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By John Mitchell
Waking up to the smells and sounds of daily life here, it didn't seem at all like there was a war going on. Villagers went about the same daily chores people there had been doing for centuries. Life went on, idyllic and peaceful. Here, no one cared who was president. Survival was more important.
During the night the Marines' mascot, a little stubby-legged dog named "Vicious," came over by the gun, looking like he wanted to make friends. The trust in his eyes overwhelmed me, so I accepted the offer and was no longer alone. Yesterday's events had handed me the job of point man, and during my morning patrol around the village I was surprised to see the little dog show up and take a position about twenty yards ahead of me. When I asked about this, the others said, "He always does that." Somehow that dog knew what was going on. Guerrilla war was new to me, and his company was reassuring. He would guide me for a long time; his sense of duty was uncanny.
As we made our way to yesterday's action, the people seemed afraid of us. Finding no blood trails and all the brass cleaned up, we returned to the command post. Nothing was wasted here. It took only a few days to realize we were not doing the people any good here and we had no plans to build any schools. Theory and reality differed. Imposing our will with guns didn't win the hearts and minds of the people - fear was the only tool we had. Hate for this place was building, death was welcomed here.
The Viet Cong were clever, hard to see; they would hit and run. Vicious and I adapted to this and would draw the fire to expose them; the 60 did the rest. It was a daily game for us: a sportsman's hunt. I stayed in that village and we whittled away at each other for a month or so. The tactic had only one drawback: it became hard to find volunteers to walk behind us.
One beautiful sunny morning, we were anxious to start the patrol, and while talking with my last good Vietnamese scout on the way out of the village, I missed the little dog's alert. Without warning, the VC ambushed us with a .30-caliber machine gun they must have borrowed from us. Instantly returning fire was too late for my scout, who caught a 30-cal round through the hip and fell by my side, exposed and helpless. I reached down, still firing, and got him out of the way. The others came forward to cover us and I worked on my buddy's wound, which didn't look good. His leg dangled. The game was over.
The VC had ganged up, hit us with all they had and then disappeared. Night came, and we followed our usual plan: we would set up an ambush and then return to the village to eat and get a little sleep before the morning patrol. When it came time to return to the village that morning, I got another Marine and two PFs and we slipped along the river until we would be behind the VC's morning ambush. We set up on the rocks across from the rice paddies surrounding the village and waited for daylight.
As the sun rose, we could see the little buggers setting in for the ambush on our morning patrol. We were anxious to shoot these guys but had to wait and let the other Marines spring the trap. The VC would soon run right into us, in full view of the M-60. The sun was getting hotter as we watched our foe getting into better positions for their ambush. It was 8:30 a.m. by the time we finally made radio contact with the other Marines. Fatigue takes its toll here and it just caught up with them.
Corporal Cool was the first one out; he was a hard-charging, gung ho Marine with no sense, and he ran into the ambush without any doubts. The VC had about thirty guys all shooting their one magazine at our guys and then they started to run right into us. Waiting for them to get to the middle of the rice paddy seemed an eternity. With about half in front now and the rest coming, we let the 60 open up. It was ducks on the water now. What a turkey shoot! The VC fell like rain; there were only a couple that escaped that day and only because the other Marine couldn't hit them with his M-14. The paddy was littered with dead. We had two Marines that got wounded on the way into the ambush (one was Corporal Cool), both minor, a small price to pay for the results that day.
The frustration of never seeing your enemy was over. We had the trophies, and it was good. I came out of the rocks and had a look at the corpses, and I was a little surprised at the age of the VC. Most weren't even 16 years old. A few might have been 18 or 19. Kids killing kids, I thought, and what a waste. I wondered what I had gotten into: just a politician's dirty work? But none were here; they were busy back in Washington, washing their hands. Everyone should have been ashamed of the reality here that day, but we weren't. Killing creates jobs all down the line, and the supreme command wanted more kills, and so did I. Bloodlust, I called it. They would get their wish in the days to come and we would lose "the count" over and over again.
My PF friend who was shot in the leg returned to the village in less than three weeks, his one leg gone at the hip. He was supposed to recover in the ville. I told him we got everyone that shot at us that day. It was of no comfort to him; he was a wasted man now and only wished I had let him die. At that moment I became fed up with the horror of this conflict. Hate consumed me and lust for blood was begging me on. I had finally crossed over into the animal kingdom. Only the strong survived there.
John Mitchell is a member of VVAW from Wisconsin.