National Geographic : 1966 Feb
Water War in Viet Nam impact and wound much farther away-gives no warning. It can easily be lobbed over earth walls like those around the junk base. "Now, if we're mortared, it may mean they'll try to overrun us," Lieutenant Vincent said. "We'll have to start shooting. The enemy uses the village as a shield. They know we try not to shoot toward the huts, no matter where their fire comes from. We'll have to go into the village again, and we don't want to spend the rest of our lives wondering who hit the women and children." Three days later, I found out what he meant. The lesson came at high noon when, just back from a sea patrol aboard a motor junk, I had felt so secure that I'd taken off my boots and was wearing rubber shower shoes while sorting film. At first, I didn't be lieve my ears. I knew there were a dozen local militiamen in position nearby; could the stut tering shots I heard be the test-firing of their weapons? I went outside to hear better. I had heard well enough. Those shots were fired from at least one American-made sub machine gun and two automatic rifles, and the zing-zing of the bullets was coming in over our heads from the marketplace. The weapons Silently slipping from dark-sailed junks, Vietnamese sailors train near Cam Ranh Bay. Later the author joined a real assault in Phuoc Tuy Province, where a Viet Cong contingent had wiped out half of another battalion. obviously had been captured and were now being turned on us by the Viet Cong. The incoming fire grew to a roar. I threw myself into a position on the base wall nearest the village, holding camera and carbine tight ly because my hands suddenly were slippery. I saw that Lieutenant Vincent was in the next position along the earthwork. Here we were shielded-bullets don't go through earth works. But I wondered: Since we had to turn back the Viet Cong somehow and they were shooting from inside the village, would our sailor-riflemen fire into the huts after all? Junk Fleet Counterattacks -on Foot Not for 12 minutes did the fire slacken. But I never saw one of our men aim toward a hut. During a break in the firing, a sergeant ran in through the gate in our barbed wire. He said his dozen men had returned the fire from beyond the village until their ammunition ran out. He was telling Lieutenant Vincent and the officer commanding the junk division that we were still in deep trouble. The enemy force-40 in all? More? He did not know. Still breathless, he told us three of his men were wounded. Baleful eye on the bow wards off demons, but the .30 -caliber machine gun proves more effective against the VC. American naval archi tects helped design this command craft, one of 250 boats built in Viet Nam for the junk force.