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Page 47
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<< 46. Second Veteran Art Triennial Dives Into the Meaning of the Long Wars 48. Remembering Olongapo >>

Memories of My Time in RVN

By Paul Byrnes

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Memories of a grunt serving in RVN with B Company 1st 327th (Abn) Infantry, 1st Brigade 101st Airborne from June 1967 through April 1968.

I still remember after the first firefight with the NVA that I was in (took place outside of a little hooch complex somewhere near Duc Pho/Chu Lai), being ordered to take one of the corners of the poncho the body of our point man had been placed in after we recovered it, and carrying his remains while what remained of his brains leaked out the hole an AK round had punched through his steel pot and his head on the way to where dust-offs could come in and take the WIAs and KIAs out (found out later that he was only 18 years old when he died).

I still remember several days after that first firefight, walking point as we came off RON and then switching squads when we took a break to rest and eat some C-rats after humping half the day; finding out after the firefight that took place shortly thereafter was over that the guy who took over walking point from me was the first person killed when he walked into an NVA ambush: one hour earlier and I would have been walking point when we made contact.

I still remember, after being assigned as RTO to our platoon leader, watching as he and our Vietnamese interpreter butt-stroked half to death a military-age Vietnamese man we had taken prisoner along with what we assumed was the rest of his family (including a very pregnant Vietnamese woman we assumed was his "wife") all of whom seemed to be living in a small, isolated hooch complex. The savage beating of the prisoner occurred because the lieutenant didn't like the answers the interpreter was translating into English to questions posed to the suspected guerilla fighter through the translator. After the interrogation was over, we left the young children and an elderly woman behind while we took the man and his "wife" with us as we left the area; they were both shot and killed about ten minutes after we left.

I still remember word being passed back through the column after we heard the gunfire that killed the male prisoner to kill the woman and passing the word to the guy behind me who had "custody" of the woman. I also remember watching him kick the poor pregnant bound and gagged Vietnamese woman off the trail and then put a full magazine of 5.56 into her head (causing it to expand like a water balloon before literally exploding).

I still remember being sent on a canteen (water) run and stopping when the buck sergeant in charge of the mission (a few years older than us 18-19 year old kids) spotted a young Vietnamese woman standing by herself and watching us. He ordered us to set up a perimeter while he took her at gunpoint to a nearby hooch. I can still see him come out of the hooch alone several minutes later as he pulled his fatigue pants up and grabbed his LBE.

I still remember humping down from the high ground after RON and seeing my platoon leader (who as platoon RTO, I was right behind in the column) for no reason, just stop and shoot an unarmed elderly Vietnamese man who was in a rice paddy about 50 meters away from the trail we were on. The Vietnamese peasant was walking behind a water buffalo pulling the plow, peacefully working his rice paddy when the lieutenant killed him. I also remember a Vietnamese woman running out, screaming in what I assume was anguish as she saw the body lying in the mud and water.

I still remember humping through the woods for several weeks looking to make contact and setting up on the side of a hill for what turned into several days (at least one day too long) and getting concerned because we had been in one place for too long. Our concerns were proven when an NVA mortar team lobbed about 30 shells at us from so close by that we could hear the popping sound each time a mortar round left the tube. After the attack was over, we realized that but for the presence of a large tree next to our position, at least one of the mortar rounds would have taken out me and the other guy I was sharing a position with.

I still remember having an airstrike dropped on us by "mistake" shortly after we had CA'd onto a hill between Phu Bai and the A Shau Valley. As I recall, the "friendly" airstrike occurred early one morning about four or five days after we had occupied the hill, while we were fortifying the perimeter of what would later be designated FSB Birmingham; building the sandbags and engineer stakes fighting positions that would be where the grunts kept guard from inside the wire. It was while filling sandbags and putting them on the roof of our bunker, that I and the other guy assigned to this position were blown off the bunker and knocked out. I also remember coming back to consciousness in a gray fog of dust, with everything around us obscured by blinding, choking clouds of dust.

I still remember that, although we never received an "official" explanation as to what had just happened, we later heard that an American plane flying above the low-hanging clouds that hid us from view had dropped three 500lb bombs on the hill. As we searched the side of the hill for WIAs (none were found), we saw that one of the bombs had detonated directly below my position (presumably the blast of which blew us off the bunker roof), a second one which landed right next to our platoon CP (killing everyone at the CP), and the last one a direct hit on the artillery FDC bunker: splintering 12" x 12" timbers and killing about 10 of the artillery guys. I later came to realize that if the slope of the hill below us hadn't directed the bomb blast out and away from us, we would have been killed instantly.

I still remember after the "dust literally settled" from the "friendly" airstrike, being ordered to go around the outside of the perimeter with empty sandbags, tasked with picking up any human remains we found (most of the remains found were lodged in what was left of the trees and other vegetation on the side of the hill) blown out there by the force of the bombs.

I still remember one cold, rainy day during the monsoons as a buck sergeant in our platoon was called to the CP and told that the TOC had just radioed in that this sergeant's wife had given birth to a little girl and then finding out after the firefight that occurred shortly thereafter that the sergeant had been killed. Once in a while, I wonder what it was like for that little girl, growing up without ever getting to see her father.

Paul Byrnes was a Sgt. (E-5): B Co., 1stBattalion 327th (Abn) Infantry 1st Brigade 101st Airborne: Spurs earned in combat: not bought and paid for by Daddy Fred Trump.

<< 46. Second Veteran Art Triennial Dives Into the Meaning of the Long Wars 48. Remembering Olongapo >>