Army Memoirs

The experience of the American soldier in Vietnam was characterized by search-and-destroy missions conceived to implement an attrition strategy. Fear of causing China to enter the war had limited the scope of U.S. ground action to South Vietnamese territory. The attrition strategy would, it was thought, simply kill North Vietnamese soldiers at a greater rate than the rate at which they could be produced. For the American soldier, this strategy led to a frustrating war in which captured terrain was not held.

A hollow-sounding plop disturbed the gentleness of the night. Three of four more followed close on the heels of the first, and then, only a second later, ten or fifteen more. McDonough had been in combat long enough to know the sound of a 40-millimeter round exiting the tube of an M-79 grenade launcher. They had about ten seconds before the explosion of shells would rake their positions. The second wave left their deceptively quiet launchers just before the first wave of rounds landed with a barrage-type effect inside the perimeter. There would be no need for the enemy to adjust the mortar-like deluge; they were right on target.

A hollow-sounding plop disturbed the gentleness of the night. Three of four more followed close on the heels of the first, and then, only a second later, ten or fifteen more. McDonough had been in combat long enough to know the sound of a 40-millimeter round exiting the tube of an M-79 grenade launcher. They had about ten seconds before the explosion of shells would rake their positions. The second wave left their deceptively quiet launchers just before the first wave of rounds landed with a barrage-type effect inside the perimeter. There would be no need for the enemy to adjust the mortar-like deluge; they were right on target.

At an American firebase half a mile from the lagoon, called Landing Zone Minuteman, mortarmen performed a nightly ritual, week after week. Acting as the village's line of light-artillery protection, they calibrated their weapons, determining grid coordinates for defensive firing. As a final step, they registered their guns for accuracy by firing on uninhabited areas around the lagoon. If the lagoon would be attacked, they'd be able to fire immediately. One night they made a mistake. The firing data recorded in the gun pits were not the data recorded back in the bunker. Later that evening the guns were fired, as always, but the rounds were falling on the lagoon's little village.

At an American firebase half a mile from the lagoon, called Landing Zone Minuteman, mortarmen performed a nightly ritual, week after week. Acting as the village's line of light-artillery protection, they calibrated their weapons, determining grid coordinates for defensive firing. As a final step, they registered their guns for accuracy by firing on uninhabited areas around the lagoon. If the lagoon would be attacked, they'd be able to fire immediately. One night they made a mistake. The firing data recorded in the gun pits were not the data recorded back in the bunker. Later that evening the guns were fired, as always, but the rounds were falling on the lagoon's little village.

Once the American's body had been removed from the tunnel shaft, the Viet Cong fighter anticipated that the American's comrades would drop a grenade or two down the hole, wait for the smoke to clear, then climb down the shaft and quickly crawl into the first communication tunnel, firing ahead with their pistols. This time they would be smarter and they would be angrier. He would not wait in that spot. His next fighting position was the second shaft, which descended about four feet, connecting the first communication tunnel with the one beneath it. He removed the trap door at the top of the second shaft, hoping that the Americans would follow him in, using flashlights.

Once the American's body had been removed from the tunnel shaft, the Viet Cong fighter anticipated that the American's comrades would drop a grenade or two down the hole, wait for the smoke to clear, then climb down the shaft and quickly crawl into the first communication tunnel, firing ahead with their pistols. This time they would be smarter and they would be angrier. He would not wait in that spot. His next fighting position was the second shaft, which descended about four feet, connecting the first communication tunnel with the one beneath it. He removed the trap door at the top of the second shaft, hoping that the Americans would follow him in, using flashlights.

The next job they gave him was to go out and arrest American deserters who were living in Vietnamese villages, wearing black pajamas, as if no one would understand that they were Americans who had decided to go "native". There were more of them than people would think. Some of them even had families, although even the Vietnamese thought they looked stupid. White or black, there was no way they were going to blend in. Sometimes the Army had to send in helicopters to haul them out. When caught, they would fight and cuss, wanting to be let go. Courtney would tell them that he wasn't about to do their time for them.

The next job they gave him was to go out and arrest American deserters who were living in Vietnamese villages, wearing black pajamas, as if no one would understand that they were Americans who had decided to go "native". There were more of them than people would think. Some of them even had families, although even the Vietnamese thought they looked stupid. White or black, there was no way they were going to blend in. Sometimes the Army had to send in helicopters to haul them out. When caught, they would fight and cuss, wanting to be let go. Courtney would tell them that he wasn't about to do their time for them.

Like any combat journal, the Daily Staff Journal chronicled the facts without attempting to explain the urgency of the situation or the intensity of the battle. In that fight, C Company had gotten into big trouble. Over a few minutes they took substantial casualties. They were fighting a unit their own size or greater, and they needed reinforcements quickly. Minutes after contact was established and the call for help went out, Bravo Company was on the move. Navigation wasn't really needed; the company headed for the sounds of gunfire and explosions and the sight of gunships and jet fighters swirling and swooping over the embattled company.

Like any combat journal, the Daily Staff Journal chronicled the facts without attempting to explain the urgency of the situation or the intensity of the battle. In that fight, C Company had gotten into big trouble. Over a few minutes they took substantial casualties. They were fighting a unit their own size or greater, and they needed reinforcements quickly. Minutes after contact was established and the call for help went out, Bravo Company was on the move. Navigation wasn't really needed; the company headed for the sounds of gunfire and explosions and the sight of gunships and jet fighters swirling and swooping over the embattled company.

In late January 1969, Lieutenant Colonel David Hackworth helped a group of badly led, dispirited soldiers transform themselves into a valiant and ferocious counter-insurgent unit he called the Hardcore Battalion. These men were not Rangers, Special Forces, SEALs or other elite troops. Most were ordinary citizens; draftees who became great fighters because they found themselves in a war and figured that the best way to survive was to become better than their enemy. When Hackworth first become their commanding officer, a lot of them hated his guts. To have a shot at getting them home, he had to be hard-nosed.

In late January 1969, Lieutenant Colonel David Hackworth helped a group of badly led, dispirited soldiers transform themselves into a valiant and ferocious counter-insurgent unit he called the Hardcore Battalion. These men were not Rangers, Special Forces, SEALs or other elite troops. Most were ordinary citizens; draftees who became great fighters because they found themselves in a war and figured that the best way to survive was to become better than their enemy. When Hackworth first become their commanding officer, a lot of them hated his guts. To have a shot at getting them home, he had to be hard-nosed.

Halfway into the vacant field, Glyn Haynie slowed his pace, his gut tightened and the hair on the back of his neck stood up. Every nerve in his body screamed danger — he sensed enemy eyes watching and was sure that he smelled the North Vietnamese. He turned and shouted to his platoon to spread out, motioning as he shouted. Turning around to face frontward, a shock wave of brutal force slammed into him, blowing him back thirty feet through the air while ripping away his gun and gear. The sky turned into black smoke and dirt, then he hit the ground hard. A 250-pound command-detonated bomb had exploded.

Halfway into the vacant field, Glyn Haynie slowed his pace, his gut tightened and the hair on the back of his neck stood up. Every nerve in his body screamed danger — he sensed enemy eyes watching and was sure that he smelled the North Vietnamese. He turned and shouted to his platoon to spread out, motioning as he shouted. Turning around to face frontward, a shock wave of brutal force slammed into him, blowing him back thirty feet through the air while ripping away his gun and gear. The sky turned into black smoke and dirt, then he hit the ground hard. A 250-pound command-detonated bomb had exploded.

After about ten tense minutes, they heard the sound of a helicopter rotor. A gunship, which was a helicopter with big drums suspended beneath the airframe, came in from Private Robert Driskill’s right, flying low. The big drums were mini-guns, electrically-powered machine guns that produced a hard-to-fathom number of rounds per second. After a moment of hovering about a hundred yards from where Driskill had seen the bunkers, it gathered speed and flew directly over the spot. A sound like a long and extremely loud burp came from the rotorcraft, and the jungle beneath it began to churn with leaves and chopped-up branches.

After about ten tense minutes, they heard the sound of a helicopter rotor. A gunship, which was a helicopter with big drums suspended beneath the airframe, came in from Private Robert Driskill’s right, flying low. The big drums were mini-guns, electrically-powered machine guns that produced a hard-to-fathom number of rounds per second. After a moment of hovering about a hundred yards from where Driskill had seen the bunkers, it gathered speed and flew directly over the spot. A sound like a long and extremely loud burp came from the rotorcraft, and the jungle beneath it began to churn with leaves and chopped-up branches.

Duc Pho straddled Highway 1, about one kilometer from the South China Sea, separated from it by a solitary mountain about a hundred fifty meters high. Once a peaceful mountain surrounded by rice paddies, it had been developed into a base camp a couple of months earlier. On the flat ground at the base of the mountain's western side, an airstrip had been laid out. A perimeter had been built around the entire mountain to enclose within it the protective confines of the Duc Pho Base Camp. They called it Montezuma Mountain. It was only a little over a half-kilometer long at its base, making it a perfect location in the midst of the flat ground around it.

Duc Pho straddled Highway 1, about one kilometer from the South China Sea, separated from it by a solitary mountain about a hundred fifty meters high. Once a peaceful mountain surrounded by rice paddies, it had been developed into a base camp a couple of months earlier. On the flat ground at the base of the mountain's western side, an airstrip had been laid out. A perimeter had been built around the entire mountain to enclose within it the protective confines of the Duc Pho Base Camp. They called it Montezuma Mountain. It was only a little over a half-kilometer long at its base, making it a perfect location in the midst of the flat ground around it.

The PFC and another soldier were administering first aid to one of their comrades when a wave of Viet Cong charged directly toward them. Having only one rifle, the men picked up the wounded soldier and ran with him in an attempt to join the rest of the platoon. When it appeared that they might be caught and overrun, Redding told the other soldier to continue dragging the wounded man while he stayed behind to cover their withdrawal. Later, when they came to the middle of a small clearing in the jungle, two enemy machine guns opened fire and pinned them down. The PFC ordered his buddy to continue moving with the wounded man while he executed a flanking maneuver to draw the enemy fire.

The PFC and another soldier were administering first aid to one of their comrades when a wave of Viet Cong charged directly toward them. Having only one rifle, the men picked up the wounded soldier and ran with him in an attempt to join the rest of the platoon. When it appeared that they might be caught and overrun, Redding told the other soldier to continue dragging the wounded man while he stayed behind to cover their withdrawal. Later, when they came to the middle of a small clearing in the jungle, two enemy machine guns opened fire and pinned them down. The PFC ordered his buddy to continue moving with the wounded man while he executed a flanking maneuver to draw the enemy fire.

Then we went into Dakto, located in Kontum Province, right near the tri-border where South Vietnam meets Laos and Cambodia. It was like being in a nutcracker: Because of the political ramifications involved, we fought the North Vietnamese Army with one hand tied behind our backs. We couldn't cross either border in pursuit of them, so they would just sit across the border, build up their forces, and when they had reached their strongest posture, they'd cross the border and attack in force, gobbling up American units which were only a fraction of their size. As soon as our airstrikes and other firepower began to overwhelm them, the NVA would swiftly retreat over the border, then repeat the process.

Then we went into Dakto, located in Kontum Province, right near the tri-border where South Vietnam meets Laos and Cambodia. It was like being in a nutcracker: Because of the political ramifications involved, we fought the North Vietnamese Army with one hand tied behind our backs. We couldn't cross either border in pursuit of them, so they would just sit across the border, build up their forces, and when they had reached their strongest posture, they'd cross the border and attack in force, gobbling up American units which were only a fraction of their size. As soon as our airstrikes and other firepower began to overwhelm them, the NVA would swiftly retreat over the border, then repeat the process.

Stranded in a tangle of vines and bushes, the staff sergeant and his five troopers sat helplessly while American artillery rounds intended for the North Vietnamese blasted the jungle all around them. One of his troopers would eventually catch a chunk of shrapnel in the shoulder. While certainly not life-threatening, the wound only served to heighten the troopers' concern that sooner or later, a round would find the entire patrol. Friendly-fire incidents had certainly claimed the lives of other American servicemen, and without the ability to communicate with A Company, he had no way of relaying his location to any of the supporting gun batteries.

Stranded in a tangle of vines and bushes, the staff sergeant and his five troopers sat helplessly while American artillery rounds intended for the North Vietnamese blasted the jungle all around them. One of his troopers would eventually catch a chunk of shrapnel in the shoulder. While certainly not life-threatening, the wound only served to heighten the troopers' concern that sooner or later, a round would find the entire patrol. Friendly-fire incidents had certainly claimed the lives of other American servicemen, and without the ability to communicate with A Company, he had no way of relaying his location to any of the supporting gun batteries.