I had a number of close calls that could have maimed or killed me but I guess I had what you would call the luck of the Irish. This luck played a good part in my surviving the great adventure of a life time.
Being privileged to fight side by side with the greatest group of guys in the army had its ups and downs. The up side was the comradeship you inherited while in a combat unit, but the down side was a lasting feeling of a great lost when a comrade was killed or maimed in combat. This down sided feeling becomes even stronger when a friend has been killed by friendly fire. Friendly fire incidents happened a number of times while I was in country. I had the experience to be in at least five of these FFIs. This is one of these incidents.
The search and destroy missions were continuous and straining on my body as my infantry company probed for the enemy. The weather was rainy; the beginning of the monsoon season was upon us. The skies would open up and you would be deluged with H2O for five to ten minutes. Then as suddenly as it came, the rain would stop and the skies would clear and now the hot sun would bake your young ass. Just as you get completely dry, you would get drenched again. This cycle of wet-dry-dry-wet, continued until the monsoon season ended.
I was a squad leader and I wore corporal stripes and not the usual SP4 rank. We as a company had been searching all the villages in our AO. The going was tough due to the weather and the constant slogging through water filled rice patties. My squad was pulling point and to our front was a hedge row with some hooch and a barn yard.
The mud in the rice patty pulled and sucked at your legs and feet on every movement. This slow movement in the open is an infantrymen’s nightmare. Our movements got us near a rice patty dike and I was just about to deploy my squad when shots rang out. Instantly I and my squad sprinted to cover of the dike. From this cover I scanned for the location and position from which the enemy fire originated.
An officer called for me and asked me if the location of the enemy fire had been discovered. I gave the officer an answer in the affirmative. The officer then got on the horn and called for a fire mission. I could hear the officer giving our grid position to the TAC. Soon the officer yelled “Round Out” “Round Out”.
I looked ahead so that I could see where the marking hit and adjust fire if necessary. I and my squad were in semi prone position waiting for the impact of hot steel from the heavens. All of a sudden you could hear the artillery rounds approach and then a wall of water and mud cascaded on me and my men with such force it pressed our bodies into the patty muck.
After I cleared my senses and began clearing the mud from around my eyes, I could see others doing the same as we wondered what the hell just happened. Our wonderment did not last for long because our survival instinct started to confirm the obvious; we had just become the recipient of a SHORT ROUND. Then the cry, I am hit. I looked around to see who had said this. It was one from my squad.
I hustled over to my stricken comrade who was lying in a prone position on his side caked in patty mud. The soldier had been hit by shrapnel in the back and he was in pain. One of the medics took a look at the trooper and immediately called for a MEDIVAC.
Once the chopper was on route, my squad and company continued with the task at hand, which was to find and engage the enemy. We were still exchanging fire with the enemy when I also engaged the hostile position with my hand held rocket launcher the LAW.
Our commander shouted for us to get our heads down, because he was calling in an air strike. Soon the sound of our covering umbrella steel stopped. This could only mean that our on call strike AC was in our AO.
I raised my head ever so slightly and rotated it to the right with my eyes skyward, looking and listening for our deadly angel. The aircraft was a F100 Super Saber that still had NAPALM on board. The Aircraft approach was at right angles and to our front. My eyes followed the super saber as it approached the target.
A silver elongated object detached its self from its host and began to tumble until impact with mother earth and the enemy target. A bright flash and than black oily smoke billowed towards the sky as the smell of high octane fuel assaulted my nostrils. Damn does that shit stink, but as it was said in a movie, “IT SMEELS LIKE VICTORY” and to tell you the truth, IT DID”.
The dropping of that nap, brought instant silence to our small battlefield, and the word to move out and assault the forward position was given by our commander. On hearing the words to move out my squad sprang into action. I gave orders on the formation that was to be performed while taking the enemy position.
On searching the enemy position, the only thing we found was a few dead animals and lots of blackened earth. I reported my findings to the CO and began heading back to the company’s DP.
Once back at the defensive position, I asked about my wounded squad member. The CO stated that the trooper was talking and active when picked up by MEDIVAC. My company continued to perform our mission until we were relieved of our responsibility.
Back at base camp I saw the XO and asked him how our wounded trooper was. The XO looked me in the eye and stated that the wounded trooper had died on the operating table. I was thunder struck, another good man lost. This being a combat infantrymen, could get you ten feet under by both friend and foe alike. During TET the odds were indeed not in your favor.
During my time in country, Friendly Fire mishaps were not uncommon, as was courage. Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue. To all, VETERANS AIRBORNE.
The story continues.
WM Roland Hayes.