In the year 1968 the TET new year was in full swing, and so was I. Earlier I had been given a new occupation in the army. I had been kicked out of the mess hall and into the infantry. Thus my schooling of infantry tactics began in earnest. I was placed in demo platoon where I learned to cook off explosive devices instead of baking biscuits.
The demo platoon was the company’s own personal combat engineer crew. The job of a demo man is to remove obstacles that are in the way of the company’s progress. This includes the following.
1 Destroy enemy bunkers
2 Destroy located booby traps
3 Blow down trees for heli pads for resupply and medivac
4 Destroy land mines when found
5 Use explosives TNT, C4 to leverage a battlefield advantage
In the demo platoon each man carried at least 10 pounds of c4, 4-quarter pound blocks of TNT, spool of detonation cord and a pack of blasting caps. This is of course along with your other combat gear. The call demo up put you in motion. You as a demo man would then move through the company and rendezvous with the demo sergeant who would then tell you what is needed and where to place the charges for the most effect. Performing this duty can be very hazardous to ones health when bullets are flying. It takes is one lucky shot to evaporate your young ass, but you still run to the call.
During my on the job training, I received the opportunity to put what I was learning into practical application. My company (B) was placed on a fire support base in war zone C. It was our job to provide security for the artillery battery there. On this base were tracked vehicles such as self propelled guns, 40mm dusters, 113 APCs and other support crafts. The sergeant told our crew to saddle up we were going out side the wire, to 1 patrol the perimeter and 2 continue our demo training.
Once outside the wire our demo squad started training on the ends and out of blowing an LZ, or landing zone for incoming helicopters either supply or medivac. First our demo SSgt picked out trees that were to use as training aids. We as trainees placed explosives in the crevices of different sizes trees to see how effective different type charges felled trees.
We learned that by off setting placed charges, the explosives would not cancel out each other when detonated and slice the tree completely in half, a nice clean slice. Also learned was how to determine the direction the tree would fall. The class was very enlightened as we continued to horn our explosives skills. Calculations on how much and what type-exploding device to use on different type of obstacles was also established. We weren’t combat engineers, but as infantrymen this training would be come invaluable to the company in the near future.
While winding down our OJT demo lessons, our squad started walking back to the entrance of the firebase, along the outside perimeter road. A short distance from the safe lane, (funneled entrance surrounded by land mines) I noticed something in the road. I pointed this out to the serge and we cautiously moved to the object. When about two feet from the object, my heart almost leapt out of my chest because it began to beat at a rapid pace. I found myself face to face with my first chicom anti tank mine. This type of device has enough explosive power to destroy a 60-ton battle tank, and here I am a thin-skinned human standing over this thing. All I could think of is, my body will never be found if this thing goes off.
The NCO in charge had us back off and lay low for a few minutes while he assed the situation. After this was done orders began to be barked. A perimeter of security was set up, and myself and another was sent on a short recon along the wooded area along the road. This was done to make sure that no enemy was lurking with a command-detonating device. Once this was established we started to look for any wires or booby traps connected to the device. When no wires were found, the NCO stated, here is where you earn your money. I was given the job of destroying the device, by using my newfound demo knowledge.
I collected my nerves and commenced to do my newfound job. Gingerly began to place quarter pound blocks of TNT on the mine. When I had finished placing the explosives a blasting cap and detcord I walked a safe distance away, and lit the time fuse. The fuse was cut to give us a minute or 60 seconds before the device exploded in a loud bang along with smoke and debris that filled the air.
Before the explosion, the firebase was contacted and told what was to happen. This notification was essential because we did not want some gun happy troop who minded the 40mm self-propelled weapons to cause us to become friendly fire causalities. Once back in the protective wire of the firebase, we were commended on a job well done.
The next couple months had us hopping with the call DEMO UP. This experience would help me in my later years as a combat engineer drill instructor while with the 98th DIV TNG. To this day the demo platoon experience stays with me.
I learned one thing while in the army, there is no such thing as dumb infantrymen.
Wm. R. Hayes.