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We took the left side, another platoon took the right. By radio, the officers supervised the placement of machine guns, grenade launchers and M-16 riflemen. It took 15 minutes to put everybody in place. We must have had 50 weapons at the ready. We stayed low and kept our voices down.
Our target was a lonely little hootch that stood alongside a large tree at the far end of the rice paddy. Nothing else was around...no people, no other hootches.
The lieutenants counted down on the radio: "Five, four, three, two, one. Fire!"
Simultaneously, from both sides, we rained a volley on that hootch like I have never seen. Tracer bullets and small-arms fire ripped through the bamboo supports. In less than two minutes, we felled the tree and set the roof ablaze with our grenades. As we ceased fire, I could see smoke billowing from the sagging walls. I heard someone shrieking. Through the settling dust, I could make out a figure.
It was a mama-san. Then another mama-san. Then two papa-sans, and a few little kids. Their underground bunker had saved them. Now they were crying and screaming in such forceful combination I thought they might kill all 200 of us with their bare hands. A mama-san rushed up to our lieutenant and stood toe to toe, her face contorted with rage as she cursed him at the absolute top of her voice. He tried apologizing in Vietnamese, but it was no use. The rest of us shuffled around, almost feeling embarrassed in front of these poor people. I realized we must be still jumpy from the night before, attacking that little hootch with enough firepower to knock out half a regiment.
We set up the night logger on a nearby hillside. The next morning—Aug. 20, a date I remember—we were given the plan for the day. The other company and our third platoon were to set up a secured landing position north of Bravo's dead, so helicopters could fly them out. Second platoon was to drop back in reserve to "Million Dollar Hill," an area so named, we heard, because a million dollars worth of American helicopters were shot down there in one day. We of the first platoon were to approach Bravo's dead from the south, pick them up and carry them to the waiting helicopters.
We marched until about 10 o'clock, then took a five-minute smoke break. I sat down in the shade with two of my closest friends, "Doc," the medic, and " Hawaii," a fellow nicknamed for his home state. Nothing important was said. Just the regular small talk.
"Saddle up," said Captain Tom Murphy, the CO. "Be careful. We'll be in open territory. Stay about eight yards apart." He didn't want to lose everybody to one round of artillery.
We moved out through a wooded area toward a clearing and a dike that separated two dried-up rice paddies. Behind me was a fellow named Dave, then Doc, then Hawaii.
I had just stepped out of the woods when I heard our point man shout, "Gook, gook." He fired a couple shots and started chasing. Everybody followed, running down the dike, which dipped twice to lower levels.