Text and photos by James D. McLeroy
Originally published in Soldier of Fortune Magazine’s March 1988 edition
No matter how much advanced training, technical support and experience you have, in certain life and death situations sometimes the only thing that saves you is plain, dumb luck. Either that or occasionally God decides to protect the unworthy and incompetent for His own mysterious reasons. That’s the only way I can explain what happened to me in Vietnam in 1967.
I was executive officer of Special Forces A-Team A-104 in I Corps, Quang Ngai Province, Ha Thanh District. I was a young, muscular, Airborne, Ranger, Jungle Expert, Green Beret, Infantry first lieutenant, and I considered myself a deadly fellow — all technique, training and esprit. I didn’t need luck I was proud of my special training and my special unit, and I was at least as sincere a believer in our cause (killing the communists) as the communists were believers in their cause (enslaving Southeast Asia).
One night at the beginning of the monsoon season, just before first light, I took one of my typical two-platoon Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG — rhymes with “fridge”) patrols to recon an area for targets of opportunity for ambushes. By chance, around mid-morning of the following day, we happened across a lone VC whom we took prisoner. He was a scared, skinny, teenaged boy who said he had been recruited by force and had just deserted.
Like most Vietnamese and Montagnard peasants, all he really wanted was to go back home to his village and be left alone.
Our CIDG commander threw him to his knees, put a knife to his throat and threatened to cut his head off if he didn’t immediately agree to show us exactly where his supply and infiltration routes were. The CIDG would not have actually cut his throat, at least not with me standing there, but the kid didn’t know that, so he eagerly complied. We then fed and reassured him, for which he appeared to be most grateful.