Death in the A Shau Valley: L Company LRRPs in Vietnam, 1969-70

Death in the A Shau Valley: L Company LRRPs in Vietnam, 1969-70

by Larry Chambers

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Featuring a new introduction by the author about his return to Vietnam, his reflections on the war, and his humanitarian work in Cambodia.

“The enemy had a single purpose: kill me and my teammates.”

Larry Chambers was still new to Vietnam in early 1969 when the LRRPs of the 101st Airborne Division became L Company, 75th (Rangers). But his unit’s mission stayed the same: act as the eyes and ears of the 101st deep in the dreaded A Shau Valley—where the NVA ruled.

Relentless thick fog frequently made fighter bombers useless in the A Shau, and the enemy had furnished the nearby mountaintops with antiaircraft machine guns to protect the massive trail network that snaked through it. So, outgunned, outmanned, and unsupported, the teams of L Company executed hundreds of courageous missions. Now, in this powerful personal record, Larry Chambers recaptures the experience of the war’s most brutal on-the-job training, where the slightest noise or smallest error could bring sudden—and certain—death. . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101969564
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/13/2018
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 14,055
File size: 10 MB

About the Author

Larry Chambers spent fifteen months in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne as a LRP/Ranger. Among other awards and decorations, Chambers earned two Bronze Stars for valor, a Purple Heart, two Air Medals for valor, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry. He was with L Co., 75th Infantry (Ranger), and F Co., 58th (LRP), in Vietnam.

After returning home he earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from the University of Utah and graduated as a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society. Chambers lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He is also the author of Recondo: LRRPs in the 101st Airborne.

Read an Excerpt

Commo Check
On a ridgetop just east of an abandoned 101st firebase, South Vietnam, May 10, 1970
The six men of the Ranger team had gone about their normal duties, made the required radio checks, secured their perimeter, formed a night defensive position (NDP), and laid out four claymore mines. They sat around before it was too dark to see, slapped at mosquitoes, and, in whispers, shot the bull about what they were going to do back in the World. They made their communications check at 0430 hours the following morning—negative. The team leader said he was going to move to a new location at first light.
Camp Eagle, May 20, 1969
My last recon mission was on Larry Closson’s team. The team consisted of Closson, Mother Rucker, Marvin Hillman, Ricky “New Guy” Lawhon, and Doc Glasser. I had already been on four missions with Closson, including the one that nearly fried our butts.
The morning before that mission, we all sat in the 17th Cav mess hall telling stories and eating the usual breakfast of creamed chipped beef on toast, commonly known as shit on a shingle (or just SOS). Between lies, we updated each other with news from Stateside.
I remember standing in the chow line and flicking George Thomas’s toast off his plate.
It landed on the ground, and Dixie, our mascot dog, grabbed it, then ducked under the table. Thomas, who was as country as a turnip green, retaliated by pouring a pile of salt all over my beef—which didn’t change the taste one bit.
Sgt. Larry Closson told us to get a leg on. Closson weighed over two hundred pounds, looked like he could lift a house, but wouldn’t hurt a fly—at least not one on our side. He was a gentle, white-haired giant. Closson was what we called a “shake ’n’ bake sergeant,” meaning he had gone to an advanced version of AIT (advanced infantry training) and made sergeant before he shipped to Nam. Everyone resented the idea of making rank in ninety days, so the shake ’n’ bake name tagged those guys.
Despite the fact that he was now a known lightning hazard, Mother Rucker was still the radioman on the team. Rucker couldn’t carry an M-16 or a CAR-15 (a slightly shorter version of the M-16) like the rest of us. No, Mother always had to be different; so he carried a 9mm Swedish-K submachine gun that he had gotten in trade from some Special Forces guy over at FOB-1. Rucker also wore his hair longer than regulation, and from a side view, he had a slight resemblance to General Custer. He was “short,” with less than two weeks left to serve in Vietnam.
I figured it would be fairly safe to go back out with Rucker and Closson since, according to the weather brief, neither of them would be making any unnecessary phone calls in a lightning storm.
Marvin Hillman was a shy, handsome, quiet black kid who made you feel welcome whenever he was around. He was about my height, five feet ten, and weighed 160 pounds—ten pounds less than I did at the time.
Ricky New Guy and Doc Glasser were two of my favorite guys to tease. Ricky New Guy had been on “umpteen” missions and had been in country for seven months, but we still called him New Guy. The name just stuck with him.
Doc Glasser was “a reject” from the Special Forces medical training and proud of it. He loved to remind us of that. It seems he got a little too drunk back at Fort Bragg, punched out a lifer, and ended up a PFC with orders for Vietnam, later finding his way into the Rangers. The nice thing about Special Forces was that they trained their recruits well. Even their rejects were a cut above. And with Doc, we had our own medic on the team.
I, on the other hand, had entered the service because I was fulfilling a lifelong dream—not mine, but my father’s—to be in combat the way every male in my family had been before me.
Lt. Jim Jackson was in charge of the briefing that morning. Jackson wore a freshly pressed uniform and looked out of place as he walked in and moved to the front of the room with our CO, Captain Cardona, at his side. “Ten-Hut!” Closson shouted, protocol for a senior officer entering a room. But before anyone could stand, Captain Cardona answered back, “At ease.”
Jackson talked in a slow, methodical drawl. He went over the weather report, which always seemed to be exactly the same. “The weather for the next six days will be hot and humid, with afternoon rain. Your AO (area of operation) will be foggy in the morning, cloudy during the day, with some rain in the afternoon and night. Winds will be out of the southwest.”
I tried to remain attentive but was nearly asleep. Jackson walked to the side of a long table where a stack of SOI (signal operation instructions) booklets lay, containing all radio frequencies and call signs. The word CONFIDENTIAL was stamped on the outside of the booklets in red, large block letters. Inside, code words were neatly typed, and coordinates were drawn on a grid, so we could communicate by radio without giving away our positions. Jackson handed the booklets to the team leaders.
George Thompson asked, “When do I get a book?”
“You’ll get yours when we attack Guam,” I volunteered.
George looked at me, puzzled. “Guam?” The room cracked up. Then George grabbed me by the neck and almost strangled me. I loved to tease him, but I always had to pay a price for it.
Cardona gave the warning order. “Heavy enemy activity has been reported in the southeastern sector of your AO.” He pointed at the map. “The A Shau Valley. You’re familiar with the area. You are to conduct a BDA (bomb damage assessment).” With as little enthusiasm, he concluded, “We had an Arc Light (B-52 strike) in the valley three days ago. We have intelligence that an NVA regiment has a base camp in one of your AOs; we need to find out if we nailed it. Be at the chopper at 0530. Thank you, gentlemen.”
This is great, I thought, a bomb damage assessment. We land in a freshly devastated AO to examine what’s left after a B-52 bombardment. All I could think about was the possibility of enemy survivors; those guys might be a little pissed.

At 0530 the next day, puddles of water dotted the acid pad (helicopter landing pad). I mixed some camouflage with some insect repellent, to soften it, and covered the back of my neck and the shiny parts of my ears.
Then I watched Rucker add last-minute touches to his camouflage. He was extraordinary at this activity; in fact, he was the best. Rucker would really take his time contouring his face, and when he was done, his black and green tiger fatigues matched his skin. He looked exactly like a jungle leaf.
I was not as good at the special effects. The upper part of my face got a fast crisscross of dark green paint, which, now that I think about it, probably resembled a rifle target. My eyebrows looked like bat wings about to take off from the bridge of my nose. Even though Hillman was black, he still had to camouflage his face. When he was painted, he looked like an evil circus clown.
The whole idea was to break up the surface of the face, which really stood out in the jungle. But I knew, even as I amused myself with the exercise, that if any enemy soldiers got close enough to see us, we’d scare the shit out of them.
There was always something soothing about those last minutes of activity. I didn’t think too much about the mission and what might be waiting for us. The rest of the team checked packs and smoked cigarettes. I was trying not to joke around this time and to just concentrate on the job at hand, but Ricky New Guy and Doc Glasser took one look at me and both started laughing.
I shook off the insult and pulled back the charging handle on my CAR-15, inserting a live round in the chamber, then rechecked my safety to make sure it was on. The CAR-15 fired a 5.56mm (.223 caliber, for those of you with a love of varmint guns) round. With most of the older weapons we had, the previous owners had filed down the trigger spring for the safety catch so we could slip from safe to auto without the metallic click that might otherwise tip off potential NVA casualties—perfect for walking point.
I always carried a sling on my rifle so it fit snugly around my shoulder. That way I could hold my CAR-15 in one hand, keeping it pointed straight ahead, and leaving my other hand free to clear the vegetation. My first three rounds were always tracers, so I could follow the tracers right into my target. My last three rounds were also tracers so I’d know when I was coming to the end of a magazine. Then I’d be ready to click in the next one. I loved that CAR-15. It just looked cool, and when it didn’t jam, it was a great rifle. I wiped it down with my rag and set it down.
Closson handed me a starlight scope and a claymore mine. “Here. Stick these in your pack.”

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Death in the a Shau Valley: L Company LRRPs in Vietnam, 1969-1970 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous 7 months ago
spent some time in the same bushes in 1971. brings back some bad memories and some good ones as well. well worth your time, especially if you really want to know what things were like in Vietnam for the majority of troops.
Anonymous 7 months ago
good read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
so far this book is one hot LZ!!! lots of cool hands and hot action in this. I reccomend this highly!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great war book i havent read many but this one was great. It just tells the story of a Ranger in the Vietnam War and it just talks about what he goes though in the Vietnam War great book defenetly you will enjoy it.