Mamasan's Money Pouch

by Charlie Wood

In July of 1970, Company A was on a joint mission with a mechanized unit that was attached to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry. Near the end of this particular mission, Company A and the mechanized unit set up a defensive perimeter on a large sandy area that was next to and on the north side of the Song Tra Khuc River. The river bank on our side was about 15 feet high and about 50 meters from the water. Several trails or paths along the high bank led down to the river. The local peasants used these trails to go down to the river so they could wash their clothes, take baths, and fill containers with the river water.

Just before dark on our first day at the river, two grunts from my platoon and I accompanied a squad from the 3rd Platoon to set up a mechanical ambush, a booby trap made from Claymore mines, trip wire, and a flashlight battery, on one of the trails leading down from the high river bank.

After setting up the mechanical ambush, we got on an armored personnel carrier (APC) and left to join up with the rest of our company and the other armored vehicles in the mechanized unit, which were about two hundred meters down stream. Because it was getting dark and there was very little daylight left, the driver drove the APC very fast. We had only gone about one hundred meters when we heard a tremendous explosion. Someone or something had triggered the mechanical ambush. Since it was too late to turn around and go back to see what had set it off, we kept going.

Several times during the night, I thought about what might have happened at the mechanical ambush. I presumed that whoever had tripped it must have been either NVA or VC. Early the next morning at the break of day, those of us who had set up the mechanical ambush left on the APC to return to the site of the explosion.

About 50 meters from the ambush site, the APC stopped, and we got off, spread out into a very loose formation, and headed toward the site. We were very careful just in case the VC were there waiting for us to return. As we approached the ambush site, we could smell the stench of death in the air.

When the Claymore mines exploded, a large area had been stripped of vegetation. This whole area was stained with blood, and parts of clothing and human flesh were strewn all about. Much to our suprise, there were no bodies or body parts to be found. We began searching the surrounding area for clues that might indicate who had triggered the explosion. That's when I found a large, blood-stained piece of clothing that was still buttoned together. It looked like it was part of a shirt or blouse. After further inspection, I found a small tobacco pouch that was attached to the inside part of the clothing by a safety pin. I removed the tobacco pouch and looked inside it. It contained several bills of South Vietnamese currency. Oh God, I thought, I had found a Mamasan's money pouch!

I told the others about my find, and we surmised that a group of mamasans came down the trail immediately after we had left the night before. Because of our presence in the area, they must have been afraid to go to the river during the day to wash their clothes and fill their containers with water.

Thinking maybe that we might find some survivors, we went up the trail searching. At the top of the river bank, the trail turned to the left. We followed it for a short distance and came upon a peasant's straw house. No one was there. But we did find more dried blood, lots of it, underneath the entrance to the house. Since we couldn't find anyone, living or dead, we turned back and returned to the area where the rest of our company was.

Later that day with a lot of sadness on my mind, I gave Mamasan's money pouch to one of the Kit Carson scouts, a former NVA soldier or VC who worked for our company, hoping I could forget about what had happened that day. I never have.

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