First Time Out

Steve Boyer

It was my very first patrol, my first week in the bush as we moved along a steep ridge. There had been no contact yet, but there was considerable evidence of enemy presence. (We made contact a few days later on an NVA Hospital).

All my energy was being consumed just by humping my ruck, it was hard work and at first all I could do was to keep my feet moving. But, the grunts were alert and focused. They looked tough and were hardened to the bush. I was impressed, and I wanted to be accepted. It was common sense if I was going to survive I needed to be like them.

They were obviously keeping a close eye on me. I admit I felt better with my grunt shadow. There was always someone watching me. At our first night location nature called. I had observed the procedure. You were expected to move forward of your position and take care of business. I was really dreading leaving the perimeter. Finally I decided now or never, it would be dark soon. So I got ready to go and my shadow appeared. He took me out and back, safe and sound ahhh..

I was relieved in more ways than one but I noticed the other guys didn't seem to need an escort to shit safely. I wanted their respect so I resolved to try as hard as I could to be accepted both as a soldier and as a medic. I wanted to get over being an FNG medic as quick as I could.

A day later the opportunity to demonstrate my worth came. The Lt. wanted a quick recon down the ridge and a mechanical ambush planted. A mechanical ambush involved setting up a claymore mine, connected to a PRC25 radio battery. A trip wire was strung across a trail. If an enemy soldier hit the trip wire, contact was made between the battery and claymore. Setting these up and taking them down was very dangerous. The LT was explaining what he wanted to a grunt and told him to take one other man. I was standing right there so I said I'll go. The response was underwhelming at first. They looked at me like uh well, like a cherry. Then the grunt said he would take me and the Lt. said move out.

Moving in the bush alone with just weapons was exciting, it was a lot different out away from the plt. We were quiet and the bush seemed to come alive around us. I stepped where he stepped and we silently moved into position. There was a sort of flat spot and a clearing. Looked like a trail came into it on the far side. He told me to move around to a position where I could cover him as he set the claymores. I was to be silent and ready to cover him if anything happened. It would take me a few minutes to move where he wanted me to be. I headed out it wasn't too far, but the bush was dense. I was at a point where I could see him checking out the clearing - looking for the best spot.

There was a large mound that I thought would be give me a better view into the clearing. I moved onto it (it was in the area I was told to be in). As I stepped on the top of the mound the ground gave way beneath me and I plunged into the earth. My arms were above my head and the dirt was tight around me. It was like I was standing in a vertical tunnel. The hole was 1 1/2 to 2 feet above my upstetched arms. And I was standing on a hard surface. It seemed to me I was in a tunnel of some kind. I was afraid to move my feet but, I could flex my knees and it seemed there was a opening in the tunnel somewhere below my waist. But from the hips up I was wedged tight. I could see my hands in the light above me, and the jungle above that. I knew I needed help to get out and that I had to be quiet and not move around. I imagined punjis and worse all around me, it felt like a trap. After some time went by I knew I would be missed and I really felt the grunt would look for me. I strained to hear a sound but the hole was as silent as death.

It would be real hard to see this hole you could be next to it and never see it. I was worried that he might pass right by so I tried snapping my fingers. It was a sound that wouldn't carry far but would attract attention. Quite a while went by I made slight clicking and psssstt sounds from time to time. I was thinking sooner or later I would have to wiggle myself down into the hole and feel around for punjis or wires. I was scared but somehow it was like it was happening to someone else. Like a realistic movie and, I felt more like an observer. Then my hole went dark I looked up and he was right there. I remember the light on his face and he said something like " Jesus Doc don't fuckin' move I'm going for some help".

I don't know how long, but it seemed like quite a while and then he was back with the LT an 2 more grunts. They held a dry emotionless conversation. The Lt tried to shine a light around and down but I was packed in tight. They felt I was in a ventilation tunnel likely trapped in some way or possibly an old boobytrap that wasn't functioning properly or something. The bush was hard on boobytraps. The LT proposed pulling me out with a rope so If there was an explosive no one else would buy it with me. The Sgt. said I was more likely to have punjis around me and dragging me out like that would fuck me up for sure. He and the guy I went out with said they would reach in and pull me straight up. The Lt told them that was more dangerous and he liked the "tie me to a rope idea" but, that it was up to them if they wanted to pull me out. It was wierd hearing them discuss my predicament and what might happen. So The Lt and one guy backed off and 2 grunts crouched over the hole.They reached down and we locked wrists. They pulled me up like a fucking rocket. They dived to the sides and I was up and out, man I flew.

The Lt. went back to the hole and shined his light in. He called me over to look, I felt I had seen enough of the hole but he said I should look at it. My eyes focused into the depth of the hole. There were bones in there and some pottery. It was a grave. I was standing on someone's busted up ribcage. No wonder I felt creepy. The Lt. asked me if I wanted to go back in for a souvenier. I declined on account of being rather tuckered out, but you couldn't have got me back in that hole.

Anyway the platoon thought it was sort of an interesting happening. A tale to tell as it were, something to laugh about. And since I had stayed cool I got what I needed - the best and closest friends in my life, 2plt. Bravo Co. 1/22 Inf. " Regulars by God " They taught me what I needed to know about the bush.

Copyright 1996 all rights reserved.

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Added 11/29/96