Fifties Frogs Magazine

Vol 6

Pg 4

Man's Best Friend by Frank Moncrief
 

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There was a period during my second tour in Vietnam (well, there was actually more than one period) when I was afflicted with what we called, when we were in Vietnam, the “Vietnamese Two Step”. Prefix any location and you have the same malady. In my case I think the quinine tablets we had to take to ward off malaria caused my condition. Anyhow, the following operation was staged during one of these periods.

Our target as always, was a Viet Cong higher up. I don’t think I ever knew how “higher up” these guys were. I do know that out of all the body snatches we did, no one of them were important enough to cause a stir out of our province, An Xeyenn. It really didn’t matter how high they were; if we were told to get them, we went out and got them. A target was a target.

As usual our target came to us by an informer from the Chieu Hoi Center. The informers were ex-Viet Cong whom had returned to South Vietnamese government. In order to prove their loyalty they would offer something of strategic, political, or military interest to the South Vietnamese government.

We insisted that all informers lead us to their targets. The informer was told if anything went wrong, he would be the first to die. This tactic lessened our chances of being ambushed. This informer agreed to lead us to the target hootch.

Late that evening we proceeded down the Buy Hap River in our MSSC (Medium Seal Support Craft) to an ARVN (Army of the South Republic of Vietnam) outpost. The seven of us (I think there were seven of us) debarked from our MSSC and entered the outpost. We were to check with the outpost commander and let him know we had chosen his outpost for our staging area. This means that we were going to start and end our mission at his outpost. Letting the outpost commander think he was part of our operation made him feel very important and assured us of his support, if we needed any. This is, unless he was a VC sympathizer. This man wasn’t. We had checked out before we chose his outpost. We hung out in the outpost until our departure time, allowing the outpost defenders to shake our hands, and check out our equipment, making the Vietnamese soldiers feel important. We weren’t the Devils with Green Faces, and we were here, up close and personal. During this period, we checked out our own equipment, and each other’s, to make sure we were all ready for a night of fun and games in enemy territory.

At 0100, Lt. Moran led us out of the outpost to being a long, trying odyssey of operation. It was obvious from the start our guide did not know where he was going, or better yet where he was taking us.

It was during the rainy season and we were traveling through rice paddies. The water was knee deep, the mud another six to eight inches. The rice stalks were about shoulder high. Lt. Moran was leading this meandering trek, with our guide directing our course. Me and my trusty Stoner were rear guard, at (1)
my request, as you will understand later. The reason I thought our guide was lost was because we were making a serpentine trail through the middle of rice field with no reason to side step or walk around a rice stalk. If one knew where was going, he would just plow straight through the paddy.

Aside from wandering aimlessly through rice paddies, it seemed as though every outpost in our AO (area of operation) was on edge. They were either nervous, being assaulted, thought thy were being assaulted, or just seeing ghosts. In any case, they were all putting up parachute flares, making it difficult for us to move more than one hundred yards at a time. As I said, the rice was about shoulder high, and, of course we stood out like a SEAL Team patrol on a mission. When a flare went up we had to squat down and take cover until the flare burned itself out. Here is the reason I asked to be read guard. Every time we squatted down, my pants came down (remember the Two Step). By the time the flare burned itself out I was ready to move again. After wandering around those rice paddies for what seemed like hours, we took up our positions for assaulting a hootch and proceeded to stealthily approach the hootch.

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Cont-

 

Shark Master Frank Moncrief

Photo by Ron Rossman

 

 


We were within thirty yards of the target when our luck ran out. A dog started to bark, warning our intended prisoner of our presence. We could hear him go through the back wall. Like all rural Vietnamese hootches, this one was made of thatched palm leaves. The VC would leave a part of their thatched wall un-braided, allowing them to slip through the wall in case of an emergency. This was such a case. He made his escape and was long gone down his escape route.

Four hours of sneaking around in enemy territory, dodging flares, never knowing if or when you might trip a booby trap, or walk into an ambush, or just make contact with an enemy patrol, all wasted because a dog. In a fit of frustration and failure, LT. Dick muttered “kill that damn Mutt.” No second thought, the mutt was history. We had kept our noise discipline except for the one shot that took the dog out. We didn’t think we were compromised yet because the VC often used one shot as a signal. Nonetheless we had to exfiltrate back to the outpost. It took us about an hour to get to the outpost. By that you can see what kind of a night we had, following this inept ex-VC guide around through the rice paddies.

After entering the limited safety of the outpost, we relaxed. I say limited safety because these outposts were very vulnerable to VC attacks. The VC used the ARVN outposts as training aids for their new recruits, usually overrunning the outposts. It was about 0500 hours and the VC usually attacked between midnight and 0500. Our return aroused the garrison and with everyone out and about  we felt safe enough to take a break. All of us were tired from the hike through the rice paddies and the tension that goes with sneaking around in the enemy’s backyard. There was always a lot of that. After exchanging some pleasantries with the Vietnamese soldiers we each found a place to crash. I found a spot on the clay ground to lay down. Our long walk through the muddy rice paddies plus my dysentery made be very tired. So in no time at all I was sound asleep. I don’t think I was asleep for more than a half an hour before I woke up shivering uncontrollably. The damp clay ground plus my wet clothing had sapped my body heat leaving me with a slight case of hypothermia. I moved over to where some of the group had a fire going and the fire along with the shot of rice wine one of the Vietnamese soldiers gave me had me back on my feet in no time.

After returning to Ca Mau, Lt. Moran wrote an after action report in the place it said KIA (killed in action), Lt Moran wrote KIA: “one bone grinder.” When that report got to Saigon all hell broke loose. Lt. Moran was reprimanded for his remark about the bone grinder, and the rest of us were told that war was a serious business and there was no room for levity in this command. This all came from a REMF, a commando, who more than likely never left his airconditioned office. The levity is what eased the pressure of the all-night forays into enemy territory. Without the levity it would have been nothing but a dull boring job.

About a month after this mission I had occasion to cruise down the river past the outpost and rice paddies we traversed that night. I could swear there were serpentine growth of rice about a foot taller than all the rest of the field. I believe this was due to my “contribution” that night.

And so ends another night of fun and games in the beautiful country of South Vietnam. —Frank Moncrief, Class 15 LCK 11/55.

Editors Note: Frank is a great writer because of his flair for irony. As I typed this I realized there was an article in the local news, marking the 30 years that have passed just a week or so ago since our withdrawal from Vietnam. Part of the irony is that a TV show also marked it showing the beauty of Saigon today. Thanks Frank for a remarkable reminder. You’re great, and thanks for the memory.
 

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