Listening Post by Keith Bolstad

LP Bo Tuc, Vietnam December 18-19, 1967

The night of the Manchu's big battle at Bo Tuc, which was the night of December 19-20,1967, I was selected to take a LP (Listening Post) out. We started out from the perimeter just before dark, picking our way down slope and away from the base perimeter into the tall grass and scattered brush tickets that surrounded the base. I was never a believer in LP's as I thought for the little advance warning they provided, contrasted with the danger and sleep deprivation, they were not worth it. (Either that, or the 'anti-system' attitude was rubbing off from my squad leader, Al Clinton, who was the best damn squad leader a guy could hope to have.) Not quite far enough out from the perimeter, there was a nice dip in the ground about a foot deep. I thought this would provide some protection for us, but decided it was much too close to base camp. Proceeding on out a little further, we came upon a small thicket of brush amongst the tall grass that surrounded the base, that appeared dense enough that I deemed it satisfactory for our purpose, although it was not as far out from the perimeter as we were supposed to be. I believed that this little thicket was the safest place in the immediate area to set up our LP for the night.

It started out as a normal quiet night, the stars were shining, various bugs were biting and the normal nighttime sounds were present. We settled into the standard LP routine, taking turns getting a little shuteye, while the others watched and listened, checking in with base periodically on the radio. A few hours later, things turned to shit in a hurry. The first thing we heard was a lot of small arms fire back at the base perimeter. Within minutes, just feet from our thicket, we heard the guttural chatter of many NVA. I estimated 30 to 40 of them. We were totally surrounded by the enemy.

I tried to lie on the radio's handset to smother any sound so no static or someone's call from the command post would betray our hiding spot to the enemy. I was so sure that these were my last moments alive on earth that I did not even get scared. I remember slowly moving my hand to put my M16 on full automatic. I thought I would take as many NVA down with me as I could if we were discovered. But I resolved that I was not going to open fire first and decide the fate of my LP group. I thought surely one of the others would pick the wrong time to open fire and doom us all. But no one panicked, no one fired. We lay there scarcely daring to breathe, afraid that even that small amount of noise would betray our presence. The other guys certainly kept their cool that night. Within 5 minutes or so, the NVA had gone around us and launched their attack on the perimeter. A tremendous firefight erupted. By some twist of good fortune, our little thicket was just below the crest of the slope running up towards the base, so all the outgoing fire from the base went safely above our heads. I believe the NVA had watched us leave the perimeter earlier that evening and were looking for us to get us before we could warn the base of their attack.

It was not long before the gun ships, jets and everything else were dropping their stuff on the outside of the perimeter. That caused my heart rate to pick up big time. I thought for sure we would now be killed because I hadn't taken the guys out far enough before setting up the LP. Several times I thought of trying to go back in, but too much was happening, so the best option seemed to stay put. The gun ships put their machine gun fire within 5 feet of us on one strafing run. I called in on the radio to inform base on how close things were to us. The gun ships had no idea were we were, so the air strikes would have to have been called off to protect us, the LP's, and that was not the most popular plan at the time with the base under full attack. God must have had a shield over that little thicket that night because the air strikes covered every square inch of territory out there except that little thicket.

By the time dawn arrived the NVA had departed the area, so we radioed base and said we were coming in. By now, I was wondering what the guys had gone through back at the perimeter. It seemed like enough firepower had been expended back there to blow that whole damn country off the map. As we neared the perimeter we inadvertently tripped a flare. Someone hollered, "Get down!" but we just froze upright in our tracks. I think we all had the same idea, give our buddies a few seconds to recognize us as the LP coming in.

After safely getting in, it didn't take us long to figure out that we probably had been the lucky ones being pinned down out of the action except for the close 'friendly fire' from the gun ships. Buddies Bob and Al said they thought they would never see me alive again and were amazed and overjoyed at my return. But, they probably were not as amazed and overjoyed as I was at my own return.

Keith Bolstad, Bravo & Delta Co. 1967-68