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War Stories

The Great River Raid

Marshall Huckaby - LRRP

Marshall gives us a great example of young warriors testing the limits of their capabilities and sometimes creating situations

that are side slapping funny inspite of the life threating peril that they faced.

Jul, Aug or Sep, 1966 – RVN)

I should preface my story with the phrase “ now this is no bullshit!,

I don’t really know whose idea it was (Special Forces CPT Mark Ponzillo was the CO at that time, sooo….) but it was decided to catch the VC at their own game by ambushing them as them came down the river which ran by the 25th ID Base Camp at Cu Chi.

The plan was to launch from “Ann Margaret” which was the OP and bunker adjacent to the river. From there the LRRPs would “stealthy” move down the river via water craft to an ambush point and then lay in wait for old “chuck” to make his almost nightly run.

At this point you must envision the terms “stealthy”, LRRPs, and “water craft” to imagine how the mission was panning out.
*Vietnam was not a very fun place to be, however, sometimes really funny “s—t” did happen, which leads us back to the “The Great river Raid”.

So it was decided to make set the mission in motion. Oh did I mention “water craft”?


Question # 1: Did you happen to see any “water craft” of the “stealthy” type around your team area? So now we had a problem. But wait! The mission planners decided that we could use “captured” sampans.

Question # 2: How many “captured” sampans did you see around your team area? Well no sweat, the LRRPs can just go and “capture” some using D Troop 3 / 4 Cav Choppers and haul them back to base camp.

Question # 3: Did you ever see a sampan sticking out of both doors of a slick? Does the term “ kinda’ hard to fly” mean anything to you?

Anyway, off we went to “capture” some sampans.
The D Troop Pilots were more than happy to assist by telling us where they had seen some sampans not very far from the base camp and the LRRPs could easily just jump out and grab the sampans. ( Oh, by the way they neglected to mention that the last time they saw those sampans, they received hostile fire)

Question # 4: Ever think that heavily armed VC might get pissed off when you are trying to steal their sampans? Well they did!

We load up, the LRRPs with their web gear, boonie hats, and canteens, while the chopper crew donned their flak jackets, racked a round in the M-60 chamber as the Gunship escorts took off. ( that should have given us a clue about “jumping out and grabbing the sampans).

After a short flight, we began to orbit a place where a well traveled road terminated in the large water filled plains. I’m sure an excited LRRP probably exclaimed “ Look sampans!”. I am equally sure that the pilots” pucker factor” went up but I can distinctly remember the crew chief getting a death grip on his M-60 while he grinned at us.

Had this been a cartoon, there would have been a little bubble above his head which read “Man, you guys are nuts, no way in hell would I go out there!”

When the slick set down in the grass and water, out we bounced to “capture” our sampan, which now became our “water craft”. There was one which looked like it just came off the show room floor. New wood, paddles, everything!

Question # 5: “Ever try to stick a sampan through the doors of a slick, while thinking, hey! where are we going to sit? Well, …. where were we going to sit became a “non-issue” when we began to get fire from the wood line. Believe me, we found a place to sit! I noticed that the crew chief's grin was now even bigger.

I don’t recall being taught “How to steal sampans” in Recondo School and I really doubt that “Flying a UH-1B with a sampan sticking out of your doors” was a topic the pilots covered in Flight School. As I recall, the sampans were a hellava lot heavier than we thought and the new wings we just added to the slick sorta’ changed the aerodynamics of the Huey. Now things were not so funny to the crew chief, as I don’t recall him grinning as we struggled to become airborne with water trailing out of the sampan and as we got ground fire from the tree line.

We successfully returned to base camp while the gunships worked over the wood line where we had received enemy fire. I seem to recall that one of the infantry units (probably the 27th Infantry, Wolfhounds) did insert into the area and had quite a large firefight.

So there we were by the river at OP Ann Margret with all our equipment.

Anyway we had three sampans and a large rubber raft. Yep! A large black rubber raft. Where did it come from? Heck I don’t know, but there it was. So we loaded up just before dusk and launched “The Great River Raid”!

Question # 6: Did you know that you can fit a full VC Squad with equipment, mortar tube, a bag of rice, ammo, and a dog, in the same size sampan only 4 LRRPs with their equipment will fit?

As I recall things began to go downhill: (1) LRRPs can’t paddle a sampan worth a crap; (2) At night rubber rafts make a very loud squeaky noise every time you move; (3) Where the heck are we going, and , (4) C-Rats give you gas! A fact which made itself known several times that night on that very quiet, mosquito infested ( remember no bug juice before a mission), very dark, body of water. The resounding expulsion of body gas is normally not that funny, but when you are being “stealthy”, small things tend to bring out muffled snickers, which any VC in the AO must have heard. And the rubber raft ever so quietly, leaked air!

We did not engage any VC and later one of the Cav Troops picked us up by track to return us to the Base Camp. I do not recall anymore river raids and I don’t recall the D Troop Pilots eagerly volunteering to steal sampans anymore.

As I write this I can only imagine somewhere around Cu Chi Vietnam, there is this old, retired VC Sergeant telling all the young VC (or whatever they are called now), “ Did I ever tell you about the time in 1966 when the Americans tried to ambush us on the river using stolen sampans? You could hear them talking, passing gas, and snickering a click away! Beaucoup Dinky Dau!”

As for me, this is my story. . .and I’m sticking to it!

Marshall Huckaby
25th ID LRRPs, 1966-1967