Robin Bartlett

Video Presentation: The Trauma of Firefights

Firefights, especially night firefights were always traumatic. At night you were afraid to change your position for fear of being shot by your own men, but once you fired your weapon your position was compromised and you had to move or a fusillade of bullets would be heading your way. At night there was also the danger of sapper attack, where enemy soldiers dressed only in shorts and sandals would attempt to penetrate the perimeter and throw a satchel charge into a command bunker killing everyone inside.

Press the play button to watch the video.

Robin Bartlett Firefights and Courage video

In the field it was impossible to determine what was happening except for the fact that our tracers were red and theirs were green. And when men were wounded it was necessary to pull them to the rear and bandage their wounds, and administer morphine to relieve the pain. Rarely could a medevac be called in before first light; it was just too dangerous to risk the helicopter and crew. Once bullets started to fly, I would press myself to the ground making it even more difficult to see what was to my front.

Our Forward Observer always plotted pre-planned artillery concentrations along our route, marked clearly on my map. But exactly where was I on the map? The jungle was often so dense that I had to guess at my location. Calling in artillery on the enemy position became a cat and mouse game of firing concentrations on pre-planned locations and listening to where the rounds landed, than shooting an azimuth to the sound where you heard the explosion and adjusting fire left or right, closer or further away, with great caution given to not bringing the fire too close to where your men lay. And just where were my men? Did I have a clear idea for where they were? There is nothing worse than calling artillery rounds on top of or too close to you. That was catastrophic. It was the platoon leader’s worst nightmare.

Firefights were paralyzing and traumatic. While my training was always to give the order to attack the enemy, it was critically important to secure my perimeter, making sure to guard against being overrun.

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