Find the Soldiers

Joe Klein observed in his book, Pay Back: Five Marines after Vietnam, that almost every grunt in Vietnam who saw combat experienced “the feeling they were making war against trees and bushes.” More problematic, the Americans rarely struck first and always seemed to be ambushed from thick vegetation. One bewildered soldier remembered never knowingly firing “his rifle at a human being, only at foliage.”

As he got more combat experiences under his own belt, Dick Wolfe too wrote of the problem in his letters back home to his family in Princeton, Indiana, telling of jungle “so thick you could not see beyond your face” and complained that such situations made the effectiveness of Alpha Company fighting impossible to judge.

After one particular firefight where the company had initially been attacked, Wolfe vented some of his frustrations in another letter home.

Well, we went out today and got hit pretty hard. Usually, we walk in but today we had a helicopter assault and Charlie didn’t have time to run so he had to fight. We no more than hit the ground and got mortared and rocketed and small arms fire. We didn’t have any holes to get into. That was bad. We caught three VC running through the jungle. A burst of twenty from an M16 stopped them dead in their tracks and we caught two more that surrendered. The rest got away. We were lucky—one casualty. Nothing serious. That’s the trouble over here. You just can’t see nothing. I was taking fire and naturally I shot back but you never find anything. I turned the barrel on my M16 white hot and smoking. Well, we swept the area and found nothing, as usual, so the choppers picked us up and away we went.

Wolfe would be killed in action on January 6, 1968, when his company walked into a hidden bunker complex, well hidden by the same kind of thick vegetation he so often complained of in his letters.