US Army in Vietnam - the observations of a Grunt in the 1st Infantry Division

Sixth Sense Part 2 and Other Stuff

In order to give the reader some idea as to what is being talked about in this post from DM2 I have, unusually, included my original questions.

In the case of a surprise penetration by sappers what happened if the main CP was destroyed and in effect the position lost both it's command and communications?

WELL, if by the main CP, y'all mean the B-TOC, in an NDP, or the FDC or the Battery CP of a FSB, it is important to remember this :

  • Each company has its own CP in an NDP, and the Combined FDC for all of the Batttalion Mortars still exists to provide radio commo with the outside world.

  • Each platoon also has its own CP inside the NDP, with two(2) AN/PRC-25s, to maintain radio commo with the outside world.

  • At a FSB, the grunt company has a CP, as well as each platoon. Then there is the FSB FDC and TOC, and if it is a multi battery FSB, each battery has its own FDC and CP as well. Also, if I remember rightly, each gun section (3 per battery of 6 guns) has a pair of AN/PRC-25s and an AN/VRC-46 too; and if the guns are SP Guns, each Gun has an AN/VRC-46 vehicle radio, too.

Any of these radios can talk to ground troops or to helicopters or PBRs or FACs. I forget just how many pushes are available to these radios, but the number is incredible.

SO, y'all see if would take a real series of hits to knock out all of these locations with sappers or artillery rockets or 120mm mortars or artillery. Sappers might have the best chance to do it but it would be a real fluke for it too happen.

What happened to those units whose commanding officer or squad leader etc where absent when the attack commenced? Were you allowed to 'wander' about the NDP/FSB after dark or were you in effect confined to just your area of the perimeter?

In the FSB or NDP at night, we did not do much wandering around . Even with a pass word, there was a chance to get your butt blown off by some body with a shoot first, talk later attitude. There was a platoon latrine for each platoon area for the EM/NCOs and a smaller one for the platoon leader, so if the call came, y'all were never far from your platoon or squad.

If LT had to leave the platoon area, the Platoon Sergeant and then the Weapons Squad NCO were in command, followed by the squad leaders as determined by seniority, then fire team leaders by seniority, right on down to the most senior SP4, PFC, and PVT. We were designed to function with losses, and most of the time this did work, but, severe casualties could produce temporary paralysis.

At company level for officers, senior LT replaced the CPT, or even the 1SG was boss until an officer became available if there was one.

Given that most attacks were at night and presumably a certain percentage of the base would be asleep, how long did it take for the sleeping troops to become involved in the fight?

Officers walked the company area inside the FSB or NDP at night along with senior NCOs to chechie-checkie on the grunts alertness. Squad leaders also eyeballed their own men for alertness within squad areas at night, but share the duty of bunker watch along with fire team leaders and lower ranking grunts. I would say all ranks, from the BN CO to lowest PVT averaged about 4 hours sleep on a good night, sometimes more, usually less.

FSB had wire obstacles strung around them as well as fougasse and flame fougasse bombs. These provide more room between the gooks and the grunts, and the gooks and the guns, hence more time to react to an attack.

Gunners sleep in shelters near their gunpits, all other gunner supports sleep near their posts. All are armed at all times, so getting it together and fighting back does not take long very long , if the unit is a good one. If it is not, or of it is a unit of FNGs, precious minutes can and will be lost as the officers, NCOs and troops run around bumping into each other in total confusion. I have seen it happen both ways . Say 2 - 5 minutes.

With grunts, the only thing between you and the gooks lurking in the darkness is an OP, a string of booby trapped claymore mines, and a wall of high velocity lead and steel from rifles, machineguns, grenades. This is a well known fact of life to a grunt. Grunts, even dead tired ones, are awake even when they are asleep. Explosions, gunshots, screams for help, of warning or orders, or a low voiced challenge, well, they seem to get through when a battery of 6 tubes conducting normal H and I over your head does not disturb a grunts "sleep" (but let the firing tempo of the battery change, and you have a groggy but awake and worried grunt looking for the reason why).

Sooo, grunts, wake up faster and tend to organized faster than other troops in the field unless they are passed out drunk (never saw this; even drunk grunts can detect incoming fire), already dead, or from a unit of FNGs or a poor unit. Say, 2 - 3 minutes tops for a good unit to go from zzzzz to an organized fighting unit.

But, Mike, time is deceptive in combat. No one is looking at watches, so my sense o f time could be off and my numbers be totally different from some one else at the same fight.

We called this "warp time". I do not where the term originated or with whom. It was just there. There are two types of warp time, Mike. Fast and slow.

Years passed while I struggled through a day in the bush, yet when I looked at my Timex, maybe 5 minutes had actually passed. This was also true for standing watch at night or laying in the darkness on AP or OP duty or waiting. Slow Time.

Seconds zipped by while I fought, dragged corpses away from the gooks, treated wounded buddies, talked to chopper pilots, MEDEVACs, FACs, or FDCs. Yet when I glanced at my watch, HOURS had passed. Or went on R & R. Fast time.

What happened when a part of the perimeter was either overrun or had to fall back?

If part of the perimeter was over run, well, everyone was in truly deep shit unless the gooks were killed off and the perimeter restored real fast. An over run perimeter, well then it was up close and personal time. Shoot when you could, throw grenades, and finally it was fixed bayonets, rifle butts, weapon slings, entrenching tools, knives hatchets, machetes, shovels, axes, steel pots, fists, boots, teeth, rocks, and even dirt become weapons. Sanity leaves, blood lust, hate, and fear rule, with no prisoners asked or offered until the gooks are dead or driven off, and the dazed, exhausted survivors re- establish the perimeter and stalk the gooks remaining inside of it, killing them. Very confusing, very bitter fighting by single GIs, or small groups of GIs vs groups of gooks.

If the perimeter is penetrated, the NDP or LZ or FSB totally over run, the fight becomes a series of isolated and bitter fights between small groups of GIs and gooks . The enemy is all around in the darkness, and comes from nowhere, is either killed, or vanishes into the darkness without a trace. GIs appear and vanish likewise. Sometimes this hell is lit by the light of parachute flares, which has to be experienced to be believed. Very surreal; like an acid nightmare, a soldier told me once when talking about it. Very surreal.

The only place to go if the gooks win the fight for the FSB or the NDP or the LZ, is to retreat into the jungle, fighting as y'all go, and to try to reorganize a new perimeter until daylight, or fight your way out, breaking off contact, and hoping for a chopper ride or artillery support.

All of these years later, I cannot give any organized clear account of such an event. It is all a jumble of shocking and very disconnected images in my mind, no sense of time. I never even saw the gook that ran out of the darkness and smacked me over the head with his AK. I was shooting at another gook in the light of a flare, then, I was face down in the wet mud, choking on it. A soldier I never saw before or since helped me up, and I rolled the dead gook off of my legs that he had shot. I picked up my weapon, and we could only see gooks around us, so we ran and shot , until we found some more GIs who were making a stand. The rest of the night is just as confusing, stalking , shooting and fighting till the sun came up and the gooks had gone, vanishing into the fog . My uniform, covered with drying blood and mud, my weapon covered with dried and drying blood and hair, my skin covered with blood and mud. Very little of it mine, mostly other GIs and gooks. It was awful, and it was wonderful too. I know that makes no sense to y'all, but it was. Tired. Exhausted. On edge.

Well, I said more than I should maybe. I am never sure where I am going when I start. It sometimes burst out of me, and is not meant to impress or confuse anyone. LOL! I am the confused one. I still have not figured it all out. Never will. That is another area where combat and Hollywood part company. There does not have to be a sane reason for the sights, sounds, events all around. Things happen that never get answered.


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1st Infantry Division TAOR (1969) 

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