A Really Bad Night

Headline and quotes come from www.history.com. I was there, and so the comments are remembrances and reflections of that terrible time. Sights, sounds, and odors experienced in situations like this become PTSD triggers.

“U.S. 1st Infantry Division troops engage in one of the heaviest battles of Operation Junction City. The fierce fighting resulted in 210 reported North Vietnamese casualties.”

Early into the battle, a platoon from the Big Red One had lost radio contact with HQ. My company–A, 3/21, 196th Light Infantry Brigade–set out to find them. We did. All dead. Some slaughtered beyond recognition.

It took a long time, multiple droppings of 500lb bombs, and a heavy dose of napalm for us to breach the machine gun-protected woodline. It was late afternoon. The command decision was that it was too late to evacuate the dead; they were, after all, dead not wounded. The extraction would occur in the light of the next morning.

That meant that our three rifle platoons had to dig foxholes to form a perimeter around our fallen comrades and sit out the night on high alert. We were attacked several times: some single shot sniper rounds, some heavier barrages. Not knowing whether we were fighting VC or NVAs and not knowing the troop strength of the enemy, there was a real, albeit unspoken, chance that we too could be overrun.

Bad things happened that night, including the back blast of an improperly placed Claymore mine nearly blowing my head off, a buddy in my foxhole getting shot right next to me. I remember the assistant machine gunner who got out of his fox hole, then one shot, one scream, another dead American.

“Operation Junction City was an effort to smash the communist stronghold in Tay Ninh Province and surrounding areas along the Cambodian border … The purpose of the operation was to drive the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops away from populated areas and into the open, where superior American firepower could be more effectively used.”

Grunts never knew the master plan. All we knew was that there were American soldiers who needed to be found. That was our mission. We swept the jungle for about two weeks after the bodies had been choppered out. The mission changed from “recover” to “search and destroy.”

“Junction City was the largest operation of the war to date, involving more than 25,000 troops.”

For the guy on the ground, the number 25,000 means nothing. Numbers that matter are 30: my platoon; 10: my squad; 5: my fire team; 1: me.

“There were 2,728 enemy casualties by the end of the operation on March 17.”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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