In Vietnam, airborne companies consisted of three infantry platoons and a weapons
platoon. The weapons platoon carried the machine guns and 40 mm mortars
that supported the infantry. Airborne in name only, the terrain and style
of warfare in Southeast Asia did not lend itself to parachute assaults. More
commonly, we transported by truck or helicopter then deployed and did our search
and destroy missions.
To find and kill the bad guys, our company swept
an area for one to two weeks, and anything that moved got shot or blown up. American
forces rarely had trouble killing the enemy. Finding him was the hard
mountainous, jungle terrain we frequently patrolled made it difficult even
to move, much less locate and kill the enemy.
When not in the field, the company
deployed back to a base camp of one kind or another – not permanent installations
but temporary encampments made from sandbags and sheet metal and ringed with
barbed wire. Of course,
there were bunkers, fairly sophisticated perimeter defenses, and in most cases,
an artillery battery to support the ground operations. After two weeks
slogging the bush, we welcomed returning to these primitive camps for four
or five days of light duty where we stood down, ate hot food, showered and
changed clothes and maybe got a beer. Also, our mail usually caught up
with us in camp.
By the time I’d been in country a month, I’d seen a lot of action
and knew I’d have to pay attention to business if I were to finish my
tour in one piece. In a very short time, I developed a mental toughness,
a keen awareness of the bloody nature of the no-holds-barred war we fought. Mental
toughness, emotional callousness, call it what you want. I wasn’t
there to play games.
- Sidney’s belief in his own mental toughness was illusion, albeit
one that enabled him to endure his months of almost constant combat.