I survived the attack of a ruthless swarm of bloodsuckers and a grenade tossing maniac

Sometime in 1966, for a few days, some Marines from my battalion, including me, were sent to a hill on the perimeter at Chu Lai to watch over an infantry company’s equipment while they were in the hills chasing North Vietnamese ghosts—intelligence said a regiment of NVA had slipped into South Vietnam.

There weren’t many of us—just enough for two Marines to man each of the small bunkers near the base of the hill that was surrounded by coiled barbed wire and then rice paddies.

As daylight faded, the hum of a billion mosquitoes greeted our ears warning us of what was to come as we waged war with the bloodsuckers and lost.

Looking for a way to escape, several Marines scrambled into the largest bunker at the top of the hill—it stood two stories tall with a thick slab of cast iron for a roof offering protection from Vietcong mortar rounds.

Those Marines thought they would be able to escape the bloodsuckers by moving inside the bunker. But as fast as they went in, they came out—screaming like schoolgirls. The bunker was full of rats and when the first Marine’s boots landed on the dirt floor, the rats climbed his legs in a frenzy.

I watched the few who had gone in come shooting out like rockets—eyes wide with shock; faces pale. These were all men who had fought in combat without showing fear when confronted by an enemy who wanted to kill them. Before the cast iron hatch at the top was slammed shut, one Marine tossed a fragmentation grenade in the bunker and it went off with a muffled blast.

Hours later, during my watch between midnight and four, I heard a rustling noise near the wire. There would be long stretches of silence (if you didn’t count the sound of distant firefights and the glare of flares along the division perimeter), then another rustling as if someone were crawling up the hill. I couldn’t see anything and thought it might be a small animal.

When my watch ended, I visited the only latrine that was close to the top of the hill. It was a screened, plywood box with a four-hole plywood bench. Inside, it was black as ink and smelled of urine. Under the bench were four half-empty, fifty-five gallon metal drums with several inches of diesel fuel in each one. In the mornings, the drums would be dragged out from under the plywood bench and set on fire. When it wasn’t raining, hundreds of columns of black smoke could be seen drifting into the morning sky over Chu Lai as the shit was burned.

I had stomach cramps—probably from the twenty-one-year-old canned rations I’d had for my evening meal.  Or maybe from the water we drank that had a strong taste of chlorine to it.

I leaned my weapon just out of reach against the three-foot high plywood wall in front of me and sat. Above the plywood was a screened in open space that allowed air to flow through while keeping the mosquitoes out.

There was a tin roof and the shitter was probably the only place to escape the mosquitoes. If it hadn’t been for the stink, I’d have slept there. On both sides of the shitter was a line of tents where the grunts (infantry) kept their gear and slept when they weren’t in the field.

That’s when the grenades started to go off.  I glanced to the left and saw a shadowy figure running fast along the line of tents tossing a grenade through each opening. I reached for my weapon but a wave of cramps doubled me over as the diarrhea gushed out.

For an instant, I thought I was going to be dead when a grenade was tossed in the shitter.  But from the outside, it must have looked empty and I was spared that fate.

No one died or was wounded on that hill that night. The tents were empty because the grunts were in the hills hunting an elusive enemy, and most of us were in the smaller bunkers near the concertina wire. I was closer than anyone to the lone killer who had slipped inside the wire.

That was just one night out of hundreds during my combat tour in Vietnam.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

His latest novel is the award winning suspense-thriller 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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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!”

The Recon

I was one of four Marines in two jeeps. We were Marines but we were not Recon Marines. Two of the four were officers. One was a staff sergeant, and I was the radio operator with equipment so old that the three spare batteries had a better chance of being dead before me. Heck, they were feeding us twenty-year old C-rations. The sides of the boxes were stamped 1945 and it was 1966. Proof that the Marines don’t waste anything.

What was more dangerous? The food we were eating or the Vietcong. It’s good to be stupid and nineteen—not knowing about botulism. Besides, I liked the ham and limas.

The 1st Marine tank battalion was involved in a field operation with a South Korean unit—the kind of soldiers you want on your side. The US Marines and the Koreans, along with an ARVN unit, were forming a box to trap a regiment of North Koreans.

We drove ahead of our troops to check the depth of the rice paddies making sure our tanks wouldn’t be bogged down. Every mile or so, we would stop and the officers, a major and a lieutenant, would take a long pole and poke a paddy.

Once we were fifteen to twenty miles ahead of our lines, I lost contact with our people.  I switched batteries until I’d tried them all. Then we rolled through a recently deserted village where I saw the Vietcong flag and radio antennas sticking from the top of a tree.  Food was still cooking on open flames inside empty huts.

I pointed them out, and the staff sergeant said, “Don’t tell the officers. They don’t need the worry.”

Thirty miles in front of the lines, the officers were busy poking a rice paddy when I spied a line of muscular men in peasant clothing coming toward us. I was squatting behind the second jeep watching our rear holding a fifty-caliber Ingram submachine gun. I was dressed in camouflage, the jeep was olive green, and I was squatting in shadows. These guys were approaching from the rear and the staff sergeant and officers didn’t know.

I felt like an orphan about to be molested.

When that line of men reached the dirt road and climbed from the rice paddy, I stood so they could see my weapon and me, the skinny Marine who had gained twenty pounds in boot camp and was no longer invisible if he turned sideways.

A fifty caliber Ingram submachine gun with a fifty-round clip will cut small trees and men in half. Once you pull the bolt and let go, the entire clip empties.  There was another clip taped to the first one. It’s a quick change.  You aim to the left of the target and the recoil swings the weapon in an arc to the right.

They saw me and, still walking military fashion, crossed the road, went down the other side into the next rice paddy and kept going. No one shot at us on that recon, but this kind of memory causes you to wake sweaty at three in the morning listening. I remember thinking that maybe my hands were too slick with sweat to pull the bolt and fire.

Discover The ambush; the king cobra and the water buffalo

_______________________

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!”