Long form narrative.
Vietnam: Ranger mission AAR # 1, Day 1
At 01:00 hrs, on Day 1, (November 16th, 1967) my company commander orders me to lead a patrol into the Charlie November Area of Operations, Quan Tri province. Minutes later I report to the battalion tactical operations center where the battalion intelligence and operations officers brief me on my mission.
“Your squad will recon a suspected NVA mortar position, east of this village. Map coordinates for your objective are F(0)28(3).
“You will pass through friendly lines at 11:00 hrs and head for your objective.
“On completion of your mission, establish a patrol base at map coordinates I(0)28(5) no later than 23:00 hrs. Here you will be issued with orders for your next mission.”
At 01:30 hrs I’m back at my command post where my mission planning begins. I plot the route we will take through the lush Vietnamese jungle, avoiding open areas and taking care to cross only two trails on on our way to the objective.
With artillery target reference points, our objective rally point and our tentative patrol base marked on my topo map, I select the members of my patrol, which will be two fire teams and an MG team for support.
At 02:30 hours I wake my fire team leaders, Barese and Brooks, and issue them with a warning order for the mission. Armed with my initial plan, its time for them to start their preparations for our rehearsals and squad inspections.
Meanwhile I decide which squad members will have roles in our recon, surveillance and security teams. Then I calculate their weapon, ammunition and equipment loads, ensuring we take a range of kit to help us deal with the most likely situations. But kit load is a major consideration as I must avoid burdening my rangers too heavily.
At 05:30 hrs, all my designated patrol members gather to hear my extensive operations order for the mission. I brief them on the situation, mission, execution, service support, command and signal instructions.
After my two hour briefing, we assemble for an extensive squad inspection, checking our weapons and equipment for any issues that could affect the mission or individual rangers. Then we move to our rehearsal area where for two more hours we practise actions at the objective and actions on enemy contact, which include near and far ambushes, sniper fire and chance contacts. With time running short, we end our rehearsals by practising crossing danger areas such as trails and open ground.
At 10:00 hrs, I conduct the patrol’s final inspection, checking each ranger’s weapons, kit and camouflage. I pay close attention to the squad’s radio, and the spare radio I am carrying. Our truck arrives at 10:30 hrs to take us on a ten minute drive to the rear of our designated friendly forward unit.
We meet our guide from the friendly unit, 26th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, at the designated location and we dismount from our truck. He takes us to our initial rally point and the squad occupies a security perimeter while I meet the friendly unit’s commander to confirm our passage through the front line.
At 11:00 hrs we follow our guide in single file, quietly passing through the Marines’ forward positions, then twisting our way through the wire. We leave our guide at a gap in the wire.
500 metres west, I nominate a rally point and the patrol moves on stealthily in travelling overwatch formation. Suddenly we come under heavy fire. Bullets zip by. My rangers hit the ground and seek cover. We return fire. The NVA force appears to be a squad, with an MG firing from their center. They are just 100 metres away, at twelve o’clock to our position, and their fire is effective, pinning us down.
Do we stay and fight it out? An assault on the enemy force could be costly and the longer we stay here the greater the threat from fresh NVA units. I decide we’d better withdraw back through the gap in the wire.
I have Ranger Carney contact our friendly forward unit over his radio to warn them of our return while I issue orders to break contact and withdraw under covering fire. It works. In 15 minutes we are back at our initial rally point, luckily without any casualties. It is 11:30 hrs and we’re back where we started.
I meet with the Marines company commander and we coordinate artillery fire on the enemy position. Reports come back that they seem to have withdrawn. I contact battalion toc and am instructed to wait three hours and conduct passage of lines again. With our guide from the friendly unit, I plot another infiltration point nearby.
At 15:30 hrs we again follow our guide to a gap in the wire as we start another infiltration. Not much more than 500 metres from the gap in the wire we see the flash of enemy fire as bullets strike the nearby trees. We hit the ground and return fire at an NVA element numbering four or five shooters. Though much of their fire is inaccurate, my B fire team leader, Brooks, is clipped in his forearm by a bullet. Luckily it’s not a serious wound and one of his fire team quickly treats and bandages his injury.
With the NVA two hundred metres away, at eleven o’clock to our position, they are far enough for me to safely call in support fire. It helps that they are within one klick of one of my pre-designated arty reference points. Fortunately the NVA fire is light and, other than Brook’s light injury, ineffective.
I give the target’s type and coordinates to the fire direction centre and call for HE fire. At 16:15 hrs. an arty round impacts 100 metres northeast of the target. I pass back adjustment instructions and soon an HE round explodes directly on the enemy position. I give the command to fire for effect. Six round volleys follow, one after another. It looks like all the NVA are probably KIA.
Silence falls. My fire team leaders redistribute ammo. We advance on through the enemy position, counting four dead NVA. 100 metres west we halt and set up a security perimeter. I radio a report to battalion toc and request a time extension for the mission. It is now 16:45 hrs and our mission includes recon of the NVA mortar position and establishing a patrol base, all by 23:00 hrs, which is now impossible given the ground we have yet to cover. TOC are not happy. Too bad. I’m told to proceed with all possible speed without raising risk of enemy contact.
We set off at 17:00 hrs, heading west through the jungle under a dense canopy. Mostly the ground vegetation is thick, and the going is slow with the terrain more difficult than it appears on my topo map. Sometimes the ground vegetation gets lighter and we are able to pick up the pace.
At 18:00 hrs we come upon a trail that cuts across our advance from eight o’clock to two o’clock. I call a security halt. From the point man’s position I scan the trail. No sign of any activity. Barese arrives with the Rangers designated to provide recon and flank security. After our flank security teams are in position, the recon team crosses the trail and secures the far side.
After half our rangers cross the trail, I too race across. Fire team leader Brooks remains behind to oversee the remaining Rangers crossing before coming across himself with the flank security teams. We consolidate and take a brief security halt, listening for any suspicious sounds. Our 15 minute crossing goes like clockwork, thanks to our earlier rehearsals.
I instruct the point man, Holman, to move out and we quickly leave the danger area, the jungle gloom enveloping us as the sun starts to melt into the horizon. We move on slowly through the often dense jungle undergrowth, impeded now by the darkness of the humid night. After nearly three hours, I call a brief security halt and issue a FRAGO order to diverge from our intended route, heading directly towards nine o’clock to our position.
After 500 metres of progress, I call another security halt. It is 21:45 hours. When Barese and Brooks join me, I tell them we are going to set up an over night patrol base – the men are close to exhaustion and need to rest. I depart with a recon and security team to search for a good base location. Thirty minutes later we return to the patrol’s temporary perimeter, having found a possible base position.
I move the patrol to the intended location. Rangers occupy their perimeter positions while I send out a recon and security team to check the surrounding area. They report back that all seems clear. We are staying here tonight. Finally I emplace two Rangers, Wegmann and Deady, at a listening post to cover the route we took to our patrol base. It is 22:45 hrs and, other than those Rangers on guard duty, my men can finally take a rest.