One day after a few months in Delta Company the battalion commander sent word that he wanted to see me he told me that I had been doing a good job and that he had another job for me. He said that I had my choice of three jobs. I could be a company executive officer, the S-3 air or the Recon platoon leader.

The simplest and safest job would have been that of company XO. I would have been in charge of the company rear and worked under the general supervision of the battalion XO. My main job would have been to support the troops in the field.

S-3 air was a choice job. I would have been the staff officer responsible for air movement and air support. I could have gotten in a lot of chopper time. It was a good career choice and probably the one to take.

The most potentially dangerous job was that of Recon Platoon Leader. OUR Recon Platoon was engaged in combatting the Viet Cong infrastructure in our area. It spent most of its time in villages trying to ferret out the bad guys. It was considered a glamour job so I took it, of course. The Battalion Commander said that he was glad that I had chosen that job and that it would be the most challenging.

He told me that Recon was a bunch of anarchists that needed to be cleaned up. He said that the out-going platoon leader ran a very loose ship and had a "buddy, buddy" relationship with his men. I wondered if I had done the right thing. When I joined Recon, it was occupying a perimeter sector at the Thu Duc water plant. The plant was a $20 million facility just off the main road between Long Binh and Saigon. The platoon area consisted of a GP small for the platoon leader and platoon HQ and several bunkers on the perimeter for the men.

The platoon itself consisted of about thirty US troops, a half dozen Vietnamese National Policemen (Camh Sat) and a few Kit Carson scouts or "KC"'s. KC's were former Viet Cong who had turned their coats and were supposedly working for us -- supposedly. The platoon rarely walked anywhere but rather ran the roads of the AO in jeeps. The jeeps were loaded down with a M-60 machine gun on a pedestal mount, sand bags on the floor for mines and what we called the toy boxes which were mortar ammunition boxes full of explosives such as bangalore torpedo's and claymore mines and C4. A piece of angle iron was welded to the front bumper. It was higher than a sitting man and the last six inches were notched and angled forward. It was designed to cut wire that might be stretched across the road and designed to decapitate someone driving in a jeep with its windshield down. I never heard of that happening but it probably did happen at least once.

The colonel was right about the platoon. It was a rowdy crew that looked like they had rarely seen a barber. I had my work cut out for me. There is an old saying the it easier to loosen up than to tighten up. Whoever said that must have had a recon platoon.

My first night there I went to check the platoon area. I only found a few sentries and asked the platoon sergeant where the hell everyone was. He told me that they had all gone to a whore house called Bebop's. I couldn't believe my ears. First of all we were not supposed to leave the wire after dark for safety reasons. Even more important than that, the platoon was the battalion's emergency reaction force. We were supposed to be able to conduct offensive operations on a moment's notice. Christ, the men probably couldn't pull up their pants on a moment's notice.

The next day I read the riot act to the platoon. I put Bebop's off limits until further notice. I told the men they would have to begin soldiering, including looking like soldier's. I told them that anybody that didn't like it could transfer to a line company. At first I thought that the whole platoon would transfer, but they didn't. Perhaps they thought they could always transfer later or perhaps they didn't want to bear the stigma of not being able to cut it in Recon. It was a near thing but things got better rapidly.

For several weeks we worked on the basics. We practiced ambushes and tactical operations in general. The men began to act like soldiers and they even began to look like soldiers. They were proud of the fact that we wore camouflage jungle fatigues and bush hats instead of the normal jungle fatigues and steel pots. We began to look pretty good. Sure they still wore their peace medallions and love beads but on the whole they looked more like soldiers than pirates. Haircuts ranged from good to marginal but were greatly improved. They were definitely children of the 60's. One of the jeeps sported the name "the Grateful Dead" I wonder if its driver is a middle aged "Deadhead" today. The battalion commander complimented me on the platoon's appearance. All they had to do was to play the game. I just had to remind them of the rules.

The platoon sergeant said that we should reward the men with a little time at Bebop's. I said that I agreed but that we would have to control who went and make sure they could return on a moment's notice. We soon had a field telephone "hot line" to Bebop's. I let the NCO's decide who could go each night. I said I wanted it on a rotational basis but that it was a privilege they had to earn. The heck with fines and company punishment, I had the ultimate weapon. Each night we had six to ten men on our own version of R & R. The men seemed happy and Recon could even react to an emergency with most of the men sober.

I hit it off real well with Madame Be Ba or Bebop to the troops. Her place was divided into the whorehouse and her home. Neither the customer or her girls could come into her home unless the were invited. Since I represented a good piece (no pun) of her business, she was very nice to me. She invited me into her living room to have cool drink. She asked me if I wanted a girl. I told her that I didn't but that my driver would appreciate one. Needless to say, after that I rarely had any trouble getting someone to drive me.

I had many good evenings at her house. It was like a home away from home for me. I met several interesting people at her dinner table. Many of them were probable VC but what the hell. One night we had just finished a nice crab dinner and were sitting around drinking wine and chatting when all of a sudden, the doors and windows burst open.

Camouflaged men with guns filled the room. I about had a heart attack. I thought that a hit squad was about to get me. In a second I recognized some of my troops. Where was my driver, the leader asked? It seemed that he was supposed to go on an ambush patrol that night but that he volunteered to drive me instead. They brought his gear and a replacement driver. The left a minute later with a none to happy trooper with them.

Madame Bebop was an interesting lady. She said that she had been one of Madame Nhu's entourage when Madame Nhu went to the United Nations. She said that Henry Cabot Lodge had been a frequent late-night visitor to Madame Nhu's bedroom. Bebop was very proud of her wardrobe and never tired of showing me her new dresses. She was a nice lady. I decided that I had to be a straight arrow as far as she was concerned to maintain my credibil ity with her and with my men.

Among other things Bebop was quite a hypochondriac. She was always telling me of her ailments. One day she asked me if I could get the battalion surgeon to examine her. I thought that was a good idea as he could also examine the girls to help keep the clap rate down. The next day I approached the Doc. I didn't really know him as he was new in country. Of course he was a Captain but that didn't mean much to a doctor. He gave me all he reasons why he shouldn't do it and I countered every one. I told him to let his people know that he was playing poker in the recon area. If an emergency happened, we could reach him on the hot line and get him back through the wire in five minutes. He finally agreed but only on the condition that I get him back early.

About two o'clock the next morning I was saying, "Doc, we have to ge back to the water plant .... Please let's go!!! It was even harder getting him to leave than it was to get him to go in the first place. Doc became a regular. He used to brag that he could recognize each girl by viewing her pussy. What some guy's won't do for their country. Besides the VD rate went down.

Bebop's was a real morale factor for the men. Once they restructured their thinking to consider it a privilege to be earned, I had it made. At least I thought so. One day one of the troops asked me if he could volunteer for guard duty on post number two. I was mildly curious as the troop in question was hardly the type to volunteer, in fact, it had been quite some time since he had been allowed to make the run to Bebop's. I told him that I didn't care but that he had to clear it with the platoon Sergeant. When he asked me to lend him ten dollars, I decided to ask my NCOIC just what the hell was going on.

He was somewhat evasive but when I persisted he told me. It seemed that every night some free-lance short time girls would come up to the wire at post number two to offer their wares to the sentry. I don't imagine that it was as comfortable as a bed at Bebop's, but any port in a storm ......

The water plant was a pretty cushy billet, especially for the recon platoon. We went on VCI operations during the day and had to man a small AP each night. The ambush wasn't a big deal and, since it only involved a few men and the AO wasn't too hot. Also since our main mission at night was the battalion Ready Reaction Force (RRF), I rarely went on ambush. I would go once in a while to observe the men and to maintain credibility but it was more important to ride herd on my rowdies.

The best thing about the water plant is that we had unlimited hot water and a beautiful chrome, tile and steel shower facility. It made the luxury of Dian seem crude and the shower buckets of FT Apache barbaric in comparison. One of the more unpleasant sides of duty at the water plant were the rats. The damn things were all over the place, especially in our bunkers. I got tired of having them scurry over me at night and decided to do something about it.

I got hold of a trap. It was one of the "humane" types that locked the prey in a cage without hurting them. Every night I would set my trap and bait it with anything handy. The next morning I would have a rat to dispose of. Being very careful not to harm one of natures creatures, I would take the trap to the water settling tank and drown the little bastard. This went along pretty well until I ran into THE RAT. We're talking big!!!
The first time I suspected he existed was when my trap was tripped and the bait gone but no rat. After this happened a few times I figured that whatever was taking the bait must be so big that the door couldn't close with its head in the trap. Brother Rat may be big, but he was no match for a Ranger Trained infantry officer. I decided to use some of the booby trap tricks I had learned to solve the problem.

I got some claymore wire, a radio battery and an electric blasting cap. The blasting cap was used as a primer to ignite a man explosive charge. It was a metal tube about one quarter inch in diameter and three inches long. It was closed on one end and had wire leading from the other end which was sealed with a wax- like substance for water proofing. The explosion was powerful enough to be dangerous. It could easily blow off a few fingers on a careless GI.

I set the rap so that if the door moved one half inch, two wires would touch making an electrical circuit. I stuck the blasting cap into a chunk of Slim Jim sausage and put it in the bait holder. After setting the trap, I armed it by attaching the battery. That night I went to sleep, forgetting about the trap. The explosion scared the hell out of me, I thought that we were under attack. A blasting cap isn't that loud, but in a bunker, it sounded like a bomb going off. It sure as hell worked. The headless rat that I found by the cage was as big as a cat. I showed off my trophy the net morning. My KC's were impressed and asked me if they could have it for dinner.

Some of my fondest memories of Viet Nam came from my time with the Recon Platoon. Our typical operation was to cruise the roads and visit villages in our AO. On sundays we would set up road blocks so that our Camh Sat could check ID's. It was good duty. We enjoyed looking at the girls and finding the occasional weapon provided some excitement. We would usually do that on sundays because that wasn't a good time to visit village chiefs in the looking for information about the Viet Cong. The most exciting operations we pulled were "snatch jobs" They were midnight kidnappings of supposed Viet Cong. I sometimes wondered whether we were helping some Vietnamese eliminate a rival.

Another operation that could be exciting was a village search. We would usually do those with a Vietnamese unit. One time we were fanned out searching when all of a sudden the ARVIN's began shooting into the ground and hollering. They had found a possible air hole for a tunnel. We pushed smoke grenades into the hole and looked for other places where the smoke came out. It was kind of scary waiting for a Viet Cong to jump out of a hole. We pulled one dead guy out of a hole. He was dyed violet from the smoke grenade but seemed otherwise uninjured. We finally noticed that he had a tooth missing. Evidently one bullet had knocked out the tooth and buried itself in his body without exiting.

Another time I was poking around some loose ground and leaves near a hoo hooch. When the ground began to move, I jumped about three feet in the air. There was a boa constrictor or python in the pile. The KC's immediately grabbed the snake and wired its mouth shut with trip wire. They put him into a sand bag and carried him along until dinner. Fresh meat. It kind of tasted like chicken.

Lieutenant KY was one of the more unsavory characters that I met in Vietnam. He was the head of the Thu Duc District Intelli gence Operating Center or DIOC ("Dee-ock"). His job was to interrogate prisoners and develop intelligence. I made a courtesy visit to his headquarters soon after joining Recon. He proudly showed me his interrogation (read torture) chamber. It had manacles and chains on the walls. Prominently displayed was a hand cranked electrical generator with clip-on connectors. He invited me to observe an interrogation but I passed.

As mush as I disliked him, I had to operate with him o occasion. One time I observed the "water treatment". They grabbed a suspect and pull his tee shirt over his head. They then got buckets of water from the pond that served as a latrine for the village. They kept pouring water over the guy's face, just barely avoiding drowning him, until he said what they wanted to hear.

Another time he squatted next to a smiling suspect. Vietnamese smile as a gesture of submission or helplessness. Ky was also smiling but for different reasons. He has a small hardwood stick about a half inch in diameter and two feet long in his hand. As he asked a question he began tapping the suspect on his shin. He didn't tap hard, just incessantly. When he got an answer he didn't like, he would give a sharper tap and the suspect would scream. The really bad thing was that KY enjoyed his work.

I soon learned that when Ky began to do his "thing" to take my men out of the area. After my first experience, I reported Ky to the US Army Senior Province Advisor. He told me that I was pissing into the wind, that Ky's actions were condoned by his superiors and that it was much more likely that I would be replaced than Ky. I have never been one to tilt with windmills so I told my superiors about Ky and tried to avoid the problem. I'm not too proud of that.

Every once in a while we would get some butter from the mess hall in the morning and take it along. We would stop at a bakery and buy loaves of French bread right out of the oven. It doesn't get much better than that. Other times we would get red cans of Japanese mackerel and spread it over the bread. It was pretty good with a liberal sprinkling of hot sauce. Those same red cans were the type that we saw time and again made into booby traps by the Viet Cong.

We made quite a sight with our camouflage fatigues, bush hats and seven to nine gun jeeps. We were hot shit and knew it. We would zoom around paying little attention too the speed limit. The MP's that patrolled the main roads caused us more trouble than the Viet Cong. We has a drill set up that never ceased to entertain us. When we were stopped by MP's I would announce very mechanically and as cold bloodedly as I could muster,

"My name is 1LT Heller, I am the Reconnaissance Platoon leader of the 2nd battalion, eighteenth infantry, First Infantry Division. I am on an operational mission. If you have a problem contact my battalion commander. Now get the hell out of my way!!" About that time some of the machine gunners would make menacing gestures with their guns. It never failed. The MP's would salute and wish us luck on our mission and we would zoom off. I never really got in trouble but the battalion commander made a comment at a staff meeting that the Recon Platoon should stop harassing the MP's. He was smiling when he said it.

One unusual thing about the job of recon platoon leader is that I worked for the S-3, a major and for the Combat Support Company (CSC) commander. The CSC commander was my nominal superior, but since he didn't rate me and since I out-ranked him anyway, I would ignore him when I felt like it.

MAJ Spurlock, the S-3 was a good soldier and a good man to work for. He never told me how to do something just to do it. Frequently he would get some hot intel from the intelligence officer (S-2) and give me an emergency reaction mission. It was fun and exciting. MAJ Spurlock was riding in a chopper with the battalion commander one day, using the rotor wash to part the nipa palms and elephant grass, looking for a Viet Cong. The guy popped up and shot the helicopter down with his AK 47. The battalion commander wasn't badly hurt but MAJ Spurlock wasn't so lucky. We missed him.

We never got into any big contacts but we got more kills than most of the line companies. I had a good stock of "attaboys" with the battalion commander. One night I used most of them up. I had a five man ambush out. The normal procedure was for the battalion Net Control Station (NCS) would contact all ambushes each hour for a situation report SITREP. The radio contact would go like this, "Darkness 26 this is Darkness 52, if SITREP is negative, break squelch twice."

The resulting rushing sound on the radio would let NCS know that the AP was awake and that nothing was happening. One night I was called into the battalion TOC. The S-3 told me that my AP had missed its SITREP and that it continued not to answer repeated calls. The three said that we would crank up the Quarter Cav and investigate.

The Quarter Cav was a platoon from the 1st Squadron Fourth Cavalry, the divisions cav squadron. The platoon consisted of four ACAV's or armored cavalry vehicles. They were M113 armored personnel carriers, modified with extra armor an guns. If there is anything a cav trooper hates more than operating in a wooded area, it's moving after dark. The cav definitely wasn't happy with me and mine. I left the platoon sergeant in charge and went with the cav.

We moved along a road to within 100 meters of where the ambush was supposed to be and halted. Now, it's kind of hard to sneak up on anyone in an ACAV but we managed. The AP still didn't answer our radio calls. Finally, I started yelling at them and the ACAV's honked their horns. I dreaded the idea of going any closer on foot. After a few minutes of that, the AP called the NCS and reported a lot of noise to the east. No shit!!!. I called them and they asked what the problem was. When we linked up the said that they were having radio problems and couldn't make the SITREP's. Bull shit, they were asleep and everyone knew it. We all mounted up and went back to the water plant.

I thanked the cav platoon leader who acknowledged with a grunt and headed to the TOC. I figured that I might as well get it over with and take my ass chewing. The Three was still in the TOC and I reported in to him. I told him that I would take care of the problem and that it wouldn't happen again. I asked him if the Commander wanted to see me. He said that he didn't. Was I relieved. The battalion commander was one of the finest soldiers I had ever worked for or with. The worst think he could say to you was that he was disappointed in you. He was the kind of guy that you would cut off your arm rather than let him down. He reserved his ass chewings for those individuals who were too stupid to know that they had screwed up. I definitely knew that I had screwed up. I never heard anything about it.

My first duty assignment in the army had been in a mechanized infantry unit. In a mech unit maintenance was of paramount importance. It was the thing that could get a commander relieved quicker than anything else. When I took over Recon, I enquired about our maintenance program. I didn't see much maintenance going on but the jeeps always seemed to run. When there was a problem with a jeep, the platoon sergeant would ask permission to go to Saigon and before you knew it, the problem was solved.

It soon became obvious that the platoon regarded Saigon as a big motor pool and parts supply store. Our jeeps never seemed to get old. Dents would vanish overnight and bad engines would heal themselves. I told the men that if they didn't keep the vehicles running that we would be conduct operations afoot. Talk about power. One day they carried things too far. They came back from Saigon with a white jeep. Needless to say, it didn't blend in too well with our vehicles and those of the rest of the army. It made it damn hard for me to pretend that I didn't know what was going on.

My platoon sergeant was quite a character. He seemed to be competent enough but you weren't sure. One day as we left the water plant, just where the road swerved to the left, he fell out of his jeep. Luckily he wasn't injured. The men seemed to like him and he did what I said. We never got into a major firefight so I didn't know how he would react under fire. I was to see him again.

One of my chronic underachievers was a young man named Demelli. Ironically, Demelli had been my nemesis when I was at First Admin. He was always getting into minor scrapes. It was hard not to like the guy he was good natured, always smiling and never got into bad trouble. Finally, I asked Demelli what I should do about him. He said that his alternate MOS was Infantryman and that I should send him to a line unit. That seemed like a good solution. If I had known that he would continue to plague me a few months later, I would have seen that he went to a different brigade if not a different war.

Another interesting guy was the battalion S-2. He was nice enough but he had a minor character flaw -- he was a coward. He may not have been a coward but he sure as hell avoided leaving the confines of the TOC area, perhaps the best guarded part of the battalion. As he got shorter and shorter he was leerier and leerier of exposing his body to danger. One day I decided to play a trick on him.

I arranged a mock ambush that I would take him into. It took a hell of a lot of persuasion but I finally got him to accompany me on a mission. He had his steel pot and a flack jacket on and he looked worried. Just before we got to a prearranged location, the Platoon Sergeant set off a quarter pound block of C4 explosive. My driver pulled over to the side of the road and we jumped into a ditch. We started shooting into the air and every time the S-2 looked up, I would push his head down. After a brief "firefight" we routed the enemy and returned to the TOC. The S-2 was shaking. Everyone in the TOC was in on the joke. He probably put himself in for a Bronze Star with "V" device for valor.

Twenty-two months after being commissioned, I was promoted to Captain. We had a little ceremony by the TOC and the battalion commander pinned me. I tell everyone that they sent it out with the ration truck. I was going to go on an R&R before taking a new assignment, but before that I was going to throw a promotion party. I wanted to do something different. I had no desire to have a party with the REMF's at battalion rear so I decided to have a party in a local village and invite the local village chiefs as well as the recon platoon.

I got a jeep trailer and filled it with ice and beer. I added a few bottles of whiskey ad headed to Long Tan My, my favorite village. I also invited Captain Blue and a few other officers. The party was a great success and lasted until well after dark. At one time a little boy brought me a .45 pistol and told me that my Platoon sergeant had dropped it. I found him dead drunk and had him poured into a jeep. I got the village officials drunk as hell by drinking toasts with the whiskey that I had brought for that purpose. I faked drinking the toasts and soon drank my friends under the table. It was getting late and we really shouldn't have been out after dark. I wasn't too worried about Viet Cong since we were probably drinking with the local village party secretary but it was time to go home. I had some men carry the village chief to his house where we dumped him on his porch.

The next day when I drove through the villages almost everyone smiled and waved at me. I had gained a lot of face by drinking the Viets under the table. I later learned that the chiefs thought that I couldn't drink because I usually only drank a beer or two each time I had visited in the past. So much for duty and temperance. I probably would have gotten much more information had I gotten drunk more often.

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