Poetic Justice

| August 02, 2001

The foliage was thick – the air suffocating. Paul Reed was in the Vietnam jungle with the 173rd Airborne brigade, attempting to capture hill 1064 in the Kontum Province.

The U.S. Army Paratroopers wasn’t quite what the 19-year-old Texas boy had envisioned. Reed had dreamed of adventure, but instead of jumping out of airplanes, he was an infantryman on search-and-destroy missions.

“We were trained to become destroyers,” Reed says. “Also, there’s a lot of dehumanization of the enemy that goes on. I had never laid eyes on them but perceived them to be less than me.”

The Alpha Company’s first battalion, the 503rd Infantry, had spent four days advancing and retreating, and the enemy was king of the hill. The resistance was stiff, but the battalion soldiers were determined to take the hill.

“Many times, we’d have to crawl because the foliage was so thick,” Reed says. “There were mountain streams to cross, and ridges in the mountain went straight up and down. Moving 500 meters could take hours.”

While Reed and 12 other men were searching for an easier way to the top of the hill, they stumbled onto a secret enemy base camp. There were hammocks tied between trees, a hospital area, a cooking area, a storage area, and a mountain stream with fresh water that ran through the camp. There were sturdy mud stairs running up the mountain and 52 rucksacks.

“I can remember seeing everything,” Reed says. “They were living better than we were. We were stunned with disbelief. How could animals have such organization, and what did they need with stair steps?”

The soldiers took the rucksacks back to their camp to search them. Inside the rucksack Reed found was an identification card belonging to Nguyen van Nghia [pronounced: When van Kneeah] a Viet Cong flag, a newspaper, and pictures and stamps from the soldier’s homeland. The item that caught his eye the most was a small alligator-skinned book.

“It was the most beautiful thing I’d seen in Vietnam,” Reed says. “All I’d seen was the jungle, tanks and military. Here was a little book that I’d captured from the enemy. It was perfect with beautiful handwriting. I wanted these things because I was curious at that point. It was somewhat of a surprise and an indication that this enemy I was up against was more than a subhuman creature.”

Commanding officers collected items from the rucksacks for intelligence, but they didn’t collect Reed’s items. He made a box out of a small C-rations carton and put the items inside. He secured it with bamboo strips and wrote his parents’ address on top. The following morning, when the helicopter arrived with the troop’s daily supply of water, Reed threw the box inside and asked the gunner to mail it for him.

Reed and his company continued fighting and captured the hill. At the top lay dead Vietnamese soldiers and massive graves containing the dead enemy. Reed thought the owner of the diary was among the dead, but he had no idea which man he was.

Memories of an enemy
Texas was much different after a year of living in the jungle, fighting and facing a gruesome enemy. Coming home meant Reed would lose his power.

Poetic Justice

| August 02, 2001

The foliage was thick – the air suffocating. Paul Reed was in the Vietnam jungle with the 173rd Airborne brigade, attempting to capture hill 1064 in the Kontum Province.

The U.S. Army Paratroopers wasn’t quite what the 19-year-old Texas boy had envisioned. Reed had dreamed of adventure, but instead of jumping out of airplanes, he was an infantryman on search-and-destroy missions.

“We were trained to become destroyers,” Reed says. “Also, there’s a lot of dehumanization of the enemy that goes on. I had never laid eyes on them but perceived them to be less than me.”

The Alpha Company’s first battalion, the 503rd Infantry, had spent four days advancing and retreating, and the enemy was king of the hill. The resistance was stiff, but the battalion soldiers were determined to take the hill.

“Many times, we’d have to crawl because the foliage was so thick,” Reed says. “There were mountain streams to cross, and ridges in the mountain went straight up and down. Moving 500 meters could take hours.”

While Reed and 12 other men were searching for an easier way to the top of the hill, they stumbled onto a secret enemy base camp. There were hammocks tied between trees, a hospital area, a cooking area, a storage area, and a mountain stream with fresh water that ran through the camp. There were sturdy mud stairs running up the mountain and 52 rucksacks.

“I can remember seeing everything,” Reed says. “They were living better than we were. We were stunned with disbelief. How could animals have such organization, and what did they need with stair steps?”

The soldiers took the rucksacks back to their camp to search them. Inside the rucksack Reed found was an identification card belonging to Nguyen van Nghia [pronounced: When van Kneeah] a Viet Cong flag, a newspaper, and pictures and stamps from the soldier’s homeland. The item that caught his eye the most was a small alligator-skinned book.

“It was the most beautiful thing I’d seen in Vietnam,” Reed says. “All I’d seen was the jungle, tanks and military. Here was a little book that I’d captured from the enemy. It was perfect with beautiful handwriting. I wanted these things because I was curious at that point. It was somewhat of a surprise and an indication that this enemy I was up against was more than a subhuman creature.”

Commanding officers collected items from the rucksacks for intelligence, but they didn’t collect Reed’s items. He made a box out of a small C-rations carton and put the items inside. He secured it with bamboo strips and wrote his parents’ address on top. The following morning, when the helicopter arrived with the troop’s daily supply of water, Reed threw the box inside and asked the gunner to mail it for him.

Reed and his company continued fighting and captured the hill. At the top lay dead Vietnamese soldiers and massive graves containing the dead enemy. Reed thought the owner of the diary was among the dead, but he had no idea which man he was.

Memories of an enemy
Texas was much different after a year of living in the jungle, fighting and facing a gruesome enemy. Coming home meant Reed would lose his power.

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