[Memories from a Sergeant’s handbag; he left the names of the people out of his diary for personal reasons.] I was assigned to a platoon forty-four men) that flew out of what now is Saigon [now Ho Chi Minh City], August, 1970. I will end up in Cambodia for several months, and my life will be shaped by the extraordinary circumstances that I will befall. I am leaving these diary notes with a girl in her purse, she doesn’t know about them yet, just incase things do not work out as I hope they will. But I am getting ahead of myself. A series of massacres along the Mekong took place in early 1970 about, or close to five months ago, a new bloody chapter to the river’s history one might say. We forty-four men were sent into the region to assist Lon’ Nol’s troops (Cambodian Military). It was pointed out to us before we left for this mission that the Vietnamese were responsible or the growing deaths and wounded on Lon Nol’s ill-trained troops.
And so at night we made the trip. Sihanouk’s ousting from power in Cambodia in March made things worse; there was an expanding war with a number of leftist Cambodian opponents. If things got bad we were to fly to the Phnom Penh, radio out of the drop zone as soon as possible, there we would regroup and head on back to Saigon, and then to Cam Ranh Bay were we originated from.
But no sooner had we landed along the Mekong to meet our Lon Nol’s troops, which we didn’t, and the helicopter took off too off before we could recall it, we were in gagged in a fire fight with the North Vietnamese–to our revelation. I had noticed in the dim lights of the evening, for it was just before dusk, or sundown, Cambodian bodies floating down the river, too bad we couldn’t had seen them before we made the drop, we did fly right over them it would seem. Could it be that we were all geared up for a battle, not for what happened. They had been shot and some of them even had their hands tied behind their backs, and feet tied backwards as to simply allow them to sink quicker, and not have the ability to kick-swim.
Everyone within our platoon inside of twenty minutes were shot dead, there was at least two hundred of the enemy behind us; no, possible, maybe more, the sky was full of bullets, and all we could do was duck, they were coming from all sides of us, it was an ambush, they knew we were coming; our radio man was gone before I could tell him to call for reinforcements, dead like the Cambodians in the river, the Mekong; Corporal Thompson and the Crusher, can’t remember his name, but he was huge, I fought him once on R & R at Cam Ranh Bay, he was shot in the head, both shot in the head. By the time it was over it was a brutal mass killing, here in this Cambodian world, on river I knew very little about.
It was now dusk and I had three M16 rifles and a knife with me; I stripped myself naked and like a snake I moved into the waters along the delta–the swampy flood lands. I had a growing sense of disquiet in my whole being, I didn’t know if I was going upstream or down. I couldn’t tell, I lost all sense of direction, but I knew when I heard foot steps, and when I heard them I remained quiet, then I stood up–sprayed the area in a 180-degree half circle with bullets, fired, and fired and fired all three M16’s into the long-grass and delta area in front of me, when I had emptied all three rifles I dropped them in the water, and then jumped back into the underbrush half covered with water, and as I went forward I saw a dozen bodies. For some odd reason I was alone I sensed, inadequately, they thought I was the phantom, and must had run off; and to be quite frank, I felt that way–for I had killed nearly the whole squad, possible ten out of twelve men. They had been a scout squad looking for me I suppose, all were dead but the few that ran, if not all dead, and if one or two were alive, I scared the crap out of them in any case.
The village of Neak Loong was near by so I found out, as I found myself in a daze trying to put myself back together, it was, I mean really was a night over the Mekong, a savage night: fancies flooded my mind, as if I’d be rescued, but that kept me going if anything. I would find out later those troops, the South Vietnamese troops who ambushed us, were fighting alongside, with the Phnom Penh forces (Yam Sambaur, in Cambodia was now in charge, or so it seemed, he was a new face in the power structure of Cambodia); they were to be massacred as well. A lot of these sites, military sites, villages and so on, were linked to the Mekong, were also vital to our Military Intelligence, such as the Capital Vientiane, Lao’s capital that is, and again, Phnom Penh. But we were loosing the river, as well as the capitals, or so it seemed.
I had found refuge in the small village of Neak Loong, and made some friends there, they treated me well; at the time I walked into their village, I think I was more, that is, more so, than not, in shock or disbelief in what had taken place–my whole platoon wiped out. Again I say, here I was, a naked white American walking in the back door of a house, a house I had never seen, I never seen before (more like a hut, hooch), and a family sitting cross legged eating rice and soup. A man of about thirty-five, his wife of about twenty-five, four children between three and seven, and a sister, of about eighteen, I where in a kind of circle in the middle of the hut on a rug, just eating, and there I am, a twenty-four year old American soldier, naked. I stayed in the village for several weeks helping the family with what little chores I could do, and got to meet the rest of the village folks, they were warm towards me, but I was always afraid to move too far out of the village area, or if someone came in, I mean if a different face I had not yet seen came, and I saw it, I was in fear of them exposing me, and so I hid until they were gone, or until the sister told me it was alright to venture throughout the village freely again.
There was one event I remember quite well, that was the time the family took me to a fishing village at the edge of Cambodia’s Great Lake and there were many a fisher men with their small fishing boats, and people carrying one-hundred pound white rice sacks placing them in the boats, and filling up wicker baskets full of tiny fish. Wherever I went, looked in this country, there was Buddha’s image, it was stored here and there, under and over: in shrines, temples, outside standing along, on grave stones–you name the place, it was someplace there. And I got to see once the royal palace from a view, from Mount Phousi. But I had to go, to leave the area, as much as I liked it, and the sister of the wife whom I was becoming quite fond of, and friendly with; I do wish I could have stayed.
I am now in Phnom Penh, and I like the river a little more now, the Mekong has shown me a new face; I feel a lot better now. I’m sure the Army people back home got me marked as an MIA (Missing in Action), and will be searching for my bones for the next fifty years, but as soon as I can make it back, they’ll know. On my way to Phnom Penh I went through Neak Luong, which is, or was, still is I guess, a key river crossing I found out. I also heard key supplies from Saigon to Phnom Penh were going through that village, that is why the villagers were so friendly to me, gave me food, a place to sleep for a few days, and even a few American dollars. I think they befriended the US as well as the VC [Vietcong], and whatever other Communist Army’s are playing in this war.
I found out down at the main market place, the big one here in Phnom Penh, a lot of Russians were there. I played the tourist when I see a Military uniform that is when I start talking about Angkor Wat, the archeological site by Phnom Bakheng. Wish I had time to see it but I don’t, I’ve been real busy. The water front along the Mekong here is quite busy also. The delta comes back now and then to my mind, and the firefight, the paddy fields, the vast inland lake as waters coved everything, but I’m getting on.
I went to the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh today, and there are a lot of Buddhist monks there, and just outside are, I bet, twenty or more, young Cambodians without limbs begging. One followed me around the other day in the Russian Market place; I call it that now, because it is easier for me to remember. I’m living in the backroom of an antique dealer’s house. I clean it up for him, and his wife. There is a lot of decadence in the inner city, cars and bikes piled up, up high like junkyard here and there, so it seems, here and there. I’ve been now, at this time here for three months, total time gone I think close to five months. I’ve acted like a deserter a few times when the Communist of the city looked strange at me. I think they think I’m on heroin also; a lot of GI’s get hooked on it, and eventually end up in other cities throughout this region. I’ve seen a few, talked to them, strung out. They are no good to go home, and no good for the US Army, and for some reason, Cambodia must feel they are good enough here, and the Vietcong I think like looking at them walk around like lost lambs, makes them feel good. Maybe a symbol of the war, it’s dying slowly. Wish we’d just take the damn North, not a problem if you cut all the fat away from the political system and just direct the soldiers to fight and win.
End of the Memories: Now I must tell you the rest of the story.
It was shortly after that day, when the Sergeant meet five real, truly real tourists that had come in from Bangkok, stayed in Phnom Penh a few days, and went up to the site at Angkor Wat a few more days, then came back to Phnom Penh, and were to head on back to Bangkok, thus to the airport first. They stayed there, standing by a small bus with their tour guide, when for some reason, of the five tourists the young lady, unmarried, was pulled out of the group of five by two soldiers, one Cambodian, and one North Vietnamese. The Sergeant saw this, as they questioned her, then as they were about to take her (to some unknown destiny) for further questioning, the protest started with the other group members–and the two older woman were pushed back by a third Cambodian, and the two men, but in their mid forties, were told to be silent or be shot, and a forth soldier showed up with a rifle pointed it at the two men. The young lady then willingly went, or started to go with the now, four soldiers. I shall just call them Communist Victor’s of the city, for lack of a better name.
It was at that moment, that very moment the Sergeant walked up to the one soldier whom had his hand around the woman’s wrist and said:
“She’s my wife,” that made everyone take notice, and before the soldier could translate, or figure out what he said, he grabbed his AK47, rifle, Russian made, and without blinking an eye shot all four soldiers dead. I guess he must had felt it was better he make his move without anyone able to identify him, but what took place next was a racing campaign, with six people in the bus through the streets of the city, and outbound to towards Saigon, some one hundred and twenty five miles away. It was reported, they had found a village after running out of gas, and held up there, but the boarder between South Vietnam and Cambodia, with Saigon not being that far away. Because they could not move either way, back to Phnom Penh or toward Saigon, they had to remain where they were. At this point, the US Government got involved, and the North Vietnam now knew who the Sergeant was. To them, it was a mocking, and the Cambodian Government did not want to alarm either side, caught in the middle.
In short, there was a compromise, but it was the Sergeant that surfaced it. He would give himself up to the North, should the five people be allowed to be taken out without any combat from any sides, for now there were a handful of Cambodians outside the village, and the village people were in fear, and there were several hundred GI’s coming to the rescue with helicopters, and the North Vietnamese were sending something like fifteen hundred soldiers to the area, if not more from the well guarded and overwhelming supply of troops they had along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Besides the vast amount of ordnance dropped on this area, in particular throughout Laos, they had more than enough troops to send to the Mekong city of Phnom Penh. There were troops also coming in from Laos, (American Troops) ‘Silver City’, also known as ‘Kilometre 6’ the main reason was because they were Intelligence Officers and pilots, and the Sergeant had some information they’d not care for the North Vietnamese to have.
But all was too late, the bus was filled with gas before ‘Kilmoetre 6’, could arrive, and the five tourists were allowed to move out of the village onto Saigon without hindrance, and the only report ever given after that was of the young woman saying, “I looked out the back window, then the side windows, seen him becoming surrounded by people in uniform, and they were not Americans, then they tied his hands, and …and they just took him by the hair and dragged him onto a big truck.” That was the last anyone ever heard of him.
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