June 12, 1967
Memphis (TN) Commercial Appeal
Sgt. Ronald Lee Speck of Memphis, a communications specialist with the Army in Vietnam, volunteered for the reconnaissance patrol reported in the following story because "things got pretty dull." A brother, Bobby Lee Speck of 3613 Shirlwood, said he talked with Sergeant Speck when he was on leave in Japan after the patrol. "He told me it got pretty hot," said Mr. Speck. Sergeant Speck, 21, was graduated from Central High School three years ago. He was drafted in August, 1965, and is due to be discharged this August. In his last letter to his brother, Sergeant Speck said he wanted "to give college a whirl" when he got home. Four other members of his family live in Memphis – his mother, Mrs. William Rhodes of 2463 Ketchum, two sisters, Mrs. W.G. Sparks of 1092 Craft Road and Miss Trudie Carol Speck of 1209 Sledge, and his grandmother, Mrs. V. E. Browning of the Sledge address. Another brother, Leon Speck Jr., lives in Columbus, Miss. Sergeant Speck is pictured with his grandmother.
Hides From 'Dinks' In Hostile Jungle
By THOMAS CORPORA LANDING ZONE REGULARS, Vietnam, June 11. - (UPI) - Monsoon rains are for cursing. I cursed one for two days. Now every breath begged for a deluge. We were half a dozen Americans trapped by North Vietnamese soldiers 2,500 meters from the Cambodian border. The thick brush jungle in which we lay protected us from their eyes. But the jungle also was our jail. If we tried to crawl away, the deadfall on the jungle floor would sound like popcorn gone mad. Our only hope was the monsoon. In the jungle, its driving rains would drown the sounds of even the clumsiest.
It was noon and the hot tropic sun steamed us in our sweat as we lay ready to fight our way out if discovered. There was nothing to do but wait. Our plight started 24 hours earlier at the oasis, the forward base camp of the Fourth Infantry Division's Second Brigade a few miles south of Pleiku. The First Battalion, 22nd Infantry, operating along the border, had asked for two long-range reconnaissance patrols (LRRP, pronounced lurp) to locate NVA infiltration routes from Cambodia. I was to go with the team led by Staff Sgt. Charles J. Britt, a serious 23-year-old soldier from Ferndale, Md. "The situation," Britt said in a terse briefing, "Dinks all over the place." "Dink" is the 4th Division soldier's name for NVA troops. "Charlie" is the Viet Cong. Master Sgt. Norman Lowell, 35, of Bethel, Maine, the battalion intelligence NCO gave us a more detailed briefing.
We were to leave the battalion position at dusk and move into an AO (Area of Operations) about 2,500 meters southeast and the same distance from the border. If the patrol was not compromised, we would stay out five days. Lowell told us that if there was no way we could avoid contact then the fire support base would give us "fire power plus" from its 4.2 inch mortars and 105mm, 155mm and 8-inch guns. There also was a close air support available from Pleiku. "If you spot those Dinks in time just give us a call and we'll pull a lanyard," Lowell said. We carried 10 dried LRRP rations, two for each day, four canteens of water, a poncho, a compass and map, two smoke grenades, fragmentation grenades and 200-plus rounds of ammunition. I had armed myself with a rifle, but intended to use it only in self-defense and defense of the men who would defend me if we got into a fight.
Britt and I wore jungle fatigues. The others had green and navy blue "tiger" camouflage. We were guided through the perimeter defenses by a small unit from the battalion and then left. Sp-4 Male Hatchett, a quiet 22-year-old from Detroit, was point man. Following was Sp-4 Daniel L. Harmon, a 21-year-old Cherokee Indian with a quick smile whose forebears somehow got to Kodiak, Alaska. He was the radio man. I followed Danny and Sgt. Ronald Lee Speck, 21 of Memphis Tenn. - a draftee like Danny - was rear security. Speck is a laughing, freckle-faced, red-haired boy who speaks with a soft drawl. He was the platoon communications man and didn't normally go on patrols. He volunteered for this one when another man got sick. About midnight we reached the border of our area of operations and Britt ordered us to halt for the night. Each man would stay awake for part of the night listening. If there were any unusual sounds the whole patrol would be instantly awakened. The night was uneventful and miserable. During the night it rained hard and the spot where I lay became a small lake. At 7:30 a.m., after a cup of cold coffee and candy bar from the LRRP rations, we were on our way again.
It was a gray, foggy morning. Soon after we began moving we found what we were looking for – a new trail running north and south, possibly a route used in the mortar attack against a nearby battalion the night before. Britt decided to find a place where we could listen for movement on the trail and not be seen. At 10:28, we moved into thick brush about six or seven feet tall, took off our packs and lay down. The sun was high now and had burned off the morning fog. My jungle fatigues had started to dry. About 11 I dozed off, woke 10 minutes later in a sweat. At 11:57 I woke again. Hatchett was wide awake and listening. Danny had picked up his rifle. He was staring straight past me into the bushes behind. Britt was doing the same. I couldn't see Speck.
Then we heard it. People moving, a too heavy step, the clunk of metal and finally voices in high pitched Vietnamese. A shock wave of fear swept from my brain down my spine to every nerve in my body. I lay without moving, hardly breathing, my heart pounding and every pore in my body streaming sweat. Hatchett had put his weapon on automatic. Danny had done the same and had two frag grenades lying beside him. Britt's rifle and grenades were ready. My rifle was lying beside me, but I was too frightened of making any sound to reach over and grab it. Everyone was lying still listening with an intentness that could be felt. We were totally aware of Britt. Britt was the man, he was in command though not a word had been whispered. No one would move a muscle unless Britt gave the sign. We lay listening to the sounds, praying they wouldn't move closer than the 15 feet from where they were coming. We heard the voices, at least three.
We heard the occasional clunk of heavy metal and now a digging, scraping noise - a mortar position. Then there was something else. More sounds, this time along the east-west trail. The thump of wooden rifle stocks against thighs, the tinkle of a swivel, the light shuffles of rubber-sandaled feet on damp leaves. Speck was the closest. He tried to count the sounds as they moved past. Two men, six, 10. At least 12, possibly 15. They moved into positions down the trail. We were trapped. I reached for my rifle, clicked it to full automatic and laid it across my chest and stomach. I opened the ammo pouch with my grenades. It's now 12:49 and hot. I'm still scared, more than I've ever been. It must show in my face. Danny looks up and smiles. I smile. Hatchett's face wrinkles and he grabs his jungle hat and rams it against his face. Achoo! Just once. The lightest sneeze I've every heard, but it scared me and everyone else. Then silence. The NVA didn't hear it. At fifteen minutes past one the sky begins to cloud up. Five minutes later it begins to rain. Britt signals us to get on our packs and ammo belts. We're going to try to escape under cover of the rain Speck is on point now and leads us down a small hill, across a stream and into more high, thick brush. Once there, Britt radios the battalion and calls for a fire mission on the position we just left. About 3:15 the first artillery rounds come screaming in on the position. Britt whispers to us to get our heads down. At 5 o'clock Britt decides the patrol hasn’t been compromised, that we'll spend the night where we are, listening.
The rain is beating lightly on the brush around us and over the sound there's a sudden snap – dead wood being stepped on by a man. I listen and there's another, then a third. Britt moves a few feet back toward the radio and his rifle. I'm already flat on my stomach with my rifle off safe. Britt signals me to get out my grenades. I hope to God I don't have to throw one. I'd been checked out on the rifle but it had been 13 years since I threw a grenade. Britt picks up a grenade, bends the pin open (his hand is shaking badly) slides the pin out, jumps up and lobs it into the brush 15 meters away.
There's a deep boom and Britt is immediately on the radio to the battalion: "Three-three, this is four-one. We're in contact. One enemy killed in action. No friendly casualties. I'm shutting down the radio and getting out."
Britt throws two more grenades and orders us to move out fast and to leave any loose gear. Danny, Britt and Speck all leave sleeping gear. We estimated there was a squad trying to move within hand grenade range of us. Britt saw three - one of them, the one he thought he killed, very close. Hatch saw one. We didn't wait to count more. We rushed through the jungle, fought it, bulling through thick underbrush, pushing low branches out of the way. Instead of carefully untangling thorn vines, we ripped them away with our hands. The next day I counted more than 150 cuts on my hands and wrists. They ranged from a thorn prick to two-inch long gashes. While we were waiting for a chopper to take us back to the brigade headquarters. Britt asked me what I planned to do now.
"I'm going to Saigon and cover the pacification story."