Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Ho Chi Minh Trail’

Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

October 15, 2014

On October Cruel

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April is the cruelest month . . .

–T. S. Eliot

But October 1967 was pretty cruel for the men of Bravo Company. Or so we thought. It rained. Everything was soaked. We ran patrols in red mud and slick jungle grass. We went on LPs when you couldn’t see three feet in front of you. The same with ambushes. It was a time when everything dripped and leaked and water ran down the trenches like creeks in a flood. Your feet were soaked and wrinkled and if you were lucky you got foot rot and went on light duty. It seemed like everybody was on light duty. For those of us who weren’t, the workload was cruel. Working out in the downpour for the battalion pogues, working on our own trenches, our own bunkers, our own fighting positions. Going on patrols. Running ambushes in the black of night. Listening posts, too. Falling asleep on our feet while standing watch and tumbling into the muddy red water that flowed around our knees.

For the bulk of folks here in the States who don’t know combat, these words call up images that intimate cruel notions.
During October 1967 the company conducted operations on Route Nine. In the drizzly fog. We ran patrols out to the east and to the north. We endured the blast of a typhoon. Then with a gaggle of new men and a new company commander, we humped up to Hill 881. It didn’t rain that day as we struggled up the east side among the remnants of blasted trees and thickets of bamboo.

The mist smothers Khe Sanh. Photo by David Douglas Duncan

The mist smothers Khe Sanh.
Photo by David Douglas Duncan

After that, for the most part, the sky intermittently drenched us, then spit on us almost every day, and most nights the dark was invaded by heavy mists. We were sniped at from a ridge to the east. And we patrolled that ridge and sought the enemy. On the days when the sun graced us with its warmth, farther west into Laos, we sat in our fighting holes and watched the North Vietnamese move their war goods. We watched the B-52s pound the ridges and the highways of Laos, the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

But if my memory is correct, those sunny interludes were sparse. For I remember rain.

Rain sluiced off the lips of our helmets. It drizzled off our helmets’ back ends and down our necks. The rain alternated between warm and chill. It got in our beans and franks, it ruined our Lucky Strikes and Old Golds. The sulfur heads of our matches dissolved when we tried to strike them. Inside our boots our feet became harbors for leeches. We cleaned our weapons every evening but the next morning I often had to kick my M-16 bolt open. Rust had seized its innards.

A trench line on Hill 881 South. Photo courtesy of

A trench line on Hill 881 South.
Photo courtesy of

Down to the east, on the flats of Vietnam, men were dying at places like Gio Linh and Con Thien. But we were soaked and wrinkled like prunes and we thought life was tough. October blew a cruel breath. Or so we thought.

But that was before January 21, 1968, before the beginning of the Siege, when life grew very cruel.

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