We carried nothing that made any noise

Friday, November 29th, 2019

In his SOG Chronicles John Stryker Meyer describes the stuff they carried and did not carry across the border into Laos:

“When we went out on patrol the enemy could hear us coming a mile away,” Black said. “The canteens were metal, with a metal chain that attached the black plastic cap to the body of the canteen. The metal canteen sat inside of a metal cup. As we walked that chain would bang on the canteen and the canteen sometimes rattled inside the metal cup. A squad of guys sounded like a Chinese drum line. Our weapon sling swivels would bang on the weapons providing even more noise. Dog tags would rattle as we walked.”

The paratroopers also wore metal helmets with the paratrooper chinstrap, with plastic helmet liners. Many paratroopers smoked and used Zippo lighters, which had a distinct, metallic clicking sound when opened and closed. They also wore jewelry such as silver or gold colored watches and rings, carried entrenching tools and L-shaped flashlights that attached to the upper web gear and often got caught in the brush.

At night, if available, they would drink beer or soda from old tin cans that had to be opened with a can opener, as there were no pull-tabs on drinks at that time.

The infantrymen also carried: sleeping bags, gas masks, bayonets, personal knives, and rubber ponchos that were rolled and folded onto the back of the pistol belt. It provided a cushioned seat for sitting, but also a hiding place for small snakes, leeches, spiders and other jungle insects and creatures

[...]

The early paratroopers also wore their jump boots that Black called “fungus factories.”

[...]

The early paratroopers also wore military issued underwear that caused rashes and infections and socks that caused a foot fungus, a fungus some are still fighting today. It wasn’t until a visit from the Secretary of State, who caught the fungus, that a cream was developed to fight it.

Nearly everyone smoked in those days. Five cigarettes were packed in neat little packs with each C-Ration meal. The smell of American cigarettes in Southeast Asia was unmistakable.

[...]

“We were noisy as hell in the 173rd,” he said. “We used to carry those metal ammo boxes that always banged against the metal canteens. Even taking a drink of water with the metal canteen made a metallic noise that could be heard off in the distance. A lot of us carried a poncho, but often didn’t use it in the field because they were so noisy when you unfolded them. And, once it started to rain, the rain hitting them gave off a different noise that the enemy could hear.

“SOG was just the total, complete opposite. We carried nothing that made any noise. Everything was taped down or tied down.”

[...]

To avoid rashes, infections and fungus, Black and I didn’t wear underwear or socks. All SOG recon men didn’t wear helmets, helmet liners or armored vests of any sort.

Most of us didn’t carry entrenching tools, bayonets, sleeping bags, hammocks, ponchos, ponchos liners or air mattresses because they added weight to our total load.

I weighed my gear on a small scale once at Phu Bai and it weighed approximately 90 pounds.

No one carried an M-16, an M-14 or a 9 mm weapon as his primary weapon.

For all missions we never carried any form of identification: no dog tags, no military ID cards, no letters from home — nothing with any personal information on it. Our uniforms were sterile: no rank, no unit designator, no jump wings, no CIB or South Vietnamese jump wings were displayed. Our green beret remained at FOB 1. We went to extreme measures to insure that our anonymity remained intact to provide deniability  to the U.S. government in the event we were killed or captured.

We cut out the section of a target map to carry to the field, thus only showing the grid in the target area, with no further information about the map or the cartographers who produced them.

Additionally, we never smoked or cooked in the field.

The most important piece of equipment we carried was the CAR-15. The sling for it would vary: sometimes I used a cravat or a canvas strap taped tightly to both ends of the weapon for soundless movements. That was the preferred weapon of choice by everyone on ST Idaho. The only exception was an AK-47 for Son when he ws our point man wearing an NVA uniform, and an M-79 carried by our grenadiers.

[...]

Every American on ST Idaho carried a sawed-off M-79 for additional firepower. We thought of it as our hand-held artillery. During patrol, the Americans would load a special M-79 round with fleshettes or double-ought (00) buckshot for close contact. The sawed-off M-79 would be secured either with a canvas or rope lanyard or a D-ring that was covered with black electrical tape to prevent any metallic banging. During the fall of 1968, I had a one-of-a-kind sawed-off M-79 holster, which I lost when I was unconscious after a rope extraction in Lao.

I would carry at least thirty-four 20-round magazines for the CAR-15 — we only placed 18 rounds in each magazine, which gave me 612 rounds for that weapon, and at least 12 rounds for the M-79. The CAR-15 magazines were placed in ammo pouches or cloth canteen pouches, with the bottoms facing up to prevent debris from getting into the magazine and all of the rounds pointing away from the body. We taped black electrical tape to the bottom of each magazine to make it easier to grab them out of the pouch during firefights.

I also carried 10 to 12 fragmentation grenades, a few of the older M-26, the newer M-33 “baseball” grenades and on or two V-22 minigrenades.

For headgear, I only wore a green cravat, a triangular bandage, on missions. It was light, didn’t get caught on jungle branches, or knocked off my head by prop wash and it broke up the color of my blond hair. As a practical matter, it kept the sweat out of my eyes — hats didn’t do that. I often more camouflage “paint” on my face.

I wore the traditional Army jungle fatigues because they dried quicker while on the ground than the camouflage fatigues available at the time. I had the Phu Bai tailor sew an extra zipped pocket on the upper right and left arm (see cover of book) where I carried pens, notebooks, pen flares, one plastic spoon and my signal mirror. The tailor also sewed zipped pockets between the front top and bottom buttoned pockets, where I’d place maps, morphine syrettes, an extra notebook with any mission specific notes and the URC-10 emergency rado.

On my right wrist I wore a black, self-winding, luminescent Seiko watch, which was so bright at night that I wore it face down on the bottom of my wrist, under my glove. Thus, even in the pitch-black jungle, I knew when to make communication checks with the airborne command aircraft, usually at midnight, or at 2 a.m. In the jungle I always wore black contact gloves for protection against jungle plants, thorns and insects. I cut the thumb, index finger and middle finger off of the right glove down to the first joint, for improved grip. I always wore an extra cravat around my neck.

On my left harness strap, I taped my K-Bar knife, with handle facing down, hand grenades, small smoke canisters and a sterile bandage. On my right harness strap was a strobe light, held in a cloth pouch, hand grenades, a rappelling D-ring, and a smoke grenade.

My preferred web gear was the WW II BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) ammo belt and shoulder straps because five CAR-15 magazines fit snugly into each individual pouch. One puch would be used for M-79 rounds.

A plastic water canteen in a cloth canteen holder would be fit onto the belt, as well as one white phosphorous grenade and my survival axe.

The amount of water available in the AO would determine how many plastic canteens of water I’d carry to the field. One canteen would have a small bottle of water purification pills taped to it. I used those pills for all water outside of camp. The water in our AO’s was often tainted with the defoliant Agent Orange —  we hoped the purification tablets would counteract it.

On the right side of my harness I always carried the Frank & Warren Survival Ax Type II, MIL-S-8642C. I preferred it to the machete because the backside had a nasty sharp hook that cut through jungle vines on the return swing.

I carried my folding compass around my neck, held by green parachute cord.

I used a cravat as a belt, because it was silent.

In my right pocket was the Swiss Army knife, secured by a green parachute cord to a belt loop on my pants.

Because I always wore the bulky gas mask bag on my left side, which held the black M-17 gas mask, I rarely put anything in my upper left pocket.

[...]

In my lower left pant pocket I carried a small and large colored panels to mark our position for Covey and tactical air strikes.

In my lower right pocket were extra pen flares, a dehydrated Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol ration (LRRP, pronounced LURP), bug repellant to squirt on leeches and an extra cravat and sterile bandage.

I always carried the Swiss rope. The 12-foot section of green-colored rope was used for a Swiss seat for extractions by helicopter. We would hook a D-ring through the seat’s rope and onto 150-foot-long pieces of rope that hung from the chopper.

On all missions, I carried the PRC-25, our primary radio contact with the outside world. It took up the most space in my indig rucksack. Most times I had the short, flexible antenna screwed into it, which was folded under my right arm and tucked into my jungle fatigue jacket because the NVA always searched for the radio operator, knowing he was the primary link to U.S. air power. I carried the long antenna, folded in sections, in my rucksack.

Other items included: one can of C-Ration fresh fruit, either peaches or apricots, extra hand grenades, the remainder of my CAR-15 magazines, extra M-79 rounds — including one tear-gas round, an Army long-sleeved sweater, a thin, hooded waist-length plastic rain jacket and toilet paper. Both the sweater and rain jacket would be folded under the PRC-25 to buffer where it hit my back. I also carried an extra PRC-25 battery, an extra URC-10 battery, extra smoke grenades, an extra canteen of water if needed, and extra LRRPs.

On a few occasions, especially when we ran targets in Cambodia, which was flatter and more wide open, I’d carry a claymore mine and a few pre-cut fuses: five-second, 10-second and longer-duration fuses, used to break contact with enemy troops chasing us.

On several occasions I carried .22-caliber High Standard semi-automatic pistol with a silencer for ambushes or to kill enemy tracker dogs.

I also carried cough syrup for Hiep or anyone who coughed at night, cans of black pepper and powdered mace for enemy tracker dogs and a compact toothbrush.

[...]

The emphasis was packing firepower for survival. I preferred to go hungry as to running out of ammo.

[...]

There were at least two missions when ST Idaho was extracted from the target, I was down to my last CAR-15 magazine, M-26 grenade and M-79 round.

Comments

  1. Kirk says:

    One of the things that’s always struck me about the whole Vietnam-era military experience was just how much of it involved re-learning lessons that we should have already known.

    Aluminum canteens and stainless steel canteen cups making noise? Nothing that the guys from WWII couldn’t have told you all about, those that went on night patrols and penetration raids like the First Special Service Force. Or, the guys who did trench raids in WWI. But, somehow, Big Army managed to forget those lessons, and the guys who had to re-learn everything from scratch wound up thinking that they were on entirely new territory–Reality was, however, that they were recapitulating the lessons of Roger’s Rangers, or any of the other Indian-fighters going back to the earliest days of the settlement on this continent.

    European armies can be forgiven for not knowing a lot of these things, given the more elaborate and formal “way of war” that they followed. However, the actual fact is that there were quite a few forces and movements even in Europe that emphasized stealth and fieldcraft, such as the Jaeger movements and other such phenomenon.

    So, to be blunt, the idea that any of this stuff was somehow esoteric knowledge that the various fieldcraft experts in Vietnam had to invent for themselves is so much bullshit. The knowledge was out there; the problem was that the overall system did not adapt to the problems or pass on the knowledge. In WWII, the technique was for the canteen to be covered in a wool OG sock so that it would not rattle. This bit of “lore” did not make it back into the system to be taught to the young soldier coming up through training, but likely would have been included had the men who’d learned that trick been a part of the system that captured and passed on knowledge. As well, when poly-plastic canteens became technically feasible, then they should have been developed and made available as soon as possible. This was not done, because nobody with the authority to run things thought such things were of any import, and the men who knew of their importance were not running much of anything.

    This points to a dichotomy that is present in almost all human enterprise, the failure to communicate from where things get done to where things get decided. If your system does not enable these little lessons about clinking chains on canteen caps to be passed on to where the guys making the decisions about what sort of canteens to field make them, then you’ve got a microcosm of the problems stemming from the lack of communication between elements in your organization.

    Ideally, what you want is what you had with the case of a company called Tactical Tailor; the guy founding that company was an Infantry soldier with a sewing machine who started modifying issue gear for himself and other soldiers, and then grew his company from an operation in his barracks room into a fairly considerable enterprise. Logan was a guy who knew his product and market intimately; he built stuff he’d use, and he responded to the input given him by others. This is the sort of direct-line product/equipment development ideal that you should have, where the user is actually the guy making the equipment. Logan’s work basically sold itself; his MAV or Modular Assault Vest took the Ranger battalions by storm, and they paid him the highest of compliments by ripping off the design and having their favored manufacturers build it for them.

    The thing to be noted here is, as I say, the essential disconnect between the knowledgeable and the institution; the guys in WWI who’d learned these things about clinking canteens did not get queried about the things they’d learned by the institution, nor did the institution make an effort to capture that esoteric knowledge. Same-same going into WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and a whole bunch of other examples down to the present day.

    I worked for a bit with the British exchange NCO to the Army Engineer School. He was a character, and talking to him he made a quip that’s always stuck with me, in relation to the vaunted Army Center for Army Lessons Learned: “You can’t very well call it the “Center for Army Lessons Learned” if you keep having to learn things the hard way out in the field; what you lot ought to be calling it is the “Center for Army Lessons Identified and then Bloody Well Ignored”…”.

  2. Slovenian Guest says:

    It turns out smellouflage is equally as important:
    http://www.isegoria.net/2012/12/a-punch-in-the-nose/

  3. Ivvenalis says:

    Huh, I didn’t think soldiers in Vietnam made a habit of carrying gas masks.

  4. Kirk says:

    Ivvenalis,

    They had to. The extensive use of tear gas (CN) in both powder and gas form necessitated them having them on hand. The agents were used mainly in tunnel warfare, and the guys on missions where they were going into VC or NVA base camp areas had to be prepared to deal with interdicting those, which meant… Protective masks. There were two main ways they’d do it, one of which was a powder that would get dumped into the tunnels, and the other would be either grenades thrown in ventilation shafts or, on some occasions, pumped in using special gasoline-powered combustors for the same form of CN they’d use in confidence training in gas chambers. You’d find the tunnel network’s ventilation shafts, and then pump the stuff in until the VC or NVA came out. Which was why the tunnels came with sumps, water chambers, and all sorts of other interesting features.

    There’s a Rand Report out there that details all the sophisticated crap the enemy was doing with the tunnels, and some of it was just… Nuts. The poor bastards who had to do tunnel rat duty were some really brave and unfortunate souls.

  5. X-Ray says:

    Fortunately not many tunnels in northern I Corps. We didn’t carry masks.

  6. Adar says:

    Noise as made by helicopter insertion too a problem. Measures as taken to fool the enemy I think only marginally successful.

    SOG missions most of which betrayed by a South Vietnamese officer who worked for the NVA. Gave away a lot. Even when success rate of SOG missions poor the operations continued. A poor way to do things.

  7. Paul from Canada says:

    When I was a teenager, I came across a paper about lessons learned in Korea by the Canadian Army, including such esoterica as the best way to throw hand grenades uphill. This was gathering dust in a library and not in any way shape or form part of the the current military doctrine.

    I have had the same conversation with Kirk on several forums about the lessons in mine proofed vehicles in Africa vs, the stubborn ignorance of same in the west. SIGH….

  8. Kirk says:

    It’s astounding what there is that we’ve forgotten, or which was never “known” to the people engaged in preserving the information for future use.

    To a degree, I think that the real story of history is never, ever recorded–Mostly because those that do, do not write, and those that write, do not do. It’s a rare man who is engaged in things, and who has the temperament to analyze, record, and preserve the facts of a situation or an organization.

    I think that we’ve missed out on an entire discipline, akin to anthropology, one that addresses things like organization and “how things are done”. There are some academics who study these things, but there’s no overall appreciation for the realities that go on around us, even down at the lowest, most simplistic levels.

    And, because we don’t study these things, we’re not very good at them, and we don’t have a proper framework to evaluate things. It’s all informal “folk-wisdom” and “common sense”, which is so damn rare as to be something which really should be classified as a legitimate super-power.

  9. Sam J says:

    Here’s a really good interview of a guy who was a LRRP that morphed in hunter killer team member as the war carried on in Vietnam. Part of series chronicling Vets experiences for history. I watched quite a few of these but O’Connor’s stands out.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdUpzpIjJLg

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q88wSZAWtgE

  10. CVLR says:

    Sam, want to provide a reasonable summary for someone without two hours to dedicate to this guy’s rambling?

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