First Chapter . . .
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty. John F. Kennedy, 1961
Nothing is more precious than freedom and independence. Ho Chi Minh
Vietnam was the envied rice bowl of Asia, sitting on the delta of the great Mekong River. The people there believed they were descended from dragons, and like dragons they fought for their independence from China, Japan and France. But in modern times, the little country of rice paddies and jungles, rubber plantations and old French architecture had no appetite for international power. It had become a geopolitical pawn, and the giants of the Cold War—Russia, China and the United States—were each determined that it should not slip into the other's control.
In 1954, after Ho Chi Minh defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu, the Geneva accords divided the country into two parts. The North would be Communist, supported by China, while the south would be Democratic, ruled by Ngo Dinh Diem and sponsored by the United States. Both sides agreed that in two years there would be a general election in which the whole country would choose between Democracy and Communism. But with American support, Diem scuttled the elections and installed a brutal and corrupt regime, suppressing the Buddhists who were 80% of the population. Ho encouraged guerrilla soldiers in the south to destabilize Diem's government and promote re-unification. America responded by sending troops to train and support the South Vietnamese army (ARVN), and the war began.
By 1963, half the villages were in control of the local guerrillas. Chinese and Russian weapons were coming down the Ho Chi Minh trail in significant numbers, while South Vietnam's feeble efforts to infiltrate into the North all failed. Of the nearly one hundred missions sent to sabotage critical facilities and assassinate the leaders, all but a few were killed or captured.
ARVN troops were unable even to defend themselves. In early 1963 at the battle of Ap Bac, 2,000 South Vietnamese troops with American helicopters and M-113 attack vehicles met a regiment of 350 Viet Cong and lost, taking 61 casualties against 12 for the enemy. ARVN officers would not lead their men into danger, and the soldiers were inclined to run rather than fight.
Facing a presidential election in November, Lyndon Johnson was charged by his opponents with being unwilling to engage in the fight against Communism, and he responded by accusing them of being war mongers and extremists.
I could have ended the war in a month. I could have made North Vietnam look like a mud puddle. Barry Goldwater, 1965*
It's silly talking about how many years we will have to spend in the jungles of Vietnam when we could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it and still be home by Christmas. Ronald Reagan, 1965, then governor of California
We should bomb them into the Stone Age. Curtis LeMay, US Air Force Chief of Staff, 1964
"We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys should be doing for themselves. Lyndon Johnson, 1964
Johnson was opposed to escalation, but in early 1964, with Goldwater and the Republicans calling for a military response, letting Vietnam slide into neutrality (and then to Communism) would cost him the election. He was trapped. A consummate politician, he presented himself as a reasonable, peaceful man, and while the military situation in Vietnam grew more serious, he waited for a stronger hand.
Stretching out in the early morning, the rice paddies are a political arrangement as well as an agricultural one. Traditionally as wide as a man could throw a knife, the little paddies are connected by canals that join the farmers together in a cooperative bond that is older and stronger than any government. Vietnam never was a nation. It had no national railroads, sports teams or newspaper, no national school system or government infrastructure worthy of the name. It was a land of villages, bound together by agriculture, a mythology, a dialect, and a style of life. North Vietnamese said of the people who lived down around the delta that they were slow, poor, gentle, and spoke with a kind of drawl.
Few institutions epitomized the Vietnamese better than the Cao Dai church— superficial, pragmatic, and almost childishly mystical. The religion had been invented in 1926 by a young bureaucrat in the French colonial government, and it honored among its saints Sun Yat Sen, Victor Hugo, Joan of Arc, and Pericles, the ancient ruler of Athens. It was Buddhist theology in a Catholic structure, and followers were encouraged to pray four times a day, abstain from meat and drunkenness, and look forward to the time when they will "come home" to God. The Great Temple itself is a fantastical monument of painted plaster, dominated by a great green ball (The Third Eye) that hangs in the shadowy center of the sanctuary.
In the old French city of Saigon, the streets hummed and honked with Hondas, weaving down the boulevards, bearing everything from babies to bazookas. Introduced to Vietnam in the early 1960's, the little 2-cycle scooter became the delivery van, the ride to work, and the family car.
¶Everything is for sale, and almost anything will find a buyer. More than with her refuse, Saigon stinks with her corruption. Vietnamese official, 1966
¶After an extended haircut, we wandered through the downtown "loop," soaking up atmosphere and looking for something to blow excess piasters on. There were more shops and stores than in the rural market towns. The war didn't seem to have interrupted normal trade; we found luxury goods such as star sapphires from Thailand, as well as utility items. Open-air stalls and peddlers' carts lined the streets; but behind them the businesses of the town were in electrically lighted buildings. Ralph Zumbro
¶You get a flat tire in one of those villages between Saigon and Cu Chi and in five minutes you got an empty truck. The villagers swarm over you like ants. You can yell and stomp all you like. It doesn't do any good. What the hell are you going to do anyway, shoot them? US civilian trucker*
¶It took us several hours to get up to Cu Chi. When we left Tan Son Nhut going to the 90th Replacement Battalion in Long Binh, we had to go through Saigon. There were gigantic piles of garbage in the streets, and you could just smell the decay and maggots growing in the garbage. Some of the canals we crossed smelled like open sewers, and the odor would just about knock you out. You can only wonder how people managed to live in those areas. I was fascinated by the country and the people. Everything stank to me. It either smelled like human waste or garbage or both mixed together, which it probably was. The people were interesting. Little kids were begging along the road and taking care of smaller children. We didn't see any young men, only the old or young, nobody in between. C.W. Bowman
In the summer of 1964, Lyndon Johnson chose war. On August 2, while the USS Maddox was supporting a covert raid on North Vietnam's Haiphong harbor, it was fired upon by two gunboats. One round may have struck the ship's hull, but no one was wounded and no damage was done. Two days later the USS Turner Joy claimed that it too had been attacked, though it quickly became clear that the crew was confused. No attacks had occurred. Nonetheless President Johnson seized on the event as evidence of North Vietnam's hostile intent. Coached by the administration, the media invented lurid "eyewitness" accounts: the Communist intruders "boldly sped" toward the destroyer, said Time magazine, firing with automatic weapons. Life magazine reported that the Turner Joy "weaved through the night sea, evading torpedoes." Newsweek concluded that it was "time for American might to strike back."
A war resolution materialized, and in short order Congress gave Johnson authorization: "to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent any further aggression." The vast military machine was awakened, plans were finalized, and assets were shifted around the world in preparation for deployment.
Victory [in Vietnam] is doubtful if not impossible. John McCone, Director of the CIA, 1963
No one at the time believed a war in Vietnam could be won in any conventional sense. By the end of 1964 the North Vietnamese had 170,000 soldiers in South Vietnam—most of them locally recruited. They could move and resupply at will, appear and disappear as they wished. General Tran Do, North Vietnam's elusive field commander, later described how they ran their side of the war in late 1964 from a jungle camp just off the Parrot's Beak, thirty-five miles west of Saigon:
We slept in hammocks in small thatched bamboo huts, and we held our meetings in deep underground tunnels which also served as shelter against the air raids. Informers in Saigon passed us intelligence so we were able to decamp whenever the Americans and their South Vietnamese puppets planned operations in the area.
With a weak government in Saigon and a South Vietnamese army that wouldn't fight, President Johnson knew that he could not defeat the North Vietnamese Army without drawing Russia and China into the conflict. But he believed he could intimidate the North Vietnamese into backing off and allowing South Vietnam to continue as a "neutral" country. And that is what he set out to do. Air attacks were slowly increased. More Army, Navy and Marine assets were moved into position. More threats were made. But North Vietnam did not flinch, and by early 1965 Johnson no longer had an easy way to back down.
On April 7, 1965 the President made a speech at Johns Hopkins University in which he gave his reasons for war: America must honor its treaties with even the weakest and least reliable of its allies. America must help others fight Communist aggression wherever it occurs, or risk a wider war. America must stand now, as it has always stood, for the freedom of others everywhere to manage their national affairs in their own way. He promised restraint. He offered unconditional talks and massive economic assistance in modernizing Vietnam. But he drew the line: "We will not be defeated. We will not grow tired. We will not withdraw, either openly or under the cloak of a meaningless agreement."
In May the 173rd Airborne Brigade arrived and began the first independent combat operations, defending the Marine airbase at Da Nang. Bombing runs were increased against Hanoi and the Ho Chi Minh trail—in the next few years the United States would drop four times more bombs on North Vietnam than were dropped by all combatants in all of World War II. There seemed to be no effect. In July the draft was doubled to 35,000 men a month. Defense Secretary McNamara told Johnson that the North Vietnamese "believe that the war will be a long one, and that their staying power is superior to ours." By Christmas, 1965 there were 184,300 American troops in Vietnam. Casualties for the year had risen to 1,863. In one year, Johnson had taken the Vietnam situation from a hard military choice, to an even harder war.
What most soldiers remember about Vietnam is not the politics of war, the sights of Saigon or the scrawny little villages along Highway 1. They remember the jungle, the booby-trapped rice paddies, and the long, hot hump every day.
¶In one of your letters you asked me just what my day was like. We get up around six A.M., eat, gather our stuff, and prepare to move out by seven. Our daily missions are sent by radio. I'm part of the morning briefing, so I know where we are going, which for me is pretty important as I need to know in case I need to call for Artillery or Cobra gunships. My job requires that I know where we are at all times. At about ten A.M. we take a break, maybe 20-30 minutes. Now I drink my first water of the day. (I still make coffee in the morning.) Again we move out. Our usual mission is look for the NVA, we search for trails, bunkers, mortar, or rocket pits. Sometimes we find ammo or food caches, which we destroy. How thick the jungle is determines how far and fast we move. If we think the NVA are in the area, we are extremely cautious, we trade time for distance. But always the days are hot, very hot. And most times the moves are very tiring. Lunch at noon, 30-45 minutes, and then we move again. We set up for the night around five PM. This consists of setting up a perimeter and everyone helps to dig a foxhole for the night. In my F. O. party there are three of us who take turns digging. The infantry guys set out trip flares and claymore mines, I call in artillery around the Night Defensive Position or NDP. We eat and as the sun goes down early we try to catch as much sleep as possible. Everyone pulls a two-hour watch at night. In my case I am in the middle of the NDP so I use the radio to check each major point around the perimeter every fifteen minutes. If you pull radio watch at the beginning of the night you can almost get a full night sleep. If not you have your sleep interrupted. All of us are tired. Sgt Charlie B. Dickey
¶We crossed the cool golden Thu Bon River and humped two klicks south. There the terrain flattened out into large fields of brown and green elephant grass and old unworked rice paddies. I turned my collar up and pulled my hands inside my sleeves as the point man led us into the ten-foot-tall grass. A breeze swept across the giant field, making it look as soft as a calm, undulating ocean, but each blade of this wave could cut a man's skin as quickly as a razor, and the slightest cut would be infected within hours. Johnnie Clark, US Marine
¶The elephant grass was too green and thick to go through, so we had to push it down. Elephant grass has razor-sharp saw edges and a flat blade. As our jungle boots slipped from under us as we struggled uphill, we would instinctively grab at the grass, ripping our fingers to shreds. Wiping the blood off on our jungle fatigues turned us into smorgasbord for every bug within a kilometer. The bugs loved us. Fred Downs, Platoon leader
¶The jungle felt so vibrant, so noisy compared to the rocky, rolling terrain we'd just left. Screeching birds filled the tops of each tree. The temperature dropped twenty degrees almost immediately. Bright sun rays danced off thousands of plants in a million shades of green. Strangling vines tangled together forever in a struggle to see the sun. Johnnie Clark, US Marine
¶Even the easy LRRP [Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol] missions or patrols were uncomfortable. There were no hot meals, no changes of clothes, and little or no time to relax. In the bush, the uniforms were usually buttoned to the neck, with the sleeves rolled down and buttoned at the wrists. Camouflage paint covered any exposed areas of the body. The rucksacks were often up to one hundred pounds, and in the tropical, sometimes staggering heat, even the uniforms and equipment became opponents to contend with. At night the teams slept in short thirty-minute to one-hour shifts, sitting up and facing out so that each compass direction was covered and protected. There was no speaking allowed, and any communication was done in hushed whispers or hand signals. There were no air mattresses, ponchos, or shelter halves, and when it rained, which was frequently, the team members simply took it in stride—wet, uncomfortable, and always keeping an eye on the surrounding jungle. Kregg Jorgenson
¶Not all the [LRRP] missions went the scheduled five days. While the teams slowly moved through the jungle in camouflaged uniforms and painted faces, looking for signs of enemy activity, fresh footprints, dropped equipment, listening for unusual sounds (like the sound of metal clinking) or talk or even catching a whiff of a small cooking fire, the teams themselves were subject to the same tactical faults as their enemy. Even the best have their off days, and in Vietnam it only took an off instant to make a deadly error; so the training and experience of those on the patrol often determined the outcome of a mission.
Movement was deliberate, usually at a slow walk. Metal objects were taped, there would be no talking. Whispering was okay at times, but hand signals became the usual method of communication. Radio contact would be maintained between the Ranger radio-relay stations set up throughout the region. Team coordinates would be relayed during the day and at the night position. Whenever possible, the night position would be in an inaccessible area, an unlikely place for the enemy to use. At night, when the light disappeared and the rain forest grew black and heavy, guard duty would be every two and a half hours, leaving time for light rest or sleep.
If you hear or notice movement at night, something out of the ordinary, then you squeeze the arm or leg of the nearest person to you to get his attention. You don't open up, giving your team position away, unless you're absolutely sure you have to. It's more than a game of hide-and-seek, because they'll kill you if they find you. Kregg Jorgenson
¶I was beginning to see where the term "grunts" came from. We would see those poor ground-pounders chuffing up a hill carrying packs as big as their chests, wrapped up in flak jackets, sweating rivers and breathing like engines. The combat infantryman is the reason that the rest of the military exists. The tanks hauled tons of baggage just to give the troopers a break. Ralph Zumbro
¶The first day they sent me out here to meet up with my platoon. We moved out from the top of one hill to the next and on the way we ran into snipers and had four men killed and four wounded. Death is sad over here to these young men. To see them rolled up in a poncho. I had to go out and get one guy that had got hit and then got on fire; he was still burning when we got to him. I'm the machine gunner in my squad. If you think this letter is grubby that is because we live that way. On top of the hills for weeks without shaving, washing, or brushing your teeth. Your clothes get so dirty they fall off then you get a new pair. At night you have to sleep with a few grenades in your pocket because you never know when you'll get hit by something. Pvt Timothy Robinson
When the enemy advances, withdraw; when he defends, harass; when he tires, attack; when he withdraws, pursue. Mao Tse-Tung, "Rules for Guerrilla War"
Every qualitative measurement we have shows that we are winning this war. Robert McNamara, 1962
The overall situation continues to be serious. In many respects it has deteriorated since 15 months ago when I was last here. Robert McNamara, 1965
I see no reasonable way to bring the war to an end soon. Robert McNamara, 1966
What I was trying to find out was how the hell the war went on year after year after year when we stopped the infiltration and when we had very high body count and so on. It just didn't make sense. Robert McNamara, 1967
¶I would say that less than half of all planned operations make any contact with the VC. There are various reasons. First, the VC have their own very efficient intelligence nets. There are probably VC sympathizers in every major HQ of the Vietnam Army. There is usually at least a 24-hour planning period before any operation kicks off. This gives a lot of time for the plan to leak out, and it quite often does.
Next, the VC are extremely good at slipping out of an area, or hiding in an area where there is an operation. An example—near my area four [ARVN] battalions entered an area to look for a VC company that was reported in the area. There was not a shot fired and no one could figure out how the VC slipped out. All escape routes were covered with blocking positions. About a week later they went back and found out why. The VC had a fantastic underground network of caves to hide the entire company, and all the entrances were next to impossible to find. COL James B. Lincoln, ARVN Advisor
¶Nearly every plan is changed by [ARVN] headquarters and virtually every change reduces the chance of contact or allows the [VC] an avenue of escape. Unidentified ARVN Advisor
¶The [ARVN] officers were urban, spoke French, and were often Catholic, but the soldiers were rural Buddhists. The officers treated their troops and NCOs like dirt. We believed that some of the officers were VC, VC sympathizers or fence sitters. Sgt Richard O'Hare, advisor to ARVN
¶[The ARVN] was a joke. I despised the whole lot of them. They were all cowards. In the morning their uniforms were spotless and their weapons clean. They'd look the same at the end of the day. We did all the work. We looked like tramps. We would rather go it alone. At least then you only had to fight one enemy. Dan Vandenberg
¶Behind us, a unit of ARVN soldiers occupied a concrete blockhouse surrounded by a Cyclone fence and concertina wire. The guys inside listening to the music weren't interested enough to come out and see what was going on. The sentry on duty outside sat in a chair under a large beach umbrella and sipped a bottle of orange soda pop. He might have wondered how we were going to get into the village, but it didn't really matter because the one thing he knew for certain was that he wasn't going in after that sniper. We were. When I turned and made eye contact with him, he held up his bottle of orange soda like he was going to toast me, then he put his head back and laughed out loud. Christopher Ronnau
I won't say the ARVNs won't do nothing, but you got to kick 'em in the ass to fight. When you go on a sweep with them, they spend their time picking fruit and stealing chickens. PFC Willis V. Tapscott
They were losers. They didn't have any initiative whatever. I guess it would have been hard knowing you might shoot up your brother or your uncle. Michael Willis
Most ARVN units suffered defeat because of military incompetence and cowardice, rather than any inferiority in numbers or firepower. The Pentagon Papers, 1971
¶The average Vietnamese wouldn't know the definition of democracy, communism, or socialism, wouldn't know who [President] Thieu was. They were just trying to exist and their life is being threatened by the Viet Cong. 'And just to show you we mean business, we'll rape your sister and cut the head off your mother.' Terrorism makes a believer out of you. Michael Jones, US Marine
¶Sometimes one of the [NVA] soldiers would wait next to a tree lining a trail. When our point man was almost upon him, the NVA soldier would whirl around the tree, spraying a full thirty-round clip from his AK-47. Fred Downs, Platoon leader
¶The Viet Cong are either sniping at us or bombing us. Honest this is the damndest craziest war I ever fought. A farmer lays down his tools picks up a gun, shoots at you, and when you chase him he sticks his gun in a hole, picks up his tools, and claims immunity because he is only a poor farmer. Lt Roy Boehm, US Advisor, "father" of Navy SEALS
¶We used the radio to call in artillery, naval gun support if it was close enough, air strikes, gunships, dustoffs, Puff the Magic Dragon [AC-47 gunship, often called "Spooky"], mortars, tanks, APCs and other rifle platoons. The radio kept us supplied. One day our order went in; the next day the chopper flew out with a delivery. We found each other by using grid coordinates and radioing them back and forth. A pilot knew he had the right location when we popped smoke and he identified it over the radio. By this method we received C-rations, ammo, new weapons, grenades, parts for our equipment, shoes, new clothes, underwear, socks, medicine, personnel replacements, beer, iodine for use in the water, mail and once in a while even a chaplain. Fred Downs, Platoon leader
¶The radio was our link with literally everything outside our platoon, from supplies to survival. My RTO, Mann, a skinny kid five feet eleven inches tall, was next to perfect for the job. Mann was so good that he would often call in dustoffs or reach other people for me even before I had a chance to tell him what I needed. All of the RTOs in the company net kept each other informed of what was happening. No better grapevine in the world existed. Fred Downs, Platoon leader
¶As soon as I got here, Sunday, I found out that my squad was going on an ambush patrol. We [stayed] out that whole night and came in at seven in the morning. We had breakfast, and by 8:30 we had another sweep. The whole company goes out looking for VC. Today we went through the rice paddies, and I never saw so much mud in all my life. I was covered with it. We got back about an hour ago, and I took a bath in the river. Michael Romano
¶The platoon ate cold C-rations in the rain, then headed back toward friendly lines, cutting cross-country to avoid retracing our steps over the trail. At dusk, we reached the front line, or what, in that war, passed for a front line. Sergeant Pryor's squad were blackening their faces with charcoal and shoe polish before they went out on ambush. Philip Caputo, Marine platoon leader
¶Ten miles out we found ourselves sloshing through endless rice paddies full of knee-deep mud and blood-sucking leeches. We tight-roped along the paddy dikes, trying to keep our feet dry. Halfway across, a sniper started taking potshots at us. The distant sound of his AK-47 told me he was too far away to hit anything. No one paid any attention except the new boot, Private Simmons. Simmons dove into the mud face first. I laughed until my eyes watered. Johnnie Clark, US Marine
¶The clothes and boots forming the inanimate part of our body protection were quickly drenched with sweat, dirt, mashed bugs, and the mixed blood and juices from both the bugs' bodies and our own. Covering everything was the smell of slimy, rotting vegetation. Every scratch was a breeding spot for bacteria which could result in the rapid growth of jungle rot. This was the essence of a jungle patrol. Fred Downs, Platoon leader
¶That's when everyone started getting ringworms. Guys would have chunks of hair fall out of their heads from ringworms. There was trench foot, and guys couldn't walk because of the plantar warts on their feet. Most of us had immersion foot, ringworms, leech bites, and hepatitis. Some guys got malaria. We went through thirty days once without bathing. We humped every day and went on ambush patrol at night. We didn't bathe or shave or take off our boots or clothes or anything else. When we did come back for a stand down, I took off my boots, and from the top of my boots to my toes, I probably pulled off a whole layer of skin. It smelled like a cesspool and was blood red down to my toes. The sad thing about it was that most of us felt more at home out in the field than in base camp. In base camp, we were the animals and the outcasts. C.W. Bowman
¶During the rainy season, about 3:00 every afternoon, you'd get a real drenching, which varied from very heavy to extremely heavy to extraordinarily heavy. And then it was over, and it would dry off, and we would get back to business. But there were lots of insects to bother you: stinging, creeping, crawling insects. I don't think we had trouble with poisonous insects, but there were a few dangerous snakes, cobras among them. Carl Neilson
¶All along the way, we were attacked by hordes of land leeches. They were unusually repulsive little creatures that resembled common garden slugs or big elephant boogers that had turned crimson from glutting themselves on human blood. They left large hickeys on the skin where they had bitten, then migrated down into your lower pants or socks to rest until the next meal. Periodically I'd stop, undo my leggings, take off my boots, and shake out my socks to evict them. Christopher Ronnau
¶Then, two days after we got back, my platoon splashed its way through a rice paddy at 3:30 in the morning in a rainstorm to surround a hamlet, which we managed to do somehow without alerting everyone in the district. It was "very successful" since we managed to kill a few probably innocent civilians, found a few caves and burned a few houses, all in a driving rainstorm. Sandy Kempner, Marine platoon leader. Killed by a mine the next month.
¶We usually slept with a towel over our faces, or the mosquitoes would carry you away. The cocktail sauce they gave us for food wasn't edible but was great for leeches. You just squirt it on them and they would drop off you. Jerry Liucci
The unwilling, led by the unqualified, doing the unnecessary for the ungrateful. GI Humor
¶We were always under strength. People always say you had 500,000 men over there. But out of those 500,000, maybe 20,000 were doing the actual fighting. Everybody else was back in the rear echelon. Because we were so under strength, we depended heavily on our firepower, the artillery, and air strikes. Because there were so few of us, we carried a very heavy load of ammunition. I carried an M-14 with 22 loaded magazines. In my rucksack, I sometimes carried 10, 15, or even up to 50 pounds of C4 plastic explosive because I also ran tunnels. We also used it to blow up bunkers and similar things. Along with that, you had to carry extra ammo for the machine gun, which was usually 200 rounds. Then you had your grenades, claymores, maybe a 60mm mortar round stuck in your hip pocket, smoke grenades, CS grenades, and anything you thought you might need. That wasn't counting your C-rations. You didn't carry anything you thought you didn't need, that was for sure. Mostly just ammunition and a change of socks. Nobody wore underwear. C.W. Bowman
¶We were constantly on patrol, sweeping the jungle, on night observation, whatever. You averaged three or, if you were lucky, four hours of sleep a night. It's amazing how fear can keep you awake all night and keep you going the next day, but it reaches a point where you have to try to get your buddy to stay awake for you because you're saying, "I have to sleep. I don't care if they come up and slit my throat or shoot me in the head; I just can't take it anymore." C.W. Bowman
¶Our battalion commander, kept extending our time in the field each time we had a firefight. We were tired and the constant series of extensions made us wonder if our luck would run out. Each day the patrol was extended was another day of fear, anguish, and physical exhaustion. Finally, Delta Six informed us that we would be lifted out to the firebase for sure. All of the platoons rendezvoused at a clearing on a high mountain ridge and waited in the endless rain for the Chinook helicopter. Fred Downs, Platoon leader