First off some quality tunes to begin (pronounced CHOOOOOONZZZ).
Also, the format will be a bit……complicated, but I trust you are all intelligent enough to grasp what is happening.
Finally, how many of those reading think they recognize the……….OTHER trip referred to? 😉
Action Report: Bearnagh Slabs scouting mission.
Roster: E-Company; Lieutenant O’Hagan, Sergeant Major Cheung, Sergeant Rooney, Corporal McCalman, 6 Privates.
Accompanying: F-Company; Specialist Cadden.
Specialist Cadden reporting. I was ordered to link up to provide technical assistance to E-Company recon squad. The rally point was to be Trassy Track Carpark, in the Quang Nam province, just outside of Da Nang city.
A lot happened that day. No one person knows the whole story, but I have done my best to get as many perspectives as I can. I don’t know why, maybe it’s just something I have to do, so here goes.
The year was 1972, Vietnam, and little did we know the war would end in just 3 short years. Too us, it seemed like it was all we knew, all of us had joined up young. For me that meant I had already been in combat for 3 years. For others like Sergeant Rooney, that meant about 8 years in this hell. He used to be a Captain, but between politics and a ‘fast-and-loose’ attitude he got demoted not long before the mission. I think he liked being one the line better anyway, a desk didn’t suit him.
My transport had been delayed by 2 hours. I arrived late and received a radio call from Sgt. Major Cheung, ordering me to link up closer to the objective. The objective was a series of trenches and fox-holes located in hostile territory, on Bearnagh. I followed these orders, navigating the dense jungle, avoiding up to 6 enemy patrols before reaching the unit.
The idea of walking through enemy jungle, solo, to link up was stupid. But orders are orders. 3 years previously, just about 2 months after I joined up, I was on a patrol much like the one I was linking with. I was just a Private then, fresh off the Huey, and wet behind the ears. As I marched through that bush, jumping at every little sound, dodging patrols, I thought back to that day. I had come a long way since then, I was probably more hardened than most other Specialists, but I still had to be careful. Charlie likes to remind you that everyone makes mistakes.
I reached the rendezvous and called the agreed call out, “Well, how’s things?”. I received the appropriate response, “Not too bad, yourself?”. I was selected for this mission for my knowledge of the area, gained during one of my previous assignments 3 years ago in the same area. I was to guide the unit through the trenches, avoiding booby-traps and ambushes, to aid in reclamation of the area.
When I arrived I discussed tactics with the ranks, glancing at the privates. I didn’t bother to learn their names, most of them wouldn’t be coming home with us, and any that did wouldn’t be the name they were called, they would be the person their actions had made them. Hell, if things went badly I probably wasn’t going to make it back either. Last time I was here I only just made it out, things had been going well enough, until our CO (commanding officer) went on a recon of the area before bugging out before dark.
We began to make our way through the trench system in three teams. Team one was lead by Sgt. Major Cheung and Cpr McCalman, team two by Sergeant Rooney, and team three by Lieutenant O’Hagan. Team one made it’s own progress as it moved through a safer section of tunnels, while I moved between teams two and three, guiding them past the most dangerous sections. We heard sounds of a firefight from team one (it was speculated they came under fire from a guerrilla weapon commonly called a ‘bomber hex’, though I had no confirmation of this in the field), though no distress signal was made, and so we continued on with the agreed plan.
We later learned that it was a bomber hex, but thankfully they didn’t take any major hits, though Sgt. Major Cheung took a wound to the chest.
After our CO had gone, we quickly lost one of the Sergeants. He just….disappeared, without a trace. Some thought Charlie got him, others the forest. Me? I think he deserted, but in the end he probably didn’t make it too far. We tried to radio our missing CO, but no success. Things were not looking good.
We then saw 3 members of Special Operations. Officers
Malone, Bufkin and Browne Hippie, Freedom and Newton. I made a call out to Officer Hippie, to check if our unit was interfering with their operation. I was ordered to rendezvous at the staging area with them, so I left the teams two and three. I became ensnared in a booby-trap left by Charlie, commonly called a ‘foot jam’ and was released with the assistance of Sergeant Rooney, and regrouped with the Special Operations team. I was given the minimum information required to assist the team, which was that team three was entering a section of the compound which contained a special asset they were to retrieve, and that they would link up with team three and assist them. I was then ordered to regroup with team two and scout another position adjacent to the compound for further enemy activity.
Our CO finally got in contact with us, they had taken heavy fire and were forced to retreat. They were in full retreat and had left behind vital equipment which was a huge loss to the enemy (‘ropes’ were in short supply at the time and critical to the war effort). But we were left with no option but to march our way out of enemy lines under cover of dark and worsening weather. After a lot of close calls, we somehow made it back with no more losses. I don’t know how we got off to lightly, but that day I began my slow rise through the ranks.
Thinking back, with each rank I gained respect and knowledge of how to survive in this inhumane struggle. But Each rank took something from me, each patch was heavier than the last, faces were harder to remember, or maybe I just tried to focus on them less.
Sergeant Rooney, 2 Privates and I scouted the position and found no enemy activity, despite our through recon search. While searching the position, we observed a fire fight break out between an unseen enemy and team three, with Lieutenant O’Hagan taking the brunt of the fire. After much trading of fire, the Special Operations team offered covering fire for the Lieutenant to retreat safely. At this time all fire teams regrouped and began the march back to the rally point (Trassy Track Carpark). All parties successfully reached the rally point, and evacuated successfully. End of report.
There were a lot of secrets in that war. Things that we were never allowed to share, like how a deep cover operative known only as ‘vien leo nui’ questioned us for intel on enemy patrols. I doubt that made it even into the Special Operations report. We heard rumors that the operative may have been conducting experiments in enemy territory. People often talked about prisoners the military made to ‘Hill walk’. None of it was ever proven of course, couldn’t have the folks at home knowing what was done in the name of ‘Climbing’.
“We who have seen climbing, will never stop seeing it. In the silence of the night, we will always hear the whippers. So this is our story, for we were climbers once, and freshers.” – Unknown climber, on the subject of Climbing.