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Lance Johnson - U.S. Army

That Special Forces camp was the strangest place I ever saw.  Star-shaped and much smaller than I expected, it was a maze of trenches and sandbagged bunkers covered with canvas tarps or sheets of corrugated tin and surrounded by a little ocean of concertina wire studded with claymore mines and trip flares.  In the center of the firebase, two 105-howitzers had been lowered into holes and ringed with sandbags. 

When we entered, Vietnamese people – men, women and children – some dressed in rags, others in uniform emerged from the bunkers, leaned on their M-16s and stared while we struggled to maneuver our heavy machinery in the confined space.  As we shut down, an American sergeant wearing a green beret stood up on a pile of sandbags and waved.

More like a Wild West town on the edge of Indian country than a military installation, I was shocked to find the Americans not dressed in camouflaged fatigues or wearing rank insignia – unheard of in a combat situation. Three Special Forces guys, Vietnamese girlfriends on their arms, lived in a bunker, empty booze bottles floor to ceiling and only a ragtag band of Vietnamese paramilitary between them and the Cambodian border.  If you saw it in a movie, you wouldn’t believe it.  What were they doing there?  Surely, the enemy could take out that camp anytime they wanted. 

The team commander, a captain with thin blonde hair and a perpetual smile, told me they’d patrolled there several months, but with Operation Yellowstone under way, they expected things to close in on them very soon.  They wanted to break camp the next day and asked for cover getting out. 

The following morning, I took the captain aside, told him my battery would be back working that area soon and asked him what he knew about enemy locations and where to look for ambushes.  He unfolded my map and wrote out ten-digit coordinates.  “A huge tree stands alongside the road here,” he said, “two kilometers outside this camp.  On the days you escort convoys through that area, send a patrol ahead and drop a case of scotch and a couple cases of beer behind that tree.  Do that, and I guarantee you’ll not get hit.” 

For the rest of Operation Yellowstone, every time we convoyed that road, I took that Special Forces captain’s advice, and we were never once ambushed.  To me, this was the ultimate irony – in a huge battle for control of a strategically important area, men fought and died every day, and yet we bought safety with a hundred dollars worth of booze.  I wondered why we fought at all.  Why not just sit down with the Communists and get drunk together?


1. Ordinary
2. Dating the class secretary
3. Artillery training
4. Special Forces Camp
5. Firing at anything that moved
6. You're not going ot believe this
7. Asked to accomplish the impossible
8. Welcomed by war protesters
9. Anger
10. Like a trapped schoolboy
11. Dissociative flashback
12. Still in love