Word Count 500
By Terry Rainey
I left Chu Lai at 0930, landed at Tam Ky at 1000. With two other replacements, I was taken over to B Troop Cavalry, Second platoon. Commander Sergeant Leonard Knox looked us over from where he stood on the back of ACAV#21, pockmarked with bullet holes, not even remotely like the ACAVs back in Fort Jackson, SC.
ACAV. Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle, 40MPH mobile platform with a 10-man rifle squad and two-man crew. ACAV doctrine: fight directly from the track and never dismount. Normally ACAVs had a driver, track commander, two gunners, with M60 machine guns, and two loaders, one armed with an M-79 40mm grenade launcher. 38-mm thick gun shields offered some protection. The commander sat in a gun shield turret and operated a .50caliber Browning machine gun.
Sergeant Knox chose me because I was small and would take up less space sleeping. I was humiliated. I was a lesser piece of human, that’s how I ended up as left machine gunner on ACAV#21.
At 1030, we left Tam Ky heading northwest through Pineapple Forest. It’d been soaked in Agent Orange a few years ago and should have been called Dead Forest. Nervously I asked the right machine gunner about everything. His name was Merrill Matson but everyone called him Red. He called me FNG.
FNG? I just didn’t want to screw up, just badly to fit in. Afraid to ask about FNG, I found out later: Effing New Guy. Bad luck. Red assured me: every day is boring; the hardest part of the job was dealing with the environment and 18-hour days.
At 1400, boring ended, badly, quickly. A regiment of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) attacked our line of armored trucks from a concealed position on a hill. They unloaded a 57mm recoilless rifle, shooting straight down. The first shots killed the Driver and the Track Commander of the lead vehicle. Then its two gunners were blown backwards into flying pieces of torsos and legs.
As we pulled the vehicles into a tighter line, a company of infantrymen fed into our position, on foot! They had been told to get in between our ACAV’s to protect the sides and rear. This was pure craziness. Behind my gun shield, I shot my M60 continually and aimlessly, amidst deafening noise.
As hell erupted, a terrified infantryman caught my eye. I shouted: get behind our ACAV. Me, the FNG! What did I know? Just then, we got pushed back. The driver put the ACAV in reverse, and backed right over him. Somebody screamed so the driver pulled forward and ran him over again!
Next day we found we’d killed 850 NVA, versus our 11 dead and 43 wounded. The curious math meant jackshit against my guilt about the infantryman, until I found out that the rice paddy underneath was a cushion and the lucky sunuvabitch just broke both legs, a ticket to a hospital. Where the hell it was I don’t know, but I’m sure it was somewhere outside my nightmare.