Memories of a mission in Vietnam, January 11, 1970

A story by SGT. Ronald Santerre, 1st Calvary Division from 1970s

Sometime in early 1969 the Viet Cong entered and took over a village along the Song Be River. The village, because it was covered by triple canopy jungle, was not visible from the air. The Viet Cong soldiers found out who the village chief was and ten murdered his family in front of the other villagers and then shot the village chief and left him for dead. Somehow he survived and with the help o a few friends was taken out and brought long distance for medical aid. He did lose a leg from his wounds.

On January 10, 1970 my platoon was given the mission to retake the village and bring its people to a safe place. The village chief at the time with the use of crutches was able to guide us to his village. We were inserted some distance away, so as not to be detected by the enemy. That night we set up a night defensive position. While one squad dug foxholes my squad did a sector recon of the perimeter. When we came back in we put out trip flares and claymore mines. Early the following morning the village chief guided us toward our destination. Although he had crutches he moved at a quick pace determined to free his people. With full gear we kept the pace. There were a few places where he pointed out booby trap locations. When we came to the Song Be River we had to cross it leaving ourselves vulnerable. We were fortunate not to be discovered. Upon crossing the river there was a trail leading to the village.

What I am able to remember is the village was a short distance and upon entering adrenalin was maxed out. We tried to get who was in bunkers to come out, we then dropped grenades into them when we had to in order not to be in further danger. When we finally got control of the village we had to machete an opening in the bamboo jungle large enough to land a helicopter and extract the prisoners, and finally ourselves.

Over the years my thoughts kept bringing me back to that village. On the citation for a Bronze Star, “Valor” it states that I withheld fire because of women and children in the village. I could not remember any of this until about 5 years ago. While talking to a relative at Christmas time I had a flash back out of nowhere, totally unexpected. This has never happened before. It was so surreal—what I saw was a young mother on the trail prior to entering the village with an infant in her arms. We made eye-to-eye contact and I could see the fear in her eyes. I had my M-16 on full automatic with my thumb on the safety selector. Then she threw her infant into the jungle brush expecting me to open fire. I did not, but remember stepping to her right and continuing into the village.

When we extracted the prisoners I don’t recall if the young woman and her baby were put on board. I don’t remember if she or her baby were left to die. Whenever I talked out this to counselors I would break down. If only I could have some closure. It is possible that they were but so much took place I would not have known. Some of us had to protect our perimeter while the prisoners were being put on the helicopters.

SGT Ronald F. Santerre
1st Calvary Division
Company B, 2nd Battalion, 12th Calvary