Steven A. Williams
Steven A. Williams is an aspiring writer/poet from Chicago, IL. His grandfather was a WWII vet who passed down knowledge and stories about war that Steven believes can be related to any conflict.
CAMPAIGN ON NEW YEAR’S EVE
The year was 1966. This was supposed to me my last tour in Vietnam before getting released and going home. I was only days away from finally seeing my family and I was looking forward to it so much. I had already missed Christmas but luckily, I was scheduled to arrive back in Chicago just before New Year’s Eve. It had been so long since I’ve slept a full night on a soft, comfortable bed, so long since I had been in the comfort and safety of my own home. Too many nights I had turned not to find my beautiful wife, Shannon lying by my side. No, in war all that’s at your side is a uniform, an ammo can, and an M-16. Let me take you back to that particular week.
We were camped about a mile off the shore of the North Vietnamese River. According to intelligence reports, four or five NVA camps were posted around the jungles up the road. With the Vietcong lurking around us in the trees and shadows up ahead, it was considered a very hostile area. If we hadn’t been trained killing machines in the United States Marine Corpse we’d be fearing for our lives. It was just like any other day for us. A brutal reality I had adapted to over the last year or so.
“Major Jones, Colonel says there should be choppers waitin’ for us 7 clicks through the wood southeast. We’re goin’ home, sir!” My radioman said to me. He was just as thrilled as I was. The both of us would be going home to see our families and hopefully never coming back to this hellhole again. It was just too bad that a lot of those guys that I was fighting along side of wouldn’t be going home any time soon. They had to stay and fight. I remember thinking to myself that most of them probably won’t even make it to their twenty-first birthdays. I was really going to miss those guys.
“Alright now, all we have to do is hike those seven clicks and try not to get in any trouble.” I said to Jim, who was just hanging the radio up with a smile on his face.
“Yep, we better get movin’, ay Steve?” he replied.
So off we went through the trees and brush ahead. Major Steven A. Jones and Lieutenant James P. Redding’s last stand. As the two of us and the rest of our platoon, about twenty-five men, were walking cautiously through the jungle, we all clearly heard a sound – a terrible, deafening sound. The sound that made me realize that I wouldn’t be making it home for New Years Eve that year, it was the sound of gunfire. We had been ambushed.
“Everybody down now – take cover in the bushes and fire at will!” I said as I jumped face first into a puddle of mud. It had rained the night before and was still drizzling a bit.
I struggled to get my gun locked and loaded, being jammed between a log and the twig bushes that provided shelter from the onslaught of bullets. We fired back in a hurry. The enemy bombarded us with grenades and shot a couple turret machine guns at us with such force and speed that a platoon three times our size would have had trouble enduring the attack. I peeked up over the wet log and spotted a few tents and a tank that, fortunately for us, had no room to mobilize. Apparently we weren’t ambushed. We unknowingly ambushed them by hiking right into a Vietcong camp. There was no way that we could have broken down their forces. There wasn’t nearly enough men left in my platoon and we didn’t have nearly enough ammunition left. But we had no choice but to keep fighting. Surrender was not an option for the 32nd Infantry. So we fought like there was no tomorrow because if we didn’t, there might not have been. We fought for our lives and for the freedom of the United States of America. Most of all, we fought for the spirit of New Years. A New Years that we all now knew, we would probably be spending either in a M.A.S.H. unit, or dead.
“Jim, call for air support quick!” I yelled over the bullets, while reloading my own clip.
“Um, I can’t do that Steve.”
“Well, why the hell not, Jim?” I screamed back before realizing that the radio on his back had been shot apart. “Are you hurt?”
“No, it just grazed my shoulder, I’m alright.” he said, firing off some more rounds into the trees ahead.
The battle raged on for hours until I stopped and crept through the trees to my right. Both sides were exchanging fire heavily but I decided to do a little recon to try and find a way out of the camp safely. With gun in hand, I crawled and hopped over the logs and brush. I managed to get around to the right side of their lines, unseen. I racked my brain, remembering the extensive battle strategy training I had received. I pulled a pair of rusty, dirty binoculars out of the knee pocket of my pants to get a closer look at the brains of the Vietcong operations. With a quick glance back at my guys I saw that a few had been hit so I knew I had to hurry. I scanned the camp and finally found an officer standing next to a radioman. The officer was barking orders at his men and the radioman had a look of shock and fear on his face. He hung the radio up, said something to the officer, and shortly after a large party of men in the rear of the camp was ordered to move in the opposite direction of the battle. They must have been called to another attack, I thought. Regardless of why they left, their forces had now been downsized. They had lost their rear defense, which made it easier for us to move around.
I looked back to my men and saw Jim watching me in between shots. I signaled for him and six men to make their way toward me to flank the camp on my command. They did in good time and the rest of our line was able to move up a few feet and hammer at the enemy lines with better visibility. I pulled the sniper attachment kit out of my pack and began putting the pieces on my gun. My plan was to pick off the officer who was obviously in charge of the camp, and then rush the right side of the enemy lines where they would be surprised. While we did that, my men up front would charge forward and take the camp. I finished setting up and placed my sight directly onto my target. The only problem at that time was that nightfall was rapidly approaching. Just as I was ready to fire and make my move, the officer went inside his tent. I couldn’t risk shooting into the tent; I might miss and give up my location for nothing. I was confident that they too, had a sniper hiding somewhere waiting for the opportunity to kill.
Both lines retreated a bit into the woods around them and the shooting stopped. We all sat in the darkness, in silence and waited. During the entire night I had my gun aimed directly at the doors of the Vietcong officer’s tent. Jim stayed up with me waiting for someone to make a move. He was the most loyal soldier and friend I had ever worked with.
Finally, after the longest night of my life, the sun began to shine on the jungle. My men were all awake and waiting with guns loaded. The moment I had been waiting for arrived just in time. The officer emerged from the tent with a sleepy yawn and I immediately put a bullet in his head. A split second after his body hit the dirt, several bullets dug into the dirt bed around me. Jim and I both leapt into the bushes to our left and rolled down a slight hill. My men began to flank the enemy lines, which were already frantically shooting in every direction. They must not have slept much, either, I thought to myself. The Vietcong in front didn’t know my location, but some sniper did. I made the choice of ignoring the enemy sniper, wherever he was and continuing on my original plan. Eight men, including myself, ran up on the enemy lines shooting. We caught them entirely by surprise. As they all turned their backs to retaliate against us, the rest of my men came forward strongly and the Vietcong were caught in our trap. We squeezed in on them until there were hardly any enemy men left standing.
Of course it wasn’t over yet. Just over the hills behind the camp, the other men were returning. They quickly spotted us in the middle of their camp and as opposed to taking battle positions, they charged at us right away. We were slightly vulnerable not having finished the first fight yet, so they had an advantage on us. Aside from that, they were coming downhill toward us giving them another advantage, elevation.
It was now a face-to-face standoff – a guns-blazing, hand-to-hand combat, suicide fight. They probably had twice the manpower that we had, but we were smarter and stronger. We fought tooth and nail, for several hours as more Vietcong showed up to take us down. But as they found out, we weren’t going to go down easily.
Finally, when the smoke cleared, it was over. Standing in the mud with my gun at my side, I discovered that we had won. The enemy was defeated and now we could just walk right in and take their camp. Their defensive strongpoint was now claimed as ours. The fowl stench of gunpowder and dead bodies that surrounded us was enough to drive a man crazy, but the smell of victory was sweet. As I watched two of my men raise an American flag up a tall, steel pole, I noticed a stinging pain in my arm. I must not have even noticed it during the heat of the battle. Apparently, I had been shot. Of course, the first thought that went through my head was going home on injury leave. But I couldn’t do that to my men that were left. I had to stay and help them pick up the pieces and recover. They needed me. There were less than ten of them left and without me there, that was seven good men in need of help. They needed leadership and a reason to go on, and I was proud to be their leader.
So we trudged on through the blood and mud, aching and worn from battle. We walked through the entire day and once nightfall came again we set up a couple tents and rested for the night. The first thing I did after setting my equipment down was helping Jim fix the radio. It wasn’t damaged that much. The pieces were disassembled but still intact. Once we got it working again, we called to try and get some reinforcements for the next days hike. It was then that the dispatch on the other end of the radio informed us of the date. It was New Year’s Eve. None of us had been aware of what day it was; we were all too busy with the fighting and hiking.
It was New Years Eve, a time to be close with family at home and we were sleeping in the jungle, in the middle of one of the ugliest wars in the history of civilization. Rather than depressing ourselves by sleeping in sadness, the men improvised our situation. Everybody gathered together around the campfire and Jim stuck a waterproof match into a box of rations. He carried the makeshift New Year’s cake over to me and sat down.
“Will you do us the honors of blowing the candle out, sir?” Jim said to me with an admiring smile on his face.
“The honor is all mine.” I replied. “It has been my privilege and pleasure to lead you brave men into battle. Happy New Year!” Everyone repeated the last part together and clapped their canteens against each other’s over the fire.
We tied a claymore explosive pack to a nearby tree and set it to go off at exactly midnight. We all counted down together until it exploded in a dazzling display of light and we all sang “Auld Lang Syne”
Morning came and luckily the backup platoon that had been hiking all night from their drop off point had arrived. The other six men and I were escorted through the jungle and after only encountering the occasional sniper we arrived our rendezvous point. Three large, double propeller choppers carried us away. Some of us were finally heading home and were dying to see our families and leave this horrific country.
In the end, I at last was reunited with my family. My wife, Shannon and my two beautiful daughters, Kayla and Emily couldn’t have been happier to see me. But I was more relieved than anybody could possibly have been. I was home. Of course, I didn’t get to spend the holidays with the women in my life, but I did spend it with a group of people that meant almost just as much to me – my other family – my men.
The bond between soldiers is special and sacred. The guys that watch your back and save your life time after time are very close to your heart. At least in my case they certainly were. A good unit is, in fact, just like a close-knit family. Day after day, my guys and I have risked our lives for one another; we have celebrated and mourned together, and we have laughed together. But the most special part of all is that we have proudly, fought for our great country together.
©Copyright December 2004 by Steven A. Williams
Author’s Note: This is a fictional story. However, I believe that it can be an accurate portrayal of the bond of brotherhood and comradely that exists among soldiers in a war. The story takes place in the Vietnam War with which I have no connection either through family or friends, but my grandfather was a WWII vet and has given me knowledge and stories about war that I believe can be related to any conflict.