Reconnaissance Patrols

U.S. Army Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP) operated deep in enemy territory, in five- and six-man teams. Their primary mission was reconnaissance, functioning as the eyes and ears of their division and keeping the Viet Cong from feeling secure. Sometimes they were asked to snatch a prisoner or two. Occasionally they were sent in to assess the damage done by a B-52 bombing strike. If no one else could get to a downed pilot, the LRRPs were called in.

MIA Rescue: LRRPs in Cambodia

By Kregg P. Jorgenson

Millions of rounds of ammunition, and more than 100,000 mortar rounds and rockets were captured when the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army bases were overrun. Thousands of tons of the latest equipment and explosives were captured alongside. In one curious incident, a Lieutenant Colonel had kicked in a door to a weapons warehouse near Snuol, Cambodia, and to his surprised and amazement discovered hundreds of flintlock rifles. He realized the enemy had been assembling this stockpile for quite some time. It showed the level of Communist control over the weapons in this region - and over the local population.

Millions of rounds of ammunition, and more than 100,000 mortar rounds and rockets were captured when the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army bases were overrun. Thousands of tons of the latest equipment and explosives were captured alongside. In one curious incident, a Lieutenant Colonel had kicked in a door to a weapons warehouse near Snuol, Cambodia, and to his surprised and amazement discovered hundreds of flintlock rifles. He realized the enemy had been assembling this stockpile for quite some time. It showed the level of Communist control over the weapons in this region - and over the local population.

The gunships were still taking fire, so the squadron commander radioed that he would bring in his own ship to pull them out. The sergeant popped a smoke grenade to guide the helicopter to the team. One by one, the four Rangers were pulled up from the jungle into the helicopter. The squadron commander held the aircraft steady throughout the entire extraction, even though small-arms fire was directed his way the entire time. As the ship was brought up and away, the sergeant took a final look down. They had killed several North Vietnamese soldiers, captured some weapons and documents, had been attacked by a far larger force, yet only one man had been wounded. They had used up a lot of good luck.

The gunships were still taking fire, so the squadron commander radioed that he would bring in his own ship to pull them out. The sergeant popped a smoke grenade to guide the helicopter to the team. One by one, the four Rangers were pulled up from the jungle into the helicopter. The squadron commander held the aircraft steady throughout the entire extraction, even though small-arms fire was directed his way the entire time. As the ship was brought up and away, the sergeant took a final look down. They had killed several North Vietnamese soldiers, captured some weapons and documents, had been attacked by a far larger force, yet only one man had been wounded. They had used up a lot of good luck.

The general explained that in the 101st Airborne Division, every effort was made to recover missing soldiers. He went on to say that there were five good men out there in the jungle - either dead or alive. If they were alive and not in enemy hands, they would be anxiously waiting for rescue. If dead, their bodies had to be recovered and returned to their families. All of the missing soldiers were division officers. Two helicopters had gone down no more than a couple of hundred meters apart. Intelligence had also reported that a couple of North Vietnamese battalions were active in the area over the past couple of days.

The general explained that in the 101st Airborne Division, every effort was made to recover missing soldiers. He went on to say that there were five good men out there in the jungle - either dead or alive. If they were alive and not in enemy hands, they would be anxiously waiting for rescue. If dead, their bodies had to be recovered and returned to their families. All of the missing soldiers were division officers. Two helicopters had gone down no more than a couple of hundred meters apart. Intelligence had also reported that a couple of North Vietnamese battalions were active in the area over the past couple of days.

Around midnight the patrol finally set up in a tight perimeter in the middle of the jungle. The LRRPs set out their remaining claymore, were told to break out their grenades and ammo and that no one was to sleep. They remained in position and on alert through morning. At first light, two line companies assaulted into separate landing zones, then moved out towards the patrol's last reported location. Delta Company reached the team first. The LRRPs had heard them approaching from a hundred meters out and popped smoke to mark their position. One of D Company's platoon sergeants told them the rescuers had counted over fifty Viet Cong bodies on the way in.

Around midnight the patrol finally set up in a tight perimeter in the middle of the jungle. The LRRPs set out their remaining claymore, were told to break out their grenades and ammo and that no one was to sleep. They remained in position and on alert through morning. At first light, two line companies assaulted into separate landing zones, then moved out towards the patrol's last reported location. Delta Company reached the team first. The LRRPs had heard them approaching from a hundred meters out and popped smoke to mark their position. One of D Company's platoon sergeants told them the rescuers had counted over fifty Viet Cong bodies on the way in.

The two finally punched a hole through the bamboo and dived over the wooden fence. As the LRRP team leader started to climb over the fence, it was shot away beneath him, sending him rolling down the hillside into a flooded rice paddy. There was no cover or concealment for several hundred meters, save for a small, brush-covered island twenty meters out in the paddy. As the three LRRPs made it to the island, the firing from above stopped altogether. They pulled out a claymore and primed it with a fifteen-second fuse so they could throw it like a giant grenade. Taking stock of their situation, they realized just how low on ammo they were.

The two finally punched a hole through the bamboo and dived over the wooden fence. As the LRRP team leader started to climb over the fence, it was shot away beneath him, sending him rolling down the hillside into a flooded rice paddy. There was no cover or concealment for several hundred meters, save for a small, brush-covered island twenty meters out in the paddy. As the three LRRPs made it to the island, the firing from above stopped altogether. They pulled out a claymore and primed it with a fifteen-second fuse so they could throw it like a giant grenade. Taking stock of their situation, they realized just how low on ammo they were.

Did anyone have a question? One hand went up: He had heard that life expectancies in combat varied by duty assignment. The life expectancy for a door gunner in combat was said to be five seconds, and for an infantry second lieutenant it was said to be twenty seconds. What was the life expectancy for an LRP in combat? The salty NCO frowned, then a wry smile came over his face. He explained in a low voice: LRPs didn't have a life expectancy in combat. If you find yourself in combat, either "we" started it or "they" did. If you start it, they die, and if they start it, you die. The NCO added: We don't make mistakes ... we don't let them start fights.

Did anyone have a question? One hand went up: He had heard that life expectancies in combat varied by duty assignment. The life expectancy for a door gunner in combat was said to be five seconds, and for an infantry second lieutenant it was said to be twenty seconds. What was the life expectancy for an LRP in combat? The salty NCO frowned, then a wry smile came over his face. He explained in a low voice: LRPs didn't have a life expectancy in combat. If you find yourself in combat, either "we" started it or "they" did. If you start it, they die, and if they start it, you die. The NCO added: We don't make mistakes ... we don't let them start fights.

Not all of the LRRP missions continued for the scheduled five days. Many mission were cut short after there was contact with the enemy. A sudden confrontation when a team blew an ambush, then retrieved some intelligence or captured an enemy soldier who survived the ambush, would get the team lifted out. In theory, the teams were meant to serve as intelligence gatherers, spying on enemy activities and reporting that information back to division intelligence. Theory often left a great deal to the imagination: All sneaking and spying by LRRP teams was done with great caution, but it was impossible for them to remain as invisible as they would have like to.

Not all of the LRRP missions continued for the scheduled five days. Many mission were cut short after there was contact with the enemy. A sudden confrontation when a team blew an ambush, then retrieved some intelligence or captured an enemy soldier who survived the ambush, would get the team lifted out. In theory, the teams were meant to serve as intelligence gatherers, spying on enemy activities and reporting that information back to division intelligence. Theory often left a great deal to the imagination: All sneaking and spying by LRRP teams was done with great caution, but it was impossible for them to remain as invisible as they would have like to.

As night descended at the bunker, self-confidence disappeared with the sunlight. The stacked rolls of concertina wire and tanglefoot to their front became their focus of attention, as they crowded at the firing ports to watch for sappers. They all stayed awake until midnight, then they decided to pull three-hour shifts; two men awake at a time. He couldn't sleep, so he stayed awake the entire night, sitting and watching the wire to their front. If the Viet Cong attacked, they wouldn't catch his bunker by surprise, that was for sure. Secretly, he wondered which one of them would be the first to break and run. He hoped it wouldn't be himself.

As night descended at the bunker, self-confidence disappeared with the sunlight. The stacked rolls of concertina wire and tanglefoot to their front became their focus of attention, as they crowded at the firing ports to watch for sappers. They all stayed awake until midnight, then they decided to pull three-hour shifts; two men awake at a time. He couldn't sleep, so he stayed awake the entire night, sitting and watching the wire to their front. If the Viet Cong attacked, they wouldn't catch his bunker by surprise, that was for sure. Secretly, he wondered which one of them would be the first to break and run. He hoped it wouldn't be himself.

And then there was our radio operator. Linderer had seen him ignore the pain caused by having a fist-sized chunk of meat blown from above his right knee. The operator had continued to brief the company commander flying above in his command and control helicopter, then he called for medevac helicopters to extract the wounded. He battled shock from the loss of blood, the entire time. Did he do this because it was his duty? No! He was inspired by love and devotion. So don't preach to us about "supreme sacrifice". These men hadn't sacrificed their lives intentionally. If a sacrifice was involved, it was due to some insensitive, incompetent brigade commander.

And then there was our radio operator. Linderer had seen him ignore the pain caused by having a fist-sized chunk of meat blown from above his right knee. The operator had continued to brief the company commander flying above in his command and control helicopter, then he called for medevac helicopters to extract the wounded. He battled shock from the loss of blood, the entire time. Did he do this because it was his duty? No! He was inspired by love and devotion. So don't preach to us about "supreme sacrifice". These men hadn't sacrificed their lives intentionally. If a sacrifice was involved, it was due to some insensitive, incompetent brigade commander.