Mechanical Ambush


Erick W. Miller

The title of this story is only a fancy name for an American booby-trap. Very efficient to be sure. Don’t expect the instructions to be outlined here. Suffice it to say that they are easily made, easy to conceal, and frightfully deadly. (most of the time) This is the story of one that wasn’t deadly, thank God.

I used to hate setting them because it was possible to slip up. I really hated going back to disarm them because the jungle all looks the same, you know, all green and sort of leafy. High stress job, meager pay, lousy food. (It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure!) These Mike Alphas can be made large enough to roll a tank if the manufacturer is flamboyant. The daisy chain method is used. If you don’t already know what this means, you don’t need to know. Here’s a hint. It involves hooking several Claymores together and they all go boom at once. This means you can have a large kill zone or make it so intense that the remains are very hard to identify.

For those of you who may have forgotten, a red-ball is a high speed trail. I put a mechanical ambush on a red-ball over half of a map click northeast of FSB Veghel. There were four linked Claymores concealed with a natural wall to tamp the force of the blast. We’re talking annihilation city. If the enemy went through in a prudently spaced column, the trap would kill the first three men and injure the next two. If they were bunched up as the red-ball allowed, well, you know.

The red-ball, if followed northwest another 500 meters, would eventually feed the travelers into the broad valley that served as a staging area for the Ist 327, the 2nd of the Five-O-Deuce and the ARVN Rangers. This was at the western foot of the hill that Veghel was built upon.

My platoon was stationed on Veghel, 500 map meters and a lot of jungle away from this Mike Alpha. It was sun-up and time to check the widow maker. My platoon sergeant told me to pick one man and head out. I made the very reasonable request of a third man with a radio.
“No way!” says the platoon sergeant. “No way am I going out there!” says I, and I told him that in front of several witnesses. He realizes that I’m serious, but he won’t budge on the radio. He walked away in exasperation.

A couple of hours later, I was summoned before the captain. The platoon sergeant was there. “Miller,” says the captain, “You’re going to Leavenworth!” Boy was I getting tired of hearing that.
“Under what charges?” I asked.
“You reported that your Mike Alpha was in and there was very nearly a friendly fire incident!”
My first thought was how glad I was that there had not been a friendly fire incident. At the same time, I didn’t like receiving the blame. I told my side of the story emphasizing the part about ‘witnesses’.

The deal was that the platoon sergeant reported that the MA had been brought in and that bit of news had been passed along to TOC. One of Echo companies recon teams called in their line of march and got a green light to use the red-ball.

The captain dismissed me to deal with the platoon sergeant. By now it’s late morning and the air is full of choppers. I’m feeling braver and more than a little curious about the status of my widow maker, not to mention the circumstances surrounding the near incident. My fearless friend Travis borrowed a radio and hiked out to the scene of the crime.

The Claymores are all gone, but there is afresh trail of GI boot prints heading towards the staging area. It doesn’t take Lord Baltimore to track several men over soft ground. It was a simple task to follow their trail right up to their group out on the valley floor.

This is the story that their squad leader told me. They were moving in proper fashion with fifteen feet or so between each man when their point man tripped my wire. The only thing that exploded was the blasting cap in my initial Claymore. Everyone but the point man hit the dirt. They thought it was a sniper. The point man knew better and he fell to his knees to thank the Lord for sparing him.

After the brief prayer session, they traced the wire and saw how truly fortunate they had been. The reason that the first Claymore didn’t explode was that someone on the fire base had opened it and taken out some of the C-4, probably to heat their C-rations. The hollow spot was around the blasting cap well. I’d call that a plain and simple act of God.

Naturally I told them who was to blame. Travis was there to back up my story. The point mans nick-name was ‘Slim’. If anyone out there has heard this story before, it’s true. Slim, if you need me to verify a claim, just email me.

Erick W. Miller Copyright 20 Nov. 1997