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Third Battalion, Fifth Marines

RVN, 1966 -1971
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FNG, by Ed McCurry

It's March or April of 1970.  I'm a radio operator for 81s on Hill 37 outside of Dai Loc. Been in country for maybe a month and I still don't know much. An officer comes up to me and hands me a manila envelope and says "get this to Hill 65 today to..." and he names some officer I don't remember.   "Yes, sir" says I.  I tell my section leader I'm going to Hill 65 and he just nods. Go down to see when the next chopper is going.  Sorry, no flights today.  Oh well, I don't mind riding by truck and I check with the Motor T folks.  Sorry, no convoy today.   Oh.  Well, I did say yes sir and I do what I'm told as any good Marine would.   The thought of going back to that officer and telling him there's no transportation doesn't even occur to me. I can see Hill 65, a few clicks to the north, nestled under Charlie Ridge.  Seems it should be easy to walk there.  Go to my house (FDC), no one there, pick up my helmet, flak jacket, M-16, one magazine, and diddy bop out the front gate towards the vil.  No one stops me, no one says a word, the guy at the gate doesn't even look at me. 

I hit Dai Loc in a few minutes.  The place is teeming with people, Vietnamese all decked out in their Sunday finest, seems like there's a wedding occurring, ladies in ao dais, bright colors everywhere.  I am walking right through these people and am being totally ignored.  Remember feeling disoriented and confused and totally out of place.   Out of the vil, foot traffic thins out until after a while I'm the only one on the road.  It's a beautiful day, sun's shining brightly and it's not too hot, I'm not even sweating yet.  Rice paddies on either side of the road lie flat and glisten in the sunlight.  Keep walking, not thinking of anything at all.  The road starts winding a bit and I make a sharp left turn and am faced with a  stretch of straight road, a little less than a click in length.  I keep walking, taking in my surroundings.  Thinking back, I see that road as a tunnel.  I don't know if there were rice paddies on the sides but the grass was higher.  You couldn't see over it even though the road was built up, like a dike.  Halfway down the road, on the left hand side, is a small thatched hootch.  No sign of life comes from it.    I start to get a little edgy and suddenly realize that I am totally alone.   'What in the hell am I doing here.  This is a goddamned war and you're out for a sunday stroll all by your lonesome, what kind of asshole are you.'  These are thoughts that are running through my mind.  

About a quarter of the way down the road a figure on a bicycle appears at the other end.  Dressed in black something.  Don't really know what to think, I don't know these people, never had any contact with them.  Just observe.  As the figure bicycles closer I see that he has a rifle slung over his shoulder, and it's not an M-16.   Uh oh.  My heart's pounding all of a sudden.  Who is this guy, he's gotta be a PF, no VC or NVA is gonna be peddling down the road in broad daylight.  Is he? Oh shit.  I've got one magazine, 18 rounds as taught, to keep the magazine spring from wearing out, round in the chamber. Take the rifle off safe. Tuck the envelope that's been in my left hand into my trousers in back.   Walk and watch, look at the fields, is there a place to hide?  Keep an eye on that fellow.  Pass the hootch.   Look at it closely, no movement, no smoke, no smell.   As I pass it I realize that I don't like it at my back.  Shit, something else to worry about.   The bicycler is almost on me now, he's not looking at me and I'm not looking at him.  Right.  That's all I'm looking at, out of the corner of my eye. I'm also sure he's doing the same.  We cross, no acknowledgment of each other's presence occurs.   I'm walking faster now, put as much distance from this guy as I can.   Got my head turned so that I can see what he's doing.  He passes the hootch.   He stops.  Turns around.  Oh sweet Jesus.  I'm on a hair trigger now, trying to plan out what to do.  Jump off the road and hide? Run?  No, bad idea, too far to go with no obstructions to shield me.  I'm thinking if he takes that rifle off his shoulder and points anywhere in my direction I'm shooting.  He doesn't take the rifle off his shoulder but he gets off the bike and walks and leans it against the side of the hootch, my side.  Goes in the hootch.  Oh great, now I can't see him and I'm still a couple hundred yards away from the next turn.  Walk fast, walk fast, look for rifle barrels protruding anywhere from that hootch. As if I could see it from this distance.  Get ready to jump.  My heart's pounding and I'm sweating like a pig.  Another hundred yards to go. 

All of a sudden I hear a distant rumble.  What's that?  Thirty seconds later, coming in my direction at the end I've just come from, around the bend, a six-by appears.   Then another, and another.  Yes! a convoy.  God, I love Motor T. 

(Those guys stopped and let me jump in the back, didn't say a word to me.  I thanked the driver when I got to 65, he just waved. I never did find out why they told me there was no convoy that day, when in fact there was.  I felt so stupid about the whole thing I never told anyone, not even my buds, not even much later when I felt like a salt.  Since, in the past couple of years I've written shorter versions of this occurence, still pondering who that guy on the bicycle was.  In writing this version, today, March 28, 1999, it just occured to me that the reason the guy turned back and went into the hootch was that he heard the convoy before I did and didn't want to be seen.  I get chills at the what-ifs.  I think the guy was a PF.   Maybe.)