Soon we were past the tea plantation and moving into the hills. We walked through a mixed kind of cover. In some places the grass reached up past our knees and the few trees that stood had black burn marks on their trunks. That meant that at some point the Montagnards had cleared the area with fire and had perhaps grown manioc and other food. Now the grass was back and soon the jungle would return.
We went under the canopy and the air was even more still. When we waded through a stream that hadn’t been on our maps I rinsed out the bandanna and tied it back around my neck. For a moment it felt so cool that a shiver ran down my spine. We broke out of the jungle at the base of a hill that was oddly clear of trees and brush. The point man, the binh-si, was well ahead of us, about halfway up the hill, his squad spread out behind him. The point man stopped, seeing something not quite right in front of him. Then he fell. He was so far away that it seemed to take minutes for the sound of the rifle shot to reach the command group. And then that was mixed with the small clatter of noise coming down the hill and up the hill.
The ruff-puffs went to ground. That was the wrong thing to do, but ill-trained soldiers will not do what seems so insanely counter-intuitive as run up a hill into fire. Nothing I could do, nothing my sergeant could do, would get them up and moving forward. After a few moments cajoling the đại-úy, I got on my radio and began bringing in artillery on the hillside.
|All Image - Jean Wethmar - taken in Saigon at the War Memorial Museum|
I was in the US Army for a bit more than 25 years (1965-90) and considered myself an Infantryman for all of that time. I started thinking about "dirt" in a serious fashion in the 70's, but started putting things on paper much later. Eventually I had a collection of stories and little essays that, taken together, are a sort of memoir and a meditation on the infantry. The stories are mostly true.