Erick W. Miller
Night mission, Kit Carson Scout on point. Target area draws near. Scout refuses to proceed due to ambush that he knows is waiting. He knows because he led an earlier patrol to the same spot without me. They came upon seven men of fighting age in black pajamas whom he interrogated. In the lowlands, we weren’t allowed to kill anyone in the daytime unless we were fired upon. The seven men produced proper documentation and no weapons were in sight. The patrol had to let them go.
Back to the night mission. I assume my normal position as point man where I am most comfortable. I enter the waist deep water where a bridge once stood. I crossed alone about thirty feet to the next patch of hard ground, bent over to make a smaller target and looking for silhouettes across the strip of water. At 9 O’clock is a swamp of indeterminate size. At 3 O’clock are rice paddies stretching into the distance. At 12 O’clock is miles of hard trail leading to Hue.
I am still alive, therefore the VC haven’t seen me. (nor I them) Now I turn to face the squad to motion them across to the hard ground. This commotion startles the Viet Cong ambush element and they all jump into the paddy nearest the isthmus. I opened up with my M-16, joined by the nearest members of the patrol with suppressive fire to maintain our initial advantage.
The squad leader orders hand flares to be popped while he calls for artillery illumination.
We are functioning like a textbook squad with suppressive fire and rear and flank security even though there are only about eight of us. Now the arty illumination arrives and we can proceed more effectively. It should be noted that we are easier targets too as I’m sure every man out there is aware of. The illumination creates a surreal and frightening landscape where everything seems to be moving at once as shadows swim all around us.
Only four of us can be spared to search the rice paddy. The rest of the men are our security on the hard ground at the edge of the water, watching us and the swamp behind them at the same time. The four of us in the water are on a zigzagging police call trying to kick up the VC. We’re shooting into the water to our front. Kevin McLaughlin was to my side and witnessed the next grisly scene. One stood up in front of me at arms reach. I emptied the magazine in him center mass, watching him drop back into the water as I popped in a new magazine and chambered a round. As I moved forward through his intestines, I stumbled over his lifeless body.
We didn’t find any more in that paddy. Our primary mission could now be fulfilled. We were sent to secure this highly insecure place on the hard trail to Hue so C-Company could move through and get closer to the city. They had arrived behind us during the chaos and were now ready to continue on their dangerous way.
We went back to our platoon CP as soon as C-Company passed us. The next morning, we went back to survey the site. Naturally the body wasn’t there, neither were any of our brass casings from all the expended ammunition. The entire scene had been policed. The only evidence that we had been there at all was the destruction of the paddy we had searched and six trails through the adjacent paddies disappearing out of sight. Kevin and I crossed the isthmus to look into the swamp, reaching it ahead of the others on the patrol. We both saw a huge swirl as if someone under the water had just kicked away from the bank. He grabbed my arm and shook his head indicating that I should keep it between us. Remember the rules, we couldn’t shoot at them in the daytime. I had only been in country two months to his six months and he outranked me.
When all that happened, I didn’t give it much thought. I’ve had plenty of time to think about it since then. I have dreamed about my first kill often. Sometimes he grabs my feet and pulls me under the dark, bloody water. Once I dreamed that it was bright sunny daylight and the water is clear. I can see his face under the water. His eyes are open and he looks to be about my age. I try to pull him out to save him. If I could, I surely would. I would feel better about myself. When he stood up in front of me that night, I shot out of fear and self defense. I will never know if he was trying to surrender. I wish I could forget.
Kevin McLaughlin from Philadelphia, if you’re still alive, email me, please.
Erick W. Miller 8 Nov. 1997 [email protected] Additional details inserted 21 Jun 2002