We set to work almost immediately. The Company was placed around the perimeter of the village, except for one section on the north side. This area was defended by local forces.
The RF/PF’s guarding part of the perimeter at Ðai Lôc were fairly typical. They often acted like they were on a group outing. Laughing and cooking, eating and sleeping – they seemed less a military unit, than a group of Boy Scouts, earning Merit Badges in woodcraft and camping. At night, they built huge fires and sat close, warming themselves, smoking cigarettes and chatting.
We, of course, were hunkered down in the darkness. If we wanted a cigarette, it was lit in a foxhole and cupped in your hands while smoking. The red glow of a cigarette is visible from quite a distance at night. The RF/PF’s did not share our concerns.
When we were assigned positions on the perimeter, I drew a new guy as my “roommate”. Charles Cue had only been in-country about two weeks and had just joined us on LZ Stinson. We set to work digging a hole for a bunker in which we could both sleep and fight. The work was slow and difficult. The earth had joined the Viet Cong in fighting us. We stopped digging when the excavation was 20 or 24 inches deep and somewhat larger than a queen-sized bed. The width was governed by some building material we’d salvaged: railroad ties.
Hauling them back across the fields was the next challenge. Once we got them lifted up, they could be carried by two men. Getting them up, though, took several of us. Sweat filled our eyes, ran down our backs, soaked our olive drab tee shirts. Taking turns carrying these beasts, we were very exposed. It’s a wonder we weren’t shot. We weren’t though. Not then, anyway.
Returning finally to the Company, we dragged and heaved, and eventually got six or seven of the steel ties set across the narrow dimension of our hole. Because of their shape, there were gaps between them, which Cue and I filled with green bamboo poles. On top of this, we placed two or three layers of sandbags. The whole thing presented a very low profile, which was part of the point, of course. It was just high enough inside to sit up (with a helmet on). The hole extended towards the wire a couple of feet beyond the roof, and the rear was covered with a rain poncho. Two hard days of work, but we felt safer. In so far as you could feel safe out in the countryside, exposed to probable attack and potential death.
Late in the day, the Platoon Sergeant had come around and assigned guard shifts. Every other bunker would be on guard from dark until around midnight, after which the other bunkers would take over. We drew the first shift.
There was no moon. Neither was there rain nor wind, which was a blessing. The night was very still and the watch passed quietly.
Around 1 a.m. the moonless night was split apart. We awoke to explosions, flames, gunfire all around. Someone fired an RPG into the village house right behind our bunker, and it burned madly. Shadows passed over the front of the bunker, Cue was in shock, and I could hear the sound of mortars firing from a tree line several hundred meters in front of us. They were not our mortars.
VC or NVA sappers had cut the wire between our bunker and the one to the north of us. They entered the perimeter and ran about firing weapons and throwing satchel charges. Noise and confusion filled the night. Death was reaching out for us.
I told Cue to watch at the back of the bunker and shoot anyone who wasn’t a GI, while I did the same at the front. There was no one to shoot at, though – at least, no one we could see. There were some concussion grenades in the bunker. I tossed two or three of them out the front in various directions.
On my stomach, I slid forward on the air mattress with my weapon, trying to fire a few rounds off. I was using an M-79 Grenade Launcher, not an ideal weapon in close conditions. Near the front opening, I raised my head a bit to see better. As I did so, I was aware of something landing on the ground eight or nine feet in front of me.
In the same instant that I saw it, without really seeing it, the hand grenade exploded. Disintegrating metal was blown into my face and neck. Recoiling from the shock of the wound and the force of the explosion, I slid backwards on the air mattress, legs angled up. Blood ran down over my face and shirt from several small wounds. The red bandanna around my neck became redder.
As I moved back in unconscious, physical reaction, a tremendous explosion slammed the roof of our bunker. It was deafening – jarring – terrifying. The force pushed me into the ground and held me there. For a brief moment, I thought my legs had been blown off. A satchel charge or mortar round had hit directly on top of us!
If Angels there be, they floated above us that night. Two chances to die, seconds apart, and we were spared. Others were not so fortunate.
Another minute or two – it could have been three or it could have been an hour - and I heard jets coming in from Chu Lai. A sweet sound, when you’re being battered by gunfire.
Our Platoon Sergeant came around, checking the bunkers. Cue came through physically unharmed. I was bleeding from lacerations to my face. The Sergeant thought I looked ok, and moved on to the next bunker. The Company medic came along shortly after that, making the rounds, assessing casualties. He looked at my face and told me I was going be dusted off - sent back to the 27th Surgical Hospital in Chu Lai. I left my weapon with Cue and stumbled around the perimeter, walking towards the sound of a heavy motor, quickly idling.
As I came near, the helicopter was washed by the light of burning houses and flares. It hovered a foot or so above the ground. The scene was surreal – bizarre. I jumped in just before the medevac chopper took off, and was sitting in the doorway as we floated up. Rifle shots cut the air near the chopper. One of the Viet Cong was hiding on the side of the hill, in the center of the village. He stayed there into the early morning, hiding in the brush, carefully firing off a shot from time to time, until he was killed.
We rose up, disappearing into the darkness, headed for Chu Lai.
Ðai Lôc was a burning ember in the wide night of Viet Nam.
 Rocket-Propelled Grenade: a deadly weapon used by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese
 Experts in the use of explosives
 An explosive charge the shape and size of a satchel
 Dusted off: taken by helicopter to an Army hospital