Thirsty

1st_splash

Erick W. Miller

This all took place in Thua Thien province in the former Republic of Vietnam. We were several kilometers west of Hue in the mountains. It was summer in a very hot place. We were searching for a place to chop a landing zone to get re-supplied and to have Staff Sergeant (Ranger) Krett extracted for DEROS. Re-supply would bring much needed water since there were no rivers on the hilltops and ridge lines we were humping. What a surprise!

As it turned out, the only suitable place was our NDP from two nights prior. I was walking point as usual when a friend moved up the column to inform me that he had left his Claymore Mine hooked up back at the NDP. At about that time, I got the added good news that air traffic had spotted black pajamas crawling all over our new destination which was our old NDP.

Great, not only am I headed toward a possible ambush, but I’ll probably get killed by one of our own Claymores. Since I’m writing this, you already know that I didn’t get ‘blown away’. Play my silly game and listen to the rest of the story.

We arrive at the prospective landing zone with exactly zero water, maybe less.
Fortunately for me, I’m assigned to security with the gun team at the trail’s entrance at the far side of the LZ to be. The other poor, thirsty men are busily chopping trees in what is rapidly becoming a hot, sunny meadow. Unfortunately for me, I’m already so thirsty that I’m practically hysterical. Any fool knows that if you want to find water in the jungle, all you have to do is go down hill. Our Lieutenant isn’t just any fool because he hasn’t figured that out yet, or he’s afraid of running into the Viet Cong that the Cobras are diligently searching for.

I figured it out. Now all I need is another fool to come with me for security. I know just the man for the job! Didn’t he leave his Claymore behind? (For the record, he did at least volunteer to walk point on the return) Anyway, I laid a guilt trip on him and we go AWOL with a couple of canteens.

As is usually the case (at least in 1970 in that part of the country) the jungle is riddled with enemy trails going in all directions and this place is no different. As a matter of fact, there is one at the gun teams position going exactly where we need it, straight down. Now here is where it gets tricky. Not only do we have to worry about the enemy, but there is a pair of kill crazy Cobras floating innocently overhead.

They were hanging around to shoot the VC that were spotted on the ridge line earlier. I thought that was our job but those Cobra pilots saw them first and they aren’t good at sharing. Each pilot and gunner must have been an only child. Back to the two of us on this unauthorized suicide mission. My partner comes to his senses about 75 or 100 meters down the hill, but he can’t bring me to mine. (as if I had any) He climbed back up to the gun position before some kill-crazy Cobra mistook us for VC since we weren’t on the ridge line with the rest of the good children.

Thirst has replaced common sense as I continue to march to the tune of my own drummer. Naturally I found water (God this is creepy, I remember this like it was yesterday) on the valley floor less than 100 meters from the base of the ridge. Now I’m about 300 map meters from the nearest friendly unless there is a Chieu Hoi hanging around with a leaflet in his hand.

I’m hoping that I look like a VC to the VC and a G I to Heckel and Jeckel in the sky who, by the way, haven’t given up the hunt. Now I’m wishing for eyes in the back of my head because it is time to fill the canteens and there is no security. To make matters more frightening, there are handprints in the mud so I know that someone just took a drink and my guys are all upstairs. This also tells me that the two death-birds in the sky are wasting fuel because the jungle is so thick that anyone below the ridge is invisible. I never felt so alone in my life.

Filling those canteens was the longest time I ever held my breath. Here I am worried about dying of thirst or getting shot and I nearly suffocated myself. Go figure. When I finally got back to my more sensible friends topside, the water didn’t last long. Unlike the pilots, we never had the ‘only child’ syndrome. We shared.

Now the word is out, there really is water at the bottom of the hills in a tropical rainforest. Too thirsty to yell very loud, the lieutenant let me gather some volunteers to fill everyone’s canteens. If anyone tells you that I’m nuts, remember, you heard it here first!

Erick W. Miller 23 Nov 1997
Rewritten and Revised 25 J un 2002