Vietnam: Night Patrols

During the day in the village, life was pretty good. But at night things were different: we went on night patrol almost every night; and when we didn’t have night patrols, we usually just camped out in a perimeter outside of the village. When I say camped out, I don’t mean we pitched a tent. We always just sat on the ground somewhere out of sight. Sometimes we would hide in the middle of a rice patty in a foot of water and stayed there all night under the stars with the mosquitoes. And we were not to swat the mosquitoes or use repellent. Our purpose at night was to guard the village and also to intercept any enemy intruders. We were to hide ourselves and stay out of sight. We didn’t want the enemy to see us, hear us, or smell us. If they came through, we wanted to surprise them. We would capture them if possible.

Actually, we didn’t have many encounters; I suspect they knew we were vigilantly on guard and so they stayed away. But one night we did encounter someone. While we were quietly sitting in the dark, soaked in a rice patty, he walked right into us. He was so surprised that, as soon as he saw us, he just took off running. We put up a flare and saw him for just a second, and he was gone. We suspected that he was either a Vietcong that was coming to the village to steal some food, or perhaps he was a VC sympathizer (someone in the village that would bring food out to the Vietcong because they felt sorry for them). And I can understand that, because the Vietcong were just doing what they were ordered to do and sometimes they were barely surviving out in the jungle without much at all.

Our unit, as well as our patrolling, was different than a regular Marine unit. A regular unit, like where I was previously, on hill 52, had bunkers and barricades and was generally more visible; and most of our patrolling was during the day.  But in the village unit, we tried to be invisible. We had no bunkers or barricades and we tried to blend in with the Vietnamese people. All our patrolling was at night under cover of darkness. Our mission wasn’t to seek and destroy; it was to guard the village and to secretly catch enemy invaders by ambush.  

And sometimes it was so dark and quiet that when we heard anything, we were a little uneasy. I will never forget the time when I was scared out of my boots. We were set up in the village in between a couple hutches, and I heard something. So, I drew my 45, and creeped around the hutch looking for whoever it was. I didn’t see him the whole night, yet I heard someone. It was like chasing a ghost. That morning I discovered that there was an ARVN (a Vietnamese military person) at home on leave moving around in the hutch we were guarding—and he had a weapon with him. I don’t know if he knew that we were there, but if he would have gone outside carrying his weapon, I might have shot him. That was a crazy war, and many times the wrong people were shot.

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