A Big Sweep

In October, shortly after my arrival, we formed part of a major sweep of the surrounding hills. All the CAPs participated, as did Marines from the combat base, and some of the Army Special Forces were also involved. The idea was that we would comb the hills and (ostensibly) "flush" the enemy, or locate him (and / or act as a "blocking force") and then the line units would converge to engage them more heavily.

The patrol itself was fruitless and arduous - like most military events. We didn't even get a peep at the enemy. I remember we returned exhausted, soaking with sweat, and pissed off at making such a long and grueling sweep for nothing.

Of course, we were probably pretty fortunate in one respect - those hills were undoubtedly full of NVA troops moving into position for Tet even then. I assume either we were lucky enough not to bump into them, or they were keeping a low profile until they were ready to move.

War is sometimes depicted as a glamorous enterprise (usually by those who know nothing of it), but nothing is farther from the truth.

It has been truly said that war is 90% boredom and 10% sheer terror. To that I would add that the soldiers' lot throughout history (judging from my own experience and a life-long study of war) has been much the same. The weather is often hot and muggy, or freezing (depending on the region and season). There are usually insects and creatures ranging from the merely annoying to the nasty and deadly. A soldier's life is also often exhausting, and usually damned uncomfortable.

As the noted seventeenth century philosopher and proto-economist Thomas Hobbes wrote, "Life in an unregulated state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." I would submit that we other than the fact that we, as a Marine unit, were fairly "regulated" Mr. Hobbes' assessment would also sum up the nature of warfare nicely.

Starting very early in the morning, we formed up as a company at the HQ for what I believe was the first and only time. "Doc" Roberts of O-2 was an inveterate "shutter bug" carrying several cameras and rolls of film. I used to chide him about having more camera gear than medical gear, but he said; "Some day you'll be glad I took these pictures!" When we reunited after 23 years, I asked him if he still had the pictures. He did, and I reminded him of our conversation, and told him he was right!

"Doc" convinced CPT Haines that we should take a company picture, and he agreed. The result was the picture seen on the Home page and other pictures elsewhere on this site). I believe it to be the only picture extant of Oscar (or possibly any other Combined Action Company) in one spot, as we were usually dispersed by squad in the villes.

We went up one steep hill and down another, the slippery mud, wait-a-minute weeds, and other obstacles and hazards causing us much trouble as we slid back two steps for every three gained. In a short time, we were hot, wet, sweaty, filthy, and exhausted. (If you saw the patrol scene in "Platoon," you have a picture of what such a patrol is like — though only "humping the hills" can really acquaint one with the experience.) Many of us bore extra ammo for the machine guns and mortar rounds. However, as the day wore on and the sun grew even hotter, some of this extra weight was surreptitiously relegated to the depths of the jungle or river by some of the unwilling bearers. Thankfully, we didn't meet Mr. Charles that day, which might have caused them to regret "losing" the ammo.

Climbing a hill. The steep, wet, clay slopes were so slippery that we had to pull one another up.

Crossing a stream

(Photo courtesy of CPT Peter D. Haines)

We crossed a stream. As we waded through the water, most of us took the opportunity to fill our helmets with the water and pour it over our heads, soaking us even more, but cooling us briefly. Since we were already sweat-soaked, it hardly mattered! The leeches, ever present and ever ready, began swimming out to meet and attach themselves to us. Some of them found a home on exposed skin, and as they hit the other bank, some of the guys amused themselves by applying a lit cigarette or some alcohol from the doc's med kit to the leeches to make them back out.

I remember some of the guys also used to make bets on the leeches' swimming abilities, size, and other characteristics and attributes. Marines (and servicemen in general) will bet on anything!

At the end of an exhausting day of "breaking brush" we finally came down to the road where trucks were ready to meet us and ferry us back to our compounds.

We were more than ready. The next picture shows Rick Valdes, Doc Roberts, and others at the end of that grueling day. (Notice Rick's uniform is literally black from sweat! He was carrying the radio as well as his own gear!)

Doc Roberts, (L.) Rick Valdes (R.) Returning from the sweep that occasioned the picture of the company seen on the Home pages. As you can see from Rick's sweat-soaked utilities even in October the heat and humidity were high.
(Photo courtesy of HN "Doc" John Roberts, O2)