At 0515, three contacts glowed bright green on the lead boat's radar screen. The engines throttled up from a monotonous rumble to a full-throated growl, and a pair of spotlights mounted to the twin-50s up forward winked on. In the bright glare, three motorized sampans suddenly appeared-at the very least they were curfew violators, at worst. . . .
A muzzle flash from one of the sampans cued the Americans manning the various weapons on the boats, and there was a sudden cacophony of gunfire as machine guns and AK-47s traded fire in the night. Heavy gunfire erupted from the mangroves nearby, and the second American boat concentrated its fire there as MacLeod's craft continued to engage the sampans.
Calmly inserting a 40-mm round into his hand-held grenade launcher, MacLeod took careful aim and fired. One of the sampans disintegrated in a quick pyrotechnic flash. Taking advantage of their shallower drafts, the remaining two sampans disappeared among the mangroves, and soon the firing from the shore subsided as well. It was over.
This night action was far from unique. During the Vietnam War. U.S. Sailors fought many battles with the Vietcong in the Rung Sat Special Zone, in the nearby Mekong Delta, and in other parts of Vietnam. What made this engagement unusual was that it was not fought from the decks of PBRs, those specialized fiberglass patrol boats that came to be associated with the so-called "Brown Water Navy." MacLeod's Navy consisted of two amphibious landing craft-LCPLs-that they had converted into diminutive "warships" to be among the very first Americans to take the fight to the enemy in the inland waterways of Vietnam. This was 1965 and the venture so new that MacLeod had needed to have a local dressmaker make the American flags to fly from his craft.
These pioneering efforts by MacLeod and his men did not go unrecognized. He received a Bronze Star that acknowledged his "over 20 combat night operations." He also received a letter from a concerned citizen that said, "Congratulations on your decoration for cowardly heroism in Vietnam. . . . Killing unarmed people on unarmed fishing junks should be worth the Congressional medal."
It was a different time. . . .