Cannon-Cocker Commands Line Troop
By David R. Watters
The ‘incursion’ into Cambodia held a lot of surprises for the 2nd Squadron, but one that may stand out in the memories of the Troopers of the 3rd Platoon of E Troop was when they found themselves being commanded by a cannon-cocker.
Units on the march in Cambodia experienced a lot of re-supply problems, and this situation apparently extended to replacement officers as well. So for whatever reason (my memory is hazy here), sometime after we took Snoul, the CO of E Troop ordered me to temporarily assume command of 3rd Platoon. Although an FO received training in a lot of ways to support his troop, command of a line platoon was not among them. This was strictly going to be OJT.
I had been in-country about eight months by that time, first as FO with an infantry unit in 1st Division before it stood down and then as E Troop FO, so I had a pretty fair background in bush busting. But more importantly, 3rd Platoon had experienced NCOs' and seasoned track commanders upon whom I could rely to keep me from getting us into trouble! They must have done a good job since we experienced no major problems, even on the way back out of Cambodia.
Not so lucky were Buddy Bennett, Bobby Perryman, and Jim Claywell, the enlisted men who manned the FO track (Zulu) and continued to provide artillery support while I was with 3rd Platoon. Third Platoon was in column behind the HQ element on a road march when I heard an explosion ahead, followed by a call over the E Troop net stating that Zulu track had hit a mine.
We herring-boned into a defensive posture but nothing else happened, so I went forward to check on the situation with Zulu and found the men being treated by the medics for the injuries they had sustained (fortunately not fatal) . Zulu's left track and several of its boggie wheels had been blown off by the blast.
Isolated incidents about Cambodia come to mind even today. Like when we first entered Cambodia (I was serving as FO then) and the only person in E Troop HQ with a map of the area was the CO who, of course, rode on his own track. I kept thinking “How can I call in artillery or air support, when I don't have a clue where we are on the ground?”.
Fortunately we didn't need it. Or when we took Snoul and “liberated” cases of bottled soda pop to replenish our dwindling water ration. Or when a care package of cookies arrived from home (they lasted maybe 10 minutes despite being stale). Or that stateside newspaper reporter we less than enthusiastically “hosted” on the FO track, who put down his camera and quickly learned how to operate an M-16 when we took sniper fire.
I remember finding a disabled NVA truck which we requested permission to destroy. Destroy it we did, as every track in 3rd Platoon cut loose with their .50 caliber’s. That was one truck the NVA would never make use of for replacement parts.
I recall large quantities of bagged rice we tried to destroy (the damned stuff seemed indestructible). And a rich red soil that somehow seemed different from Vietnam's. And many, many Cambodians with incredulous looks standing along the road as track after track rumbled by.
And I remember another thing, and here my memory is crystal clear. We had very light contact (if any) with NVA units for a couple of months after we came back out of Cambodia. Taking the fight to the NVA sanctuaries “across the border” delivered a hard blow from which it took them awhile to recover. That respite was all too brief but it was well deserved.