Listening to Kate Wolf singing about them golden, rollin' hills again. I was talking with a young lady Sunday who was raised in the area around Santa Clara. We agreed that the area can sneak up on you, nothing glaringly beautiful about it but it only takes a minimum of exposure to the area and you get hooked.
My mind drifted from Sunday's conversation through the hills around Monterey down to one hill in particular, a hill in the training area called Hunter-Liggett, about 60 miles down 101 from Salinas, a place where the Army goes to play war. The hill in question was located just a bit north and east of the dry river bed featured in "We Were Soldiers".
My company had moved into the area just before dusk. We still had lot of light for parking trucks and setting up a perimeter and all the things we had to do. The second platoon, the one I was in, was assigned a section of the company perimeter that was on the military ridge (that is Armyspeak for going just over the top of the ridge so you don't sillouette yourself on the ridge) of the hill directly to the west of the company Command Post (CP). Since our platoon sergeant was close to retiring and wasn't around much anyway, the other squad leader and I split up the platoon sergeant's duties. On this occasion I got to go to the meeting with the commander and first sergeant while they assigned the platoons their responsibilities and the commitments that we would be tasked with that night and the next day. Stick (the other squad leader) took the platoon up on the ridge and assigned fighting positions and set up the guard rotation and all that kindof thing.
It was well after full dark by the time I was done with the meeting. All of my field gear was in the truck I drove (we were short drivers, too) so now I had to grab all my gear and carry it up the hill to our position. The hill was so steep! Carrying 80 pounds or so of gear, I leaned into the hill to start up and at times it was like climbing stairs...I had to go up it like a mountain road, cutting across the face of it and making "switchback" turns. It wasn't more than fifty yards from the CP to our platoon perimeter...if it was laid out flat...but it wasn't, and it took me most of an hour to get to the top.
Stick had me check out the gun positions to make sure I was satisfied with the fields of fire and the cover; there wouldn't be any digging because we were sitting on very rocky ground. But he had chosen the perimeter layout well and it was too dark and starting to get cold and I was too tired to make a fuss about minor placements...besides, that's what Lieutenants are for (and ours wasn't about to hump that hill; he informed me he would stay close to the CP in case he was "needed").
Just over the ridge we were on, the hill dropped off as steeply if not more so than the side our company was on. We had good fields of fire out to about fifty - sixty yards and the terrain beyond that would be very difficult to approach us on. We dropped to fifty percent on the perimeter and settled in for the night.
About 0230 the perimeter reported they were being probed by the aggressor force. Stick and I moved up to the fighting positions to keep everyone calm. When you are being probed (shhhhh...none of that!) you don't fire back. The enemy will fire a few rounds at suspected foxholes looking for you to fire back, so they can mark your positions for when they come in force. They especially want to know where the heavy weapons are. We had an LP/OP on a spur about twenty yards outside the perimeter and they reported a lot of movement close to their front. We ordered them back in so they wouldn't be surrounded out there. When they got back inside the perimeter they said there were a LOT of bad guys out there in the bush.
The downslope in front of us was full of scrub oak and brush and we could hear some of the movement...they were getting close. This was not a probe; they were moving as many troops up to our line as possible before they attacked, hoping to catch us off guard and break through our lines, thus having an open avenue to the CP and the rest of the company. Stick was all for just opening up with everything on line. I thought it would be a better idea to cut the odds down first. I told every foxhole to throw two grenades as far and as high as they could on my command. When everyone had the word and was ready, I yelled, "NOW!" The value of using grenades in this situation is that when you throw them in a high arc, they come almost straight down, making it hard to tell where they came from...plus they go boom and throw out a bunch of shrapnel. About twenty grenades (we were using what the Army called an "M-80" which is actually anartillery simulator, it made a huge bang and bright flash but wasn't really that destructive unless you sat on it or forgot to throw it)...they all went off at about the same time and the result was amazing...there was a thundering herd of infantry men running down the hill to get away from us. A few fired their weapons but most just took off. We opened up with everything on the perimeter and it sounded like...well...like a war!
There was some discussion about using the M-80s the way we did and maybe we had endangered the aggressors but that was a discussion held above my echelon; the only thing that got said to us about it was, "Good job...that sounded awesome!"
About six years later, I read a book by a guy named Philip Caputo (I think?). He was a Marine platoon leader in Vietnam and in one chapter he describes a tactical situation that sounded just like the one I just told you about. He did the same thing, engaging with grenades to keep from giving away his strength and positions. As I was reading his story I was amazed at the similarity and the results...and figured that there really was some value to the training we did. How 'bout dat!?