One Day
Raider Xray Alpha
January 21st, 1968

By: Doug Wilburn
Spec. 4 with the 39 Engineer Bn. Combat
© 2005

One Day

My name is Doug. My call sign was Raider Xray Alpha. My buddy and I did forward work for our battalion. The battalion call sign was Raider. Each company in turn was Raider Alpha, Raider Bravo, Raider Charlie and Raider Delta. Our call sign was Raider Xray signifying that we were a forward element. Some times we didn’t have much to do.

One day I had nothing to do. One day just like many others. I awakened early and after smoking a cigarette I opened a can of Vienna sausages for breakfast. After breakfast I walked to a piss-tube to take a leak while I smoked another cigarette. I returned to my bunker to find my partner starting to wake up. When he asked me what I was going to do I told him I might go out with the engineers. He just grunted.

After daylight the engineers started moving out. They were trying to open a road from LZ Baldy west toward the Laotian border. They were working through Que Son Valley/Happy Valley to the site of the Hamburger Hill battle. Sniper fire came in from the hills daily. Ambushes and booby traps were a common occurrence. I had spoken with a couple of engineers and they said I could ride-along with them. You have to see them in operation to believe what they do.

After the pointmen move out the minesweepers follow behind. They carry metal detectors and move them in a wide arc, swinging from one side to the other and back again. Headsets connected to the metal detectors alert them to possible mines embedded in the roadway. If they get a signal indicating a mine another engineer digs with a bayonet in an effort to locate the mine. C4 is placed to explode the mine in place. But the detectors miss some mines.

A five-ton dump truck loaded with dirt follows the minesweepers. This truck is driven backwards. The rear wheels of the truck are supposed to trigger any mine missed by the sweep team. Hopefully the weight of the load on the rear tires will trigger the missed mines with little damage to personnel. I bet it’s not easy driving in reverse for miles especially when you expect to be blown to kingdom come at any time.

Of course progress is slow. We just kind of eased down the road at a snails pace. The minesweepers are walking at a pace slow enough to allow them to hear changes in the tone in their headphones. I was riding in a vehicle with two other guys.  I almost got out and walked alongside just to have something to do. But in the oppressive heat and humidity you learn to conserve energy and drink all the water you can.

Every one is alert and ready at all times. Any thing is possible and ambushes are a common occurrence. I was ready with my weapon as we moved past a village on our right. There were only old people and children in sight. The old people watched us warily. The younger children played in the dirt as children usually do. There weren’t any young men in sight. They were hiding somewhere waiting to ambush us, or resting in a tunnel after an engagement on the previous night. Another unit (196 Light Infantry) had ambush patrols out and had fired on a group of enemy soldiers last night killing several.

The village set higher than the roadway. As we moved past, with the villagers warily watching, tunnel openings were plainly visible in the bank. I couldn’t help but wonder why the village was still there. The tunnels should have been blown up to close them. And the villagers evacuated.     

We finally reached a place where we had to ford a river. Progress halted as patrols and minesweepers moved across the river to check things out. The day before a vehicle had hit a mine bank killing three people. A jeep hit a mine and the engine was blown 200 feet. Every one wanted to be especially cautious.

I was standing on a high spot watching. The high spot was the riverbank during monsoon season when the waters ran very deep. At the time, the river was only 15 feet wide and shallow. The dump truck was setting at the waters edge about 8 feet to my front. Four feet to the right of the truck was a crater left by the mine the previous day. It was five feet deep with three feet of water standing in the bottom and ten feet across.  One of the new guys was talking to me when things started to get hairy.

There was a blinding flash followed by a huge explosion. The heavy truck seemed to rise up and float in the air as I watched. Then heavy pieces of metal appeared to rip themselves away from the truck flinging through the air. Several pieces buried in the ground around me and my friend as the concussion knocked us to the ground.

I jumped to my feet in time to see the driver stand up in the truck and scream in pain. The fuel tank had exploded and he was on fire from the waist up. I ran to the truck trying to help the driver. One of the engineers got there right before me and started pulling the burning driver out. I helped him get the driver out of the truck. We dropped him in the minecrater from the day before. The water helped extinguish the flames and cool off the burns. Together we carried him up the roadway and put him down. I started hollering for a medic. We had put him down by a jeep and the medic started working on the driver who was already in shock.

The jeep had a radio so I picked up the mike and started calling Dust Off, the medevac chopper. A lieutenant took the mike away from me and changed the radio to a new push and started talking.

There were several other guys down who needed help. I ran back to the truck making sure no one else was in need of help. When I got to the truck it was still burning and the driver’s ammo started cooking off. I was startled when the cartridges started popping off and fell in the crater again. There wasn’t anyone on that side of the truck, so I climbed out of the crater and started around the back of the vehicle. A grenade cooked off and the explosion knocked me into the river. I regained my footing and went around to the other side.

There were some wounded who were being cared for. One man was lying on his stomach holding his upper body off the ground by resting on his extended elbows. He was bleeding badly from a head wound but appeared to be ok.

I returned to the jeep where a medic was taking care of the burned driver. I watched for a while as he treated the man.

The med-evac arrived and hovered over a rice paddy. There wasn’t any place for him to land. I kept shifting my attention from the driver to the pilot as the medic worked. Finally the pilot indicated gave me a hand signal. I didn’t know if he was going to take off or continue to hover. I told the medic that we needed to get the driver aboard as the helicopter was leaving. The medic grabbed the driver’s feet so I picked up his upper body and started running backwards as we carried him to the helicopter. We were in the middle of the rice paddy when I fell and all of us took a tumble. We picked him up again and finally got him loaded out. The bird took off in a swirl as we ducked and ran.

At the jeep I looked down at my hands. They were covered with the driver’s skin. I wiped both hands against my fatique shirt. I never learned what became of the kid who was burned so badly. prayed daily for his survival.

One day ... just one more day. Logo
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