The life of a combat infantryman can become an existence of want this wanting need is continuous in its nature. The want list is a long one. Clean socks, hot chow or any chow, dry clothes, more ammo, more men, more air support, more sleep and the list goes on and on while you are in country.
There comes a time when you have to take matters into your own hands. This was one of those occasions.
My battalion 3/187 abn inf of the 101st abn div. had made its final move north to I Corps from the southern 3 Corps and the job was the same, find them, fix them and to finally destroy the enemy in battle. The finding and fixing the enemy became a deadly cat and mouse game taking place under the triple canopy of the jungle.
Our status of being human mountain goats was confirmed by the treks taken during the rainy season. Up and down slippery slopes for hours and days takes a toll on your body and the price you pay can be very high indeed.
Sliding down rain slick and muddy mountain sides with full ruck sacks and all your other battle gear could turn you into a human land slide. This human bob sledding could be very detrimental to your health and also to others who happen to be in the arc of your cascading body. The cries of look out and oh shit were common place as we searched for the enemy while traversing this mountain terrain.
On one occasion, the cries of look out could be heard as one of my company members started his plunge towards the rocky stream bed below. This troop flashed past me so quickly that I could not get a hold of him. His slide was very rapid and others were not able to stop his decent to his final destination, the rocky stream bed.
All the screaming from the slick sliding trooper stopped. This silence could mean only one thing an abrupt halt had taken place. Knowing that it is not the fall that kills you, but the sudden stopping does, gave me a pause of thought and a picture of a crumpled broken body draped on the rocks below permeated my mind. Damn, what a hellish mind sight.
A defensive perimeter on the slippery mountain side was set up as best as possible. While using my foot as a body stop I was able along with other members of my company to secure the slope and wait for the medivac to arrive and extract our injured comrade.
It took about an hour to extract the stricken solider. This was not good, because our position was compromised with the arrival of the rescue vehicle. This thought was also in our commander’s mind as he began to give orders to move and move with a purpose. This rapid response of movement and direction change was essential for our survival. This rapid pace gave little time for the enemy to set up an ambush.
Our final destination was a small hill top base camp defended by a company of U.S. Marines. Once at this location my company was to conduct aggressive patrolling in our new AO. My company spent weeks running up and down mountain sides looking for and finding the enemy. Finally the word came for us to be extracted from the jungle so that we could have a little down time at the fire base and get some elusive hot chow.
What a beautiful sight to see, when those birds of flight comes to pluck you from the bowels of hell to deliver you to the relative comfort of a wind blown, dusty, dirty, bald top of a mountain base camp.
I and the other members of B Company were dropped of at the base. I started to walk to our company area when I noticed that our cooks had a mess tent set up. The word came down for my platoon to get in front of the chow line get our food and set at a designated spot and wait for the company commander, because he wanted to have a word with us.
The commander arrived in a very short while and told my squad to sit and relax. Sitting in a semicircle and facing the commander my mind began to race. The thought of getting the in country R and R we deserved flashed be for my eyes. The smile on my face was communicated to the rest of my squad, and you could feel the release of tension melt away. The smiles soon dissipated when the commander spoke.
When the Company Commander started with you men are the best, my mind told my body to get ready for my pucker factor to increase ten fold. In other words, my asshole would become tighter then the security at Fort Knox and that is tight.
The commander looked me in the eye and said I know you men have just come out of the field, but there is a need for you to go back out. Your experience is the key here and you got it. I would like for you to volunteer for a patrol down to the valley floor.
The words spoken took me by complete surprise and I fell back and looked at the sky and thought, what a price to pay for being good another mission in the triple canopy jungle, Charlie’s back yard.
I rose back into a sitting position looked the C O in the face and said to the chagrin of my squad mates,” we are ready to go sir”. The C O looked me in the eye and stated I knew I could count on you men. The men and I knew that our trust in this man, our commander was unshakeable. The normal groans and curses emanated from the departing men as we prepared to get all things in order before we saddled up.
My platoon waited for dark fall before we began our foray to the valley below. This was done as not to give any possible enemy spotters the chance of compromising our patrol. The movement through the safe lane and the concertina wire and land mines at night meant slow going. After clearing the mine field, our movements remained slow and deliberate as we descended the mountain. The halfway point was reached and we settled down for the night, and I had a restless sleep. Always on the alert, an infantrymen’s sleep, half awake half asleep.
Just before the break of dawn we began descending to the valley floor. Once we hit the bottom of the mountain the triple canopy of trees disappeared and the most beautiful sight befell my eyes. Shangri-La that mystical destination that so many have searched for was parading its majestic glory before me. Paradise! Wake up and get your head out of your 4th point of contact this is Mr. Charles yard and I did wakeup and began the task at hand, find them, fix them, and destroy them our job.
My squad was given a sector to search and also where the rally point was located in case we got hit. The men were given the word to move out, and we began our search. The area was a delta like spot. Tall savanna grasses swayed in the valley breeze. Yah that’s what I said, a soft genteel breeze and boy it felt wonderful on my face.
After the AO had been searched and nothing found, the word of all clear here was transmitted back to the company commander who was located at the firebase a top the mountain. The CO than told the LT that we were to hold where we were until further notice. This is what we did and with gusto. This place was heaven sent, God bless our CO for having the foresight sending us here.
Through this valley, ran a stream. The water was pristine as it flowed down the mountain side. Having this clear water supply on hand meant only one thing, time to fill the platoon’s canteens. Troopers were selected for water detail, and would you believe, no bitching. The LT gave me the job as leader of the water detail.
Canteens were collected and were given to the guys that will be doing the filling while the others were guarding the water gathering process. I placed security both up and down stream and also on the opposite side of the stream bank. I had to put myself in an oversee position, and this required me to wade through the stream in order to put myself in the proper position.
I began to cross the slow moving water. While keeping ever alert and scanning the ground before me, my head was on a swivel and my nerves were on edge. The most critical time is at the halfway point, or mid stream. If the enemy is on the opposite bank, this is when he would most likely open up on your ass. No fire came from the opposite bank and I began to breathe, again.
I am up to my waist in the middle of the stream, when I began to feel slight impacts on my thigh and ankle area. While looking down, I could see fish swimming. Right then and there the smell of a fish fry exploded in my mind.
The stream bottom was smooth and sandy, not rocky like most streams we crossed. Another thought entered mind, and that thought was of a combination of bathing and swimming. HEY STUPID Mr. Charles back yard. I immediately snapped to the job at hand get some water for the platoon.
The water was collected and the process of rejoining the rest of the platoon came. Once I got back at our platoon’s position, I made a beeline to see the LT and gave him a sirep on the water canteen mission and the permission to try and catch some fresh fish in order to spice up our rather monotonous, bland and sometimes barely palatable C rations. The LT said he had to get on the horn and get the permission from the CO. This was done and the go ahead was given. I picked out a crew that would provide protection, and off we went.
Security was in place and I began to search for the best spot to begin my fishing, or should I say Grenshing a new word for what I was about to do. I had 8 frag grenades located in my ammo pouches, so my reasoning was that I could spare two of these exploding devices and not jeopardize my life, by running out in happenstance of a fire fight.
I yelled fire in the hole and slowly put the first grenade in the water smack dab in the middle of a school of fish pulled the pin, released the spoon and dropped the impromptu fishing device in the water and then I slowly-quickly de-assed the immediate A O.
The grenade exploded with a dull boom and a small geyser of water extended its self to the sky and fell back into the clear bottom stream. Following the geyser, fish began to bob to the surface, showing their silver-white bellies. The now dead fish were collected down stream by a platoon member. After I repeated the grenshing, the fish was taken back to the platoon area and fish cleaning began.
A spit pit was made and the fire started with a small touch of c-4 and the smell of fish frying enveloped our platoon position. Man it was unbelievable how satisfying the taste of fresh whatever fish had on the platoon’s moral. We were ready to lick the world, I am glad we did not have to do that, but this little interlude from war helped me enjoy the simple things in life, and that is living it.
The word to move out came, and we continued to patrol our area of operations and the following day reunited with the rest of the company.
WAR what an adventure and here is to surviving it.
The story continues.
WM Roland Hayes.