If You Asked Me,
by Sergeant Ron Ford
If you asked me, “Are you a hero or a coward?” I would say, “I’m a
coward that’s done a couple of brave things, under duress.”
Ron Ford, 2020.
On the 2nd of February 1968, I remember approaching a large, nice, really an upper class home for a Vietnam hamlet. It had a nice wide porch with pillars, potted plants, and tile. As the 2nd platoon approached the house, the platoon was mingling around in different directions.
Lt. Harrison told Sgt. Raynor check out the house. Raynor took Daniel and Pitts up the steps to the front door as I faced the house. I looked to my left and saw that there was a fruit tree there with shade and ripe fruit.
“OK Adams, let’s set up security over by that tree.” I said.
Trant stayed on the opposite side with Adams and I. Adams and I went to the tree. I pulled a piece of fruit off of the tree. It was some sort of citrus fruit. Then, we were looking for a nice spot in the shade to plop our asses down for a well deserved break. We were both loaded down with full gear, 40 mags of M16 ammo, two frag grenades, 100 rounds M60 ammo, canteens, food etc., etc., my point; not a light load.
My knees were about half bent to sit down when the shit hit the fan, a wall of fucking lead. What we didn’t know at the time was that there was over twenty well camouflaged bunkers in the ground, and Adams and I were in the middle of their killing zone. We probably looked like a couple of well trained race horses coming out of the gate. I never ran that hard, that fast, in my life, and Adams was close by.
We hit the front of the house at the same time Daniel, Raynor, and Pitts all hit the doorway coming out. Daniel went down, all alone on the porch. At that point Adams and I were separated. I went with Trant, but Adams went to my right towards where the Patterson fire team was I think. Adams and I were separated for most of the day. I think Raynor and Pitts were on my side of the house with Trant and I.
I have no idea now what they were doing, but my mission then was to try and get my friend Daniel off of that porch. The incoming fire power was very heavy at that time.
Worse, Trant was having problems with his weapon. It was jammed; I took it and cleared it for him; it jammed again. Fuck, I get it back. I’m working on it again. Trant says it only works on automatic. I throw it back at him.
“Then shoot the fucking thing on automatic.” I was not having a good day.
OK, let’s go get Daniel was all I could think.
Raynor and Pitts were in the ditch with Harrison by then I think. I’m not sure though. I crawled up to the porch where Daniel was with Trant close beside me. The closer we got the more we became targets of opportunity. It’s hard to explain what it means when you’re literally in the cone of death.
As we moved up we watched as Daniel crawls around on the porch; he takes his fucking canteen out like he’s on his porch in New York City, starts drinking water, blood running out of him all over, in total shock, doesn’t respond to our yells, doesn’t even look our way.
At that point I gave up. If we went up on that porch, we were dead for sure. There were bullets going everywhere. Trant and I doubled timed it thru that wall of lead and jumped into the ditch with Harrison. There was a fair amount of the platoon in the ditch with the L-T. Up to this point I was running on pure adrenaline. I was scared and little did I know my fear would be a lot more as the day went on, and for some of us all thru the night as well. In the ditch there’s no time line for me. I couldn’t say how long we were in there, a minute, a hour, ten-seconds, no idea.
Lt. Harrison says we are going to take that house and get Daniel. He wanted Daniel back as bad as me.
“If you give the order L-T, I’ll obey.” I thought, but then my little buddy screams out that there’s a barbed wire fence. We will all be killed.
He’s right. Lt. Harrison thinks for a minute, tells Sgt. Bunn to take four or five men, go thru the back door and kill those fuckers in that house. At least we could travel down the ditch to where there wasn’t a barbed wire fence between us and the big house. Bunn, Raynor, Trant, Styles, Stephenson, and I got to the mud hooch that was close behind the big house.
We were staging in the hooch to take the house thru the rear door. I was fucking ready. I was wired like I was on a drug or something.
“I’m first, Raynor goes behind me, Ford behind Raynor, Trant behind him. OK, let’s go.” Bunn said.
Bunn goes, Raynor waits for Bunn to get ahead, so we don’t bunched up. Then, Bunn goes down. I think Raynor turns around to get back into the hooch. I’m still going. I take off. Trant grabs my collar, yells “No!” and pulls me back. I’m struggling. I see Bunn laying there and you can see his body moving as they put more bullets into him as he lay there.
I guess you could say that was probably the second time that day that my little buddy Trant saved my life. First time when he yelled at Harrison which gave Harrison pause, second time pulling me back into that hooch. We remained in that hooch most of the day. Styles was Bunn’s RTO so at least we had a radio. Stephenson was hanging out the window of that hooch shootings gooks. I got one. He got another and then another. He was doing good.
The shit got real intense when they focused in on that hooch. They were pounding the piss out off it with automatic fire, bullets bouncing all over in that hooch. It was totally amazing that no one was hit in there.
Later in the day Harrison called in an air strike almost on top of ourselves. At this point I was ready to surrender, but there was no one to surrender to. We wanted to make sure we didn’t eat a bomb so we stayed in touch with the spotter plane and kept popping smoke grenades.
Trant and I were laying inside the hooch in this dugout that was about 5 inches deep we were laying nose to nose. I said it was nice knowing you. At this point I thought we were done. Trant said I can’t wait till we’re on Rush Street in Chicago having a beer and laughing about this day. I just nodded. I didn’t see anyway out of this. I was so scared but almost felt a peace come over me, and then I was ok with getting killed.
The jets came, dropped their bombs, rocks, big fucking rocks, went thru that hooch and fell thru the roof. The ground was shaking. It was something else. It seemed like it went on forever. When that ended we still were getting lots of bullets thru that hooch. Somewhere at this point we exited the hooch to the ditch and Harrison met up with us. It was late in the afternoon and the platoon pulled back to the rest of the battalion a few clicks away, leaving three bodies behind.
As it got towards evening Harrison got the order to pull further back and set up a perimeter a few clicks away. I’m not sure if it was the whole battalion but I know it was at least A Co. and B Co. When we got there everyone was relieved. There’s strength in numbers, and we had been outnumbered all day.
Lt. Harrison is not perfect, but the day could have been a lot worse without his leadership. It was a long hard battle; he did good. Every one was exhausted by the time we set up, but it wasn’t long before Harrison asked for volunteers to go back into the Hell hole we had just left. I don’t blame anyone if they didn’t volunteer. The only reason I did was to get Andy. It was a must-do for me. I had failed to get him when he was still alive. The least I could do was to bring him back so his family had closure. There was a good possibility we would fail, and that none of us would make it back alive. I had always wondered why we had all that hard ass physical training in the states; it was for times like these.
No one knows exactly how many of us went back that night, it’s everyone’s guess that it was around 17. Lt. Harrison was the patrol leader I was the assistant patrol leader. If I’m being honest, I was scared more that something would happen to Harrison than myself. The idea of me having to take over what I considered to be a suicide mission scared the fuck out of me. Especially since we were traveling light and wouldn’t have enough ammo to really engage and protect ourselves.
It was late night, I don’t know the exact time when we left the perimeter. There was some moonlight but not much, about a half moon is my guess. Traveling light, it didn’t take us too long to reach the house, and then we were all back in the ditch again where we had been earlier that day. Harrison sent Adams out on our flank about 50 yards away maybe less, or more, who knows, all by himself as a security post. Joe Klempton, Ray Mayfield and a black trooper that no one can remember who he was went to get one of our men. I wish to Christ I could remember his name.
All of us volunteered to check the bodies for booby traps and to bring them back to the ditch. So far things have went well. We weren’t detected on the way to the house. I’m starting to feel like, maybe I will make it out alive. I can’t tell you how long it took, or which body came back first. It seemed like a long time. The gooks were in the house talking while our guys were retrieving Daniel from the front porch, not a easy task. Finally, we are all back in the ditch with the three bodies. Chris is back from our flank and we’re ready to get the fuck out of Dodge.
Carrying a body is no easy task especially when your in the middle of hostile enemy that want to kill your ass. We proceeded back at a much slower pace than our arrival pace. It wasn’t too long before we started receiving small arms fire but we kept going forward.
Paul Clement and I were carrying Daniel. He had been a big, tall, guy, built like a pro basketball player. Even after all these years I can still smell the coagulated blood that was all over his jungle fatigues.
About half way back we were in a ravine with a high embankment on out right side as we traveled down the ravine. Somehow, we had been spotted and they sent mortars our way which were right on target, except that they were hitting at the top of the embankment on the right. I could see silhouettes of banana trees. We were safe as long as a round didn’t fall short. That wouldn’t be good. You could hear the chunks of steel from the mortars flying thru the air above us. We double timed it, carrying the bodies for a short distance in case they adjusted the mortar fire. As we ran Daniel’s head was bouncing along the ground. I was thinking, I’m so sorry brother.
It was several hours later when we approached our perimeter, my guess is it was about 5:30 am, still dark, but almost day break. I was more than a little nervous that our own guys would light us up as we came in the perimeter. Harrison was on the radio with Captain Gaffney. “Puff” had been flying around and shooting down all around the perimeter while we were gone. They shut Puff down before we came in. We came in on the B Co, side of the perimeter.
At the time I didn’t know who he was, but Platoon Sergeant Joe Jervis (call sign “Pineapple”) from B Company, came out to greet us. He wanted to help carry Daniel in. They had played basketball together at Fort Campbell. I told him, “Don’t fucking touch him.” He knew I meant it, and backed away. I feel bad about it. Now, he is a friend, and a great guy.
Once we got into the perimeter and made it over to A Co I don’t remember anything until later that morning when the choppers came in to pick up the bodies. I helped load Daniel in the chopper and he was gone and the war went on.
Daniel had a large impact on my life, even till this day. I’ve shed many a tear thinking about it. I’m shedding one now.
R I P brother,
SGT Ron Ford
© Ron G. Ford, May 3, 2020
There’s much more, to this story and there are twenty-six more stories like it that can be found in my book,Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive which is available on Amazon both as a paperback and on Kindle. Please give it a look. See; Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive 1968
Recent Reviews of Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive:
“John Harrison does an eloquent job writing what it was like being in the infantry during the Vietnam war. I know, I was in the infantry in Vietnam. There is a statistic which states that only 1 out of 10 who served in Vietnam were in the infantry. All of us have been asked what that was like at one point or another since our return. It is an impossible question for most of us to answer even in part much less in full. John Harrison manages to do this in his book, Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive. So, if you are inclined and wonder what it was like, or you want to tell someone else what you went through, buy this book. Show it to your friend. It tells your story. To, “L-T” John Harrison- thank you Sir. Salute.”
“John Harrison’s book, Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive, is a series of short stories, told mostly in the first person, that weaves together the humor and violence that only a talented writer can accomplish. The result is a compelling book that is hard to put down. John’s words flow easily on the pages, making an easy read. I highly recommend this book to anyone that has been there and did that, or anyone wanting to know a personal record of one lucky Lieutenant in Vietnam and the people that made it possible for him to return home.
Dan Hertlein, helicopter mechanic with the 192nd AHC at LZ Betty 1968″
“John is the soldier speaking the truest story of Vietnam. I will confirm his action as I was in a different company same battalion, fighting the same battles.”