The Train Station
by Wayne Gaskins
Sometime in the summer of 1969, we were pulled into an area south of Phu Bai, Vietnam to try to halt the sabotage the train and sniper attacks on the Seabees that were rebuilding a bridge the enemy had destroyed earlier. Delta Company had been brought in to accomplish both these tasks. Delta Company had four platoons, and one platoon was assigned to serve as guards on the bridge and walk the section of railroad tracks that the enemy seemed to be attacking. The other 3 platoons were to do search and destroy missions, looking for the ones that were causing the trouble.
Every week, the platoon that was stationed at the tracks would rotate with one in the field. Each time the train made a run, it would be blown off it’s tracks. Each day before the train made its run three men walked the tracks looking for any evidence that the ground had been tampered with, by planting explosives or any other signs of tampering. Each time we walked the tracks, we saw nothing and yet when the train ran a few minutes later, it was blown up. Later we discovered that the explosives were buried months earlier to avoid detection and detonated by the enemy hiding just at the edge of the jungle.
On a hill over looking the train station and the bridge, we manned a LP (lookout point). There we had a foxhole, extra ammo, aerial flares, and a case of grenades. This was manned by a four man team and checked in by radio, on the hour through out the night. The LP was our early warning system, if the enemy tried to sneak up, to attack the platoon, during the night.
One night when it was my turn to pull LP duty, myself and three others went up to the LP and got set up, just before dark. Everything had been going smooth for the last few weeks and it was easy duty. Around midnight, we received orders from our new commanding officer, a captain straight from the states, that we must change locations and go to the top of the next mountain and set up an LP there. All four of us tried to talk him out of it, because the move could cost us our lives by walking into an ambush. He didn’t want to hear any arguments, so we headed for the next mountain.
We came off the mountain where we had to leave the extra ammo and grenades and tried to find a path up to the new LP. The jungle was thick with bamboo and we couldn’t find a path around it. We called back with this information, in hopes the captain would reconsider because we had made too much noise already. Our answer, to our surprise, was to chop a path with our machetes to the top if it took all night. All four of us agreed that it would have been a death sentence to follow his orders, and a court-martial to refuse. We decided to take the chance on the latter, and spend the night in the train station, because now it was too dangerous to attempt to return to the first LP. We could see anyone trying to sneak up on the platoon, and if no one fell asleep on guard duty then no one would be the wiser.
Well, as fate would have it, it didn’t go as we had planned and the excitement was about to begin. Someone from the platoon, looking through a Starlight Scope, spotted a VC planting something on the railroad tracks just outside the train station and called in on the radio to get permission to fire. This got our attention right away. A Seabee that heard the radio transmission, turned on a huge spotlight mounted on the back of a jeep. The VC in turn ran into the train station, just not in the room we were in. Then all hell broke loose.
The train station had rock walls over a foot thick, but the quad fifty firing at us didn’t have any trouble penetrating either wall. There was no escape, but we agreed to try to ride it out, than reveal our location, that would surely get us court-martialed. The quad fifty had a tracer round every fifth round, and the tracers lit the room brighter than a full moon. We hugged the floor as rock debris hit us with great force. This had gone on for a while when we heard someone on the radio ask for permission to fire the 106 recoilless. This would have completely destroyed the train station so it was agreed we would give up and take our medicine. The radio operator called Cease Fire, and the firing stopped, but the shit was just about to hit the fan.
Our captain wanted to know why we needed a Cease Fire. The reply, the rounds are coming too close. Captain: How close? RO: Real close. Captain: How close in meters? RO: Well, damn it if you just have to know, you are firing right at us, we are in the train station. Captain: Who is the highest ranking man? RO: I am sir. Captain: All four report to me the minute you get here. The killer team has already gone out, be careful. RO: Call them back. CO: They didn’t take a radio and we could not reach them in time, because they started their sweep when we stopped firing.
We agreed the only way to survive was to hide and try to grab their weapons and holler NO SLACK (our company’s universal password). This had little chance of working but we had rather die than to fire on our own men, after all we were the ones in the wrong.
The standard procedure was to throw a grenade into each building before checking if anyone was inside and shooting anything that moved. As fate would have it, it went our way. They walked up on us, and we all grabbed each one of the killer team at the same time and shouted NO SLACK. I thought everyone was going to have an heart attack and it smelled like one of the killer team had an accident in his pants.
Well, when we came in front on the C.O., he wanted to court-martial the highest ranking man and didn’t even ask who was in charge and told the rest of us, there would be no charges and we could go. He had not been in Vietnam long enough to realize that the highest ranking man wasn’t always in charge, like it was in the states. The radio operator was the highest ranking but a PFC (a seasoned trooper that was busted down to a PFC) was in charge. The PFC was due to get out of the service in a couple weeks and everyone knew the best way to get away with it, was to keep our mouths shut until court-martial, when the person that was in charge and the only one that could be charged was a civilian.
The next day during the daylight, we walked back to the train station and what we saw shocked us. The Quad Fifty had fired about 6000 rounds at the train station and it looked a lot like Swiss Cheese with holes down to about four inches from the floor. The floor must have been slanted, but you couldn’t see it, but we were laying on that floor and no one got hit, not even the VC, he got away.
Maybe no one was suppose to die that night, and even though I can’t explain why, no one did.
This story is brought to you by the Delta Co. 2/327th Inf. 101st Airborne. Only told by Wayne Gaskins.