A birthday in the bush,
and a firefight
As it happened, we didn’t care if Charlie learned our position. With its jumble of low circular walls and mounds, our night position was well-protected from rifle or machine gun fire. And we had little to fear from M-79 or mortar fire. Nobody suggested leaving our safe position and crossing an open rice paddy to chase one or two Viet Cong.
After half an hour of intermittent shots, our actual Sgt. Alvin Burd thought he could tell where the fire was coming from. We were told to get ready and fire on the spot he marked with his tracers. We unleashed a hail of rifle fire on the area, then fired M-79 and popup flares to see if Charlie had obliged us for once by dying in the open. Nothing was seen, our flares gradually sputtered out and darkness fell again.
About 20 minutes later, another probing shot rang out. Then after a long wait, another.
“Fuck,” somebody said loudly, “if he doesn’t know where we are by now he’s the dumbest asshole in Viet Nam.”
A couple of guys giggled. We were all wide awake by then, some guys keeping watch and others just staring up at the stars. A couple of whispered conversations started. After awhile I looked at my watch and started to laugh.
“What’s so fucking funny?” somebody hissed.
“It’s my birthday,” I said, and the whispered catcalls began.
“Hey, it’s Thornton’s birthday! Happy birthday Thornton! You lucky fucker. It’s not everybody who gets fireworks on their birthday! Charlie says happy birthday!”
Somebody ordered us all to shut up, and silence fell. We were still careful to keep our heads down. Charlie fired another shot far off to the south, triggering another wave of sniggering.
Finally we settled down and after a long silence the order was given to saddle up. We moved a few hundred meters and set up in a new position. We were still in that position at dawn, although typically we moved the unit before daybreak.
But we stayed in place on the morning of May 8 and sunrise found us casually stretching and scratching among our gear. Then somebody spotted movement in the grave mounds west of us. We were astonished to see a dozen armed Viet Cong, trotting south in single file, unaware of our presence. We all scrambled for our weapons and opened fire.
Taken by surprise, the VC fired a few wild shots and scattered west into the grave mounds. Most of us abandoned our gear and gave chase. “Brother Will” Williams overtook a VC with a bullet wound in his left thigh, trying to arm a Chicom grenade. Willie caught him with a punch that sent him sprawling, then took him prisoner along with the B-40 rocket launcher he was carrying. The other VC escaped, but we “captured” a large Viet Cong flag flying from a tree nearby.
It’s possible the VC we encountered the night and morning of May 7-8 were preparing for the attack that wiped out CAP 2-7-1 the night of May 9-10.
Posted on Jan. 27, 2000