"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Lantern: by John Puzzo

John Puzzo
I didn’t even realize until I was doing it. It was just my turn, I guess.  I found myself inspecting the new guys’ rucksacks and weapons load prior to a 3-day mission up to the north and west of Kontum.

By summer, 1970, the NVA were pouring down the Ho Chi Minh trail at the rate of about 22,000 soldiers per month and thousands were crossing the border into South Vietnam from their base sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia.

We were sending some teams up there to pick a few of them off. The weather was bad, so I told everyone to pack rations for 7 days. I think we were there longer than that.

When we got there, the weather on the mountain closed in right away and it stayed that way, so it was a good thing we packed extra rations. We were also at altitude, which affected the weather. It rained a lot and there was thick fog all the time.

We were pulling radio relay for several Hawkeye teams hunting NVA in the valley below. Because of where they were, we had to be in a line of sight to get their radio transmissions, which meant we couldn’t move much. The enemy would know that.

At about day three after nightfall, we heard voices in the darkness and movement coming our way. We thought they had found us.

I got Zero on the net for support and so the good guys could come get us the hell out of there, knowing that finding us at night and in all that soup would be difficult. We were on the outcropping of a ridge line facing the valley below and had nowhere to go but down, or to fight our way out if they hit us, and there were a hell of a lot more of them.

Then they were right on top of us -- and they were noisy. One NVA soldier had a lantern that he shined at us through the thick foliage. He was looking between the rocks and trees right at us but incredibly, he didn’t see us.

Saunders, who was on his second mission with me, I think was on one knee with his M-16 about a foot away from the guy’s face while I whispered in his ear not to shoot unless he came through. I was hoping he wouldn’t smell us.

For what seemed an eternity, the NVA soldier, whose face I could see in the greenish light his lantern reflected off the leaves, peered through the dense foliage right into Saunders’ and my face, and the rest of the team behind us.

The other NVA were talking behind him and poking around everywhere. One of them gave a shout and they started to move away. The guy with the lantern just backed off.

I had Grau and Gomez with me on that mission. It was their first mission as Rangers. They were killed later that year while serving on other teams.

A few days later the weather cleared, the mission was over, and we were alerted that the choppers were coming to get us out. The Black Jack slicks and Gambler gunship escorts of the 4th Aviation Battalion were in the air.

We didn’t just think they were the best chopper pilots and gunship crews in Vietnam -- we believed they ate at God’s mess hall ...

John J. Puzzo
K Company (Ranger)
75th Infantry (Airborne)
United States Army 1968 - 1971

[Excerpt from the book, "The Highlanders In the Vietnam War", which was written by my good friend, John J. Puzzo. If you haven't read John's book yet, I suggest that you do.].

Other Articles by John Puzzo:

Poem, "Waves"
Humor in Vietnam

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Feel free to comment on this post. You are also invited to write about anything you feel comfortable sharing. Memoirs From Nam is YOUR blog. You are writing America's history, sharing the truth about the Vietnam veteran, and what it was like in Our War.

1 comment:

  1. Jan Hoffman (from her Facebook page)
    C'mon Vietnam Era people (Vets & others). If this guy John can share - why can't you?

    For waaaaaay too many years, you have remained silent. Now is the time to share your load and lift the veil of mystery surrounding that time. PLEASE! If for no other reason, share so your grandkids will know the truth.



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