Arrival at Lang Vei
When we got close to the Camp I saw someone on the ground pop smoke. I realized that this was the real thing, no more practice…. I saw a non SF guy waiting on the helipad as we were coming in. Just as we started to touch down I hopped off. Within what seemed like only a second, a couple of mortar rounds hit near the helipad and the chopper started its ascent. The guy was waiting for the chopper through his gear on and grabbed for the chopper as it took off. I jumped into the nearest pit in anticipation of more incoming mortars, but then realized the threat was gone because there was no worthy target, just me.
I was introduced to some of the team members and was taken to the old camp and met Ashley and Johnson. Johnson was my junior medic and gave me a tour of the camp. The camp was filled with a strange foul smell. I got on Johnson’s case for not adequately setting up toilet facilities. Johnson said that the smell was not from human waste but rather it was from nuc mom (fish sauce). I wasn’t convinced until he took me over to a 5-gallon can of the stuff. One whiff, which weakened my knees, and I understood.
During the first few days I realized that I was about as close to the action as one could get. It seemed like every patrol ran into NVA. No VC (cowboys) here, the real hard core, Ho Chi Man loving, card carrying, communist SOB. One of the newer SF guys led a patrol one day and never returned. The damn fool “led” the patrol. Somewhere early in training I had learned, “don’t lead” a patrol. (NOTE: You will see more of this later.) Air support had uncovered (via Napalm) concrete bunkers in some of the hillsides.
Since I was at Lang Vei to care for the Laotians, I was to stay at the Old Camp, Lang Vei 1. Neither camp had sufficient “accommodations”, so I was left to sleep on the ground with a poncho liner wrapped around me for warmth. Prior to going to sleep my first night one of the guys asked me if I had ever experienced an “Arc Light”, and I said no, what is it. He said, “you’ll know soon enough”.
I went to sleep around 10:00, I don’t know exactly because there wasn’t any light to read the face on my watch. Some time in the wee hours of the morning I was awakened by the ground rumbling and a series of loud and heavy explosions. (As a Baptist youth I had often dreamt of the end of the world in that fashion.) When I looked out from under my covers I saw what appeared to be the sun rising over Co Roc, a nearby mountain. When I realized it wasn’t God, but the Air Force, I went back to sleep. I slept on the ground until the February 6th when I was told I could bunk with Sgt. Ashley.
That first night Ashley and I sat around talking about home life and his family. He talked about being a dad and looking forward to getting back home. I just wanted to get back home and go to school and partying (what else did young guys do?).