Copyright 2002.  Al Zeller.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be copied, faxed, electronically transmitted, or in any other manner duplicated without express written permission.


The Snake Ambush


Al Zeller


In late February or early March 1966 we were in the An Loa Valley near Bong Son for Operation Masher/White Wing. One morning we were on a platoon patrol (such as it was). We had come to a hill that came down almost to the edge of the rice paddy, with 5-10 m between the start of the slope and the paddy. As we started along the strip, we noticed there were small foxholes dug along the side of the trail. The point man looked into one of them and found a snake. Soon we saw there was a snake in every one of the holes. Just as we got to the point where the hill curved around to the left, we started receiving fire from these islands ~150 m away. I guess they hoped we'd jump in with the snakes, but as word had been passed about who was already occupying those holes nobody took that action.


We then also started taking sniper fire from up slope. So the M-60 guy goes to the head of this little ravine and stands up to get a clear field of fire. CLICK! Misfire! A few bullets hitting the ground in front of him hastening his ducking for cover to fix the stoppage. While he works on it a couple of guys start putting automatic fire in the direction the rounds seemed to be coming from. Since no one was paying for the ammo, they started putting rounds all over. One burst dropped a monkey from a tree. Maybe that monkey had an AK, cause we no longer received fire from the left.


At the time we had this fairly new Lt., with maybe 3 weeks incountry. So he tells my squad leader, Ssg Ponce, to move the squad up to the edge of the paddy, just inside the tree line to give covering fire as the rest of the platoon assaults across the paddy towards the island directly ahead of us. This we proceed to do as the other squads start racing across the paddy. Now, as most of you know, it's hard to run very fast or far in knee-deep mud. They get about 50 m before flopping down behind the second of two dikes. The Lt. is behind the first. This Lt. is a great big guy with coke bottle glasses and so clumsy that we call him Duffus. Then he's screaming for Ssg Ponce, asking why he isn't up with everyone else (short memory, I guess). So we charge out there as well, to the dike with everyone else behind it. Now we're getting fire from the island right ahead of us, and automatic fire from the island on our right flank. The Lt. is yelling "Move out. Move out." at the top of lungs. I looked back and all I could see was his arm sticking above the dike, waving in the general direction of the island. Figuring it was better on the island ahead than in the middle of the paddy, Mike Adkins and I start running towards the island again. We weren't delivering much fire because I had a '79 with only 3 or 4 more rounds and Adkins had my .45 cause his M-16 was in pieces. Shortly after we moved out, everyone else followed. The island had about a ten-foot high embankment from the edge of the paddy, so I'm on top pulling guys up as Mike stands guard behind me. At this time the bad guys have decamped. We start sweeping along the island (It's maybe 25 m wide and a couple of hundred long, reducing bunkers as we go. After about 100 m of this the Lt. say "Stop. We've got gunship support coming in." He tell them to run on the long direction of the island north of the smoke he's gonna throw. So what does he do? He DROPS the fucking smoke grenade! Remember, he's back about 25-30 m behind us. I guarantee you we ran faster than we had in the paddy. They proceeded to uses ARA and machine guns to great effect on the rest of the island. A patrol from another company killed 3 or 4 of them trying to get off the island.


It was a tired bunch of guys getting on the Hueys to lift us out of there.