During our humping through the boonies the NVA could hear us a mile away and we would sometimes be caught in an ambush. One day orders came down that there was an opportunity to go to “long range firing” training for those who were classified as an expert rifleman. I had qualified number one in my training battalion at Fort Polk (Tiger Land) so I applied and was accepted.
About six of us from various companies arrived by helicopter at the training site. It was a fairly secured firebase. We turned in our M-16s and were issued M-14s with scopes. We were trained to shoot at 400, 500, 600, 800, 1,000 meters by a SFC who had been a coach of the West Point Rifle Team.
I mistakenly thought that I would go out in teams of two or three searching for targets and there would less chance of an ambush. Well, after the training I was reassigned to my infantry company and mostly walked point. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. This occurred in October of 1967. The reasoning was that the M-16 was not accurate at long distances and if we saw NVA at about 300-400 meters we could not get a hit. So you called in artillery and the first round would be a smoke round and the NVA would then leave (“ditty-bop”) the area. As a “sniper” I might be able to get a first round hit. Well that’s what I was told. Oh well.
I did get to use it soon when we were ambushed. After the ambush at the top of the hill there was a clearing we used as a LZ and then the jungle about 200 meters away. The CO called me up and told me he saw movement in the jungle and could I “scope” it out. A few times I also saw movement and fired. The CO elected not to go into that part of the jungle to confirm a kill since it was getting dark and we were evacuating our dead and wounded.
Another time I used it was during Tet 68 in Kontum. We had cleared a compound and the NVA were trying to escape across an open field. I was called up front and saw that many of the NVA were hunkered down in a ditch on the other side of the road. I saw an NVA soldier raising his arm motioning others to follow him. I took sight and fired. There was a puff of dirt just above him so I knew I had missed. I adjusted my aim and fired again getting him right in the armpit and that was that. Later we were able to confirm the dead NVA soldiers in the ditch. The one I shot was not a typical NVA soldier since he was almost 5’8”. He looked almost Chinese with a big-boned face. One of our officers confiscated his weapon.
It had a “rock n roll” switch on it and I could fire on full-auto and it would empty a mag in no time. I usually stayed close to the M-60 guys since their rounds were the same as mine in case I ran low or ran out of ammo.
I did not consider myself a sniper; I was just a soldier with an M-14 and scope, not at all like the Army Snipers of today. As my good friend Elmer Hale used to say… “I always told Fred he wouldn’t make a pimple on a sniper’s ass. I used to kid him about it, you know.”