Mike Company               

Third Battalion, Fifth Marines

RVN, 1966 -1971
Home Up Going to VN In the Bush Coming Home First Firefight Overrun! Dreams&Visions Sandbagging A Way Out



By Mike McFerrin

Somewhere near Henderson Hill. Late 1968. Maybe October or November. Operation name not remembered but the Operation itself well remembered. Classic hammer and anvil, sweep and block, the rock and a hard place. Memorable because of two things. First the battleship New Jersey used its large guns as part of the sweep. Biggest craters I've ever seen. Second, the operation actually worked. Large numbers of NVA soldiers running right to us trying to get away from both the New Jersey's guns and a battalion of 5th Marines sweeping from Go Noi.

This was my first operation as a squad leader and I had been blessed with a squad of "new guys." Boots from head to toe. I believe I had six men in the squad which was not unusual at that time. Don't believe I ever saw a full strength squad in Mike Company. Six boots, myself, and my radioman who had come to the bush at the same time as I had. This was a test I was not eager to take.

I had, by necessity, become proficient at many disciplines in the bush but had never, ever done so for any other reason than to keep myself alive. Map and compass, fire support direction and control, ambushes, trail signs, tactics, first aid, camouflage, mine and booby trap detection, explosives ordinance disposal, enemy weapons and tactics, etc. were all a part of my still developing repertoire of skills that were being honed simply to allow me another hour or day or week of Life. Twenty four hours per day I was consumed by the perceived need to know all of these things to the Nth degree. I had actually become a bit of an annoyance to the platoon sergeant and platoon commander as I developed questions every few hours that I would hit them with at every possible opportunity including when they attempted to go relieve themselves. Now they were making me pay for it by making me a squad leader. I had enough trouble keeping myself alive. How was I going to keep anybody else alive?

We left the forward CP outside of An Hoa on the road to Liberty Bridge in the morning. Prior to moving out, I gave my "boot collection" a quick class on step 1, moving down the road in daylight. We followed the road north about halfway to Liberty Bridge than moved west off the road to some high ground and waited as the New Jersey and the guns from An Hoa began pounding the area on both sides of the river to the north that marked the southern edge of Go Noi. Extremely impressive display of firepower. Humongous explosions.

Now we were to move into positions on a piece of high ground that sat in the middle of the rice paddies with some 500 meters of clear, flat rice paddy to the north. Class for the boots on step 2, moving on rice paddy dikes and through ville areas. Stress on the mine and booby trap potential since that would be the most likely daylight threat to be encountered in that area. "Stay directly behind the man in front of you. Try to follow in his footsteps but do not get too close. Keep the gap at about 20 meters if the terrain allows it. Do not lose sight of that man. Do not, I say again, DO NOT touch or kick any thing you see laying on or near the trail."

As we moved through a piece of high ground towards our objective, we began seeing the first signs that we were entering the area of the bombardment. Large chunks of shrapnel. I mean pieces of shrapnel larger than an intact 155mm artillery round. And the smaller, arm length splinters of steel shrapnel. Trees shredded by this hailstorm of steel. The column stopped as the Captain attempted to get his bearings to our final destination. My squad and I were halted in an open area which made me feel uncomfortable but it was on a thin piece of high ground so the chances of an ambush from the rice paddy was remote. Nevertheless, I instructed my newbies on defense for the halt. Every other man face one side of the trail, the rest face the other side. Keep as low a profile as possible. Stay quiet. Do not step off the trail.

I noticed I was beginning to sound like an instructor at a stateside school. And now that we were 2 or 3 hours into this and nothing had happened yet, I noticed that the newbies were beginning to sort of give me the ho-hum kind of attention that a stateside instructor would get. Well, what the hell. I didn't want to do this anyway.

After about 10 minutes in this hold position, I noticed one of the newbies looking at one of the large chunks of shrapnel off to the side of the trail a meter or so. I watched incredulously as he took one step off the trail and moved his foot forward to nudge the shrapnel around to get a better look at the other side of it.

I was mad that this guy was trying to make me look like an idiot on my first operation as a squad leader so I yelled at him, "Hey, what the hell's the matter with you? What did I tell you?" He stopped without making contact with the shrapnel. I moved up and said, "Let me refresh your memory. Do not leave the trail. Do not touch or kick anything you see. I ain't doing any of this because I like you or being a squad leader. I just don't want to carry your fucking body to the LZ." Even as I spoke, I realized I was sounding like an asshole. The stress of this new job on top of trying to keep myself alive was getting to me.

I then noticed that the piece of shrapnel that he was about to kick had rust on the edges. The rest of the shrapnel in the clearing appeared to be new as if from the bombardment that morning. I realized that I have the opportunity to actually teach them something instead of yelling at them because I was pissed off about having to be a squad leader. I got the squad's attention and I explained to them about booby traps and what strategy is used in placing them to increase the probability that they will work. Then I pointed out to them the difference in the piece of shrapnel that he was about to kick. In addition to being an older piece of shrapnel then all others in sight, its lay on the ground was as if it just landed there instead of having been for the protracted length of time that it would require to get the rust. In my mind, I thought that this was because some other stupid son-of a-bitch had come along and kicked it before us. But to follow through with the lesson about looking for these small details that can save your life, I carefully approached the shrapnel and scraped away some ground beneath it to show them how to look for the booby trap. I knelt down and looked and, By God, it was booby trapped. It appeared to have a 60mm mortar round buried except for the tip which came up under the shrapnel and had a pin from the shrapnel inserted in the nose of the mortar round. One good nudge and the mortar round goes off and the old piece of shrapnel once again becomes deadly. I called each and every squad member over to have them kneel down and look. The one who had almost kicked it was pale faced.

Though I was actually surprised to see the booby trap myself, the circumstances that came down made me look like Chesty Puller to these boots who never again failed to heed my words. As the column moved out, the engineer stayed behind and blew the booby trap and my status as a booby trap "expert" in the platoon began. In reality, I was so scared of booby traps that I often would use the "expert" ploy to slow the column down while I checked out "likely" sites if I felt that we were moving too fast or carelessly. To me, this "slowdown" and turning the platoon or company's attention to booby traps in areas where they did exist was probably responsible for saving some lives.

We arrived at the piece of high ground that was to be our position. Three platoons strung out on line at the edge of the paddy facing north. The company CP stayed back in the center of the high ground and set up the 60mm mortars and to provide rear security. Within 10 minutes we saw a group of five NVA soldiers coming out of the trees into the paddy, making their didi from the north coming right at us. They did not know we were there. They got within a 100 meters of us and the whole company opened up on them. Then there were 3 more coming. This went on for the rest of the day. Like a turkey shoot. After each group of 2 to 7 were killed, somebody went out to search the bodies. It had an odd aura. It didn't feel right. They didn't stand a chance and I wondered about this slaughter. Without a doubt they had done the same to us before and would do so again if they had the chance but still I had never seen us with such an overwhelming advantage and exercising it to this degree. The bloodlust was building in the company as the day progressed.

Late in the afternoon, it was decided that we would set in there for the night. My platoon was selected to put out the ambush for local security and me and my newbies would get the job. Due to the volume of enemy troops in the area, I would be given a "reinforced" squad for ambush that night. That is, I would get a M-60 machine gun team to go with the squad. I was to find an ambush site somewhere to the north where the NVA was coming from. This was very limited since it was open paddy all the way to the river except for a small splinter of high ground just to the northeast of the high ground the company occupied.

Ambushes in the rice paddies are very dangerous and I would not even attempt it with these newbies. Quiet is difficult when laying in water and mud. And the only cover is a rice paddy dike which is linear. In the event that the enemy does not approach the way you would like him to, you are presented with a problem that requires good timing and familiarity with the local terrain to come out a winner (staying alive equals winning). The ambush must be sprung if they come along the dike that you are using for cover since they are going to walk right up on you anyway. This means that you have to have an avenue of escape planned in advance for both directions. The timing of the ambush must be based on the estimated size of the enemy force and the anticipated spread of their troops. You must maximize the confusion and dispersion of their troops so that coordinated, effective reaction to the ambush cannot be brought to bear on you for as long as possible. This buys the time to get to a secondary site as a unit. The ability to move and fight in concert with each other was not within this squad's capability----yet. And we did not have any knowledge whatsoever of this section of the An Hoa basin since this was our first time there. The splinter high ground would have to be the area for the night activities.

About an hour before dark and in between groups of NVA coming out of the trees to the north, the machine gun team leader and I ran across about 100 meters of paddy to the splinter high ground to check it out. The small splinter of high ground was about 150 meters long with the southern end being about 100 meters northeast of the northeastern end of the high ground that we were set in on. Rice paddy was everywhere else. The splinter was about 75 meters across with a slight rise in the middle of it. There was no vegetation except for a small garden at the southern end surrounded by a few bushes and bushes scattered along the edges.

We moved up to the rise in the center of the high ground so that we could see the other side. The bushes were a little taller along the far edge so we moved down there to look for ambush sites. As we got into the bushes we looked out the other side and saw a lone NVA soldier come out of the trees about 200 meters to the east on to a rice paddy dike headed right to us.

I was considering the options that seemed available under the circumstances when the gun team leader raised his weapon and began firing at the NVA. For the day and the circumstances this was not unusual. Only in my own head was there "other possibilities." I was uncomfortable with gunning down somebody, even an enemy soldier, when there were other options available. This was the first time that I had ever encountered such a situation and had never even considered ever being in such a position. I was new to this being in charge thing and even though I saw the weapon being raised and he had said something to let me know he was going to fire, I did not attempt to stop him. I was in a bit of a quandary with this circumstance.

He had tracer rounds in his rifle and it was easy to see where they were hitting. He was missing his target who had leaped off the dike and taken his own weapon off his shoulder. Once I saw the weapon come off his shoulder I raised my own and began firing also. The NVA then leaped to the other side of the dike but realized that neither side offered any cover from us since we were standing at the end of it and could fire to either side. He turned and began running back to the treeline but only got about five steps before I saw one of the tracer rounds pass through his upper body. He went down and stayed. We fired a few more times but he wasn't moving.

I looked at the gun team leader and said, "Want to go check him out?" In this context, it would mean to see if he was still alive and/or to recover any weapons and/or documents that might be on him. The body was about 150 meters out. Fairly close to the treeline on the other side.

His eyes got real big and he said, "No way. That treeline is probably full of gooks." Well, it didn't have to be "full" of gooks to put us in a world of shit if we got caught out in the open like the NVA soldier did. One hidden sniper could do us both. We moved on and continued scouting the splinter high ground.

It boiled down to a choice of two situations for me as the squad leader for the ambush that night. I didn't like either. The boots could not be trusted yet. Too many boots in one squad. They should have been dispersed better.

The far side of the splinter ground was probably the best place to put the ambush. We were likely to catch more small groups attempting to cross on the only dike from the east where we had seen the NVA soldier. And they were coming from the north also. Only one dike came in from there also. In both cases we would have the rise running lengthwise through the middle of the splinter behind us which would require rear security at an abnormal distance from the other positions to cover it. And with the many groups that were out there the possibility that one could get between us and the company perimeter was relatively greater than normal. This could cut us off from getting back in the company lines if the shit really hit the fan and the NVA regrouped and attacked in force.

Also, even if we hit a small group, procedure was to pull back to a secondary after the ambush and be prepared to hit again. The problem with this was that any secondary site would be up on the rise or back on the other side of it which would also expose us to fire from our own lines if they opened up on anything. I did not like the "ifs" with these boots.

The other possibility was to set the ambush around the garden on the side closest to the company lines on the other high ground. Some cover was offered with the bushes and one tree. The positions could cover from the western edge of the splinter to the rise in the center in sort of a horseshoe shape. With the radioman and myself in the back center of this horseshoe, I could direct fire and cover the rear which was rice paddy for about 75 meters to the company lines. This offered no secondary site but I did not want one with the boots. This was the safest for the situation.

I would have to personally go see each position on the company lines that we would be in front of before it got dark so that I could point to where we would be so that they did not shoot at anything. Grenades only if the shit hit the fan until we got back in. We would be running like hell and cussing. This was the "password" normally used to make a hasty entrance into the perimeter at night. Security questions like "What color were the winning team's catcher's shoe laces in the 4th game of the 1921 World Series?" were never used. Nobody but a native American can cuss in English at the same speed he is running. This was absolutely the safest and fastest way to get into the perimeter.

We chowed down just after dark and I gave the boots Class 3, Ambush Technique and Procedures. Thanks to the booby trap incident earlier and the obvious presence of the enemy, I had their complete attention. Then I drew a map of the place where we would be setting up. I would personally take each position to its spot. I would put the gun team up at the rise since this was the most likely avenue of approach. The gun team leader could handle himself well in a fight. It was around 10 that night when we saddled up and moved out.

I was not looking forward to this experience. Boot squad in an enemy saturated area. Couldn't get much worse for me. Yeah, it can. It began raining as soon as we gathered to leave the company perimeter. Sort of a mild rain but still wet. This was a double edged sword. Very difficult to fall asleep when its raining on you and you have no cover from it. Ponchos were not allowed on ambush with me. They make too much noise. But, on the other hand, the rain striking your head, body, the ground, the leaves, etc. serves to form sort of a "white noise" that hides the telltale foot "crunches" of an approaching enemy. Damn! I sure hope if the gooks come that they come at the machine gun position. It will be a "cluster fuck" no matter what trying to keep this crew together but at least I can count on the gun team to kick enough ass to buy some time to assess the situation and I won't have to worry about getting them to move appropriately regardless of what it is. The tension went up several notches as we left the company lines.

To me it seemed as they were already making too much noise. I did not like the level of it but knew it was probably my own paranoia and all I could do is make it worse by running around going "SHHH!." I got all positions set in well. They had good fields of fire and were mutually supporting except for the gun team. I intended to move forward if the ambush was sprung there to assist. I placed myself and the radioman in the center of the horseshoe with semi-cover from the only tree. I did not want to get too close to the tree since it would probably draw fire if the shit came down.

With the low cloud cover, it was pitch dark. Fields of fire aren't all that good if you can only see 6 inches in front of you. We were to run 50% watch, half up in each position and half down sleeping. This was not likely to work any way since it continued to rain. At about 2:30 in the morning, I was supposed to be down but was not doing well at getting any sleep. I had just found a way to lay that was comfortable and kept the rain from hitting me directly in the face. I finally started drifting off.

A hand shook me awake. The radioman was leaning over me telling me that they had a gook in front of one of the boot positions. I whispered, "How do you know?"

"One of them guys is right there," he says as he points behind me. I wasn't comprehending. I'm in the center of the perimeter of an ambush and I'm being woken by the radioman who is telling me that one of the boots has left his position and come back to the center. What the hell is going on? I rolled over and peered into the darkness and saw one of the boots laying flat on his belly about 2 meters away.

He starts whispering about the gook out in front of his position. This is not the way an ambush comes down. I crawled over to him and asked him why he had left his position to come back and tell me that. He responded that there is something weird about it. "Weird? Why don't you just kill him? You don't come back and request permission."

He wanted me to come up to his position and look at the gook. I couldn't believe this guy. But he was insistent that it was weird and I must see it. He was, without a doubt, very scared. I stifled my growing anger and left my radioman to keep the position covered as I went up to the boot's position. It was really dark. As I got to the position, the boot crawled up next to me and pointed into the darkness. About 5 meters away stood an NVA soldier holding an AK-47 in front of him at port arms. He had on the same uniform all of them had been wearing that day; gray short sleeve shirt, gray shorts, and Ho Chi Minh sandals. The boot whispered, "He ain't moved an inch since we saw him."

"Which way did he come from?" I asked. Response, "Nobody saw him come from anywhere. He was just there. This is weird, man. Why doesn't he move?" Another boot in the position was even more agitated and was rising up to panic. "What is that, man? What's going on?" One of the boots from the other position crawled over and was also appearing to rise to panic. They were like teenagers in a haunted house.

I had had problems and fears on my mind all day but this was not one of them. Yes, this was a bit eerie but against the background of war with fierce and violent death everywhere I was not shaken. I realized that to these boots who had not yet been baptized in a real firefight this was "scary." But I could not allow panic to even get started. I got up in each of their faces and gave my best rendition of a drill instructor. They were to resume their positions, ready some grenades, and wait for my commands. They were to move and act only on my command.
I looked closely again at the NVA. What was going on here? I wasn't sure. Maybe it was a ghost. If it was, I knew it must be the NVA that we had shot in the rice paddy yesterday afternoon. In my heart, I knew we didn't have to kill him. We could have captured him by waiting in the bushes and letting him walk right into our arms. Is he now going to haunt us for this? If so, how long? Can a "ghost AK" shoot real bullets? This was not an area of expertise that I thought I would need to stay alive in the bush. I was sure that there wasn't even a chapter covering this in the Marine Corps Manual.

Well, ghost or not, this is a war. I was wary about opening up on this figure since it would give away the position. Maybe that's what it was all about. I had one of the boots get a grenade ready, back himself and the rest of his position up a little bit to get some clearance. I told him that I was going to alert the other positions then get close enough back to his position for him to see me signal to throw it at the gook. I alerted the positions and quickly filled in the gun team on what was going on. I don't think the same thought about this possible gook ghost crossed the gun team leader's mind as did mine.

I got back and signaled for the grenade to be thrown. The explosion shook the ground, lit up the night, and threw mud every where. As the mud plopped around, all eyes came back up, weapons at the ready to respond to any attack. There was nothing but the NVA still standing at port arms. "Heeeey, man!" and "Ohhhh, shit!" came from the boot positions. Before the panic could set in, I ordered another grenade to be thrown.

Repeat performance. No fire was received and the NVA didn't move. The gun team leader wanted to turn the M-60 around and blast the gook. The radio was going crazy with the Captain wanting a situation report. The radioman brought the radio to me saying the Captain wants it NOW. I yelled to the gun team leader, "Do NOT use the gun!" At this point, there was no return fire but we hadn't given away any exact positions yet. The last thing I wanted to do was give that gun position away, ghost or no ghost. I grabbed the handset from the radioman and called in, "Mike 6, this Mike 3 Charlie, we are in contact with unknown number. No sitrep available yet." He radioed back some questions but I begged off on knowing any answers yet. This was all certainly true.

I moved in between the boot positions and opened up with my M-16. I told the boot to throw another grenade. I hit the deck as it went off. When I looked up nothing was there. I moved forward a little bit trying to see a body. I couldn't see one. They didn't have time to pull that body back. It must be there. I stayed there with the boots for about five more minutes. Nothing heard or seen but the radioman was coming to me again. I had to tell the Captain something. Well, I guess I'll try the apparent truth. "Mike 6, this is Mike 3 Charlie, made contact with at least one armed NVA. No return fire received."

"3 Charlie, Do you have a confirmed?"

"6, not known at this time. We have compromised our positions and have no secondary to move to. Request permission to come back in."

"3 Charlie, that's a negative on your last. Just move your positions around and stay out there."

Sure. He's not out there. Not too hard to make somebody else take the risk. I began cussing under my breath. Boy, what a day this was turning out to be. I could still hear the boots murmuring in fear. I crawled up there and ordered them to shut their mouths. I guaranteed them that there was far worse than a ghost out there. And it would blow them into tiny pieces. I shifted their positions a few meters in one direction and ordered them to keep an eye on the spot where the NVA body probably was. I did not want this body dragged off. I went to the gun position and had them move a bit too because their voice volume may have helped somebody locate them. I returned to the boot positions and waited there for about 20 minutes to see if anything was going to happen. It appeared to be quiet. My radioman was scared being by himself in the center. He sort of pretended like the Captain was calling for me again to get me to go back there.

He whispered to me to ask if I thought it was a ghost. I told him that as long as his AK was a ghost too then I didn't care. It was the live gooks that I was worried about. Because of the positions we were in, the radioman was sort of watching to the front where the machine gun team was and I was watching the rear. It was so dark but we would all be on watch until first light. This didn't require a command. Nobody was going to sleep in this ambush site.

I laid in the mud with my mind going in circles trying to find an answer for this situation. Nothing quite fit. Since we had received no fire whatsoever, it seemed to belie any possible NVA trick. What's the point of tricking somebody if you don't use it to your military advantage? They weren't into parlor games with us for social reasons. And every Charlie within miles now knew where we were. Geez, I could hardly wait for first light.

Perhaps another 15 or 20 minutes went by and my mind began to slow down a bit. I was tired and cold. I tried to relax a bit. I laid on my side with my head propped on my hand watching the darkness to the rear without focus. I heard a long soft scrape of my radioman's leg moving as if he was changing positions. I started to turn my head on my hand to confirm this but the sound stopped so I didn't bother. Then it happened again but this time I heard rustling noises in the bushes up in front of him but off to the side of where the gun team was. This time I turned towards him and pulled my 16 around from the rear. He looked back towards me and all I could see was the white of his very, large eyes.

Rustling noises continued and seemed to multiply. The only thing that came to mind was a massing of enemy troops. My mind went into high gear trying to figure a way to deal with this imminent threat. Based on the position of the noise, only my position and the gun position could bring fire to bear on it...right now. If they charged it would be too late. They would be on my position in a few steps and in this darkness it would be impossible to deal with in any coherent way. It would be slash, kick, bite, and shoot everything that moved until I was dead or all of them were.

The boots' positions would be totally exposed since the fighting would be going on behind them. They would be afraid to shoot until it was too late. The gun team would more likely be able to defend itself but would not be able to render any aid to us in the darkness. Nobody would leave their position in this circumstance and they would more than likely shoot out of fear me or my radioman if we attempted to get to them.

This did not look good at all. It was me and my radioman to the death. And he was still so petrified that they were ghosts that he probably would not even take one out before he was killed. The dire straits that I was in was clear to me. I was determined that I was going to get at least several before they got me and if there were not enough of them, they were not going to get me at all.

I moved further to the side of my radioman and began moving up alongside of him so that we had space in between us and our weapons were on a straight line to reduce the possibility of shooting each other. I was going to tell him the "big plan" that I had come up with. Basically, it would have been, "Marine, we're in a World of Shit here. Stay flat on the ground. Blast them as they come at us. Then roll outwards from me a couple of times and repeat the process. I'll do the same. Do not get up unless you are in hand-to-hand for your life. Shoot anything standing up coming at either of us. May God and the Commandant have mercy on our souls."

But before I could get up to an even plane alongside and about a meter away from him, the rustle turned into a fast crunching of multiple footfalls picking up speed and coming directly at us. Then they were crashing through the bushes in front of us. This is it. The shit's come down. Hell has arrived. I snatched my 16 up into the firing position. I had already switched to full automatic. I looked for my first targets as I felt my mind and soul settle into the eerie calm that I, after my first firefight, found that could I enter into in these perilous situations. Regardless of the confusion and slaughter that was about to occur around me, I would keep my mind and body at peak performance levels. They were going to pay dearly for this attempt on my life.

My radioman had not readied himself yet and the thought occurred to me that he was still looking for the ghosts to attack and was on the verge of fleeing. I did not worry about it in the least since these ghosts would be on us before he could rise to his feet. He would be riddled with bullets or bayoneted before he could stand.
The crashing through the bushes noise was now arriving at the last set of bushes. It sounded as they were going to break through almost directly in front of the radioman. I could see the vague darkness of the bushes in front of him and as the crashing through them began I expected to see them move as they parted to allow the NVA soldiers passage through. But they didn't seem to be moving even as the noise came from them. Each millisecond that elapsed with the steps coming closer and the bushes not parting became a jolt to my calm. I needed a target to appear.
The jolts came faster and faster. What? The multiple footsteps were now right in front of us. They had cleared the bushes without moving them. My calm exploded into terror. The radioman let out a cry of terror. I rolled up on my side with my 16 still pointing at the pounding footfalls that were about to run right over me. The radioman did the same thing in the opposite direction from me. I still could see nothing. This was a ghost army for sure. What were they going to do to us?

The squeal from my radioman increased my heartrate another 100 beats per minute. He was providing sound effects for my terror. I did not know what position to be in,where to point my rifle, or which way to look. I know I began reaching for my knifewith one hand. I don't know what I thought it was going to do. It appeared the Marine Corps had failed to issue me crosses, silver bullets, wooden stakes, or even a clove of garlic.

As the footsteps came next to me, I cringed but then saw a flash of movement out of the lower corner of my eye. Finally, a target. Even as I turned my head down and back, I could hear more coming up on me. My eye caught the cause of the first flash of movement I had seen as it disappeared into the dark behind me and even as I tried to refocus there were 5 more on top of me. The radioman was now crescendoing in a bellow of fear as he too caught the movement.

But it was too late to do anything. The pig and her 5 piglets had completely overrun our position and were now headed to parts unknown. I could not help it. I gave away my position as I rolled in the mud attempting to stifle myself. It took the radioman a minute or so before he could utter a sound but then he too exploded in hysterical, muffled laughter.

The gun team and the other positions had heard everything but hadn't seen anything. Now they were hearing what sounded like laughter, but who was laughing? Worried voices looked for us. It took all the control I had to tell them that everything was okay. By this time, I am burying my face in the mud trying to quiet myself. Eventually, I was able to get to each position to tell them what happened. But for the next 2 hours or so until first light, either I or the radioman would break into giggling fits which then caused the other one to do the same which then caused the other positions to do the same. We had met the enemy and they were hams.

At first light, we went out to where the NVA soldier had been standing. There was one set of footprints in the mud. None coming up to them and none going away from them. Two grenade holes were right next to the footprints. No blood trails.

There was one possibility though. The footprints were about foot and a half in front of a two foot drop into the rice paddy on the western edge of the splinter. Could a body have been propped up there to scare us. By using sticks and vines they could have tied a body to a pole and tied the AK into its hands to make it appear as if it was holding it. I looked for signs of this. It still would have required some dragging to get it up there and get it back down. There was no indication of this. There weren't even any footprints in the paddy. Even if this had been the case, what was the point? Nobody had fired at us with anything.

I decided I would just make this an elusive NVA soldier in my spot report since I couldn't even explain this adequately to myself. The response to it was, "That was a hell of a lot of shooting with no body." More than you'll ever know, sir.