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.
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.
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
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!
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