Vietnam: Christmas 1968
If His eye is on the sparrow I know He is watching over me
For over the past 25 years, I've tried to stand up during morning church devotions and share my testimony. In 1993, with much prayer I was able to express my testimony in narrative form. I call my story "Vietnam: Christmas 1968". My wife, Betty, had it published in 1993 however I never personally shared it as I promised God.
Thank you Pastor Griffin for granting me this time to keep my promise.
During Church Service this past Sunday, December 21, 1997, my spirit was moved to know the time difference between Vietnam and Philadelphia. I found that Vietnam is 12 hours ahead of Philadelphia.
My awareness of the time difference gave me a chill. In my testimony, which I will read to you shortly, refers to Midnight 21, 1968. At that time, the darkness turned bright as I asked God for my last rites. God Is good! Little did I know, a half a world away, before altar prayer at Second Baptist Church in Doylestown, my mother, who strongly believed in prayer, asked the church for a special prayer for her son away in Vietnam fighting in a war. If his eye is on the sparrow indeed I know he was watching over me. At that very moment I was asking God's forgivness my mother and the church were praying for me.
Back in the "world", it was six days till Christmas, but in the Republic of South Vietnam, December 19, 1968, and being a "grunt" in the 25th Infantry Division, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry, 'Manchu's', it was just another morning, except we were told to pack all gear including personal items. It only took a few minutes to grab our ammo can with our personal items in it. (Ammo can was the only thing that was rain tight). Some of the items were pen and paper, pictures, small camera, toilet articles, address book, and Bible.
Our orders were to relocate, and build a new base camp called "Fire Support base, Mole City. I could hear the D.J. on the radio saying "Good Morning Viet Nam", as the sound of heliocopters chopping the air grew closer. There were two companies (210 men) of us moving out, and I was on the first of four lifts. The choppers dropped us off at a clearing with a few palm trees. The area was the size of one football field surrounded by old rice paddies and a couple of bamboo hedgerows. Our Commanding Officer told us that the U.S. Army Intelligence felt that we would be attacked by a regiment of North Viet Nam Regular (N.V.A.) soldiers (1,500 men) within the next 72 hours.
We had bunkers and trenches to dig, and hundreds of sand bags to fill in the next 48 hours. The ground was hard, the temperature was 105 to 110. Between the sweat, dust, and those darn mosquitoes, you can imagine how we felt, but we never stopped digging and filling sand bags, for our lives depended on building a good strong bunker. By the end of the first day, I knew why they called it 'Mole City. All the bunkers were at ground level. I also knew someone was going to die. How many, and when, I didn't know. Other than the radio playing, it was quiet while working. I'm sure my comrades had thoughts much like mine. The first night was quiet, and no movement spotted, but those mosquitoes were like jet planes attacking. They just wouldn't leave you alone, even with the insect repellent on. I'll never forget it.
The next day, December 20th, was much like the first, a lot of hard work, but the questions still laid in our minds. "Who was going to die"? About every third or fourth night you would have to go out on a "L.P" (Listening Patrol). Four men would go outside our perimeter after dark, and return at sunrise. Shortly after sunset, our "L.P." spotted four N.V.A. soldiers heading towards our perimeter wire. I looked, and there were the soldiers with their rifles, slung on their shoulders, checking out our concertina wire, and what they could see of our bunkers. We were waiting for the command to open fire, but instead we were told to hold our fire, and wait until tomorrow night, and we'll get them all.
That's when I broke out into a cold sweat. It was my turn for "L.P.", and if we were going to have a ground attack, being 100 yards outside of base camp on "L.P.", was not the best place to be. Also, the question, "Who was going to die"? Well, the G.I.'s on "L.P." tomorrow night went to the top of the list. Oh, my God, being the holiday, season back in the "world (home). How are our loved one's going to handle a knock on the door from a military officer telling them their son was killed, or wounded, in action.
Once, again, December 21st, was like the first two days, except we worked a little harder to get our bunkers finished. We, also cleaned our weapons, and placed our ammo within a hand's reach. Everyone was frightened, but no one let it out. When it was time for us to leave for Listening Patrol, we could see fear in our comrades eyes, for we all knew if anyone was going to die tonight, it would be the "L.P.". We also had orders to watch like an owl from our Commanding Officer. He felt the main attack would come from our "L.P." location. We carried our radio, weapons, trenching tools and sand bags, so we could dig a fox hole in case we needed some protection while out there. The ground was so hard, we were tired. We only dug a small fox hole, and filled a few sand bags. It was around 2200 hours (10:00 p.m.) when everyone on "L.P." went to sleep, except me. I pulled the first guard, "2" hours.
About 2330 hours (11:30 p.m.), one of the other "L.P." spotted N.V.A. soldiers, and the Command Post told them to return to base camp right now. I called the Command Post, and asked permission for us to return, and they said to stay a while longer, and keep looking through the starlight scope for any movement. For the next 20 minutes, the Command Post called three or four times, and asked if I saw anything at all. My reply was negative. About 2359 hours (11:59 p.m.) I got that cold chill again. I could feel danger in the air. About then, the Command Post called, and asked me "Are you sure, you don't see anything"? My reply was negative, but they told me we could return to base camp now. (2400 hours "Midnight").
Before I could wake my comrades up, the darkness turned bright. About 200 yards in front of our post, there must have been at least 100 mortars being fired as fast as the N.V.A. soldiers could fire them. My Commander was right, they were out there, and I just couldn't see them, being between the enemy and our base camp. Bullets, mortars, rockets, and artillery were hitting everywhere, and the four of us crawled for the fox hole. There wasn't anything anyone of us could do. It was just a matter of time when one of those mortars, or rockets, would hit us.
All I could remember was I asked God to forgive me of any sins that I committed, amd also let my Mother, Father, Sisters, and Brothers know that I accepted Christ as my personal Saviour, and I love them all. It was like God put me to sleep, and put a blanket ovetr me. I don't remember seeing, or hearing, anything for at least 3 hours.
The first thing I heard was the radio, and opened my eyes. I could see the enemy's rifles, a hands' reach away. With all the dust and noise from the mortars, rockets and artillery, I thanked God they couldn't see or hear us. I felt to see if anyone was hurt. Everyone seemed OK. I called the Command Post, and they were surprised we were still alive. The Commander felt they were going to attack one more time before daybreak. I told him it sounded like they were regrouping about 50 yards from our "L.P.". He put the jet bombers, gunships, and artillery on my radio frequency, and I directed the air strikes and artillery by walking the rounds in until I heard the N.V.A. soldiers yelling. I then told the "boys" in the air, that your're on target.
I got hit in the arm from a piece of shrapnel. It hurt so bad, but I put it out, of my mind. After the air strike, about 20 minutes, I could hear carts with oxen pulling them. I figured they were moving the wounded and dead away. I knew by sunrise the N.V.A. soldiers would be gone. They wouldn't take a chance of getting caught in the daylight in open rice paddies with the air force around.
I thanked God when I saw the sun peek up, especially a few hours earlier I had said my last rites.
I'll tell you, I never ran a 100 yard dash as fast as I did that morning getting back to my bunker. All the guys kept saying, "I can't believe you are alive".
It was a Blessing that we did not return to our bunker when the Commander OK'd us to return at 2400 hours, for that area was overrun by N.V.A. soldiers. My friend, Philip Benjamin, was wounded in action that night along with 11 other comrades. 19 were killed in action. The enemy lost 290 men, and who knows how many wounded and dead were carried away before daybreak. Philip Benjamin died a few weeks later, and I often wonder how his family is doing. They lived in Baltimore, MD.
When I returned to the "World", I told some of my loved ones, and friends, that asked me about Vietnam, the story, but mostly, I let them read my written orders for the Silver Star that I received that night for 'Gallantry in Action". For twenty some years I've tried to forget Vietnam, but I keep telling myself, "Why should I"? The greatest Blessing a man could ask for happened to me while I was at war. As usual, my eyes fill with tears, as my thoughts go back to the morning of December 22, 1968.
As the Christmas season grows closer, and this year, I've decided to share my innermost feelings, as I've tried to do, for the past 24 years. This story may sound sad, but it's the best Christmas story, autobiography, that God has allowed me to share with you.
Robert B. Chavous
Co. B 4th/9th 1968