I was drafted into the United States Army and served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969 before being honorably discharged. We were always doing search-and-destroy village sweeps. It required us to search through the village for the enemy and destroy anything that the enemy could use.

We would start at one end of the village with each soldier in a line. The distance between us would vary, but you had to see each other. We would walk from one end to the other looking for Viet Cong, NVA and weapons.

It was always good to pick up a stick and use it to tap the ground in front of you. There were spider holes everywhere. That’s a hole they dig where they would hide during the day and then come out at night to fight and try to kill us.

Many times, a village would seem like two entirely different villages. There would be a section without grass that was a well walked trail for people, water buffalo and carts.

On one side of the trail would be a normal village with houses made of bamboo and other woods or even a few concrete cinder block homes — one or two small rooms at the most.

The other side of the trail would look unused. Sometimes it was bombed, and other times weeds and shrubs would be overgrown. But if you looked closely and knew what you were looking at, you could spot the signs that there were people moving out into that area. They had spider holes to hide in whenever we came looking for them and the villagers would very rarely reveal them or tell us anything.

Every village brought with it something new. In this particular village the houses were scattered rather than in a line. There was a main trail about 10 feet wide, large enough for the villagers to push a three-wheeled cart on, and then trails peeled off of that.

I was about three houses into the village when I met up with another soldier on the back side of one of those houses. The walls were made of bamboo and had thatch roofs. We heard a ruckus behind the house, and then the wall looked like it moved. We both took a knee with our rifles ready.

The wall shook and then suddenly flattened out, revealing a water buffalo looking like he was ready to kill somebody. He was snorting, and steam was rising off of him. His massive head was down and charging straight at us, going at least 25 miles per hour.

I stood up and emptied all 19 rounds into him before he could clear the house debris. I glanced over and saw the other guy standing, having emptied his gun also. I had another magazine ready to go, but the animal was dead.

The company ended up having to pay for it but, I was glad it was him and not me. It was life or death in an instant with a water buffalo.

Tom North served in I Corp Vietnam Feb 1968 to March 1969 before being honorably discharged. He lives on a ranch in Glide, Oregon and is the father of four and the grandfather of 16. His interests include raising buffalo and miniature donkeys and spending time with his family.

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