Colin F. Jones

A MOMENT IN TIME, SOMEWHERE…

I was the sole survivor of an ambush…………

At a glance I noted the east forced foliage of the trees, which were slightly bent against the common direction of the wind, the shadows of the trunks, like feet, indicating it was almost high noon. I looked through the complications of the kaleidoscopic foliage, the dance of the forest Angels, but saw nothing unusual. But I remained motionless, like a coiled spring, tense, fearful and very silent. There was a sound! Time passed, and I waited perspiring profusely, hearing my heart beat like a loud drum. A sound, among a thousand sounds, an unnatural sound… slowly I sunk to the ground and lay motionless among the debris. I could hear nothing now unusual, but sensed great danger. The silence prevailed becoming an ever growing pressure; an indescribable pressure of noiseless noise. Drenched in sweat I waited, relaxing against the soft ground. I waited a long time, and it began to rain. Steam began to rise from where a moss clad rotted tree hung over its overgrown stump-hole… steam rose from my own body and I sighted and fired, rolling into foliage and cover. There was no reply.

Smoke lingered at the end of the muzzle. A butterfly, beautifully framed by the background perched delicately upon a delicate fairy fern… almost completely still. It seemed to look at me mockingly. I saw it without seeing it… the rain increased camouflaging all sound, and with the rise of mist distance decreased to a few metres. I waited and the rain stopped. I rolled further to my right coming to my feet in a crouch. I moved forward and saw his body.

I moved on.

Water trickled down the narrow animal trail breaking east to cascade into an overgrown gully; its changing sounds becoming lost in the host of jungle sounds coming to life due to the rain. I could still here the echo an hour into the past of my shot, a very hollow sound in the jungle, still lingering in the mist. They would have heard it, and been alerted. I smelt the air like a fox, appreciating the miraculous entertainment of the odours of rotting vegetation, and the clinging odours of a thousand unknown unseen flavours of what the humid, sweating jungle was. I pepper-potted in short crouched bursts, stopping, listening – ever alert. It was growing dark… late evening and with it came heavier rain. Soaked with sweat and rain I slithered gently down the slope beside the animal trail, to a flat fern covered area below. There was a small creek to cross some meters ahead, across the small jungle glade. Large boulders of varying sizes formed a wet pile on the western side. The animal trail veered to the north and into the low foliage marking the creek line. I had decided that the trail was made by at least one wild boar. There was probably a muddy bank where they drank. A tree stump long deformed by the elements offered deeper shadow a step away to my left. I rested there, rain stinging my straining eyes. I found the ground unusual, and discovered a bamboo mat camouflaged with debris covering something in the stump base. I froze immediately thinking…

Booby Trap!!

I ran my shaking fingers around the edges of the mat which had frayed at the edges, so extra care was required. I drew my Cookry and slid it under the mat… there were no wires attached.

The sick feeling in my belly passed… but now I was in such a high state of alertness… that I waited unmoving until my heart slowed, and darkness ascended with rain and a profusion of fireflies. Sheathing the Cookry, I slowly lifted the mat, discovering a dugout about a metre deep. There was no smell of recent human habitation… but the foot of muddy water in the bottom smelt putrid. It provided good cover for the night. I dropped in and pulled the cover over me. Despite the millions of biting mosquitoes I fell asleep immediately.

I slid the bamboo cover away and cautiously peeped out. The rain had stopped and sunlight lit the small glade near the creek bank. It looked very inviting, as I was wet and cold. Also the water in the pit had soaked the salt from my socks and the leaches were having a field day.
I crawled out and lay flat, squirming into the deep debris until I became a mound, of leaves and other stuff. I studied the area carefully. There were no fresh tracks of pigs or men. A margin of sunlight managed to find me and I began warming up, the leaves of the trees causing a confetti-like effect as they fluttered about disturbed by the brisk air. Shadows were slowly stretching across the glade.

Quietly I pulled the stubborn leaches from my ankles. From my pocket I drew an aluminium cylinder, and I unscrewed the top. It contained salt and was more than half full, thus less than half empty. The container was actually issued to the British Ghurkha, and used to contain butter. It served well as a salt container. I had acquired it from a Ghurkha friend I had served with in Borneo; he had also honoured me with the gift of his Cookry.

I sprinkled the salt on my ankles and rubbed it in. Most of the leaches had had their fill on my body and had already dropped off, but I rubbed salt into the itches that were there, the marks left on my skin from their feeding.

I carefully checked my rifle and cleaned it as best I could. I had about 120 rounds of ammo. I lay still for another hour, and then began to crawl down the edge of the clearing keeping in the shadows to the left. I slithered across the animal trail and halted.

A tight trip wire nudged my nose. It ran about 3 inches off the ground, east to west, and across the clearing. I couldn’t see what was at the other end, but to my left it was anchored to a sapling butt. The wire was green fishing line, barely visible across the green glade. I decided that it had to be a ‘pull ‘type, designed to trip a grenade or some other device. I cut it using my sheath knife. I went slack immediately, but nothing happened. No explosion.

I crawled to the edge of the creek; my water bottle was empty and required filling. I was still close to the animal trail, where it ended at the creeks edge, the bank was muddy there and worn away by pigs' feet. I saw a single imprint of a human boot. Instinctively I froze. Along the opposite bank, I saw three animal traps, all loaded up and pointing across the creek towards the glade. The jungle was quite thick over there providing many saplings and vines; an ideal place to set up a trap.

This was not the way to go. I would have to skirt the glade, and move to the west, before crossing the creek. I crawled slowly back to the rotten tree trunk, and safer cover. I ate a couple of wet standard issue “dog biscuits”, and finished off the last of my water in the first of the two water bottles I carried. I was still soaking wet and cold. The rain suddenly slashed through the canopy, striking my body like a million tiny arrows. I was beginning to feel miserable.

I circled the glade slowly at a crouch, coming to rest behind a tree on the edge of a gully separating me from the boulders piled up, and the creek. I moved rapidly across the gully entrance to the boulders, silently slipping to the warm damp heave of the debris covered ground. The rain splattered from the faces of the boulders, through the margins of light like little spears attacking my eyes. I rolled twice to my right into the shade. I looked up through the low foliage across the creek, over the sites of my rifle.

The petite black clad form of the beautiful Vietnamese woman, could only add to the splendid tranquillity of the wonderment of the Jungle foliage and running water which set the scene before me. A few feet away from the woman a young baby, just able to walk sat playing with her hand in the running stream. Slung across the woman’s back was an AK47. She stared with surprise glinting in her dark eyes, directly into mine as I raised my rifle.

The rain seemed to stop at that moment as our eyes met. Perspiration gathered above my eyes and ran down the bridge of my nose. A slight tremor gnawed at my elbows. My eyes gathered in her beauty, like the plucking of a flower. So black was her hair that it shone; so lithe her body, the black silk sealed to it by the wetness. Yet the AK47 seemed to belong there, steel barrel shining over her left shoulder like some form of decoration. It fit her as would a lover, yet indicating an underlying hardness.

I indicated for her to drop her rifle. She began backing away along the bank towards her child. I remained still except for the barrel of my rifle which followed her every move.

To kill her would reveal my presence. To let her go would most likely have the same results. Shit! How I had blundered. She reached her baby and squatted down beside it and reached for her rifle still staring at me. She let the rifle drop to the ground, almost as my finger tightened on the trigger. She stood up and began backing away with her baby.

I stood up, lowered my rifle, smiled briefly, turned and ran as fast as my legs would carry me back the way I had come. A boulder came loose and rolled loudly down the bank to crash into the water.

Three Viet Cong ran along the creek bank shouting at the woman. She shouted something back and pointed to the West indicating that was the way I had gone. Armed to the teeth they followed the creek to the west.

I kept running veering to the east then north. I shook with fear and relief. The rain poured down and I sat against a tree unaware of all that moved, grooved and dined around me.

I tilted my head back and tasted the rain. How refreshing it was, and for a moment I thought I felt something strange and reassuring touch my shoulder.

A sort of warmth moved through me and I fell asleep, bathed in the heavy wash of the monsoon. I did not sleep for long, awaking in less than ten minutes. Would I have killed her?

Killing her… killing anyone leaves the strange feeling that one will be hunted down by some vengeful force and killed. A sort of panic takes residence inside you. I wondered what the strange feeling was that had warmed me. It was like a presence. I even looked about me to see who was there. Hell, perhaps I was beginning to lose it.

It played on my mind, knowing that I would have killed her had it been necessary. I dismissed such thoughts from my mind and moved off to the north east, knowing in my heart that she had saved my life.

Open ground was nearby because I noted the thickening of the underbrush, caused by the sun being able to penetrate the canopy where clearing had taken place. There were strands of Bamboo here also, as well as secondary growth, impossible to move through, but providing a great place in which to hide. I skirted a thicket with great caution, and was suddenly on the edge of a Rice Paddy. Two Cobra Gunships, clapped across the sodden fields some distance away from the East and Vanished in the west. They were travelling fast – probably to a fire fight somewhere. The rain had stopped, but not for long.

I studied the scene with great care. The paddy field was divided by ‘banks ‘from other paddy fields which stretched seemingly endlessly to the north. Jungle edged it to the east, and among coconut trees to the West there was what appeared to be a Kampong (village). Directly ahead was an atap hut, which appeared to be empty of human form.

Notably there was some black clothing hung over the small veranda rail. The day was dying and there was no evidence of people working the paddy which appeared to have been freshly sown. A Viet Cong patrol of seven men at a slow loping trot followed the western edge of the paddy, running north. They eventually vanished in a distant area of coconut trees, north of the kampong. Night fell.

I moved forward but my boot hit something almost immediately and I stopped dead in my tracks. Shit!!

A Claymore mine is deadly. It is a directionally ‘fixed ‘ mine which fires steel balls in a fan shaped pattern through an arc of 60 degrees and up to seven feet high, effective over 50 meters. It is green plastic covered and water proof, weighs about three and a half pounds, and is eight and a half inches long, three and a half inches high and one and three eighth inches thick. It contains 700 steel balls, backed up by about a pound of C4 composition explosive. It is curved horizontally and vertically to control dispersion of the balls. There are two shipping plug primary adaptors screwed into the detonator wells on top. One end of the adapter is shaped to take the detonator and firing cable. The other end is solid. Also on top there is an aiming slit and groove. The mine is supported underneath by two sets of scissor legs which unfold, are turned at 90 degrees and pressed into the ground.

The firing device (m57 exploder) is a hand held pulse generator with a rubber dust cap over the terminals with wire safety bail incorporated. The detonator M6 comes with 30 meters of firing cable (a length about the distance to the hut, probably a little less) terminating with a shorting plug and dust cover. The front of the claymore faces the enemy. It has clearly embossed on the front “front toward enemy”. My first action was to rip it from the ground and disarm it by removing the detonator cable.

The thing has a forward danger area of 300 meters minimum. I knew the hut was empty, so there was no one to fire the thing. Thank God. Hell how had I missed it!

On reaching the hut, which took some cautious time, I found drinking water, three sleeping mats and some black clothing. I bathed, cleaned myself up in the water left over after replenishing my water bottles. My body was covered in leach and mosquito bites. I made sure that everything remained in its proper place, and left taking the extra clothing with me. I crossed the paddy heading to the far end of the kampong where the patrol had gone, avoiding a herd of water buffalo on the way. Once on the Village bank I pulled the black pyjama clothing over my jungle greens. The green floppy hat I wore was not unusual, and similar hats were worn by the Vietnamese. The strong smell of the Vietnamese was in my nostrils;
I was cold, and full of fear.

Desperation caused me to think and exercise calmness. I was very hungry; the “dog biscuits” had run out but I had some chocolate left. The rain poured down again. There was an old fishing hut on the end of the bank to the north. I made for it and discovered the river flowing east-west on the northern end of the kampong. The hut looked abandoned and was sheltered by a clump of trees. I ran hell for leather for the trees and leapt down the embankment into their shadows, falling ass over head to the bottom landing flat on my back. I lay very still my eyes trying to become accustomed to the darker environment. I felt the cold steel of a rifle barrel press against my head.

“Speak”, said a voice with an American accent.
“I’m an Aussie”, I gasped.
“No shit!”
“Yeah, no shit!” I was almost overcome with excitement.
“Yo, bin entertainin’ the gooks, have ya brother?”
“I got lost. Still am”
“Well shut it up bro, lots oh gooks aroun’ ‘ere. Step into our parlour, stinks of fish, but it has its good points, brother, mainly the residents.”

He was a bloody big bloke and he hauled me to my feet and literally carried me into the confines of the hut.
“Look what I found slitherin’ about on our sacred patch, bro’s.”
“What is it?” said one of the five occupying the hut.
“What ya got there, Moose, a gook?” said another.
“You septic tanks wouldn’t know shit from clay,” I said “I’m an Aussie. What are you doing camping out with the noggies anyway?”
Moose began to giggle uncontrollably.
“Sure is cheeky enough to be an Aussie” said another
“Ok, ok keep it down,” said a voice with authority; “Better share your story, soldier.”

I had told them everything since the ambush, and we sat quietly in the hut. It was almost daylight. The six Americans were all pretty big men, rough and tough, but with roses in their eyes and sadness in their soles.

“So you saw no Americans”, said the Lieutenant” That’s too bad, we have two MIA.”
“You came back to find em?” said I

“Yep. But without orders. Our unit has been evacuated… we got some unfinished business to take care of. Look there’s a Special Forces post a few miles upriver from here. Maybe you can make it to there. We’ll give you enough supplies for two days.”
“Great!”
“What’s that rifle… looks like a 7.62? We only have M26 Ammo”
“Yeah, 7.62 SLR standard issue. I have about 120 rounds, also two m26 grenades.”
“Ok, man we are moving out. We have a spare M79 and three rounds. Here and good luck Aussie”

I took the M79 and watched them go one at a time through the door of the hut; six very brave men. I hoped and prayed that they would find their buddies. I suddenly felt very much alone.

Movement in the area of the river banks would not be unusual especially for men clad in black. But armed with an SLR and wearing black combat boots might cause more interest that might be desired. To read a book at night one must turn on the light. Daytime was for surveillance, the night was for hunting.

The Americans had already dug out a perfect spot among the trees, where one could lie and watch in comfort. I occupied the spot, it was a bit big and so I fit into it very easily. It was muddy though but that didn’t matter. I watched and slept watched and slept. Only two boats powered by outboard motors passed along the river, and few others ventured out to fish. It seemed the best option to steal a boat and drift upstream. There was very little obvious current so wind direction was important…

The surrounding foliage indicated a common easterly, north easterly wind. The nearest moored boat, a four man canoe in size, had not been used that day and was moored about 300 meters away. Rifle was clean; ammo fitted and clean; determination strong. I was ready to go. I wore the black clothing but hoped it would not be needed. After all it was dark.

I decided to wade out to a depth about chest high and swim. This way I would leave no tracks along the muddy bank. The water was surprisingly cold, but it did not take me long to fill my boots and swim-walk to the canoe. The breeze was light but blowing in the right direction. The canoe was very sturdy and had a pole and a set of oars. I pushed of and it drifted slowly northwards into the unknown.

I could have been back home in Australia in my kayak…… the night sounds are the same; frog sounds, insects, little fish splashes, tortoises sliding off half sunken logs, amphibious lizards taking a dive. There is nothing I know off more tranquil than a river at night. I lay back on the hard floor; I guessed we were drifting at about 2 to 3 knots. It didn’t really matter; we were moving, and in the right direction.

It was so peaceful; it would be easy to let my mind drift. But my thoughts at night were always the same, Mum… dad the family, and sweet Jane, how I missed her. These same thoughts rolled round and round in my head. There was no space around that same picture, which now seemed almost unreal. I was unable to fit scenes around places. It was as though my mind could only visualize the people I loved as a ragged postcard. Their images were becoming more lifeless every day.

I wondered what they were doing right then, while I drifted down some river in the middle of Vietnam. It was almost funny. My thoughts passed on to the ambush, the images were very real, and I wept bitterly. Then the boat ran into something.

It was a half sunken log jutting out from the river bank. The night was pitch-black. I could not see a light anywhere. I think we had drifted into an eddy. I could see mangroves.

I’d had been drifting for three hours. I stepped out of the boat and plunged into what I thought would be shallow water. I came to the surface spluttering, and clinging to my rifle, causing me to go under again. Bloody bastard!!

I scrambled up into the Mangroves, into the shallow water and grey mud. Brrrrrrr! boy was I cold.

Right there and then I checked my ammo and cleaned as best I could my rifle. An SLR would probably fire underwater, but it’s best to be sure by keeping it clean, after all it was the only mate I had with me. I plunged off into the mangroves following the river edge to the north. I found a little island, a dry spot, and settled down.

I needed to sleep, or at least rest until daylight. I could feel the leaches all over me; sucking my blood. The mosquitoes were monstrous, despite my face net. The constant humming was driving me crazy, Hell, I can’t stay here! I scrambled to my feet and pushed on slipping and slopping through the water and mud.

It was still dark when I found the edge of the Mangroves. It was long grass here, on a three in one slope. I crept up there, to some rocks among a patch of trees overlooking the dark river. Here I ripped the black stuff off me, and found they had protected my greens very well, hardly any mud on them at all. I ate from the US Ration pack, and waited for first light. It began to rain again, heavily.

Daylight revealed an interesting scene. A half mile to my left (north) on the river bank, and hemmed in to the west and south to the mangrove by Paddy Fields, was a US Special forces base. The only high ground was the small hill which I currently occupied. Well at least that was what I thought it was.

The nearest corner of the base had a sandbagged tower, and I could see some rather potent weaponry sticking out of it. I thought how easy it would be for me to knock it out had a couple of rockets to fire at it. The two blokes, Americans I think, walking around in the small enclosure were sitting ducks.

There was another similar tower on the far corner, near where a road crossed the Paddy Field running north, south. About half way down the road was a burnt out noggy truck.

Well it was a great feeling to have found a friendly base, but I reckoned if I went splashing across the paddy field waving my arms around, I would quickly become target practice for the yanks. I could now make out their green berets. They don’t come better than those blokes.

Well I reckoned that it would be safest to skirt back through the mangroves to the road, and then just wander up the road like I was on a Sunday stroll, hoping they would not pop me off for target practice. After all it was the Sabbath. Hope they enjoyed lazy Sundays.

On the river front were two boats; that was a dangerous way to go. So off I went back down the slope and through the long grass to the Mangroves. I moved without incident through the mangroves to the road, which was apart from the burned out truck empty of any kind of traffic either way.

The road passed the front of the camp, which by now ought to have woken up and washed the sleep from their eyes. Well here goes nothing! Off I went marching down the right side if the road as though I did this sort of thing every day.

I could just imagine them there Green Beret blokes peering at me through their binos, saying such things as;

“Hey, take a look at this, Mudda”
“Maybe be he’s crazy”
“He ain’t a gook, but don’t look like one of ours”

It’s times like this I thought when the old Aussie slouch hat, might be useful. I was about a hundred yards away when an M60 opened up. At first I froze, as the bullets belted into the ground across my front. Then I dove headlong into the monsoon drain running alongside the road.

“Australian! Australian!” I yelled at the top of my voice, spitting out some foul smelling watery mud, and hugging the side of the drain with rifle pointing skyward.

I heard a voice call back “come on up.” an indication that they were not afraid of me. Mmmm – that made me think a bit.

I clambered out of the drain with my rifle slung, and my hands on my head, which was a bit premature really, as I slipped and almost fell on my face, requiring my hands to save the situation. However off I went down the road towards the camp.

As Special Forces camps go this one was rather ramshackle. It was a little like it ought to be in that it was sort of triangular with machine posts at the three points, a couple of mortar pits and an area for choppers to land. But it was old and falling apart. Actually it was probably an old French fighting camp, they favoured the triangular setup, and there was probably an underground bunker in there somewhere.

Walking around the M60 post I saw the entrance further up through the helipad. I waved to the sentries and got a wave back.

“You gone and got yourself lost did you Aussie?” shouted one of them teasingly.

There was a ring of concertina wire two rolls high around the structure, and an area of bamboo spikes imbedded in the ground, then a mud wall. The helipad was surrounded by 50 Gal oil drums filled with earth. There were lots of sand bags about the place, but the whole thing looked as though it had never been maintained since the French were there.
There was a tall watch tower inside the perimeter, manned by sentries constantly on the lookout for the enemy.

The entrance to the camp was to the left once in the helipad. There I was met by a Sergeant, I knew that by his upside down stripes, roughly in the same place that I wore mine. He stared me straight in the eye, offered his hand and said;

“Australian uh?”

I had a firm grip but his was immense. I knew at once that he was an American Indian, but not knowing one from another I could not ascertain his tribe. Well………,

“Apache?” I guessed.
“You got it”, said he.

They were a mixed bunch, apart from the American Green Berets many of whom wore Montagnard bracelets, there were mercenaries, Montagnards, CIDG Volunteers, South Vietnamese Rangers, mechanics, cooks and women.

US Special Forces Camps (and Australian ones for that matter) were deployed all over South Vietnam. Their main aim was to wrest control of the area from the Viet Cong. To succeed in doing this however often meant that the North Vietnamese troops would launch an attack against them, for they could not afford losing control of the countryside. It was a hearts and mind thing, with which I was familiar having served in Borneo where the British carried out such tactics.

They treated me well gave me a change of clothing and even some 7.62 ammo. They did not seem to want to tell me where we were, but told me I was a long way from Nui Dat. One of them was very interested in my rifle, and was willing to pay me for it or swap it with a weapon of my choice. Australians are obliged to hand in the same weapon they were issued with at the appropriate time or face an A4 (a charge) for losing their weapon, depending of cause on the circumstances. In the end I gave in, well I could have lost it at time hey, and anyway few seemed to have the same ammo.

What I got for it was a fairly rare little combination of M16 with a under the barrel XM148 40mm grenade launcher. I could have swapped for a stoner system, but this little setup kind of got to me. Stoner of cause was the inventor of the Amorlite AR15 (M16), before he moved over to Colt as a consultant. The Stoner on offer was a Stoner 63 5.6mm.

They had all sorts of weapons here including the old Thompson M1A1 sub-machine gun. Another variation was the Colt Commando CAR-15 rifle, which in fact I was familiar with as our own SAS used them. The Montagnards were mostly equipped with US M1 rifles.

Over the pursuing week they trained for an ambush that they intended to spring somewhere up river. I asked to join them, and I was accepted.

“But stay on the boat, ok.”
“Ok”

There were two Vietnamese (LLDB) a few Montagnards, the Green Berets, and a couple of strange mercenaries, in the group to carry out the ambush. Patrol Boat would take us upriver to the planned site. The boat was an ugly looking thing, with a Confederate Flag hanging from its mast. There were two of them moored behind the camp.

Suddenly rockets zoomed out of the jungle and crashed inside the perimeter causing several buildings to explode into roaring infernos. Tracer stabbed through the darkness. We got off the boat quickly running back into the camp. Tracer was slashing away at the watch tower.

The Viet Cong dressed in black uniforms poured through gaps in the barbed wire throwing satchel charges at the machine gun positions.

I could hear the defensive claymores going off, lots of screaming and automatic rifle fire.

The betrayal of the Hiep Hoa Special Forces camp of 1963 flashed through my mind. The Viet Cong had infiltrated the camp and had disarmed many claymores, and even turned them around against those firing them. That’s why they recruited the Chinese Nung hard core mercenaries. They were loyal and were appointed to oversee heavy weapon positions and command bunkers. Well some of them here were Nung.

It was a dark overcast morning. There were 17 American Special Forces and 15 other personnel in the camp. A Sergeant and a specialist 4th Class bloke nicknamed ‘Rudolf’ manned a 60-mm mortar, some meters behind a machine gun nest.

A short distance away “Mo”, a Sergeant Major, and another sergeant were cutting down many of the black screaming shapes of the attacking Cong with machine guns. But a direct hit from an incoming mortar killed them both, their bodies shattering with the impact.

The Viet Cong were using Bangalore Torpedoes to rip through the wire. Grenades were thrown many landing in the mortar pits, where more Americans died.

I dived into the hole made by the Mortar which had killed the Sergeants; I was joined by the Indian Sergeant I had met when I arrived. I had already expended my M79 rounds, and was heating up the barrel of the M16. The man beside me was cutting the enemy down with very controlled bursts; soon we were married in sequence.

In the mortar pit, the grenades kept dropping in and soon only the crippled and wounded were left to fire them. But fire them they did. When the mortar rounds ran out it became a pitched battle of grenades thrown back and forth. Many of the VC Chinese-made stick Grenades were duds. We could tell the VC grenades from our own because they sizzled and sparkled as they came in. They were lying about everywhere; I had never seen so many dud grenades. I had never seen that many grenades.

The Viet Cong over ran the command post where a hand to hand fight took place; pistols, knives, boots, fists, and teeth all weapons in a vicious desperate battle to survive. Four of the seven occupants died, the other three wounded fought on.

Of the three, two more were killed, falling over the dozens of dead VC at their feet. The soldier remaining was a Green Beret. Badly wounded he pushed his way through to the store room, where he fell and bled to death.

They fought on never giving way. The mortar pits were lost, but the inner trenches were occupied and were replying with murderous machine gun and automatic fire.

It was daylight and with it came the Choppers which had great trouble effecting close in fire through the clouds of smoke, and low rain clouds. They were rocketing the enemy positions outside the camp and strafing the VC as they ran from the camp. It was difficult to pick up the wounded due to Cong machine guns, but air strikes were called in to solve that problem.

A South Vietnamese Ranger Battalion arrived to occupy a nearby village, and to take control of the area. Our little battle was over, except for a little mopping up.

Amazingly within a couple of hours, Vietnamese Children turned up on the scene. Immediately a couple of soldiers went out and dished out chocolate and other goodies. Bodies of the Viet Cong lay rotting in the sun. They decomposed rapidly in the tropical heat. The smell was very disagreeable.

The Ranger Battalion pursued the VC into the jungle attacking bunkers and mortar base plates. But during their action their leader was killed and they quickly lost interest, returning to their village base.

Later an investigation of how the VC had managed to get into the camp so easily revealed a tunnel under their defence coming up alongside the north strong point.

I was surprised when they called an Orders group and told us that the ambush was still on, only it was not going to be an ambush at all, but a cordon and search of a small village up river. The Ambush thing was to pass on incorrect information via any spies that may have infiltrated the camp.

A village known as ‘Hot Dat’ was situated on the eastern side of the river. It was known was that a tunnel ran from the river bank under the village and into the jungle on the far side. The far side entrance had not been located but it was known to be there.

A creek from the river formed a moat around three parts of the village, which had punji spikes around the perimeter and a few deep bunkers in strategic places in the village itself. The village, although friendly to the allies, had long been suspected as being in sympathy with the Viet Cong.

The Ranger Battalion was to carry out the “cordon and search” while the Special Forces checked the tunnel. So once again I found myself on the patrol boat with 15 others, this time it was motoring rapidly upstream in the darkness. We travelled for an hour without incident before slowing almost to a stop under the darker areas of the high Eastern river bank.

Our leader was my Indian Sergeant friend, who told me I was to stay with him, and that we were going to crawl through the tunnel entrance they had discovered just above the waterline of the river on the bank. He was armed with an M16 which he slung over his back, and drew his 45 Colt.

The boat came to an Idle and three of us leapt across to the bank. The boat moved on into the creek a couple of hundred yards further up. ‘Joe ‘, the Indian Sergeant led us to the tunnel entrance cleverly camouflaged by a small flowery bush.

“Ok, this it.” he said, “Are you Ok Aussie? “

“I feel as fit as a mallee bull,” I told him, “and twice as strong” Actually I was shaking like a bloody leaf in a hurricane, but then it was not one of the hottest nights, only about 32 Celsius.

“Ok, we go! “, said Joe and crawled into the dark tunnel. It sloped downwards and his torch revealed the bottom about five meters away down the grade. Like me Joe was not a big man, but very strong and sinewy. The tunnel was not built for big men but we managed to crawl through it without any trouble. The earthen smell was familiar. It was the same in our sleeping pits when we dug in on operations.

At the bottom Joe shone his torch light along the next section which was flat, but veering to the left. It ran as far as we could see and we followed it for some 200 meters. Here we came to a largish sort of room, into which we dropped. It was a room which could contain ten men, certainly of the size of a Vietnamese. A ladder ran up the Eastern wall to a closed bamboo hatch. The tunnel continued running Northeast.

“This maybe goes up into a hut or strongpoint in the village” said Joe. “They might come down here when the village is searched”

“You mean the noggies… gooks, who might be hiding… yeah, that makes sense!”
“We wait here. You and I, we wait. Jumbo! You follow the tunnel through. The others will be around there somewhere”

Jumbo moved off without a sound.

“I see you wear a Cookry! I worked a lot with the Ghurkha’s myself.”
“Good soldiers”
“Yeah. Better to use it here. Guns are no good.” He drew his knife it was a bit bowie-like and razor sharp. “We wait, ok”
“Ok”

As daylight broke the Rangers had already lost two soldiers to mines as they approached the village, and the bridge leading into it was booby trapped in several places. Some of the villagers were made to walk across it, thus the booby traps were cleared. The bodies of the villagers were left to float in the water, maimed and helpless.

The soldiers quickly spread out through the village and the commander speaking though a megaphone called the villagers out, and for any VC sympathizers to surrender. Another soldier was blown apart foolishly picking up an egg from the chicken coop. The leader grabbed a young woman, screaming at her, another tied her hands behind her.

He continued to shout telling her reveal where the Viet Cong were hidden! She was terrified but said nothing. He drew his knife threatening her. She cowered but still said nothing. Apparently the woman did not have an ID card. He slashed her down the centre of her chest, her white top opening. She was a beautiful woman and about to die.

Suddenly a VC dressed only in a pair of shorts, ran from a hut firing his AK47 at two soldiers who had approached. Both were killed instantly. The VC died seconds after, and taking the chance to flee the woman was shot in the back by the Ranger leader who had drawn his Smith and Wesson.38 revolver in order to dispatch her.

In the large hut in the centre of the village were five VC. Their only escape was through the tunnel. One lifted the hatch and quickly slid down the ladder poles to the bottom, followed closely by another.

The light from above was pale but lit the shaft enough to reach the bottom.

Joe got the first one, spinning him around and slashing his throat, I slashed the second behind his neck as he landed. Blood spurted everywhere, as he fell. Joe gave me a quick look of dissatisfaction, and I nodded understanding immediately. The scream of the second one warned the third about to drop down; both Joe and I had already flattened ourselves against the East walls inner corners.

The VC above opened up in a panic with his AK47, firing into the shaft. Dirt and dust flew everywhere, the bodies on the floor being riddled with bullets. Almost instantaneously we fired back up the shaft, blowing holes in the roof of the hut, and blowing a VC out through the atap Western wall.

In the village all Hell broke loose. The Ranges responding blasted the hut with rifles grenades and M79’s. Two of the VC were killed and villages were falling wounded and dead everywhere. The hut burst into flames, as from it two VC fled running to the rear of the village, but not before dropping a grenade down the tunnel shaft. Joe instantly dived on it, rolled over in front of me and threw the thing into the northern tunnel entrance.

The blast was massive, the concussion blowing my ear drums, dust and dirt showered over me. I was blinded from the flash. I felt Joes body heavy on my legs. I was in shock from the horror of it. I cringed in the corner arms over my head, body curled up. I felt Joe roll way from me… “Joe! Joe!…… ah, ah ah! Fucking Hell!!!………………… “

The Rangers herded all the people out from the village and set fire to it. It burned all night collapsing into ashes. They were either completely unaware of our escapade into the tunnel or they just didn’t care. The Green Berets had returned to the boat. Jumbo had returned to find the tunnel blocked, retreating then to join the rest. They had shot down one VC trying to get away into the jungle. The tunnel entrance had been found by them and they had met up with Jumbo.

Gathered together back on the boat they were aware that there were two missing. They all sat around in silence on the deck cleaning and reloading weapons. No one spoke; they knew what they had to do. If it cost them all their lives they would not leave a brother behind. Not even a cousin… not even an Australian. It was all or none.

First always are your friends, your comrades in arms, those who fight alongside you, your brothers. Always they come first, before King, President and Nation. Always!

The boat was exposed sitting on the river. There were obviously many VC in the area. To make things worse the rain came teaming down. The river had been rising now for many days, and it had reached the level of the tunnel entrance in the bank, and was slowly leaking in and down the tunnel, the bottom of which was well below the rivers waterline. Jumbo and one other decided to crawl down the tunnel, while the rest chanced to visit the burned out village to see what they could find. Both missions were steeped in danger.

to be continued…