Here is one year in the life of a grunt serving as a rifleman in an Army infantry company. Mission: secure or "pacify" the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. Objectives: eliminate enemy infiltration from North Vietnam; prevent operations of the local Viet Cong forces; win the hearts and minds of the local civilians. He doesn't want to be there, but, so what? It's 1969, his country calls, and there he is, in "the Nam" doing his time as a rifleman, and putting his life on the line. The enemy is always there, just waiting for the right situation. His presence is always feared. After all, it's his domain: a mountainous jungle environment, offering extreme heat, treacherous terrain, leeches, monsoon rains, malaria, poisonous snakes, and tigers. Not much fun for American soldiers under the best circumstances. Then comes the command of the squad leader, "Saddle up, pack a light ruck! A recon patrol is in contact." Now, every move counts, and a guy does whatever is asked of him, not for God and country, but for the fellows in the front and rear. He never considered avoiding the military--legally or illegally. He felt fortunate to live in the United States, and he wanted to do his part. He did his duty. This narrative speaks compellingly of a regular guy who served and sacrificed for what he thought was right.
Excerpt . . .
My platoon moved out second that morning, March 12. Securing Swift was the mission. Nothing in the world was more important than taking this hill; nothing compared. At least so it seemed. We had to kick ass, and take the high ground. It was a beautiful day, blue skies, big puffy white clouds, and of course quite warm. Delta Company was with us, providing flank security. Things were going well. We crossed the saddle, then proceeded beyond the ground we had defended yesterday. Nearing the summit, our entire task force had to take cover as the lead platoon was taking machine gun fire, along with shelling from 60mm mortars. My confidence was declining, but I knew there would be no turning back today. I just had to do what I was told, and trust in God. F-4 Phantom jets dropped napalm to our left and we moved on. The man in front of me pointed out a jungle boot lying off to our left, in a bombed out area. There appeared to be a foot in the boot, nothing more. I took a quick look at the boot, then swallowed hard. Maybe it was the pollutants in the napalm that were making it hard for me to breath. A certain measure of composure was regained when the roar of jets was heard againmore nape. A red smoke grenade thrown by Top gave the fast movers a target. The canisters tumbled from the jets. There was white smoke, an explosion, the heat, and finally the black smoke from the jellied gas drifted over us. The stuff was dropped so close that guys to my left received some nasty burns. They were not too pleased with the accuracy with which the Air Force pilots dropped their ordinance. In my opinion the jets did a super job. I don't see how they missed the treetops and hit the targets, they flew so low and so fast. We were now close to our objective and pinned down again. The Gooks were fighting hard, but we would get 'em. There was very little left of the jungle here. The bombs had done a great job. It seemed everything was going according to plan. U.S. artillery and those wonderful jets seemed to be giving us the support we needed. Our major was directing us from behind a tree about ten meters to my rear, the only safe haven around. He yelled at me, Soldier! Move out fifteen meters to your right flank. He must be crazy. I pointed to my chest as if to say, You don't mean me? Well he did, and I moved as ordered. There was no cover whatsoever at my new location. The major yelled at me to watch the treeline for snipers, and I did. I couldn't see anything in the trees, which were off to my right about 50 meters. After several moments I heard the pop of enemy mortar tubes, three rounds on the way. All three of these 60 mike-mike shells landed about five meters down the hill, beyond me. I got the impression they were firing at me. Maybe I should have been looking for an enemy forward observer. My squad leader hollered, Are you O.K.? and I replied, Yeah! In less than a minute, the tubes popped again. I buried my face as deep as possible into the earth in the few seconds before impact. I wanted to get my whole body under my steel pot. The first round hit the twig of a tree to my rear, busting it in half. The second round threw shrapnel all around me. My feet spasmed as it lodged in the soles of my boots. The third round was the charm . . . the zinging, the impact, the pain of hot metal burning its way into my left temple. I felt my face, then looked at my hand. It was covered with blood. I removed the field dressing from the camouflage band on my helmet. I tied the bandage around my head, then put my steel pot back on. My squad leader again called for my condition. I'm hit, but O.K. was my reply. The whole world seemed to be breaking down around me. There was all kinds of commotion on the hill: shooting and bombing, shrapnel from all kinds of weapons, cursing, leaders hollering orders, screams of agony, and calls for the medic. The major yelled for me to move back to my squad. I did so gladly. Roger, Ziggy, McCue and several others in my platoon had been hit, but we were getting a handle on the situation. We had taken the hill. I still hadn't seen a live Gook. Our commanders were attempting to have us form up into a perimeter. Delta was closing on us from our right flank. One of their medics had come across a pile of NVA, good Gooks. These Gooks were also referred to as GAD Gooks, good and dead. Delta started to dig in on the far side of the perimeter. Almost immediately they got hit with mortars. Real quick like they had fourteen casualties, two very serious. 0ne of our medics had just survived a sniper attack. It was a bit comical when recounted later, because the fellow was a conscientious objector, and as such, carried no weapon. The sniper was in the top of a huge mahogany tree, the medic below hiding in between the buttressed roots. Later the objector said I wished for a gun! as he dashed from one side of the tree to the other to evade the bullets. Eventually the sniper was eliminated. The medic was a good guy, but a bit off center as far as most of us were concerned. Besides being a pacifist, he was a vegetarian, and couldn't force himself to eat the meat in our rations. His folks sent him soybean burgers to provide protein in his diet. It was part of his religion. Back in our sector, Ziggy was being attended to by Marty. I was very concerned for Ziggy. He had given me that water the other day, and I wanted to be his friend. Doc said Ziggy had a small piece of shrapnel in his left side, bandaged it, and then moved on to help another of the wounded. My buddy Roger had shrapnel in his leg, but it wasn't bad. He could wait till later for medical attention. Top McManus came by and told us the area we were in now was our platoon sector. Start diggin' in! My squad's position was right in front of an unexploded two hundred and fifty pound bomb. As we dug, we were having to warn people to stay away from the depression the big bruiser was buried in. By late afternoon we had a relatively secure LZ and the medevac ships were on their way. Marty ran over to tell us to get Ziggy on the first dust off. Roger and I carried Ziggy. He was very pale and weak. But he would live, the hole was small, and the dust-off was almost here. Top rushed over, looked Sikorski in the eye, patted his shoulder and said, Bring us back some beer. Our wounded pal looked up, forced a smile, and in a faint voice replied, How 'bout some girls? Top patted Ziggy again and said, Good luck, son. Ziggy died on the flight back to the 71st Evacuation Hospital in Pleiku. The hole was so very small. Sigmund M. Sikorski was a little guy from Ozone Park, New York, twenty-two years old, with blond hair, and a girlfriend he talked about a lot. I was lucky to have known him
by Tom Lacombe