The Bad & The Awful

by Jerry Prater

Every light weapons infantryman in Vietnam experienced a wide range of incidents that were very dangerous and life threatening, but not significant enough to be considered a firefight. Some of the incidents left a vivid memory in the mind of the soldiers, while others are just a vague recollection with no memory of the details of what really happened. I had several such incidents, and I want to relate two of them now.

The Bad

During the month of July 1967, our platoon was involved in cordon and search missions on a regular basis. We would go out on search and destroy missions during the day and set up for the evening before dusk. Then, during the early hours of the morning, possibly 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., we would saddled up and move out in single file to the village we would surround, and then wait for the Vietnamese National Police to come and search the village for VC, as well as supplies for the enemy.

On one such mission, we saddled up and headed out in a single file to the village we were to surround that morning. All of a sudden, the column stopped and we just sat down for several minutes. I later found out that the latter part of the platoon, which I was in, got separated from the rest of the platoon, and they had to double back and locate us so we could continue to the village.

We arrived at the village, and each member of the platoon was assigned a place to stand guard in a dry rice patty until day break when the National Police would arrive. As we were being assigned to our two man positions, I noticed that we had a lot more space between the positions on both sides of us than in previous missions. Shortly after I expressed my concern, I saw a man, almost certainly a VC or NVA soldier, run through the space between my position and the one to the left. I was thinking that one got away, but it didn’t seem to be a major issue. However, a short time later I heard gun shots and some bullets were hitting very close to me. I thought that the person who escaped saw where I was at and singled me out for his target. After a second burst, I moved to my right to seek some cover, and to get out of his sight. However, I was still in his sight because he fired a couple more rounds at me that I could hear go past my head. I moved again, but he continued firing at me, so I decided to just lay still and hope he would stop firing. I don’t know if he couldn’t see me anymore, or if he thought that he had killed me, but the firing stopped. However, to be safe, I stayed in my position long enough to be certain that the VC had left the area and wasn’t going to shoot at me anymore. The rest of the morning was quiet and without incident.

The Awful

Lt. Pape  

Lieutenant John Pape was my platoon leader when I was first assigned to the platoon, but his tour had ended and he was sent back to An Khê to be shipped back to The World. A new lieutenant, a total cherry with no experience in Vietnam at all, was assigned as our new platoon leader. I’ll never forget his first day with the platoon. We had been told that we were going to LZ English for our monthly shower, and so we could spend a little time at the PX, or anything else we wanted to do with about four hours of free time. However, the new lieutenant wanted to check us out and see if we knew what we were doing! So, we went on a mission, and I got to walk point, something I absolutely hated to do. After the mission was completed, the new platoon leader seemed to think that we actually did know what we were doing.

About one week later, we were on a search and destroy mission and we came up to a village. The platoon leader instructed us to stop as we came out of the foliage and was on the edge of the dry rice patty. Then, he ordered us to line up abreast so we could walk about one quarter of a click through the dry rice patty and assault the village. Sergeant Larry Douglas was my squad leader at the time, and he assigned me the location from which I would walk to the village. We were not grouped together, there were about five or so meters between me and the guy on either side of me.

As we started moving toward the village I discovered that the area I was to walk through was the space used as a toilet for the village! After taking about three or four steps, I could smell and see the feces that were scattered all around the space in front and to each side of me. Oh man, was I upset! I took my M-16 from the safe position and put it on full automatic fire. I was extremely upset and angry and, if someone fired shots from the village that forced me to fall and lay down in the feces and urine, somebody was going to pay dearly. Then, we received orders to stop and fall back, we weren’t going to enter the village abreast after all.

Richard Waller   Lt. Church (left) with Dyess and Alcala

Sometime later I found out why the assault abreast of the village was halted. Apparently, Richard Waller, the RTO, got on the radio with Sergeant Prock, the platoon sergeant, and told him what was happening. Sergeant Prock yelled to Waller for us not to move, for us not to take another step until he got there. The cherry lieutenant made a few more tactical blunders, and was relieved of command in less than four weeks after he took over the platoon, and he was replaced by Lieutenant Jerome Church.

An Khê — maps: An Khê and Vicinity, An Khê (Camp Radcliff), Detailed.

LZ English — found on the following maps: Bồng Sơn, LZ English, LZ Two Bits; Bồng Sơn, the An Lão Valley, and Tam Quan.