Slippery Red Clay

Warning, Skip sections in red and italics if your are easily upset.  They contain very graphic and upsetting descriptions of combat.

2 NOV 1968

After the incident with the giant Anaconda yesterday I noticed that when we moved out this morning the point man moved forward much more slowly than the day before.  We found no evidence of any casualties from the road runner artillery firing last night, except a single Ho Chi Minh sandal left hastily on the trail. We are moving to a hilltop about three klicks away to set up a base to run squad sized ambush patrols out of for a few days.  The fact that this ridge line has such a clear trail on top means that it is being used regularly. The patrols are told to setup alongside the trail, put out claymores, prefire some artillery  targets and wait for someone to come along.  When the enemy is in the kill zone, they are to blow the claymores, fire a mad minute, and pull back to our perimeter as the artillery is fired behind them in a blocking maneuver. No one is spotted the first night, but we do see some flashlights on the opposite ridgeline and call in some 105mm artillery fire on them. The next day the CO wants us to send someone over to see if we got anyone.  I tell him that it almost killed us getting up the ridge the first time.  To go down, then up the other, search it, come back down only to have to climb back up this ridge line again is simply not an option. If they made contact while on the opposite ridge, I could not get to them in time to help.  He tries real hard to get me to do it, but I refuse.  He then orders me to break up into three night ambushes instead of the one.  I send out two reinforced squads, one in each direction along the ridge and keep the third with me in the perimeter we have setup. That night we heard movement about half way down the ridge towards the valley.  They had obviously spotted us and were going around our position by traveling in the valley. I made the mistake of telling the CO what I thought and of course he wanted us to setup an ambush in the valley.  Now that was real dumb, so I made another suggestion.  Why not sneak off and move to the other ridge line where we had sighted the lights and setup a platoon sized ambush on that trail.  He liked the sound of that, so we packed up and began the move.  I had one squad stay behind and make enough noise to keep the enemy thinking we were still all there.  I also fired some blocking artillery targets along the ridge to discourage anyone from moving up on the stay behind element.  We split up their packs and took most of their gear with us, so they could make good time when I called them to move out and catch up with us. By 11:00am we were in the valley filling our canteens in the stream.  It was not as hot as it had been the last time we climbed a ridge, but it was still over 90 degrees.  About noon, just after we started climbing the ridge, it started raining.  The cool rain really felt good and soon cooled things down quite a bit.  The ground was so hot that there was steam everywhere.  It became so humid that the sweat just poured off us, irritating our eyes.  While we appreciated the respite from the heat, the rain also made the red clay very slippery.  About an hour up the ridge, someone slipped down the hill nearly 50 feet, stopping when he was impaled on a stump of bamboo cut by the point man while clearing a path.

He was in total agony.  I came back to his position and was shocked by what I saw. He had about a foot of bamboo jammed right up his butt.  Doc had given him some morphine to calm him down and ease the pain.  Everyone was stumped about what to do next.  Doc said that if we lifted him off the bamboo, he would probably bleed to death before we could get him to an LZ.  I sent the first squad up to the top to find an LZ, then called Battalion and told them the situation.  We decided that we had to cut the bamboo off and leave it in place, then carry him up the hill to the LZ for Medevac.  The only thing we had to cut the bamboo with was the serrated back of a K-bar knife.  Four of us held the guy while they cut at the bamboo.  It was nearly two inches in diameter and every saw with the K-bar was agony for the poor guy even with the morphine.

Finally we got him free.  We made a litter from his poncho and two bamboo poles, then tied him into it.  Them we just took a rope and tied it to the litter and had five or six men up front pull, while several of us on either side lifted the litter.  Each heave would get him about three feet up the ridge, then the rope guys would hold him until we moved up alongside again and we would then hold the litter in place until the rope guys were in position to pull again.  I still do not know where we found the strength to keep that up long enough to reach the top.  At first the adrenalin helped, but that soon wore off and it was sheer will power.  When we got him to the top, the first squad took over and moved him to the LZ, which was only a fifty meter section of elephant grass about 50 meters down the ridge line.  The chopper had to hover with only one skid on the ground as we loaded him into the cargo bay.  That, of course, ruined all chances of any surprise ambush on the ridge line, so we were sent to a hill top about four klicks south to setup a company sized perimeter in preparation for the rest of the company to join up with us the following day.

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