It was a Dark Night
There were times in Vietnam, that I just gave in to the stress and went to sleep. FIDO - Fuck It, Drive On became our motto in a lot of cases because it was either laugh or the stress would kill you. It was a lot like riding the rollercoaster at the amusement park. the first few times you did ride, it scared the hell out of you and the adrenalin burned up and left you shaky. After a while you just didn't think about the fact that there were guys out there that wanted to ventilate you with real live bullets. We began to trivialize them and they simply became gooks that should die.
On one of my many different trips out with the Infantry, we were operating in the jungle north of Saigon. It was after the TET attacks in 1968 and Charlie was rebuilding his base in the deep jungle. The books described it as triple canopy cover. It seems that several hundred feet above the tree tops were thick with sun blocking leaves. Somewhere down below that was a second level and that small amount leaves would further such the sunlight out of the daytime and the final layer above our heads would make it look like early morning or late daytime in the broad light of noon. Now that you begin to understand what it was like during the daytime, try to imagine what it was like at night. Black, a kind of flat black that just reached out and snatched any remnant of light until it was like you were robbed of your sense of sight. Because you were damp and dirty, even your sense of touch as you scratched didn't help the feeling of not being able to see shit.
On one of those dark nights, an outpost had a trip flare go off on the trail beyond them. Shit oh dear, close one eye so you can see when the damn thing burns out. Oh hell, you couldn't see a damn thing no matter how hard you tried. The white flash burned your night vision out and then when it got dark, dark took a whole new meaning. One of the guys in that outpost got spooked and without warning threw a grenade out in the general direction of the flare. As soon as that grenade went off, the whole group opened up with an M-60 and two M-16's. It was the firefight from hell for a short period. Them Ka-Whoomp and one of those mental geniuses set off a Claymore. That was the signal to cause several other outposts to report that they had activity in front of them and they started firing. I got on the horn and brought up our direct support artillery battery and fired our Defensive Concentrations around our position. Very soon, a battery of 155mm howitzers wanted to get into the act and I started moving their fires around in the dark. Shit oh dear, a 175mm battery came up and they wanted to lob a round or two. Knowing how poorly they fired accurately, I put them out at least a grid square away from us.
For at least 30 minutes, it was like the final scene from Platoon where everything was making noise and a lot of ammo got shot. Then, silence. Everyone reported that the movement stopped and there wasn't a noise to be heard within a mile of us. Some of the quiet was from the loss of hearing because of all the damned firing. The real quiet was because any self respecting thing in the jungle went far, far away. The Company Commander got his platoon leaders on the radio and started taking Sitrreps (Situation reports) on who was wounded or hurt. Pretty soon it was reported that the only injury was one of the guys on the outpost who got hit by some of the grenade shrapnel because he stood up to see what hit the ground when the other idiot threw a grenade and didn't tell the other guys. That guy had run back into our main perimeter and left his M-60 machine gun out there. The other guys didn't know he had left it and they came back in without it.
I thought the Captain was going to explode right then and there. He was shouting so loud that I'm sure the Platoon leader could hear him without the radio. "Get some of your men and go get that Damned Machine Gun and get it now! Kerist on a crutch, are your people just terminally stupid or what!" It was soon reported that they recovered the machine gun and the things the outpost had left.
To say that I didn't get much sleep the rest of the night was an understatement. I kept one gun up firing at each of the different spots on the map in random order. I had everyone asking for a sitrep and body counts the rest of the night. "No, I don't have an idea what we hit and I sure as hell will wait until daylight to find out! If you want a body count, come on out and we'll let you wonder around in the dark to see what you can find."
At first light, the unit had a 100% STAND TO. That meant every single person was awake and ready to defend in case we were hit. In short order, the Platoons began to move out on short patrols to see what they could find. One platoon where the outpost had had the trip flare go off soon started to report blood trails in the jungle. Someone or something was out there and we had hit a lot of them. Then the news that bodies were found came in. Damned Monkeys had been moving and hit the perimeter and caused all the fuss. I thought I would bust a gut laughing. As I began to make my reports to the artillery units that had fired for us, you could hear people laughing in the background. One of the Radio Operators actually said, "No Shit?"
While it gave me a good feeling to know that I could have the entire resources to support us if we got hit, I did wonder about the shaky outposts that started the entire mess. I guess that fire first was the night time motto for soldiers out in the dark jungle.
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