Three Man Patrol
©1998 Sarge Lintecum
Between Charlie and the jungle, things had been pretty hard on us. We were very short-handed. My squad was down to three men, counting myself. Yes, just me and two other guys. Our company had encountered a major trail that was extremely, heavily traveled. We called in on the field radio to report this major trail and were told to wait to be joined by the Tiger Force. (a hard core, elite, special fighting unit of the 101st Airborne).
While we waited, the Comanding Officer got a swell idea that I should take my two man squad and go scout out this big trail a few clicks (1000 meters) up the trail and back. Now I don't remember making the C.O. mad, but if I didn't, I missed a really good chance because I may as well have. This was not a three man job, especially since this trail was so big and so well traveled. Regardless of this obvious fact, we went up the trail and were we ever on full alert! The trees were very tall, making the jungle canopy stretch well above us. With each step, we expected to set off an ambush.
We hadn't gone too far when we saw it--right off the trail, on the side of a steep hill, was a batallion-sized Viet Cong training camp. Everything was made out of bamboo, with a covered class room area with rows of bench seating and a bamboo chalk board type structure at the front of the class. A basket of fresh eggs sat on a cross-member of a roof support like an offering to hungry visitors. I told the guys not to go near it and to be extremely watchful for booby traps. Beyond the class room area was the mess hall which consisted of a huge oven that was built right into the side of the hill. The oven opened up right out of the side of the hill and the smoke stack was a large mound of dirt that ran all the way up the hill with staggered two-inch diameter bamboo chimneys every three or four meters coming out of one side and then the other of the smoke stack mound. What an engineering job -- with a trickle of smoke coming out of each bamboo spread out all the way up the hill all of the smoke would dissipate before it could breach the jungle canopy to be seen by our helicopters or jets.
But this camp was showing too many signs of being very recently inhabited to spend much time marveling at Charlie's ingenuity. I had a gnawing suspicion that that huge oven was more than just an oven. Then I noticed that there were foot prints everywhere except right in front of the oven. Charlie would hide in very advanced tunnel networks and it looked to me as if we had found one and the entrance was the oven and it was probably full of Viet Cong.
I had the radio man call in our position and report what we had found and to our disappointment we were ordered to return at once for a larger force to be sent in. I guess they weren't expecting my three man patrol to discover a Viet Cong training camp, which in the middle of the jungle seemed like a Vietnamese version of Chicago. We were very possessive in combat and I was pissed because I felt like they were taking my training camp away from me, and they had. I never saw it again. We returned to our unit waiting for us down the big trail and were told to kick back while we waited for the Tiger Force guys to move in and check it out, which made me even more mad.
We didn't wait long. Shortly after the Tiger Force moved in, we all heard the booby trap explode. It was a while before the chopper came in to take the Tiger Force guy out and word was passed down that his leg was pretty bad. I actually got to see the guy for a split second. The Medi-Vac helicopter was flying overhead and banking for a turn just as it passed over a hole in the jungle canopy and I could see the medics working on him in the air. Well, I wasn't mad any more, but I sure wished I had been there to tell him not to touch those damn eggs.