We had been in country for about two months. This was the first real mission that we had been sent on, well kind of. It was fairly close to an American base and we would spend only four nights out.
We were supported in the field by a company of armor (tanks for civilians). We felt confident that we could take on anyone.
Around noon that day we had stopped at a weird place. The only structures visible were these large hives made of brick. Someone had speculated that they had been part of a bakery, where the bread was made. While walking around someone had found a hole behind some growth. The hole was about 30” in diameter and about four feet deep. After prodding inside with a stick, our Six (captain), decided that someone should go down into it and see if it was the mouth of a tunnel.
Well, who was short and skinny in 1966? You got it, I was told to grab a 45 and a flashlight and jump
into the “tunnel”. I thought I had it.
Surprise, the “tunnel” was nothing more than a fox hole with an L shaped profile. I jumped out and saw the look of disappointment in the faces of some of the more gun-hold officers.
This was but the preamble of what took place that night. In the tropics nightfall is sudden, and it comes at the same time every day. It gets really dark until the moon comes out, sometimes not for several hours. After we set up camp in a second growth forest and got ready for our night’s routine, all hell broke loose.
It was about an hour after dark. We saw that on a spot of the perimeter defended by a tank, a flare had gone off. This was followed by several thousand rounds from the tank in question and other soldiers in the perimeter. Then we heard someone screaming (what we figured later was the password) and the shooting stopped. The flares had been set off by our own troops, that somehow ended up in front of our defensive perimeter defended by a M48A3 tank.
Fortunately, their aim was not very good and there were no friendly casualties. But, what was the misunderstanding that resulted in friendly troops in front of our perimeter at night?
To prevent such occurrences, overlays are made of where friendlies are, ambush patrols, listening posts, potential fire zones and other strategic locations. Usually the Exec officer is tasked with the integration and synchronization of all these overlays. Then they are sent back with instructions and warnings for the company level infantry officers to act.
Somewhere along this chain, overlays of friendly locations were mingled with the ones for the ambush patrol for one company. The ambush patrol was sent to the place where our tanks were situated.
As they say “shit flows downhill”. The captain of the unit in question that received the overlays and instructions from the Exec was deemed responsible and promptly transferred to another unit. He was the only Black officer in the battalion.