It was November and I was an acting platoon commander, as we were low on officers due to attrition in combat. I went out on a night ambush with a squad of 11 Marines. Corporal Richard Martinez was our squad leader. Our area of operation was dangerous, and he and I both felt we would make contact with the enemy.
We observed our ambush site from a distance until we lost daylight. I called in an artillery illumination round for coordination purposes, to be sure we were exactly where we were supposed to be.
Our overlay coordinates were correct, as the round went off several hundred feet, perhaps a football length in the night sky, above our site. So the squad leader moved his squad into position, and we set up a night ambush on a well-used enemy trail.
We set up in a prone position and began the lengthy ordeal of waiting. Every third Marine took a turn at resting and not reacting to the constant attack of insects and possibly venomous snakes crawling on the jungle floor.
At approximately 3 a.m., the squad leader tackled an enemy soldier—an N.V.A. (North Vietnamese Army) sergeant! Little did I know that the sergeant had observed us set up our ambush site while his 16 soldiers were also setting up an ambush site for any Marines on night patrols.
Normally, Amelia, we did not take enemy prisoners, as they usually did not take us as prisoners, and the area was controlled by a female enemy Colonel who would dismember any and all Marines captured. As I said earlier, this was a very dangerous area to operate in.
The squad leader dropped the enemy soldier over to me, and we disarmed him of all weapons. We had an interpreter with us who spoke English, French, and Vietnamese. There was something different about this soldier—he wore a crucifix around his neck.
Our interpreter told me the enemy soldier was a Catholic and had 16 men set up to ambush us. He saw the eleven of us setting up our ambush and felt they could overtake us since we were outnumbered. As the night advanced, he wanted to take a closer look at us and attempted to "recon" us by himself, knowing the area by heart in day or night.
As he got closer to us, he could not believe his own eyes when he saw 12 more Marines standing in a circle around the 11 of us! That changed the odds for him, as there were 23 of us that he could see, and he decided not to ambush as after all. That's when Corporal Martinez tackled and captured him.
Both Richard and I are also Catholic, and we felt it better to take this enemy soldier prisoner, and upon return to our command post at first light turn him over to my captain, John Bailey, and then to our Division Headquarters for a more professional prisoner debriefing.
We made it in safety the next morning, and Corporal Martinez and I took the prisoner to Captain Bailey. The enemy soldier was given C-rations and a cigarette to smoke, as his story of what occurred was written down for the record.
Captain Bailey was also a Catholic. He noted to me that he had never seen me take a prisoner alive. I explained to him that I hadn’t in a while, not since we captured an enemy doctor and his nurse several months earlier.
Something was different about this enemy soldier, I explained to the captain, and about the situation and his observations. There were for sure only 11 of us, yet 12 more according to what the prisoner witnessed? Where did the other Marines come from?
I told him that I felt it was right to bring the enemy in, and that I believed we had been protected by 12 ghostly Marines that night, who I nicknamed the "12 disciples." Captain Bailey also noted that ever since our platoon priest, Father Vincent Capodanno, was killed in action with us on September 4, 1967, that other Marines had also reported some very unusual occurrences.
Father Vincent Capodanno is now being considered for sainthood by the Vatican. The process began five years ago. I remember he had given me a set of rosary beads after a confession, communion, and mass in a mortar pit in July 1967.
I truly believe there was divine intervention that November night in 1967, 44 years ago.
"The Twelve Disciples," copyright 2018 Bernard W. Masino and Amelia Cotter (first appeared in The Haunted Letters: True Tales from a Ghost-Storied Life, 2013)