War Stories

The Two-War Knife

William R Hayes

During conflicts, one of the most indispensable tools an infantryman can have is his combat knife. An infantryman uses knives not only for defense, but also for a myriad of tasks, such as bottle and can opener, fork, lever, slices and dices, hole puncher, and life taker. My knife of choice was the Gerber Commando Combat Knife. This knife had a two-sided blade with a seared edge. The knife has a corrosive resistant handle, and the balance of the knife is superb. I carried my Gerber from start to finish of my tour in Vietnam, and later this same knife saw action in the Iraq war, when my son carried it into battle. The following incident made me fall in love with my Gerber.

During the TET we (3/187 ABN} were always on the move. We pulled operations with a number of units such as the 1 ID, 25 ID, 9th ID, 199th LINF, 11th AC, Special Forces, Vietnamese Rangers, and US Marines. During this period we were operating with the 11AC Black Horse, as their mounted infantry in the defense of BIEN HOA combat and logistics base.

The combined forces of the 11 ACR and the 3/187th job was to interdict and destroy NVA units trying to infiltrate the massive combat base. Our units set up on a large knoll that over looked a grassy plane that led down to the Dong Nghia River.

As the custom, we began to set out claymore mines and trip flares. I was given a sector to perform the before mention task. These operations were done at night so that the enemy could not comprise our night defenses.

I laid my weapon down (M16} and picked up a couple of satchels of trip flares to place. After I placed the flares, I started my way back to the protection of our NDP. This is the time I tripped and fell to the ground. After cursing under my breath, I picked myself up and began to walk to safer ground.

The walk back seemed to take a longer time then when I started out. I began to stumble, and when I did I began to notice that the terrain had changed, I was now in dry rice Pattie in hostile territory armed with my trusty Gerber. I dropped down to my haunches and tried to get my bearings, and started out.

The direction I had taken was a direct path to the river and the NVA. I continued to step with great caution it was then I began to make out the shadows of trees that could only be by the riverbank. This could mean one thing, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and no firearm, I was in deep shit and I did not have a shovel.

As I sat and pondered my situation, the sound of voices could be heard. The voices were speaking Vietnamese, information from the situation report prior to going outside there were no friendly in the AO. My heart began to race, and I knew I had to be calm and think this out. I lay flat face down on the ground and slowly pulled out my knife and thought if found, I hope to take at least one down before they get me.

The voices began to get closer and closer and my heart began to beat so loud and hard I thought for sure I could be heard. My breathing became labored so I placed my hand over my mouth, in the hopes of smothering my labored breathing. As the NVA got closer I pressed my body down as low as I could and waited to be discovered. My life began to flash before me. I could see my family crying over my body. I could see myself at the prom, kissing the girl I would never see again. I could see myself in a prison camp being tortured and pleading for them to kill me. Man was I scared because the slightest sound from me might be my last

So There I lay with the voices getting closer and closer, I thought to myself, when will this end. As I lay there with my heart in my throat, the voices began to fade into the night. A reprieve Iím alive. The death grip on my knife loosened and my heart began to beat at its normal rate. I was still in the frying pan with a low heat, because I was still alone in Indian country. I knew before I left the NVP that a fire mission from the 4.2 mortars would commence firing at 2400 hours. I waited and time moved so slowly that I could hear every second ticking away on my watch. Will I be saved or will I be lost? Only time will tell.

EurekaĒ flashes in the night, then the sound of the tubes firing volleys of high explosives on to suspected enemy positions. Man I was so happy I almost pissed on myself as I headed to the sound, still with my knife in hand.

I was now walking up a slight incline moving at a slow deliberate pace, when I was challenged by voices and the charging of the fifty caliber machine guns on the tracks. I with a quickness spoke my name and then I heard a voice say, holy shit it is Hayes, come on in. I was a lucky man all around, I could have been killed or captured by the enemy, gotten blown away by a mine, or shot by my own side. The Gods smiled down on me this day and let me learn by my mistake, which never happened again to me.

I did take a chewing out by my Company Commander the next day, but that was a little price to pay for being alive.