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From Chapter 2 - Kitty Dong

Marines and Napalm Aftermath

We started out down the ridgeline in the dark, but rather than descending to the valley we headed up another mountain steeper and higher than the one we had spent the night on. After struggling up a particularly steep, tree-covered slope, the lieutenant had us take up positions in the trees across and just below the ridgeline. There we waited for daylight.

As the black sky softened to gray and the pale light began to wash down through the trees we found ourselves looking steeply down into a narrow valley. Below us and to our right some 400 to 800 yards away was a village of about seven houses slowly taking shape in the growing light. The trees we were in stopped in a straight line a short distance below us and down below the tree line at the bottom of the precipitous slope a frozen river ran directly toward the village. There was no sign of life anywhere below us. We waited.

Maybe twenty minutes passed after the coming of the first light. Then someone spoke out.

“Hey, there’s a guy down there!”


“On the river. Walking down the river. Right there, see him?” He pointed.

We looked, and there was a man all right, walking from our left headed toward our right in the direction of the village. In a few minutes he was directly below us. We could see his clothes were black and that he had a rifle across his back. It wasn’t hanging off one shoulder as we carried ours for easy access, but the strap crossed his chest. He walked slowly down the ice, taking care not to slip, totally oblivious that he was the focus of such fascinated attention.

“Kim!” Lt. Lowe spoke up. “Go down to the edge of the trees and call down and tell that guy to put his rifle down and come up here. Tell him we have his ass covered.”
Kim worked his way down the steep slope and stopped at one of the last trees and, leaning against its trunk, he cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled something down in Korean. The man on the ice stopped, apparently astonished to hear this voice coming from the mountain. He turned and stared curiously up toward Kim’s voice for a moment, then yelled something back that only Kim could understand. He and Kim continued an energetic exchange for perhaps a minute, then, without ever attempting to retrieve his rifle from his back, the man started running down the ice toward the village.

Lt. Lowe yelled out, “Get the son-of-a bitch!”

I had been holding the man in the sights of my carbine that I had steadied against a tree. Although it would fire full automatic, I had it set on semi automatic. As soon as I heard the lieutenant’s words I squeezed off three rapid shots and saw three white spots appear on the ice well behind the running man. Then a Marine near me let go with his BAR that was resting on a stump and the black-figured guerrilla hit the ice face down and slid to a stop and did not move.

After the shooting started someone yelled out, “There they go!”

We all looked and saw six or seven guerrillas running away through a ravine behind the village. The light machine-guns, BARs and M1s opened up but the North Koreans had disappeared down the ravine. All the fire was then directed at the houses. Marines were firing the small 60 mm mortars, but the village was so steeply below us that the mortar tubes were pointing almost straight up and the shells seemed to take forever to land; when they did the puffs of WP (white phosphorus, or “Willie Pete”) showed they were way off target. But the machine-guns and BARs were deadly effective. I could see the tracers crisscrossing and lacing through the mud walls and grass roofs of the houses.

Shortly after we opened fire I saw an old man and a small girl perhaps eight years old emerge from one of the houses. They stood by the door facing us, the old man with his hand on the girl’s shoulder, both looking up toward us, toward the trees that were our cover. They stood there for just a few seconds then went back in the house.
By the time the mortars found the target the village was already on fire from the tracers. Smoke was rising from every thatched roof. I had been watching to see if the old man or little girl would appear again but they never did. And the house was burning fiercely now. I don’t know how many were in the village, but the only ones we saw escape were the guerrillas who fled down the ravine.

When there seemed no point in trying to inflict further damage, Lt. Lowe gave the order to cease fire. We sat there for a while watching the village burn. The houses blazed and blackened and smoke and embers and whiffs of black straw blew away in the wind down the valley away from us.
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