Friendly fire thanks to dead batteries

In 1966, we arrived in Vietnam with PRC-10 field radios that we carried on our backs. The batteries were so old, we often carried several that had never been used for back ups when we went on patrols, ambushes, recons and field operations.

The idea was that if one battery was dead, maybe one of the spares worked.

On one night patrol, all three batteries failed and that almost got us killed. I was a field radio operator so I carried the radio and was responsible to call for supporting fire, an extraction for wounded, artillery support, etc.

This patrol went out in the dark and we came back several hours later right before dawn.  Because our hill had been hit every night for weeks, we were all nervous and on high alert.  The Vietcong would hit and run—fire a rocket, a few sniper rounds, a shoulder fired rocket, or toss a grenade inside the wire and then melt away. One Marine had his head torn off from a rocket that was fired through a bunker’s firing slot. The other Marines in that bunker survived but they watched their buddy get beheaded when the rocket hit him in the face but didn’t explode.

As the radio operator, it was my job to make the last call just before we returned from the night patrol and let them know we were on our way in so they wouldn’t shoot at us.

But when all three of the batteries were dead, there was no way to call in. We had to go in cold.

The sergeant in charge said we couldn’t make a sound, because we had to get close enough to the wire so his voice could be heard.


PRC-10

There was a spring on the other side of the wire that fed a creek and we walked in that creek careful to make not one sound.  Then one Marine tripped and as he hit the ground made a loud clattering noise. A heart beat later, we were all sucking that creak water.

Without hesitation, the bunkers on the other side of the wire inside our base camp opened fire on us with fifty calibers. We lay in that stream as the tracers shot inches above our heads. The sergeant shouted “cease fire”.

“How do we know it’s really you and not a trick,” the reply came. “Why didn’t you use the radio?”

“The batteries are all dead,” I called. “Call the communication bunker and ask for the name of the radio operator who was assigned to this patrol. How would the gooks know that?”

“And what is your name?”

I called it out and a few minutes later we were given the okay to stand up and walk one-by-one inside the wire.

The PRC-10 was first used in 1951 during the Korean War. The AN/PRC 25 replaced it in 1962, but the Marines were usually the last to get new equipment. We had no idea how old those batteries were but we were eating C-rations that were stamped 1945 so I think those batteries were probably from the early 1950s and had been in storage for almost fifteen years. Before I was rotated out of Vietnam in December 1966, the PRC-10 was replaced with the 25 that was several pounds lighter and had much newer batteries.

Discover Vietnam Rations and Nutrition Today

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
is the award winning author of
My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition].

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW!”

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The Tet Offensive also destroyed the National Liberation Front (popularly known as the Viet Cong) and handed the leadership of the war, by default, over to the North Vietnamese Communist leadership and its army. The NLF was not 100% a communist organization but was an organization and army that fought the US in South Vietnam and before the US they fought the French under a different name—the Viet Minh—and before the French, the Vietnamese fought the Chinese occupation that lasted for a thousand years before liberation from China. However, the communists organized the NLF as a blanket organization of many Vietnamese resistance groups to continue the fight against foreign occupation/intervention in Vietnam.

The Tet Offensive was fought primarily by the NLF and they lost about 75,000 troops compared to 6,000 U.S. and ARVN dead. History paints the Tet Offensive as a communist victory but that is wrong. The Tet Offensive saw half of the NLF’s troops killed. The victory was turning the American public against the war. It was a military loss and a PR victory. The Viet Cong lost that battle but the North won the war. After Tet, the North had to step up moving its troops and supplies into the South until the NVA made up 70% of the troops fighting there.

In 1968, the NLF or Viet Cong’s manifesto called for an independent, non-aligned South Vietnam and stated that “national reunification cannot be achieved overnight.” That all changed after Tet. In fact, that lost battle with the US handed the South over to the communist led North.

From Memoir to Novel – the metamorphosis of a manuscript about war as hell – Part 3/3

According to Vietnam: Looking Back at the Facts: “About 5,000 men assigned to Vietnam deserted and just 249 of those deserted while in Vietnam.”

Then there were crimes other than rape. Near the end of my 1996 combat tour, the armorer of our gun company was caught selling weapons on the black market in Vietnam—weapons that ended in the hands of the Viet Cong soldiers that ambushed a Marine patrol—The Marines won that fight, and that’s how they discovered the weapons that led back to our armorer.

The armorer was sentenced twenty years to life in a federal prison.

“Fragging” and “Combat Refusals” in Vietnam were not unknown and some of these incidents have been documented. I recall one fragging in my unit. A lieutenant, considered an asshole by many, was taking his shower at night when his quarters were fragged. He survived because he wasn’t in the tent. The next day, he was a different person—a reformed asshole turned nice guy.

The question of crimes such as ‘fragging’, ‘combat refusals’, desertion and AWOL within the Vietnam conflict is one which brings emotions to the fore. Many veterans deny that ‘fragging’ or ‘combat refusals’ occurred, whilst others feel desertion and AWOL was merely a means of resisting what was felt to be an unjust and illegal conflict.” Source: http://home.mweb.co.za/re/redcap/vietcrim.htm

Then there is the CIA’s role in moving drugs from the Golden Triangle to America where they were sold to fund illegal operations that the US Congress did not approve. To this day, the CIA denies doing this.

However, “The KMT exported their opium harvests usually by mule train across the mountains or by unmarked American C-47 transportation planes to Thailand for processing. Some was flown on to Taiwan. In 1950 the CIA purchased bankrupt Civil Air Transport (CAT) for $950,000 and used their fleet of planes to run weapons to KMT General Li Mi in Shan province, and the planes returned to Bangkok filled with opium.” Source: Dark Politricks.com

In addition, “Bob Kirkconnell, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant spent 27 years on active duty, and was involved in an investigation of heroin smuggling into the US using killed-in-action human remains out of Vietnam.” Source: http://www.wanttoknow.info/militarysmuggledheroin

For more information on drug smuggled into the US during the Vietnam War, I recommend reading The Cadaver Connection from History Net.

Then there was the Marine I met on the flight to Hong Kong from Vietnam. He asked me to share a hotel room with him—to double up because he was on his third tour in the combat zone (I was into my fifth month by then), and he had to have a white, round-eyed face wake him in the morning before any strange Asian, almond shaped eyed face (like the women or men that cleaned the hotel rooms in Hong Kong), came into the room while he was sleeping.

Note: the French left Vietnam in 1956, which is when the US sent advisers into Vietnam to start working with and training the South Vietnamese military. The National Liberation Front, known by us as the Viet Cong, wouldn’t be formed until 1960. The U.S. started using Agent Orange in 1962 and the Declaration of War by Congress would not become official until 1964.

The first time I crossed from my bed to his and shook his shoulder, he quickly rolled over, pulled a Colt forty-five from under his pillow, and centered the barrel between my eyes as he clicked off the safety.  He blinked to clear his vision and stared at me before he lowered the weapon.

He had a Chinese girlfriend in Hong Kong, and they had a child together.

After that first morning in Hong Kong, I didn’t see him for a while since he was staying with his Chinese girlfriend and child—that is until she got angry with him and threw him out.

At the time, no one had put a clinical, psychological name on PTSD and it wasn’t officially studied.  That wouldn’t happen for more than twenty years.  What’s ironic is that I now sleep with a .38 caliber loaded with hollow points and the first thing I do when I wake up each morning is to listen for any out of the ordinary sounds in the house before I get up and sweep the house to see if any of the windows and/or doors have been forced.  Once I’m satisfied the house is secure, I store my weapon in a safe place—not for me but for my family.

When my novel was completed to Miller’s satisfaction, she contacted a reputable agent to represent it. Several of the writers in the workshop were published thanks to Miller’s support. However, the agent for my work, which was originally called “Better a Dead Hero“, could not sell it. The publishers responded that the Vietnam War as a topic was not selling and they were not interested.  That was in the late 1980s.

The manuscript that is now  “Running With the Enemy” sat gathering dust for more than twenty-two years before I found it on a shelf in the garage, renamed it  and ran it through several edits and revisions. I expect the novel will be released in the next few months hopefully before the end of September 2012.

Return to From Memoir to Novel – the metamorphosis of a manuscript about war as hell – Part 2 or start with  Part 1

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

Heavy Drinking and Flashbacks Sink a Marriage

In December 1966, I returned from Vietnam.  For fifteen years, I didn’t think about the war or talk about it to anyone, at least not on a conscious level.

Instead, I drank—a lot. Beer, wine, mixed drinks. It didn’t matter. I grew up with an alcoholic father and older brother. My fraternal grandfather was an alcoholic and so was my father’s older brother James. Alcohol almost ended the marriage between my mother and father. After an ultimatum from my mother, dad quit drinking to save the marriage. By then I was twelve. He was a great guy sober.

Due to that childhood environment, I swore I would never drink.

The war changed that. Before shipping out to Vietnam, I started drinking twenty-five cent pitchers of beer on base in Okinawa to fit in since so many Marines drank. There was nothing else to do when off duty. Once, we were so broke, several of the Marines in my unit pooled pennies, and I went into the village across the street from Camp Hanson’s main gate and bought a cheap bottle of Japanese slow gin.  After the first glass, you lost the feeling in your nose, fingers and toes. When you woke up twelve hours later, you were still drunk. The hangover came later. I discovered that codeine or some other drug was part of the mix in that slow-gin bottle. The cheapest drunk was rubbing alcohol mixed with Coke or Pepsi. We filled a helmet and passed it around until the mix was gone. The next morning, some guy would be sitting inside my head pounding on an anvil with a sledgehammer.

During the fifteen years between 1966 and 1981, I often relived the war in surrealistic flashbacks where Vietcong would be in the house, and I went on patrol with a Ka-Bar or a twelve -gauge shotgun. One night in 1977 at 2:00 AM, my first wife left the bedroom to get a glass of water. She returned while I was fighting ghosts.

To me, she was the enemy, and I pushed her against the wall in the hall outside the bedroom and held the tip of that seven-inch blade against her throat. She calmly talked to me until I was somewhat aware of my real surroundings, and we went back to bed. She never mentioned that scene during the remaining years of our marriage, but I have never forgotten.

In 1981, I stopped drinking and soon was talking and writing about the war. I woke this morning thinking about that moment in the hallway in 1977. The war is always close.

Discover A Night at the “Well of Purity”

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”