River boat
Happy Birthday Son
Chu Lai in "I" Corps - 1967

by Patrick 'Beanie' Camunes

D/4/31 196th Lt Inf. Bde
Tay Ninh 12/66-04/67, Tam Ky 04/67-12/67

© 1996
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Chu Lai in "I" Corps - 1967

In August of 1967, our mortar and infantry platoons from D/4/31 196th Light Infantry Brigade had been assigned temporary duty on a fire base somewhere around Chu Lai in "I" Corps. We were new in this area and I had only recently returned from a stay at the hospital in Cam Ranh Bay recuperating from shrapnel wounds I had received when we arrived in this area only four months before.
      This particular firebase had a road leading to it's entrance consisting of a two by four gate with rolls of concertina wire surrounding it with most of it's defenses facing towards the road since to the rear was a cliff leading down to the river. Apparently the higher-ups didn't seem concerned with the enemy climbing this cliff even though we went up and down it everyday to bath and frag the fish in the river.
      Our assignment at the time was to set up our 81mm mortar positions and be in a position to support what we found out later, river boat patrols operating within our range. What we didn't know at the time was that somewhere a decision was made that the Naval patrol boats would pull in to our firebase and pick up a squad of grunts on the assumption that if the enemy was encountered the grunts would be able to pursue the enemy onto land, if necessary ... Yeah, right!
      I had managed to this point to avoid my squad from getting assigned to river boat patrol since we were, of course here for non-direct fire support. This didn't last too long and we were finally assigned to the river boats for the following day's patrols. This gave us plenty of time to clean and prepare out weapons that we would hopefully not have to use.
      One good thing was, that compared to many of our other patrols, these were done after daybreak and afforded us a little bit more time to rest between our other duties. On the morning that we were to be picked up for this patrol, I was summoned to the Command Post and told that the Battalion Commander was on the radio waiting to talk to me. All kinds of things flashed through my mind, like what in the hell have I done to have the "Man" want to talk to ME! Getting to that military olive drab green phone(radio), I didn't know what to do . . . salute or what. This is something that I didn't do often, to talk to Mr. Number One of the Battalion. I managed to say something that apparently was appropriate and from the other end I heard, "Congratulations, I just wanted to inform you that you are the father of a baby boy!" ... Great! went through my mind, can I go home and see him? But, again, I must of said the right thing because when he asked me what my duties were for the day and I informed him that I had been assigned to a river boat patrol, he asked me to put the company commander on the line.
      After standing back and listening to the Sirs and Yes Sirs going on between my bosses on the radio, my Company commander turned to me and told me that he had been instructed to give me the day off. I said "Thank you, Sir" and left the sandbagged CP and immediately looked around. This was a newly established firebase and didn't even have a mess tent, much less an EM club to hang around in. I debated to turn around right then and tell the CO that I preferred to be with my squad but the better part of my training told me to follow the first order I had gotten, so off I went to try to catch up on some Z's.
      At about midmorning, I was aroused by commotion in our perimeter and around the CP and especially by the unmistakable sounds of the gattling guns of gunships in the not too far distance. The thumps and thuds of explosions of a fire fight could not be ignored. Getting to a radio, I could hear the Navy personnel on the patrol I should had been on, calling and directing fire on the enemy that had ambushed them. I was immediately concerned for my squad but luckily, there had been only minor injuries to the crew of the naval boat and the battle going on was on our side.
      My squad returned and after hearing the excited and probably exaggerated descriptions of what had gone on, I don't know if I was more relieved or angered that I had not been with them. All I knew, was that this was the last time that I would allow to be separated from my squad until the end of my tour.
      Every year since this happened, on the 21st of August, as we celebrate the birthday of my son, I have to think of the above story and wonder if it wasn't destiny and the birth of my child that kept me from being on that patrol, avoiding danger and allowing me to return home and celebrate my son's 30th birthday ... Every year on this date I have to thank the Man Above for allowing me to observe another year of my son's life and to live another of my own.

APVNV Pat (Beanie) Camunes
D/4/31 196th Lt Inf. Bde
Tay Ninh 12/66-04/67, Tam Ky 04/67-12/67

 
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