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Part 4 of n: Meet the Men of Pr’Line Mountain Security Platoon

Written by Jeff Drake
5 · 01 · 24

I sure wish I could remember more about my time in Vietnam. I say that, although I’ve had three VA shrinks say that it’s probably for my own good that I have blocked out so much. It just seems to me though, that I am missing large chunks of what was everyday experience on the mountain along with the traumatic events. I am hoping tentatively, that this writing exercise will jar some things loose. Hmm. Some people would no doubt say that I’ve got enough loose up there already. LOL!!

Given that I only have bits and pieces of memories of my time on “The Hill,” as we called it, I hope this entire series doesn’t come off as too disjointed. I may make it worse by inserting other earlier memories when they pop into my head, triggered by something else. So, be warned that I may jump around subjects.

I wonder what my grandson, Markus, will think when he reads this. No doubt, I will be including certain memories and thoughts that are going to contain information that most would say is adult material, so I don’t think my son will let him read it until he’s a teenager at least. That’s okay. I would do the same. Sadly, I will no doubt be gone by then and unavailable for his questions. Maybe Jason will edit this series for him. LOL. I could edit it for Markus myself, but I won’t. Like fretting over a splinter sunk deep into my emotions, I need to remove it. “Out damn spot! LOL! Oh well, it is what it is. I do hope that he will get something out of reading this series though, because I think there may be some lessons for him buried in among my stories. A grandpa can only hope.

Pr’Line Mountain (1966)
Photo courtesy of Frank May

I arrived on Pr’Line in July 1970. I was rather discombobulated due to my Zero Week experiences in Long Binh and the night with the helicopter company in Nha Trang. And then there was the experience of the ride to the hill, watching two assholes I was going to be living with for the next year target shoot at farmers in the fields. I was tired.

The men I met that first day were an interesting lot. They did not look like I expected, although I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and was going on memories of my time as an MP at Presidio. These guys didn’t look like the MPs I was used to. They looked like some battle-hardened grunts[i], for lack of a better term. These were the men of the 194th MP company. I don’t remember how many of us there were exactly. Maybe 20? 25?

The job of the security platoon I was told was, oh surprise, to provide security for the hill. Security, I was told, meant guard duty, recons[ii], and ambushes, both nighttime and daylight ambushes. Our job was to keep the Viet Cong, known by all as, Charlie, off of our perimeter. This meant we had to know what Charlie was up to. We did this by going on patrols into the surrounding jungle forests and looking for signs of them and by placing electronic sensors that were capable of counting things like footfalls. We were under orders not to engage unless fired upon, which was typical of most recons. Our job was primarily to gather intelligence.

I learned quickly that other than me, there were maybe 3-5 other 95-Bravos in the platoon (95-B is the MOS[iii] for military police). Everyone else in the platoon was infantry. This was a bit of a revelation to me and surprising. To be honest, I was kind of happy about this. My uncle, whose footsteps I felt I was following somewhat, had been both an infantryman in WWII and an MP in Korea and Germany, so I was not averse to doing the same.

After being assigned a room in one of the Security hooches[iv], I got to meet some of the men I would be living with. Cammo fatigues, scuffed boots, long hair in some cases, some shaved, some not, and one guy named, Chris, with a huge handlebar mustache. He was wearing a black beret, of all things, and a huge grin.  The security platoon came in all shapes, sizes, and colors, too. One man named Dave was a giant, albeit a gentle giant I’d later learn. Most were white, but there were a number of brothers[v] and one Chinese guy, Chu, who worked in the office.  Chu was from San Francisco and his dad apparently owned a popular Chinese restaurant in Chinatown.

And we were from all different parts of the USA. One soldier was from the south and had quite a twang in his accent. I don’t remember his real name. Everyone called him, Pappy. He was very friendly and helpful. Actually, there were a number of Southerners in the platoon, now that I remember, Tim and Terry being two others. There was even another guy from St. Cloud, Minnesota. Oh, and a couple of Puerto Ricans, too, the most memorable one perhaps being a man everyone called, Peewee, due to his diminutive stature. Looking around and seeing them all, I think I knew how Dorothy felt when she was told that she was no longer in Kansas.

This reminds me, I can’t forget the other members of our platoon who ran around on all fours! The wonderful dogs! There were several who lived among the platoon and most everyone loved them. Chris made a point of introducing me to Mai the monkey, a pet monkey that was kept on a long chain attached to the rafters of one of the hooches. I have fond memories of the monkeys. But, not everyone was an animal lover on the Hill. Mai took some pretty abuse, although never around Chris, or me, but I heard of it.

Please note that I spent 19 months on Pr’Line Mountain, which was two “tours” in Vietnam parlance. When soldiers arrived in country, they were due to spend 12 months and then go home. Some opted to stay longer, like me, and they would get another 6-7 months added to their stay in Vietnam. My 19 months meant that I saw quite a few soldiers come and go. I watched them arrive and then I watched them leave for home, while I stayed. As I mention the names of my Pr’Line comrades, I can’t be sure today when I first met them or when they went home, so I’ll just mention them when I find a spot that seems appropriate with my hazy memories.

194th Security Platoon (1970)
Photo courtesy of Sgt. David West

Most everyone was nice to me that first day. A few ignored me for the most part. Later I would find this was something many soldiers learned to do with new arrivals. The reasons for this were mixed. On the one hand, they were a bit skeptical of me because they had no idea what kind of “stuff” I was made of and may have to put their life in my hands at some point in the future, and on the other, they didn’t know if I was going to make it, so why get to know me? After all, it hurts worse to lose someone you know than a stranger.

Here, things get hazy. Some of the men I met on Pr’Line were more memorable to me than others. Chris is someone I will always remember. He was so friendly and welcoming, but a bit weird, too. He offered to show me around the hill. I remember at one point, he had his M16 with him, which I asked about as it was leaning against a bunker. His demeanor changed suddenly and he grabbed it, saying, “Don’t ever touch my weapon! I killed a man with it!” And then his smile returned and we moved on like nothing had happened.

I believe Chris was referring to an incident that had happened a couple of months before I arrived. The patrol was just setting up a daylight ambush in the bush near the town of Cau Dat, I think, when a small group of enemy soldiers happened upon them and took them by surprise. I can’t remember if they were NVA[vi] or VC. By the time the dust from the shit hitting the fan had settled, all the Pr’Line men were left unharmed physically and several enemy soldiers lay dead. I am not sure, but think they may have even taken a prisoner or two. During these early days on Pr’Line, I heard that one of the soldiers on the ambush had shit his pants, which was not an uncommon reaction to a sudden near-death experience in combat, although movies always seem to leave that part out. It happens and is nothing to be ashamed of. I also heard that the Pr’Line men took the dead bodies and threw them on the armored personnel carrier from our hill that came to pick them up. They then made a point of driving through Cau Dat and letting the locals see the dead bodies. Cau Dat was well known to be full of VC sympathizers. It was their way of “winning hearts and minds[vii],” I guess. I couldn’t blame them a bit.

Now I’m reminded of two more important members of our security platoon: Snoopy I and Snoopy II, our two armored personnel carriers. They played an important part in our platoon, and Snoopy I would later play a big part in my life on Pr’Line. Nor have I mentioned our Security Platoon commander and the sergeants between him and us. I’ll get to them in the next series segment.

Chris introduced me that first night to the EM club, where for a few dollars we could get served beer that had been sitting, baking in a conex[viii] for God knows how many months! Yum! Having finally arrived and found myself a home, I am sure that first beer tasted pretty good, even if flat.

[i] “Grunt” was a term used for infantrymen in Vietnam, men who fought Charlie on the ground, often face-to-face.

[ii] “Recon” is just an abbreviation for “reconnaissance.”

[iii] “MOS” stands for Military Occupational Specialty.

[iv] A “hooch” is what we called the small wooden buildings divided into rooms that we used for sleeping.

[v] “Brothers” was a term used in by both blacks and whites in the 60’s and 70’s for black men, in general.

[vi] “NVA” is an abbreviation for North Vietnamese Army regulars.

[vii] “Winning hearts and minds” was a quote from President Lyndon Johnson as part of his description of how the US was going to win the war. Later it was used during the Phoenix Program in Vietnam. Originally meant as a way of identifying VC from ordinary civilians, the Phoenix Program would later be accused of carrying out a war against the Vietnamese civilian population, which no doubt created more VC. According to the Defense Department, more than 26,000 civilians were killed as a result.

[viii] A conex is a large metal box used for storage.

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Jeff Drake

Retired IT consultant, world-traveler, hobby photographer, and philosopher.