Rick Gauger

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The Old Lady’s Coffin: a Vietnam Story

by Rick Gauger ©2010

[Author’s note: This is the first time I have written about my experiences as an intelligence officer with the First Cavalry Division during the Vietnam War. A warning to sensitive readers: this story contains descriptions that you may find disturbing. Everything in this story is true.]

This is one of the things that happened at LZ Pony. The LZ had been in place four or five days by the time this happened. There were about 30 American soldiers at Pony, including my little interrogating team. Fighting was going on elsewhere, so our helicopter support was sparse. We didn’t have our jeeps, our tents or our other luxuries. We were by ourselves on a bare hilltop surrounded by little hamlets and rice paddies in a valley in the mountains. We lived under our ponchos. For two weeks our luck held out. The weather was good and there was no enemy except for a sniper who used to fire one shot at us from a great distance every evening at 5 PM.

The LZ commander sent out small patrols of seven or eight infantrymen, to explore the hamlets that dotted the big valley and its tributary valleys. I wasn’t supposed to go on these patrols, but I did anyway. I was curious about this exotic place, the infantry needed interpreters, and it’s smart to scout around when you’re in VC country. My Vietnamese Army interpreter, Sgt Xuan, was willing to go too.
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