37 days, 9 July, ’67
Dear Mom S. [Singleton]
School finally got interesting today. We had a whole morning devoted to mines and booby traps.
First there was a class on all the different types American and V.C. , explosive and not explosive. Charlie makes mines out of coke cans, c-ration cans; anything GIs throw away. Also they take dud mortar rounds or bombs and rig them to explode. Anything is booby-trapped it seems. It makes you feel very unsafe.
We went through a jungle path, which was heavily booby-trapped (simulated of course). All kinds of trip wires hooked to grenades, bombs, flares, overhead spikes; anything explosive. There were several very obvious punji pits and foot spikes. The grenades were loud, but that’s all and the pits were not hidden at all, and clear off the trail. It was a very interesting and almost frightening walk through the jungle. Frightening when you think that in the field they’re real.
I could describe some of these, but there are so many it would take 10 pages. They had a display of several non-explosive traps that I intend to take pictures of and send home with a description of each.
In the afternoon, we had a review of map reading and the art of calling in artillery fire. I had both of these in A. I. T. but I think I learned more about them in these 3 hours than I did in all of A. I. T. I learned an interesting fact – the guns that go off behind us all the time can shoot accurately anywhere up to 33 miles. Also that when Charlie gets the first rounds of artillery, he can’t take it and he leaves; so artillery does have a definite value.
We had an hour and a half on the Claymore mine. They look like a Polaroid camera when the camera is closed, only curved slightly. They have a sight on top and are about the same size. They can be aimed like a gun and are very effective. They are full of 120 steel balls of buckshot. And spread for 50 meters at 50 meters. Anything within this spread is dead. Anything beyond is wounded or killed.
They can be command detonated electrically, or trip detonated. The only trouble is that Charlie sometimes sneaks up and turns them around toward you and then either makes noise so you’ll set it off, or he’ll use a battery and set it off himself. Ouch!
We use them on ambushes and bunker line mostly. Sometimes they’re set up in a ring around your position so Charlie can’t get in from any direction.
Tonight we had a rather worthless class on convoy procedure. But then we got to use the infra-red scopes, similar to the ones we had on our track at Knox. They enable you to see for short distances at night, but Charlie could pick up the light himself with his infra-red scope and detect your position. They also have a large scope that fits right on the M-16, called the Starlight. This thing is fabulous! It throws out no light at all, but rather magnifies the existing light electronically.
On a bright night you can see for 500 meters; on a rainy night it can drop to 50 meters. You can’t’ distinguish colors - everything is green – you can duplicate it with a color TV. Other than that everything is bright as day, but it gives off no light - it’s amazing. After this we had a captured V. C. propaganda film showing the V. C. winning the war. It was really funny. One scene showed them getting artillery, mortars, and air fire as they walked along a trail. They kept walking – smiling all the way – with bombs dropping all around - but none of them fell. Next they overran an American (supposed) position and blew up a tank (Russian, but with a US star on it). It was an insult on one’s intelligence, but they showed it to their troops so they will gain morale.
So much for school. The rain is getting pretty regular now, like it’s supposed to. Sunny in the morning and early afternoon. At about 3:00 it pours for a half hour, and then drizzles until about 8 or 9 that evening. By 11:00 the stars are out. It comes in about 10 minutes and goes slowly. It also has bred quite a crop of mosquitoes, so the malaria pill becomes even more important. They refer to it as “the pill”. Once a week on the same day of the week (Monday) you take “the pill”. Just like in the world – you’d better take your “pill” or you’ll get in trouble.
We got a new guy form Michigan in Recon – he’s going to school with me now. He’s been to Newberry and Luce County, Petoskey and Bay View/Harbor Springs, and he’d familiar with Highway 23 – Bay City, Alpena, Harrisville, Roger City, Cheboygan, and, on the other side Charlevoix, etc.
One question – (Dad) what is the name of that river that connect the two big lakes? I think it goes from Lake Charlevoix to some other lake (Huron?). We were going to canoe from lake to lake, but never did. All the big cabin cruisers go on the river to get between the lakes. I don’t know if it’s a great lake or not. We cross the river when we take the 4-lane home, I believe.
One closing note. I sent one of the guys down to the PX to get a roll of film. I never get to go anymore because of school. I told him to get one roll of 20 exposures. He hot 2 rolls of 36 exp. Guess I’ll be shooting some pictures for a while. Watch the birdie, Bob
PS. Sorry my writing bothers you. It’s hard to write sitting on a bed.
38 day, 10 July ’67
The Bird of Paradise sends his blessing. Would you believe it dropped to about 75 degrees this morning and I nearly froze. Really, at 75 it really seemed cold after 90-100 at times.
I had my eye appointment this morning. Three hours of testing, I’ve never seen such a thorough eye exam. The exam was ordered by the Division Surgeon General upon request from Gen. Westmoreland (Mom’s letter, again). It was a “Special interest inquiry” as to how bad my eyes were, was I qualified for my duties, and did I have the required pairs of glasses. Conclusions: bad, yes, and no. I have no trouble besides my near-sightedness; everything else – color, depth perception, etc. – is normal and about normal (with glasses).
The doctor went to great lengths to look up the regulations concerning eyes and combat. The old regulations – the ones on my physical – were based on 20/200 being the maximum uncorrected vision safe for combat; the new regs raised this to 20/400 – mine exactly. It is required, however, that I have at least two pairs of correct glasses, therefore he ordered a pair of regular glasses plus a pair of prescription sunglasses, which I should get in a couple of weeks.
So now I know where I stand in that department. I guess her letter did some good after all. A complete report is being sent to her concerning my reason for waiting for school and eyes, etc. Of course I missed the morning section of school but this afternoon we fired the M-16 again on the assault course. Mine jammed up – this time a cartridge stuck in the chamber. Don’t worry, it didn’t blow up and there was nobody shooting back.
On the way back from the range we saw an expended artillery cartridge which had lodged in a tree in one of the fruit orchards around here. Sort of a cartridge in a pear tree.
I was finally able to get to the PX this afternoon. My old watch has stopped completely now – probably the battery, or worse. So I bought a $10 Timex calendar watch. I have my beautiful Bulova, but I don’t want to wear it over here in the rain, etc., so I got the Timex for here and I’ll send the old one and my good one home. If the Timex can last a year over here, they can use it on a TV commercial.
39 days, 11 July, ’67 – 6 months in, 18 to go
The butterflies helped me usher in my 6-month anniversary last night. The platoon came in for the night (went out again this morning) and discovered that three of their lockers had been forced. One radio - $50, one tape recorder - $30, some bedding, and $20’s worth of canned goods. With a $90 camera around, you can understand the butterflies.
After I shoot the roll inside the camera now, I’m going to send it and the watches ($40) home. That means no camera for R&R (Hong Kong) or anymore of this wonderful country. Xin loi (sorry about that).
School today? Ambush formations, defensive positions, and night firing. Again, helpful review from A. I. T.
One new gadget, though. A device that is planted in the ground, about the size of a drinking glass (small size – maybe a juice glass) with a wire going back about 300 meters or so to your defensive or ambush position and attached to a little box, which will take four of the devices. They sense the vibrations on the ground of people or animals walking anywhere within 50 meters of it. With this and the Starlight scope, I don’ see how anybody could surprise you. They say you can tell the difference between an animal and a human by the sound of 4 feet moving fast, and light compared to 2 moving slow but heavy. They demonstrated with a dog and a man at 300 m. Really amazing! Each step makes a sound like static on a radio. When nothing moves, it’s silent.
I got the Sports Car Graphic today. Thanks so much. That’s a great issue, color pics and all. Also the first time I’ve seen what they’re racing in ’67. I’m glad you’re thinking about me.
40 days, 12 July ’67
We learned more about ambush and recon patrols this morning and how to set them up. This afternoon we learned how to break an ambush, should we be caught in one.
Two dog handlers from the Scout Dog Platoon gave a talk on the value of the scout dogs. You’re not going to believe all this, but I swear it’s all true – no exaggeration. These dogs (German Shepherds; beautiful) are trained for about 30 weeks total – 20 months in the world, 10 over here. They use them for detecting ambushes, booby traps, anything out to the front or sides that shouldn’t be there – Charlie, for example. They’re here for the duration, or until they die, are killed, or are too old to function. So far, in 19 months, they haven’t had any killed.
What’s so unbelievable about the? Nothing! Now try this. The dog they had for demonstration named Remos, had 3 Purple Hearts (wounds received as result of hostile action) the Bronze Star, and the Combat Infantry Badge (awarded to infantry men after completing so many ambushes, patrols, etc.). These were awarded the dog, now, not the handler. The Bronze Star was for one time when he sniffed out booby-traps and discovered a battalion of VC waiting for a company of GIs. As a result, artillery fire was called in on the VC and a disaster was averted, and there were 195 or so VC killed and 3 Americans wounded. Remos got a small piece of shrapnel in his leg. (This is just what I’ve been told; how true it is I don’t know, but he does have a Bronze Star).
If a dog is wounded, they will call in a “dust-off” medical chopper for evacuation. If there is a critical GI and a critical dog, the GI goes first priority. However, if the GI is only slightly wounded but still has to be taken back, and the dog is critical, the dog has first priority!
They have 2 dogs in the hospital now, recovering from wounds and while they’re there, they are donating blood for other wounded dogs!
They told us of one time they know of that a dog made a mistake in another unit. He sniffed out a grenade booby-trap due to the human smell left on it, and pulled his handler over to it and tried to take it in his mouth. The thing went off and ruined his whole day.
In addition to the scout dogs, they have one attack dog. He has metal caps for his teeth – sharpened periodically – and can kill a man in 4 seconds! He’s friendly to only 2 people; his handler and the platoon sergeant. He’s used for frightening the captured VC into talking a lot of the time.
The school has been great so far. The instructors (all but two) are excellent, which in itself, is unusual for the army. Not only do they know their subjects thoroughly, but they are well practiced in getting the point across and presenting the material. The lessons are well planned, in addition to the instructor’s own personal experiences in the field (and some of the lessons learned for other’s mistakes.)
There is one thing I don’t understand which happened today. At the bleachers there is a notched board nailed between 2 trees for a weapons rack. When we come in each day, we stand our M-16s against the board and sit in the bleachers for our class. What I don’t understand is: The school commander chewed out the instructor because the weapons were not stacked neatly and were not stacked in a particular uniform manner, and were scatted all over the rack and not in one section!
I want to know where is there any sense in such things in Vietnam. This fool of a Captain didn’t just mention this to the sarge – he raised hell about it for 15 minutes during one of our breaks. I don’t feel that there’s a necessary place for such ridiculous discipline (I call it plain old harassment). These guys are doing a fine job and they get yelled at for not stacking the weapons neatly. That’s something you’d expect at Ft. Knox where they have nothing better to do, but here . .
It’s senseless, Bob (so am I, come to think of it)
41 days, 13 July ’67
Dear Mom Singleton,
The last day of school was devoted entirely to ambush patrols including a whole afternoon to a simulated patrol – in the rain (yech). Did I tell you? One of our instructors looks like Don Ameche – Mother’s favorite.
It’s all over now and it was well worth it. Only trouble is I imagine I’ll be going to the field soon (yech twice).
I got back from school today and found they had torn down the K. P. girls’ hutch and our theater – with a bulldozer. In the process they took out our bridge across the drainage ditch in our backyard. Now you take your life in your hands going out to the little house at night.
I got your letter tonight. (Sorry, I dropped it in a puddle and it was hard to read). I did get the part about someone wanting to put these in the Dispatch. This brought to mind the bit about not printing any of these. I’ve thought a little more about that since I talked with the Captain. It’s true Mother wrote her letter out of a misunderstanding and a concern for her son. Most people might take it in a different way; that is, some things that happen over here might upset them, but not enough to write letters. (I don’t know what upset Mom in the first place). Then again, a few might have sons over here and misread these things and start bothering the Brass again. If they use my name, I’m in trouble again. Do you understand what I’m trying to say? Something about my waiting for a school, which might save my skin out in the field, seemed to bother Mother, why I don’t know. (Also my eyes). No telling what someone else might say about that or something else.
If I can trust your judgment not to submit parts that might bother people to the point of complaining to the top. I never planned to write anything like that, and I don’t think I have, and I don’t in the future, but people are funny. So how can I tell what will disturb them and what won’t? It bothers me a little knowing that something like this could happen again, especially when the Brass find out the complainer read this letter in the paper. All they’d have to go on is what the person said and I’d have to explain everything again.
Nothing bad has happened to me yet. I didn’t think so anyway. And Mother wrote anyway, so what will happen if something unpleasant happens and I write about it? I know Mom won’t do anything again, but someone else might.
If you just print whatever you feel is humorous, etc., go ahead. I just hope everyone understands the humor and doesn’t take things too seriously.
I could stop writing honestly, telling everything that happens and satirizing here and there, but that wouldn’t be fair to you or my parents. As far as I’m concerned, these are meant for you people. I promised to do it, so I’m not going to start being serious and patriotic to the point of writing on red, white, and blue paper, and making everything sound rosy and pleasant, and saying untrue things just so someone reading them in the paper will like them. They’re going to have to read what I see and do.
I’d better drop this before I confuse your all together.
I just noticed that a thumbtack has fallen out of Marlynn’s picture. I can’t find it and I have no more! Hold on, Marlynn, you still have one in the top. That’ll have to do until I can get some more.
42 days, 14 July ’67
As I write this, I’m preparing to go to the field. We’ll be out until Oct. 31, supposedly This means the mail might be slow coming for a while, but I imagine then it comes to you it will be interesting. Don’t stop writing though; they being mail out to the field for us. Don’t know exactly what they’re doing, but they say it’s nothing much.
Butterflies around here again, but in a way, I’m glad to be doing something, maybe the time will speed up a little.
I sent my watch and camera today. Should be home in a week or so. (Hope Dad doesn’t break it).
We got mortared last night – maybe you heard about it on the news. The rounds (18 of ‘em) hit in another area, but we could see the flashes and one fire and feel the ground shake. We were hit twice, 10:00 and 11:30. Got up, gut dressed, put on the steel pot, ran out to the bunker, realized they’re not shooting at us, and went back to bed – still wearing boots and steel pot [helmet].
If you heard about it, don’t worry. It was a good 5 blocks away from us, and the 15 guys who got wounded didn’t include me, or anyone I know. I just hope that’s as close as I get to a mortar attack.
Two guys that left for home this morning were celebrating their last night with one of their buddies in the area hit. They were walking back when the mortars hit – one 30 ft. away from them. Talk about somebody that was shook up!
More about today – tomorrow, Bob
Part 2 – First trips into the Field
42 days, 14 July ’67
From the field. We left base camp at 3:30, and headed out toward Cu Chi. What a ride! Going down these muddy rough roads at about 60 mph, weaving in and out of motorcycles, Lambrettas, and water buffalo carts. Holes – mud holes – about 2 feet deep at 60 mph, you go up and the jeep’s not there when you come back down. I don’t know why they were going so fast – maybe if we hit a mine we might get past the force of the blast?
I guess I’ve described the villages already – Cu Chi is the same as the others. The country side, though, I had never seen before. For as far as you can see – nothing but rice paddies and a few grass huts scattered about with a dirt road weaving off toward the tree line. The paddies are squared off like a waffle, with berms or dikes, which provide a path for the farmer to walk on going out to the fields.
The people living in the country live in grass huts, much like the one I drew. Only their buffalo, pigs, and what have you live in the same hut with them. Usually the huts are on an island of dirt, with water and mud all around as a yard.
We went to an artillery camp and went out in front of the guns and provided security (otherwise known as guard) all night. Here they had their tents on floats made out of ammunition boxes; the whole camp was in the middle of the paddies – a circle of 105 mm guns, and 40 mm tanks, plus barbed wire and our M-60 machine guns and 106 mm recoil-less rifles. Nothing happened all night, not even any rain. A good thing – we slept in the jeep and on the hood with nothing but ponchos and air mattresses.