A few days before Christmas, 1969, I relinquished my command of Company A -- I was no longer Darkness Alpha 6. I felt that I had done a good job and was satisfied. My company had achieved the highest total body count in the battalion and had suffered the fewest casualties. I like to think that my leadership had somerhing to do with it. I was made an "Assistant Executive Officer, Counter Insurgency." I'm not sure exactly what that meant but I was a REMF once more. The battalion XO was a nice guy and I look forward to an enjoyable month prior to DROSing (Date of Return from OverSeas).

A day or so after I took over my new job the Charlie company commander was evacuated with malaria. I still had a severe cold that I had conracted on R&R in Taipei and was generally feeling rotten. The battalion commander asked me if I felt well enough to assume temporary command of C Company. I heard myself saying "Yes Sir." I really felt like shit but the mission came first.

Before leaving I went to see the battalion surgeon and asked him for help. He said that he had a special elixor that contained paragoric as well as other mysterious godies and that it would cure me if it didn't kill me first. Charlie was in the field on daylight ambush patrols. When I arrived I called for the senior platoon leader and told him that I was sick and that he would be in charge while I got better or died. I cwawled under a bush and went to sleep. The doc was right. When I woke up that night I felt better.

Soon after I took over Charlie we got word to move up Thunder Road to north of Lai Kae. This was new terrain to the battalion and to the Second Brigade for that matter. There were three fire support bases along Highway 13, north of Lai Khe, Thunder I, II and III. Thunder II was the largest and in the middle so I established my company headquarters there. It would be a new type of duty for me and my company. We would provide base security and security for the daily road clearing operations between the bases. It was really pretty good duty and we were far from the rice paddies of Thu Duc. The countryside was sparsely vegetated and was extremely dry that time of the year.

The Thunder bases were fairly large, especially Thunder II. They were all in the process of being phased out or turned over to the ARVNS. There was a support battalion commander on Thunder II who was the nominal base commander. That was fine with me because there were a lot of ash and trash units on what had been a brigade- sized base camp. We were the only combat units. I reported in to the LTC and asked him if he wanted me to take responsibility for base defence. He was glad to let me as he had to worry about his support mission.

I became immediately unpopular wioth the tenant units on Thunder II when it became obvious that there were not enough infantry to cover the perimeter. I assigned the most likely avenue of approach to one of my platoons and kept a platoon available as a ready reaction force (RRF) for both Thunder II and the other two bases. The remainder of the perimeter was doled out to the support units on the base. That was rough for them because they still had to perform their support missions. War is hell.

Only a fraction of its former population remained on the base but the size was the same. I felt distinctly uncomfortable with our ability to defend in and told my battalion commander. He told me to use my initiative (Will they ever learn?). I contacted an engineer unit and had them do some major surgery on the base resulting in a smaller perimeter and a more defensible base. It's usually easier to get forgivness than get permission. I probably wiped out several million dollar's worth of fortifications. I'm glad that I didn't have to pay for it.

I couldn't believe how many Vietnamese nationals were on the base. It seemed like every one of the support soldiers had his private maid. The situation had changed since the base shruck and I felt that the Viets were a security hazard. Some of the people had passes signed by people who were long gone. I got the attention of the tenant units by closing the post to all Vietnamese civilians. I was soon beseiged by irate company commanders and first sergeants. I limited each unit to a certain number of civilians andinstituted a system of monthly verification of the passes. My men got a kick out of the whole thing. We eventually reached equilibrium with a reasonable amount of civiians on the base.

One of the postions I was required to man was a sentry post on the edge of Thunder II along Route 13. I'm not sure what the sentry was supposed to do but it was mandateded by higher. The first day one of my men stood in the sun, he decided to make a shelter for his comfort. I had no problem with that and lord knew we had plenty of building material. My only directions were to make it look fairly decent so some passing VIP's sense of aesthet ics wouldn't be offended. A crowd of courious children gathered to watch the guard and his buddies build his shelter.

Some of the bolder kids grabbed some of the timber and dragged it to the other side of the road. They pointed to the side that the guys were building on and said "Numbah 10" and then pointed to the other side of the road and said "Numbah 1." My men were not going to listen to any children especially children who were probably commies to boot. They finished the shelter as planed and gathered around to admire their work. A few minutes later, the first convoy went by. It was huge and took almost an hour to pass. Just before the convoy arived, the kids went to the other side of the road to watch. The guard disappeared in a swirling cloud of dust. When it had passed the guard sheepishly moved the shelter to the other side of the road with the help of the children. Out of the mouthes of babes....

I established my command post in a bunker that had previously been occupied by an engineer unit. It was a wise move on my part because engineers don't stint when it comes to their oun safety. It was a huge bunker with 12x12 beams in the roof. We probably could have survived a nuclear blast. It was so impressive that I actually was embarrased when I entertained visitors. My new First Sergeant was an impressive figure of a man. He was black, well muscled and over six feet tall. He looked like SGT Rock and I was glad to have him. I soon learned that appearances could be deceiving.

One day I heard a commotion topside and went up to investi gate. A swarm of bees had affixed itself to the ladder leading to our observation tower, trapping the sentries. Somebody said to pop some smoke grenades to scare them off. Pretty soon all sorts of smoke was going off. Ithe First Sergeant seemed to be on top of the situation and I soon lost interest and went back into my bunker where it was cool. A few minutes later I hearda muffled pop that sounded familiar. I heard some yelling and some medics brought the First Sergeant into the bunker. He was pale and in obvious pain. Parts of his skin were smoking, including his genital area. I called in a dust off and he was soon gone.

What had happened is that Top had thrown a grenade marked "SMOKE WP." A normal smoke grenade is about the size of and is shaped like a beer can. A white phosphorus or WP grenade is shaped different and is heavier. It looks nothing like a common smoke grenade and it is next to impossible to mistake one for the other. The WP called Willy Peter by the troops is a very special smoke grenade and is only used when necessary. It has a bursting radius of twenty five meters and showers that area with burning white phosphorus and produces an extremely thich cloud of billowing white smoke. Nothing puts it out. It will burn right through a person unless it is pried out with a stick or falls out from gravity. In short it is quite nasty.
Unlike a smoke grenade which has an instantaneous fuse, a WP grenade has a delayed fuze like a fragmentation grenade. When the WP didn't pop like a normal smoke grenade, Top kicked it and it exploded in his face. An infantryman would not have made that mistake in the dark much less in broad daylight. It turned out that my First Shirt had a finance Corps background!

I was to spend Christas at Thunder II. My last Christmas had also been in Viet Nam and the one before that away from home in Colorado Springs. Christmas Eve I went to inspect the perimeter with the Lieutenant Colonel in nominal command of the base. It was a nice night and I enjoyed making the rounds wishing the men a merry Christmas. All of a sudden the sky to the south was filled with flares. It looked like somebody was celebrating. The Colonel and I agreed that the display was evidence of poor discipline and a lack of professionalism.

Just then I heard a helicopter and learned the reason for the light show. The Commanding Geneal of the First Infantry Division had taped a holiday mesage to the troops and was having it played all over the division AO. As soon as I heard it, I cringed because I knew what was going to happen. Woosh! The first flare rocketed skyward and was soon followed by scores more. The men were not impressed with what they heard and let the world know it. I was embarrased and the Colonel was good-mannered enough to pretend like he didn't notice.

There is and old army story designed to impress upon a new leader the role of the non-commissioned officer. It goes something like this: The OCS lieutenant was asked in a leadership class how he would move a flag pole from point "A" to point "B" if he had an NCO with a squad of men, 200 feet of rope and three 4x4x8's. The young LT came up with some elaborate solution in which he used all of the assets given. He was told that he was incorrect and that the proper solution was to say "Sergeant, move the flag pole. Let me know if you need any help," and then to leave so he could get the job done.

One day the post commander called me to his CP. He pointed out the flag pole in front of it and told me that he wanted it moved. I said "yes,sir, I'll get it done." I couldn't believe my opportunity to test the old story. I selected a sergeant and told him to see that it was moved. About an hour later I checked it out. Sure enough it had been moved. It was a little crooked but it was in the right place. I guess they knew what they were doing at Ft Benning.

One of the main duties of my company was to clear the roads between the Thunder bases every morning. This was vital for the resupply of An Loc and other places up north. At nights Charlie loved to mine the road and we had to find them. A sweep team consisted of two engineers with mine detectors walking in front of one of our jeeps which held a small security detail. More troops followed not to far behind in a five ton dump truck full of dirt. The dirt was to fill in any holes that were blown in te road. A hole in the road did not necessarily mean friendly casualies because it was the safest procedure to detonate a mine in place rather than try to disarm it.

The duty was not really too bad but it was hard on the nerves. One day I went along with a sweep team. I tried to accompany all of my units every so often. It was a beautiful morning and I was enjoying myself. All of a sudden two men popped up by the side of the road with their arms in the air. Luckily they were trying to surrender. We would have been SOL if they had jumped up with AK's blazing. It is difficult to protect against a determined adversary who is not afraid to die. I still have the hammock that one of the prisoners was kind enough to give me.

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