War Stories

What a Difference a Year Makes

by Kevin Ryder

What a difference a Year Makes

By Kevin Ryder

I arrived in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam in July of 1968 along with about a half million other guys. The long white barracks we were assigned to was full of new guys. Some months later, I was still laughing at myself remembering how the barracks emptied out to check out the first Vietnamese someone spotted. She was a momason washing laundry! After a few days of squinting in the bright sun shine and looking at the purple mountains and blue green ocean at Cam Ranh, someone came around with our papers to escort us up to our unit based in some place to the north called Pleiku. Talk about not having a clue! We boarded a C-141 for the flight north. Just as we approached the airstrip in Pleiku, the flight chief on board told us that the pilot could not get the landing gear down and we were turning around to belly land at a strip in Saigon that was made for just for this type emergency. I sat there thinking that I was going to die in Vietnam without even getting my new fatigues dirty or firing a shot. Fortunately, whatever the pilot did, he got the landing gear down and we landed at Saigon without a glitch. We slept on the strip somewhere that night and started out the next morning for Pleiku in the same plane. We were processed through the new guy center and I was assigned to Delta Co 2/35th.

I caught up with Delta Co at an old French firebase in Bam Me Thuot where I met all the guys in the third platoon. That night a short-timer named Holly and myself were assigned to guard a deuce 1/2 truck that was stuck in the mud on the road near the firebase. The next day the company saddled up and humped to a new location on some long forgotten hilltop. From there we began running short range recon patrols. (SRRPs)The srrp squads were usually made up of 4 or 5 guys, with one of the guys carrying a radio. The unit stayed out for 2 nights and returned the third day. We never went out with a gun team. The idea was to travel light and not to make contact and certainly not to try an ambush. Our mission was to set up near a trail or village and call in artillery or mortars on the enemy and then to disappear. On my first mission I was out with four other guys. On the first or second day, we were a bit lost and trying to find our position where we'd plan to set up. One of the guys known as "Flame", he carried a flamethrower before I got to the company, climbed a tree to get his bearings. He made it about half way up the tree and then slid all the way down to the ground. He told us there was a column of NVA walking down the middle of the field we were right next to. We all crawled off into the tree line and waited. I was kneeling behind a bush and trying to make myself skinnier but didn't move a muscle. I watched their point man turning his head from side to side while he talked to the men behind him. At one point, as his head turned, our eyes met. He jerked around to point me out to his column and I shot him. One second later, both sides opened up. We tried to pull back into more cover but in the opening barrage, one of our guys was shot dead and another was wounded in the foot. By the grace of God, we were able to break contact. The last thing you wanted to do was to engage what was probably a full platoon or more with five men and no machine gun. As it turned out, we were very close to our hilltop base and a platoon rushed out to our aid. Beside the loss of two men, the worst part of the day was yet to come. After we all returned to the hilltop base, someone from Division came to tell us that the column of men who we all thought were NVA were actually South Vietnamese troops (ARVNS) who had wandered into our area of operation. Within a day or two we humped off that hilltop to pull security at an artillery firebase known as "Mud hole."