was secured, we continued to sweep the village. My squad was located on the outer edge of the contested village and to my right were rice patties and small clumps of bushes. I noticed two of my platoon members peering into one of the small clump of bushes, when a loud yell was heard from one of the men.
The men backed away from the bush and began to toss a couple hand grenades into the cluster. I ran over to see what was going on and if I could be of assistance. When I got to the two troopers I was told to check out the bush. What I saw still haunts me today. Before me lay a pair of legs and the legs had American jungle boots attached to them. On further inspection the legs and boots belonged to the new jack and on peering more into the bush I saw two NVA bodies.
The new jack did not follow instructions and branched out on his own and when he looked into the bush he was killed by the enemy by them cutting his throat. The new guy had been in country less then three weeks and in our company less than a week before he was killed.
In the end a lesson was learned by the other FNGs in the company, listen, learn and live.
The story continues.
W Roland Hayes