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Echoes From Vietnam

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Today, we lost one of our own.

Willie was a friend we respected and loved. He may be gone in body, but he’ll remain with us in spirit. He was, still is, and will forever be one of us.

We loved him as he loved life. His death will be our direction. We’ll do our best to carry out the fight he gave so much for and believed in so dearly.

God, be proud of him for what you gave him and help us to be courageous. What he lived for and died for will always be our challenge.

My friend, we love you, buddy. God take care of you. You’re with Him now. Guide us and protect us.

  • Ken Smits, A-Team, November 3, 1968

The Jungle

In the tropical forest, we’re like bewildered, dreary children, and the wildwood senses it, playing mischievous tricks on us to prove its superiority.

Our strolls through the timberlands humble us. The rot, constant sweating, leeches, rivers, mountains, trees, brush, vines, and swamps are our unseen adversary and the trappings of the jungle.

The tropical forest’s opponent is man; its purpose is to remain natural and free from the destructive hand of humankind. It turns otherwise sane men into lunatics, friends into enemies, and confidence into ignorance.

Its terror is so intense that it refuses to release you. It’s invisible, it gets inside your head, it’s the wisdom of the maze, and it’s the fear of the unknown.

We bomb it. We burn it. We chop it down. We defoliate it. We curse it. We hate it. We fear it. But, in the end, it comes back. We cannot kill it. We can’t fight it.

  • A Vietnam veteran, 1969

The Refugees

After the war, I was driving charter buses. The manager at the bus yard asked me if I wanted to go to El Toro Marine Base to be one of the drivers to pick up the refugees coming in from Vietnam.

The job was to take them from El Toro to Tent City down at Pendleton. I remember thinking, this is what we fought for. These people are going to get their freedom. I remember the people; all they had was what they could carry.

Fast forward to my career, serving at the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base. One of the first groups of people I met there were Vietnamese who had been in that group of refugees.

One of them, whose brother was a helicopter pilot, had put his whole family on a chopper, a Huey UH-1.

They are among the people you see on the newsreels, the ones who landed on the ship and pushed the helicopter into the sea.

  • Larry Pratt, 2nd Platoon, Delta Company, 1970

The Dogs of War

There were 40,000 to 60,000 Vietcong troops designated to hunt down SOG teams in Laos and in other northern territories.

These American Recon teams would enter the region and call in airstrikes on the Ho Chi Minh Trail when they observed enemy convoy teams coming down the trail.

SOG Recon teams had the highest kill ratio of any unit in Vietnam. They also held a 100% casualty rate, meaning you would absolutely be shot, killed, or go missing in action.

Many teams just disappeared. No word from them at all, just gone.

To track down these teams, the Vietcong assigned fighters whose only job was to try to destroy them. They would utilize local people, many of whom were forced to help, by having them sit and watch any open areas of land where a helicopter could land.

Upon seeing a helicopter, they would alert the trackers, who would start tracking around that landing zone until they sniffed you out.

They utilized dogs for tracking. All kinds of dogs. Big dogs, little dogs. We would put down CS Pellets to cover our tracks.

You could hear them; they would be sniffing along your trail, and suddenly, they would yelp and start whining. Once they caught the scent of the CS Pellets, they were done. There was no way to get them back on track.

  • A Vietnam veteran

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