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VFW Magazine February 2018 : Page 33

Part Four, Chapter Eight, Look at Your Sorry Ass AP PHOTO/SIMMONS Marine snipers fire at Viet Cong targets on the north side of the Perfume River in Hue on Feb. 21, 1968. The river separated the only two pockets of friendly forces; Americans at the MACV compound on the south side and ARVN troops in a section of the Citadel on the north side. that they had been trapped there since the previous day. They were let go. Downs’s second platoon then moved on the big post office building next door. That went more easily. Clearly Cheatham’s bombardment and Salvati’s gas cloud had made a difference. The enemy had cleared out. Most of them, anyway. On the south-west side of the post office they found a vault with heavy steel doors at both ends. Some of the marines swore they had been fired at from it and that they had seen enemy soldiers just outside it, but by the time they reached the bunker its doors were closed and locked at both ends. It was about twenty feet long and covered with earth and had grass grow-ing over it in a large mound, with con-crete porches at both ends. They tried blasting through one of the doors with a bazooka but it didn’t budge. One of the men who spoke a few phrases in Vietnamese called for those inside to sur-render. There was no response. Chris Brown, the dancing marine from Brooklyn, had a suggestion. He noticed four small air shafts emerging from the grass. “Why don’t we put some gas in there?” he said. So as they backed off and covered the doors David Kief ran up the grass mound and dropped a gas canister down one of the shafts. It took a few moments, but then the steel door in front opened a little. The marines didn’t wait to see if the men inside intended to surrender. They opened fire. One fired a rocket into the bunker and it exploded. Then came a secondary explosion from inside. After a few moments, those inside who could still move began to emerge from the door at the opposite end. They were shot one by one. Inside and outside the bunker they found the remains of two dozen men. Inside the marines found a stash of rifles, a machine gun, rocket launchers, and satchel charges. The bodies were laid out in the courtyard, more enemy sol-diers than any of them had ever seen at one time, alive or dead. To Brown they seemed oddly young and small and skinny, until it occurred to him that he and his fellow marines were all young and skinny, too, only tall-er, most of them. All of the dead men had new dark green uniforms. Some of the marines searched them for souvenirs — pistols, rifles, canteens, knives, binocu-lars, cameras. They would send the loot back to the compound, where friends would tag it and load it on a small trailer for shipment back to Phu Bai. One, Reymundo Delarosa, opened the dead men’s mouths and examined their teeth. He produced pliers from a side pocket and extracted gold fillings, a prac-tice even the hardened men in his squad thought grotesque. J EMAIL HUE 1968: A TURNING POINT IN THE AMERICAN WAR IN VIETNAM © 2017 by Mark Bowden. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Atlantic Monthly Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved. FEBRUARY 2018   • WWW.VFW.ORG • 33

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