A Shau

The A Shau Valley is for us ground pounders what Tally Ho was for an F-4 pilot. You go 'cause somebody tells you you gotta. It is not recommended. It's not ours. Except for a brief time that the Marine Corps went through, it never was. It never will be. The place sucks.

Its supposedly in CCN's turf. But we change things from time to time. Fresh perspective. Maybe not enough turnover up north, and everybody told 'em to fuck off. Don't know. But the marching orders are emphatic. The A Shau. Shit! We're gonna go try to get some pics. Gonna try to count heads. Gonna get our asses shot off. The last wasn't in the mission briefing. It's in our minds, though.

The Ah Shit Valley. I've known about this place since SFTG at Bragg in 1968. The bogey man for us. The place they send you when you say "whatcha gonna do, send me to Nam?" I'd rather go to Hell. At least once you're there, you're already dead. Something like 25% to 30% of all the teams that ever went in there didn't come back. Shit!

Okay, we plan it. We read every report that's ever come out of the fookin' place. There'll be no aerial recon. Every hole big enough for an insert is already known. To all parties concerned. Okay, we ain't gonna sneak in. We're just gonna hafta hope we can get lost real fast once we're in.

Major air support. Arc light will be enroute from Guam. Not a fast response time, but you can't keep something like that in short orbit. Shit! Ah Shit! They say Mike Force will be 30 minutes out and rarin' to go. We believe the 30 minutes, the rest probably ain't right. They went to the same SFTG I did. I was scared in Nam a lot of times. That night ranks right up there with "Flashlights."

What we're gonna do is get inserted just over the southeast corner ridge while the USAF is tearing the hell outta some other areas of the valley. We gonna try to kill anything in the way of watchers, and then disappear into the brush, relatively thick in that area. Then the AF is gonna tear the hell outta the LZ we came in on. We figure we'll get around 24 hours on the ground. We also figure 50% casualties, if we're lucky. Shit! Yeah. Ah Shit Valley.

We pack heavy. Light on food, lots and lots of things that go boom. I don't know about the others, but I got a willie pete with my very own name on it. Low return rate on lost teams. I ain't gonna be MIA if'n I can help it. I figure I can. RPD has been cleaned to death. I've got 150 rounds in the drum that's mounted, two more 100 rounders on my belt, and another 150 rounder in my ruck.

Also my Browning with a couple extra mags. Not likely to help, but whaddafuck, over. Another 3 drums scattered around the team. Grenades up the kazoo. Claymores, too. Full sized ones, which we hardly ever carry. We are both psyched up and out. Shit! A Shau! Why the shit can't we get something easy, like huntin' Satan or something...?

D-Day. We go out. Nobody smiles. We're running heavy, 10 doods, 4 of which are Americans. Not a strap hanger - another one zero from another team. Sam's a big boy. He's got an M-60 fed by an aircraft feed tray to a 100 lb ruck of nothing but ammo. Ace in the hole, we hope. Bulky, but puts out a lot of bullets without having to change drums or boxes or nothing. Too bulky for sneakin' and peakin'. 'Sokay, we ain't gonna do a lot of that.

We've staged north, and its only a 30 minute flight in. In the distance, the F-4's are doin' their thing. Snakes too, closer to us. Looks more like a war on than anything I'd ever seen in Nam before. Shit! Check my mini-pounder again. Friendly fire is a higher probability than any other mission I've gone one. Shitshitshitshitshit! Ah Shit! Here we come.

We go in hot. The door gunners see the watcher and go after him hard. Got the little mutha, too. Good, maybe we get our 24 hours, after all. Little LZ, takes two trips. We form up and get the fuck out, fast! I'm runnin' next to tail this time out. Extra firepower in the rear. We get a 100 meters out, and the Phantoms go in on the LZ - HARD! Nape, bombs, 20's, everything. We left anybody back there, they ain't gonna tell nobody. The slicks move on, dropping firefight simulators in other holes all over the area, for maybe 4 klicks around. Confuse 'em. Make 'em split up. Give us a chance to sneak a little, anyway. The fear is gone now. No time for it. Attention to what you're doin'. Fear'll be back if its needed. Always is....

Another 100 meters, been on the ground maybe 15 minutes. The 60 up front lets go, as do some AK's. Shit! Ohshitohshitohshit! Show time! Hop to the left, make room for the others comin' back, ready to drop a drum in the general area up front. And here they come. Its called the Banana. Everybody hops left and right and drops a basic load as the guy in front of them peels back past him. Group stays organized that way. First one through is point. Then the 60. He stops opposite me and kneels down. We'll provide a big burst to give the others a chance to set or run. Noisy now, full fledged firefight in front. Hear a couple grenades.

Hear a mortar. A mortar?! Oh big muthafuckin' SHIT! Sam looks over at me and says over the noise, "company." I don't think he means friends droppin in to visit. He means its a least a company sized unit. FUCK! Concentrate, drill. Only way. Hope they launched the arc light. The fear is back....

After a few seconds/hours, the 'yard in front of me peels back and books. Sam and I walk it out. Lots of movement up there, muzzle flashes. We can't see 'em, yet, so they ain't aimin' at us either. He drops a steady stream, walkin' it back and forth while I do bursts at individual targets. Finally, he turns and books. Just me and the tail gunner now. He's got an XM-203, too, and they start chunkin' out. I'm excited by this time, and I drop the remaining 100 rounds in my drum in a single burst.

God only knows where the last 50 rounds went. Tail drops more brass while I hook on a new drum and lock and load. Time to go. I lead out, tail follows. We run into someone we know real soon, they've decided to fight. We don't, they decided to run. And I don't see nobody. Shit! Good decision, though.

We find ourselves back at the LZ before we catch up. Its still smoldering, fires still going on two sides. They've settled into an ambush position, and Dave waves us through. We're bait now. We're supposed to run out the other side and draw the guys in khaki into the kill zone. Shit! Okay, we run as fast as we can out the only other side not burnin'. Ten meters into the brush, we find a spot and move off to the right where we can help in the firin'. Hittin' the dirt, I burn myself a little on the barrel. Shit! The ambush opens up! They were that close! Shit! I can see Dave hollering into the radio. The explosions down the valley stop. Good news, the AF is still around! Tear 'em a new asshole, Dave! Go Phantom! Kill!

Snakes in first. 20s and 7.62 minis. Too fuckin' close for rockets. Then the Phantoms. The area beyond the LZ is a mess. Dave drops the team back to our side, and I wave him in. He moves me to the left for more firepower on the flank they're most likely to come into. Sam's right up front, watchin' the LZ. Dave and Mortar Peter take the six with the radio and are jabberin' as fast as they can. I don't gotta be told. Turn on the 'pounder.

Drop my ruck and pull out the spare drum, set it next to me. Gonna take as many of the little cocksuckers with me as I can. More drums handed over by others carryin' my spares. First time I ever pulled out the bipod. Look, I've had my CIB for months now; but it ain't never been like this. We ain't gonna make it. I pat the willie pete. Not afraid, now. Just pissed like a sonuvabitch. Gonna kill some gooks first, that's for muthafuckin' sure!

Drog, the tail, sees 'em first. The CAR makes its sound in short bursts, he's a disciplined dood. Keeps me calm, and the RPD growls out streams of hot lead. I scorched the barrel back there, its only an area weapon now. Grenades go flyin'. Dave yells. Snake rolls over and the woods in front of us explode. Phantoms scream! God how they scream! They got the 'pounders marked, and Dave musta told 'em to smoke everything outside the perimeter. They do. We doan gotta shoot except at some really confused fuckers that come our way thinkin' its "out." They go "out", all right. Three of 'em made it to within 5 meters of the RPD. Fuckin' gooks! They ain't gonna shoot up anybody, EVER again. Fuck 'em! Fuck 'em all!

The noise is felt. Concussions. They're usin' rockets and 40mm now. We ain't gonna make it, and they're gonna help us take as many out as can be. Its comin' in close, but it doan matter. I change drums again. No bayonet to fix, or I'd do that, too. Never thought I'd feel that way. I was wrong. I was gonna die. Those muthafuckers were, too! You never been there, you don't know the noise. Can't hear shit, everything is visual. And olfactory. It stinks as bad as it sounds. We gonna make it stink like death! Die, you fuckin' gooks, DIE!

New noise. Slick! Someone is comin' in! I pull another 'yard into my spot and shift to the LZ. We just shoot into the sides, the brush. Can't loose the bird, man. That's our one hope! Hope? Now wheredafuck did that come from? Doan matter, I got people to find and kill. It comes in fast and low. Right through the smoke and shit. Tracers comin' outta the far tree line reach for it. It blocks our shots. Snakes roll in outta somewhere. The tracers stop. Sam grabs five 'yards and runs like a stallion for the bird. They're hardly in and it lifts. We can shoot again, and do. It's gotta make it! Man, those are our 'yards. Ain't no fuckin' slope gonna get our 'yards!

We bunch up close. Asshole to asshole. I got the LZ now. Dave, Motor Peter, Drog, Punch and me. Call him Punch 'cause he's little and mean. I'm still firin' at trees. Dave stops me. Okay. I put on a new drum. Only a couple left. More snakes and Phantoms. Someone up there should get a conductor's baton, he's callin' it good. The noise is back. How many snakes and F-4's they got up there? Shit! I'll take it! Nobody in sight.

Slick noise again. I open into the far side of the LZ again. The others are shootin' too. They ain't aimin' my way, and I can only guess what they're shootin' at. One thing at a time. Dave jabbers some more, but I can't make it out, even at less than five feet. The noise is incredible! Slick hits the earth as the woods behind me ignite. Dave hits me, hard. We head for the slick, pile on. It starts to lift. The engine sounds funny, and we run straight forward into the trees in a burnt out area. The rotors hit, in slow motion. We crash. Shit.

We settle to the ground. No explosion. Jesus Christ! Bail out. Now we got company. Door gunners grab their 60's, the 'yards grab the ammo boxes. Dave and I grab the pilots. Left seater is bleedin' from the stomach. The right seater is okay, and has his pistol out. Any port in a storm. I help Dave with the lefty. We go around the LZ from the crash, 'case it decides to go. The noise has not abated. MP has told the FAC, and everybody who didn't see it now knows they got a bird down. They also know the crew's alive. If I'd thought about it, I'd be happy.

We're gonna get unlimited air now. The arc light is on its way inbound now. Didn't think about it,though. Busy tryin' to help the pilot. Shrapnel in the gut. Ain't supposed to give him morphine. Do anyway. Don't look like he's gonna make it. I'm startin' to get yet another adrenaline dump. And I'm still pissed.

Dave sets the 60's and the others, I'm busy. Shooting is sporadic. At this point we know its a fuckuvalotmore than a company. This is intel we came for. I forget to take pictures. Just as well. Camera took some metal, I found out later. Wasn't at the top of my mind at the time, anyway. From outta godonlyknowswhere we got slow movers. They're busy workin' over everything within a couple hundred meters of the burnt out spot that used to be the LZ. They're takin' incoming small arms and some bigger shit - .51 cal. maybe. Outta our range, anyway. The snakes continue to work on that. Something makes me look at my watch. 35 minutes on the ground in the A Shau. Muthafuckinshit!

Another slick comes in through the fookin' shit. Dave and I take the lefty, the door gunners and the right seater carry themselves, leavin' the 60's. We put 'em on, and then move out, a medic already workin' on the pilot. I'd left the serette in the collar, he'd know. Back into the trees. Hose down the LZ again, with a 60 this time. Damn thing's heavy! But I'm gettin' low, and if we run I don't want to take one of those big muthas. The next slick in puts down in a minute. We make the run again.

Don't even make it there before it starts to slip toward the one already down. The gunners jump. The pilots fight for control. They don't make it. It smashes into the other and both ignite. Fourth of fuckin' July! We don't go look. We won't be sayin' "hi" to them. One of the gunners ain't movin'. We grab 'em both and run back to the 60's. It's beginnin' to feel like a John Wayne movie, one in which he dies! Shit! This place sucks.

Gunner's leg is busted. He's out like a light. The other guy looks scared, but mans the 60, anyway. Good dood. I give him the ammo can I got left from my last jammin' on the LZ. He don't 'xactly smile, but he sets it up and starts lookin' out into the woods. I think he knows we ain't gonna make it, either. Fuckit. Kill gooks!

No more slicks. The smoke is too thick. Everything is burning, has burned or is about to burn. The stink outweighs the noise. We can barely breath. Makes it easy. Anything coughs, shoot it. Make 'em cough harder. Fuckin' A! We put on gas masks. It's that bad. But we get to kill gooks!

Calm. Funny thing. Any battle lasts long enough, there's a moment of it. It hits me like a palpable force. Bad shit, lets me think. I ain't done none of that since first contact. We take inventory. Drog's got a scratch, the gunner with the broken leg is still out. Dave and I are covered with blood. We think (hope) its the pilot's. Count bullets, grenades, body parts. We ain't good for much longer. We're just about out of it, already. Fatigue. Emotional exhaustion. But it only lasts a minute. More Phantoms scream. More nape. Must be new birds. Look at my watch, 45 minutes, 30 since first contact. New birds are about on time. arc light be along soon. Dave knows it, too.

Shit! Another slick. Didn't even hear it, its just there, droppin' into the hole. Grab the unconscious one and run like hell. Throw him on. Climb on. The other door gunner is still out there with the 60, he's emptyin' it into the tree line we came from. The door gunner on our bird is doin' the same and screamin' into his mic. The last man turns, drops the 60 and runs and jumps as the bird lifts. We drag his ass in. Snakes roll in on the tree line and light 'em up. We look at the dood. He's got holes all over him. Dave and MP go to work on him and I dump the last of my ammo into the tree line. Die you gook mutahfuckas, DIE! I toss the last willie pete, the one with my name on it, out after I run out of ammo. We're high enough now that if we go down, its just too fuckin' bad. Maybe I'll get one of the cocksuckers. The birds in orbit see it as a marking round. That area of Vietnam will never grow anything again.

We go about 10 klicks and land in a big LZ with snakes in short orbit. The wounded dood is transferred to a slick with a red cross. We carry him there ourselves. He's one of us now. We'll put him in for a medal. Door gunner with brass balls. We notice our bird has holes, too. They'll count 'em later - 23. We lift off again and get some altitude. Back in the valley, the ground is beginning to shake. Every air asset is out. 'Cept for two pilots we left on the ground. They won't feel anything, anyhoo. Nobody gonna parade their bodies for baby Jane!

Less than 60 minutes in the A Shau. Two pilots dead, two slicks gone, three wounded, the team is whole. Lotsa gooks dead. Ugly muthafuckers! Go B-52's! Kill 'em all! Fuckit! Dust 'em all! Every last muthafuckin' one of 'em! God I hate gooks! Every muthafuckin' one of 'em!

We go home. No pics. So who muthafuckin' cares!

When we do get back and clean up, the only casualty is Drog. A round creased him on the left shoulder. He gets two weeks leave, and then back to work.

The two pilots' families will get a letter, a visit from a chaplain and a bronze star each. Maybe they deserve more. The gunner will get a bronze star with "V" device and an early out. The guy with the broken leg will also get an early ticket home. The gut shot pilot gets a star and a disability. He gets his PH, too. They all got that. With $0.75, it'll get them a cup of coffee. Unless one of us is there. Then he won't have to buy anyfuckinthing. Sohelpmegod!

The A Shau is still there. Most of Viet Nam I'd like to see again. In peace time. Not the A Shau. Little piece of Hell on earth! Place sucks! Big time.

And...I hope I never hate like that again...

Copyright © 1993 Michael D. McCombs, All Rights Reserved.

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