Vietnam stone marker.

My First Day

By Mike Moomey

It was my first chopper ride – from Camp Enari to the Ia Drang Valley, in August 1967. It was a hot and muggy day as I jumped off the chopper and headed to D Co., 3/12th Inf., 4th Infantry Division. I reported to the 2nd platoon, and was handed an M60 machine gun, and told to fall in right after the platoon leader, a young lieutenant who had been in country about 11 months and was ready to go home. Officers spent six months out in the field and the other six in a plush job, either at battalion or brigade level, and he had already spent his six months at battalion.

I took a look at the guys in my new home, and most appeared about my age – 19. Most looked like they were in great shape, just as I was, because I had just gone through two-and-half weeks at jump school. I twisted my left knee after making my first jump, and was told I was going to Vietnam as a “leg.” All right I’m ready – at least I thought I was.

Beans and weenies

After we had traveled all morning, we stopped to eat lunch, something from a box of C-rations. I picked the beans and weenies – I figured what could they do to make them bad? Everything was good as I finished my meal, and looked around to see what the others were doing with their empty cans. I was surprised to see them cutting the cans up with their bayonets.

Mike Moomey

Sergeant Michael L. Moomey taken in Alaska on his way home from Vietnam. August 1968.

I asked why they were doing that, and was told that the enemy uses empty cans to make booby traps that could get you killed dead or cause you to lose your legs. I said I didn’t want either, and thanked the guys for taking me under their wings and showing me what to do and not to do.

After lunch we were off again, and it started to rain. I was told this is the beginning of the monsoon, and that I should get used to being wet at least for four to six months. I was from Southern California, and was not used to so much rain. Just another thing I would have to get used to.

First day – first action

One of the guys, Pete Graham, was assigned to be my assistant gunner, so we got used to each other. Pete had been in country six months and 22 days, so he was a little over halfway finished with his tour. He told me he would get me acquainted with what to do and not what to expect, because you never know what is going to happen from day to day. We traveled another klick and the point stops and points up into a tree where he saw dangling legs.

The lieutenant (LT) instructed me to fire up into where I thought the body was. I asked is there only one? The LT told me that was a real good question, and for me to fire as many as I thought I needed to. I raised my 60 up, and aimed just above the dangling legs and fired off 10 or 15 rounds. Down she came without making a sound, which I thought odd.

I ran over to where she was, and was surprised to find a female adolescent of 13 or 14, with crew cut hair – and one of my bullets had entered her right eye – and she had a fist-sized exit wound in the back of her head. That one bullet had cleaned her head of any brain matter.

Is this the way it’s going to be? 

I almost threw up when I realized I had killed my first, and was wondering – will each day be like this? Pete went over there with me, and he picked up the rifle she was holding, an SKS with a round in the chamber. She was going to shoot at us. I had never thought that some day I would be shooting a young girl because she was going to try to kill me and the people I was with. I went back to my place in line, and was given a bunch of “that a boys,” and told they were wondering how I would react the first time I had to kill someone. You never know how someone will handle killing another human being. That is when it hit me. I had just killed a person – a girl who should have been home with her mother and father – not sitting in a tree with a loaded rifle. What was she planning to do after she shot a couple of us? She had to know we were going to return fire and kill her. My mother would not understand why this girl was sitting up in a tree ready to fire on us, maybe killing me. I don’t understand it either.

That’s what we do 

The LT came up to me, and said, “Good going, soldier – that’s what we do. You don’t fire an M60 to wound someone. We are here to kill and kill as many as we can.” I shook my head that I understood that we were there to kill people but not little girls. The LT asked me my name, and I told him, “PFC Mike Moomey, sir.” He said, “You are doing good, Mooney.” I corrected him, and told him my name was Moomey with an “M.” He said, “OK, with an M, glad you are here.”

I asked Pete if it gets easier, and he told me, “People like Tom over there, it really bothers him to kill some young kid – while me, I could kill a kid every day if it was the only way I got to go home with all my fingers and toes.” I agreed, and told him I know I’m going home with all my body parts. My family couldn’t handle me coming home missing legs or any other body parts. Pete said, “I’m glad you feel that way. You cover my back, and I’ll cover yours.”

The rest of the day went along without any more shooting, and then we stopped to set up our perimeter by digging a hole 10 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 3-1/2 feet deep, and filling sand bags with the dirt from the hole. Then we put up some freshly cut logs for the roof of the fox hole – and put two layers of the dirt-filled sandbags on the logs, in case we got hit by some mortars during the night. We then put out our Claymore mines and some trip flares in case we might get any unwelcome visitors.

The first night out there 

I get first guard because it’s my first night, and they don’t want me falling asleep while on guard for an hour and a half, or shooting at some monkeys that will be looking for some leftover food. As soon as it started getting dark everyone else crawls into their sleeping area, and I sit up wondering what I will do if some enemy walks up to me. Will I freeze – or will I just shoot him? I start seeing things that I know aren’t there – but are they? I keep a watch on some shadows, and they haven’t moved, so it must be a shadow. I have an uneventful guard, and wake up Pete for second guard – then I crawl under my poncho and poncho liner, and soon drift off to sleep.

An AK-47 shatters the silence 

At 0130 hours we wake up to the sounds of someone firing an AK-47 into our perimeter. I jump out of my sleeping gear, grab my gun, and lock and load a round in the chamber. I ask Pete if he knows what is going on. He tells me it’s either an all-out assault or someone just taking away our night of sleep that we will never recover from. Pete tells me not to fire my 60 – the enemy could be wanting a machine gun to open up so he could fire an RPG and wipe out a machine gun.

Pete then tells me there are three people the enemy wants to kill, the machine gunner, the radio operator, and then, an officer. I ask Pete what happened to the last guy who carried this machine gun. He tells me the guy was killed yesterday by a sniper who got away after shooting him. There is no more AK fire, so some of us go back to sleep, while the others pull double guard for the rest of the night. I just hope this doesn’t happen for the next 364 days. I don’t know if I can handle it.

On the second day 

Morning comes, and first thing we do is heat some water to make coffee. When I see them tearing a piece of C4 to light, I jump back. The guys got a kick out of that. They tell me C4 won’t explode unless you put a blasting cap in it. I have a lot to learn, and 364 days to learn it. I asked where they got the C4, and was told, “You never saw it.” We tear open a Claymore back at the firebase, and use it to warm up our coffee and sometimes our food. I only hope I don’t make a mistake like they tell you when you first get here. Don’t make a mistake – you could get someone killed dead – and it might be you. We get ready to march through the jungle again, and I wonder what new things I will meet head on – on this – my second day.

 

Mike MoomeyMike Moomey lives in a rural area of Oklahoma. In addition to being a writer, he also is an artist who draws interesting and funny caricatures on the envelopes he sends us. If you would like to buy a copy of his book, “Apache Recon: Because of the Brave,” it’s available on Amazon, or to get a signed copy, contact the publisher, Author House, and they will contact Mr. Moomey.