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by Pat Lisi/Southern Utah Vets Aid

If you are a Vietnam vet you remember the rice fields.  They were sometimes huge, and crossing them was dangerous.  The threat of ambush was always present when you took your guys across the paddies.  Therefore, you needed to do your crossings as quickly as possible and with every soldier on very high alert.  Having a dog walk point was the best thing to do, but if you didn’t have scouts and dogs with you it was a mute point and wasn’t going to happen.

During the rice harvest, if you started crossing the paddies with a whole company or even platoon of men, and all of a sudden you noticed that there were no locals out there picking rice, then you knew an ambush of some sort was imminent.  Or, you knew the dikes were booby-trapped somewhere.  The local populace always knew what was up, we could count on that much.

The safest way to cross the rice paddies was to stay off the dikes, naturally, but this was extremely difficult and, if you did get caught in a firefight, your ass was out there in the water with nothing but skinny little stalks of rice plants to hide behind.  In other words, you were dead!  So, we mostly walked the dikes as quickly as we could, and prayed we wouldn’t hit the shit.

More than once during my tour of duty we would trip a booby-trapped grenade along the paddy dikes.  This would of course stop the movement of the troops, although we tried like the devil to get as many guys across as possible in order to set up a defensive line while the medevac helicopter came in to pick up the wounded or dead soldiers.

We also got caught a couple of times in the middle of the paddy fields and had to fight our way to the wood line or Hamlet on the other side where the fire was coming from.  The initial reaction was to get the hell down behind a paddy dike and return fire.  But, we would always call for air support in this situation, and soon the Air Force or Marine Air Wing was pounding the piss out of the enemy positions.  While their heads were down from the air raid, we would get up and advance our columns to get out of the rice so we wouldn’t get ground into the soil.  You couldn’t just lie there and wait for the jets to finish the fight, it didn’t work like that.  We’d call off the fighter planes when we neared the source.

Some might suggest that we should have avoided the rice paddies altogether, but this was not practical as most of the time we would have had to circle miles around to get to an objective.  In the lowlands (as opposed to the mountainous regions of South Viet Nam) the rice fields were absolutely massive.  No, we had to deal with the dangers of crossing the paddy dikes, and that’s just the way it was.

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