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War Stories

The Dilemma

Rolland "Fletch" Fletcher

Artillery Forward Observer 1968

"A usually undesirable or unpleasant choice of action presented against an opponent". Merrian-Webster Dictionary; but a daily choice of a soldier.

inflightI am flying as an air observer and we are flying over the IRON Triangle a large area northwest of Saigon. This was on a gun ship and almost the first time I was up in the air and not on the ground.

The 25th Division with others had fought and cleaned the area of VC the two years before I was flying over a treeless cleared area with nothing left there….just open fields of fire. A free fire zone to us. (We had the orders and right to kill anything in these dry fields.)

The pilot, co-pilot, myself and two door gunners see an old man walking through the cleared fields. He may have had a pole for fishing but really just walking across the land. Now, the question discussed by all of us on the intercom was what should we do. There is no question that we had the right to kill him…. the question was ‘should we.?’ Damn

We circle about 100 feet above him to check if we could see if he was carrying weapons.. Here was the enemy in our sights a body count.

Well, we didn’t vote but everyone did agree that the target was not a immediate threat. We flew away. We
also did not report the incident when we got back to base camp.

This dilemma I was going to face many times the next four months as an Artillery Air Observer…..generally by myself riding in a small observation helicopter…. I believe this early ride gave me a good lesson and grounding in the wielding of my awesome power.