THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT


It was one of those darkest of dark nights, the kind where you can't see your hand in front of your face. We were anchored in the middle of the Bassac River on a Water Borne Guard Post, searching for anyone crossing the river. The boat was totally dark, and the radar operator kept his head in a hood to keep the light from escaping. We were all on pins and needles, not knowing what to expect.

We normally use hand signals to communicate, but tonight it was so dark, the signals were useless. We had to rely on our senses, the fact we knew each other well, and had done this many times before.

Shortly after midnight, the radar operator saw something moving on the scope. It appeared to be coming from shore right next to us, and was heading our direction. Very quietly, he got up from the radar, and so as not to make any noise, slowly worked his way aft to alert the Officer in Charge. He was moving too slowly, however, and never got his information out before everyone on the boat felt and heard it ... the Bump!

Something had struck our boat. We had all heard of the floating mines the enemy uses to attempt to destroy the river boats, and that was our first thought. There was no explosion, however we heard what seemed to be cursing in Vietnamese. It was still too dark to see what was happening, but we all made our way toward the noise. Hearts pounding, someone had the forethought to launch a flare into the blackness. As the flare lit up the sky, we saw two young men in a sampan directly alongside our boat. With six guns pointing at them, they had placed their hands in the air.

We tied off their sampan and brought them aboard. Through our Vietnamese interpreter we learned that they were Viet Cong "tax collectors" who had been taking advantage of the darkness to extort rice and fish from the local population. They were crossing the river to their next victim, and had paddled their sampan directly into the side of our boat. It was so dark, they never saw us.

The darkness that was their ally turned out to be their enemy on this night. That patrol was very successful, coming home with two prisoners without a shot being fired. Just another night in the Delta, where sometimes things go bump in the night.