Erick W. Miller
While wrapping up operations on and around Hill 801 in late January of 1970, our leaders cooked up a doozy of an operation. We gathered the entire company together on the hilltop as if for a resupply. Mercifully we didn’t get that resupply. I say “mercifully” because our next move turned out to be the single longest continuous ‘hump’ of my tour. We waited until there was just enough daylight left to march to the foot of the hill at the edge of the lowlands.
I walked point unrelieved for the whole company. The ‘hump’ went more quickly than we expected since it was downhill with virtually empty rucks. This left us with some daylight to waste which translates into rest. We were on the red ball in an on-line defensive position. I was sent a mere 25 meters ahead alone to act as OP. The red ball was open and straight enough to allow me to see part of the troops even though I was a few feet off the trail under cover. The highlight of my brief job was to see a small green python drink from a water filled artillery crater next to me.
Darkness fell, time to saddle up and move out. During the wait for darkness, the C.O. had a dog and handler dropped off. The handler didn’t want to use the trail, so he dug out his compass (phosphorous dial) and shot an azimuth. This was a disaster in time consumption that we couldn’t afford. Besides, there was a company of ARVN’s scattered out in front of our new line of march. Those trigger happy rascals already had one ‘mad-minute’ specifically designed to warn off the VC so they wouldn’t shoot any friends or relatives. (That’s probably not politically correct, but I like to be honest. The ARVN rangers were real soldiers.) Between the waist deep swamps and the dangerous little rascals (they never should have given them guns) we decided to take our chances back on the red ball. The dog and handler are now walking my slack at a rather respectful distance. I didn’t fault him, those guys get shot at plenty. We walked a total of 19 clicks just to get to Highway One and another 15 clicks past FSB Roy. This translates to something like 21 miles.
This was the end of the evenings march. This was not our objective. We got on a boat in a Dam Cau Hai Harbor and headed out into the South China Sea. By now, it had been raining for several hours. (Go figure! Rain in Vietnam?) After lolligagging as temporary sailors, we entered a port nearer Hue. We still had plenty of darkness to cover our intentions, but the boat ran aground in about three feet of water. We were in easy walking distance of land but fear of sharks or drowning deterred the planners of this mission from letting us complete the mission under cover of darkness. (I guess it was OK to get shot, blown up, eaten by a tiger or crocodile, as long as no one drowned or was bitten by a shark. Something in the manual I missed?) At first light, we hopped into the shallow water and waded to shore less than a block away. The company split back into platoons and we went our separate ways. By this time, it was full daylight and fishing boats and civilians are everywhere. It’s no longer a secret as to “ho, how many, and where we’re going. All along the route of march were hostile looks from the populace. I thought we might have accidentally gone north of the ‘Z’. Next I wondered more accurately what the Americans in this area of operations had been doing to make the civilians so angry. We even passed a platoon of soldiers from an unknown element camped out in the open not too far from the beach. They didn’t look very friendly either. At that moment, I was thinking, “To hell with everybody! I got an M-16, 25 magazines and five frags. Anybody who wants some of that can come and get it!” All this was done in preparation for Tet. When we finally reached our objective, I think we were the only ones who didn’t know where we were. I’d like to thank Sgt. Stephen Baldwin for sharing his ‘Beef and Shrapnel’. He was the only guy with any food left. When he joined Tigers, he was sorely missed.
Erick W. Miller 23 Nov 1997 Re-written 27 Jun 2002