The forward observer signaled that the remainder of the squad could move ahead to the base of the hill. It was from there that they would attempt to stage a surprise attack on the three Soviet T-64 tanks on the other side of the hill.
The squad had been divided up into too two teams, each making their way to the rendezvous point before morning light. According to the squad’s commander, the unit’s goal was to knock out the tanks and free the inhabitants living in the cliffs above the valley.
Doc flopped down and wanted to pull all his gear off, but he knew that they’d be pushing forward in a few minutes time. Instead he refreshed himself with a mouthful of water from his canteen.
It didn’t take long for the order to comedown to move out. As if one body all 24 men stood and started scaling the sandy slope in front of them. Within half an hour both squads squatted just below the ridge which was line with a thick row of trees, only the lieutenant and a sergeant were in among the tree to have a look into the area below.
“We’re closer than I figured,” the lieutenant whispered to the sergeant. “We’ll have to creep in there one at a time.”
The sergeant made no reply.
Without warning one of the T-64’s coughed to life. It was deep rumbling sound that sent an unseen goat herd into a slight panic. There was the unruly bray of a donkey somewhere in the distance as well.
“Crap,” remarked the sergeant as he slipped over onto his back and pulled his field map from his vest. Then he added, “No way can we get in between them and the cliffs now with the camp stirring.”
He studied the map a few more seconds than repositioned himself on the ridgeline. Another tank’s engine chugged to life. It was shortly followed by the third.
“Where do you think they’re heading?” the lieutenant asked.
The sergeant waited a couple seconds before answering, “I don’t know but they’re moving off.”
Within a few minutes all three tanks rumbled off to the south of their original positions, disappearing around the bend of the poorly carved and heavily rutted trail. Soon the sound of the tanks faded away.
Two by two each team member cleared the ridgeline and proceeded towards the cliffs. The foreword teams encounter nothing of a camp as Intel had described. There was a small campfire that looked as if it had been used to cook on and to get warm by, other than that all that remained were some empty gas cans.
The remainder of the squads hurried through the site and soon found themselves at the base of the cliff, huddled under the immense carvings of three Buddha. It was obvious that these three statues, which were carved from the cliff itself, were part of a religious venue, much like a church or synagogue.
It also became clear that the reported village nestled in the cliffs surrounding the Buddha’s were almost uninhabited. There came a slight murmur from members of the two squads that “something didn’t feel right.”
Doc had learned to listen half-heartedly to these whisperings. Sometimes they meant something, other times they were nothing. It all depended on what Doc was feeling at that moment as well.
Currently, he was having a very difficult time hauling himself and the medical gear up the cliff, which seemed to be pock-marked with foot and hand holds. It fatigued him and made him curse under his breath, wishing he didn’t have the extra 70 pounds to lug around.
Doc finally found an open passage and scrambled inside. He flipped on his flashlight, what Marines referred to as a moonbeam, the red light showing an extraordinary amount of religious art work on the walls and ceiling.
After a quick look around, Doc unslung his gear, leaving only his butt-pack on as he knew it contained the most important medical gear. The rest was supplemental to the two squads. His back ached as he headed out the low doorway and into the early morning light.
The men had all found positions that offered both protections from enemy sight and the coming daytime heat. There, they waited to see what the next action would be in what many of them were say was a SNAFU’d operation, which was slang for, “Situation, normal, all fouled up.”
About ten hours later, there came a low rumbling sound that echoed loudly inside the many caves along the cliff. The three Soviet tanks were moving back into their previous night’s position.
Everyone laid still and watched as the tanks rolled into their camp and took up defensive positions below the Buddha’s. Two of the tanks turned themselves to face the heavily rutted roadway in either direct. The third faced the hilly slope the two squads had moved down earlier.
They formed a ringing defense and reminded Doc of the American Bison he had seen while stationed in Wyoming. The bison, commonly referred to as buffalo would backup into each other and form a defensive circle to protect their offspring and themselves at night from wildcats and wolves.
It was obvious that taking the tanks would not be hard once the crews slipped out of the heavy fighting machines and joined each other around the light of the fire they had built. It would be easy to creep up on the unsuspecting soldiers and dispatch them and their tanks.
However the order to move failed to arrive that night. Nor did it come the following two nights. Tempers were getting short and so were the c-rations as the 24 men waited to carry out whatever order their higher-ups gave.
It was the middle of the fourth morning when there arose a surprising amount of gun fire from the encamped tankers below. There was very little light and it was next to impossible to see what was occurring inside the encircled machines.
Every man had his weapon at the ready, expecting the fight to suddenly shift from down below to the high points in the cliffs. Then, just as suddenly as the shooting had started, it stopped. And it grew quiet again.
The lieutenant sent two men down from their perches to reconnoiter the area. It was about two hours later that they returned to report that it had been a slaughter and that all the tankers were dead and many were mutilated beyond human form.
The officer called up the radio operator to send a message back to base. He was unsure of what to do next after having waited so long in the heat of the day and the chill of the night.
Doc did his best to watch the officer’s facial expressions, but if the words he was hearing were disturbing or helpful, the lieutenant’s eyes and mouth didn’t betray his feelings. Still Doc could not tell what was happening even after the officer handed the handset back to the operator.
Instead the Lieutenant turned and in a hushed manner spoke to the sergeant. The older man looked at Doc and motioned him to his side. “You and me are going down there, got it? We’re going to assess the scene, got it?”
Doc nodded his head.
The two men scrambled down the cliff side, each groping for the next finger and toe hold. Within minutes they were approaching the tanks with great caution.
Doc could see the outline of two men laying facedown in front the now lowering flames of the fire. He was following the sergeant in between the two tanks facing the opposite ends of the roadway, when the sergeant tripped and nearly fell. Doc grabbed onto the man and pulled him back before he could topple any farther.
The sergeant pulled out his moonbeam and popped on the red glowing light. He shined it at the ground in front of himself. On the sandy soil lay what had been a living, breathing man. His face was missing, peeled off and exposing the bone underneath.
Both the Doc and the sergeant fought back the urge to vomit at the sight. The sergeant held his light up and its red beam fell on the nearly destroyed bodies of several men. Each ad been mutilated in some various way and the sight was sickening to the two men.
Quickly, they retreated back the way they had come. It was obvious that whoever had done this could still be in the area and might mistake the two as Soviet soldiers. Neither man wanted to have the same fate fall on them.
They hurried back to the position in the cliff and reported what they had seen to the Lieutenant. He called up the radio operator again and told his commanders what had happened.
It was a very tense as the two squads hurriedly prepared to make their way down the cliffs. What had happened had made the rounds to every Marine who had been lodged in the cliffs. Many of them speculated about what had gone on in the camp but no one really knew for certain.
The units skirted their ways around the encircled tanks and proceeded out of the long valley by a different route. Two men had been sent back in order to destroy the three T-64’s before the sun came up.
By the time the three reports from the explosion reached the two squads, light was starting to crest the mountains in front of them. It was time to divide and move in separate directions once again.
Doc’s squad remained behind long enough for the two demolition experts to rejoin them. It would be another four hours before the 12 men would stop and bivouac for the night.
By noon of the next day, they were back among the familiar mountains and hills in which their base was located. And though asked about what he had seen that early morning by members of his squad Doc refused to share the gruesome details.
“Its bad enough I’m scared shitless about it,” he would later write in his private journal, “that I don’t think it would be a good thing for anyone else to have to think about it.”