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In Black Hawk Down, the fight went on for a day. In We Were Soldiers Once & Young, the fighting lasted three days. In The Village, one Marine squad fought for 495 days—half of them died.
Few American battles have been so extended, savage and personal. A handful of Americans volunteered to live among six thousand Vietnamese, training farmers to defend their village. Such “Combined Action Platoons” (CAPs) are now a lost footnote about how the war could have been fought; only the villagers remain to bear witness. This is the story of fifteen resolute young Americans matched against two hundred Viet Cong; how a CAP lived, fought and died. And why the villagers remember them to this day.
weddings and funerals, and then only a few. McGowan received a call from district telling him not to bother the visitors, who worked for the CIA. The unusual entourage strolled into Binh Yen Noi and stayed for three hours, chatting with various people and wandering about the paths. When they were returning to their helicopter, one of the Americans walked over to the fort’s gate, where McGowan was sitting. “Nice village here,” he said. “We like it,” McGowan replied. “That feeling seems to be
buffalo wallowing in the mud at a low spot in the river and the dragonflies droning in the summer afternoon. “This is my hamlet,” he said. “I’m the only American who comes here. Watch this.” From a pocket in his utilities he drew out a snowball wad of plastic explosive with a short piece of fuse. “The people here are really poor,” he said. “They have to go the farthest, so they get the worst fishing spots out at sea. I try to help out by bringing fresh fish.” With that he ignited the fuse and
signal while they set their rocket launchers and rifle grenade crews in position along the ditch to fire at the machine-gun bunker. Behind the heavy weapons a two-platoon assault party crouched, near enough to the fort to see the narrow trail across the moat, knowing that it was blocked by a barbed-wire gate and covered by the machine gun. Once the gun was knocked out either by the sappers inside the fort or by the heavy weapons outside, the assault platoons would rush the gate. 13 Inside the
other as they came on. Behind the Marines Luong’s M-1 was cracking steadily while Thuc preferred to stay at Wingrove’s elbow and direct his shots, since he had a grenade launcher. Thuc had remarkable eyesight. He would catch a movement in the bush and excitedly point out the location to Wingrove, who would then pump in shell after shell. Within two minutes, artillery flares were opening over them. Fleming was back at work with his automatic rifle and his tracers ignited two thatched houses,
sandbags and propping them up as an inside wall, splitting sections of bamboo into thousands of short, sharp stakes and studding the moat walls with them, erecting a high, spindly bamboo fence thirty yards outside the moat on the theory that the wood would cause the premature detonation of recoilless rifle rounds aimed at the fort. They worked with shovels, hoes, axes and knives. Slats were not nailed to the rickety fence; they were tied with bamboo cord. The mud scooped out of the moat served