Authors: Leonard B Scott
The Last Run
Leonard B. Scott
1 September 1970
Private Nguyen Tran Nuu lay trembling in the darkness as the earthen tunnel began to shake around him. It was time. They had come as his senior sergeant had said they would. He crawled toward the entrance, got to his feet, and crouched in the square fighting position. Then he slowly raised the camouflaged trapdoor above him a few centimeters. From the outside, the rise in a clump of grass would have been hardly noticeable.
The first lumbering American armored personnel carrier clanked into view, bellowing like a wounded water buffalo and knocking down small trees. Until then, Nuu had seen the rectangular mechanical boxes only from a great distance, and the size of the monster and the noise it made shocked him as it rumbled by only thirty meters in front of his position.
Riding on top of the carrier were six Yankees, all of whom wore watches like rich men. Four were white-skinned, two were black, and each had a rifle in his hands and a bandolier strapped across his chest.
Nuu, still trembling like the ground around him, asked for strength from his ancestors as the APC disappeared from view and a second burst out of the tall grass. He shut his eyes, remembering his sergeant's words, and felt better knowing everything the man had said had come to pass: The Americans had come along the predicted route in a single column and were obviously not expecting an ambush. In fact, they thought they were about to attack General Headquarters.
Nuu began to prepare for what he had been training to do for two months. His company had been ordered to the old tunnel complex for the purpose of setting up this ambush. The complex ran the entire length of the ridge, and digging and camouflaging the fighting holes had taken many weeks. Rehearsals took up the rest of the time. Now he felt his confidence coming back. He knew what to do. He was to wait until the seventh armored carrier passed, then destroy the eighth. His attack would halt and confuse the column. The rest of his comrades were spread out in similar positions to the north and would shoot the other vehicles and any Yankee soldiers who were within the killing space. After he destroyed the carrier, he was to crawl to the tunnel corridor that led to the far side of the ridge. There he would follow the path to the reorganization point. One platoon would remain in the complex and fight from bunkers until told to withdraw.
Nuu squatted down and lovingly picked up his RPG-2 antitank grenade launcher. He ran his hand over the smooth, hard wood of the casing that would protect him from the heat of the metal tube, and he blew dust from the handgrip's trigger. Night and day he had practiced the procedures of loading, aiming, and firing the weapon until they had become second nature. Now his fears completely dissolved. The power of his old friend would destroy the huge monster.
Nuu pulled a HEAT antitank grenade from his back pouch and inspected it quickly as the fifth carrier rumbled past. The type- 50 Chinese high explosive antitank grenade had three basic components: a warhead containing a conical-shaped charge, a motor, and a flexible fin assembly that wrapped around the motor. He carefully inserted the missile into the muzzle, making sure the metal ring slid up and released the spring-loaded fins that partially extended within the tube. With a slight twist he locked the projectile into place and patted the large, 82 mm warhead that would easily penetrate the APC's armor plate. The missile would assure him an award of Valiant Fighter Third Class and make him honored among his family.
The seventh APC rolled from view, and Nuu pushed back the hidden door. He stepped up onto the firing step, quickly pulled a prepositioned grass mat over his body, so as to blend with the vegetation, and placed the launcher on his shoulder. The eighth APC clanked down the path made by the others. Nuu aligned the sights and aimed at the front portion of the hull a meter down from the driver's hatch. He took a deep breath and slowly squeezed the trigger. The launcher jolted in a cloud of smoke and sound as the grenade swooshed out of the tube. The fins sprang out and, fully extended, stabilized the missile as it streaked toward its taiget.
The massive APC shuddered with the warhead's impact. The blast charge detonated and instantly turned the cone into a concentrated, directed jet force that blew a hole through the armor like a hot knife through jello. The driver was killed instantly by the shock wave; milliseconds later, the molten steel that blew into the compartment decapitated him and slammed his body against the engine wall. The right pivot steering level was shoved forward and the accelerator was depressed by the weight of the headless corpse as it crumpled down and became pinned between the steering device and seat. The carrier's right track churned forward as the left remained motionless, causing the vehicle to pivot in a constant right turn.
The few men on top of the APC who weren't blown off by the explosion jumped off to take cover. One of the soldiers lay on the ground, too stunned to move, as the runaway monster turned abruptly and ground him beneath its track. Another man rolled away and crawled frantically to get out of its path, but too late. The fourteen-ton APC rolled over his feet, crushing them into bloody pulp. The engine's roar drowned out his hysterical screams as more APCs were caught in the devastating grenade attack.
Nuu backed down and closed the trapdoor above him. There was no need to shoot again. He paused for a moment, listening to the chaos outside, and smiled. He had done his duty and made his ancestors proud. He knelt down and began crawling into the tunnel's darkness.
Three hundred meters from Private Nuu's fighting position one of the North Vietnamese Army's youngest and brightest lieutenant colonels peered through the command bunker's firing portal. Lieutenant Colonel Dinh Luong Sy smiled at the sight of three APCs burning and two more smoking. His general's plan was a masterpiece!
The slightly built colonel turned and glanced quickly at the map beside him. He knew the old headquarters tunnel complex in which he stood would soon be under siege. Thirty minutes before, the Yankees had helicoptered a battalion-size force into the valley behind him as part of an operation to find the general's headquarters. Now they would surely come to the aid of the mechanized unit that had been ambushed.
The general had planned the ruse months ago and sent him to the old tunnels to carry it out. The Americans relied on their electronic surveillance devices too heavily, and easily fell prey to their own intelligence. They constantly sought the location of the general's headquarters, so he had simply provided it. The general ordered the establishment of a radio station that sent out bogus traffic consisting of old information. The transmissions were designed to ensure detection. He'd even used old radios whose peculiar signature identified them as his to broadcast to ghost units.
The general had also planned the ambush knowing the Americans would base their attack strategy on the terrain. The Yankees would find the old tunnels, as planned, and waste days searching through them. Old documents would be left to confuse them even more.
Colonel Sy shook his head in admiration. They had come to find his general but had instead fallen victim to him. The general was now forty kilometers to the west in a command tunnel forty feet below ground. The Tall One had outfoxed the American aggressors again.
As Sy stepped down into the tunnel to join the two escaping platoons, he looked over his shoulder at the lieutenant who had to stay and fight on to give the others time to escape. The young officer smiled confidently as only the young could. Sy forced a smile in return, knowing the soldier would die. He and his few men would be the Americans' only victory. His death had been planned, with everything else, by the general. The general had spoken with great sadness as he explained the reason for the sacrifice to the victim: The Americans had to have a small victory ao that they could claim the operation a success; otherwise more would come.
Sy had seen the agony in the general's eyes and had understood. His leader was buying precious time to build and strengthen his southern liberation forces. The price for ultimate victory had to be paid for, once again, by the young, who would die, sadly, as the liberation's truest heroes.
Bo Dau Mountains Thirty-six kilometers southwest of Phan Thiet
The rain forest awoke in a gray shroud of smoking mist. The vapor swirled as six dark figures with painted green and black faces arose slowly from the jungle floor and stood motionless. They wore heavy rucksacks and camouflaged fatigues and had jungle flop hats pulled low over their foreheads.
The leader stood four feet in front of the others. His narrowed brown eyes methodically searched the area as he concentrated on the sounds of the awakening forest. Sergeant Matt Wade, team leader of Ranger team 3-1, was following a procedure he'd learned from experience. He was fine-tuning his senses for survival. Chirping insects, birds squawking in flight, wind rustling the branches in the canopy-all were absorbed and stored for reference. Every sound, smell, and sight, all constantly changing with time of day and weather conditions, was important.
Experience had taught him many lessons. Once, the absence of crickets chirping on one side of a trail had warned him of an NVA ambush. Another time, two shriveled ferns among a stand of lush, vibrant companions gave away a sniper's camouflaged position. The jungle had to be understood. Otherwise it became an undefeatable enemy.
The twenty-one-year-old sergeant tilted his head in another direction to listen. His lean, rugged face exposed taut muscles above his square jaw. He was rangy at five-feet-ten, and his heavy rucksack hung from his broad shoulders as if it was part of him. Seven months of stalking the enemy in the jungle had trimmed his body to nothing but bone, muscle, and sinew.
Wade's team had been inserted at dusk the day before by helicopter and had laagered for the night. They were thirty kilometers inside enemy-controlled territory and were to move to a trail seven klicks away. It was a kill-mission; they would ambush whoever came down the trail and collect papers and documents for intelligence purposes.
The sergeant shifted his Colt submachine gun to his left hand and pulled a pouch of Beechnut chewing tobacco from his leg pocket. He turned and looked into the faces of his team as he filled his cheek.
The first team member his eyes fell upon was a short, wiry, nineteen-year-old black man, Specialist Fourth Class Jeremiah Flowers-"The Rose." Rose, the team point man, held up his thumb and flashed a big grin. Wade couldn't help but smile back. Rose was ready, as always. Despite his toothy grin, Rose was a merciless killer. He had shot his first man at the age of sixteen during the Detroit race riots in 1967. Four months before he'd been on Team 1-3 during the Cambodian mission. He was the only team member to survive, and now he lived for revenge.
Wade shifted his gaze to his good friend and assistant team leader, Spec-4 Kenneth Meeks-"Thumper." The six-foot-tall soldier had massive shoulders and narrow hips. He was built for speed and agile strength, like a thoroughbred racehorse. He had been starting fullback for Penn State, but dropped out his sophomore year when his brother had been killed at Hue during the Tet offensive of 1968. He had joined the Army and volunteered for Vietnam with one obsession-to justify his brother's death. Thumper had been in Vietnam for only five months, but he was already one of the most highly decorated men in the Ranger company. Like Rose, he had come from another team. When all of his old teammates had been wounded or rotated home, he'd joined Wade's team. Thumper was the rock of the unit; he was unshakable under pressure and totally dependable.
Wade's eyes turned cold and narrowed as he glanced at the next two men. They were cherries, new men assigned to the team despite his protest. Robbins and . . . damn, he couldn't remember the other one's name. Robbins was easy to remember because of his red hair and freckles. The other one was . . . uh . . . Stevens! That was it. Stevens had long hair and acted as if he didn't give a shit. Rose had called them Red Rob and Shitbird Stevens.
Wade's gaze softened as it shifted to the last team member. Spec-4 Carl Rostov was standing guard watching their rear. The twenty-nine-year-old soldier was the oldest and most experienced man on the team. In 1961, his family had tried to escape from Czechoslovakia, but Carl had been the only one to make it. His mother had been killed, and his father and brother imprisoned. Carl served with Belgian mercenaries in Africa for three years and later emigrated to the United States. He was known as "Russian" and was built like a thick tree stump. He had brutish features and the gait of a bull. Russian was driven by a passionate hate of Communists.
Wade put his hand on his friend's back and whispered, "Watch the cherries for me, Carl."
The burly soldier nodded silently without taking his eyes from the jungle. Wade kept his hand on the soldier's back, a sign of the special friendship he felt for the man. Unlike the others, Carl had been on Wade's team since he'd taken over seven months before. Russian had been his mentor and had taught him many secrets for survival in the jungle. They had been through many rough missions together and had lost five men over the months. It had been Carl who had stood by Wade, who had talked him out of depressions over losses, and who had helped him grow into a confident leader. Wade owed the man his life, but Russian never asked for anything but his friendship.
Wade quiedy waved at Rose to begin the trek. Rose grinned cruelly as he brought his M-16 up to his chest and started walking toward the west. Thumper waited until the soldier had taken ten steps, then followed behind in the slackman position. He carried an M-79 grenade launcher and would stay ten to fifteen paces behind the point man, protecting his flanks and back.