The training at Bear Cat was as much to correct some of the mistakes that we were taught back in the states, as it was to teach us new skills that we would need for the area that we were going to be fighting in. An example of this had to do with something that we were taught about the M16 at Fort Polk, Louisiana. There is a pin that is removed when it is disassembled for cleaning that is easy to loose. We were taught that the best place to hold it was in our teeth. The instructor in Vietnam said that if we did that and a mortar round, or other loud noise went off nearby, one of the results would be broken teeth in the shape of that pin. He was right. I bit through a cigarette filter once. I put that pin in my pocket after that.
The culmination of our training was an overnight patrol in a rubber plantation near Bear Cat. I'm sure that they thought that the area was secure because there were only 2 or 3 instructors with about 30 of us new guys. We had live ammo but we also had orders not to use it unless the instructors fired first. We walked around in the groves that day. People were tending the trees that were planted in long straight rows. The canopy of leaves filtered out the blazing sun and it was very pleasent there, from what I remember.
That night we setup in an oval shaped perimeter along a path in the rubber trees. There was a curfew so anyone on that path after dark was a VC. We didn't dig foxholes, we just broke into 4 - 5 man positions and layed down on the bare ground. I set out a claymore and aimed it to have the best coverage of the path. With the squeeze of the detonator handle, anyone on that path was hamburger. Half of our force with M16's, M14's, M60's, M79's, claymores, and grenades could bring fire to bare on the path. It was a potentially very deadly ambush that was manned with 30 scared new guys. One shot could set it off.
About 0200 while I was on guard duty, along comes four VC down the path pulling a two wheel cart, playing some local music station on a radio, laughing and having a good old time. They were making too much noise to ignore. They were coming from my right and I was in the left most position. I grabbed the detonator for the calymore and removed the safety. They wouldn't be in range of my claymore untill they were halfway along our perimeter. I was sure that we would open up on them before they got into my range but I wanted to be ready.
They got closer and closer and I thought to myself, "Now damn it! What's the holdup? I don't want them to get to my claymore!" They kept coming and no one fired a shot! They walked right by, and down the trail, still playing the radio and playing grab-ass, and they never knew we were there. They never knew that I could have ruined their night with the squeeze of my hand. Anyone of us could have started it, but no one did.
In the morning we asked our instructors why they passed up such an obvious target. They thought that the guys on the other side of the perimeter would have been awakened by the first shot without the proper sense of direction and they would have turned around and caught us in a cross fire. There is no doubt in my mind now that that's exactly what would have happened. We were smart to follow orders. The confusion that would have followed that ambush would have taken some GI lives too. The instructor congradulated us on how we followed orders and and we graduated from In Country Training.
The next day I was sent to Dong Tam on the My Tho river by truck to join the MRF.