Soul Portrait by Allison L. Williams Hill
This story is a fictionalized account about sacrificed soldiers used to do whatever they could about a known NVA base.
There are very few things my husband shares about his experience in Thailand during the Viet Nam conflict. He was drafted, an only child period, to Thailand. I speculated the United States Government thought it was acceptable because it was not a combat zone. However, the base at which he was stationed came within 2 minutes of blowing up. Personnel pulled out explosives installed in the revetments.
Had they failed, we never would have met. The following is one of the stories he shared. I am sure, after over 40 years, he and his friends he met there, are still processing the experience.
Man at watch reported to his C.O. the moment he saw something different. The NVA started breaking camp. The troopers were ready any minute they had to be. It looked like this was it. The NVA was heading in their direction. They were known for not taking any prisoners. These men relished their torture techniques for extracting information from the most stalwart resistor. The Commanding Officer radioed the base on the activity and requested assistance.
"Sorry, no can do, boss. No other support in your area. Over."
The C.O. did not panic. He disbelieved what he heard. The recon team was near the Ho Chi Minh trail; they saw the NVA by the river, counted 60 men. The NVA saw the team. They stayed there, did nothing. Recon radioed the base and reported their observations to headquarters.
The army troopers, 9 in all, saw no hostility. They made camp, created a bunker with a shelter upriver, in plain sight of the enemy. They dutifully reported all activities of the NVA down river.
A few days passed; no action was taken towards the troopers. The NVA cooked, played, slept near and bathed in the river. Same as the troopers.
"Say again. C Company out."
"No can do, Colonel Robles. Repeat: no available assistance in your area. Over" "Base, this unit is under the command of General Samitlowin. Please relate the situation to our C.O. Over." The radioman was silent for a few seconds. To Robles, it seemed like a few minutes. He heard the radioman's forced response.
"There are his orders, Colonel Robles. No support will be coming. Base out."
The NVA was approaching steadily. The troopers were in place, ammo counted, locked and loaded. The enemy advanced and fired. Robles gave the order to return fire. The bullets flew, ready to kill. Shepherd caught a bullet. Robles radioed for a change. Outnumbered, almost seven to one, somebody had to be listening!
"Sorry boss, no help from within the area or surrounding vicinity. The situation has not changed. Base out."
Another trooper hit, another fatal wound. Seven are left. Robles radioed again. This time there was no response. The NVA were so close, the troopers can see the grimaces on their faces.
Robles ordered the men to retreat and take refuge in the shelter, taking the dead below. Three laid cover while the rest retreated. One of the shooters took a bullet. Shoulder wound; he'll live. He switched hands and kept laying cover. Later, he was assisted into the shelter. The last two able shooters pulled the hatch over their heads pulling against the wedge the enemy started working on. Hanshon aimed his gun through a crack and blasted a couple of rounds; he quickly retrieved the rifle. The troopers heard grunts from a couple of fallen NVA. Fifty eight left.
The hatch was sealed shut. Robles stayed on the radio refusing to accept his comrades' fates. The voice of an NVA near the hatch shouted orders to others pounding on the hatch with metal to open it. Robles stopped for a moment to watch the vibrations moving the hatch.
They'll be on us any moment, he thought. He kept talking, sending out distress messages to anyone who could hear.
"C Company, this is Flying Dog, over." Robles used that nanosecond and responded. "Flying Dog, this is C Company. We are under attack by NVA at the south end of the river. Need support quick."
"Roger that. Where is your support, over."
"None coming. They gave us up, over."
"Fuck! The army does it again. We got napalm left over from a mission. For tins on the way. Take cover. ETA 3 minutes, over."
"Flying Dog thanks. We owe you one. Over and out"
Strength renewed the troopers to put more into keeping the hatch closed. Their collective weight multiplied. The sounds of the F-4s grew louder. The pounding above stopped. The NVA voices sounded as if they were looking up at the sky. The sounds of the engines reinforced the new-found strength of the troopers holding the steel between themselves and the enemy. The roars of the F-4s were followed by deafening explosions and then screams.
"Keep away from the hatch!," Robles shouted. "Cover your faces!" The arms retreated. The hatch was slammed completely shut and grew hotter from the napalm unleashing its fury above. The temperature climbed within the shelter; breathing became more difficult. Robles ordered the men not to panic because it only used more of what they had less of. The cries of agony continued above as the bodies burned. The rank odor of burnt flesh filled the shelter.
Time passed. Robles pulled his sleeve over his hand; he put his weight against the hatch. the slit was interrupted in some places. He caught hot air on the breeze in his face. Napalm and burned flesh filled his nostrils. He pushed harder, feeling the heat through the cloth. He transferred the weight to the butt of his rifle as he realized how much perspiration ran down his face, his body tense with anticipation of what he was about to see. He forced the hatch open, rolling the dead bodies covering it to one side. He looked at the hatch and saw cooked NVA flesh still smoking like burning meat with no oil.
NVA bodies were scattered everywhere, some dead, some dying, moaning from what they could still feel. Some were burned beyond recognition. The dead NVA bodies cooked in the napalm shower.
Robles assisted his men out of the shelter. They walked quietly among the dead. The sergeant gingerly searched the enemies' remains to find their IDs. He found clumps of metal melting on cooked flesh. In a fit at feeling his failure at this, he cried. Quickly, as soon as his tears came, he stopped them. He said a few words, wiping his eyes and joined the remaining troopers.
Robles radioed the base. His message was received with surprise and relief by the radioman.
EVAC choppers met them further inland within a cleared field. Abled soldiers and gunners on board laid cover as the wounded were assisted and the dead were loaded. The medics strapped the wounded down.
When they touched base, Robles and his able men went directly to the Colonel's office. The colonel's secretary tried to stop them from entering his office. The soldiers, full of grime, sweat and napalm's unmistakable fumes, made no time to listen. The office was empty, the desk was clear and the uniform and hat were gone.
"Where is he?!!", Robles shouted, his voice getting louder.
"As soon as you radioed you made it through, he boarded a chopper for Saigon," the secretary said.
Robles could do nothing to the Colonel, for his men or for himself.