Veterans find shared experiences a strong binding force achieved through no other circumstances. Listening to a WWII Veteran tell his experience being captured by the Nazis reinforced this to me.
1971, Central Highlands, Southeast Asia.
Joe and I placed sensors along trails to monitor enemy movements. He walked point while I had the slack position behind him, followed by other soldiers. The others would set up a perimeter protecting us while we were in the open burying the five sensors: first was a seismic sensor which registered ground vibrations, next a magnetic sensor to determine if metal was present, followed by an audio sensor (could just be a cow with a bell), then magnetic and seismic sensors, respectively. Each sensor, when activated, would broadcast its code number. Knowing where the movement was, its direction and speed, mortars were called in if deemed an enemy.
One particular mission started at 0-dark-thirty (military time for well before sunrise). I looked around for the new Vietnamese interpreter that arrived the day before; I had not met him yet. Not seeing him and having to move out, my attention returned to our mission and the jungle.
Arriving at the selected point we quickly discussed the positioning of the sensors while the others established our perimeter. I had three of the five sensors to place while Joe had the others. Drilling perfect four inch round holes, 18 inches deep with special tools we carefully placed the soil in bags to pack out. Camouflaged antennae matching the surrounding vegetation was all that showed. We worked quickly.
Each sensor was about 20 feet off the trail, except the audio sensor’s microphone needed to be closer. Done by “drawing a line” in the ground to bury its wire.
“Always keep your weapon within arm’s reach” – drummed into us in training, over and over. Moving very few feet, I instinctively moved my rifle next to me, scratch a line, bury, move, scratch, etc. In the open I looked around often but never saw others. “Well, I shouldn’t. They’re supposed to be hidden”.
It was time to do the last “scratch and bury”, then dig a small hole for the mike. Again I looked around and saw no one. I glance at my M-16, just at arm’s length. “It’ll just take a few seconds and I’ll have this done”, I thought. This was the one and only time I did not have my rifle within arm’s reach. I did the last move to bury the mike.
Finishing I heard, “What are you doing GI”? Looking up I saw a rifle barrel pointed between my eyes, just a few inches away. A Vietnamese cradled the rifle in one arm with his other hand near the trigger.
“What happened to the perimeter; they must have slit all their throats!”
I looked at the end of the barrel again, then back to the Vietnamese face, the barrel, the face, the barrel, the face…. I don’t know how many times I did this. All the time that face remained expressionless.
I glanced at my rifle, five or six feet away. “I could lunge for it, maybe get a shot or two off but I’d be killed.” Thoughts ran fast.
Two scenes flash before me simultaneously: a blank screen, like at a movie theater, all white, representing my future back home – I couldn’t see any. The other scene I was walking North, head hanging down, barefoot, hands tied behind my back with a bamboo pole stuck between my elbows and back. A Vietnamese behind with a rifle pointed at me.
I remembered then when I was flying over to Viet Nam that God showed me I would be coming back - alive. I did not know in what condition, but alive. I had placed myself within His safety so far, it was time to put all my trust in Him now.
I glanced at this Vietnamese’s uniform, it said “US Army” – I looked at the face again, “You’re our new interpreter”?
I can’t quite describe what my feelings were up to then.
But when this WWII Veteran came to the point in his capture story where a Nazi soldier pointed his gun at him I interrupted, “Do you remember how lose your bowels were then”?
Without hesitation, “YES”.
Shared experiences bond Veterans, I thank God mine were only to a certain point!
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