Pass It On is a new, bi-weekly peek inside the heart and mind of Francis Pass…
It was the night before graduation at the NCO Academy in South Vietnam… and I was on ambush patrol. There were about fifteen of us – all Army – including good ol’ Sergeant Sammy.
It didn’t take long for Sammy and I to realize that none of the others (including our lieutenant) had ever seen combat or had any experience on ambush patrol.
It was a rag tag operation, and these guys didn’t quite know what they were doing. So, Sergeant Sammy and I helped set up the perimeter.
We formed a circle in the rubber trees. The Vietnamese would cut the rubber trees and hang clay pots to catch the sap – which would eventually be turned into Michelin tires.
Everything was going well. I was settled into my position, savoring the silence… when, from the northeast, I heard a faint *boomp*. My eye caught a flash of light streaming across the sky. At first, I thought it might be a comet.
“That’s kind of odd,” I thought.
Not too long after, the lieutenant crawled over to me and Sergeant Sammy and told us that a new recruit ambush patrol was lost. He asked us to go find them and bring them back to our perimeter.
When I asked about the lost patrol’s location, the lieutenant said he didn’t know where they were, but he believed they were the ones who shot the flare into the sky.
I knew that was no comet.
So, Sergeant Sammy and I began our silent rescue mission. But it was pitch black – we didn’t have so much as a starlight scope – and we didn’t exactly know where we were supposed to go.
We left the perimeter and hugged the rubber trees. Sammy took the left line and I took the right. He would move up one tree and wait, and then I would move up, too. That way one of us could listen while the other one moved.
We were making our way through the rubber trees… and that’s when I heard it.
Let me tell ya… when you’re walking through the jungle, that’s one sound you don’t want to hear.
Sammy heard it too. I could see his silhouette stop and squat down.
“What was that?” he whispered.
“I don’t know,” I said. “But it’s under my foot.”
I thought, if I jumped, which way was I gonna go? If I get off this, how fast can I get down on the ground? How far would I need to clear before the landmine went off?
Sammy snuck over and grabbed my right foot. Then, he took his bayonet and probed the ground under my boot. Then he said, “Okay, you can move your foot now.”
I held my breath and gently lifted my boot to find… a broken piece of clay pot that had fallen off of the rubber tree.
That little piece of pottery scared me to death.
We kept on until we heard some chatter up on the ridge. We had a hunch it was the guys we were looking for. A bunch of wet-behind-the-ears, fresh-off-the-plow new recruits. This was their first week on Vietnam soil.
We had to make sure that we could get their attention without getting them or us killed in the process.
I fortified myself behind a rubber tree and hollered, “MICKEY MANTLE!”
We had their attention.
They shouted back, “YANKEE!”
One of the soldiers stood up. That was our cue. Sammy and I made our way up to their patrol and led them back to safety.
I don’t think I’ve ever prayed as much as I did that night in Vietnam. I made a lot of promises to God that night… and I’m ashamed to say not all them did I keep.
Those soldiers weren’t the only ones lost that night. I once was lost, too.
But… I was found.
I thank God for getting us out alive.
I thank God that it was just a clay pot.
And I thank God for sending his Son to die for my sins.
You may feel lost right now. You may be surrounded by darkness with no idea of where you should go. And you may be holding your breath with every cautious step.
But I assure you… no matter how lost you may be, you can always be found.
Thanks for readin’…
P.S. – Happy Easter.