A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics
Once a year, on December 25, a darkness comes up from the earth into my life.
On December 24th, nineteen sixty-seven, a battalion landing team comprised of three infantry companies from Third Battalion First Marines, left the ship and landed in an area just north of the Qua Viet River. They swept west through a village called Thon Tham Khe where intelligence had indicated a large unit of the PAVN was dug in. The marines found nothing and returned to the ship for Christmas dinner, the last Christmas many of them would see.
On December twenty-sixth, they left the ship and repeated the sweep. They got within grenade throwing distance of the village before the PAVN opened up on them with small arms, rpgs and mortars from deep camouflaged bunkers.
I had been rotated out of the battalion because I was short and sent to First Hospital Company in Chu Lai before being sent home. I read about the operation in the Stars and Stripes, a military newspaper that offered a highly redacted version of the massacre. My old company, Lima, was the point company and my platoon, the third, took the brunt of the ambush. Kilo company took fewer casualties because they had tanks. The tanks, however, had compromised radios because of the wet landing, and could offer little help. The PAVN ambush was expertly organized and the whole battalion was pinned down. Every time a marine got up to help another he was picked off by a sniper. By the end of the day, there were sixty killed and over three hundred wounded.
From the safety of the hospital company I read the names of men I knew from third platoon. The PAVN unit had planned its escape well and exited through tunnels that extended far beyond where a reaction force was expected to arrive. If I had been on that operation I would probably be dead or maimed. Nevertheless, the darkness.
All this in a war that should have never happened. All of this because of a huge political stupidity left over from the McCarthy era that assumed that communism would take over the world. It has not. It has gone the way of all ideological dreams. And apparently we have learned nothing at all: look at the condition of the world. Listen to the posturing of our politicians, and of a president-to-be who has no idea what it is like to fear for his life.
Copyright 2016 Doug Anderson
Doug Anderson: 1967 Que Son Valley, Vietnam