CLIMBING THE CHU PA
An FO's take on what the "grunts" did for a living
Now...just take away the majestic beauty, the snow,
The Real Chu Pa
I met up with “A” Company, 2/35th, in November, 1966, while they were providing perimeter security for an Engineer outfit working in a rock quarry. It was an
opportunity to get to know Capt Charles Murray and his platoon leaders, as well as learn the ropes from the FO I was replacing,
Lt Doug Turner. Like most Infantry
commanders, Charlie wasn’t too thrilled to be losing an experienced FO for a “FNG”. But Charlie Murray was a true leader who got with the program. I was “on
board” and became his artillery guy.
We didn’t stay very long and our next stop was LZ Lane, just 1,000 meters from the Cambodian border. We pulled off a joint combat assault with C/1/14 and came out clean. The operation was a short one, but an event occurred that marked the rest of my tour in Nam. It seems that some units were taking sporadic mortar fire that was coming from across the border. We were not allowed to call in our artillery in response. This was a major shock to my system; what the hell kinda war is this?
“A” Company was moved back and forth from search & destroy missions in the hills of Kontum to providing security along Hwy 19, trying to keep that sucker open. The Cong knew the importance of that road and kept attacking civilian and military convoys periodically. Their goal was to interrupt local commerce…keeping the civilian farmers at bay, and occasionally throw up a classic “L-shaped” ambush to kill and demoralize American troops. In late December, 1966, it was back to Kontum again as we got the mission to “search & destroy” on Chu Pa. According to the map, Chu Pa was no ordinary hill! That puppy was 1,480 meters high. Turned out to be a two-day climb that started with an immediate setback. We were just about to get underway when Capt Murray decided he better have a doc checkout this tick that crawled onto his eyelid and made a home there. He wanted it removed. Well, out comes the doc, he takes a look, and says he doesn't want to remove it because the tick's head may detach itself from the body. Doc gets back in the chopper and goes away. That wasn't the answer Charlie wanted to hear. He wanted to get rid of the damned tick as it was bugging the daylights outta him. So...he says..."screw it"...gets a firm grip on the tick...and yanks it off his eyelid. He didn't have to go to medical school to get the relief he needed. False start #1.
Well, it wasn't much later that one of the troops disturbed a hornet’s nest and was stung pretty badly. He had a reaction to the stings and we had to promptly return to the SP and get a MedEvac chopper out. Then, we began the process all over again. False Start #2.
Finally, beginning again, we “assaulted” the Chu Pa. There was only one direction....UP! The damned grade got steeper with each step. We climbed and we climbed. It was damned hot. The combination of a vertical climb in the heat of Vietnam is going to stress the hell out of your physical conditioning. As we continue to act like human mountain goats, several thoughts ran through my head. First, the amazing stamina of all these 11B’s hauling all their gear up such steep terrain. Climbing upward is one thing, doing it under full pack and extreme heat is something else! I’m talking about the M-60s, the ammunition, the mortars, the base plates, the rucksacks, the canteens, etc. Second, no one…and I mean no one…complained. They did their job. Thirdly….why? We were in no position to launch an assault if the enemy were entrenched and waiting for us. It took all we had just to climb that SOB…fighting a battle successfully was long odds. Thankfully, we climbed and climbed…but had no serious encounters. As we reached the end of the first day’s “assault”, a new and very dangerous problem was encountered. All the energy to climb such a steep grade in the jungle heat depleted the water supply….canteens were empty. The maps indicated streams, alright. But they were “seasonal” in nature and we hadn’t passed any on the way up. So Capt Murray sent out a “Water Platoon” while the rest of the company secured the position. These men gathered all the green plastic canteens they could, connected them together with some rope…and off they went. It wasn’t a pretty picture, camping on the side of a mountain…hot, dog-tired troops…and no water. Then, I took good note of our surroundings……Hey! We’ve got a solution here and we don’t even know it!! The area in which we were resting and waiting for our Water Platoon to return was surrounded by beautiful, dark green bamboo trees that were as much as 3 and 4 inches in diameter. I knew that bamboo held water of the purest quality. Nature's own.
"Hey, guys! We got all the water we need right here!!"
I took out my jungle survival knife, wiped clean a
section of the tree, stabbed the middle of one section, and proceeded to suck out nature’s own pure water…stored by the bamboo. Upon seeing this, the troops all did
likewise…and everyone had plenty of good, pure water. I remember the scene very well, because Charlie waited and watched all of his troops get their water first. He
was a true leader…or perhaps because he thought his new FO was a little crazy. After patiently observing, Charlie stuck the bamboo as well and quenched his thirst.
Problem solved. A short time later, the Water Platoon returned…whooping and hollering that they found a stream and loaded up all the canteens with water…only to
find their brothers were resting comfortably…no longer thirsty. Boy…talk about the confused look on their faces! They were probably expecting a triumphant return
and found the situation had changed dramatically. Of course, the water was still very crucial to the ongoing ability to complete our mission. We reached the top of Chu
Pa the next day, and it was a sight to behold! There was an airstrike taking place with three jets in a ferris wheel formation…but…I’ll be a sunvabitch…they were
BELOW us!! To this day I wished I had my camera along to prove that we had climbed higher than the attack altitude of these jets. Whatta sight!
The climb down was a combination of “walk and fall” down the slope, but it was a lot easier than going up. Having been on an incline for four days, I can recall the welcome sight of the bottom of Chu Pa, where the slope met even ground once again. End of Mission…we got some time off for Christmas and New Year’s…I think that A/2/35 had earned it!!
Lt Dennis Dauphin