A Company, 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry

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Chris Ross

I arrived in Vietnam in late July, early August 1968. Funny, but some of the things that took place during my tour of duty I remember like it was yesterday, others are kind of "fuzzy". The process of being drafted, going through basic training, being assigned an "11Bravo" MOS, completing AIT, and then shipping out, still boggles my mind. You must remember, I was a kid, who was not really interested in college. At that time, I had no direction and my grades showed it. I was more interested in surfing than much of anything else. Yeah, let the good times roll! Vietnam was something on the news and too be honest, I had no opinion whether it was right or wrong. Man! I was about to wake up fast. In hind sight, as luck would have it, I was in very good physical condition, all that surfing, and I had been very involved in the Boy Scouts and could easily read and use topographic maps and the compass. I felt very comfortable in the woods. These skills, in hindsight, were critical in getting through some crazy times. Being in triple canopy jungles was not a problem. I found I could, for the most part, navigate through it easily enough. It was however, what was in those woods, that scared the crap out of me. I was to learn very quickly, how to forget about "the world", be prepared, stay focused, and be in the moment.

I would have to say, the first year of my "military career" was a series of "Oh Sh__, Oh Fu__, Oh Sh__!" It never seemed to end. First DRAFTED ... "Oh Sh__!", assigned an 11B MOS (Infantry) ... "Oh Fu__!", flying into Bien Hoa, Vietnam at night with flares going off around the base perimeter below us ... "Oh Holy Sh__!". Being assigned to the 4th Infantry Division and flying up to Pleiku and told, "Congratulations! You are now, or will be when you get there, a member of Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry." "Sh__", this is getting really "REAL" folks! I guess I am now an "FNG" ... lowest of the low. That realization would not sink in until we arrived, via a resupply convoy to Dak To. The deuce and a half truck we were in was pulling a large water tank. The long winding road up through Kontum and on to Dak To seemed to take forever. On the way up some guy was horsing around and fell of the back of the truck. The trailing water tank ran right over him ... never really ever heard if he lived or not. We just kept trucking. I was later told, "Convoys DO NOT STOP on the road to Dak To!" Damn! A new reality is sinking in here. I wondered what was next.

The morning after we arrived in Dak To, we were told we'd have to wait in base camp, as they were getting "incoming" up on Hill 990, where Alpha Company was located ... another big "Oh Fu__!" While waiting in base camp I was introduced to a favorite "FNG" detail, burning sh__. At least we had crappers in base camp. I was starting to focus on who was trying to "get over" and who was really trying to pitch in. I think it was the next morning, when we loaded up on some Hueys for the trip to Hill 990 and my new reality, being a "Grunt" in a line company began in earnest.

I don't have any pictures of Hill 990, I guess at that stage of the game, I wa too scared to even think about taking pictures. As I remember, Hill 9990 was tucked up near the Cambodia/Laos border. It had a few mortar pits, a 105mm Howitzer Battery, and some ground radar, that could track incoming NVA rounds. It was also, as you can imagine, one of the NVA's favorite targets. It was from this hill that I was introduced to REAL strong points, night listening posts and SRP's that usually lasted two days "outside" the wire. A good many of the guys in Alpha Company were getting "short" and had survived the worst Dak To had to offer in late 1967. Some did not even want to look at me, they were too focused on being short and going home. Luckily my squad leader, I don't remember his name, but he was Hawaiian, sort of took me in and started to show me the ropes. There is something to be said for "being in the right place, at the right time". Yeah, luck has a lot to do with it, but I also believe, at times, you can help create your own luck ... remember the old Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared!"

Oh, I just remembered something from Hill 990 that was funny, well not so funny for the guy involved. It involved the reassignment of all units on Hill 990. It was a big move, lots of stuff going and coming at the same time. Chinooks, Hueys, and Sikorsky Sky Cranes. The rotor wash off a sky crane could easily knock you down, generating winds of well over 100 mph. As our company was boarding the Hueys, another unit was moving into our bunkers. One of the guys in that unit must have had a bad case of diahrria, as he headed right for one of the latrines. I think they were made of a combination of old 105mm Howitzer ammo crates with a poncho roof. At the same time he was dropping he pants, a Sikorsky heavy lift helicopter was lifting a huge metal Conex container and the rotor wash just blew down the latrine with the guy in it. Most of us thought that was the funniest thing we had seen in a very long time and laughed all the way to the chopper pad. Looking back, the guy climbing out of the blown down, busted, latrine did not appear too happy with the course of events. I suppose you might say that being in a combat environment has a way of twisting your sense of humor.

Eventually we moved back to Camp Enari for a well deserved stand down before heading back out into the field. We headed out of the Division base camp in a big convoy headed for VC Valley. We were told to leave everything not needed for combat in base camp. The expectation was that we were headed into some heavy, really bad stuff. We would not be sleeping in bunkers on a mountain top, we would be on the move. As for me, I was thinking this was going to be a different kind of fighting. I did not bring my camera, leaving it along with the other stuff I had received from "The World" at base camp ... I needed to carry more important stuff for now. As luck would have it, the NVA were not quite ready for a fight, at least not for the moment. For about two weeks, or so it seemed, we humped through the jungle and through an empty NVA basecamp. It was getting more tense everyday, but still no contact. Hey, believe me, I wasn't complaining.

I don't remember what day it was, but we had stopped for the day and were busy digging our foxholes and setting up night positions, as we had done every day for the last few weeks. I was digging my night position, when the 1st SGT came up to me and said, "Ross! Pack up our gear, you're leaving on that LOH NOW!" I was dumbfounded, but I grabbed my M-16, left most of my ammo and frags and jumped on board. I didn't say, "See ya" to anyone, just looked around as the LOH lifted off. The ride was the wildest I have ever experienced. Turned out that the pilot thought we were taking small arms fire and he was taking evasive action ... "HOLY SH__!" To this day, I'm not sure if he was goofing around on me, or if it was real. We landed somewhere within the 4th Infantry Division basecamp and when I got to our battalion area, I found out why I had been plucked out of VC Valley. I had received orders to transfer to an infantry company attached to and MP Brigade just outside Qui Nhon. The question that stills comes to mind ... Why me? In one respect, it was like winning the lottery but in another I felt a sense of guilt leaving my team. Duty in Qui Nhon was... well, very different than a combat line company. Our primary mission was to guard an ammo dump outside Qui Nhon. This ammo dump was huge, I think it was the largest in II Corps. It took up a whole valley, maybe a mile long and Ĺ mile wide ... impossible to defend against a determined sapper team. Our base was a couple of miles away. The night that a sapper team did penetrate the perimeter of the ammo dump, we were there, but once the ammo pads started "cooking" and going off, it was decided that all personal should evacuate the ammo dump. We lost the whole ammo dump, even though there were earth berms separating each ammo pad. A chain reaction started and by the next day the whole ammo dump had been destroyed. Iím sure someone had some serious explaining to about this incident.

Other than that and a few other small incidents, duty in Qui Nhon was easy. Within a couple of months I became the CO's driver and spent the rest of my tour with him. There were some misfits in the company, but for the most part we tried to do our jobs well, but I never thought we could measure up to A/3/12th Infantry ... they were my true brothers in arms.

So what follows are photos from that time. Click on the camera icon to go to the photo galleries.

Chris Ross now has a great website on Ernie Camacho's Dak To Memories website.

Chris's page is here  https://www.daktomemories.com/4th-id---chris-ross.html

This link shows some of the photos from my website Chris has included on his site.


A must see site for those interested in our story...

If you want to get in touch with Chris...email me at the swamp_fox address at the bottom of the page and I will forward it to him.

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