Plain Of Reeds  

Many of our operations were originated out of Fire Support Base Moore. This was a fairly secure base camp away from our regular home base camp and closer to the hostile enemy areas. It had artillery fire capabilities and mortar batteries (platoon) imbedded inside it's perimeter of razor wire and claymore mines. Some of our toughest missions out of Fire Support Base Moore were executed into the “Plain Of Reeds”. 

Rotting vegetation and stagnant, foul smelling water were prevalent in lots of areas of the Mekong Delta region, but nowhere were they more pronounced as they were in this no-man's land southwest of Saigon known as the Plain of Reeds. This treacherous terrain was used by many Viet Cong enemy soldiers as an inaccessible sanctuary. Our job, as US Army grunts, was to find the enemy and kill or capture them and destroy their fortifications wherever they choose to hide. This 15OCT68 mission was to be a two platoon sweeping operation. My platoon was one of those two lucky units. After a short equipment check, operation objective briefing, and a soulful prayer with the men, we headed out the security gates of Fire Support Base Moore. We would be dropped near the mission site by our buddies the Huey helicopters. Let's go and kick some Charlie butts!! 

We were dropped at a LZ without any contact being made with the enemy. So we headed out on our sweep operation. The closer we came to the Plain Of Reeds terrain, the more tense and focused all of us became. Everyone now had on the look of a warrior - nothing but business. The men were silent and somber. No one ever wanted to hump through this thick elephant grass growing out of the swamp water. The water was infested with lots of leeches. These blood sucking pests were definitely the Viet Cong's best ally. They wreaked havoc on any body part submerged in the water. The leech could not be pulled off your skin without tearing out a piece of your flesh, but would release their bite only when sprayed with mosquito repellant or touched with a cigarette lighter flame. Also the red ants were big and aggressive and would jump off low hanging branches of the bushes and trees. They would, without a doubt, make your life miserable. Not only were the VC hazardous to your health, but so were their buddies, the leeches and red ants. 

We probed deeper into the thicken terrain, we begin to receive sniper fire. This harassing tactic is usually “shoot and run” in nature. But this time they were not running away as fast. We continued to push forward, the sniper fire continued to hamper us. It was as if they were trying to slow us down to buy “get away” time for something or somebody. Enough was enough, so we called in Cobra gunship support to eliminate the pesky snipers. These bad boy gun ships crank out over 1000 rounds of ammo per minute and can definitely ruin Charlie's day. As the sniping stopped, we started moving forward again. Shortly we spotted what appeared to be a small village hidden away under the canopy of the jungle terrain. We backed up a short, safe distance and called in an artillery strike on the coordinates of the hutches. The Cobra gun ships also returned to add to Charlie Cong's misery with a formal wakeup call by some of America's Best. Finally we were given the order to move forward toward the enemy site. We cautiously approached the area it became apparent that the settlement of hutches was not a small enemy village at all, but was a Viet Cong hospital complex. It appeared to be pretty well wiped out by the artillery rounds and the gun ships. It also appeared to be deserted of Viet Cong combatants. No bodies, alive or dead, were visible. The VC was notorious for dragging their dead away or stomping the bodies under the mud to prevent the American soldiers from claiming a “dead body count”. The pesky sniper tactic had truly been “buying time” for the hospital staff and patients to escape before my men reached their hospital complex. 

There was a huge well-fortified bunker near the center of the hospital area. We all searched through the debris, SSG Victor Barrera approached the bunker entrance. He had just started into the opening to check out the bunker for food or hospital supplies or documents, when he saw a 9mm pistol pointed right at his face. As he pulled his head back the VC fired the pistol. The bullet entered his helmet inside the helmet liner beside his left eye, circled inside his liner and came out beside his right eye. As the bullet exited, it hit a book of matches that SSG Barrera had in his sweatband on the helmet and ignited them and setting his hair on fire. Needless to say, he backed out of that bunker entrance in record time. We proceeded to lob concussion grenades into the bunker opening but the return fire continued. Determined little bastards! After exhausting all efforts to kill them off with grenades, we decided to use a shoulder fired LAW (land to air weapon-rocket launcher). SSG Barrera insisted on doing the honor of firing the LAW, now that he had gotten some color back in his pale face. He said something about a payback shot. After firing the weapon we cautiously entered the bunker. There were seven really dead VC inside. Apparently they were the ones too crippled to flee into the jungle. All of them had missing legs or missing arms or one of each limb missing. They had been left behind to be killed. They only had one 9mm pistol and one German mouser rifle for protection. 

We analyzed the remaining structures of the hospital complex, it was estimated that there were thirty two patients and hospital staff members. With seven patients inside the bunkers, the other twenty five VCs escaped into the jungles deeper into the Plain Of Reeds. The conditions of the hospital were quite primitive. The hospital beds were bare wooden boards on wooden stands. The patients laid on these without pillows or any other bedding. Some food (mostly rice) and cooking utensils were found, but had been badly damaged by the artillery shelling. We found a crock jar with a live snake in it near a small stream. We never did understand why they had a snake in captivity. Maybe it was for food, I guess. Also there was a pair of small ducks swimming on the stream water peacefully as if nothing had ever happened.  

After the area was deemed secure, we went out into a small clearing close by and set up a LZ to allow the rest of our Alpha Company to come out and join us. Also we received word that the Battalion Commander and some army press personnel wanted to come out and view the VC hospital complex. Hell, we were damn near celebrities!! The official word came down from Battalion that Alpha Company would “stand down” at the hospital site for two days. That was a bonus thank-you gesture from Battalion to us.  

The standard operating procedure (SOP) was for the black pajamas and shirts to be taken off the dead VCs and turned in to Battalion for “proof of the kill”. Not wanting the dead VC to be completely nude, some GI always ripped off his Big Red One shoulder patch and stuck it in between the dead VCs teeth. After a period of time the patch could not be removed due to rigor mortis of the VCs body. Although this practice was not encouraged, it did send a somber message to the VC buddies when they returned to retrieve their dead. It was considered by many as our unofficial business card.  The VC did not like to battle the crazy GIs with the Big Red One patches on their fatigues. I think that they sensed that we were carrying an attitude about being sent to the 9th Infantry Division. As part of the Battalion command group, an Army Chaplain said a prayer with our war-weary men. He then went over to the bodies of the dead Viet Cong fighters to say a prayer for them. There they lay, wearing nothing but a “Big Red One” patch.



 Barney Tharp Plain of Reeds Vietnam 1968 1969
Thick terrain in plain of reeds

Ducks Vietnam War

Ducks in Vietnam
Snake Crock Vietnam

Snake in a crock