In Harm’s Way – Part II

By: Jerry Barksdale

South Vietnam, 1968.  No one had to tell Major Clarence R. Little that Vietnam was a dangerous place.  He had survived two thunderous mortar attacks and been shot by a Viet Cong sniper. Would his luck hold?  Would he live to see his wife Diane and their two young sons again back in Sunnyvale, California?  They never missed watching the nightly news, hoping to see him.

He was riding shotgun in a Jeep through “Mine Alley,” a stretch of road heavily mined by Viet Cong.  Unknown to Little, they had buried explosives in the road with wires running to a tree line.  A VC waited to set it off electrically by touching two wires together when an American vehicle passed over it.  Standard policy, when seeing a mine hole, was to go fast and stop short or go slow, then speed up.

The driver spotted a mine hole and slammed on his brakes.  The VC touched the wires together, but his timing was off.  The blast occurred in front of the Jeep.   Little’s luck was holding.  “I got hit in the right hand with shrapnel.”  No big sweat.

While on patrol, a booby trap with trip wires connected to a hand grenade was discovered.   They marked the spot by laying two palm leaves over the trip wire, about a foot off the ground, so that his soldiers could see it.  One man didn’t see the leaves and trip wire.  A sergeant ran up to Little and yelled, “Mine!” Little turned around and looked at him just as it went off.  “His back protected me.  He had eleven holes in his back.”

Little, with shrapnel in his left leg, picked up his sergeant and carried him to a chopper. Both were evacuated to a hospital in Saigon.

After his leg was sutured, Little limped over to the officers club and ordered two drinks, drank one and carried the other back to his wounded sergeant.  “You’d better down it now,” he said and went outside and sat down.

“I’m mad at you,” a woman’s voice said.  He turned and saw his nurse.  “Why are you mad at me?”

“You brought one of your men a drink, but didn’t bring one to me.”

The next morning Little awoke in the hospital and saw a medic outside cutting up sand bags and putting them on the grass to make it grow.  The combat veteran nearly lost his cool.  “I’d been begging for sand bags for months to protect lives and here they were using them to make grass grow in Saigon.”  Little had enough of the hospital.  He asked his nurse for permission to go purchase a new uniform.  “You can’t leave the hospital,” she said.  “You have another six days before you heal.”  Finally she relented.  Little purchased a new uniform, dressed and hightailed it to the airport where a Caribou aircraft was revving up.  “Where you guys going?” he asked the Australian crew.  “To the Mekong Delta, Yank.”

“Can I hop a ride?”

“Climb aboard Yank.”

Little landed in Vinh Long Province, spent the night in a fancy four story military building and was having chow in the mess hall when his old friend, Col. Rausch walked up.  He invited Little up to the fourth floor for a drink.  “When I walked in, it was a dance floor with orchestra pit and a bar,” says Little.  “Very unwarlike.”

He sat down at the bar and ordered a Coke.  “Have you had many of these?” he asked Rausch, referring to the dance.  “Oh yeah, this is about the 5th or 6th dance we’ve had, every Friday night about 9 p.m. till midnight!”  Little’s alarm bell went off.  Pattern!  Never, never establish a pattern.  He excused himself, went downstairs, grabbed his .45 pistol, shoved it in his back waist band and returned to the bar. Little’s instinct was correct.  “Sure as hell at midnight I heard a machine gun.”  He ran over to a windowed door that lead to a balcony, looked down and saw the muzzle blast of a machine gun near the front gate.  Knowing that a .45 pistol was no match for a machine gun, he ran back inside looking for a rifle; Little went down to the first floor and saw a soldier holding a carbine with a banana clip.  “Give it to me!”  Then he asked, “Are there any “friendlies” across the street?”  The solder was hesitant.  “My God man, I’m going to kill them!  Do you have any friendlies across the street?”

“No sir!  I’m not that drunk,” replied the soldier.

Little hurried back to the fourth floor, jumped over a man lying on the floor, and went to the balcony.  He chambered a round and opened fire at the muzzle blast.  Machine gun bullets stitched the wall within a foot of where Little stood.  He emptied the carbine at the muzzle blast.  “I ran back inside and had to jump over this same guy again.  He was the colonel in charge of the whole damn thing.”  Little ran downstairs looking for ammo.  The soldier didn’t have any more, so he returned the carbine, pulled out his .45 pistol and went out the back door and over to the corner of the building.  He saw the duty officer standing by the gate pillar.  The duty NCO was behind the other one.

To Be Continued…

By: Jerry Barksdale