Roving Patrol - Thuong Duc Ridge

May 17 - 22, 1968 - Roving Patrol - Thuong Duc Ridge

Finally, we packed for a roving patrol. The unit I was in, and for which I had trained, was called RECON (Reconnaissance). We would be flown by helicopter into the bush and then run 8 to 12 man patrols through the mountain jungles for 5 or 6 days, looking for concentrations of enemy. The trick was not getting caught.

In the bush we painted our faces green, black and brown with camouflage paint and never talked above a whisper. Our mission was to be "Swift, Silent and Deadly" like the old Kung Fu TV show of the 70's, we could be looked for, but not seen; listened for, but not heard; reached for, but not touched. We were the "Green Phantoms".

Well, we went down to our landing zone, boarded the helicopters and left in a whirlwind of kerosene fumes, dust and noise. Suddenly, we were on the ground, at the edge of the jungle with the racket of the helicopters fading away into the stark sunlight.

We moved swiftly into the jungle, then slowed to a crawling pace which we used to refer to as "Snoop and Poop". Now there was little light to see by, nor could we see far ahead. Each step had to be carefully chosen and taken.

The day was uneventful and arduous and I was exhausted as we settled into our "harbor site" (the place we would sleep that night). Carrying 80 pounds of equipment in the mountain jungles was physically the hardest thing I have ever done. And that is in spite of the fact that the Marine Corps had trained me for 6 months to do it.

I slept fitfully that night, and when I was on watch, every jungle noise was the enemy. But I survived that night, the next day and the remainder of that patrol. Water was the most precious commodity out in the bush, I drank half my water in one day and we were out there for six days total.

I was beginning to attune to the jungle, keying in on the structure and especially the path of least resistance through the vegetation, with such things in your path as the "wait-a-minute" vine which clung to your clothes and ripped tiny holes in the fabric and your skin.

We did fill up on water when we crossed the mountain streams, which ran crystal clear and had brown trout in them which showed no fear because they probably had never been fished.

My next few nights in the bush went better, and my dreams turned to my college sweetheart, Jan, who I dearly missed and who was waiting for my return. One night, I fell asleep before sundown and when I was awakened for my turn on watch, I couldn't believe my eyes. All of the decaying leaves on the jungle floor were glowing like a bed of hot green coals due to the phosphorous in them. It was truly amazing, the glow was bright enough to see by on this moonless night.

The last night of this patrol was miserable. It poured rain all night, so hard that it roared, you couldn't hear any of the night noises or the enemy, if they were there, that was dangerous. Time is evenly divided in the bush, into day and night. The bush is the closest thing to reality that you can get in a gargoyle infested nightmare like Vietnam.

The most beautiful sight in the world is the flaring of a helicopter coming in for a landing to pick you up. Accompanying that sight is the WHAP, WHAP sound of the helicopter blades, their concussion beating your body into an adrenaline rush in the frenzied and terror ridden seconds of boarding and the beginning of flight out of danger. Just before lift off is the most dangerous, you and the helicopter are sitting ducks, a perfect target and oh how Victor Charlie (the VC, Viet Cong) love to ambush helicopters full of Marines. But, not this time, not today, today we win.

Copyright 1995 Robert Baird. All rights reserved