by Ski Ingram
It was in January or early February that our platoon hiked to the top of Hill 542 in order to be resupplied. I was assigned to the 3rd platoon, Charlie Company 1/503rd Airborne Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade. We were working in the Nui Mu (sp) mountains in the Central Highlands of the Republic of Viet Nam. We arrived on the summit a few hours before dark. We planned to meet the resupply helicopter some time the next morning.
We set up a defensive perimeter and settled in for the night. There was a huge rock, about 10 or 15 feet high, on the top of the mountain we were on. A few of the guys climbed on top of the rock to look at the view of the valley below. A short time later we heard artillery rounds going over our heads. The guys on top of the rock said that it felt as if the artillery rounds were only a few feet higher than them as the rounds passed overhead. Suddenly one round fell short. It hit at the base of the huge rock. It shook the rock so hard that it cracked down the middle causing at least two of the guys on top to fall off. After that we all moved off the top of the hill until the shelling stopped. Fortunately, no other rounds fell short.
We had set up in a circular defensive position and divided into groups of three with the command post in the middle of the circle. I looked in my rucksack for something to eat for dinner and found two LRP (pronounced lurp) rations. One was Chili Con Carne; the other was Beef and Rice. I ate the Beef and Rice saving the Chili Con Carne for another day. I found that I was very short on water also. I wasn’t worried because we would be resupplied in the morning.
Sometime during the night, fog rolled in, and it got very cold. The fog was so thick that we couldn’t see more than a few feet in any direction. The fog was so wet we were soon soaked to the skin and freezing. We used our ponchos to make a roof on our little hooch which we hastily built. The only thing we had to keep us warm were our poncho liners.
The poncho liners we carried were made of rugged, lightweight Ripstop nylon. They are woven in a tight Oxford weave, with thick polyester sandwiched between the outer layers. It is also quilted for added strength and durability. They kept us warm even when soaking wet. Some even said that they were bulletproof, but … I’m not sure I really believed it. Fortunately, I never had to find out!
We didn’t get a lot of sleep that first night as we were all cold and wet. I was used to being wet, but the cold was something I hadn’t experienced in months. When we all woke up to welcome the resupply helicopter, we found that the fog was still very thick, so thick that the helicopter could not land with our supplies. We were all hoping the fog would lift by the afternoon, but it didn’t.
It was foggy all day. That next night, as with the night before, the fog was so thick we couldn’t see more than three feet from the doorway of our hootch. I can’t remember who my hootch mates were, however, I’m sure one of them was Randy Jones, unless he was in the States attending his grandmother’s funeral. That night everyone in my hootch was getting hungry as we had not eaten all day. None of the other guys in my hootch had anything to eat. We were all expecting the resupply helicopter to deliver enough rations for the next four days. When you are carrying everything on your back you want that pack to be as light as possible, so we didn’t usually carry anything extra, even food.
The typical items I carried in my rucksack were ammo, 400 rounds of 223, 10 hand grenades, 1 white phosphorous grenade, 2 Claymore mines, 200 or 300 rounds of 7.62 ammo for the machine gunner, 120 feet of rope, my Book of Mormon, a novel I was reading at the time, 10 quarts of water, and on resupply day, C-rations and LRP rations enough to last 4 days. All this can weigh up to 60 to 70 pounds. Oh, I forgot to mention my only pair of extra socks. These were usually hanging on the back of my rucksack so they could be drying in the sun after wearing them when crossing a stream or walking through a rice patty.
Since it was resupply day plus one, all of us were out of food except me. I had that Chili Con Carne LRP ration at the bottom of my ruck. LRP rations are dehydrated food known as Long Range Patrol Rations (LRP), which the troops immediately pronounced “lurp.” They featured eight main meals, which included 1) Beef Hash, 2) Beef and Rice, 3) Beef Stew, 4) Chicken and Rice, 5) Chicken Stew, 6) Chili Con Carne, 7) Pork and Scalloped Potatoes, and 8) Spaghetti with meat Sauce. You can eat them dry, like you would popcorn or you can add water. You can eat them cold or pour in hot water and enjoy a hot meal. I preferred a hot LRP to a cold one every time. One of the guys liked to eat the Pork and scalloped potatoes dry. He would walk through the jungle while snacking on the meal.
The problem with the Chili con carne meal were the beans. It seemed as if the beans would never get soft enough to eat no matter how long they were soaking in water. I would usually remove all of the beans before adding the hot water and then eat it. On this day the meal was to be shared between the three of us, so I left the beans in. I heated the water to boiling before pouring it into the plastic bag containing our dinner. We let it soak until the water was stone cold and then divided the meal up. Even before I took my first bite, I could tell the beans were still hard as rocks. I ate it anyway.
It was now our second night on Hill 542. We were still very wet and cold, at least we weren’t as hungry as before. That second night with the fog being so thick we didn’t even pretend to guard our perimeter. We all closed the door to our hootch and tried to get warm and dry by burning Trioxane Heating Fuel Bars, referred by soldiers as “heat tabs.”
Sometime during the night Captain Warnke, our company commander, came by to make sure we were awake and watching for the enemy. We told him we were being diligent, but as soon as he left, we went back to trying to stay warm and dry.
The next morning nothing had changed. The fog was still very thick and damp. We were still wet, cold and hungry. Captain Warnke ordered us to pack up our rucksacks and walk off the mountain. We hadn’t gone more than 100 feet down the mountain when we broke out of the fog. We hiked to the bottom of Hill 542 and were finally resupplied; albeit three days later.
Besides the LRP rations, C-rations, water and other items we normally received, we got about 5 pounds of tangerines. Everyone was full from eating C-rations or LRP rations, drinking sodas or beer and eating the candy that came in every SP Pack. No one wanted the tangerines. Whatever we didn’t put in our rucksacks or eat we would burn in order to deprive the enemy of anything we were given. I couldn’t see burning those delicious tangerines, so I packed all I could fit in an empty sandbag and strapped them to the top of my ruck.
I have no idea how far we walked that day, but I remember my rucksack being extra heavy. At the end of the day, while in our defensive position, I began to eat my delicious tangerines. There were a lot of guys who wanted some of them, but I wouldn’t give them any. They had wanted to burn them. They wouldn’t carry them and even made fun of me for saving them, so they didn’t get to eat any. I continued to eat them whenever I was on guard duty. The wonderful smell of those tangerines filled the night air. I’m sure if there were any enemy nearby, they knew exactly where we were. All they had to do was follow their nose to our location. At the end of the night there was a large pile of tangerine peelings in front of my location. It took all night, but I ate them all because I didn’t want to have to carry them the next day.
Today, I can’t eat a tangerine without thinking of Viet Nam.
A true story remembered by Ski Ingram May 2022.