Winter 1968-69 Rendezvous With Destiny Magazine

By on November 7, 2011 in F/58th LRP, Memories

LRP: The Silent Search

written by Specialist Four Terry McCauley

A small hole in the defoliated jungle became visible as the Huey neared the landing zone. As the two escorting Cobras began to circle the LZ, the log ship pilot eased forward on the control stick and the chopper slip­ped sideways into a steep dive. With dust and debris rushing toward the Plexiglas window, the pilot sent the ship skimming across the top of a small hill, slowed and hovered. Five camouflaged figures were out of the craft and sprinting for the wood line to begin another long range patrol.

The men from Co. F, 58th Inf. (Airmobile) (LRP) have many missions in the 101st area of operation, often in preparation for regular line company insertion. This mission was to be no different. “Our job is to determine if Charlie is in the area,” one veteran explained. “We’re not out there to fight him if we can help it, not with only five men.”

The teams are often used to assess the affects of bomb and artillery strikes. With faces blackened by camouflage stick, clad in tiger fatigues and small indigenous “rucks”, the “behind the lines” troopers are capable of moving fast and avoiding detection. Each carries a compass, signal mirror and other items that may be needed in the event the team is broken up. Before the mission began, extensive preparations were made. The best route out of the area of operation for escape and evasion was explained to each member of the team. As the squad reached the edge of the dried jungle, they hurriedly took cover. With a motion of his hand, the team leader gave his RTO the message to make a communication check with the artillery support unit.

Hand signals are the primary means of communication among the team. Absolute silence is important when working with such a small group. A minimum ration of food and water was carried. Many of the luxuries afforded regular “line doggies” were left behind. Food had to be eaten cold because tell-tale fires were prohibited. Smokers would have to abstain while in the field. Talking, in the form of a whisper, would be used only when necessary.

No, nothing unusual about this mission. The team moved most of the 1st day, occasionally stopping to monitor trails and note other pertinent information. Upon finding an extremely well-traveled series of trails, they disappeared into the underbrush to begin what would be a long, hot watch. Sweat dampened tiger fatigues clung to their bodies as the mid-day sun loomed overhead. One of the troopers opened a pack of gum and passed it down the line until an empty Juicy Fruit package was buried. As they waited, their minds wandered — to home, girls and better days.

Suddenly the crack of a breaking branch and a distant voice betrayed the approach of an unwary enemy. Muscles tightened and hearts beat faster, but no one moved. Twenty meters down the trail they would pass the Screaming Eagles’ position. As they passed through the crossroads, they could be seen laughing and joking. After waiting a safe period for the enemy soldiers to pass, they called in to report that eye contact had been made with an enemy unit. Charlie was there. With that fact established, the mission was half complete.

Late in the third day, the team increased its pace. Tomorrow would bring extraction and a hot meal. With night quickly descending, the men pulled into a small circle. Each cleared his area of anything that might make a sound as he slept. While one of the soldiers remained awake to guard the small perimeter, the others slept through intermittent drizzles, the distant thunder of friendly artillery and the steady hum of jungle life. With morning came a hurried breakfast of chili con carne and a chocolate bar. All wrappers and waste were buried, and leaves were scattered to conceal the team’s night position.

As the five tired troopers donned web gear and rucksacks, it was less painful knowing they would soon be back at camp. The column moved silently and swiftly, stopping a few yards from the landing zone. As the team leader scribbled in his notebook, the others listened to be sure no enemy were approaching their position. “Ten minutes out,” announced the RTO. The point man began rummaging through the pocket of his ruck for a smoke grenade, as the radio man informed the ship to have ladders ready. The violet smoke rose into a small tornado as the pilot lowered his craft as far into the jungle ceiling as possible. As it hovered, rope ladders were thrown from both sides of the Huey. Two LRPs hit the lifelines as the rest of the squad kept security on the wood line.

Once all five were on the chopper floor, tangled in web gear, rifles and rope, the ship lifted its nose and headed for home. The team leader pulled a pack of crumpled cigarettes from his breast pocket and passed them around. The point man searched for his flop hat. It had been blown out of the Huey while he was helping pull his buddy aboard. Looking at each other, the team members smiled slightly and with the familiar thumbs up agreed: “Good mission.”


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Winter 1968-69 Rendezvous With Destiny Magazine

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