Erick W. Miller
In 1970, when I was in Vietnam, it was common for the infantry to operate in squads, It was a necessity. We still had as much ground to cover, only with fewer men. The platoon would link up about every three days for resupply. We almost never saw the whole company together. Unless we were on a big mission in the A Shau or in the rear on stand down, we just didn’t see the other platoons.
After one resupply, we split into squads again and went our separate ways. My squad moved out first with a specific area of operations to reach before nighrtfall. As pointman, I took my place at the head of the column and headed us in the proper direction. We were on one of the numerous and seemingly endless trails in Thua Thien province. It looked like the shortest route to our destination, down a wash that had a trail leading where we wanted to go . I was poised on the brink of the wash when it hit me just how quiet it was down there, too quiet.
I sent for my squad leader, Staff Sergeant Joel Kriss and asked him if he heard what I heard. He listened and said that he couldn’t hear a thing, “That’s the problem,” I said. He got my drift and took out his map. We took a slightly longer route and reached our ‘night defensive position’ safely before dark.
Had we been informed that our other two squads would be headed in our general direction, we surely would have warned them of our suspicions. It turned out that one squad was, moving down the finger (ridge) on the far side of the wash, and the other had followed our trail, except they had opted to go down the w’ash. The squad in tbe wash got ambushed and returned fire. The squad on tbe ridge thought they were under attack since lead was flying their way. They fired into the wash from their position. The NV A fled under attack from two places. The squad in the wash thought they were under attack from a new direction and started firing uphill at the other squad.
I never found out if there were any casualties, but there surely must have been some.
I’m glad that my instincts and the open mind of the squad leader led us to the right decision. I also wonder if the point man who entered the wash felt what I felt and had his advice ignored. I also wonder who the genius was who planned this order of march that put two friendlies in such close proximity wijthout them knowjng about each other.
Erick W. Miller 14 Nov. 1997 Rewritten and revised 11July 2002