Classified: Top Secret. Avoid capture at all cost. Repeat: At all cost.
Southeast Asia, 1971. Our mission was to place top secret surveillance devices along trails to monitor troop movements. It was a fairly simple duty, really. Just dig five holes several feet off jungle trails used by the enemy. Drop in five monitoring devices, attach camouflaged antennas, and bury a mike close to the trail. Pack up the tools, bag the dug up dirt and carry it all out.
And don’t get captured!
Stories of torture were common knowledge among the troops, though never brought up.
My partner, Joe, and I had studied the reconnaissance reports and selected a site five klicks from base (~five kilometers). We packed the evening before; Joe had two sensors while I carried three. Our team had a new member because the previous interpreter “disappeared”. I hoped the new interpreter had more guts since we were leaving at O-dark thirty.
The rest of the soldiers were already assembled when we arrived. I wanted to meet our new man but Joe ordered us to move out quickly. Joe walked point with me at slack (second in line), the others followed, evenly space. They were our best friends providing security while Joe and I were out in the open placing sensors.
Arriving at our designated position at sunrise, after the perimeter was secure Joe and I went to work. Forty paces apart we each planted a seismic sensor, recorded its transmission code, attached the antenna, filled a sack with the dirt, and camouflaged the area making sure tracks were not visible. Moving ten paces closer we placed magnetic sensors using the same method.
If there was movement along the trail a seismic sensor would activate sending a coded number back to base indicating where the movement was. If metal was carried the next sensor, magnetic, would activate. This also gave us the direction and speed of whatever was passing.
The middle audio sensor had a microphone which needed to be buried closer to the trail. I had the audio sensor. Burying the sensor appropriately, I made a shallow line about three feet long in the dirt laying the mike wire inside, covered it, the process repeated until the mike was close to the trail. This allowed us to eavesdrop on any communications. If deemed an enemy, mortars or artillery could be called in.
The slow line laying process caused one to be in the open for what seemed an eternity; each move closer to the trail produced more exposure. As each section of line was laid the rifle came along too, something drilled into each of us – “keep your weapon with you at all times!”
Reaching the point where only one more line burial was needed I scanned the surroundings. All was quiet. Our men around the perimeter were well concealed, I didn’t see anyone. With my weapon just three feet away I made my last move to bury the line and the mike. The only time I moved without my weapon.
As I finished I heard, “What you doing, GI?”
Raising my head I found a rifle barrel inches away, pointing between my eyes. Moving up the barrel I saw a Vietnamese’s face, expressionless. I focused again on the end of the barrel, back to that face.
Quick glance at my rifle six feet away, I could lunge for it, maybe get a shot off but I’d be killed.
Avoid capture at all cost.
Two scenes flashed before me, simultaneously. First was a blank scene; an unseen future. The other was of being marched north barefoot, head hanging, hands tied behind, bamboo between my elbows and back, a Vietnamese pushing me along with his rifle. A brief thought of home and family faded.
At all cost.
I felt empty.
I had asked God on the way over to Vietnam if I’d be coming home. He assured me I would. Honoring Him, I did not ask if I would be alive, injured, or dead.
But there was not a gun at my head then.
Thy will be done.
I don’t know how many times I looked at that expressionless face and the end of the rifle until I noticed the uniform – US Army!
Trying to control my voice, “You’re our new interpreter?”
Trust - at all cost; He captured me.
Vietnam service 15 Nov 70 – 14 Dec 71
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