Chapter One helmet

It was 22 March 1967. Company B, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry, Fourth Infantry Division of the US Army was moving to an unimportant piece of jungle west of Pleiku in the Central Highlands called Polei Duc. Our mission was to support and reinforce the men of Company A who were surrounded and under attack by a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) battalion. We were only a few hundred meters from them, but when we hit a portion of the enemy force we were drawn into the fight ourselves.

As the fight developed, the sweat stung my eyes as it rolled down my brow from underneath my helmet. Straining to see up out of the cane and small trees from my prone position on the ground, I could see nothing but more vegetation and shredded chunks of greenery drifting down to the forest floor. Incoming rifle and machine gun rounds were angrily cracking and zipping through the air around us. Small trees and limbs were crashing and falling. Artillery explosions were whumpfing and kabooming nearby and the ground shook and shivered. Taking off my glasses and sweeping the back of my dirty hand across my eyes to clear them, I glanced back at Specialists Fourth Class (SP4) Richard Surface and Donald Hunter to make sure they were still following me. At the moment they were the most important guys in the company….they carried our radios, one for the battalion and one for the company…without that capability we were just three guys confined within a hornet’s nest of wild bullets and flying shrapnel.

My fourth platoon was pinned down on the left by two NVA machine guns and as the company commander I was trying to see what could be done to clear the problem. I bellied up to a small tree stump for cover and wood chips from the impact of multiple enemy rounds flew into my face, partially blinding me and causing minor scratches. There were several tugs and rips from my rucksack rocking me from side to side. My temporary haven was no longer safe. The stump had disappeared and I was laying on my stomach, unable to see clearly and about to crawl further into a killing zone. Later I found several bullet holes through my pack, poncho and air mattress. It was obvious we were in the sights of a sniper team and to keep going meant being killed. I pointed to where the stump used to be and grinned at the guys to show we had cheated death one more time. I motioned to them to turn around and crawl back the way we had come and received a couple of grateful looks. It appeared they had not been particularly in favor of my idea of moving to the sound of the guns where people were trying to kill us.

And this was all before 9 o’clock when civilians at home were just getting to work. It promised to be a long day, but to us it was just another day at the office! As I kept low and reversed course on my belly, deep in rotting jungle vegetation, dodging bullets, explosions and falling trees, I was reminded of how I found myself in the situation of leading 120 men against a 500-man enemy force located just a few meters away.

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