Vinh Chau Island
by: Sandy Wardlaw
Combined Action Platoon  2-4-2
© 1999

Vinh Chau Island

The Marines in Vietnam operated almost exclusively in the northernmost part of the country. This was called I Corps. The Combined Action Program was divided into 4 Combined Action Groups or CAG's. Each CAG was further broken down into Combined Action Companies. (CACO's). The smallest unit was called a platoon. I was in CAP's (Combined Action Platoons) 2-4-2 and 2-4-5. Both were about 20 miles south of Đà Nàng near the district city of Hoi An.

I'm not sure if CACO 2-4 was unique because I have nothing to compare it to, but when we went on KT's (Killer Teams) from our  main ambush site the local Vietnamese troops (PF's) always walked point. I have no idea when and where this started but I was never really comfortable with this practice. Perhaps it was thought that the PF's knew the area better than us and therefore could avoid ambush sites from the VC. I suppose there is some validity in this but it did not take long for any of us to learn our AOR pretty thoroughly.

This incident occurred shortly after I arrived at 2-4-2. I was probably there only a few weeks. Vinh Chau Island averaged 3 to 4 clicks long and 2 to 3 clicks wide so there was a lot of territory to learn (For those who don't know a click is 1,000 meters). Our team had formed up and started from our ambush site. It soon became apparent that our PF that night had absolutely no idea where he needed to go. Our routes on KT's always included several check points where we would stop for awhile and just wait for trouble to walk by. All the checkpoints coordinates were preset with the Comm Center at CACO so if we needed artillery support the illumination or high explosive rounds could be fired quickly.

It turned out that I was senior man that particular night. Even though I was only a PFC the responsibility of leading the team was dropped on my shoulders. I didn't like it butI accepted what I had to do. I had only been there a short time and was not very familiar with the island. As we started up again I very quickly gained new respect for those who walked point all the time. An added pressure was the fact that we were out on what I call a "Vietnam" night. There of course was no outside lighting at all; there was also no moon--it was overcast. The lack of light would actually hurt your eyes. I've told people to go into a closet, turn off the light and close their eyes. Then you get some sense of what I mean by "Vietnam" night.I still remember vividly how my heart was pounding in my ears--I was sure it could be heard by everyone around me, both friend and foe. I just knew I would give us away to Charlie just by my heartbeat. I recall how slowly I walked; bent over to present a smaller target. I kept waiting to see a human form emerge from the darkness from the opposite direction. I wasn't sure how I would react. Fortunately I was never forced to make that decision. We were out several hours and found all the check points with no problems at all. Not once did I take a wrong turn or even hesitate in that long journey.

But what has intrigued me all these years is how was I able to accomplish all that? It was impossible that I could remember all the trails and turns I needed to make that night. Impossible by human standards at least. I believe the Lord was guiding me that night. No, I didn't feel a hand on my shoulder or a voice whispering in my ear but God was there nevertheless. And what makes it even more special is that this was years before I became a Christian. I certainly didn't believe in His Son's teachings. But I know that God has a plan for all of us; we can't always know what that plan is. It may not be shown to us on OUR timetable but it will be shown.

I have no other explanation for what happened that night. The Lord was beside me but he also kept everyone else on the team safe that night. Logo
© 1995-2023. All Rights Reserved.