Hagel’s Patrol Hit by a Viet Cong Booby Trap

Recalling a patrol in March 1968, Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense in the Obama administration, later said: “We were on an ambush patrol. We knew that VC had been in this area. And we were walking through a very dense jungle, and we were crossing a — a stream. And someone hit a — in fact, my brother Tom and I had been walking point. Had been walking point almost all day. This was a company, if I remember. I think it was company strength. And my platoon had had the point position. And Tom and I had been out on point most of the day. And the company commander, I think Captain Davis, rotated my squad back to the second-position squad, and they moved up a squad. [Source: Time, January 16, 2013]

“And about an hour later, we were crossing a stream. One of the point guys hit a tripwire in the stream. There were large Claymore mines that had been placed in the trees. And so when that tripwire was hit, the Claymores exploded and of course took down the guys in front of us. Hit me with shrapnel in the chest. Tom got shrapnel in the arms and I think some in his chest. We — there wasn’t — if I recall, there was a — there was a bit of a firefight, but what the VC would do, they’d slow you down and stop you with these major booby traps, and this one was a major one. And then they usually would leave behind some snipers. 

“Occasionally, they’d have a couple of machine gunners that would pick some of you off because in the disarray of the explosion and you’re trying to get to your guys, you’re vulnerable. And some of that happened. And I don’t remember how many people were killed there, but I know there were quite a few wounded. And then we had to — somewhat of a firefight, and they were able to get the dead lifted out. It was hard to get in with choppers because it was so dense. And then of course you got problems, too, with the security of bringing those choppers down that low. And they were concerned about bringing them in.

“And so we — we stayed there up — we had to, until nightfall, to get the dead out and then the more severely wounded. Tom and I, the captain came to us and said, “Can you guys make it?” And we said, “Yes, we can.” And so he said, “Can you get back on point and lead us out?” So Tom and I were wounded, but we got back on point, and I think that was — I was as afraid that night as I think I’ve ever been because it was dark. And when it gets dark, it’s — it is dark. And how many more booby traps you’re going to walk into that you really can’t see. We almost hit another one. My brother Tom saved us. There was another — about — we started to move out. Probably it wasn’t 20 or 30 yards from where we were as we started to get — it was starting to get dark, moved out.

“And Tom spotted a — a live hand grenade hanging with a little — a little thin veneer there of wire, which it would have gotten me. And he was able to grab the grenade and defuse it. But we walked them out. We finally got out. I don’t know at what time. Maybe 11:00 at night and finally got out, and the choppers came and picked us up. It wasn’t that bad. I mean, they took us to hospitals and — I still have some shrapnel in my chest. It was peppered pretty good and punctured and a lot of blood, but there was not anything that was life-threatening. And they took us into a field hospital, and we spent, I think, three days there. They dug most of the stuff out of us, out of Tom and out of me, but they left some of it in me because it was around the heart. And so it’s interesting when I get chest x-rays. (laughter) They show up.”

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