It was night and I had to move the troop into Dog Leg Village north of Phu Loi and back the tracks off the road between the houches so we could ambush the oncoming tanks at point blank range. The only way to get accuracy from antitank rounds was at a range close enough to spit on the enemy. We loaded Heat rounds and waited.
It was a pitch black night and as the dust settled you could taste the stillness. I remember the dry, tense feeling of anticipation. This was a new experience. And with the disadvantage of unpurged sights one could only guess at the outcome.
I envisioned Russian tanks with trained crews coming to the party, and could only pray that our surprise would be enough. I was not terribly concerned at that moment about the fact that we were all split up in a village that we previously fought like hell in only a half a year before. At that point I was not terribly concerned that I might have split the Troop up in the middle of a beehive. The focus was totally on that narrow laterite road. Though I knew the men were concerned with what could be going on around them, the greatest threat was going to come down that road from the North.
Phu Loi basecamp and maybe more could be decided by the outcome. I lived through the surprise attack of the 1st Tet Offensive and survived the minute to minute uncertainty of the 2nd Offensive. What was about to happen could be the start of the next wave and the enemy might somehow know of our infirmity. No matter, we would see this through. Even with our disability with the useless tank sights the cavalry would see this through, somehow.
The wait was suspenseful but not long. But, the world seemed to stand still in the quiet, balmy night. There was not a sound. It was truly unfortunate that we needed to put this whole village in harms way because of an inadequate maintenance capability. I would have much rather engaged the enemy in the open, dry rice paddies. Or perhaps had a piece of jungle available to spring the ambush from.
But those weren't the cards on the table that night. I had to trust that the civilians were very knowledgeable of terror and could endure even another dose. I knew they would be hunkered in their bunkers beneath their homes braced for the jaws of hell to open one more time. This was the devil's doorstep and we had knocked once again, waiting for the awful nightmare about to materialize.
Suddenly they were there. The evil was upon us.
The armored column creaked and moaned into our killing zone and I prepared to give the "fire" command. Thankfully the dust was hanging over the column and slowly drifting to the West so as not to hinder our limited view of our deadly targets. Our guests were moving under blackout conditions with very limited lighting at about 10 MPH at best as they groaned through the village, oblivious of the thunder and chaos about to explode when a single word was uttered.
Every finger was on a trigger. Fate stared down on this small strip of real estate, soon to be blood soaked. Grown men would soon cry their last tears while the furry and devastation erupted into unprecedented madness. This was to be the end of the hopes and dreams of many mother, many wife, and many child back home, and yes, many brave heroes in this village on the far side of the globe on a dark, dark night. And they were ready. Every mother's son was leaning forward for the battle, a finger on every trigger. Tense.
The lead vehicle was reported approaching the end of the ambush site and the trap was about to be sprung. As I took a deep breath to commence the carnage by hollering "fire" over the radio, I suddenly received a call from the TOC to not fire. The column was identified as an ARVN unit moving without notice. In the nick of time I withdrew the order as delicately as one might hold a newborn so as not to cause an itchy finger to make a horrible slip.
Thank God we avoided that mistake. Thank Him again for all those mothers and wives and children, and yes, for all of those wonderful, brave young men who were at the brink of death or lifetime trauma. Thank God for the one who discovered the mistake before the command was given. And for all the men who had to pass the message from one to another to stop the carnage before it began without inadvertently having the information misunderstood. Thank You, Lord, for being with us at the moment of death and permitting us to back away safely. If I never thanked You before, the recollection compels me to thank You now.
There has been a lot of talk about a lack of discipline in Nam. That moment in time proved that notion untrue beyond a shadow of a doubt. There was never a Spartan unit more disciplined. Every warrior in that unit was at the brink, and every one responded with perfect precision. I must admit I was shaken to my bones by that close call. After that night, main gun sight purging became a priority. And if I never knew it before, I learned the importance of a single word.
Whether in battle or in unusual adventures like I just related, I was privileged to learn what our American men, soldiers, Cavalrymen were made of. There is no other way to learn this. I am so very proud and thankful for this knowledge.
John Conley, Maj(Ret)
I read John Conley's item in your weekly post and I am quite familiar with the action he describes... although I do not recall Daniel Huckins by name. I commanded A Troop from May through September 1997. Lt. John (Jack) Smith commanded the second platoon of A troop and replaced John's platoon after highway 13 had been opened for the semiannual resupply of Quan Loi/shipment of rubber back to Saigon. Quan Loi had been a French golf course (the airfield in our day) and there was a swimming pool surrounded by tile roofed storage sheds/buildings. VC sappers crawled through the drainage pipes associated with the pool and got inside the perimeter undetected. They blew up a quad 50 position, threw grenades and fired from the roofs of the buildings down into the acavs and infantry positions as well as opening the perimeter wire with satchel charges. Our second platoon was attached to an infantry battalion. Lt. Jack Smith lost his arm/shoulder and part of his face when a grenade he was throwing back at the VC went off just as he released it. He survived and was living in Titusville, FL when I last heard from him. The platoon took a number of casualties, to include the Plt Sgt (Debutts) and stopped a VC battalion in the gap which had been created in the wire. Virtually all of the cavalrymen were wounded, many seriously. Without there effort, the base would probably have been over run. SSgt Ausbach drvoe his tank into the gap in the wire and "held his ground". He then fired cannister onto the tiled roofs, creating lots of nice sharp shards which took care of the snipers. It was A Troop policy to attach a cook to each platoon and the cooks worked as cavalrymen during the day. I also rotated 11D's back to the mess hall and sent cooks to the field on a regular basis... the idea being that you needed to be in the field to really understand the value of a good hot meal and that the line troopers would appreciate a break back in a base camp. I do not have John Conley's e-mail address, so I would appreciate your passing this to him and I will be happy to write whatever he wants to help Daniel. As an aside regarding cavalry rations, it was"policy" when I arrived in Jan 67 that we drew double rations for everyone. Allegedly General Depuy had remarked that the cavalry fought harder and therefore was entitled to eat more. My first job in the squadron was S-4 (supply officer) and the division experienced a Department of the Army Inspector General's visit in the Feb/Mar time frame. They asked me why we were some 200,000 rations overdrawn and I told them. After discussion, I cut us down to a ration and a half per and no one noticed the difference. Prepared and Loyal