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Military Traditions

June 4, 2019 By R.A. Jones

Moon Ship West of Ca Mau

Rain, fog and darkness were our friends. I was an adviser to Vietnamese Rangers and we prowled in all weather, through the no man’s land where the big regiments rarely swept, and the stateside press seldom reported.

On one black night, ten of us lay in ambush on the fringe of a huge mangrove swamp. Mosquitos buzzed, landed and bit. Sweat ran down our faces. Suddenly a bright flash lit the sky. It illuminated our camouflaged position, but worse than that, it blinded us. I covered one eye to save some of my night vision. Then came another flare. A moon ship was dropping illumination on one and all. They couldn’t have known about us. Their Saigon briefers probably assumed that all friendly forces bunkered in at sunset.

I waved at our sergeant, indicated his radio, and pointed to the circling C-47. Did he want me to warn the flare ship away? Through the shadows he signaled “yes.” It would be a long shot. There was an air guard frequency for Vietnamese forces to signal US planes, but we’d never tried it because of complications between the two services and two languages. I low-crawled to his radio and with a penlight set the air guard frequency as I remembered it.

“Moon ship west of Ca Mau, this is Ranger two one,” I whispered. No answer. No wonder. Few of the new signal annexes on shelves in Saigon had been pushed down to the ammo-packed rucksacks of lone advisors in the field. None had reached me. I could pass the moon ship no proof of who I was. My native English was all he’d have to assure himself that my call was not from an enemy intercept station.

Another flare lit the sky. I tried again. Miraculously, there came an answer. “Ranger, this is Spooky Blue. Over” he said.

“Ah Spooky Blue, this is Ranger two one” I said. “We’re below you, lying doggo. You’re lighting us up, which could bring us real trouble. Could you slip away a few miles? If you’re Chicago, we’re Atlanta. Over.”

“Roger that Ranger, we’re gone. Good luck down there.” With that they drifted away to our north.

Our ambush passed without incident. Once we heard a spooked village dog howling in the distance there was nothing else. We lay still for another hour to be sure.

After we’d returned to our post, I thought again of the moon ship west of Ca Mau. I imagined that pilot with his air commando hat pushed back. He was pounding on the squadron bar and tipping over San Miguel bottles. “There really was some crazy American down there doing an ambush.” His pals didn’t believe him. It all sounded pretty unlikely.

His had been the only American voice I’d heard in several days. We’d been in it together, airdales and all. I wished I could have been there to raise a glass myself.

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