Friendly fire

or they almost got me

I was having a typical Vietnam jungle afternoon. It was resupply day and the platoons of my company were being restocked with food, water, and ammunition. We did this every three or four days. You can carry only so much food before it begins to weigh you down so we carried just a few days worth of meals.

It was the dry season and the afternoon was sunny and hot and dry. Our platoon had pulled up into a day laager, a temporary defensive position, to prepare for our resupply. It was in the shade of some trees. Just prior to pulling into the laager we had passed a big, old bomb crater and the lieutenant decided it was big enough for a helicopter to land and drop off our supplies. The bomb crater and the day laager position were about fifty yards apart.

When it became close to time for it to be our platoons time to receive the resupply helicopter the lieutenant picked my squad to be the security for the helicopter landing so we set off for the bomb crater landing zone. My squad leader had me drop out about halfway to the bomb crater to provide some security between the landing zone and the day laager while he and the rest of the squad continued on to the bomb crater.

The place where I was standing was out of most of the trees and I could see one of our other platoons off in the distance a couple hundred yards or so away through a gap in the foliage. They had set up a landing zone in a grassy spot for their own resupply. Someone popped a smoke grenade over there and I could see a helicopter rapidly approaching their position. Just as soon as the helicopter landed enemy rifle fire and mortar fire opened up on the chopper. I could see the mortar rounds impacting around the chopper and the guys in the other platoon over there diving to the ground to try to avoid being hit. I thought to myself great, now when it’s our turn to be resupplied the enemy is going to drop stuff on us as well.

The helicopter quickly shoved out their load of supplies and took off fast to get away from the enemy fire. The chopper had been off the ground and flying away for only a minute or so when all of a sudden artillery shells dropped out of the sky and exploded behind me close by. Really close. The smell of spent explosive immediately wafted over me and the one tree I happened to be standing under dropped a shower of leaves as the shrapnel from the artillery rounds tore through the tree. I looked around behind me and I saw that the only thing which saved me was a small mound or berm about the height of my head which had deflected the shrapnel overhead instead of through me. As I found out later, the pilot of the helicopter had called in artillery fire and one of the positions he called in happened to be right where I was standing.

I dropped to the ground immediately after the artillery rounds landed. I had been miraculously spared by the first rounds but it was the next ones on the way which I was worried about. I knew how artillery worked and I knew that more artillery rounds were already on the way. Where would they land? I had no idea. I expected to die. I was as scared as I have ever been. I began to wonder what it would feel like to be blown apart by rounds landing right on my body. Would it hurt? Would I know nothing and not even feel it? Would I get my legs blown off and be in painful agony before I died from blood loss? These and many other thoughts went through my mind in a very short time. I just knew that I was going to die and that my time had come. The feeling was so bad that for a while I think I lost my mind and had no thoughts at all as I just waited to die.

After what seemed an agonizing amount of time but which was probably only a minute or so, I heard the whoosh of artillery rounds on the way. This was actually good news as I knew that if I could hear them they would not be as close as the first time. The first rounds which almost got me I probably heard only a tenth of a second or so before they impacted. I hadn’t had time to react at all.

The second group of artillery rounds finally impacted but they hit on the other side of the day laager position and no one was hurt. By that time everybody who had a radio was on their radio calling “Cease fire!” “Cease fire!” I was so grateful to still be alive that was probably the best feeling I have ever had in my life. The experience was not good for me however and still bothers me to this day and always will, I suppose.

Terry Coats

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