War Stories

Highway Security

by Kevin Ryder

Sometime in about the middle of my tour, July 68 -- July 69, my company, Dellta 2/35th Infantry, were assigned to pull security for a 155-artillery battery that had set up on a small hilltop alongside Highway 9 or 13, I can't recall the number. Along with the artillery battery were a number of tanks and APCs. As I recall, we were replacing another company that moved out when we moved in. In addition to that heavy duty protection, we also had our own mortar platoon with us. I was a company RTO by that time and was just getting used to not having to go out on ambushes or patrols. During the day we sat around and watched the armor roll by keeping watch over the convoy trucks and other vehicles heading north. One day I saw the Recon Company pass by hitching a ride on the top of a few tanks. I remember yelling to the Lt. who went to Recon after acting as my platoon leader when I first got in country. It was one of the only times I saw a quad-50 mounted on a jeep platform. I also remember a truck going by carrying replacement barrels for 175s to some lucky artillery base in who knows where.

Our mission was to establish ground security for everyone within the perimeter. About 2 clicks from the other side of the road where we had set up was a village that I never actually saw. You would think that with all that firepower within the perimeter -- no NVA would dare mess with us. Well you know that old saying; you should "expect the unexpected". Each night we sent out our listening posts (LPs) around the perimeter and of course, the bunker line had someone manning the positions all night. In front of each position was a clear field of fire and a few rows of wire. One afternoon I took a box of trip flares and set them out in star shaped patterns out in front of our position. I wasn't about to let some sapper crawl up and toss a satchel charge or grenade into our bunker. I went so far as to break bottles and stick them in the bottom of the craters in front of the position to provide a rude surprise for any NVA who thought he could jump into any hole to hide.

I remember this incident pretty well because for years later, I couldn't get over how stupid I was that afternoon. As it turned out, just before it got dark, along comes these villagers driving their herd of cows right through the area in front of my bunker on the inside of the wire. The area lit up like the 4th of July. I think every single flare was tripped and the more that popped, the more the cows were spooked and ran around. I said that ----,----- farmer. Talk about having your head up you're a--. It never occurred to me at the time that the cows were driven through the area intentionally by the villagers either because the NVA held a gun to his family or they were VC themselves. Later that night it was made abundantly clear when a large NVA force tried to overrun the firebase. In a very short time, every tank and track near our bunker had been hit by at least one B-40. I was on the radio talking to Battalion when Mike Chedester, my fellow RTO, came running into our bunker with an M-60 machine gun and started firing from our position. I asked him to stop shooting because I was concerned that the NVA would think this was a machine gun bunker and start firing B-40s at us. He just laughed and said "Ryder, there's dinks in the wire". . The APC next to our position was hit on the open top flap and showered the guys inside with shrapnel. They were pulled back to the aid station. The unoccupied track gave Chedester and myself the opportunity to shoot their mounted 50 and 60s. At one point, someone gave the order to get into your holes and the 155s lowered their barrels and shot direct fire just over our bunkers. That was as scary as the incoming stuff. Not long after that the C-141 gunship arrived and began working the tree line all around the perimeter. Although you could not see the plane, you could hear it and watch the ribbons of fire cut a path. When you think that between each tracer round was about 5 regular rounds, I know why the NVA quit that night. The next day one of our platoons made a sweep through the village and learned that the NVA left during the night carrying many of their dead and wounded. At first light, we also found a wounded sapper in front of our bunker that Chedester hit earlier.

If my memory serves me correctly, within a few days we actually trucked out of that location to pull security on another artillery battery set up next to a bridge. I was happy to leave, not just because of all that had happened but because I knew one of the guys in the battery from my hometown.