Decal: "Infantry School, Follow Me"

CORDON AND SEARCH
Kit Carson Scouts

Polei Kleng, 1968

by: Elbert Franklin Evans
© 2008

 
 

"OK, gents. That’s it,” I said, completing my orders on the upcoming mission. “We’ll cordon and search the hamlet at first light tomorrow. Prepare to combat assault at 1600 today enroute to our new night location. Tomorrow morning, early, we hump to the hamlet about three clicks away. Any questions?”

“Sir, what about the Kit Carson Scouts?” asked Sergeant Singleton. “What’s their job on this mission?”

“Good question, Sergeant. I didn’t cover them yet. Their job is to lead us into position before light and then talk with the villagers to get whatever info they can. Also, they’ll interrogate any prisoners we take. They’ll work with the five-man team from the National Police, who will join us after we secure the hamlet. Anything else?”

No one had any questions, so we moved back to our CPs to prepare our orders for the squad leaders. I was mentally going over the order format so my first combat order to my men would be correct. I wanted this order to be letter perfect. Time to show my stuff.

Sergeant Singleton gathered the squad leaders at the CP, where I issued the verbal order in the format I had learned so well in OCS. In detail, I laid out the plan for our platoon from the combat assault by helicopter to moving into our designated portion of the cordon encircling the hamlet. Each squad had a role and order of movement throughout the mission. The 81mm mortar platoon would provide close in fire support, if needed, and the search team, second squad, would search our piece of the hamlet.

I noticed the Kit Carson Scouts watching me with bemused expressions. I doubted they understood. “OK, men. Go brief your squads and get ready to chopper out beginning at 1300 hours. Any questions?” There were none, so I felt I did a pretty decent job giving my first combat order. As the squad leaders walked back to their squad locations, I turned to Sergeant Singleton. “Well, Sergeant Singleton, did I forget anything?” “No, sir. That was just about the best damned schoolbook order I ever heard. All five paragraphs without missing a step.”

Detecting a bit of sarcasm, I said, “All right. Give it to me. How did I do?”

“Well, sir. You did great for your first order, but here we don’t need a detailed order. A short FRAGO will work just fine. These guys have been together for several months. They’re used to working together and know most of the routine by heart. You’ll get the hang of it after a couple of times.”

I said, “Thanks for bursting my bubble.”

“No sweat, sir. Glad to do it.” Smiling, he said, “We’ll rub some of that green off you soon enough.”

“Thanks. I think I’ll clean up now. Maybe some of that green will wash off.” Before I cleaned up, I decided to write a quick letter to my wife. We had been married about three and a half months and I missed her terribly. I had promised her I would never remove my new wedding band, and as I rolled it around my finger I thought of her. I carried a picture of her taken only a few days before I left. I took it out of my pocket to look at. She wore leopard spotted pajamas with my black Ranger beret, and her short, dark hair framed her face.

“You wife, Thiếu Úy?” Huong, the scout, had walked up quietly and startled me.

“Yes…yes, it is.” I held the picture so he could see it better. “She very pretty. She Vietnamese?” “No. She’s American.” I could see why Huong thought she might be Vietnamese. Her olive skin, dark hair, and military-style pajamas did make her look Oriental. I hadn’t thought of that before the scout mentioned it.

“Oh, pretty wife. You miss very much, I bet.” Rubbing my ring, I said, “Yes, I do.”

“My wife dead. Daughter and son with sister.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Me, too.” He quietly walked away and joined the other scouts. I understood how he must have felt losing his wife and now working with these strange Americans, who stayed for a while and then went back home to their loved ones. His only hope of rejoining his family was the end of this war. If he survived it. The odds of that were not good since he was in it for the duration, however long it lasted.

I pocketed the picture and sat down to write my letter. I was homesick for the first time since arriving. Tomorrow was my first combat mission and I wanted to get this letter off before then. I finished the letter and put it in the sandbag marked mail for pickup by the resupply chopper. I picked up my versatile steel pot helmet and filled it with warm water from the canteen cup that had been warming over the breakfast fire. Using my towel and a small bar of soap, I washed my face and hands, then lathered up for a shave. Not much to shave, but I thought it would make me feel better.

I quickly shaved, then toweled off and dried my hands. Picking up my makeshift washbasin, I tossed the water from my helmet into the bushes. Oh, crap! I noticed that my wedding ring wasn’t on my finger. It must have come off in the warm, soapy water in my steel pot. Near panic gripped me. I can’t lose that ring. It wasn’t ever supposed to come off my finger. Got to find it. I got down on my knees and searched every inch of the bushes where I had thrown my soapy water. That ring was nowhere around. How could I tell my wife? My carelessness had cost me the one symbol that physically linked me with home.

I felt a sense of dread, as if this might be an omen. I had to find my ring. No luck. After fifteen minutes of searching, I finally realized I was never going to find it. I walked over to my hooch, squatted next to my ruck, and lit a cigarette. I decided to write another letter. However painful it would be, I had to explain to my wife that I had lost my wedding band and ask her to buy a replacement to send to me immediately. Although it wouldn’t be the same, it would have to do.

As I began to write, a shadow fell upon the letter. “You lose?” I looked up to find Huong smiling and holding out a gleaming gold wedding band.

“I sure did.” I smiled and leaped up. Huong had seen me searching for something in the bushes and, after I gave up, began a thorough search that turned up the missing ring. I held out my hand. He dropped it into my palm as I grinned broadly. I didn’t know whether to shake his hand or hug him. I decided a handshake would be best.

“Pretty wife now happy,” he said as he turned to walk away.

“Huong, wait.” I called after him. “Thank you very, very much.”

“No sweat,” he said, grinning. What could I give him for his kindness? I reached down to my web gear and unfastened my shiny new KA-BAR knife and sheath. I had purchased them at Ranger Joe’s a few days before I left for Vietnam .

“This is for you. Thank you again.”

“No. You keep. May need.” He paused. “You got cigarette?”

“Of course. Here, take the whole pack.” As he took my nearly full pack of Winston’s, I reached into my pocket, took out my Zippo lighter, and offered to light his cigarette. As Huong saw the lighter, with the Infantry School’s “Follow Me” symbol engraved on one side, he smiled widely and looked at me with a quizzical expression. It was obvious that he considered this a worthy prize. “Please take this with my thanks.”

“OK. Can do.” He quickly reached for the lighter. Taking it, he lit his cigarette, flicked the lighter a few times, and walked back to his friends smiling. I felt much better. I tore up the unfinished letter and tossed it into the fire. Absentmindedly, I reached into my empty pocket for a cigarette. Finding none, I smiled. Oh, yeah, I thought. Then I sat down, leaned back against a tree stump, closed my eyes, and breathed contentedly.

Check out E. Franklin Evan's new book: Stand To...A Journey to Manhood

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