The Fire Fight At Phu Long
By: Larry Carl Lay: This is how I remember it: The Skipper
The days and nights of the incessant monsoons slowly warmed to the tropical spring. By early February, our clothes and our 782 gear had finally begun to dry after three months of almost continuous rain. Water-wrinkled hands and feet returned to normal. The monsoons had finally broken and the warm spring sun awakened within us a renewed outlook and a desire to again hunt for the elusive Viet Cong.. Suicide Charley had only had three men killed after more than eight months into the tour. The low casualty rate was quite a compliment to the professionalism of the men considering the exposure to hundreds of patrols.
On the 7th of February, we received a coded message from regiment ordering us to reconnoiter a small hill just west of the village of Phu Long (4), an area five kilometers to our southwest. Regiment never mentioned why or for what… just check out a set of coordinates near Phu Long (4). What the hell? The patrol route would take us south, up the Song Tra Bong to Bihn Lai. We would then turn east along the backwater sloughs and swamps to a miniscule hill in the paddies just west of the village of Phu Long (4). Once in the neighborhood, we planned to investigate the activity in and around the village. Our return would take us northwest up the foot path toward Tan Hai then west over the foothills back into the base camp.
Phu Long (4) was on the main trail from Tan Hai, back southeast toward the village of Van Toung (Operation Starlight) and the village complex of My Lai (Operation Batanga). Although, we had never encountered NVA in the area, we knew they ventured into the towns just south of Phu Long (4) on occasion. One needed to enter that area with caution. But this day was to be a nice stroll of four or five miles going and coming, a nice outing on a nice spring day with the green grasses growing and with birds singing. After all, what could possibly be on that small hill east of Phu Long (4) to interest regiment? We checked the co-ordinates again, but the location was correct.
By 0900 hours, Charley III Actual had inspected his platoon. Ammunition was loaded into all the magazines. Even a couple of extra bandoleers were put into the packs, as were grenades and extra mortar rounds for the 60 mm mortar. Loose equipment had been taped and camouflaged applied along with the traditional bushes and grass in helmets and packs. A combat meal had been issued and the platoon had been reinforced with a 60 mortar, a section of guns, 3.5’s and a bored company commander. The platoon was combat ready. They could move with little accompanying noise and, if fired upon, practically disappear in the cover along the trail. Order of march was Sgt. Padilla’s second squad, platoon HQ along with attached weapons, then Sgt. Stancil’s third and finally Sgt. Hockaday’s first squad.
The point moved out past the bunkers, the double apron fences and the triple concertina entanglements surrounding the base and then turned south on the footpath paralleling the Tra Bong toward Binh Lai. Sgt Padilla’s squad had point. Padilla was one of the finest squad leaders in the battalion. Born and raised in New Mexico. His earlier life had been tough. He had gone into the “golden gloves” rather than run the streets. Pancho or Pete, to his friends, was devastating in a brawl. He could hit a fellow six to seven times before his adversary even knew he was in a fight. Pete, was known for his aggressive attitude and his habit of charging right toward snipers when fired upon. He was intelligent, immensely loyal and unbelievably courageous. All of which he demanded from his men. Of all the ethnic groups which become Marines, the Mexican American is particularly courageous.
The next squad leader was Sgt. Stancil. From North Carolina, Gerald Stancil combined intelligence, good looks and a serious concern for his job and his men. A quiet, devout man, he was incredibly fair and absolutely devoted to his men. To the men of the second squad, Gerald Stancil “set the sun.” He knew each like the back of his hand and frequently offered them wise counsel on their personal problems, as well as providing tactical direction. They trusted Sgt. Stancil to get them through the skirmishes and the tour. Tactically, Sgt. Stancil was cautious and measured, a great NCO for a recon patrol. He would be close enough to share his enemy’s rations and all the while they would never know he was in the neighborhood. In my experience, Stancil was one of the finest men I have ever met, Marine or otherwise. I suspect with a college degree and law school, Stancil would one day make one hell of a senator from the state of North Carolina. Such was his caliber.
The last squad was commanded by a no-nonsense black Marine from Virginia named Sgt. Alvin Hockaday. He was bright, direct and fearless. His demeanor demanded respect and obedience. When he gave an order, no one questioned him. Sgt. Hockaday was also an accomplished marksman and the designated company sniper. His weapon was a Winchester model 70 with the heavy target barrel and a nine power scope. His rifle was zeroed at 700 yards and he constantly hit the eight inch bottoms of cans at that range. Fortunately, we never had to deal with enemy snipers with his type weapon or with his expertise.
The day was exhilarating especially for Vietnam. The temperature might well reach 75 degrees with a gentle breeze from offshore. As we neared Bihn Lai, we could hear a slow methodical “clink, clink, clink.” Two pieces of hardwood rhythmically hitting one another. Not an unusual sound encountered in or around a small Vietnamese village. That is, if you were a green horn, you wouldn’t notice. A veteran knew the difference.
Told Charley III, “Jim, they are warning of the patrol.”
“Wouldn’t you like to have a bead on that “clinking” bastard right now?”
“Tell me about it.”
“You know, I understand sending warnings signals, but frankly, I’m disappointed that they think we’re that damn stupid.”
As we skirted the edge of the village, all activity ceased, and the inhabitants watched us with cold unfeeling stares…nothing but women, children and old men.
“Benjamin, no ambushes here today,” says Jim cynically.
When a village is devoid of women and children, you best “suck it up” for you are about to get ambushed. Beware of the silent villages. The silence “screams” and that creepy, eerie feeling starts in the stem of your brain causes the hair on the back of the neck to rise and finally travels down the spine to one’s extremities. There is something visceral in our psyche that will alert the observant if the channels are open. It could be just the frequent exposure to similar circumstances: but to the veteran, I believe it more psychic rather than experiential. Some never reached the required level of awareness and some die because they chose to go “brain dead.”
Another mile and we reached the target area just west of Phu Long (4) which we are to investigate. Pickets are sent out for security and we settled down for a c-ration lunch. Ham and lima beans. Southern grazing. Each can had a half inch of fat floating on the large beans and the scant pieces of ham. People who ate ”Ham and Mutha’s,” as they were affectionately known, were considered just a tad ”Red Neck” and had to undergo a certain level of teasing. Company commanders were no exception. One would have to respond to questioning comments such as, “Getting home sick, skipper?” “You pissed at your radio man skipper?” The radioman always followed the C.O. and would necessarily get benefit of any subsequent flatulence.
Regardless, when mixed with chopped onions and an ample shot of “Tabasco sauce,” the beans became quite palatable. The grease provided needed calories in a land whose oppressive heat depressed the appetite and resulted in continual weight loss. Anyway…
The exact co-ordinates given us by regiment identified a hill with heavy vegetation rising out of a large rice paddy a couple of hundred yards directly south of us. The hill must have been all of two acres. It rose right out of the paddy for no good reason and didn’t appear to hide anything of any consequence.
“Jimmy, what do you suppose regimental wants us to see on that ‘friggin’ hill?” Jim chuckled, “Well, they don’t usually send a patrol out for “sight seeing. Must be something important.”
“Could never figure out Regiment, even if I wanted to expend the effort, which I don’t. Takes enough out of me just trying to out-think Charlie without getting my men “dinged.”. Course, that also includes my worn out ass.” I got to Vietnam at 180 pounds. Now I’d have a hard time weighing–in at 150. I hope to get back some of these days before I just disappear and get washed away in the monsoons. Sure would like to see the hills of Arkansas again. Still with over four months to go, there’s plenty of time for Charlie to get lucky and me to get unlucky.”
“Aw hell Fulkerson, you’re so damn skinny. the friggin VC couldn’t hit you anyway. Specially if you turn sideways to them. You’re just thinking about
“Sweetness ” and day dreaming about getting home!”
“Speaking of getting home, why don’t I take Sgt. Padilla’s and his squad and check out the hill and you can go stir-up Phu Long(4)?” “Come on, let’s get this over and head back.”
“SQUAD LEADERS UP!! SECURITY IN!!!”
The lieutenant issued his order for the forthcoming movement. Born of long practice and simplicity, his leaders returned to their respective squads and advised their men of the maneuver. On a wave of the lieutenant’s hand, the lead squad peeled off toward the east and the town of Phu loc (4) while Padilla’s point turned south and waded toward the small island in the paddies.
Leaving a team with an M-60 gun to cover our approach, in a few minutes we reached the grid co-ordinates designated by regiment.
“Sgt Padilla, sweep the hill and let me know if you find anything interesting.”
“Aye, aye, Sir!”
After a thorough search around the hill the squad reported nothing of consequence.
“Damn it, Pete, I can’t figure out what regiment wanted.”
“Enloe, get me Charley III on the net and I’ll check out what he has found.”
“In the meantime, Padilla, have your covering team and the gun join us.
“Charley III, this is Charley VI, over.”
“Charley VI this is Charley III”. Larry Lay, third platoon radio man said,”Wait one for Charley III, actual. “
“Charley VI, this is Charley III actual, over.
“Jim, you found anything in the village that arouses your suspicions?”
“Nope, same village as before. Still looks the same and still stinks the same.”
“Well, while we are here, we might as well do a thorough search of the area. Check the other side of the rice paddy south toward Van Toung and I will give this hill another look to see if we have missed anything”
With that Charley III assembled his two squad leaders and assigned Stancil’s squad the crossing while Hockaday’s squad was to provide covering fire along with the section of guns, 3.5’s and a 60mm mortar.
The point moved out past a destroyed bridge along a dike toward the other side. Jim was conferring with Stancil when he happened to look down at the soft mud along the trail. Recognition and fear flooded him as he recognized scores of footprints of N.V.A. regulars heading south along the same footpath his men were following!!!
Before he could react or warn his men, a series of shots rang out from his left, the east.
As the men of the squad jumped on the west side of the dike to return fire, N.V.A. regulars opened up with grazing machine gun fire right down the axis of the dike. They were on target.
Right next to Jim, Solly, the first man ever wounded in the company, leaned forward to take cover from the maelstrom. A bullet caught him in the upper chest and exited through his lower back and flack jacket.
He last words uttered were, “I’ll be a mutha f_____r,” as his lifeless body pitched head first into the soft mud of the path.
Next the bullets slammed into the squad leader running forward to direct his men. One bullet caught Gerald Stancil under his right armpit and exited
under his left armpit…ripping through both his lungs. The future senator from North Carolina would never get his chance to bring his fairness and leadership to the state. As he sat against the dike in the cover of the destroyed bridge, he whispered something unintelligible and as he lost consciousness, a slight smile appeared on his face, as if to say, “I have fought the good fight.” His large brown eyes glazed and his life drained from him.
On the left side of the dike, Cpl. Johnson was running “Hell bent for leather” forward to get with his fire team when a bullet hit just above the brim of his helmet, penetrated the steel, and collided with the soft plastic of the newly issued ballistic liners. The bullet slammed the liner into his forehead with the force of a sledge hammer and then careened right out of the top. The impact of the bullet, like the kick of a mule, turned him a full 360 degrees in the air, knocked him unconscious and deposited him some six feet to the rear.
As he tried to get his machine gun into action, a bullet hit Lance, twisted and drove him back and down where his knees buckled and he stumbled face down in an incoherent babble. Wendel Wheat, another Texas Marine, had originally been assigned to H&S company in the 106 recoilless rifles. Wendel was by nature easy going but accustomed to activity, the exact opposite of life in the 106 RR. The inactivity and boredom associated with the deployment of antitank guns in a war with no enemy tanks was not Wendle’s cup of tea. He asked for and was granted permission to transfer to a rifle company. Wendle’s choice, “Suicide Charley.” Upon his arrival nineteen year old B.B. Mc Hale decided that Wendel needed guidance and he was the very man to “show him the way. Lead him to light,” as it were. They became inseparable… this wise cracking New Yorker and this amiable cowboy from El Paso.
When the ambush began, B.B. and Wendell made it to a rice paddy dike and began to returned fire at the enemy. Exposed, two bullets struck Wendell in the chest, lifted him and drove him on to his back into the paddy. It was if a truck had hit him. Stunned, he had little feeling in his extremities and consciousness became harder and harder to maintain. B.B. Mc Hale reached his friend and sensing the seriousness of the wound, he began giving Wendell mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. As he blew his breath into Wendell’s mouth, B.B watched in horror as blood spurted from the bullet holes in his friend’s chest. Bullets were cracking and snapping as they whipped past Mc Hale. Oblivious to the danger, B.B.watched his friend begin to lose consciousness. He began yelling at Wendell, ”Don’t die, man!!!” “Don’t die.”
Almost in a state of panic, in agony he screamed, ”Corpsman!! Corpsman!!
Don’t let my friend die, Doc!! He’s my friend!! Doc!! Don’t let my friend die!!!”
“Doc Ingram reached Wheat as did Cpl. Jenkins, their fire team leader. Jenkins returned fire while the Doc attempted to administer first aid. The murderous fire of the enemy guns exploded Ingram’s canteens as he leaned forward to revive Wheat. Oblivious to the enemy fire and frustrated by the lack of pulse, Ingram doubled-up his fists and began striking Wheat as hard as possible in the chest. Anything to revive him. No luck!! Back to “mouth-to-mouth. Blood again bubbled through the holes in his chest and would not allow Wheat’s chest to expand his lungs. The Doc took the plastic off of a pack of cigarettes and told B.B. to hold them over the holes as he again administered “mouth to mouth” resuscitation.
Pounding on Wheat’s chest could not stop the effects of the fatal wound nor could the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Wendell slipped from consciousness to death as the hail of bullets snapped around his head and kicked geysers of dirt on him and the frustrated corpsman. No longer able to help Wheat, Ingram crawled back through the hail of fire back toward Stancil in an attempt to save the life of the one man in the company he most respected and, in his opinion, the one man who most deserved to live through this day.
Back on the hill, the automatic fire signaled that the third platoon was being ambushed from across the rice paddies. Third was in trouble. Between Padilla’s squad and the N.V.A. was a backwater slough. How deep? Only an attempt to ford it would tell.
“Sgt. Padilla!” We are going to ford that damn slough and flank those bastards. Let’s go!”
We peeled off in single file into the paddy with our weapons at the ready, the company commander in the lead, followed by the first squad leader and his men. Movement initially was easy. After a hundred yards, we were in water up to our knees…another thirty and we were up to our waists. The ambush continued.
“Padilla! I hope like hell Underhill (Artillery Forward Observer) considers the possibility that we are trying to flank those bastards. Otherwise, we could be in a hell of a hurt dodging 105 mm artillery rounds!!! You know damn well that he is calling artillery!”….Another twenty yards and the black water was up to our chests. The rifles and the guns were held high over our heads. Ten more yards and the soft mud sucked at our boots as we drunkenly struggled with our footing as the reeking black water churning around our chins. I prayed that the N.V.A. had not seen us flanking them. All we needed was about three or four enemy with AK-47’s and we would be found face down and bloated in a couple of days…if we were lucky, that is.Another three or four minutes and we began to emerge as we struggled to reach dry land and the enemy.
“Padilla! Get em on line. Let’s go!”
I cocked my pistol and as the men came on line, we began the assault in a trot. Never in my life had I ever felt as naked, as unarmed and as stupid as I did at that moment. A Marine infantry company commander leading a Marine squad in an assault on an enemy position which by the volume of fire had to have twice the number of enemy as he had Marines. That, plus the knowledge that we were dealing with at least two enemy machine guns. On the other hand ten Marines coming out of nowhere on full automatic fire can do a tremendous amount of damage. We were counting on our quick response and on surprise.
Back in the ambush zone Hockaday’s squad was pouring fire into the ambush zone and on a nearby rice paddy dike, a little known Marine mortar man was setting up shop.
Murphy originally had come from the third platoon. An innocuous slight fellow with what can be described as a real attitude problem. He really didn’t have much calling as a Marine rifleman and his lack of enthusiasm for the job certainly did not endear him to his N.C.O’s or to his fellow riflemen. When the 60 MM mortars were issued, the men required to man the weapons had to be drafted from the rifle platoons. Naturally, the rifle platoon commanders were not too anxious to bless Weapons platoon with extraordinary talent to the detriment of their platoons. When the draft was received, they responded with men which had the least effect upon the proficiency of their platoons. At least that is the nice was of saying, they sent weapons platoon the “foul-ups” of the infantry platoons.
Murphy got the nod from the third and was transferred to weapons. From that day forward, I personally observed one of the most amazing transformations of any U.S. Marine that I can ever recall. Each day Murphy and his fellow gunners had ample ammunition to practice their craft at the combat base. Since the 60 mortar were new to all of us, but a few of the “old Korean salts,” the squad leaders and platoon leaders would assemble each afternoon and call fire missions to test the abilities of the respective mortar men. Each mortar section was assigned to a platoon and there developed a great deal of rivalry between infantry platoons over whose mortar man was the best. Murphy had never had so much positive attention and emphasis paid him. In a matter of days Murphy decided that he had become important and that he had finally found his role in this war in South Vietnam. Murphy decided to become the best damn mortar man in “Suicide Charley” and that is exactly what happened.
Murphy had an uncanny ability to read distances. At three hundred yards he could drop a 60 mm round with in five meters of the target on the third shot. Give him “line of sight” and you could make that “two!” The enemy was in an ambush position about two hundred yards distance. Murphy placed his “Piss Tube” on the paddy dike where he had line of sight. The first round was short on purpose. The second round arched high and dropped right in the middle of the enemy position. Thereafter, Murphy calmly “searched and traversed” an additional sixteen rounds of high explosive shrapnel in the position. The shrapnel in addition to the heavy rifle and machine gun fire from Hockday’s squad was beginning to tell on the enemy. His casualties began to mount. They checked their fire, dropped down for protection and began looking for a way to withdraw with their dead and wounded.
In the meantime, Herb Underhill the artillery forward observer had called a fire mission on the ambush position. Now when it came to artillery, Sgt. Underhill had forgotten more than most artillery lieutenants had learned. He was utterly fantastic. When the enemy firing began, he started calling his fire mission. The only problem was he was at the limit of his radio signal and contact was tenuous at best. He finally got permission for his fire missions. As he received notice that his two spotting rounds were “on the way, wait,” through his binoculars he notice a squad of Marines enveloping from the right flank on the ambush position He thought, “Aw shit, I hope those spotting rounds don’t get the Skipper.” All he could do was wait and watch…
On line and at a trot, the squad envelopment was nearing the ambush site. The first warning of incoming artillery was a “ssst,” a fraction of a second before the first round hit. “BAAM!!” We were in the air, heading for the deck, when the out of the corner of my eye a black geyser of dirt erupted as the second round exploded some thirty feet behind us. “BAAM!!!”
Herb traditionally worked an area over when he got on target with a special fire mission. He called for “zone fire, five zones, mixed HE (high explosive) and VT (airbursts). Such a fire mission would make mince-meat out of anyone or anything not well down and undercover. Herb was on target alright and all I could do was get the men under cover and “hope to hell” he had seen us. Otherwise we had a high probability of getting every one killed or maimed. I ordered Sgt Padilla and his men to move forward some twenty meters to a terrace which would offer a modicum of cover. After a couple of minutes of waiting, I felt that the fire mission had been scrubbed. Otherwise we would have been dodging shrapnel.
We rose from cover forward on line to insure the ambush zone was cleared. No enemy was to be left to interfere with our “Med Evacs” or our withdrawal from the area. Spent cartridges littered the area along with pieces of equipment and blood trails down toward a village just south of the zone. Sgt Padilla left a team on the hill for security while the rest of us moved to the third platoon to attend the wounded. The remainder of the third platoon was in shock. Their beloved squad leader Gerald Stancil was dead, Solly was dead, as was Wheat. Lance, shot through the left shoulder was alive, but barely and Robertson “was gut shot and hanging on by a thread.” Five damn fine men cut down in a matter of seconds.
“Med evac coming in! Yellow smoke. Watch security! The “Whop, Whop, Whop,” of the HU1E chopper blades announced the imminent arrival of the medical evacuation helicopter. The pilots honed in on the bright yellow smoke spewing from its canister and guided by the corpsman settled down in the paddy. The wounded went in first just in case we again came under fire and the chopper had to evacuate quickly. The dead next. Each was respectfully loaded on the waiting “bird;” particularly, Sgt. Gerald Stancil. Tears blurred the vision of his squad as each watched his body gently laid beside his lifeless comrades. Their eyes fixed on the dark green ship as the engines revved, the craft lifted, nosed forward then gained altitude. Only when the chopper became an indistinct speck in the sky did their eyes waver.
“Saddle UP!” Sgt. Hockaday has the point. “Move out.” We’ve had enough of Phu Long (4) this day……..We thought.
“Snnap! Snnap! Crack!”
No sooner had the point moved two hundred yards down the road, they again came under fire from a couple of snipers in some rocks to our left. The snipers wanted to get in on the action. They did not realize the level of anger in the third platoon nor had they considered just how revengeful they had become. Instead of scattering for cover, the lead squad sprinted toward them with rifles blazing. Both snipers were killed as they tried to turn and run from the onrushing Marines, now a mere fifty yards from them. Both bodies were unrecognizable from the multitude of exit wounds in their bodies. Scant satisfaction for the loss of the five.
By this time the Marines were mean tempered and highly dangerous. Like a “pit bull” who had been prodded into a rage. “Move out,” came the signal and the point began his movement up the road toward the foothill and the base. Aggressive and defying the enemy to challenge them. Five minutes later a lone shot from an M-14 rang out and we rushed forward. What did you see? “Movement, sir! Off to the left about 75 meters forward.” I moved forward toward the point sitting dejected on the side of the road. Crestfallen, he pointed…
Twenty yards further and we came upon a diminutive figure of some 60-70 years lying in her yam patch. She was unconscious when we arrived. The .308 caliber Winchester bullet had caught her squarely in the back bone, the impact tore out the spinal column and exited through her stomach along with all of her entrails… coiled, gray and lifeless before us. “
Damn!! That’s O.K Marine, I’m sure that I would have shot anything that moved; particularly, today.’
“Jim, I’m not going to bring another med evac chopper in for her. She’s too far gone.”
Ben, I don’t think she will make it to the arrival of a med evac. Much less afterwards.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“Corpsman Up!” The command echoed down the ranks. Ingram arrived momentarily.
“Doc? Do you have any morphine in your medicine bag?”
“Make sure she never regains consciousness.
“Aye, aye. Sir.”
In a few minutes the patrol continued as another Marine took the point. Behind us the old lady mercifully began her eternal sleep as the morphine took effect.
Two kilometers up the footpath to Tan Hai had brought us to what one could best describe as the highlands of the peninsula. By turning back to the west, and working our way through the hills, we had only a mile an a half back to the combat base. We executed the turn and had gone less than a quarter of mile when “BOOM,”an explosion announced additional casualties.
“What the Hell???”
“Mine, Skipper. Hansen stepped on a mine.”
“Aw shit!!” How bad is he?”
“Not a “Bouncing Betty. More of a foot mine. Didn’t kill him just really screwed-up both of his foot and ankle. Looks like it’s broken and busted.”
“Call in a Med Evac!”
I wondered just how many more were going to before this patrol returned to the safety of the patrol base.
Fifteen minutes later and over the radio we hear,”Charley III this is Med Evac…Need an LZ.”
Med Evac, this is Charley III, roger that. Look for the red smoke.”
Again, the whop, whop, whop of the chopper blades announced its arrival. Red smoke spewed from the canister as the bird slowly came in down-wind then lifted the nose and settled to get Hansen.
“Get a stretcher. Hansen can’t walk.”
Cpl. Jenkins jumped at the chance to help his buddy. He had the stretcher and was almost to Hansen when a loud, BOOM,” announced another casualty. This time Corporal Jenkins is blown into the air, as he stepped on another of the numerous foot mines. One of the finest young NCO in the company.
Oblivious to the pain, Jenkins grabbed the littler and rushed to his fallen comrade, his broken foot bleeding profusely. Struggling to help Foster, Jenkins is restrained and calmed while Hansen is loaded on the stretcher and carried to the waiting chopper. The litter is returned and Jenkins is lifted aboard, along with his rifle, ammo and 782 gear. He watched as his world radically changed in but a few hours. Two close friends dead, along with his beloved squad leader. Four others wounded and now him. About to be lifted away from his brothers in arms, the men he held so dear….with whom he had shared so much. All this was about to be in the past tense. Tears pooled in his eyes as the helicopter’s engines revved, then slowly rose from the ground, tilted forward, gained altitude and flew northwest, over the Song Tra Bong, past 7th Marines HQ to B Med and for Jenkins and Hansen, eventually, home.
There comes a time in the career of an infantry officer that he is required to step forward and physically lead. This was one of those times. With three good men dead and another four wounded out of twenty eight, the platoon needed to get out of the mess in which we had become immersed.
The Skipper stood up took the point and yelled, ”Follow me!. Step where I step! In my foot steps!! We are going home!!”
With that he jumped from one boulder to another…then to a three foot rock embedded in the earth. A tentative step to the ground…a jump to a small rock then a leap to a larger one. He looked behind him and sure enough his Marines were following in his footsteps, leaping from a boulder. They were heading home to safety from this day, the day of the fire fight at Phu Long (4).