One Good Deal After Another (continued)
Big Little People
Ironically, our first action with the enemy was not the rifle companies. It was a complete surprise. At 1530, our half strength 81 mm mortar platoon caught yet another dose of hell.
While still exposed on their landing zone, they received 18 to 20 130 mm rounds of artillery fire from NVA artillery well to our north. The fire was highly accurate, creating 2 KIA and 21 wounded. There was no doubt about the fact that the enemy had a forward observer somewhere near us, calling fires. We searched for him for days and never found him.
Marines of the 81mm mortar platoon unload slings of supplies and ammunition from the CH-46 helicopter that has just delivered onto LZ Duster. As the chopper lifted off, enemy artillery raked the exposed Marines. Photo by Eric Smith.
The NVA had excellent artillery pieces … all Soviet. Their one weakness seemed to be the need to conserve ammunition. They seldom, if ever, targeted us with artillery unless they had a forward observer controlling the fires. In this case, we could not get counter battery artillery fires for a very good reason, one that we would shortly discover.
An hour and a half later, around 1700, Golf Company leading the column eastward on the road ran into a bunkered enemy outpost comprised of about 10 to 12 NVA. Golf suffered 2 KIA and 3 WIA on the initial contact. After a short firefight, the enemy withdrew, leaving 3 KIA behind.
Later in the evening and not mentioned in the command chronology, Lieutenant Post called on the battalion tactical radio net with a strange report. The enemy dead were big men … bigger than the average Vietnamese. They had fresh haircuts and pressed uniforms. We had previously worked for the 3d Marines and were well aware of the fact that the regimental commander put great emphasis on identifying enemy units.
The finding of “big little people” as Lieutenant Post, a big Texan had called them, was radioed to the regimental command post. Several days later we were informed that they were part of the, “Hanoi Palace Guard,” the ceremonial troops stationed in Hanoi for military ceremonies. It was known that they had been committed to combat but for unknown reasons to us, it had been thought that they had been sent to the Saigon area.
I have often said that one of Washington’s problems in Vietnam was a shortage of infantry. Hanoi seems to have had the same problem.