1st Battalion 22nd Infantry
Night Ambush Patrols Tuy Hoa 1971
Company C 1/22 Infantry
by Michael Belis
South Vietnam in yellow,
Cambodia in orange, Thailand in beige, Laos in yellow-green,
North Vietnam in pink.
Red arrows point to An Khê and Tuy Hòa the principal locations mentioned in the following story.
Map of South Vietnam produced in the 1960s from the 2nd Battalion 9th Artillery website
I served in 1st Squad 3rd
Platoon Company C 1st Battalion 22nd Infantry Regulars By
God in Vietnam from August 1970
into May 1971. Four months into my tour of duty I was promoted to Sergeant.
The following is a presentation
of what it was like to be on night ambush patrol in the early
part of 1971 in the rice paddy area
around Tuy Hòa in the Province of Phú Yên, Republic of Vietnam.
I should preface this by saying
that this is not a rousing tale of combat in Vietnam. It is
instead a description of one of the jobs
that we Infantry did while stationed at a large Army airfield in one of the coastal provinces of South Vietnam as the U.S. involvement
in Vietnam wound down and the American troops were being pulled out. The job itself was dangerous but much of the time it played out
as just another of the mundane things we had to do while we counted the days before we could go home.
The purpose of the night ambush
patrols was to surprise and kill the enemy should he attempt to
attack the Army Base at Tuy Hòa
or as he otherwise moved throughout the area at night. During the three months that I participated in them only a small number of these
night ambush patrols carried out by our Battalion actually made contact with the enemy that resulted in a firefight. None of the patrols that
I was personally on ever got in an actual fight with the enemy. For me half of the patrols were an experience of lying quietly in the dirt, mud
and dampness of the rice paddies all night while trying not to be saddened by melancholy thoughts of missing home. The other half the time
was an experience of being alert and tense, prepared to fight like hell for my survival at a moments notice in open fields with little or no cover
to hide behind.
Our existence at Tuy Hòa in
1971 was truly surrealistic. We were Army Infantry and many of us
had been with the Battalion when it was
part of the 4th Infantry Division and we had done search and destroy missions in the jungle covered mountains of Bình Ðinh Province.
We were accustomed to living in the wild or at base camps with little or no amenities. When we became stationed at Tuy Hòa it was like
living at a well to do resort. The base had been built for the Air Force as a model base and was as close to being on a base just like
the ones back in the United States as you could get.
For the most part we would live
a soft life in soft surroundings that could make us almost forget
we were in a combat zone, especially
during the daytime. Since we were not engaged in offensive operations it meant we even had days or nights where we enjoyed time off
from all duties. At those times we could go to the enlisted mens club, movie theater, USO club, shop in the good sized post exchange,
lay on the beach and swim in the ocean if the waves were not too rough or just lay around doing nothing. I had time to enroll in the
photography studio where Doc Sorrento and I learned to develop film and print photos. Infantry in Vietnam did not live that kind of life.
Yet at that time we did.
Then in direct opposite to that
kind of life we would go out on night ambush patrol in the
countryside among the villages and
Vietnamese people, where we would lie in the filth and sometimes stench of the rice paddies all night long waiting for someone to
come along who we could kill, or who might kill us. The contrast was stark. The whole experience was schizophrenic.
Like most things an Infantryman
did the night ambush patrols took on a life of their own that is
difficult to put into words.
If an Infantryman did something twice it became monotonous. If he did it more than twice then it seemed like he had done it over
and over forever. At one time I truly believed I had been on as many as 100 night ambush patrols. A more realistic estimate would be
that I went on around 20 to 30 of them during the time of January through March 1971.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Michael Belis 2017
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