The Short LRRP

by Jerry Prater and Michael Washburn

LATE JUNE, 1967 — The Army has been sending out Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP) since the French and Indian War in 1754. The purpose of a LRRP in Vietnam was to send a team of about six infantrymen to a strategic place to observe and report enemy movement. The LRRP team was to avoid detection by and contact with any NVA or VC personnel because it not only would destroy their ability to gather and report information, but it would also almost certainly result in death or capture of all the members of the team. A LRRP team was also used as a spotter for artillery, helicopter gunships and fighter bomber missions.

Lt. John C. Pape  

We were working out of the Bong Son Valley during the latter part of June 1967 and I was selected to be a part of a six man LRRP team. Our mission was to make our way to the top of a hill to observe and report any movement in that area over a 24 hour period. The platoon left the area where we had set up the previous night at approximately 0800 hrs. and started on one of our daily search and destroy missions. Lieutenant Pape had told us that the platoon would stop for a ten minute break when we arrived at the point where the LRRP team would break away from the platoon in order to advance to our destination.

Just as planned, the platoon stopped at approximately 0900 hrs. for a break. The place where we stopped had very heavy foliage to our left and a group of trees along a small river to our right. All of us who were going on the LRRP sat on the right side of the route we were taking. Just before the platoon was going to resume on the search and destroy mission, the LRRP team was instructed to take cover in the short foliage and trees to our right so we could not be seen if any enemy troops were observing us. As the remainder of the platoon got up and resumed the mission, the six members of the LRRP team held our position for several minutes until the platoon was totally out of sight and hearing range.

We then stood up and starting walking in single file through the tree line and towards the small river, which was about 20 feet wide, that we had to cross to get to our destination. Daryl Stamper was the point man and he led us through the first group of trees, then he made a turn to the right.  He then noticed that the path was impassable and told us to go to the left to see if we could get through the tree line in that direction. Michael Washburn was second in line and he maintained his position behind Stamper. Doug West was the third man in line and he took the point and started moving to the left. I was originally the fifth person in line, and I was now third.

After we had walked about 10 feet in the new direction, Doug West all of a suddenly dropped to a knee and said something in Vietnamese. He then fired a couple of bursts with his M-16 and the rest of the LRRP team hit the ground and started looking around to see if any other enemy soldiers were in the area. After we were confident that these were two isolated VC soldiers, I went a little over waist high into the river, retrieved one of the bodies, and floated it back to the edge of the river. I then went back into the river and retrieved the second body. As I was climbing out of the river, I noticed the other guys going through the bodies and taking documents, as well as any of the personal items they wanted for themselves. By the time I was able to search the bodies, all I ended up with was a propaganda pamphlet that had been dropped by the Air Force, or from helicopters. The pamphlets were written in Vietnamese and had drawings showing soldiers being sent to South Vietnam and their wives or girlfriends, who were in North Vietnam, were having affairs with guys who stayed home. This reminded me of all the “Jody” cadences the drill sergeants used as we were marching in basic training at Fort Polk. I mailed the pamphlet home to my wife, but I never saw it when I got home. She probably threw it away with the rest of the letters I mailed to her.

About this time, the remainder of the platoon arrived back at our location to provide us with any support we may have needed. As it turned out, we apparently walked up to a couple of VC messengers who were either asleep or trying to avoid contact with us. When West noticed them, one of the enemy soldiers tried to fire his Chicom rifle, but it jammed. Since they saw us before we saw them, we would have had two or three KIA/WIA, including me, if the rifle had fired correctly. Since we had been detected and lost our cover of secrecy, we rejoined the platoon and went on the search and destroy mission scheduled for that day.

After we had completed our search and destroy mission for the day and set up for the night, we were informed that the LRRP mission was scheduled again for the following day. Either the Company or Battalion Commander wanted information regarding any movement that may occur in the area we were assigned to recon. Just like the previous day, we left our camp site at about 0800 hrs. on another search and destroy mission. A different group was assigned to this LRRP team, including Larry Nunn and myself. When we arrived at a point close to where we had stopped the previous day, the LRRP team again set up on the right side of the platoon, and we crawled into the foliage just as the platoon got up and resumed the search and destroy mission.

We again waited about ten minutes until the platoon was out of sight before we got up and started toward our destination, which was about 3 klicks away. We crossed the small river where we had encountered the VC couriers the previous day without incident. We then had to continue on a route that would provide us with foliage and trees for cover so we would not be detected by enemy soldiers before we arrived at the recon location. The day was very hot, in excess of 102 degrees, with no clouds and very little to no breeze to cool us off.

When we arrived at our destination, we noticed that there were no trees on the hill where we were assigned to set up for our recon mission. As a result, we had to sit in the hot sun with little to no shade the entire day. I had four canteens full of water when we stated on the mission and I had drunk three of them, and part of the fourth before nightfall. I was still very thirsty when I went to sleep. My mouth was very dry when I was awoken to pull my first guard shift, so I drank about half of the water left in my canteen. I was still very thirsty, but I knew I had to conserve some of my water because we had no way to get to any source of water before daybreak. My mouth was very dry and I was very thirsty when I was awoken for my next guard shift, and I drank the last of my water before the shift was over. I just could not quench my thirst, so I asked Larry Nunn, the guy sharing my foxhole and guard duty, if I could have a swig of his water. He reluctantly let me have a couple of swigs because he was also thirsty, and he had conserved his water a lot better than me. Now, I was out of water and had no way to get another drink until we could find a stream after daybreak.

A while after daybreak, we were informed on the radio that a chopper would be sent out to pick us up within an hour. I was still extremely hot and thirsty, and I knew that it would be an hour or so before I could get a drink of water. After sitting there suffering for what seemed to be an eternity, we heard the chopper coming to pick us up. As soon as I got into the chopper, I asked the door gunner if I could have a swig of his water. He told me that he had no water, but we would have plenty very soon because we were being airlifted to LZ Geronimo.

Just as the door gunner had said, we had a short trip and arrived at the LZ within about 15 minutes of the time we were picked up. As soon as we got off the chopper I asked where I could get some water, and I headed straight to that location. The water was in Gerry cans, and all I could taste as I was drinking the water was the taste of the can. But, I didn’t care because I now was able to drink enough water to finally quench my thirst.

We never did see or hear anything while we were on the LRRP. However, the one thing I learned was just how important it was to always have full canteens of water because you never knew when you might be cut off from all sources of water. So, I started filling up my canteens, no matter how much water was already in them, every time we came to a stream. I was going to do everything I possibly could to avoid being in another situation where I was extremely thirsty or dehydrated because I ran out of water.

Bong Son Valley and LZ Geronimo — see the following maps: Bồng Sơn, the An Lão Valley, and Tam Quan, Bồng Sơn, LZ English, LZ Two Bits.