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Third Battalion, Fifth Marines

RVN, 1966 -1971
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The Rest Camp

by Paul O'Connell, 1994

A few days after Christmas, high in the mountains, beneath a
mosaic of greens triple canopy thick, we came upon bamboo
huts with thatched roofs, built up on stilts, scattered
along one of the most beautiful mountain streams, fed by an
underground spring, I had ever seen. Oh, the ingenuity of
those who had built such a camp held me in awe as my eyes
followed the long lengths of bamboo split the long way,
followed the flow of water within the bamboo aqueducts
connecting each hut with a constant supply of fresh running
water. One had to see to believe. The sight, right out of
Swiss Family Robinson or some other childhood fantasy.

Discovered, were pigs, forty or more, miles from their
natural habitat. Pigs roamed loose throughout the mountain
camp. How and who had herded the pigs so far and so high
into the mountains?

Our North Vietnamese defector, the Kit Carson scout, said we
were in an enemy rest camp, large enough to sleep hundreds,
and although the camp appeared empty, there most likely had
been someone left behind.

A search of the huts exposed no one, but what was
discovered, hanging inside most, were hand-crafted bird
cages made from match stick thin pieces of bamboo held
together by short lengths of tough, jungle vine. And yet
there were no birds held captive.

Caves were discovered, some natural, some tunneled, and so
our tunnel rats went to work.

Many caves had huge oversized bamboo baskets filled to the
brim with tons of uncooked rice. One cave had hundreds and
hundreds of small cans, red in color with Chinese writing
imprinted upon them. Inside the cans, nasty smelling fish
like sardines.

Another cave was filled with five hundred or more pairs of
black pajamas and Ho Chi Mihn sandals. Another with seasoned
caldrons and a few other metal pots. But the one Dillion
crawled into, on his hands and knees, had life in it.

Dillion later told us as we sipped hot instant coffee from
our canteen cups at sunset, how everything happened so fast.
How he heard drips of water. Heard dripping. And the drips
were mixed with a sigh. Or someone catching their breath.
Then just the drips again until the infrared tinted beam
from his hand held light shined on two eyes in the dark, and
then two more eyes, and the four eyes were mesmerized like
animals poached in the night.

As it sometimes seems in a stare, the world stopped, then
spun faster than ever to catch up, and as the eyes moved
towards a rifle just out of arms reach, Dillion fired his
raised forty-five, nearly shattering his own eardrums.

To us outside being entertained by two monkeys swinging in
the trees like Tarzan, the shots sounded like explosions
coming from deep inside a West Virginia coal mine.

Minutes later, two bodies were dragged out into the faint
light of day. There on a worn flat rock, a slab, not too far
from the stream, was the body of a young Oriental girl with
her midsection, intestines everywhere, blown wide apart, and
a North Vietnamese colonel, possible her lover, shot
straight between the eyes.

Sometime the next day, we corralled the pigs and shot them
all dead. Then we moved away to a mountain top off to west
and watched as our jets bombed all hell out of the camp.

Paul E. O’Connell