Stories of American Heroes - Brought to you from the "Home of Heroes" - Pueblo, Colorado
(This was first published as text for the photo lay-out in the "Garry Owen" Newspaper and the "First Team Magazine" in March 1972. The cover photo as well as some of the others on this site were official US ARMY PHOTOS from that story layout.)
The huey "Slick" hardly seemed to stop in its descent on the clearing before Ranger Team 75 was on the ground and moving rapidly to the edge of the jungle. As I lunged through the underbrush I glanced back long enough to see our rear scout, Sp4 Kenneth (Snuffy) Anderson backing out of the clearing in a crouch, ready for any signs of the enemy. I wanted desperately to stop for a chance to shoot a picture, but now wasn't the time. We had to get to cover before the enemy had a chance to locate us. The pictures would have to wait.
Once the team was concealed in the brush, Sgt Paul "Blinky" Morguez, Team Leader (TL) for 75 motioned for us to sit down. It was a relief to drop my heavy pack and relax in the brush. Some where a bird began to sing, and it was almost possible to forget that you were hiding in enemy infested jungle, just a handful of men and their weapons.
Sp4 Jaime Pacheco, RTO for the team, unsheathed his radio. When the TL began to make his report to the rear he spoke only in a whisper. No one made any noise. Quietly I unsnapped my camera, focused it, and pushed the button to release the shutter. It sounded like a bomb dropping in a sound proof room and everyone turned quickly to look at me. A little embarrassed, I put my camera up and resolved that my pictures would have to wait a little longer.
After about 20 minutes the TL felt confident that the enemy had not noticed our insertion and had not come in our direction. We hitched up our rucks and began moving through the brush. There were no trails, no paths, we just walked and crawled where we could, never making a sound. No one spoke, not one vine was cut from our path, and so well hidden was each man by the heavy brush and camouflage jungle fatigues and face paint that often I would lose sight of "Stubby", Sgt Lynn Morrison, who was walking just ahead of me.
My ruck was beginning to give me pains and sweat poured off me. It was rough on me, and try as I might to hide it, anyone could see I was tired. I started glancing at the other members to see how they were taking it. They were sweating too, which made me feel a little better. That is, all except "Blinky" who I was sure by now could outwalk a horse. Someone once said that Rangers don't have to shoot the enemy, they just hump them to death. I was beginning to believe that was the truth.
There were times I wished I had packed a little more, though my ruck was more than heavy enough for me. But a five-day log of supplies to a Ranger seemed awful meager to me. Three LRRP meals won't last the average grunt a day and a half, and I was expected to make them last for five days. And six quarts of water, a two day supply for most grunts, had to be stretched out over that same five day period.
Finally we paused for a few minutes. It was getting well along into the afternoon and the heat seemed to be reaching extremes. I lifted my canteen to my lips, rationing myself the barest amount of water, and settled back to listen. There was a crackling of brush that made my heart beat a little faster. I strained my eyes and saw two chickens strutting about. They walked within 20 feet of me but so quiet was the team that they never realized we were in the area.
Twenty minutes later we were moving on again. We were reaching an open area and "Stubby" stopped beside me. "When we cross this area," he said, "make sure you step on the branches and not on the ground." It seemed strange to me, but Stubby explained that in the open area if the enemy were near they would see us, so the sound of a breaking twig made little difference. Now the important thing was to insure that we left no footprints for the enemy to find. Later Sp4 Pacheco explained that the Team tries to leave no evidence of its presence after it has passed. "We even eat the plastic containers our LRRPs come in so the enemy can't find them," he said with a laugh.
We finally stopped in a small clearing and I decided to chance a few more pictures. Muffling my camera as best I could with my towel, I took a few shots, then helped myself to a drink from my canteen. We'd been in the jungle for about four hours and yet my canteen was practically full. It was surprising.
It was getting dark as we moved on, though it was still early in the evening. Then the Team stopped. Blinky was on the point and had broken onto a trail. While we waited he scouted the trail with Sp4 Melvin Mullis, the assistant TL who had been walking "slack". Then they motioned for the team to move up. I was just breaking through the under- growth when the world exploded. Dropping to the ground I worked out of my ruck and alternated between shooting pictures of the elite team in action, and talking back to the hidden enemy with my AR-15 rifle.
For Blinky it had been close. Breaking from the trail and into the open, he had heard a man to his left shout at him in Vietnamese. The enemy soldier had undoubtedly mistaken us for NVA or VC troops. He had been no more than 10 feet from Blinky when he spoke, and the TL had answered with a burst from his AR-15.
"Make sure you cover our rear," I heard Blinky yell, and then from back on the trail I heard Snuffy yell back, "Yeah, I've got it." "Frag out," yelled 1Lt Lynn Moore, the Ranger operations officer who was along for the trip. As he stood to throw his grenade the team covered with a burst of fire. "Someone pass me a cigarette," yelled Blinky, crouching now and firing from the hip. Then Pacheco, talking into the mouthpiece of the radio, "Xray, Xray, 75, 75. Contact! Contact! Contact!"
Then all was quiet again save for the sound of Blue Max waiting overhead. Blinky took two men and scouted the area where the enemy had been. All that could be found was a thick trail through the brush where he had "duffed". Pacheco and I sat back drawing long gulps on our canteens. We could drink all we wanted now. We had a contact and would be pulled out.
When all was clear we moved into the open and popped smoke for our bird. While the skids were still well above the ground I felt the other members of the team boosting me in. Then I turned to haul them aboard. The door gunners opened fire on the area and we left with tracers tearing the brush in case any enemy had followed us to the PZ. As the chopper circled we could see Max diving in on the position we had just left, tearing the jungle with his rockets and minigun. We were on our way back to the rear for a hot meal, a cold soda, a shower and a good night's sleep. My job was finished but for Team 75f there would be tomorrow...another day, another mission, and perhaps another contact.
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