S3 – THE LOST PATROL
security. That meant securing two small hills south of the Battalion perimeter, two
bridges south and east of the position, and also patrolling the areas around the 1st Tank’s
perimeter itself. None of these were very enticing jobs.
If patrols were ALL of it, it wouldn’t have been that bad, but in the daylight we
also got all the glamorous work of digging pissoirs, repairing bunkers and burning shitcans.
All this after roaming the countryside for two to four hours every night. Night
Most of the time we couldn’t muster more than half the troops assigned to patrol.
It’s very difficult to convince a drunk or someone in a sound sleep that he should get up
to slog around in the mud and monsoons for a few hours. Sometimes we didn’t press it
and just went out with what we had. Sometimes that wasn’t much.
One particular night I got up, put on my illegal camouflage rain suit (it came from
the states with me and never saw a laundry for over two months of nightly patrols, I’d
just take them off of the nail where they hung, bang them against the hooch to crack most
of the mud off and put them on to let the rain do any further cleaning, (with what they
were put through every night it made very little sense to me to actually clean them) and
headed up to the Command bunker. When I get there the only other Marine present was
PFC Walker. We waited awhile for the others to show up, and then walked back to the
hooches in the rain to try to round some people up. We didn’t have any luck; everyone
we could even get to talk to us had one reason or another to not go out. Most of them just
told us to f*** off.
We looked at each other, said the hell with it and went out on our own. Walker
was the point and auto weapons man, and I humped the radio and was rear security
carrying my old M-14. We went out the wire in the midst of the usual drizzle. Two man
patrols boarder on being suicidal, but this was close to Battalion, and we could always
call up some mortar support on the radio if we really needed it. Our patrol route was
relatively safe, but it still got very strange out there on some nights. We spent four hours
one night, snoopin’ n poopin’, and calling for illumination every time we moved while
we tried to figure out if we were on their trail or they were on ours. After a very tense
night we never did find out, just as well. Who knew how many of THEM there were.
We had wound through about three fourths of our patrol route, getting ready to go back in
through the wire not long after going through an area with a little abandoned Vietnamese
shack. I’d been walking backwards half the time checking that our rear was safe and
clear. On one of these turn-a rounds to look back down the trail, when I turned back
Walker was GONE! We were right at the point where the trail branched off again.
Trying to look everywhere at once, I ran down one of the trails hoping to find Walker,
but thinking the gooks had taken him out when my back was turned and I was next.
Nobody. I went back up the trail to search out the other branches. About this time I ran
into a hallucination, I hope. Someone was moving through the area of the hooch and it
wasn’t Walker, I leveled my M-14 at him and backed down the trail away from him as he
seemed to do the same. Again I had no idea how many of THEM there might be, perhaps
he thought the same thing.
I hadn’t any luck finding Walker, so I headed toward the wire where we were to
go in, moving cautiously; once I was within a hundred yards or so from our entry point I
spotted another little guy with a weapon coming back on the trail heading in my
direction. I got off the trail and locked the sights of my rifle on him, tracking his head
while whispering “Walker, Walker, is that you?” ready to squeeze off a round. You must
understand that Walker was as small, if not smaller, than the average Vietnamese so this
was very touchy, very dangerous.
Luckily I received the answer that I was hoping to hear. It was him. He had
moved right along the trail and on up to the edge of the bush near the wire, before
noticing he’d lost me. He had turned around to have me call in, so we could enter the
wire without getting lit up by our own guys, but I wasn’t there. He thought I was hanging
back in the bush and waved me up a couple times, but I didn’t come. This is when he had
the same thoughts as I had, that the dinks had grabbed me off from behind him. He
couldn’t even get back in or contact Battalion without me and the radio, so he started
working his way back down the trail to where we met back up. We went back to the wire
and radioed in and entered the perimeter. My last two man patrol. It was too difficult for
two guys to hold down as many jobs as were required of a patrol and not get screwed up.
Robert Walker stayed at Battalion and continued to run the S3 patrols throughout
his tour there. We ran other patrols together again, as Corporals, but I seriously doubt if
he ever tried to run a two man patrol again.