The Hill Was Hell But The Valley Was Murder
©1998 Sarge Lintecum
We were going down the trail on a search and destroy mission with ARVN (Army Republic of Vietnam) troops attached to our unit when word came back from the forward scouts that we were going to climb down the steep side of the mountain we were on. We would be using a trail that had been built by NVA (North Vietnam Army) engineers. The full impact of how steep this descent would be could only be experienced when we reached the edge and looked down the shear drop of, I would guess, over one thousand feet to the floor of the valley below. To our right was the breath taking beauty of a waterfall that fell to the bottom and fed a stream that meandered across the farm land of the valley floor. This was the most beautiful and majestic site that I have ever seen.
We couldn't believe that we were going to attempt the treacherous descent with full combat gear and no repelling ropes. Then, as the front of the column of soldiers began to move down the hill, we could see that they weren't going straight down the hill, but rather from side-to-side on some amazingly sharp cut-backs in a huge zig-zag pattern down the side of the mountain. As we descended in this zig-zag pattern, the decent was so gradual that we could have easily reached the ankles of the guys on the cut-back above us. Despite the amazing engineering job, it was still one hell of a climb down. As we neared the bottom, things changed back from the sight-seeing-tour feeling of the descent back to the mind set required for the search and destroy mission that we were on.
I was fairly far back in the column so when I came to the bottom of the mountain the troops were stretched out half way across the valley ahead of me. We hadn't gone far when word was passed back that we had captured a VC (Viet Cong) ahead. I remember the line was held up for a few minutes, which meant a short but well earned rest, when a single shot rang out from the front of the column. Shortly after that, we moved out again, but not fast like we would if we were hurrying to reinforce the guys up front -- we just went normal speed in a long procession -- single file and spread out so that a grenade or booby-trap would take out just one soldier. As we moved, one by one, we passed the dead body.
I'd seen a lot worse sights, as this was a clean bloodless hole right in the middle of the forehead, but I had never felt the cold chill that I felt when I realized that he had been murdered -- execution style. This was different than looking at bodies after a terrible fire fight, where everyone was fighting for their life, there was no honor in this, this was murder. We were told later that the ARVN officers had interrogated and killed him for refusing to talk, but that didn't make me feel better because our officers were supposed to be in charge. Whoever was in charge makes little difference to me. I will always remember that the hill was hell, but the valley was cold-blooded murder.