A day in the life with the 3/4th U.S. Cav, 1969
ONCE UPON A SUNNY AFTERNOON

© 2000, by:
by 1SG Lonnie Dotson
A troop, 3/4th Cav, 25th Inf Div

 

It was another blistering day in sunny South Vietnam, but I was happy to finally be back in the bush where the stench of burning diesel soaked human feces wasn't constantly assaulting your nostrils. The tracks on my tank churned up clouds of red dust, choking out the little oxygen left in the humid air. You wouldn't find me complaining about being on one of these little 17 ton Sheridans, though. It was a lot better than busting bush with my boots in the scout squad.

I was in the third platoon of A Troop commanding the "35" tank. The whole troop was in a line formation except the command tracks and mortar tracks that followed behind at about 200 meters. We were in an area Northwest of Cu Chi where the division base camp was located.Someone said the area was known as the "Mushrooms". Don't know why they called it that. Didn't see any mushrooms around... or road signs saying, "Welcome to Mushrooms". Wished I had seen a few mushrooms. I would have mixed some with those tasteless C rat's that my loving father had sent me from home (older than the stuff they were issuing to us in Vietnam). I had asked for a "goodie box" and he sent me a box of 1950 C's and some black licorice (still wondering what I had done to piss him off so bad).

The terrain was covered with trees and hedgerows that grew 6 to 7 feet high. The area was somewhat flat. Good tank country. "Charlie" used this area to stage his operations. Our job was to keep him on the run by sweeping through it on a periodic basis.The troop was spread out over what seemed a quarter mile. We seemed to be by ourselves since I was the far right flank track. We weren't so far out that we couldn't get support if we needed it real fast.

I heard over the troop net that the left flank platoon had stumbled upon a fresh bunker. The first platoon wanted to check out this bunker complex so the "old man" told us to halt for a bite to eat and check out the tracks. (Seemed like we did that every time we could so we'd be ready to haul butt if need be.) I was parked about 50 feet away from a thick stand of trees. I just didn't feel comfortable sitting there not knowing what was out there while we ate.

I radioed for Infantry support to check out the tree line before we got comfortable but I was told that all the grunts were tied up checking bunkers. I ordered my driver and loader to grab some weapons and check it out. After they fumbled around the trees one of them hollered that they had found something. I grabbed my 45 side-arm and M16 and ran in the direction of the shouts.

The object of their concern was an unusual hole in the middle of the path. The hole appeared to be manmade. As odd as this may sound, I could actually smell "them" through this hole. I could smell the enemy! I assumed right away that this was an air hole for an escape bunker. I called for grunt support so we could check out the entire area. Again, I was told that all assets were tied up and to handle it ourselves.

I called over to the closest track. It was one of the Cav M-113's. I asked them to assist (it was like the blind leading the blind... we were completely out of our element:"tankers on the ground"). They dismounted and I instructed all the troops to form a large circle around me. I had maybe 6 or 7 guys armed with veering weapons and uniforms, tankers, Cav Scouts and even a few grunts. Even the track commander came over wanting to see what all the commotion was all about.

I ordered everyone in the circle to keep an eye out while I threw a smoke grenade into the hole. I was hoping that escaping yellow smoke would show us the opening to the bunker. Only a few moments passed before someone screamed, "Gook!" I spun around and directly behind me a tree slowly rose from a hole. The tree had been planted in a pot fit to cover an entrance to the tunnel. A man emerged from the tunnel with nothing on but black shorts, his hands raised and covered with yellow smoke residue.

Needless to say, we got a little excited. I placed this prisoner under my control. We bound his hands and asked him in broken Vietnamese if there were others. He responded with a nod. I tried to get him to tell his buddies to surrender, but he seemed very nervous and would not approach the hole. I had to almost drag him over. I could feel edginess creep over me. I tried smoke again while we covered both holes.

After a short eternity, I heard someone coughing and choking. I repeatedly shouted for them to surrender, but I was greeted with silence. I dropped a trip flare down into the hole, knowing for certain that this would surely run them out since it burns so hot and bright.What I didn't know was that the tunnel was very small and the flare must have caused them to suffocate. I looked in and saw two pairs of feet that weren't moving. I poked them trying to get some sort of response. Someone mentioned that they could be booby trapped so we had to be careful. We tied ropes around their legs and pulled the bodies out. I did notice that they were wearing a unusual green uniforms.

I asked for volunteers to go in and "Pineapple", the shortest amongst us, volunteered. We gave him a pistol and he crawled in. After a few moments he yelled out that the place was full of "stuff". He passed out several boxes of US 50 cal Ammo boxes, ruck sacks, and personal items. Something didn't seem right. I had never seen troops so well equipped. I went back to the bodies and took a better look, not only did they have on uniforms but had fresh haircuts. These dead soldiers had on North Vietnam Regular Army uniforms. I was miffed, we had hardly ever encountered regulars before! They were obviously Officers too! They were armed with pistols and even blow-up rings (used as porta potty) for taken a dump. As we started checking the gear out we noticed that the Ammo cans were filled with stacks and stacks of money!!!

In each Ammo can were four stacks of bills, each stack seemed to be at least $100,000 in South Vietnamese currency. Even with the exchange rate this was a lot of money! We counted at least a million dollars! As we began to pass out the money (who wouldn't) the platoon leader's track busted through the bush and screeched to a halt. The platoon leader was sitting on the back of his track talking to the old man over the troop command freg. We passed out the remaining gear that we wanted to keep as souvenirs. Needless to say the Lt. Took the money with him.

We stopped and set-up for the night in a night logger position. We were told to report to the Troop Command track where we were interviewed by Military intell folks and several news paper guys. While we were being interviewed our platoon tunnel rat (Pineapple) developed a real bad rash. The medics covered his whole body with a white cream lotion, and (ha) he looked so funny with his dark skin covered with this white cream. Here he is was standing there being interviewed without clothes, covered with a white haze all over him just being cool and calm and cool! Ha-Ha it was so funny.

We were informed later that the soldiers we had killed were Quartermaster officers for the 101st NVA Division. The Division was staging across the river from us and these officers were to buy supplies from locals. They were going to setup supply cache and bury it in front of the troops who were going to move across the river and attack the city. We also found out that the unit was hungry and totally out of food.

This was a major cue for the unit since we had stopped an invasion just by capturing the money to be used for supplies. CyOps folk made tons and tons of Cu-hoi Pamphlets and drooped them all over the staging area telling that we had found the money and killed those supply officers. Well afterwards Division headquarters said that they were going to release to the press that this was a South Vietnamese Army operations supported by Americans so they could reap the political benefits from it, called Pasification.

We really wanted to keep the money and put it to some use like building a orphanage, or somehow give it back to the people and not the Government. It was so sad ... I counted over 1 million dollars.The Division counted and reported almost a million, and as each paper ran the story each level of headquarters seemed to reduce the amount. When papers in the states reported the find it was down, to thousands rather than millions.

Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord is the Rock Eternal. --Isaiah 26:4

1SG Lonnie Dotson, Ret.,
1SG (retired)
A troop, 3/4th Cav, 25th Inf Div
Production Engineering > 737-757 Change Management Board
(Fabrication Division Rep.)
Submitted: October 15, 1999 11:33 AM

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