114th Aviation Company Association
BDQ Ranger, 32d Vietnamese Ranger Bn
"So you think you have had a bad day, huh!"
One day last week I was waiting in line at a local restaurant. Ahead of me was a young woman of approximately 23 years old and her equally young female companion. They were both complaining about their bad days, while I listened with amusement. One had been late for work and had trouble with her hair and had gotten spoken to by her boss. The other had gotten behind a "slow farmer" on the way to lunch, and had some other trivial interruptions at work. As they whined, I thought to myself, "Girls, you have no idea of what a truly bad day really is". " I wish I could share with you what a truly bad day can be like".
In late 1970, I was sent to Vietnam for a second tour. I was stationed in the Delta region of South Vietnam as an Advisor to the Vietnamese Rangers. We spent a majority of our time in the field, hunting VC in a place called the U Minh Forest. The U Minh is always wet, the mud is at least ankle deep every where, and it stinks terribly, just like an open sewer. There are at least 3000 types of bugs, leeches, snakes and other pests in the U Minh, and 2999 of them bite! The mosquitoes in the U Minh are as big as the quail at home and they fight each other for your body!! The only friendly things in the U Minh forest are the guys with you, and I often wondered about some of them! This sets the scene for my "Bad day" .
In 1970 and 71 we operated under the "two man" rule, always two Americans in the field together. I knew I was in trouble because my team mate was due back from R&R, the same time that we were supposed to depart for a week in the bush. And as departure time came, He still wasn't back. The second clue I had that this was going to be a long trip, VNAF choppers started setting down on the pad and my interpreter said they were for us!! We got on board and "flew" to the LZ we were supposed to use and after getting off, and checking my map, we were 8 klicks from the correct LZ!!! Gonna be a long mission!!! I was operating with a re-enforced squad of Vietnamese Rangers, setting up ambushes and generally trying to radically change the lifestyle of VC in the U Minh. After about a 5K hunt that first day we stopped for the night in what is called a Night Defensive Position or NDP for short. Since there was very little dry land in the U Minh, we usually set up on the edge of a canal for the night. We posted guards and the ones not on guard tied themselves to trees to keep from falling into the canal while asleep. Usually you left about, oh say , three foot of slack in the rope to be more comfortable.
All was well until about daybreak. You know, the darkest part of the night, when the wolves howl and ghosts walk about! Suddenly, from somewhere, the VC we had been hunting the day before found us! Now it is a very unpleasant and rude awakening to have about 20 mortar rounds drop in and wake you up!! Especially when they are accompanied by thousands of green and orange tracers as big as basketballs. Confusion is instantaneous and total! We always had a Escape and Evasion plan in case we were overwhelmed. As the mortars landed, I looked through the flashes of the exploding rounds to see the squad members running in all different directions. They were yelling "DI DI MAU", which in addition to meaning "get out of here", was our signal to each other to run and then join up later if we could, 2 kilometers to the North. I grabbed my ruck sack and M-16 and was running full blast after the first two feet. Remember the three foot slack in the rope? Good for you! I didn't.... and hit the end of the slack full tilt! My feet went into the air much higher than my head, and my M-16 went where ever good M-16s go at a time like that. My breath left, due to what felt like crushed lungs, but I held onto that rucksack!
Now an Infantryman's rucksack is his 2nd most important piece of gear. It carries extra ammunition, extra food, pictures of sweetie back home, different kinds of useful explosives, and in my case, a PRC-25 radio and extra batteries, and usually weighs around 70 to 100 pounds. Since I just lost my most important piece of gear, my M-16, it was amazing that I held onto the rucksack.
Well here I am, my feet higher than my a.., uh, head, coming down on my back, half in the water, half out. Now just guess where the rucksack decides to land!! You got it, right on my head, which is also the half that lands in the water!! The ruck hit, I lost what little breath I had left, my head hit the water, and I tried to take a breath, almost simultaneously. As my head went under, I tried to find my K-bar knife to cut the rope so I could stand up. The knife handle is slick with mud so I miss it the first try. After what seemed like two years underwater, I finally got the rope cut and stood up, amazingly still holding on to the rucksack! I looked behind me and little fellows in black clothing were running through the NDP. Now I'm a cowboy from west Texas, so even I know that bad guys wear black!! With discretion being the better part of valor, I got to the other side of the canal quick! As I stood up to run, dragging the ruck, something hit the ruck hard and almost ripped it out of my hand. I ran north as fast as my legs could carry me. After a minute or so, I turned a corner of the canal and somebody hit me in the mouth, knocked me down, and asked me what the capital of Texas was, as they shoved a gun barrel between my teeth, and I dropped the rucksack!
Now this is ridiculous, my face hurts, my chest hurts, my legs hurt, my mouth is full of gun barrel and this fool wants me to answer questions about Texas!! I push the guy away far enough to see he is one of the squad and mumble around the gun barrel something that hopefully sounded like Austin. Thankfully, it sounded like Austin to him also. He removed the gun from my mouth, and helped me up. I picked up the ruck and we ran some more. About two hours and 2 kilometers north from where we had started the day, we holed up to wait for the others, if any made it. The guy with me was a Vietnamese corporal named Trung Bien or close to it. As the sun came up, we took stock. He had lost his ruck, and his M-16 only had four rounds in the magazine. I pulled that darn ruck over to me and almost cried!! The radio was shot. Literally. It had bullet holes in it! The side pocket where I kept extra ammo was black and burnt. The claymore in the opposite side pouch had a hole in it. Lucky for me that it takes HEAT and COMPRESSION for C-4 to explode. As I opened the ruck main pouch to check out the food, a smell very close to a dirty diaper smote me in the nose. Cans of ham and eggs, pork and beans, all had been mixed with ham with lima beans that were blown open and mixed with fruit cocktail and peaches, STINK, what a smell! Thankfully my map and compass had been in the side pocket of my pants. And that reminded me, what the H..l is biting me? I check and I've got two leeches the size of two Armour Star hotdogs, one sucking on my left boob and the other trying to give me a new belly button. Got rid of those buggers in a hurry!!
Finally the other members of the squad show up, and we are all accounted for and the squad leader has a working radio. But that's the good news. The bad news is nobody else grabbed a ruck when they left, so we only have the bullets in the M-16s that 7 of the guys managed to hang on to. The squad leader has already called in and we will be getting picked up by chopper. That's the good news. The bad news is the LZ for pickup is another 5 klicks away. Headquarters is sending three choppers to get us all at one time and that's the good news. The bad news is they won't show up until almost dark so the boys in black won't have such a good target! As I sit down for the first time that morning, I thought to myself, this is beginning to be a real bad day! I bet they won't even give me any mail tonight when we get in, and the mess hall will be closed. I couldn't have been more right than if I had called them on the phone and asked them to do it to me!!
As I stood there in line in Lawton, Good old USA over two and a half decades later, I could not stop the laughter. Those poor girls, somebody really ought to tell them what a bad day is really like, but not me!! I'm just proud I survived my bad day.
SFC (Ret.) Ed "The Bear " Briggs
Lt Wpns Advisor, 32nd RVN Ranger Bn, Oct-Dec 1970
Hvy Wpns Advisor, 85th RVN Ranger Bn, Jan-Oct 1971
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