During the war in Southeast Asia the armed forces were always looking for ways to find an advantage over the enemy. The advantage of seeing him before he sees you was a matter of life or death for us infantrymen. Always on the alert and ever vigilant even in the dead of night could save your life but you still needed an edge, and that edge came in different forms.
When on the move my unit always put out men on the flanks while at night listening posts were established and during the day observation posts were placed in strategic locations. We also had devices that lit up the night when necessary. These devices were, trip flares, star clusters flares, parachute flares, and illumination rounds fired from near by fire bases. Still something was lacking in our being able to tract the enemy. A solution to our dilemma came to us in the form of an optic device called the Starlight Scope.
The Starlight Scope was a Cyclops optic device that used ambient light from the moon or other light sources to brighten the night dark images so as the enemy couldn’t use the cloak of darkness to cover his movements. The scope was hand held and in most cases entrusted to person with the rank of sgt and above. The new night scope weighted in at about 7 pounds and was carried in flexible zipper case.
Contact with the enemy was a constant with the 187. We as a battalion were broken down into small units that could hit fast and get ghost. We became very good at using the enemies hit and run tactics against him. Small units tactics, we could be anywhere at anytime to catch the NVA or VC with their pants down. Catching we did.
The night now belonged with us. No longer could the enemy use the night as his stead fast ally, for now the dusky skies hid the givers of destruction, an infantryman with a starlight scope.
Images when seen through the sls placed you in a world of green and black accompanied by a light high whining pitch. I was always afraid that the sound coming from the night scope would compromise my stealthy position. When the ambusher becomes the ambushed, you are in a world of hurt and SOL.
The night was jet black as we flew towards are LZ and the link up with the rest of our company that was now in contact with an enemy force. The closer we got to our destination the more intense the light show became. Red and blue peppers of light converged and danced in the night. Brilliant flashes of light along with the thunder clap of Thor intensified my pucker factor for we were landing on a hot LZ.
The door gunner gave me a tap on the shoulder and pointed down towards the general location of our landing zone. The huey began its decent into hell fire and I gave a nod to the gunner, turned looking at the chaos below, and thought to myself, when will this shit end. There would be no ending, because this is TET.
The helicopter landed in a dry rice patty and as being the first in the door and leader of my squad, my feet were the first to hit the ground running. The angle of exit placed me left and front of the chopper and looking over my right shoulder, I was amazed to see the chopper still on the ground. I raised my right arm and turned it in a rapid motion around and around and then stopped and pointed the direction out.
I thought maybe the pilot was not as experienced as others we have flown with. The longer the choppers stay on the ground, the more fire from the enemy will be headed our way. So to my surprise the bird was still on terra firma. By doing my arm signal, the pilot got the message and took off. Boy” what a relief that was.
Once on the ground my squad regrouped and headed towards the rest of the company and the fire fight in progress. I and the other reinforcements were given instructions as where to set up and close any gaps in our defensive positions. Our movements were instinctively done at a quick, brazenly fast, pace. These maneuvers have been done countless times upon incretion into enemy territory.
One of the positions had to withdraw back into our lines as contact with the maneuvering enemy threatened to surround and cut them off from the rest of the company. The men came through our lines and began to link up with the other manned positions. Now safe as one could be while in a fire fight, one of the men could be heard to say Shittttttt” I dropped the starlight scope, I got to go back and get it.
Men in the company tried to persuade the NCO not to go back into the converging fire works. This was an act of futility because the man took off like a shot and disappeared into the night, leaving us with stupefied looks on our faces.
All kind of actions was taking place when the company commander came running up to our positions. The commander began to quire us on the NCO and why did we let him go back to get the scope while we were engaged with the enemy. I explained that the NCO took off like a squalled rat before we could persuade to him sit tight and wait until the bullets stopped flying.
The thought of the NCO being shot to pieces raced in my head. Then these thoughts of doom was replaced my complete happiness and astonishment, when the sgt came running back to our lines and the position he had previously vacated.
The NCO along with the now secured starlight scope was back with the company and our commander gave the NCO a tongue lashing about his escapade into contested territory. The NCOs response was sir I was responsible for the scopes safe keeping and I did not want to fail in my duties and give the enemy our secret weapon.
The company commander understood where the NCO was coming from, but said to the soldier, you are more important to me and the unit alive so does not do that again. The Captain thanked the SGT for a job well done and said something like, lets get back into the war. The commander turned and got back on the horn in order to marshal deadly ordinance onto the enemy positions.
The starlight scope gave us the upper hand on the enemy while in the dead of night. The battalion was spread out and in position on a suspected enemy infiltration route. Our job was to interdict the movements of the NVA and destroy them before they reached the Saigon city limits.
I was out on a listening post with two other men and looking through the scope, I noticed movement to my front. The green shadows became clearer as they got closer. The shadows were the point element of a NVA regiment was tracking.
To be sure on what I was seeing I gave the scope to another trooper so as to confirm my observation. The trooper agreed with my sighting and stated lets spring the ambush by6 blowing our claymore mines.
I took the scope back from the GI and wanted to give one last look before we cut loose. Man I’m glad I took that second look. The front element of the enemy was now in our kill zone and my hand inched towards the claymores clacker. Hold on homes was my reaction when more than the front element came into my green hazed view.
My mind raced, if I blow the mines, we will kill some of the enemy but the rest of the enemy knowing of our location and would over run us in a heart beat. I did not want to die as yet so I told the others; we will let them pass our location before we take any action.
Looking through the starlight scope I could see a lot of enemy soldiers emerging from the darkness and cautiously moving to my front... I got on my squad radio and told the commander what I saw. On hearing me speak of my observation the commander told me to hold fast and keep a sitrep on what was going on.
The commander got on the horn and spoke to the other ambush positions. The enemy’s movements were now being tracked and once the formations of bad guys were clear of our positions they were decimated by the steel storm brought down on their heads by our covering artillery.
The starlight scope was our night life saver, and we now owned darkness.
The story continues.
WM Roland Hayes.