Writing Type: Prose
Early in 1966, as a battalion armorer in Vietnam, I was regularly sent on Marine operations whenever our grunt (line) companies went out into the field. Life was noisy and disruptive. Then after better than a month on duty there, our unit was moved to Chu Lai. I was looking forward to my first full night’s sleep in some time. I was a very happy camper.
I fell asleep as soon as it got dark that first night only to be awakened about 30 minutes later by a sniper shooting at nothing. I asked my sergeant if bullets could penetrate nearby pallets that had been left by some Seabees. As soon as he told me that they could not, I went to sleep behind the pallets. Nothing was going to keep me from getting my beauty sleep.
A couple of hours later we were awakened again. This time an officer needed volunteers to accompany a group of sailors to rescue some seals that were under a bridge upriver. They told us we would have to go with the Navy River Rats to get them. They had been pinned down for more than an hour. I told them I didn’t care if seals or whales were pinned down: I was going to get my sleep! Around 4:00 or 5:00 a .m., I was awakened a third time and told I had to go with the River Rats. I told them that this was the first night I’d had a chance at real sleep and I wasn’t a happy camper about going anywhere.
But I got up anyway and took my M-60 machine gun with about 5,000 rounds of ammunition and jumped in the back of the truck. We unloaded about four miles away. A sailor told us the seals had not been picked up during the night, due to heavy fog.
We got into a boat that could carry only six or seven men. There were too many of us, so only seven were picked to go. I’d been selected because I had my machine gun and looked angry (or so said the pilot). Upriver approximately 40 minutes later, we started to get gunfire from the jungle. I returned fire at any muzzle flash I saw. In fact, I was doing pretty well until we received multiple machine gun fire from both sides of the river. Then we got worried, but it ended just as abruptly as it began. When we spotted the bridge we were looking for, we went under it and picked up some Navy guys. As the pilot turned to go back, I yelled at him, “What about the seals? Didn’t I get awakened to rescue some stupid seals?”
He and the Marines laughed. The pilot pointed to the Navy guys, “They are the SEALS.” Even some of the SEALS laughed at me. I genuinely thought we had gone after those small, slippery, black animals that bark like dogs. That was my introduction to Navy SEALS, which I would later hear more about in both the news and the movies. Author’s Note: This is probably the only Vietnam story I will share with others.