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George Ross, of Crown Point, saw more action in his first three months in Vietnam than his special forces commander had seen in an entire year.

His is an action-packed story that would make for great cinematography, including the tiger that jumped the barbed wire enclosure surrounding his small camp, and heavy firefights that began the second day Ross was there.

That day, Ross went out on a routine "sweep and clear" patrol of 30 to 40 guys. That's when all hell broke loose. Several of those men didn't make it back.

"We got about 200 meters outside the base and got pinned down and stayed outside the base for five days," said Ross, who would eventually become a sergeant in the U.S. Army.

At one point he and the company commander, plus two others, were looking for a place for tanks to cross a 12-foot ravine.

"And all of a sudden we hear the M-16s on one side and the AK-47s on the other side. They were firing back and forth, and he says, 'We'd better not be down here.'"

"So we finally pushed back to where we were initially hit, and to pick up the guys that were dead, that got killed right away. A lot of the wounded were there. During that fight when we initially got hit, one of the tankers lost his whole bottom jaw. We were trying to get him over to an opening where we could get a Medevac in. When they came in, they were probably hovering 15-20 feet off the ground, and they said, 'The LZ's too hot; we can't come in.' And I'm looking at this guy and thinking: Get over here now or I'll shoot you down myself. They did; they came down; they took him."

He remembers when they tried to seal a chest wound with the cellophane wrappers from cigarette packs and a piece of tape.

Another time, "Barky," the spotter pilot, was called in for an airstrike at a nearby hedgerow where the Viet Cong were settled in and had Ross's unit under heavy fire.

"When he scraped at the machine gun fire, they put their heads down, and we tried to scoot back a bit. Then he says, 'I think that's too close for an airstrike.' And I told the CO, and he says, 'Tell them we need it, and want napalm on it."

Between the spotter pilot and the subsequent jets, the hedgerow was strafed several times, giving the American GIs a chance to scoot back more and more.

"All of a sudden they came in, and you see that stuff just comes tumbling out of those planes. I mean, we got up and started running back because they were ... I'm telling you you could feel the heat right on your back. It just sucked the oxygen right out of the air. It was incredible. And then the smoke cleared away, and they popped up again and were firing at you out of those holes. It was pretty amazing.

"So that was my first week in Vietnam."

The company commander had been in Vietnam earlier with the special forces.

"He said we saw more action in the first three months that we were there than he saw the whole year he was there with special forces."

Ross's unit was stationed less than a mile from North Vietnam. There were plenty of close calls.

"I had a round hit so close that I should have been killed. The blast all went out one side. They were really good with their mortars. They could drop those pretty well. They dropped one right in the middle of our group," Ross said.

Ross's eardrum was ruptured.

Another time, shrapnel hit Ross in the white of his left eye.

"You automatically blink. I couldn't blink fast enough. I don't remember howling, but I must have, because there were four guys there in no time."

"We kind of formed a perimeter out there. We had a couple of other guys got hit. So I'm calling in my own Medevac, popping smoke, and as the Medevac was coming in, he was probably four, five feet off the ground, and they hit the rear prop because they were firing at us."

"The rear of that helicopter come swinging around, and I'm diving out of the way. The company commander came out of his helmet. It actually hit his helmet just like a baseball. It sent it flying. But the helicopter wasn't damaged all that bad, so they said, 'Form a perimeter. Protect that helicopter. So we were sitting ducks out there then."

By the time the next Medevac came in, it was several hours later, and "by then we had several guys who were really banged up." Ross's eye was numb, so he stayed in the field to operate the radio and let the others get flown out for medical care. "Later the numbness wore off, and maybe it wasn't a good idea." 

The tanks were running low on fuel, so they sent out more tanks with fuel, plus a crane to pick up the damaged helicopter.

"I actually rode back on that crane. It was close to dark by the time we were going back," he said.

He was shipped out the next day to a field hospital, then to a bigger field hospital, then finally a hospital ship off the coast. When the ship got to Da Nang, he got off and had to find his own way back to his base. 

Ross was awarded a Bronze Star with a V for valor, a Purple Heart and an Army Commendation Medal for his actions.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.