The reality of round at a time

There was a trail not too far from our firebase, one of the countless thousands of trails that run through the jungle that was Vietnam.  It seems that the "local intelligence" (don't ask me to define that term!) indicated that this trail was being used and there was evidence of recent traffic.  So, the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) boys arranged for a "lerp" (LRRP= Long Range Reconnaissance Unit) unit to cover the trail with an ambush.  I don't know how old the military acronym "lerp" is, but it may well have come into being in Vietnam.  The idea was that you take a few, highly trained and courageous (adventurous? crazy?) Infantry types and let them "blend" into the landscape for many hours in advance, waiting to spring a trap on the enemy, coiling in wait near a trail or suspected staging area.  I personally couldn't imagine a more thankless and dangerous job than to be hiding in the jungle,  holding your breath and waiting for all hell to break loose.

Accordingly, this particular LRRP marched out early in the day so as not to give any sign as to where or when they were setting up.  Make it look like a routine patrol.  They reached their vantage point and called for a "defcon" (defensive concentration: a pre-arranged artillery hit) on the trail.  My battery fired the defcon as requested and it was duly given its assigned "concentration" number.  They were set for the night.  Any problems arise, just call us for that defcon concentration number.

This incident occurred at a time when we were undergoing a shortage of officers at the battery.  I was pulling an alternating 12-hour shift to cover the FDC and the guns.  My "body clock" prefers daylight hours, so covering the FDC during the "night shift" was a battle against my body clock.   Per our SOP, we never put our FDC radios on "full squelch" at night.  ("Full Squelch means you eliminate the very annoying "rushing noise" that is basic to a military radio). To do that might require that some friendly unit expose their position by having to shout or key the radio repeatedly to get our attention in the FDC.  This would especially bad for an LRRP struggling to keep its location secret.  So I pulled my night shift listening to the gentle-but-continuous "rushing noise" that indicated our channel was open for business.

It was around 0230 (or "oh-dark-thirty" as was commonly said) when the partial sound of a human voice intermingled with the gentle squelch.  Luckily, this interruption in the ongoing squelch noise pattern got my attention as I was half-dozing and half-waking through the night.  I immediately recognized that the LRRP team leader was calling me; he was trying to whisper, yet speak loud enough to be heard at the same time.  I responded as soon as I grabbed the handset.  He said: "I need you to fire that concentration alpha tango four-three-niner".   "Roger, standby, out".  "FIRE MISSION!" I shouted to the base piece.  Grabbing the notebook, I shouted the charge,  pre-planned deflection and QE for the defcon.  "Ready, over!" I send to the LRRP leader.  "Fire!" he says.  BOOM!  One HE round on its way.

Suddenly our FDC radio blares out wildly:  "YA GOT HIM!! YA GOT HIM!!",  the LRRP team leader is shouting excitedly.  "What do you mean?" I ask.  He says:  "You hit him!  The round actually hit him!"  Being so tired and bleary-eyed, I said "Okay" and the one-round mission came to an end with a body count.  A body count of one (1).

I have never forgotten that fire mission and the body count of one (1).  I still wonder if it was just some poor dink farmer going down the trail to take a leak or a dump.  I'd like to think it might have been the point man for a VC patrol and that we ruined their plans for the evening.  I didn't ask if he was armed or not.  I also wondered about the logistics of using one 105mm round per enemy soldier; it would be a lengthy and costly way to pursue the war.  I'll never know what really happened.  I do know that I am very this day...that I heard the LRRP call just barely coming through the rushing noise of the radio squelch control.  Our reliability on responding to the call of the Infantry kicked up a notch that night.


Lt Dennis Dauphin