They promised a ceasefire after Nixon agreed to stop bombing Hanoi and the next day Old Nixon got a taste of the little pastry chef, Ho Chi Minh’s, shit donut and got pissed. The North Vietnamese broke their word and launched a mini-Tet Offensive into South Vietnam and now we were going after them.
We crossed the Rach Cai-Bac River that separated Vietnam from Cambodia and set up a firebase FB. The air was full of dust from the hovering Chinooks and incoming Eagle flights. They started dropping more troops off at 010:00 hours and gave us our big orange pill for malaria as we continued setting up our firebase. By midday, they had dropped Charlie and Delta Companies.
We had just finished setting out our claymores and getting ready to settle in for the night when a dark shadow fell over me.
The largest and blackest man I ever saw dropped down beside me. He was blue-black. Strapped around his massive body were two ammo belts hooked together, each belt had one hundred rounds for the 60 he carried that looked like a small .22 caliber rifle in his massive hands.
“Hey honky, I’ll be bunkin’ with you tonight.”
I looked down at his feet. “What size are those boots?”
“Fifteen and a half; I wear sixteen but they don’t have sixteens, so I took fifteen and a half. Said I could wear track sandals if I don’t like it.”
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Johnny Mack Thompson, that’s with a P, but you just call me Mamba, everybody does. Big Black Mamba, from Quitman, Georgia,” he said, flashing an enormous grin, exposing large white teeth.
“Well, Mamba, why don’t you go setup your Claymore and get your ass back here before it gets dark. We are in for a long night.”
Soon he returned and dropped back down beside me and immediately started talking. I was on the verge of learning more about the Big Black Mamba then I cared to know.
“Don’t yo love it here, man? This is my home. The jungle. Don’t make no difference to me, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Africa. This is where I am from and this is where I belong. This is my third tour. Yesterday they issued me a bayonet, man. Did you get one? It’s the first time they issued bayonets in Vietnam. Are they expectin’ some crazy ass shit, or what?”
“Yeah, I got a bayonet. Third tour? Damn man, are you crazy? I’m a short timer. I ETS in three months and no way I’m coming back to this hell hole.
Mamba let out a big laugh, shaking his gigantic head he said, “I ain’t crazy, but I sure am purty and my mamma is the ugliest woman you ever wanna see. I’m tellin’ ya. She beautiful on da’ inside but, yew-eee, she one ugly woman on da outside. That’s why I’m so pretty, ya know? Ugliness skips a generation. It’s a fact. You ever see Mohammad Ali’s momma? She ain’t pretty and Mohammad is so pretty he could be my brother. Shit’s the truth man. I’m 100% pure black and proud of it.
“Yessir, I was here before, playing in Chuck’s backyard. My first tour I volunteered for a couple of them Daniel Boone Missions. I was assigned to the 1st Cav’s LRRP., Long Range Recon Patrol. Only five of us, three of you honkies and two brothers. Man, we were tight. All five of us alone in the middle of all them Lao Dong; they dropped us off in the Fish Hook a couple of clicks off Pich Nil Pass. You wouldn’t believe some of the rabbit trails I been down. We lived on the sharp end of the spear, man. Yep, I know what it’s like to be on the sharp end of the spear. We lived on Nuouc Mam and rice every day for two weeks. If we was lucky, we got some fish. I hate that shit man. We killed a pig one day and we roasted it. Best damn BBQ I ever ate, for sure. We had to call in one of them Cobra Gunships to get us out, man. They had us surrounded. We were on the tip of that spear, honky, the tip of the spear.
Man, they sprayed the shit outta them gooks with them two mini guns and 79 launchers. A site to see, my man, a site to see. And fast? Just like a Cobra. Fttt… and then they gone. A hunnerd and seventy they say they go. Yew-ee. We loved to see that snake comin’.
“Let me tell you, honky, we are on the tip of that spear right now, and none of y’all know it yet. Yep, two missions with the 1st Cav’s LRRP and I can tell you from first-hand knowledge that we is in for some real shit, man. There are more NVA and Chuck in Cambodia than there are in Vietnam. I saw ‘em, man. Scared the shit outta us. Hell, you wouldn’t believe the truckloads of supplies and shit the NVA were just driving into Vietnam. That and on barges across the river? Shit,man, it was crazy I’m tellin’ ya. There were thousands of ‘em and we couldn’t do nuthin’ about it. Rules of fuckin’ engagement, man.
It’s too quiet out there, honky. I’m tellin’ ya, there are some Sappers nearby. I can feel it. It won’t be long and we is going to be in for some real shit. We need them Cobra’s man, send in the clowns is what I say, send in the fuckin’ clowns.
I hear Nixon says we can go in about nineteen miles and then we gotta stop. Can’t go no further. More rules of fuckin’ engagement, honky. What kinda shit fightin’ is that? You have some boy come in your backyard and give you some shit, you gonna bust his ass wherever he goes, even in his own backyard. You white boys don’t know how to fight, man. Nineteen miles, shit. That will take us just south of the Neak Luong. I been there before. Bunch of shit happenin’ there, man. I’m tellin’ y’all in for some real down home fun.”
“Well, I want to get this over. I’m ready to leave this jungle home to you, Big Mamba. You can have it.”
He laughed that big laugh. Everything about him was big. “You seen some shit, honky?”
“I was at LZ X-Ray, Ia Drang Valley. We chased the bastards right up to the fuckin’ Cambodian border and had to stop. Not pursuing them into Cambodia violated every principle of warfare. Rules of engagement? I agree, Mamba, who fights a fuckin’ war with a rule book? Not the Viet Cong, I can tell you that. Not the NVA. The bastards are gettin’ it this time. On that, you can bet the farm.”
“What farm, honky? I live in the city of Quitman. Nearest farm is ten miles away. Here they come, honky.”
“Okay, Big Mamba, let’s pray and spray.”
We put our weapons on full-automatic and opened fire. They wore the green and brown uniforms of the NVA and they came at us in wave after wave. I looked over at Mamba and the barrel of his M60 was white hot and the empty shells were piling up around his massive feet. As I was staring at all the brass, I saw his right foot explode and bits of flesh and blood flew over both of us. I looked up and saw the left side of his face was blown off and he was covered in blood. Mamba didn’t even let out a moan. All he said was, “Shit. Now where am I gonna find another fifteen and a half boot in fuckin’ Cambodia? Look at all these little gooks. They got little feet.”
I threw a grenade over the bunker. It landed about ten yards in front of us and we could feel the concussion as it exploded.
I told him to hold a compress to his foot, a medic, who was making his rounds, would be by soon. I slapped in another magazine and resumed firing. When emptied I ejected it and inserted another one. I saw Mamba rise to his feet. He was quivering as he stood. He placed his left hand on the ground as he tried to gain his balance and move towards me. He took his right hand and smiled and flashed me a peace sign. All I could see through the red blood were his white teeth and the peace sign. He started talking, “My mamma makes socks. Them tube socks at the hosiery mill in Quitman. She gonna be mad at Big Mamba for losing his foot. Now I can’t wear them socks she makes for me. She gonna be mad, honky. She gonna be mad at Big Mamba.”