It was Ban Houie Sai, Laos in May and the
temperature was over a hundred ten degrees twenty four hours
a day every day. We were on the air strip on the banks of
the Mekong River in Northern Laos. The only shade was a
piece of tin on four bamboo poles which LTC Kaplan had
claimed for his CP. The Pathet Lao had overrun Nam Tha, a
mountain outpost in the NNW part of Laos and were marching
towards Ban Houie Sai. The Royal Lao Army had fled to
Thailand. Only the USSF team and interpreters remained in
Northern Laos, until LTC Kaplan, a Maggot, [nickname for a
member of a Military Advisory Group] came to provide us with
his superior experience, wisdom and leadership.
Captain Lukow, one of our B Team staff officers, sent a
message to Captain Hank [Henry Ellison] and requested a
detailed inventory of our “training aids.” Captain Hank
We kept a couple of guys with our only jeep on guard on the
Nam Tha Road just outside town for early warning.
A couple of days later, Captain Lukow repeated his request.
Captain Hank ignored it again.
Then I received another brilliant order from General Tucker,
“No US personnel will cross into Thailand again. Regardless
of what happens, you [all 21 of us] will defend the Ban
Houie Sai airfield.” Since we already had information that
we were facing approximately 5,000 enemy, that news did not
make our day. Somebody decided that we should relocate
again the next day and we kept one FTT on the airfield with
their backs against the riverbank. The other guys were to
stay on an island that was in the middle of the river out of
range of small arms fire. Captain Hank assumed that the
island was not in Thailand, at least it was not “across” the
river. They had decided to play roulette again.
We soon ran out of food and I only had four shotgun shells,
six rounds for my .357 revolver, and two hand grenades. No
more ammo was to be had for my rather unconventional
weapons. Choosing those romantic weapons had proven to be a
serious fuck up on my part. This was when I discovered that
I should have chosen one of the M-1 Garands; we had plenty
of ammo for them. Yes sir, I was wishing that I had a nice
Garand Rifle and an army-issue forty-five automatic pistol
with plenty of ammo for both. Oh well, that's how rookies
learn, assuming they survive the experience of course.
No field rations were available and we were not supplied
with any kind of food through military channels. We were
the only humans around so there were no stores or farmers
from which to buy food. We definitely had a problem.
Captain Hank requested food and we waited.
Captain Johnson’s FTT was the first to pull duty on the
airfield. Colonel Kaplan stayed with me and my trusty 109
radio set. Kaplan still loved to have me encrypt and
transmit those damn novels that he called messages. The
first thing that we did was dig some holes in an “L” shaped
mound of dirt that was near the riverbank. That was the
area where the airport people had stored gasoline drums.
Securing the left flank was my responsibility; it was level
and open for about fifty yards, except for some thick tall
grass. The other guys covered the airfield area with their
rifles and carbines, and I think O’Rourke covered the thick
underbrush along the river on the right flank with his
Thompson Submachinegun. No one watched our rear, we were
backed up against the river. The riverbank there was very
steep and about 15-25 feet above the river.
Tex set about making some improvised grapeshot charges to
string out in front of us. In flew a light airplane and out
jumped the civilian pilot, an American, and three reporters,
also Americans, from the english paper in Bangkok. Those
reporters nosed around and asked us all a bunch of
questions, but we weren’t interested in giving them any
information. Mostly we referred them to the officers. One
stopped and asked Tex, “Whatcha making buddy?” Tex smiled
and replied, “Mud pies!” Tex strung his blasting line, but
just connected blasting caps. Tex wanted to test the
circuit without charges to make sure that it would handle
that many blasting caps. Then Tex set off the caps.
A detonated blasting cap sounds like a .22 caliber pistol
muzzle blast and this was several caps all at once. Those
reporters scrambled for their plane. They grabbed their
pilot, who was laughing so hard he could hardly walk much
less run, and drug him to the plane and off they went. The
next day that same pilot returned without any passengers to
pay for the flight. He just wanted to bring us a copy of
that day’s paper fresh off the press. That was about a six
hundred mile trip from Bangkok. I do not recall which page
it was on, but there it was, a small article about the
“terrible mortar barrage” that we had suffered while they
were there. It was worth another laugh.
In the meantime, we had been searching by chopper all day
every day for Murphy and Loobey. We took turns going with
the choppers. On the third day after we had lost them, we
found them. They were hungry, but otherwise okay. They had
a villager’s abandoned pet dog with them. The dog had took
up with them and they didn’t mind because he was potential
food and they didn’t even have to carry it. They had
decided to eat him that night, if they weren’t picked up.
That was one lucky dog.
When the enemy started to flank them, Murphy and Loobey
field-stripped their A-6 machine gun, threw the parts into
the brush and then tried to evade the enemy. All of their
troops had already bugged out. They mostly hid. When they
decided to move again, Murphy crept through some underbrush
and came face-to-face with an enemy soldier. Murphy and the
Pathet Lao soldier were muzzle-to-muzzle. It was a no win
situation, without saying a word both men backed off until
they were out of sight of each other: then they both fled.
We were sure glad to see Murphy and Loobey, especially the
guys on their team.
In flew the choppers with several cases of C-Rations that
had been found someplace in southern Laos. It had been
three days since we had eaten. We issued the rations and I
opened mine. The rations were dated 1952. In my can of
crackers there was only dust and dead moths. I have no idea
how those moths got into a sealed can. The C-Rations were
inedible so we were still hungry.
We also had no fresh drinking water. The temperature was
over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit day and night. There
was no well or spring anywhere near the airfield and the
village was too far away because we had no idea where the
commie horde was located now. A water party could be cut
off and never get back to us. So we filled five gallon cans
from that muddy river — boy, was it muddy. We spiked it
with enough water purification pills to kill a horse and
then let it set for a couple of days, hoping that the mud
would settle to the bottom. It didn’t and it tasted like
shit and I tried not to think of what I had seen in that
damn river just a few days ago.
Captain Lukow repeated his request again. By now Captain
Hank was hot, hungry, tired, thirsty and pissed-off. This
time Captain Hank wrote a message for me to send to Captain
Lukow. It read something like this, “To Luke the Gook! Our
training aids consist of the following: One battalion of
Royal Laotian Soldiers who just finished practicing their
river crossing techniques using motorized boats, canoes and
logs. Said battalion enjoyed it so much they never
returned; Two men have just field-tested our Escape and
Evasion Course; Ten cases of inedible C-Rations; and 5,000
pop-up, shoot-back targets of various calibers. If you ask
me for an inventory again you skinny son of a bitch, I
promise you, I will kick your ass all the way back to
Okinawa, if I survive this damn fiasco. Hank Sends.”
We got no more silly requests from Captain Lukow after that.
The same day, Captain Hank made what is commonly referred to
in the Green Machine as a “command decision.” He sent our
interpreters to Thailand with all the money that we had to
buy food. Our interpreters were Thai, not US. So that
night we finally ate. I don’t remember what we ate and I’ll
be honest with you, at the time, it didn’t really matter
very much what it was.
Don "Val" Valentine