“The Fecal Finger of Fate”

by John G. Jerdon

. Wikipedia in its on-line encyclopedia lists 12 definitions for the term FNG. Of the twelve, the first eight refer specifically to the Vietnam war, two more are about video games like, ‘Call to Duty’, and two reference a new age movie about back packers touring Southeast Asia. None of them quite hit the nail on the head for me. They describe the term but fall far short of defining just exactly what an FNG really was.

. Some FNGs were like puppies, they trailed around behind you with those pathetic, earnest faces; always wanting to help. Some were so frightened they wouldn’t trust any ones advice. They always thought that outgoing artillery fire was incoming mortars, could not believe the little spots in the bread from the mess hall were tiny bugs, and always asked where were the latrines on their first mission. They would try to carry too much ammo, always got too close to other GIs when sweeping on the ground, and asked every day how much longer the rain was going to last. If it was the dry season they wanted to know how much longer till it rained. They had a nasty habit of kicking things on the ground that we broke as fast as we could. They were most successful at getting themselves killed. Since none of us wanted to join them when they were trying to buy the farm, we were fairly strict in dealing with them. They did have a few good points, they would load every bit of ammo when we were resupplied. They didn’t complain too much when told the new guys always bought the beer for the tracks before a mission, and always got last pick of the C rations. That’s where all new guys develop a life long hatred of ‘Ham and Lima Beans’. Funny thing though, its hard for me to recall the dumb things I did as an FNG. Larry Smith reminded me of a few last June in Fort Mitchell. Of course I don’t remember the things he described, was I really that dumb?

. We had been slowly sweeping in a south westerly direction, pushing down through the Bo Loi jungle and coming into that small open area where the Ho Bo Woods looms in front of you. It was about a half mile wide and maybe twice as long. I can still see it in my minds eye, the narrow, well worn, and fantastically crooked footpaths through the knee high grass. The terrain rolled a bit, maybe ten feet higher here and there. Doesn’t sound like much, but when the rest of the area we fought through made the Kansas prairie look like the Alps, you get the idea. This was probably late March or early April in ‘68. Hogan was gone and I had inherited the Infantry squad of Alpha Troop’s Second Platoon. Hogan was just a Spec 4, but no one knew more about fighting dismounted so he led the squad. He tagged me as his replacement and the Lieutenant agreed. I was fortunate in that the other dismounts, guys like Bird, Whitey, and Mario were tough, courageous, and most important, they were experienced.

. The Lieutenant called for the TCs around seven that night to brief us on the next days activity. We were to parallel the edge of the Bo Loi stopping to probe into the thick woods every half mile or so. We weren’t to go more than about a half a click into it, just patrol and report, patrol and report. On our third stop, the bush was light enough that the squad could spread out rather than single file and lucky for us, one of the flankers spotted the outline of what looked like a bunker. I called Two-Zero and he said to proceed. with caution, Intel said there was an abandoned base camp in this area. Boy was I steaming. He could have told me this the night before. Any way, we spread out into a loose skirmish line and crept forward. Behind us, we could hear the tracks and tanks pushing through the bush to support us if needed. It didn’t take long to confirm that the place was empty. Next came checking for booby traps, looking for arms caches, all that stuff. The camp was very old, most of the bunkers stuck up above ground level about two feet, and were about another two feet deep. They seemed to be made out of laterite, I hadn’t seen that before. The whole complex consisted of some two dozen outer bunkers, with six more, much larger, in the middle. After clearing each bunker, we broke for chow. Two-Zero gave us about a half an hour, and then we started to have fun. Can you imagine anything better for a bunch of very young men than giving them all the explosives they want and tell them to start blowing things up? Throughout the rest of the afternoon, one by one, we blew the shit out of those bunkers. Shouts of ‘fire in the hole’ were followed by oohs and aahs and general laughter. We were just finishing up when one of our FNGs walked himself into legend.

. I can’t remember the guys name, wouldn’t write it into this story if I did. He was one of the eager ones, always paid attention, never made the same mistake twice. I used him as my RTO for his first few weeks in country, then passed him off to Bird or Whitey and he was coming along nicely. In all of the excitement and fun of blowing things up, I’d lost track of him and the damn fool had wandered about fifty meters outside the bunker line when we heard him shouting. Mario and I got there first, with Bird right behind us. The FNG was in one piece, wasn’t bleeding, just had a shit eating grin on his face. I was pissed at myself more than anything, losing track of him that way. I couldn’t holler at the kid so I just asked him what he had found. Proudly he pointed to a large mound, about ten meters across. It was raised about a foot above the surrounding area and at the center of its top, there was a square shaped hole lined with wood. When he spoke I couldn’t’ believe my ears. “Its an air vent for a tunnel”, he said. I had to turn my face away and shot Bird a warning glance so he wouldn’t start that giggling thing he did when he got worked up. Still not looking the kid in the eye, I asked him what he thought we should do with it. “Can I blow it, please can I be the one to blow up this one”, he asked. He was hopping from foot to foot in his excitement. I stopped for a minute or so, gave him every appearance of carefully thinking it over and then said, “Sure. What do you want to use”. The poor kid was almost swaggering when he said he wanted to use a few sticks of C4.

. Whitey took over then because he could see I was going to lose it. He put his arm around the kids shoulder and told him that was way too much for a tunnel. He told the kid that for something like this, we would just want the roof off so we could jump in and follow it. Whitey was complimenting the kid for his sharp eye, and told him that we had to use a ‘special’ for something like this. He took a grenade and bent the spoon back some 90 degrees. Then he took the kid over to our track and got out a pack of Flex-X. Whitey took the kid back to his ‘tunnel vent’ and sat him down and while wrapping the four strips of Flex-X around the grenade, explained to him just what a ‘special’ was. The rest of us were slowly edging back about 50 meters or so, Whitey told the kid we were acting as his security. Whitey next told the kid that Flex-X and the grenade would lift the roof off of the tunnel and with a powerful but contained explosion. Told the kid that it took us many months of trial and error to get this just right, and he’d help him with it, but not too much. He said that the kid deserved all the credit. He explained that putting the special into the hole needed two men, but once it went in, he should run only about ten yards and then drop and Whitey would be right there with him.

. By this time, all of the rest of us were clear of the area, I was turning purple and strangling back what was trying to come out of my mouth. Whitey pulled the pin of the grenade and gave it to the kid, told him to hold the spoon and not let go till he had it right over the hole. Whitey walked to the ‘vent’ with the kid, watched him drop it in, ran ten yards with him and screamed “Down” to the kid while he kept running. It was like something out of a ‘Three Stooges” movie. The deep thumping blast, the towering column of debris, the gales of laughter, and one poor FNG covered with it. We only laughed harder when he started screaming “Shit, . . .shit, . . . shit.”

John Jerdon

Ocean City, Maryland.