TET 68: VIETNAM'S PEARL HARBOR
Our new year had begun but the Vietnamese Lunar New Year was just beginning. The Armed Forces Radio and Television Services were instructing us what Tet was all about. A cease fire was in effect and the TV station was teaching us how to show respect to the Vietnamese locals during their holiest of holidays. What to say to them in their language, how to bow, and what foods they ate during their holiday feast. Sgt. Coffin, our NCOIC told us to watch ourselves out on post today because an intelligence report told of an expected truce violation and possible attack on Tet to all American installations.
This evening as I went out to my post as an MP sentry dog handler, I was weary of anything out there. Then in the near distance near midnight I could see the ARVNS (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) celebrating by shooting their rifles up the air, I could see the red tracers flying through the ebony skies. "Those idiots," I thought, they could get someone killed that way. Those bullets have to come down somewhere. But the night finished off without any incidences so I boarded the jeep that came to pick us up and happily checked in my rifle, pistol and Heidi, my German Shepherd. Heidi was a small female dog who almost didn't make the cut when she was made a sentry dog. She was like everyone's pet until I learned if she didn't make it as a sentry dog they would have to put her to sleep. So I quit letting her be everyone's friend and had the training staff at Okinawa subject her to much harassment and aggravation, she became mean and untrusting of everyone else but me. She was a fierce little soldier.
The next night Sgt. Coffin again warned us of possible activity, to stay on our toes. I had the good fortune to have the night off so I had a couple of beers at the Enlisted Men's Club as we watch James Bond's Thunderball. Bedtime came to me around 10:30 pm. Smiling, I went to bed happy and soon lapsed into dreams of California beaches and California girls. I dreamed of the Beachboys and their song Good Vibrations when I noticed their drummer kept beating the drum louder and louder. Then in the distance I could hear saying "Get up, get up, we're under attack!" I thought, "How could that be? I'm in Huntington Beach with bikini clad girls!" Then reality struck as my eyes opened to hearing what I thought were the Beachboys drums actually being 81 millimeter mortars being dropped all around us. I flew out of the hootch in my underwear and boots and crossed the street to the concrete bunker to wait for the okay siren. We had experienced many of these harassing mortar attacks and once they finished, the tower would give a long straight wail on a siren. If the siren was an up and down wail that meant trouble. The siren was an up and down wail and that meant we were under ground attack, the enemy was in the compound!
We all ran to the office to get our rifles and pistols and I went back to the hootch to get dressed. No sooner to I get outside, we start receiving incoming small arms fire. I lined up against the sandbagged wall with the other guys and opened fire toward the area we were receiving it.Sgt. Clay came flying in on his jeep with Waddell, Wheeler and Booth hanging on for dear life. They hurried to put their dogs away in the kennels then joined us at the wall. There wasn't any room for Fisher in the jeep so he hoofed back to the detachment. He said he was scared as he ran from the airfield to the detachment and could hear bullets flying by his head. Sgt. Clay looked out the front gate and saw American civilians and a few Vietnamese civilians who worked on the compound struggling to reach the gate but there was enemy fire behind them. He and PFC Waddell risked their lives to help the civilians get into the gate by carrying their belongings and aiding the older folks as I and a couple of the gate guards covered them by shooting into the area where the shooting was coming from. The night continued on and the Viet Cong wouldn't let up, they kept coming at us from different directions determined to take over our compound. Choppers kept getting up in the air and shooting all around the compound.
When it was all over, the airfield was a mess. Their mortars found their way to several aircraft and the ground attack claimed 18 American lives and around six ARVNs in our compound. One of the Americans killed was our airfield commander Lt. Col. James Mitchell, the only black field commander in Vietnam. I had just read about him in Sp4 Johnson's Jet Magazine. I used to like reading that magazine and Ebony because blacks were really coming up in the entertainment world and there were some interesting stories. By dawn's early light, we were tired, hungry and pretty pissed at the Viet Cong for violating their TET truce. We were told we could eat at the mess hall this morning. We never ate at the mess hall because we were on separate rations, which meant we got a little extra money for not being able to eat at a mess hall. On the way to the mess hall we saw a truck carry several body bags of Americans. As the truck went by us the air stood silent. No one said a word, I think the wind stopped blowing because it was so quiet. We just starred at the body bags and when they stopped we looked at the names, addresses and names of their next-of-kin. I looked at one and thought, "Here I am, reading this guys information and knowing he is dead before his wife knows it. Why am I so privileged? This is somebody's husband, son, brother or father". I knew then we were at war and this was the first day of the TET OFFENSIVE of 1968.
After breakfast, we all took a nap for a few minutes. It was hard to sleep thinking of the guys who died and what with the temperature in the hundreds and afraid to take off our clothes for fear of another attack any minute. I just lay there, thinking, drifting off and suffering sadness, anxiety and hate.
Sgt. Coffin called us to get together to talk to us. "Guys, the airfield commander, Col. Mitchell was among the guys killed last night. The assistant commander Major Reed, want to send a squad around the compound to pick up any clues, report dead enemy or to make sure there are no enemy waiting nearby to attack again. I need volunteers to go on this little mission" The sergeant had no trouble getting volunteers as we all pretty much wanted to do our share. There were ten of us plus two infantry sergeants that went with us to lead this patrol of greenhorns who had never left any compound to venture outside the safe haven. We first followed the trail down the road then when we had to turn into a rice paddy we walked 12 abreast slowly and quietly. Then vet tech Tuohy yelled out, "Halt! Dong Lai!" then he fired a warning shot over his head. When that shot went off I thought we were caught in a firefight. My knees buckled out from under me when I realized there was no where to run, no where to hide. I thought this was it. We were all going to be slaughtered right here without any help from the airfield. As I waited for my fate, I heard a voice say "Come over here you guys," as Tuoey pointed his rifle to a civilian who did not understand Tuoey's English or his Vietnamese when he yelled for him to stop. We all gathered around this civilian and searched him before letting him go on his way. Needless to say we were all rather relieved. As we treked on we had to cross a river chin deep to all of us. We held our rifles and pistols up over our heads as we crossed the river. The water was a welcome as it cooled our hot and tired bones. I discovered that our jungle fatigues were made of a special material that dries in minutes as we continued our walk through the jungle.
When we arrived back at the camp, one of the guys took out his camera to photograph us as "hardened vets" back from the war. I was dead tired, thirsty and hungry and didn't really feel like posing for any pictures but as I reflect now I'm glad I did. Unfortunately, a shower was out of the question because we had no water. Also, there wasn't going to be any food either because the mess hall was closed until dinner. An ice cold Coke was just the quencher to a tough hot day and a couple of cookies the guys had shared made everything alright for now. This was January 31st, 1968 and it was the longest day in my tour. This was also the first day of the Tet Offensive.
The heat was unbearable underneath the Vietnamese sun. It was the first days of February when the east coast was buried in 20 feet of snow and we are suffering the effects of 110 degree heat. But we aren´t the ones suffering that bad. The five prisoners sent to us from camp security who survived the Tet Offensive were locked down in metal dog cages which measured around 5´x 3´x 3´. If it was 110 degrees out here, it had to be over 125 degrees in there. When all the shooting stopped and we got back from our search and destroy patrol, five pretty worn out Viet Cong ground troops were waiting for us to put them in the dog cages. One by one we would mess with them as we let them stay in the dog kennels all together until the captain found out about this and ordered them to be put into the dog cages.
At night, South Vietnamese Intelligence interrogated them. They invited us to partake. I was the first one to help them in their quest for more information about the deployment of their troops but they weren´t talking. The South Vietnamese officer told me to go ahead and leave the room with my dog, Heidi as he told the prisoner I was preparing my dog to attack him and rip him to shreads if he didn´t talk. I then came in with dog barking and growling as the intelligence sergeant yelled and taunted my dog to get her riled up. I had put her muzzle on in the meantime and directed her right to the prisoner´s face. His face welled up in fear and Heidi continued her assault egged on by the sergeant. Once the prisoner saw that she had a muzzle on the surprise was over and they let me leave the room.
The next night I was allowed to watch the interrogation without a dog. This time they tied the wires from a field telephone to the prisoner´s thumbs and turned the crank on the telephone which ran a bolt of electricity through him as he refused to talk. Then the officer poured himself a glass of water. The prisoner stared at the water and the officer pour it slowly into a large clear glass. He asked if he would like a cup. All he had to do is tell us what their unit was and where it came from.The prisoner, thirsty from the heat of the day and hungry from the lack of food still refused to talk . The officer threw the water at his face and while the prisoner was trying to lap up as much as he could the officer again cranked the telephone which gave the prisoner an even bigger jolt than before.
They gave the prisoner a break while they discussed another avenue to interrogation. When they began the talks again they laid the poor guy on his back of two paint cans and again proceeded to ask the burning questions regarding with size of their units and location. He still did not talk so they battered his ribs with a baseball bat they brought with them. I glad to say it wasn´t our bat but that poor guys probably finished his interrogation with three or four broken ribs.
The next night Sgt. Coffin asked me if I wanted to participate and I said no, "I´ve seen enough, I can´t go through another night of this". I was asking myself why we had these prisoners and why we had to help South Vietnamese Intelligence interrogate their prisoners. It seems that while the security team of the airfield we were in were not authorized to keep prisoners. The POWs were the responsibility of the military police and since we were the only military police at the compound, they belonged to us.
While the temperatures soared during the day and our prisoners suffered from the heat of the dog cages, I and a few of the other guys couldn´t stand guard over them and see them die. We would sneak in small cups of water and crackers or cookies. Maybe that´s why when the intelligence officer offered them water they refused and weren´t effected by the enticement of a glass of the blue stuff. On the third day one of the prisoners, a kid who was around 12 years old, was taken away when his leg finally turned green from the bullet wound he suffered during the attack on our airfield. Our veterinarian technician put an intravenous medication in his arm to avoid infection and aid his recovery but he pulled out the needle and line minutes later refusing any help. The South Vietnamese took him away and we never saw him again.
CREATION OF MANS BEST FRIEND
God summoned a beast from the field, and He said,
"Behold man is created in My image. Therefore, adore him.
You shall protect him in the wilderness, shepherd his flocks, watch over his children,
accompany him wherever he may go, even into civilization. You shall be his companion,
his ally, and his slave.
To do these things, I endow you with the instincts uncommon to other beasts: Faithfulness,
Devotion, and Understanding, surpassing those of man himself. Lest it impair your courage,
you shall never foresee your death. Lest it impair your loyalty, you shall be blind to the faults of man.
Lest it impair your understanding, you are denied the power of words.
Speak to your master only through your mind and your honest eyes.
Walk by his side; sleep in his doorway; ward off his enemies; carry his burden;
share his affliction; love and comfort him. And in return for this,
man will fulfill your needs and wants,which shall be only food, shelter and affection.
So be a friend of man. Guide him through the perils along the way to this land I have promised him.
This shall be your destiny and your immortality."
The dog heard and was content.
WEIRD HAPPENINGS AT THE
This is a true story of a weird event that happened to me "Donner" and another handler
and his dog. I hadn't been in the 212th for more than a couple of months when this occurred.
I would say it was in the month of early March. It was before I got assigned to Tay Ninh.
Well,Donner and I was on post on the Long Binh Dump.I can't remember the post number's now (wow, only been 32 years ago).
I do remember at the end of my post was a slight rise, where the other dog post met mine.
There was also a tower on the rise. I met up with the other handler and of course we had to stop
and shoot the bull for awhile. Well we were standing there in the road facing the wire talking
and occasionally looking down our different posts.
Well there we are talking, when all of a sudden Donner started to stare down my post.
The other dog started staring down my post also. Both of us saw the dogs staring so we looked!!!
Now this is going to sound completely nuts. I saw down my post, probably 75 yards away, a glowing
white ball of light.It reminded me of a large beach ball with a light inside it,
just slowly moving from inside the dump going across the road moving towards the wire.
It followed the contour of the ground, going down the drainage side of the road, up
over the road and down the other side, disappearing into the bushes and growth in the wire.
We both looked at each other and with our mouths open.I asked him if he saw what I saw and he did !
Both dogs just stared and followed the light with their heads.I yelled up to the alert tower guards.
After a couple of minutes a sleepy voice said they hadn't seen anything. I asked them to look real hard
at the area and see if they could see anything. They said they couldn't see any type of light.
They asked if I wanted a roving patrol jeep to come down. I said YES! I then told the other guy,
I guess I better go down and see if I could see anything.I tell you, I felt pretty spooky walking