But once in awhile, they get in their licks. Ron Thompson can tell you about it. SSG Thompson, a thin, wavy-haired Missourian with greas-stained fatigues, is a tank platoon leader with Troop A, 4th Cav., 1st Inf. Div.
The day began at dawn in a rice paddy 30 mils northwest of Saigon. Thompson and his three-man crew rode in the lead tank, followed by another tank and a string of four Armored Personnel Carriers.
The job was to secure a landing zone for an operation and it was done uneventfully by 7:30
Then orders came for the armored unit to serve as a "walking" blocking force for the infantry sweep, moving slowly down a ravine across from thick jungle.
As the metal goliaths plodded through the paddies, the morning sun and the temperature rose higher. The M48 is a pretty big tank, but most of it is metal muscle. The crew is crowded into a tiny cubicle between shells, guns, control sticks, sights and c-rations inside.
There isn't any air conditioning, and in Vietnam, it's a rare day when the temperature inside that armor plated broiler isn't over a hundred. Today wasn't at all rare.
At mid-afternoon a change in orders was radioed to the line of crawling metal beetles. "Head across that ravine into jungle and medevac wounded foot soldiers who are pinned down." Thompson led the way as the tanks and APC's picked their way across the ravine and crushed through the tangled foliage. They started meeting small squads coming out of the jungle. Two or three men helping the wounded along, put them into the APC's and pointed out more wounded deeper in the jungle. Sniper fire began bouncing off the tough metal hide of Thompson's tank. One soldier waved the column on. He said there were two dead and one wounded was pinned down in enemy fire. Thompson charged ahead, and the second behemoth charged too-right off it's track. The crew, swearing and sweating, climbed out and set to work restringing the huge track.
Thompson stopped his tank further on and climbed out. He and a medic walked the last 50 yards to the three soldiers. There was no gunfire. they carried the wounded man out, and Thompson went back alone for the dead. As he was dragging one body out. a sniper's bullet plowed throught the top of his helmet, gourging two big holes in the tin hat and knocking the tanker flat. Dazed, he picked himself up and walked back to the tank, asking soldiers along the way if he was bleeding. He wasn't.
Back at his tank, Thompson found the crew had buttoned up the turret--hand granades had been mysteriously falling out of the jungle like big green hailstones. Beating on the hatch, Thompson got the crewmen to open up, and he climbed back inside to his control seat.
Then--Wham! a hidden antitank gun slammed a shell into the turret, knocking out the gunsights and wounding the gunner with fragments. While Thompson spun the turret around, looking for the VC gunner, another round slammed in--boring a hole through the tank's 90mm gun tube. The loader tried to fit a round home, but the only thing he could jam in was a cannister of grape shot. Bullets were bouncing off the mammouth stell shell like angry buzzing bees. The APC's had opened up with 50-calibers but none of them had been hit by the VC artillery. That Red was going strictly for the tank.
As the still-active gunner peered through his vision blocks, he saw the fanning grape- shot from the tank ripping holes in the jungle. Then he saw Charley: "There they are!" he yelled. "Fire" ordered Thompson. Boom! Both guns roared at each other at the same time. The turret shook angrily as the antitank shell gouged metal out of the two-inch thick steel skin. A cloud of smoke obscured sight through the glass slits that were Thompson's windows. When it cleared, all he saw was a big, clear lane cut through the jungle. The VC were nowhere in sight. Then the firing stopped. Thompson's gunner was the only casualty. Slowly, the armored column lumbered back out of the jungle, joined by the other tank, it's track now replaced. The tanks lined up in a paddy for air medevac of the wounded, then went home
Ron Thompson had won his duel for the day.