Written by Ken Smits
A slight breeze sweeps across the valley of swaying grass in a relaxing tempo. The rhythm broken only by the sounds of crickets chirping and the lizards that sound like they’re screaming, “Fuck you!” back and forth at each other. My foxhole companion is a quiet man who appears deeply lost in deliberation. I can tell by the chevrons on his collar that he is a security policeman, Airman 1st Class. I try to get him to talk, but all I get from him is that he has been in Vietnam for nine months. Maybe he doesn’t like pulling duty with non-security police personnel. After all, we didn’t have the combat training he had. Who knows? So here we sit in our foxhole position, together but alone.
Soon, control is alerting all units of reported contact. Visual contact has been made with groups of five-to-eight VC, all heavily armed, carrying satchels and weapons. We are ordered only to engage the VC if they engage first. Soon other security posts begin reporting sightings of similar size enemy units. The small groups of VC are heading to a central assembly location, so we hold fire.
The small groups of VC units assemble off to our right and grow to about forty or fifty men. They carry Kalashnikov AK47 assault rifles, two RPG-7 portable rocket launchers, and two 7.62 PK general-purpose machine guns. This is a hard-core, well-equipped unit, not some local VC group. They appear to be setting up for a major assault on the flight line and our aircraft tucked away in protected bunkers.
We are told to hold fire and instructed that the tower will call for the mortar and artillery fire mission. Back-up security teams are moving into our sector while other teams are moving into place to set up counter-ambush positions. The security team is an eleven-man mobile team traveling in V-100 Commando Armored vehicles with turret-mounted 7.62-millimeter coaxial machine guns. I see two of them moving into place beside the tower. Control informs us that the ROK Korean Marines, White Horse Division, is deploying a blocking force to trap the VC as they break contact and withdraw. On the ground, mortars and howitzers stand by, while high in the black, star-filled sky, a Spooky gunship circles. The guns on the Spooky have a fire rate of six thousand rounds per minute.
Our position has an M60 machine gun, my M16 assault rifle, four hand grenades, and two claymore mines in front of us. The tower to our right has two M16s and a starlight scope.
The stage is set.
I focus on the cove from which the VC are preparing their attack. The cove is cast in black shadows and hides the enemy from view. My finger caresses the M16’s trigger.
Suddenly, Barrooommm! Barrooommm! Barrooommm!
The deafening explosions and blinding flashes raise the hairs on the back of my neck. Full-blown hell pours down on the cove.
Karbaroomm! Barrooommm! Karbaroomm! Barrooommm!
The incoming U.S. mortar and artillery rounds rain down like a hailstorm of steel.
“Ho-ly shit!” my mind screams, but the words roll out of my mouth as a gasping whisper.
Brrr! Brrr! Brrr! Brrr!
Twenty-millimeter ball ammunition merged with red tracer rounds hits the earth, then ricochets in a thousand directions bouncing high in the flair-illuminated night. The rounds walk from one side of the cove to the other, then back again in the other direction, a round hitting every six inches.
Within seconds, the second salvo of U.S. mortar and artillery rounds impact the cove of hell. They boom thunderously, flashing enormous fireballs, sending huge clumps of earth, broken trees, and little bits of human bodies soaring into the night.
“In-fuckin’-credible,” I murmered to myself. I feel like I’m gazing at a million-dollar pyrotechnics show. My eyes couldn’t possibly open any further without popping out of their sockets. I feel shock waves of rushing hot air crammed with the smell of burning wood, freshly turned earth, gunpowder, and blood hitting my face. Screams follow. Horrible, revolting screams mix with the hot air, and the ground shakes violently as if I’m in the middle of an earthquake.
“Here they come!” my foxhole mate screams.
“Fire at will! Fire! Fire! Fire!”
Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack!
My M16 jumps and jerks in my hand, spraying deadly 5.56-millimeter rounds down range as if it has a mind of its own.
Ta-tow! Tow! Tow! Tow!
The M60 machine gun at my position sends a furious stream of 7.62-millimeter rounds guided by red tracers in the direction of the charging VC, tearing through bodies as they advance. High above, flares are launched by the Spooky. They float to the ground, swaying from side to side under their parachutes. Their glittering light provides a haunting glow like a slow-moving strobe light. High above, the gunship fire is so intense that red tracer rounds look like uninterrupted arches of red lines. Incredibly, the VC charge forward through the hellish firestorm. They have no other choice.
As some VC mortar rounds strike targets, several deafening explosions ring through the night air. I turn to look behind me. A fireball thirty feet high billows into the sky as one of the aviation fuel tanks explodes, blazing in a white inferno.
Many of the VC that miraculously escaped the onslaught rush our position. The hammering of weapons is near deafening in the close confines of the foxhole.
Whamp! Whamp! Whamp!
The sprinting VC open fire with their AK47’s on our position.
Ziipp! Ziipp! Ziipp!
Several rounds fly by like angry hornets, but mostly over our heads.
The detonation of the two claymore mines in front of the foxhole sends an ear-shattering blast into the darkness. Both claymore mines send hundreds of steel balls searching for something to rip into pieces.
I hear a Whoosh! Hisss! Whoosh! noise, then see the trail of gray smoke as one of the VC fires an RPG-7 rocket at the tower.
“Whoa! Oh shit!” My vision follows the gray smoking trail as it zooms toward the tower. The rocket slams into the bottom of the tower penetrating the plywood floor before exploding against the back wall. I see Sergeant Mears thrown from the tower with a large sliver of wood driven through his heart. He comes to rest twenty-five feet from the tower remnants.
VC run on the right and left of our position as we continue to fire.
The Spooky gunship picks up ground movement of the fleeing enemy force and fires for a short time before the VC run head-on into the Korean ROK’s waiting claw. For us, the firefight has ended. Howls from the wounded and dying fill the cool, damp air. The clatter of battle is frightening, but the aftermath, filled with the cries of dying men, is the most eerie sound on earth. I look to my comrade. In the flare’s eerie illumination, he also appears to be hiding his head from the sounds.
“Psst. Hey, buddy, you all right?” He doesn’t respond. I move closer, my feet slipping on the slick, sticky surface of the bottom of the foxhole. Empty magazines clink together as I kick them. The bottom of our fighting position is pitch black; even the flares don’t light it up. His head is resting on the butt-stock of his M60. When I shake him, he tumbles sideways against the side of the foxhole. The flare’s light glimmers across the upper portion of his body. It takes several moments for me to contain myself. He’d been hit during the firefight. It looks like a bullet entered the back upper part of his head, making a hole about the size of a Bic pen. Then, having grown to the size of a softball, the bullet exited through the place where his face should be. Now he doesn’t have one. No eyes, no nose, no mouth. Just a hole where a face should be.
Something’s wrong. I never heard him stop firing. How did he get hit from behind? Why not me? I belch and become nauseous. My body shakes violently as everything I had eaten the day before forces its way out of my mouth. There are no words to describe the loneliness of sitting in a hole with a dead man. … I didn’t even know his name.