The Calm Before the Storm
Things went on in the same way for some time - patrols, ambushes, LPs and OPs (listening posts and observation posts), civic action work including MedCaps, etc. Sometimes, we'd make contact - most times we saw or heard nothing, but it seemed that the activity and numbers of the enemy we did spot were increasing.
On at least one occasion, one of our patrols pursued a small enemy unit west, and crossed the border into Laos before they were aware of their position. As this was not within the scope of our duties, the patrol broke off pursuit and returned. (Probably a good thing, as by this time, large numbers of the enemy were in or entering the area.)
We were aware from at least October on that the enemy was ramping up his operations in the area, and the patrols and other activities became even more important.
It has been truly said that warfare consists of long periods of sheer boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. This certainly proved to be the case at times - at least until Tet and the Siege.
This didn't stop us from making the best of our situation, and we would make our own entertainment. When things were relatively quiet (much of the time at that point), the men would engage in activities and games when not clearing brush and growth from the wire, or upgrading or repairing the defenses. Here is a picture of the men of O-2 engaged in a game of horse-shoes at our compound.
Playing horseshoes at O-2, Oct. 1967(Courtesy of HN "Doc" John Roberts, O-2)
There was a field In the village at Khe San, where, according to CPT Haines; "...we played softball a few times. They also had a picnic there with games for the local kids. The Bru were excited to compete directly against the Vietnamese kids, seemingly for the first time. They won events such as a three-legged race and a hop-in-a-bag race. It was suspected that one Bru champion was older than the twelve years limit (no one could tell), either being unclear on the concept or perhaps not knowing his age."
On Oct. 15th,1967, the Oscar CAPs held a football game at HQ to "relieve stress and improve morale." According to Jim White's (O-3) journal, Lacey Lahren (also O-3) painted shirts all morning for the game. Despite the rain and ensuing mud, they played anyway. We have no record of who won or lost, though two Marines from O-2 (Gullickson and Biddle) were injured by being pushed into the concertina wire.
The CAP Marines also attended a few of the ceremonial feasts at the Bru villes. As civic action personnel, we had to "do as the Romans do." This meant eating the choice delicacies they very generously offered us, including rat, par-boiled pig, and rice, rolled into a ball from the communal bowl by the village chief, whose hands, it seemed, were seldom washed except by accident or in the rainy season. This resulted in a grayish rice ball of less than savory appearance, and probably crawling with bacteria of all sorts. However, as their guests, we were expected to eat what was offered, as it would have been a serious insult to turn it down.
We off-set the germs with a very unsavory (to me at least!) alcoholic beverage that I seem to recall was called "drang." I believe it was some sort of potent rice wine or whisky, similar to sake, but with a vile taste and color. (As I remember it was "urine yellow"). However, I reckoned that the alcohol would off-set the germs, and after a few servings, I no longer cared about them, the taste, etc. In fact, I remember very little of that evening other than the beginning!
We also prepared for the upcoming Christmas holiday by getting a small local tree (rubber, I believe), and "decorating" it with grenades and ammo belts. We popped a couple of colored smoke grenades to "flock" the tree and give things a festive holiday appearance. Here is a picture of LCPL Gullickson lugging the "Christmas tree" back to our camp. (Figure in background with Highland Balmoral and shovel is the editor.) Note that the Marine (perhaps SGT Harper?) "flocking" the tree has wrapped the smoke grenade in his utility jacket to keep from being burned -- smoke grenades get HOT!
"Gully" collecting the O-2 "Xmas tree"(Editor is just visible in the background with a mattock.)
"Flocking" the "Xmas tree" with a smoke grenade(Both photos above courtesy of Donald Gullickson)
It was about this time that we all took another set of the usual "gungy" photos , taking turns posing with various weapons. I believe we also did a group photo, but I don't have a copy of this. (Anybody out there have one?) As with many of the photos on this site, Doc John Roberts gave me the ones shown here.
One of the camera film companies (possibly Kodak) was offering a deal on photo Christmas cards, so some of us sent our "hero" photos in to be processed, and when they returned, we mailed them to families, friends, and others - including Secretary of Defense McNamara and President and First Lady LBJ. (We actually received a polite thank you from the Johnson's - though it was only a printed signature, we thought it was nice of them to respond - McNamara didn't!)
Xmas card, 1967
PFC F. J. Taylor, O-2
Card acknowledgement from President and Mrs. Johnson.(Both courtesy of HN "Doc" John Roberts, O-2)