Night Ambush Patrol on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

U.S. Army Sergeant Arnold Krause told journalist Peter Alan Lloyd: “Today is June 9th,1968 and our company has ambush patrol once again. Tonight, the company will leave the base camp and split out into three different platoon sized (roughly 20-25 men) ambush sites along a major supply route west of the village in the Ben Cui Rubber plantation. The company has orders to leave the “wire” (base camp perimeter) at 1600 hours. The azimuth will take us out into the rubber plantation. It will be dark soon and there is no moonlight. I have left the machine gun crew and started my new job as the RTO (radio telephone operator) for my3rd platoon leader 1LT Chris Brown, who hails from Texas. I change the battery to my PRC-25, turn on the radio and start the procedure to perform a commo check with the C.O.’s (company commander’s) RTO, call sign “Charlie 6 X-Ray”. [Source: Arnold Krause, with Peter Alan Lloyd, Wall Street Journal, Eyewitness Accounts General News The Vietnam War, May 2013]

“We leave the base camp with 1st platoon taking the point followed by 2nd and 3rd platoons. I locate LT Brown, who has a stocky build and a pleasant smile and fall in behind him in formation. The company moves to a checkpoint where we will wait for darkness…. We arrive at our assembly area around 1830 hrs. The word is passed down from 1LT Ron Hendricks, our C.O. This is Ron’s first assignment as a company commander. He has been reassigned from Delta Co. It is time to head out to our AP (ambush patrol) sites and it begins to rain. I check my watch and it is 1917 hrs. 

“Within minutes we enter the Ben Cui Rubber Plantation. There are hundreds of acres of rubber trees stretching upwards toward the dark sky about 30-40 feet. Once under the umbrella of the trees, the stars and night light have been vanquished. It has gotten so dark that everyone in the platoon has a hand tucked into the ammo belt of the guy in front of him. Without doing this, I can’t see the guy to my front. My eyes won’t adjust to the darkness. We are in the trees and there is no starlight. It’s continues to pour now and all one can hear is the water splashing off of the leaves of the trees and striking the ground. We get an occasional lighting flash that lights up the trees.

“Looking back at this night patrol, and thinking about the numerous other ones, too many to count, always reminds me of how quickly a situation can turn from good to bad. No one ever felt at ease or comfortable when we were out roaming around in the dark. Bad things always happened. The whole idea was to make the enemy uncomfortable too, in his maneuvering around at night. It was adisruption tactic, occasionally effective when an ambush was set up and the trap sprung.Night patrol was the most nerve wracking event we were asked to do. Your imagination had a field day, and you couldn’t see booby traps or other dangers as you walked. The happiest you ever saw anyone in combat was when you entered the “wire” (perimeter of a base camp) from an ambush patrol and knew you were once again “safe.”

“Tonight’s operation has us setting up three separate ambush sites. 1st and 2nd platoons drop out of formation and move off their destinations, and separate from the group. We move forward in the night, just a platoon. I am about 8-10 guys back of the guy on point and following LT Brown. I don’t recall most of the names of the soldiers I am with. We move in silence towards our ambush site. The platoon edges along in the rain, trying to navigate to the site where we are to set up the ambush. The wind is blowing along with a constant downpour as I wipe the water from my eyes and face. The company left base camp close to an hour and a half ago. There are occasional flashes of lightning again. Everyone scans left and right keeping an eye out for anything moving. Everyone is uneasy and alert moving in these conditions. The suspense builds along with the sweat that is being created under the strain of not knowing if the enemy is out there or what he may be up to.

“Another lighting flash cuts across the sky and I think I see a group of people, 5 or 6 or more, dressed in dark clothing standing on a road to our front. The light is playing off of their rain ponchos. Is my mind playing tricks on me? Did anyone else see what I did? I am unsure and we continue moving forward, toward those figures. I am guessing they were about 100 feet away. I don’t say anything, unsure of what to do. The sky lights up again and this time there is no mistake.

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