A Blackhorse Lullaby
By Bruce E. Johnson
My platoon, the 2d platoon of Troop E, was on perimeter duty at Blackhorse base camp when a strange thing happened. Around 2100 hours one night in November 1966, one of my track commanders called me on the radio and asked me if I heard Vietnamese music playing. I stuck my head out of the hatch and sure enough, I heard music. There were no villages or houses within miles of the southern perimeter. A hundred meters directly to our front was a small stand of rubber trees covering eight or ten acres beyond which were miles of jungle. The sound was loud and clear and apparently coming from a portable radio just out beyond the wire fence. A number of old foxholes we had dug and not filled in dotted the area beyond the concertina. A VC was apparently down in one of the holes playing a radio to harass us, to try to determine our alertness, and to see what kind of reaction he would get. I reported it to Troop headquarters and was directed to fire one weapon to flush out the Viet Cong.
I got on the howitzer battery fire direction radio net and requested a fire mission of illuminating ammunition or aerial flares. They told me they could not authorize the fire mission. My 4.2" mortar track crew, which was under howitzer battery control was listening in. Soon, a heavy weapon fired from inside the base camp followed seconds later by a loud “pop” high overhead as a flare burst. It lit up the whole area as it floated lazily downward on its parachute. I was puzzled for a moment. The artillery told me they would not fire, then they did. Finally, I realized that my mortar crew had fired for their platoon without permission.
I directed one of my tracks to fire a high explosive round from their M-79 grenade launcher toward the music. There was a “pop” followed by a “wharrf” as the round impacted. The music stopped. We all went back to sleep except for one man on each track who manned the fifty caliber machine gun.
Ten minutes later, I had just dozed off when the music started playing again. I directed the track on my right to fire four rounds from their M-79. Again, flares popped overhead as high explosives detonated in the area where the music came from. Smoke and dust obscured the place, and we could not see anyone, but the music had stopped.
A few minutes later, the music started playing again. Now, everyone was awake and baffled. I directed the track on my right to fire more high explosives and the track on the left to fire one of its M-60 machine guns. A stream of red tracers streaked out toward our tormentor and more exploding M-79 rounds pounded his hiding place. I gave the “Cease Fire!” command. The music had stopped.
Ten minutes later, the music started playing again. Well... enough was enough. I directed the whole platoon to open fire with all weapons. Eight fifty caliber machine guns, eight M-79 grenade launchers, sixteen M-60 machine guns and a few M-16 rifles for good measure, blazed away. Flares were still popping overhead. For five full minutes, there was one solid roar as the platoon shot up the area to our front. The din was deafening. Tracers arced through the night and crisscrossed the ground. High explosives rounds beat upon the area in rapid succession. Smoke and dust shrouded the whole southwest sector of the perimeter. I called a cease fire. With a grin on my face and a feeling of total satisfaction, I said aloud, “How do you like that, you Viet Cong SOB?” The music had definitely stopped.
Minutes later, the music started playing again as loudly as ever. Damn! I called the platoon on the radio and told them to enjoy the music and go back to sleep. I laid back down on the long seat by the radios and dozed off.