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Bobcat - 1969
M-113

Prologue to MECH, by Theodore T. Jagosz, Cpt Inf (USA)
(Copyright © 1999)

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It was early February 1969 and the Viet Cong/North Vietnamese Army "Post Tet Offensive" had just ended. At that time I was a young Infantry Captain serving my second combat tour in Vietnam. As a member of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), I commanded a five man Mobile Advisory Team (MAT) which was assisting a South Vietnamese thirty six man Popular Force (PF, Militia) platoon stationed in the Village of Binh Chuan, Chau Tan District, Binh Doung Province.
      During the offensive the enemy objective in the III Corps Tactical Zone was the large US Army logistical installation at Long Binh located a few kilometers to the South East of Binh Chuan. To concentrate two regiments at Long Binh (more than 2,000 troops), the NVA used VC guides from Binh Chuan to infiltrate through the village at a rate of two to three hundred per night for about a week.
      Our 36 man platoon had nightly contacts with these large enemy forces, many of them harrowing. On the first night of the enemy infiltration effort, one of our eight man ambush patrols valiantly engaged 350 NVA soldiers sweeping on line through our village. The patrol successfully and safely broke contact with the enemy while alerting all allied units to a major enemy offensive effort. Although we continued to bump into large forces every night thereafter, the enemy made a studied effort to avoid a general engagement. Binh Chuan was not their objective. It was Long Binh.
      The NVA eventually reached Long Binh in strength. After the battle, a friend of mine who was an eyewitness, counted more than 800 enemy dead on the field.
      Once this great danger had past our PF platoon went back to the village defensive routine while aggressively rooting out a rapidly dwindling VC political infrastructure. Nevertheless, I was still a little tense from all the encounters and I felt a need to get away from the village for a while, if only on a little day trip.
      I decided to visit the c with which I had fought my first tour mostly as a rifle platoon leader in Company B, 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 5th Infantry (The "Bobcat" Regiment), of the 25th Infantry Division located at Cu Chi and Dau Tieng in Hau Nghia Province.
      To get there I had to drive my old 3/4 ton truck North on historical Highway #13. I was to cross the Saigon River at my Province Capital, Phu Coung and then continue West to infamous Highway #1 and then North again to Cu Chi viaHoc Mon.
      Upon reaching the Phu Coung bridge, I noticed that it was open to one-way traffic only. During the enemy offensive, a VC "frog-man" had damaged one of the spans with a waterspout mine. Directing traffic for one side to cross then the other, was a Regional Force (RF) Militia Company assigned to the same Province in which I was serving, Binh Doung. Because a long convoy was heading East from the other side, I had to wait quite a while on my side of the "Saigon". While doing so, one of the RF militiamen assigned to bridge security sauntered over to me and decided to make small talk, all of it in Vietnamese.
      He greeted me: "Chau, Dai Uy, moun joi khoung?" ("Hello, Captain, how are you?")
      I told him I was well (Toi moun joi) and we exchanged pleasantries.
      We had not been talking long when he noticed that I wore a 25th Infantry Division patch on my right shoulder (a patch on that side indicates the major unit in which you had previously served in combat). Pointing to the patch he correctly identified it as the 25th Division ("Dai Doi Hai Mui Lam"). He then asked when I had served with the 25th. I told him: "1966".
      He shook his head gravely and remarked that 1966 was a very bad year. He then asked where I had served with the 25th. This made sense to me because in addition to the two brigades the 25th had at Cu Chi, the division also had a brigade stationed near Pleiku, hundreds of miles to the North in the central highlands.
      I answered: "Cu Chi."
      To this response he became very animated and stated: "Cu Chi was a very bad place in 1966."
      To this I added: "Not as bad as the Fil Hol Rubber Plantation, the Ho Bo Woods (Birthplace of the National Liberation Front, 'NLF"), the Boi Loi Woods (HQ of the NLF, Hanoi's Committee for Operations South Vietnam 'COSVN' and the 9th VC Infantry Division), and the Michelin Rubber Plantation!"
      In genuine amazement he expressed awe that I survived visits to all those places by saying: "All of those were really 'Number Ten' places!" It seemed he knew recent history and geography well.
      With real excitement in his voice, he asked me: "Who are you?"
      I was perplexed at the question because in addition to my US Army insignia, MACV patch on my left shoulder and name tag; I wore Vietnamese insignia, militia head gear and a Binh Doung Province combat patch suspended from a button on my jungle fatigues that indicated I was serving in the same unit he was. Although all of this should have been obvious to him, I said: "I'm Captain Jagosz, an advisor to the Binh Doung Regional and Popular Forces."
      That we had both slammed into the language barrier became obvious from the look of frustration on his face. Putting more effort into trying to be understood, he pointed to my 25th Division patch and asked me: "Who were you in the 25th?"
      Although I felt it would not really explain anything more than had been stated earlier, I lamely replied: "Well...Then, I was Lieutenant Jagosz."
      It became apparent to both of us that there was some common connection between us from the past but we could not put our fingers on it. Somehow we seemed to know each other but the context was not clear at all. I searched my memory bank. On that earlier tour I had never been on a joint operation with Vietnamese forces. On two or three occasions I had attached to my platoon a translator from the National Police to serve as an interpreter and interrogator but they all spoke good English and this militiaman was neither a National Policeman nor could he say anything in English.
      It was inspiration more than anything else when I recalled from the earliest days of that tour the Signal Operating Instructions (SOI) for our battalion changed every week or so. Our call signs changed so often I sometimes wondered who I was let alone to whom I was talking. I remember when I was known as "Tilted Tuner Three Three" to my platoon members but my Company Commander knew me as "Noble Access One Four". Although this was meant to fool the enemy who were listening in our frequencies on captured Army radios, we more often confused ourselves. None of these security measures prevented the VC from breaking in on our transmissions with quick bursts of profanity in Vietnamese.
      The futility of such secrecy became obvious to us when on the move because the whole world could hear the whining noise of the cooling turbine of our armored personnel carriers in the background of our radio transmissions. Our unit was the first, and for the longest time, the only American mechanized Infantry unit in the country. Therefore, we certainly were not fooling anybody as to the nature and capabilities of our unit.
      To keep things simple and because our battalion mascot was the "Bobcat", our Battalion Commander became permanently known as "Bobcat Six". My Company B Commander in turn became "Bobcat Bravo Six". Because I was the Second Platoon Leader of B Company, I was "Bobcat Bravo Two Six".
      So, with the above in mind, I decided for the first time in English to blurt out: "I'm 'Bobcat Bravo Two Six'!"
      My militiaman interrogator replied in great astonishment, mixed with genuine elation and in English for the first time: "Bobcat Bravo Two Six!" He shook my hand vigorously, slapped me on the back and even hugged me while repeating over and over: "Bobcat Bravo Two Six!"
      It did not end there. The militiaman called three or four of his comrades over to my truck. His introductions in Vietnamese were so rapid fire, I could not possibly follow his announcements. In every case the looks on the faces of his friends changed from mild bewilderment into expressions of instant and enthusiastic recognition. Everybody knew the "Bobcats". Again, there were firm handshakes and hugs all around.
      By now I realized that I had indeed met all of these men before on my last tour. Of course I never had a chance to ask them their names let alone get a good look at their faces. They, in turn, only knew me by my call sign and what I had done with my platoon on many battlefields. If I had seen any of these soldiers before, they had been fleeting shadows in the jungle or vague forms at the base of a muzzle flash or blast at which I and my own had been firing. We must have met on opposing firing lines of God only knows how many fire-fights and in so many places.
      Since those earlier and painful times, it was obvious that many of our former foes had become "Hoi Chan" ("Ralliers" to the South Vietnamese Government) and then joined the Binh Doung Regional Forces. It was very good to meet them again as associates in the same Provincial militia organization, and more importantly, to meet them again as friends and comrades in arms united against a common foe.
      As good as the "reunion" was, it turned out to be a mixed blessing. My reemergence into the area as the former "Bobcat Bravo Two Six" dispelled some the anonymity I had enjoyed up until then on this second tour. I was notified by Provincial Intelligence Officers that the local VC had put me on a "death list", organized a "hit squad" and put a price of $50,000 Piasters on my head. That is only $500.00 but it's the thought that counts.
      Inwardly, I was quite pleased that these ex-VC and those VC that had not rallied had remembered what my platoon from the 1/5 (M) Infantry had managed to accomplish on many battlefields three years earlier.
      The following is being written so that not only our enemies remember what that platoon (and other "Bobcat" units like it) did; but that our families, friends and countrymen remember as well.
      Incidentally, I am also quite pleased, as God so willed it, that I survived and nobody (obviously) collected the reward. As for the "hit squad" that had targeted me, I later learned that it had been intercepted and all eleven members had been annihilated.

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