Walking Point!

By Bill Moore

Copyright 2002: Bill Moore. All rights reserved. (copy permission at bottom)

Webmaster's Introduction
Day or night, before our company would move out on patrol, a platoon would be selected to lead as point. That platoon would select a squad to lead as point. That squad would select aseveral people to lead as point. And then one man would move out on point. All the combat power of the United States Army came down to a lone man walking point. Bill Moore shares his memories of walking point, and it brings home the adage that the action is over in seconds, the shakes in minutes, but the memories last forever.

There were always a few in any outfit that claimed they preferred walking point. I must say that early on I leaned in that direction. It was my feeling that I was as capable as any in keeping us from walking into an ambush. As time went on, however, I quickly learned that the greater danger was not that of ambush, but of booby-traps. There seemed to be a period of months, where every time we conducted foot patrols, the point element would take casualties from these invisible devices. I can hardly remember a time when a point team managed to detect the presence of these devices without inadvertent detonation with its horrific consequences. If they did it was a rarity.

While wounds from small arms fire were not all that desirable, to my way of thinking, it came with the territory and at least you had just as must chance to get off the first round as the other guy. Typically, the outcome from an encounter with small arms fire resulted in one of two ways. A person was either killed or wounded. If the latter, the odds of a recovery with your whole body intact was fairly good. Those wounded from booby-traps, on the other hand, would usually live but could be horribly mutilated, losing arms, hands, feet, legs. For me the thought of this was worse than death itself. As casualties mounted I found myself nearly paralyzed in fear of these devices. If others shared this fear to my degree, they seemed to overcome it and resign themselves. But the full psychological effect intended by these diabolical traps became an obsession with me. Any time I had to deviate from a path not cleared by those ahead of me, my thoughts focused mainly on booby-traps. My steps would become forced and deliberate, and my body would tense up, as if bracing for the impact of the inevitable explosion. Likely even in the coldest of climates I would have been sweating profusely, but in the hot tropical conditions of Vietnam, coupled with the constant tension from my booby-trap mania, sweat would be pumped out of my body in quantities that hardly seemed imaginable.

When walking point, I'm sure I shared the common tendency of being wound-up pretty tight. Add to this the phobia I just mentioned and you have the resultant situation of a person who was capable of spontaneous combustion.

So this is the frame of mind I'm captive to on one particular day. The point element is typically comprised of three men. On this occasion I was the center man, with a Point Flanker on either side. We were traveling down a trail through dense jungle. This meant the flankers would have had difficulty finding their way through thick under brush and still stay abreast of me on the trail. The area we were in was considered a "Free fire zone", which simply meant that any inhabitants of the area were not likely to be from the local Chamber of Commerce.

The trail opened up into a small clearing. I proceeded into the clearing figuring that I would secure the other side and hold there until the flankers caught up. About 20 yards into my crossing I clearly detected movement in the jungle on my left flank. I resisted the temptation to open fire for fear that the movement might be the left flanker who somehow managed to catch up, although I couldn't imagine how. If it wasn't one of us it was hard to imagine why I had not yet been engaged by enemy fire. Still sounds were getting loader and closer. I turned and readied myself with a nervous finger ever present on the trigger. I still hesitated to fire, but it was now unmistakably clear that something was moving through the jungle toward me.

To my relief, breaking into the clearing was not a squad of NVA regulars, but rather a fairly substantial wild boar. Though I was motionless, trying to restore my breathing and lower my heart rate, he spotted me the instant he broke into the open, and stopped in his tracks to try and determine if I was an immediate threat or not. Evidently I wasn't so he returned to his full charge away from me, heading for the other side of the clearing. Again, as if he had second thoughts he stopped and turned to face me, about 20 ft. to my front, looking as if he was contemplating a charge just for the principle of it all. I was contemplating whether or not to blast him off his little hoofs. Then, as if he decided that bothering with me would make him late for his appointment, he turned and continued his blind charge down the trail.

It later crossed my mind that I had let some fresh bacon get away. We had a number of country boys who would have made short work of butchering the beast. Although, shooting him would have announced our whereabouts, to anybody in the area.

As it turned out, we would later benefit from our platoon's butchering talents during one of our village searches. We abducted a local pig and sacrificed him for the cause. And a most enjoyable dinner was had by all.

Copyright 2002 Bill Moore.

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