Dennis Rees, LT, 1st Platoon Commander (1969 - 1970)


TURKEY RIDGE: Somewhere Near the DMZ

November 27, 1969


by Dennis Rees


Click here for Page 2


After three weeks of hacking around Area of Operations (AO) Green, the misty, steamy lowlands east of the large loop in the DaKrong River and north of the Ashau Valley; setting ambush patrols, claymore booby-traps, moving, setting up and moving again each day; getting drenched and then scorched by the sun, and then wet again; all without major enemy contact; a long-awaited and thoroughly welcomed day had arrived.


A free ride to "Charlie-Two" (C-2) forward fire support base just below the DMZ near Con Tien and "The Market Place", and a hot turkey dinner was the promise we had the luxury of making to our mentally fatigued and physically worn squads.

A chance to get a great (however cold) shower, and change into some clean clothes, fresh socks (mine had rotted through the bottom) and clean underwear; followed by a triumphant turkey dinner with all the trimmings was the salivating, scintillating day we had planned.

The closest thing to fresh food we had during the past month was the water buffalo remnants inadvertently butchered by a few stray artillery rounds near LZ Sharon. Fresh (harsh) meat, along with a combination of local roots and weeds gathered by our Kit Carson Scout, LeVann Quan, helped us forget about our daily diet of C-rations and rice concoctions. A few members of one of my squads were able to supplement their diet with some filet of monkey during the past three weeks, but even that tasty creature would take a back seat to a real turkey dinner.

When dawn broke on this epicurean holiday we began to pack for the long journey. The wet chilly morning begged for our routine of burning anything available using those ingenious little heat tabs (for C-rations) to warm us up a bit and dry us out. Anxiety was abound; along with a certain apprehension about what could possibly go wrong. Surely just a passing pessimism, but a sooth said of profound proportions.

By 0700 hours our entire company, consisting of nearly 90 soldiers, was ready to move to meet C-Company of the First Battalion/Sixty-first Mechanized and A-Company of the First Battalion/Seventy-seventh Armored Regiments for transportation aboard their tanks and armored personnel carriers; destination: Charlie-Two Firebase, clean clothes, clean bodies, fresh water, and a fresh, hot feast, and a two-day stand down.

We had a four-hour journey (15 kilometers) with full backpacks to meet our transportation; so we wasted no time in putting a lead element on the road.

My platoon would bring up the rear to start the trip so we had a few minutes to kill before heaving those monstrous backpacks over our shoulders. (You never wanted to load up too soon. Two minutes of standing around with that kind of load could wear you out). It seemed that as long as you were moving, the weight of the load actually helped keep you going forward. But stopping for even one minute could be a back breaker!

I caught a glimpse of Phil (Van Paepeghem) out of the corner of my eye walking towards me. He was probably coming from an early morning visit with the second squad. Phil was always one of the first on his feet and ready to hump- even though his was by far the heaviest load. Twenty pounds of radio equipment was not the only excess weight he packed. Two-hundred rounds of M-60 ammunition criss-crossing his chest like a Mexican Bandito represented the remnants of his attachment and brotherhood with our second squad.

I could not have made a better selection for my RTO (Radio Telephone Operator), but Phil's closest ties were with his former squad members, and he continued to watch over them like a big brother. Some of them had survived the battle near Khe Sanh several months earlier. There was a closeness that cannot be described. With every enemy contact Phil would insure that second squad was Okay before conducting any radio traffic. So close and loyal to me, yet never forgetting from whence he came. Phil was a rare breed; only himself did he not regard. His attitude was catching and permeated the entire platoon. That was the backbone of my unit and I knew it! This relationship was one of the few things that gave me hope that there was a chance I'd make it through his year.

Phil never let me lose sight of the human and sensitive side of dealing with my platoon. It's not that I was cold and hard, but it was natural (and self preserving) to let an invisible barrier separate you from your charges. Sort of a defense-mechanism when you have to send them out on LP and OP, or ambush, or heaven forbid wrap one up lifeless in a poncho for medevac. Now that was cold, and that was hard. A man can only place his friends in jeopardy so many times until he stops having friends; or getting too close.

As close as our squad members were to each other, they were undeniably individuals by the very nature of their assignments. They were a conglomeration of "one-man wars". Each had his own schedule of when his private war began and when DEROS (Date of Estimated Return from Overseas) would bring him home. Their time was shared, bit by bit, with those who preceded their arrival, and then with those who arrived subsequently, and with many of both of those groups who never met their DEROS.

Phil stumbled towards me with that resolute expression of his, signaling that he was ready to start the journey.

Continued on page 2





Charles  Ames


(Best viewed at 1024x768 resolution & medium text size)