Smitty Steps Up (continued)
"Lima Papa One! Lima Papa One!"
At night on LZ Susan, we sent out listening posts, men whose job it was to hear movement before it reached us and to alert us by radio. Rarely more than 10 or 15 meters from our lines along likely avenues of approach, the LPs were our early warning system.
It was not easy duty.
Imagine being in thick, steamy jungle in pitch blackness, alone with your radio, its volume turned to the lowest setting, your every sense alert as you hoped you wouldn't ever, ever, ever be the one whose fate is was to have to sound the alarm. But if it was, you would.
LCpl Manny Ramos on LZ Susan. Manny was a wireman whose carefully strung land lines from the FDC to the gun pits were severed by incoming mortar rounds on LZ Margo. He had returned from R&R weeks before our operation and, having listened to some tunes from "back in the world", Manny was likely the only man in the battalion who knew every word of "Harper Valley PTA". Photo by Alan Green.
And then, from the Whiskey CP back up the hill, in a soft voice shaped in equal measure by Puerto Rico and the Bronx, came the signature query of LCpl Manuel "Manny" Ramos, as he checked each listening post.
“Lima Papa One, Lima Papa One, if everything’s uptight, no gooks in sight, key your m***f*** handset twice!”
A pause, and then the silence of the Whiskey net would be broken by two quick clicks as Lima Papa One signaled that he had indeed survived another radio check.
And then: "Lima Papa Two, Lima Papa Two..."
Others in the 81s command group were equally nonchalant in the heart of the Vietnamese jungle, Marines like LCpl Pedro Marquez and Cpl Bruce Pilch.
LCpl Pedro Marquez is shown here during earlier service attached to Echo Company at Khe Sanh. He traveled with the 81s command group during the entire operation and, on a very "hot" LZ Duster, he helped Smitty load casualties aboard medevac choppers. Photo courtesy Eric Smith.
Cpl Bruce Pilch was the 81s ammo sergeant, who made sure we had the ammunition and supplies to do our job. A quick thinker, when we spotted an impressive Navy bullhorn in a passageway as we prepared to lift off the Princeton, he knew that it might come in handy down the line. Pilch hid it in a sandbag, then calmly strolled to the waiting chopper and made off with it. On Margo, only one thing could be heard above the din of the battle: a fire mission being shouted through the bullhorn he swiped! Photo by Alan Green.
If you have to be in the DMZ with your life dependent on your companions, these are the sort of men you want to be with.