Golden clouds are now painted,
On blue canvas, by the sun;
Alone, with just my companion,
Sharing this up here, on the Gun.
’Tis a crescent shaped mountain,
Its real name, no one knew;
An extinct remnant volcano,
It’s simply called: ‘The Horseshoe’.
Above, a chopper’s returning,
Like an insect in flight;
Pilot soon back at his base camp,
Hot meal and bed for the night.
And poor beasts of burden,
Plough in muddy rice fields below;
A young boy riding bareback,
On his water buffalo.
Ahead, east 12Ks, laps the ocean,
Where the green bands meet the dunes;
And where a storm is now brewing,
Due to this season’s monsoons.
As the sun sinks behind me,
Strange changing shadows out there;
And soon the only light, maybe,
Will parachute from a flare.
Reflected spirals of barbed wire,
And crisscrossed to each post,
Like silvery threads, from a spider,
Spun parallel to the coast.
This fence zone is home to the Devil,
Deadly venom awaits from its host;
That shadowy figure down there, ’tis it Him?
Or a dead ‘Digger’s’ ghost?
Before darkness encroaches,
I take another quick glance,
Pulling out her old photo,
Until dawn my last chance.
Somewhat frayed ’round the edges,
A little creased, slightly torn,
Always in my possession,
She’s been wherever I’ve gone.
This bunker’s machine gun,
Needed not tonight, is my hope,
Nor claymores, set up before me,
Primed and aimed down this slope.
As a sentry protecting,
Guarding the rest in my team,
When my piquet is over,
Back to my ‘hootchie’, to dream.
The nearby Long Hais, foreboding,
Pitted by caves, out of view;
Perhaps a raid planned tonight?
What action will spill forth from you?
Lanterns bob on the decks,
Of sampans, just specks I can spy;
Trawling for fish, or ‘transporting’?
Near the town of Phuoc Hai.
Oh the skies over Dat Do,
Now jet blacker than coal,
And there’s a glow in the distance,
Vung Tau’s quite clear from this knoll.
Eerie pin-point of green light,
A luminescent, firefly;
Tracers piercing the night sky,
A firefight near Hoi My.
A second shift before ‘stand-to’,
And the rain’s belting down;
Yet, there’s no red mud forming,
Up on this barren, rocky ground.
Death stalks there before me:
“She’s a Lady!” So they say;
So for whom is she searching?
Perhaps she’s coming my way.
Finally, dawn begins breaking,
As the sea turns liquid gold;
Peasants out on rice paddies,
Some, after a night on patrol.
This silhouette on the skyline,
Quite non-descript from their view;
Though this fire-base from a ‘chopper’,
Looks like a giant horseshoe.
' The Horseshoe '
‘The Horseshoe’ was the name given by the Australians to a small extinct volcano that lay on the eastern edge of the road connecting the villages of Long Tan and Dat Do. It was a rocky remnant only some 75 metres in height and about 300 metres across at its base. The crater was crescent shaped with the eroded face towards the south west. Only light scrub covered its surface and it was quickly denuded when Delta Company of 5RAR made it their fire support and patrol base in 1967.
From its summit, sentries could enjoy a 360 degree uninterrupted view of the surrounds. To the south east 12 km lay the ocean; to the west 12 km lay ‘Wolverton Mountain’; to the south west 30 km lay Vung Tau; to the south 5 km lay the Long Hai hills; north west 10 km lay Nui Dat (1); 6 km north lay Nui Dat (2) and to the far north east 30 km lay the May Tao Mountains on the provincial tri-border.
It was from ‘The Horseshoe’ that the infamous barrier mined fence was built out to Phuoc Hai on the coast, 12 km away. This construction began in March 1967 but after its abject failure/disaster it was demolished in 1970. The mines stolen from it by the Viet Cong are estimated (conservatively) to have cost in excess of 100 Australian lives and wounded many many more. NB. For those interested in this subject, reference is made to the poem ‘The Fence’ and to a ‘discussion' in Appendix G.
“B Company flew out to ‘The Horseshoe’ by helicopter on March 6th, 1967
to secure it and to patrol the surrounds. The permanent occupiers (D Coy)
followed in APCs several hours later.”
- Robert O'Neill in Vietnam Task, 1968.