My Thoughts While Walking Point in the Arizona Territory
Many Vietnam veterans struggled upon returning to the United States. They wrestled with the psychic trauma of the war and felt isolated and out of place, rejected by their country.
As point man, the greater danger wasn’t from an ambush or getting shot from a sniper, it was from the booby traps. Our point element would often take casualties from them.
In the Arizona Territory, our point team existed of 3 or 4 men. Point lead, left and right flank, and often a radio operator directly behind the point man. We were about 15 to 30 yards apart from each other as we moved through rice patties with distant tree lines, boundary dikes, and also through dry land, fields, and even small villages and farm land.
I picked up the radio shortly after arriving in Vietnam and became a squad radioman and then later a platoon radio operator. I often volunteered to walk point and did so from mid-February through April 1969. No one walking point with me died while I was walking point. We did however take casualties. I looked for everything, anything out of place, listened for the birds or the lack of sound; I always knew what I was doing, within sight of my point team, and knew where I was going. Sometimes, I would stop to check the compass and/or review the map I carried.
As we slowly approached the terrain in front of us, I would examine the area for trip lines, NVA bunkers, broken branches, blood trails, a matted-down path, bunkers, and obvious openings in tree lines where a booby trap could be planted. Tripwires, spider holes, a gum wrapper, a tin can, a pile of leaves or a pile of brush, a change in the color of the ground foliage where it turned a bit yellow, wilted leaves, or dead branches. These could indicate a booby trap.
As a radio operator, I knew how to key the handset for relaying messages to the other radio operators. We would run in silence mode. One press on the handset meant to stop or hold up. Two squelches of the handset meant all clear move ahead, and three clicks of the handset meant enemy or non-friendlies were observed nearby. We also used hand motions between the four of us walking point. Each team member would be in constant hand-signal communication with the radio operator walking point.
I can remember one afternoon in late March while in the Arizona Territory, All hell broke loose; we got hit and were pinned down and couldn’t move. A machine gun position opened up on us. My right flank machine gunner went down. He was hit with four bullets in the left leg. We had to call in air support and mortar power to chase away the enemy.
I did whatever it took to keep me and my team alive. Nerves, sense of touch, sense of smell at night, color change, seeing something that looks out-of-place, listening to all the sounds and lack of sounds, being smart, and extremely alert, a keen sight, including a 6th sense to know we were close to danger, all contributed to the safety of my point squad. We had a lot of respect and trust for one another during our walks at point.
On a separate occasion, I lost a point man to a booby trap. He lost his left foot just below the knee and was medivaced in a timely manner. The rest of us lost our hearing for a few days and all four of us were hit with some hot shrapnel. I was glad for my helmet and flak jacket.
I saw many men die and many more wounded while in the Arizona Territory while being a combat Marine in Hotel Company.
PFC Larry Tyler