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West Side Story.

IT WAS AN ESPECIALLY PLEASANT evening, 1st Lieutenant Warren Holcroft thought to himself, cool, a ice breeze--with no mosquitoes as a result, a rarity in Vietnam under any circumstances except the Monsoon season--and a full moon without a cloud in the sky Yep, it was a nice one, all right and Holcroft said so to his companion, Staff Sergeant Charles Edmunson.

Next to each of them, as required by both the 101st and US Army, Vietnam policy, lay their personal battle gear, consisting of an H-harness, pistol belt, two canteens, a first-aid pouch a leather flap holster, containing their issued personal weapon, a Colt M1911A1 .45 ACP pistol, and a dual magazine carrier, in which there were two spare magazines, loaded with GI 230-grain "hardball."

Hoisting his moderately cool can of Pabst Blue Ribbon aloft in a mock toast. It's really good to see you again, Warren, cheers, eh?"

"Cheers, partner," Holcroft replied, also holding his beer aloft, touching Edmunson's. Then he stiffened and sat up, looking toward the mountains four kilometers to the west. "Hey, look at that! Did you see that flash about halfway up the slope, there?"

"I sure as f--- did." Edmunson breathed excitedly as he sat upright. "Look... there's another...and another. Are you thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?"

Holcroft pursed his lips anxiously. "Yeah, you know what those are? Those are NVA 122mm rockets, my friend and they're being launched this way Where's the 'incoming' bunker?"

Edmunson responded, gesturing behind them to the northeast. "It's about a hundred meters over there, and you know as well as I do that most casualties are sustained when people get up and run around lookin' for someplace to take cover. Let's just stay right here...if those rockets are aimed at Eagle, they'll be comin' down on the helipads where they can do some damage, not here on the perimeter."

Unconvinced, Holcroft breathed, "Yeah...okay...makes sense, let's just wait a few seconds an' see..."

The answer was not long in coming. Ssssssssssssss...WHUMP! Sssssssssssss...WHUMP! Two of the Russian-made rockets sizzled close overhead, impacting not on the helipads as expected, but a mere fifty meters behind them. Sssssssssss...WHUMP! Dirt, rocks and other debris cascaded skyward, then tumbled to the ground all around.

Clutching their battle gear, both men rolled instinctively to each side, tumbling unceremoniously to the ground. "J---- C-----! Those were so close, you'd think they were shooting at us personally! That's either lousy shooting or something else is about to happen..." Edmunson yelled.

As the two men lay there, trying to determine if this was merely harassment fire or the prelude to a ground assault, three more 122mm rockets struck among the dust and smoke created by the first three.

The abrupt flash and report of an RPG-7 erupted from the darkness of the ravine, it's shaped-charge warhead slamming into the bunker to their right-front. A cloud of smoke belched from the rear entrance.

A second RPG-7 rocket shattered the night, destroying the next bunker to the left. Both bunkers guarding the ravine were now neutralized. From the smoke cloud billowing from its rear entrance, a wounded paratrooper staggered drunkenly, holding his face in both hands.

"Aw, s---! Edmunson screamed in anger, rising to his feet. "The poor guy's hit. C'mon, let's get him." Holcroft began to stand, but within two seconds the night exploded with green tracers, coming by the dozens from the ravine. The wounded soldier cartwheeled slowly, taking several hits, then collapsed face down into the dust.

A bright explosion lit up the ravine, blowing the double-apron barbed wire fence to bits. A second blast a heartbeat later, blew a gaping hole in the tanglefoot behind it, sending pieces of engineer stakes and wire humming overhead.

"Well, now I guess we know..." Holcroft shouted to Edmunson over the din, then looked abruptly up the ravine. "Here they come..."

It was true. Pouring from the ravine through the hole in the perimeter fence were at least a hundred heavily-armed NVA regulars, many carrying satchel charges. Quickly, they fanned out and began to sprint to the east and southeast, toward the helipads and Tactical Operations Center. Others began shooting wildly into the tents and parked vehicles, hoping to cause as much confusion and casualties as possible before the Americans could determine what was going on and respond.

Holcroft and Edmunson acted as one. Quickly throwing their battle gear over one shoulder, they drew their M1911 .45s and moved into action. It was only a question of minutes, because a reaction force would shortly arrive to plug the hole. Meanwhile, they had to try to keep as many of them as possible from reaching the helipads, preferably without being killed in the process.

Flares were now screeching skyward by the dozens, turning night into day, and in the confusion, they moved between the tents and parked vehicles, shooting running NVA where ever they encountered them, diving to earth when they received return fire, then regaining their feet and moving on.

CRACK! CRACK! Edmunson's .45 echoed weakly through the thunder, and Holcroft turned in time to see an NVA armed with an AK-47 assault rifle stumble, then topple forward into the dirt in a heap. Looking back, he grinned and yelled, "Not bad, ace, especially for a guy who barely qualified with the .45!"

"F--- you!" Edmunson yelled back merrily, grinning from ear to ear. Watch it... over there to your left... a guy with a satchel charge.. .GET HIM.. .NOW!"

Holcroft turned and, 15 meters away, saw another running NVA, this one with a 25-lb. Satchel charge of TNT strapped to his chest. In his right hand, he held a Chinese Type 51 7.62x25mm pistol, a copy of the Russian TT-33. His M911 snapped upward and spoke three times -- CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! -- but the NVA continued to rush forward.

S---! I missed. Holcroft chastised himself. Watch the sights, the sights! He fired again, three times, finally, the NVA went down, spinning to the left, his Tokarev cartwheeling end-over-end as it bounced across the ground.

Edmunson was somehow at his side. "Who was it that could barely qualify.?" he laughed. "That was some of the worst shooting I've ever seen from you!"

"Okay, a..... We're even... Holcroft acquiesced, then pointed urgently into the smoke. "THERE.. .to your right." Ten meters away, two NVA with satchel charges sprinted by, ignoring them in favor of reaching the UH-1D "Hueys" parked on the pad 200 meters distant.

Again, the two men acted nearly as one. Without further comment, both men opened fire--and those NVA, too, went down sprawling.

Empty.. .Holcroft thought to himself as he looked at the slide locked back.., time to change mags. Neatly, he flipped his M1911 in his firing hand and punched the magazine release button. With his other hand, he slammed home a fresh one taken from the carrier on his battle gear and released the slide.

And none too soon, for suddenly another NVA crossed right in front of him, running wildly back toward the ravine. Looks like things are finally turning around.. .that guy is running like hunchback the other way!

Tracking the NVA as he ran, Holcroft's .45 spoke Foutiines but without apparent effect. Two more rounds of 230-grain "hardball" leapt across the ten feet separating the two men and, this time, they struck home, and the NVA, like so many of his, companions, joined his ancestors. Holcroft loaded his last spare magazine and again looked around for more targets, but saw only Edmunson doing the same. But it was over.

The two men looked and each other and breathed a sigh of relief, then, with their Ml9lls still In hand, walked carefully back towards the CONEX container where they'd been when it all began. Reaching it, they discovered three cans of unopened Pabst Blue Ribbon lying on the ground next to it.

They had to do it-grinning at each other, they each opened one, held them aloft and touched them together. "Airborne!" Edmunson, said solemnly "All the way!"

Holcroft replied with a smile. "All the way...!"
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Date:Dec 1, 2000
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