A soldier’s story


There were over a hundred. We called them Ruff Puffs, South Vietnamese Regional Forces/Popular Forces military. Some wore camouflage and carried M-16 rifles. Others sported civilian cotton shorts, sandals and American World War II M-1’s. One, wearing shower thongs, had a Tommy gun. Word was they were going to clear out enemy snipers in the area. They divided into two groups by our mortar pit, moved across the field and disappeared down two parallel streets leading away from us. We returned to working in our mortar pit.

Ten minutes later I heard the familiar ‘bup-bup’ of an enemy AK-47 rifle. A few more ‘bup-bups’ and then silence. A minute later distant shouting erupted. Looking up I saw a mob running down each of those parallel streets towards us. It was the Ruff Puffs and when the two fleeing mobs hit the field they merged into a stampede.

Someone on my right yelled. It was the major, standing by a hootch, pointing in the direction of the rapidly approaching stampede. He was motioning for us (me….,I had no realization of “us” at that moment) to move across the field and man the holes on the far side. With both hands I grabbed my rifle, two bandoleers of rifle ammunition, an additional M-79 grenade launcher and bandoleer of its ammo, jumped out of the mortar pit and started running into and against that stampede. Several panic stricken Ruff Puffs bounced off me before I reached a hole.

I jumped in, took magazines and M-79 rounds out of their bandoleers and laid them on the lip of the hole. I pulled my helmet down and hunkered down to receive whatever made over one hundred run. I remember thinking, “What the hell did they see, Ho Chi Minh on a white horse?” Then I started laughing. Laughing because I had brought so much ammunition. I would never live to shoot it all. Whatever made one hundred ‘di di mau’ would trample me by the time I emptied one magazine.

I looked to my left and right. Each of the five remaining holes was filled with a squad buddy. Unaware of what others were doing, each had ran into that stampede and manned a hole. Nothing materialized. The Ruff Puffs had met a sniper. Two of them were shot (one killed, one wounded) and then they ran.

Next week I see some of those guys again at our 50 year reunion.

William Sirtola