War Stories

My First Combat Assault

William R Hayes

This information is again based on my fading memory of events in 1968 .

I had not been long in the company, and I had been to the bridge at song be, and received some instruction on combat infantry tactics. I had been relieved of my duties as a cook and now I was a new fng line doggie.

I remember getting the call to saddle up and be prepared to be picked up by choppers and be placed , destination unknown.

As we sat on the tarmac in our sticks my heart raced, this is the big one and I hoped I was prepared at what was to come along. Then they come our transport , the HU1Bs utility helicopters. The choppers came in trail formation, I can still feel the stones and gravel kicked up by the prop wash, striking me in the face. I was the second person on the chopper, man was it exciting flying along with the doors opened and the wind in my face.

Our chopper landed in an open rice pattie, and we were directed to pull security for a downed huey. We were directed to spread out and give the downed bird 360 degrees security until it could be retrieved by a heavy lift sky crane helo. A huey landed, and special retroviral squad went to the downed bird, and began to prepare it for pick up.

It was late when the lift bird came in to view. It looked like a giant dragonfly as it orbited around heads. When the word came it was safe the sky crane hovered and dropped a line to the crew below. Soon the aircraft lifted the broken chopper from the ground and began on its way to the depot. Soon after the retrieval crew boarded their transport and departed the AO.

AS the final bird lifted off, the tide started to roll in. It was amazing, because one minute we were dry, and the next we were waist deep in the delta flood tide. Man you should have seen the scramble we made to find high ground, at this time I thought, welcome to the MEKONGE DELTA.

Our company B did a lot of search and destroy, we found some cashes hidden in the dikes and hedges. This was a learning experience because it is during this time I learned how to patrol, read a map, set up ambushes and other infantry tactics one needed in order to complete the mission, I was getting it down so I thought.

Our company was searching for the enemy in a high plane of grass, I would think this was the infamous plane of reeds. While on our mission I could see ARVIN aircraft, an A1 sky raider bombing and strafing ahead of us, I was amazed by the sight and sounds of the air strike We as a company were taking a break, when a helicopter landed, and the battalion chaplain called for anyone who wished to attend religious services to come forward. After the services we struck out on our mission. Some time later we were asked our map location. When this was given, we were told we had to move fast, because we were to close to an arc lite strike. The company began a fast retreat out of the strike AO. When we had gone the safe distance required, we were told to hold fast and hunker down. The next thing the ground began to tremble, followed by the sounds of loud bass drum beats, one after the other, in our line of sight the skyline became a vast line of smoke. I was in awe; I had just witnessed my first b52 air strike. Later we went in the strike area to access the damage. Man the devastation was unbeliable. Trees were torn and shattered, large holes were everywhere, and it looked like a moonscape, rather then good old mother earth. We found tattered limbs and torn pieces of uniforms of some unfortunate NVA that were caught in the firestorm. We also found some unexploded ordnance. They were of the cluster bomb type. If am not mistaken, we lost a man, when he kicked or picked up one of the devices and it went off. We were told by the co to leave the AO and be ginger about it. Soon we received word to be ready for pick up, we were on the move again, to where? I would know soon.

While in flight, one of the door gunners said that a platoon on the ground had received hostile gunfire, and we may be going in hot. I began to get really excited. The bird hovered above the flooded rice Pattie, and the squad began to exit the aircraft. My exit was out the right or starboard side, and all I could remember was John Wayne, and how he would exit into combat. From the ac I made a vigorous exit, and promptly got stuck in the mud. I watched helplessly as my squad moved on to the dike. I not only felt alone, but rather stupid, stuck in mud up to my ass. At this time I heard a voice calling, it was the door gunner, telling me to grab hold of the skid, so that I could be pulled from the muck. I did so, and as the bird lifted I became unglued and was able to rejoin my squad. Man did I get ribbed on. I learned another lesson, what you see in the movies, is bull, this is real. Get your knowledge of survival from the real stage of life.

It was tough going, trying to get to the village because of the water filled rice patties and irrigation ditches. All kinds of stuff was found in the village, so the word came down to burn the place down, kill all live stock, and destroy the rice stocks in place. Thatís what we did, with vigor. When we left the burning village, I looked back, and thought to myself, this must be how it looked when General Sherman marched to the sea.

We were on the road again. Destination unknown. As we were flying around I could see ships and river patrol craft. We were now over the Saigon River. The place was full of hustle and bustle. Our chopper landed on small dirt road, surrounded on both sides by water. We set up in a little courtyard that contained a watchtower, and a light m48 tank.

I was a member of the automatic weapons squad and we set up our position at the point of entrance of the courtyard. During this time I was able to walk to the docks, and was welcomed aboard ship. The crew was from Germany, and they were very inquisitive about the war. I drank some cognac and I left to get back to my position. On the way back I met a Vietnamese gentlemen who invited me into his home to break bread and meet his family. I took him up on his offer. This family was very nice, the father told me he had a son that was an officer, just out of OCS.

After I said goodbye, back to the MG position I went. Not long after my return, a Viet solider road up on his motor bake, with two prostitutes. Man did that watchtower rock that night. The next day it was mostly guard duty, checking Ids and so on.

That night some of the guys off ship came to visit our position. These guys brought with them some more yak. We set up a little round circle by the light tank. All was going well until there was burst of gunfire. We took off to our positions, and the crew to their ship. This would be the last time I would see the ships crew or the Vietnamese family, because soon after we saddled up and went on a new mission.

To this day I wonder if that family that took me in, survived the fall of their country.

~William R. Hayes