Point Man in Vietnam

I once had the pleasure of working with a Vietnam Combat Vet. He told me that his main weapon was a sawed off shotgun shooting 00 buckshot. It already sounded like a pretty hairy job.

He worked in a combat squad that attacked in a wedge formation. He was on the point of the wedge. He explained that when engaging the enemy, he would fire off everything he had in the shotgun and then lie down and let the guy behind him take over with a browning automatic rifle.  I was struck imagining the intensity of that sort of firefight, and the kind of reliance the members of the squad had for each other.

So when you hear the phrase ‘point man’, bear in mind the military origin of the term.

He had a couple of other stories of interest. He recalled one occasion he was sleeping during battle at night. He had become accustomed to the regular noises of rifle fire and bombs and was able to sleep when appropriate. On this occasion, he was awakened by a loud buzzing sound he had not heard before. He checked around and learned it was “Puff the Magic Dragon”, a cargo plane with a gatling gun pointed out a side door. The gun fired so rapidly that it made the buzzing sound. Every tenth round was an illuminated tracer, but it looked like a solid line of light pointing down. It fired so much and so quickly that there were a couple of guys in the plane shoveling shells out with snow shovels. In the morning he saw the side of a hill that puff had reduced to rubble. Formerly a wooded area, there was no piece of wood remaning more than a couple of inches long.

On another occasion, a supply guy gave him and some buddies some special shotgun shells. He refused to say what they did, just encouraging the guys to try them out. Well, it was nighttime so they went behind a building and fired off a round. He saw a 30 foot sun emerge from the gun and claimed the loudest sound was that of the irises of his eyes shapping shut against the light. Turns out it was some sort of phosphorous round. I never learned what role such a thing might play in combat.

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