A Night Outside the Wire
Blamm! I jerked my head to the left to see what the hell was going on. Blamm! Another explosion lit up the blackness. Mortars, I guessed. I considered my position, lying in the mud under a 5 ton truck filled with 155 mm Howitzers. A direct hit would blow the whole shebang and me along with it back to the world in a flag draped coffin; for a melancholy moment I thought maybe that wouldn’t matter. I decided to stay put and not expose myself to hostile fire. How did I get into this mess?
Around 0900 hours that morning, Sgt. Baxter yelled, “Fleming…grab yer gear and go with these guys. You’ll be back this afternoon. Ya got 2 minutes!”
I gave the line of trucks a quick glance then ran to my hooch, grabbed some C rations, stuffed an extra pair of socks and a towel into my webbed gear, checked ammo, grenades and jumped into the truck just as it pulled away.
“Who are you guys and where we goin, I asked the driver?”
“2nd Brigade Transportation and we’re goin on an ammo run,” he responded.
“Where to?” I asked.
“Do I look like the lead vehicle? Hell, I don’t know where we’re headin, I just follow the truck in front of me,” he said.
I was getting used to not knowing where I was or where I was going in Vietnam but I noted right off that the 50 cal.machine gun ring mount above the cab was empty and I thought…no fire power!
The convoy wound its way through the 25th Infantry Division main gate toward Highway 1. I noted that the main gate area had been built into a fortress after repelling a satchel attack by the Viet Cong earlier in the week. The 25th Division at Cu Chi was becoming a pain to the Viet Cong in the area and it was driving them underground into an endless network of tunnels.
Riding “shotgun” in a convoy was something I’d never experienced and I felt uneasy with the prospect. Besides my M-16, I was used to having an M-60 machinegun and an M-79 grenade launcher at my disposal, and the security of a heavily sand bagged armored personnel carrier under me. I was also used to having a canopy of Huey gunships hovering close by when outside the Division perimeter wire…not today ! The cab of the truck was wide open. No top and no fire power.
We headed South along Highway 1 over a flat landscape of rubber tree plantations and rice paddies. Fortunately, the trip to Saigon was uneventful. The driver wound his way through the city and beyond to a large ammunition depot. After a long delay we were directed to a bunker where a PFC security guard refused us entry. More delay. I looked at my watch, 1500 hrs. Not much light left to get back to Cu Chi.
We finally loaded the truck with wooden ammo boxes, each containing one Howitzer round. The rope handles on the heavy boxes had chewed up my hands and my back ached. I wondered how many trucks it took to keep an artillery unit supplied. We headed north back through Saigon and ground to a halt at the Hoc Mon Bridge.
The sun was setting and the guards of the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) would not let us pass. Highway 1 between Saigon and Cu Chi was no-mans-land after dark. The Hoc Mon Bridge was a favorite target of Charlie at night and was considered the last secure area for North bound convoys. We were rerouted to a staging area adjacent to Tan Son Nhut Airfield.
The staging area was a sloppy mess of mud and water churned up by hundreds of vehicles. No checkpoints, no bunkers, gates, or fencing, just a sea of mud. I wondered about security but figured, what the hell; it’s probably been this way since day one. The trucks ground to a halt with a tree line about 50 meters north and an expansive open flat toward the airstrip, maybe 700 meters to the south.
The driver said “let’s go get some chow.”
Everybody was piling out of the vehicles but I wasn’t excited about hiking the mud flats in the dark so told him I’d make do with rations. Fact was, I didn’t know the area at all and decided to stay with the trucks that I assumed were parked in a secure area. I nibbled on my stale C rations and swatted mosquitoes as the drivers disappeared into the blackness.
2200 hrs. No one returned after chow. I heard intermittent small arms fire to the north and the tree line seemed to move closer to me by the minute. Rich was getting jumpy. Is this a secure area? Were the driving crews coming back or was I out here all by myself? Surely, they wouldn’t leave all this ammo out here where Charlie could get to it! I rotated the Select Fire lever on my M-16 to AUTO.
It started to rain. I sat on the seat of the truck considering my options. There was no where to go. No cover, nothing dry and with the rain hungry mosquitoes came out by the millions. Only God knows how I hate for those blood thirsty vampires.
0100 hrs. More small arms fire. Closer now! I was too exposed in the truck cab so headed under the truck. I pulled two extra magazines from my ammo pouch and stuck one in each of the chest pockets of my jungle fatigues. Next I pulled my spare socks over my hands leaving enough slack in the toe to get my finger into position on the trigger. I wrapped the towel around my head leaving only a slit for my eyes and leaned backward between the double sets of wheels into the mud. After wiggling back and forth like a kid making snow angels I found it quite comfortable. Wet came with the territory no matter where you were in Vietnam. I positioned my rifle on my chest with the muzzle up next to my ear and lay still as death. Charlie would have one hell of a time spotting me.
Minutes turned to hours. I quit thinking about the mud being my enemy and felt fairly secure molded into my personal rut but the mosquitoes tried relentlessly to get to me.
Periodically, they would go for my eyes. I found that a puff of my breath would deflect from inside the towel wrap and force air out the eye slit to dislodge them. Had to do it often but it worked. I tried all the old tricks to improve my night vision but could see little in the blackness. My heart pulsed in my ears and listened to the drone of the mosquitoes. There would be no sleeping this night.
Blamm! Another mortar, only farther South. Charlie was marching them toward the airstrip and away from me. I lay still. Two more explosions then silence. The attack seemed more harassment than an effort to do serious damage. The heart pulse in my ears became quiet. Soon a hint of sunrise lit the highest clouds.
Shortly after dawn a Sergeant passed by with a clipboard in his hands. He noticed me sitting in the cab all muddied up.
“Where’d you stay last night, he asked?”
“Here,” I answered. “Under the truck.”
“Bullshit,” he shouted. “Nobody stays outside the wire at night around here!”
I stared at him in silence.
“Who’s your C.O.?” he barked. “Nobody stays outside the wire at night!”
“Capt. Miller, Headquarters Troop, ¾ Cav.,” I answered.
“Bullshit! Bullshit!” he cursed as he stomped off.
Soon the driver returned and started the truck without saying a word. I never knew his name. It didn’t matter.
Years later I learned that there were troops guarding the airstrip from bunkers along the perimeter wire. Some had Starlight scopes on their rifles and might have seen me that night had I moved around very much. Perhaps the rain and mud helped keep me alive.
I’ve thought of that night a thousand times over the last 43 years. Maybe now I can let it go………………...then again, maybe not.