An Account of 4th Platoon Activities

November 1968 thru August 1969

Company D, 1st Bn, 8th Infantry
4th Infantry Division
Vietnam


joe lynn fowler





In memory of Joe Lynn Fowler
KIA 16 May 1969, while leading the Platoon in Combat.










Table of Contents

Click on the Chapter Title to go to that chapter.


Introduction
Cpt. Ted Yamashita
Delta’s Good Fortune
Cloverleaf
Around Dak To
Hornets and Fire
Music of Vietnam
Polei Kleng, The Swim Club
The Rock Pile
Cooking on All Four
Tank Killers
Roughing It
Operation Wayne Grey  Introduction
Operation Wayne Grey Highly Summarized
Wayne Grey - AAR Extract/Details
The Cambodian Conjecture
Stand Down/Blackhawk
An Khe/Mang Yang Pass
Fire Support Base Denise
May 16th
Firebase duty
To The Platoon



4th Platoon, Company D, 1st BN, 8th Infantry, 4th Division
Vietnam
Nov. 1968 – Aug. 1969
J. L. Nolan


Introduction

This is an account of my tour with the 4th Platoon Company D - First Battalion- Eighth Infantry.  It covers the period from November 1968 through August 1969. At times I will be writing about my personal experiences and at other times about the history of my unit.  Usually the unit will be just the 4th Platoon/Delta Company, and, at other times I will discuss Delta as a whole.  Near the end of my tour I was XO of Alpha-1/8. I will report briefly about that Company in the Alpha Stories web page.  I am writing this account for the men who were there and their interested family members and friends.  Its purpose is to help my comrades say “oh yeah I remember that, yeah I was there, and I did that.”   Hopefully it will encourage others to post memories as well.  It’s also intended to document as much as I can before my memories and those of my fellow Delta members fade even more.  I wish I could have done this years ago, but I just couldn’t.  I’m sure I have made some mistakes, as my memories have faded.  Some things I remember like they happened this morning, other things are fuzzy, some I have plain forgotten. I hope that knowledgeable readers will comment and correct these.  Some items will be thrown in here and there to refresh our memories of day to day activities that were unique to Vietnam .  Excuse the first couple of paragraphs that are just about me.  I do think it may help if readers know something about my background.

I graduated from the Drexel ROTC program in 1967 as an Infantry 2LT. I was nearly kicked out of the program due to my total inability to march in cadence and an excessive absenteeism rate.  In a hearing, I was able to convince the staff that I should stay based mainly on my good grades and performance in the unofficial ROTC Ranger program.  I did my ROTC Basic at Indiantown Gap , PA in 1967.  I went on active duty in Nov ’67 and reported to Ft. Benning for Infantry Officers School .  I completed IOBC-5 (Honor Grad) at Ft. Benning , then Ranger School , and was assigned as XO in a Basic Training Co. in El Paso , TX . 

I reported to Vietnam on 22 November, 1968 , was assigned to the 4th Division at Pleiku, and within a week was on a convoy headed for Dak To.  I spent a few days there on busy work waiting for a field assignment.  I was then assigned to Delta and was lifted out to Hill 8xx.  There I spent 2 days hanging around the Company CP (Command Post) awaiting “My” platoon, which turned out to be the 4th.  I had a one day overlap with the outgoing Plt. Ldr. (Allen, I think) and then took over.  That day I led my first patrol, which was a recon off the firebase.  This was a several hour uneventful operation until we returned through the perimeter and my platoon gave a cheer.  This seemed odd, and when I questioned my RTO (radio operator), Leonard Miller, I learned that on many other recent patrols the platoon had spent hours trying to find its way back to base.  I felt a warm sense of accomplishment.  From the age of 3, I wandered alone in the fields and woods of our farm in Tennessee , and by four knew every inch of it and most of the neighbors’ properties.  I was always comfortable finding my way around in the wilderness, and map reading came naturally.  This was an essential skill for navigation and artillery calling in Vietnam ’s Central Highlands.  Delta was fortunate to also have Lt. John Hines, an excellent navigator.  We liked competing over who knew more precisely where we were at any given time.  Delta was also lucky to have many excellent map readers at every level, from numerous skilled point men and squad leaders up to the Commanding Officer, initially Cpt. Yamashita.

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Captain Ted Yamashita

In my opinion Cpt. Yamashita was the finest CO we could have asked for. After following the standard operating model of patrolling from base camp or a firebase and returning to that base at the end of each short duration mission, Yamashita implemented a change in Delta's Method of Operation, and we began to patrol.  Period.  We patrolled, and did nothing else. For weeks the unit would leave it's hilltop Night Location (NL) and head for another hilltop with an early afternoon ETA.  A new company perimeter would be established, and then two or three platoons would drop their rucks and head back down the hill to execute a cloverleaf recon patrol.  The Co HQ section and one line platoon would remain on top securing the NL.  The scouting platoons would return just before dark, usually leaving an ambush squad or extended Listening Posts (LPs) behind.  These patrols were in and around Dak To, Polei Kleng, and Kontum. This went on for weeks, then months, causing more than a little grumbling from the troops.  Eventually the fairness of this strategy was questioned by the platoon leaders.  Yamashita's insightful explanation was that the NVA were  extremely reluctant to assault without extensive prior planning and rehearsal.  By never spending more than one night in a single location, we minimized the chance that even a battalion size unit would attack Delta.  In fact, I can recall only two occasions while operating as a lone unit that we took light sniper fire at dusk.  There was never a serious probe in over 5 months of operating in this manner, except when the unit joined an established firebase, or operated in developed conflicts such as Operation Wayne Grey.

 Delta operated far enough away from firebases that it could be said that we were in NVA controlled areas.  All contacts were targets of opportunity or hasty ambushes with small NVA units on the move.  Often enemy troops were unsuspecting and walking at sling arms.  The vast majority of the time Delta initiated contact and came out on top.  Yamashita pointed out a secondary benefit of patrolling which was that the problems of drugs, disease, and base camp lethargy were significantly reduced.

Yamashita was a Ranger, as initially were all of his platoon leaders.  He never mentioned this, but I believe that he saw the benefits of a Ranger type operation in Vietnam and was doing his part in developing one.  He wasn't alone; it was, in fact, in 1969 that the first authorized Ranger units were formed in Vietnam .

I firmly believe that CPT Yamashita's military wisdom, tactics, and preferred operating mode saved many lives.

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Delta’s Good Fortune

There was a feeling within the Battalion that Delta was luckier than other units.  I personally feel that our unit was blessed. Particularly in Operation Wayne Grey this was apparent.  We would patrol through the same Area of Operation (AO) and out of the same firebases and have contacts, but we didn’t take the casualties that other companies did.  Some of this I imagine was the pure good luck of being in the right place at the right time.  However, I also believe the old saying that you make your own luck.  There is an enormous tactical benefit  from a company’s moving as a unit from one NL to another each day combined with a 360 degree cloverleaf sweep of the new location.  The cloverleaf off a hill with a reserve unit on top provides maximum security.  Each sweeping platoon mutually reinforces the others, one to the front left and another to the right rear.  ( At the end of this document I have included a sketch to clarify the cloverleaf.)   The sweeps were completed near dusk, so there was little opportunity for the NVA to move in and recon the company’s NL.  We would leave our hill top as a company shortly after dawn.  Of course, an entire company was more formidable and less apt to be attacked than a platoon moving alone.  Once the next night’s location was reached, with one platoon remaining on top and three moving out to sweep the entire perimeter at 120 degree intervals, we were in a pretty secure configuration. Each patrolling platoon ended up with the other platoons on each of its flanks and the fourth platoon on the high ground above.  Most Delta contacts were chance encounters, rather than planned assaults by the NVA.

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clover leaf patrol pattern

Draw your own conclusions, but the hard data shows that Delta had no KIAs when Yamashita was its CO!  Over that same period 1st Bn 8th Inf incurred 19 KIA.  Looking at the 1/8 entire history 1966-70, the Bn had 189 KIA, 12 % of those were in Delta, although we represented roughly 22% of its personnel.  During the very tough operations around Dak To in ’66 and ‘67, I don’t know how Delta operated, but its good fortune prevailed.  Out of 112 KIAs in the BN, 7 were in Delta.  However, when Delta moved to An Khe and was put into the typical mode of operating out of a firebase, casualties increased. Eight were lost from May thru Dec 1969. In those eight months Delta received 40% of the casualties it incurred in the entire war.  This was when it was forced to operate out of fixed bases using fixed routes, usually with under strength single Platoons.  For whatever the reason, we were fortunate to be part of Delta.

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Around Dak To

Following are a series of events, some worthy of note in any combat unit’s history, some just incidents that stuck in my mind which might be interesting for others to recall, and some included because of their irony.    I believe they are in correct sequence, but won’t swear to it.   I hope other Delta soldiers can add details.

 

A few days after my assignment to 4th Plt., Delta began to patrol around Dak To, rarely spending more than one night in any NL.  Only minor contact with the NVA occurred.  In mid-December the Company returned to the base camp at  Dak To to pull perimeter and ready reaction duty.  This lasted until  Xmas day.  We were in a partial stand-down due to a nominal holiday ceasefire.  While heating up some treats from home on a C4 stove, I was called to the Company Command Post (CP) . Within the hour Delta was on a reaction patrol.  We never returned to the base camp at Dak To. From Dec 25th until March 1969 we patrolled in the Dak To, Kontum, Polei Kleng AO.

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Hornets and Fire

One of the few times that we operated in the “flatlands” and in elephant grass, our point squad ran into a hornet’s nest, literally.   Several guys were badly stung and they were having trouble breaking contact.  Someone got the bright idea to pop smoke.  Bee keepers do use smoke to numb bees and prevent them from stinging.  Our squad succeeded in catching the grass on fire, adding to the excitement.  They finally broke out and returned to the company - hot, exhausted, stung and smoke filled.  The rest of the Company had a good laugh at their expense.

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Music of Vietnam

Battery powered radios and tape players were ubiquitous.  I hated them because of the undisciplined use and wanted to ban them, but couldn’t get the Company Commander to agree.  

The music was great!  Meanwhile back at Woodstock Joe was singing.

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Polei Kleng,  The Swim Club

After several weeks of non-stop patrolling, Delta Co was brought into Polei Kleng to add to the Special Forces defense.  To us it was R&R: Bunkers, not new foxholes every night; patrolling in web gear, not 80 pound rucksacks;  the first fresh clothes in 30 days.  And best of all was the stream.   This was heaven for us, just like the old swimming hole back home.  Elsewhere on this site Homer Steedly has a picture of A Co at the hole. It could have been Delta, since we swam and bathed in that exact crossing.

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The Rock Pile

This is not the more famous operation of that name conducted in I Corps, but was referred to as “The Rock Pile” by us  because it took place in heavily bouldered terrain, unique for our AO.  Delta Co was CA‘d (Combat Assaulted i.e. inserted by helicopter) next to the road between Kontum and Dak To to sweep the area in response to numerous NVA sightings and sniper fire on convoys.   Delta’s point platoon made contact soon after we started to patrol.  They incurred two WIAs, requiring a dust-off.  We were still receiving light small arms fire and were unable to clear an LZ (Landing Zone).  The dust-off tried to use a jungle penetrator (sort of like an anchor on a wench) but was unable to reach the ground.  I will never forget the Medevac pilot deciding to cut his own LZ: He began lowering the Huey into the canopy, cutting his way in.  Every time the rotor hit a branch it exploded, sounding like a rifle being fired.  Once the penetrator hit ground, the Huey hovered, receiving sporadic small arms fire while the wounded men were secured.  These dust-off crews were fearless and unbelievably dedicated.

By the time the dust-off was complete, it was late afternoon and the Company headed for high ground for its NL (Night Location).  A small boulder-strewn rise was chosen.  4th Platoon and, I believe, one other platoon were sent out to recon before dark.   Our point made contact with a 4 or 5 man NVA patrol within 300 meters of our night perimeter.  The result was one enemy KIA and one or two WIA who escaped.  No one was hurt in the 4th.   We continued the patrol with one more minor contact, results unknown.

 We returned to the Company NL at dusk, and sent out one LP (Listening Post) and one four or five man ambush led by Carl Nagel, which was forced to move into position in the dark.  Within the perimeter, only a few men were able to dig in due to all the rocks, and everyone had a restless night.   Around midnight firing broke out from the direction of our LP.   The typical chaos erupted with everyone up the chain-of-command going on air at once trying to get a sit rep (situation report).  Nagel was reporting that they were in contact, but I was sure the firing came from 120 degrees away in the direction of the LP.  As things settled down, it was determined that the ambush was out of location, but  had  a small group of NVA walk into the ambush zone, and had wounded at least one and had captured him.  The battalion was now involved and operating on the

Co. freq (radio frequency).  Command  wanted the prisoner kept alive for later extraction and interrogation.  They kept calling, wanting to know his status.   Oddly, none of our guys on the ambush spoke Vietnamese, and the prisoner didn’t speak English.  Nor were they about to turn on a flashlight to give him an exam.  Six guys laying on the ground in the dark, trying to keep a prisoner alive, knowing NVA patrols were scouring the area really didn’t want to be chatting on the radio to some officer back in Dak To.  Finally, the Bn insisted that he be brought back at once to the Co CP to get care from our medics.  We did not want such a small unit returning alone, so it was decided that I would lead about five men out to link up and return with the prisoner.  After several contacts in the past 18 hours, and knowing the NVA were also moving at night, going out to link up with friendlies in the pitch dark was one of the harrier moves I made in Vietnam .  Fortunately, we did get him back, and left him for treatment at the CP.   The next morning I went to check on him at the CP and found him patched up and sitting on an open crate of US grenades.  I guess he was just thankful to be cared for.  The Co continued in that area for a few more days, but I don’t believe there were any more contacts.

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Cooking on All Four

C-4 that is!   Everyone carried a homemade stove, created by taking an empty C-ration, and puncturing holes around its perimeter.  At meal time we would place a piece of C-4 plastic explosive the size of a pea inside and our canned dinner on top.  The C-4 would be ignited and this “stove” would bring a can of hot dogs and beans to a boil in about 15 seconds.  That assumes, of course, that you were lucky enough to draw franks & beans.  Most likely it was canned processed pork and other vegetable matter.   I also remember hoarding the packet of coffee that came with each meal, so I could have all three for the next day in the morning’s canteen of coffee.  Sometimes I even had cocoa mix to add in.  Once Ed Foley gave me a handful of coffee packets and a couple of coco packs.  I’ll never forget that.  It’s hell being an addict!

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Tank Killers

In my memory the following took place in January ’69, but all evidence indicates that it was the day after the noted tank fight at Ben Het,  which was March 3rd. On Mar 3rd Delta was involved with Operation Wayne Grey, adding to the date confusion.  Possibly someone from 1/69 Panthers could report if there was other enemy tank contact prior to the documented March 3rd firefight.  I think there must have been, and the following actually took place in Jan. or Feb. of ’69.

Regardless of the exact date, 4th platoon was given an operation order stating that the Ben Het firebase was  probed/attacked by enemy tanks the night  before.  Our mission was to search for and assault that element.  Late in the day Delta/4 CA’d (Combat Assault via helicopter) into the area just west of Ben Het.   We were issued three LAWs (Light Anti-tank Weapons) and were to make a night patrol to interdict an armor unit of unknown size, a rare, if not unique, activity. These LAWs were about 5 pounds and were made of plastic.  They don’t give you a lot of confidence when going up against a tank. Obviously, no one was happy with this mission.  The general idea was to sweep back towards Ben Het and ambush the tank unit.  Moving at night towards another friendly armor unit that had just experienced a tough firefight was not the most well thought out strategy.   Progress, not surprisingly, was slow.  We heard mechanized movement in the distance, but could not determine if it was friendly or NVA.   No contact was made, and we returned, disappointed, to the Company the next day.

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Roughing It

Remember how simply we lived.  We wore our only set of clothes until they rotted off.  Probably we had a jungle sweater in our ruck for cool nights.  We carried our shelter, our bedding, our kitchen and our meals, plus forty pounds of weaponry.  We prepared  our own meals.  We hoped we had enough water, too often we didn’t.  Almost every night we dug new fortifications (“can ya dig it”). We fought mosquitoes, leeches, and malaria in addition to an occasional NVA.  We had no TV, no lights, no microwaves, PCs hadn’t been invented yet, nor had GPS or cell phones. You had radios, and if you got away with it you could listen to either of the two stations.  A shower (swim) every 3 weeks was a treat.  Just seeing a woman called for a celebration.  We sat in the dust at Denise and learned that men were walking on the moon.  But still we managed to joke and laugh, and we formed unique friendships.  I suspect as we enter our sixties some of those will be rekindled.


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Operation Wayne Grey
1st Battalion, 8th Infantry, 4th Div
1 Mar ’69 – 30 Mar ’69

 Operation Wayne Grey was the most significant operation for 1st of the 8th during my tour. At the time I had not known it was called that; I just thought it was just a major battalion sweep.  I only learned about the Wayne Grey designation in 2010. There are published After Action Reports (AARs) at the Battalion/Brigade level, and for my following account I have extracted Delta Company’s activities, movement information and Night Locations directly from the AARs. To give a feel for the extent of Wayne Grey, I have also included portions of the other 1/8 Infantry company activities.  I have provided comments and more detailed info (in Bold) on what Delta and 4th Platoon were doing than is reported in the existing AARs. Extracts from the AARs will be enclosed in quotes and are italicized.  Where Company D activities are mentioned specifically, they will be underlined

AARs are highly compressed and do not convey the reality and chaos of combat; however, they were prepared soon after the mission using logs and fresh memories, and so provide a factual reference point.  My memories of the events that I mention are clear even though the exact sequence and location are fuzzy.   At times I disagree with what was reported and feel some activities were omitted.  In particular, I disagree with the amount of time reported as on firebase security.  I feel more time was spent on search and destroy missions.  In reality, individual platoons and more than once the entire Company spent multiple days patrolling up to several klicks (kilometers) outside the perimeter while “securing the firebase”.  I’m sure this applies to all of the units operating in Wayne Grey.

Because even my condensed version of the AAR is complex, and troop movements are confusing; I have provided a highly summarized version preceding the ARR extract that may be helpful as a reference.

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Operation Wayne Grey Highly Summarized

 

 

A.

Mar 1, 1969 :  Battalion consolidated and began its move into the Wayne Grey Area of Operation. That operation is depicted on two printed topo maps currently available from the USGS Store: Dak Mot Lop (sheet 6538- III,  downloadable, free), and Polei Jar Sieng (sheet 6537- IV,  soon to be downloadable). The operation centered around Fire Base 20, at map grid YB819079, approximately 22 km. southwest of Dak To and 9 km. east of the Cambodian border.  Elsewhere on this site Homer has included an extract from these two topos, although it doesn’t cover the entire area of WG operations.  I have added four topos marked up with Company night locations, contacts, and major movements.  These appear within the AAR extract.

B.

Mar 2-6:  Bravo Co secured FSB 20, along with A Battery, 6th of the 29th Artillery, the BN TOC, and the BN Recon Plt.  Location 819079 on the Dak Mot map.

Alpha Co took up a blocking position approximately 5 klicks due South of FSB 20 at 820020 on the Polei Jar map.

Charlie and Delta took positions 6 kilometers west of Alpha and began to sweep towards Alpha, performing search and destroy type operations.  At first enemy contacts were light, but became more frequent and severe during this 5 day period.  On 5 Mar Companies A and C had multiple contacts, resulting in 3 US KIA and 13 WIA.

C.

Mar 7-12:  Delta was brought into FSB 20 to join with Bravo in securing the firebase.  Both companies conducted daytime recon patrols on and around the base of Hill 1030 and provided squad-size to platoon-size night ambushes.  Delta CA ’d into an NVA firebase and recovered two 105 howitzers.

Alpha and Charlie continued recon and interdiction operations within the region from the southwest of FSB20 to its south east.  Contact was light until Alpha had a heavy contact on Mar 12th near grid 852000, 7 klicks south of FSB20, resulting in 22 NVA KIAs.  Co A casualties were 2 KIA, 15 WIA and 3 MIA.

D.

Mar 13-20-   Bravo and Delta continued security on and around FSB20.  Both began having more extended overnight patrols incorporating road interdiction and cratering missions. Delta eventually split, with one platoon staying at/near FSB 20 and the remainder patrolling and ambushing to the East and South of FSB20.

Alpha continued in contact from Mar 12th.  Charlie and Recon Plt joined with Alpha on new patrol base.  All had small arms contact and incurred mortar and artillery fire day and night. This group became Task Force Alpha.  TFA began to utilize sub-elements to patrol from Hill 467 as a base.  During this period incoming rocket, mortar and artillery fire were common for all units.  Counter battery fire from 6/29th at FSB 20 and other outlying batteries was a daily occurrence. 17th Cav provided frequent air support.

E. Mar21-24:   Alpha Co moved to FSB 20 and assumed Bravo’s security mission. Bravo moved to Task Force Alpha (Hill 467) and conducted road interdiction missions along with Charlie.  Delta minus (4th Plt.) continues recon missions several klicks southeast of FSB20.  All units experienced light contacts during this period.
F. Mar 25-26 – Alpha and D-4 provided security on and around FSB20.  Delta reconned SE of FSB20 and humped to join up with Bravo.  Bravo had two heavy contacts while patrolling on the 25th ; the results were US- 3 KIA, 24 WIA, and 6 MIA. Co D marched overland to reinforce TF Alpha.  Company C secured the vicinity around Hill 467.  Both FSB 20 and Hill 467 received heavy artillery, rocket and small arms fire.  On the 26th, both Task Force Alpha and FSB20 received heavy small arms, mortar, rocket and 105mm artillery fire. 1/8 casualties were 2KIA, 7 WIA. The 6th of 29th Artillery also received 2 KIA and 7 WIA.
G. Mar 27:  Delta Minus was airlifted under fire from Task Force Alpha to the new FSB 27.  Delta’s 4th Plt along with 2 platoons from CO A secured FSB20. FSB 20 received 20 rounds 105mm artillery. Companies B & C patrolled around TF Alpha.
H. Mar 28:   All companies patrolled near and secured their prospective firebases. TF Alpha received 120 rounds of enemy 105mm with 1 KIA and 4 WIA.
I. Mar 29:  Companies B & C at TF Alpha received rocket, mortar, automatic weapon and sniper fire throughout the day and was probed thru the night.  4th Platoon was airlifted into FSB 27 to rejoin Co D.   FSB 20 received 16 rounds of 105 mm. 
  
J. Mar 30:  All units were extracted for a stand-down.

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Extract and Comments on the Actual AAR

To aid in your understanding and interpretation ... actual extracts are italicized,  my comments are in bold,  and Company D activity is underlined.


1 March, 1969 : 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 1 March began its first CA by moving Company B from Fire Support Base 34 to Fire Support Base 20. Headquarters minus and A Battery , 6th of the 29th Artillery (Direct Support Battery ) were moved from LZ Bass at Polei Kleng to Fire Support Base 20. The battalion mortar section minus was moved from LZ Bass to Fire Support Base 20 along with Headquarters minus. Companies C, D and A along with Headquarters minus remained at LZ Bass in preparation for Companies C and D’s move to LZ Susan and Company A’s Combat Assault to LZ Turkey. The reconnaissance platoon remained at LZ Bass to work in liaison with Company A. Artillery at Fire Support Base 20 employed 45 rounds of 175 mm support fires from Ben Het.”

2 March, 1969 : 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry… continued combat assault operations from LZ Bass to LZ Susan with Companies C and D. Company A made a Combat Assault to vicinity YB 822031. Company D proceeded along the northern axis of advance and established NL at 740047.”

“After Combat Assault, Company A walked to LZ Turkey. At LZ Turkey Company A was to establish a blocking force for Company C sweeping on the southern axis and Company D sweeping on the North. These axes are centered on trails vicinity YB 762032 and 765055 running from East to West respectively.”

My primary memory of this first day was of sitting for hours on the airstrip at Polei Kleng waiting for our CA.  The CO and Top did take the opportunity to pass out CIBs (Combat Infantry Badges) and Air Medals to those who had earned them.

nolan at polei kleng with new cib.

3 March, 1969 : 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 3 March continued reconnaissance in force operations with Companies C and D sweeping from West to East and Company A blocking at vicinity LZ Turkey. Company B continued to secure Fire Support Base 20 with local security, patrols and two platoon sized ambushes.   …. Company D continued from their previous night location to 754049 along the trail without incident. They established local security and ambushed the trail.”

4 March, 1969 : 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 4 March, 1969 continued its reconnaissance in force mission. Company A moved from YB 822032 to 825042 to reestablish a new patrol base. Company A’s 83B (ambush) location at 819019 observed 15 NVA approximately 45 meters from their position but took no action….. Artillery was employed with negative results. Company B continued Fire Support Base 20 security with local security patrols and 2 ambushes at coordinates 795060 an 835057. Company C moved from their previous night location to 773020. They encountered some antipersonnel mines general grid 7503. ….no injuries were suffered. Company C also discovered another truck….. Company D moved to 761045 without incident. They set up security and ambushes along the trails. …Artillery: Reconnaissance by fire by 105-mm at Fire Support Base 20 for Company D.  105-mm emplaced at grid 777018 fired on suspected enemy artillery position. “

5 March, 1969 : 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 5 March, 1969 …continued reconnaissance in force with Companies C and D. Company A’s 83B at grid 819016 initiated ambush resulting in 2 NVA killed. ….. Ambush 83 C at 813022 initiated an ambush at 2005 hours resulting in 1 NVA killed and 2 U.S. WIA…….. Companies C and A moved to co-location at 822032 and established a patrol base employing maximum platoon-sized ambush elements. Company B continued security of Fire Support Base 20 with local security, patrols …….. At 1543 they received heavy fire from three sides of their position. Fire came from trees and concealed position. …… Results of contact, 7 NVA KIA (BC) 2 U.S. KIA, 12 U.S. WIA…….. Company D moved from 761045 to new night location at 773056 employing one platoon-sized ambush, vicinity 782056.”

6 March, 1969 : 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 6 March, 1969 continued reconnaissance in force with Companies A, C and D. Company A’s emplaced platoon-sized ambushes at grids 819027 and 818027 at 1814 hours. Company A experiences incoming 105-mm howitzer. Counter battery from Fire Support Base 20 emplaced at grids 810020 and 811039. After artillery was employed incoming ceased. Company B continued to secure Fire Support Base 20 with local security, patrols and ambushes at 805065, 810085, 824086 and 819077. Company C continued reconnaissance in force from 828040. Two platoon-sized ambushes were employed at grids 820040 and 828035 with 4 NVA engaged with negative results from the later grid. Company D continued reconnaissance in force from 777052 and moved to Fire Support Base 20 at 2345 hours. They observed an enemy bunker complex at 793059 showing recent use. Reconnaissance platoon worked in liaison with Company A. Mortar platoon minus supported battalion operations from Fire Support Base 20. One 81 section supported Companies A and C operations.

Artillery: At 0750 reconnaissance by fire for Company A at grid 807021, 105-mm. At 1055 4.2 inch and 105-mm for Company D at grid 797054, enemy in open.

company positions march 1-6, 1969 

This is an operation I remember well because of the forced night march to close on FSB 20 that day.  We had left our NL that morning and patrolled to the southeast.  In the late afternoon we received the order to close with the Bn base at FSB 20.  4th Platoon got the point assignment.  After reviewing the topo, I informed Yamashita that it was impossible to get there that day considering the daylight remaining.  After some discussion I learned that the BN was seriously concerned about being overrun, and that we would close. I recommended a route from our current location directly to the FSB.  This would have entailed a very steep half klick climb at the start, but then a steady moderate ridgeline climb for the next 2 ˝ klicks into the base.  In the dark, ridgelines are easier to follow since you can sense if you are walking off the side.  This plan was rejected, and it was necessary to sweep around one side of Hill 1030, then take a steep curved route for over three klicks to the top.  Looking back now with the locations of companies B & C’s ambushes available to me, the reason for our route is clear.  We passed between their ambushes with room for safe passage, staying about a kilometer from each ambush.  Going up the ridge would have taken us right through Bravo’s kill zone.  I have marked our approximate route on the attached topo- “Operation Wayne Grey 2” using the Mar5 NL as the start, the bunker discovery at grid 793059, the fire mission called by Delta at 797054 (1055AM), and the locations of Bravos two ambushes (grids 805065 & 819077 ), help define our route.

FSB 20 was atop Hill 1030, and was a grueling climb during daylight hours.  At night it was horrendous.  Our route took us through heavy cover and up and down countless ravines.  As is usual in double canopy, it was a very dark night.  Going off-trail up a massive hillside like 1030’s provided no landmarks for orientation.  Navigation was strictly by compass and the feel of upward progress.  I have very good  night vision and so traveled second in file in order to navigate.  Forward progress was the hardest thing to determine, and so we would call occasionally for a mortar to be fired from the FSB in order to judge distance.  When we drew within a few hundred meters of where we figured the perimeter was, the fear was greatest.  We would repeatedly call in to be sure the LPs and perimeter watch knew we were coming.  We finally closed the FB perimeter exhausted at near midnight .  The men of Delta were spread in amongst the troops currently holding the perimeter.

The next morning I got my first look at FSB 20.  I was stunned by how big it was.  It is amazing that Bravo held FSB 20 for a week without penetration.  In some places there must have been 20 to 30 meters between foxholes.  I think the size and steepness of 1030 may have helped avoid a major NVA assault.  We divided up the perimeter between Bravo and Delta, and added more fox holes.  I don’t recall that the FSB had any true bunkers except maybe at the TOC.

Later that day we were given instructions by the Engineer Squad on how to use cratering charges.  First, a shaped charge about the size of a half gallon tomato juice can was set up on stilts a foot above the ground.  This blew a hole a foot in diameter and about 8 feet deep.  The actual 30 lb. cratering charge was slid into this hole.  When it went off, you could actually see the earth lift up and be rolled back, almost in slow motion.  The hole was enormous.  The Bn Commander decided he would have his bunker built in the hole.  Some of my men were put on a detail (after the last night’s climb and little sleep) to fill sandbags for it.  I was afraid they were going to frag him.

We spent the next several days on FSB security and running cratering missions on The Trail by day and ambushes at night.    

company positions from 6-10 march 1969. 

7 March, 1969 :1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 7 March, 1969 continued reconnaissance in force with Companies A and C in the A.O…..Company B continued security of Fire Support Base 20 …..Company D continued to secure Fire Support Base 20 with local LP’s and OP’s. Platoon-sized ambush at YB826030. Reconnaissance platoon worked in liaison with Company A. Tracer 5 at YB 826030…. “

8 March, 1969 : 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 8 March, 1969 continued its reconnaissance in force mission with Company A. Companies B and D continued local security and patrols from Fire Support Base 20 employing one platoon-sized ambush each. Company B’s ambush vicinity being YB 808078 and Company D’s vicinity being YB 838075…..

Artillery: Vicinity 834074 Company D employed mortars from Fire Support Base 20 in a reconnaissance by fire program. Night firing program: 110 rounds of 105-mm against suspected enemy artillery positions and areas of enemy sightings that day.”

 

On about this date Delta-4 was assigned a two part mission: A night ambush, followed the next day by a cratering operation along a nearby road. We left Hill 1030’s perimeter late in the afternoon, headed for the valley below. The cratering charges were so bulky and heavy that everyone’s gear had to be redistributed.  With the added weight, traveling was rougher than usual, and we were forced into using an existing trail.  That risk was better than the alternative of moving and setting up in the dark.  The entire valley where we traveled was a bamboo thicket.  We set up a platoon perimeter and dug several two-man foxholes just at nightfall.  The cratering charges for the next day were piled at the platoon CP.  After a couple hours at the NL, both LPs radioed in significant movement. We started to hear occasional random fire 200 -300 meters from our location.  We did not return fire because  the muzzle flash would have revealed our position; instead we called in a fire mission.  Response time was fantastic and we got a High Explosive  (HE) adjustment round out past the assumed enemy location. We gave a “drop 200 and fire for effect”.  The initial rounds were HE in the approximate location we were hoping for. Soon afterwards unexpected White Phosphorus (WP) rounds exploded in front of us. Not only was the WP uncomfortably close, but a large area of bamboo was set ablaze and the fire was spreading rapidly. We were sitting on top of several cratering charges with fire headed our way. The NVA became a second priority: I just  wanted to get the platoon out of there, and back uphill was the only withdrawal route. Trying to bring the charges along with us seemed crazy.  I had them thrown in the foxholes and covered with as much dirt as time permitted. The platoon was able to pull back uphill a few hundred meters and set up again.  There was no further contact.

Early the next morning we  headed back to the top to meet another platoon coming downhill which would dig up the demolitions and crater the road.  When we felt we were close,  the other platoon leader asked for a rifle round to be fired off to confirm our location.  I told our point man, Burka I believe, to fire his rifle.  “Click”.  He nearly fainted. He’d been walking point for two days with an empty chamber!

“9 March, 1969: 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 9 March, 1969 continued its mission to interdict the enemy’s movement within the A.O. Company A conducted a BDA from their night location at YB 853025 and returned to the night location YB 826028 due to airstrikes being employed in the vicinity of their BDA…..Company B continued local security of Fire Support Base 20 plus one platoon-sized ambush vicinity 818065 C Company located vicinity 828040 continued local patrols and security and its ambush missions…. Company D continued Fire Support Base 20 security mission employing local security, patrols and one platoon-sized ambush vicinity 817089. Reconnaissance platoon worked in liaison with Company A and moved to Company A’s location. Tracer 6 was employed vicinity YB 828032 with the mission of ambushing the trail in that vicinity. ……”

10 March, 1969 : 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 10 March, 1969 continued its reconnaissance in force mission with two companies operating from patrol bases utilizing maximum platoon-sized forces and local patrols. One company undertook mission to extract enemy artillery pieces at grid 779028, which was successfully accomplished. Company D received mission to retrieve two enemy held 105-mm howitzers vicinity YB 779028. Company D was lifted from Fire Support Base 20 to an LZ vicinity YB 770026. With combat assault complete 1159 hours, they regrouped and moved overland to objective area. Light contact was encountered vicinity YB 777018 from secured artillery pieces in bunker complex. A LAW was employed against bunker with fleeing NVA killed by Company D forward security element. Results of action: Two U.S. 105-mm howitzers recaptured and taken to Polei Kleng, one NVA KIA with personal effects and SKS carbine, two trucks previously burned by napalm were completely disabled with thermite grenade, explosive charges, and burning gasoline…..The operation revealed a large enemy complex in this vicinity approximately one kilometer wide and one kilometer long. Company D received ground fire on pickup zone on airlift back to Fire Support Base 20. Artillery was employed on LZ vicinity in the form of a preparation with a total of 199 rounds being expended for operation. Artillery was also employed on PZ after final extraction of Company D with results unknown. Friendly casualties consisted of one U.S. WIA. ……”

This operation started with the Operations (OP) Order that morning before the CA out of FSB 20.  Three things immediately caught my attention: (1) 4th Platoon would be the point platoon for the mission; (2) no one knew the grid coordinates of the LZ, and (3) based on the fierce fighting our sister companies had been going through, Delta was going to be in for a hell of a day wresting these artillery pieces away from the NVA.  Lack of accurate LZ coordinates meant we were “temporarily mis-oriented”  from the start, and also were unable to call artillery if needed. I was told that the coordinates would be radioed to us before landing.  Soon we were on our way, and I kept asking the RTO if he had the LZ coordinates yet.  He never got them.  This added to the tension that always occurred on a CA.

I always tried to go in on the second slick (Huey) into the LZ, and that was the plan this time.  For some reason the Hueys for the first sortie got out of sequence, and this didn’t happen. But the guys knew the routine and the LZ was secured by the time I arrived.  We waited without incident for the rest of the Company to be shuttled in. The AAR does contain the LZ coordinates but, based on the amount of time we spent flying, I’d say we landed a few klicks further west.  (An interesting footnote is that this map was classified secret until 2007.  When I bought several Vietnam topos recently, this was the only one I was questioned about why I needed it. I have always felt that we were in Cambodia , not at the location shown in the AAR .)

Cpt. Yamashita showed up for the final coordination and was able to point me in the direction of the artillery pieces.  He also introduced the British camera crew that was to accompany the platoon.  I told him that I didn’t want a camera crew, but was informed that we had to take them.  The last thing I wanted was to have to assign men as nursemaids for civilians given my expectations of what lay ahead of us.  I took the three British newsmen to the rear guard of the platoon, and told them to stay with them.  Gary Lysne has since told me they found their way to the 3rd Platoon, but were no more welcome there.

  We headed out up a wide trail towards the objective. This trail was not the two-foot wide Montagnard trail we were used to, but was an eight-foot wide dirt road cut into the hillside. After walking a few hundred meters, a couple of rounds were fired up ahead and everyone hit the ground.  Then someone shouted “booby traps!”  Everyone froze in place. I edged my way forward to find one of our men staring at three 105 rounds about a foot from his face.  We began to look for trip wires and a way to defuse what, four decades later, would come to be known as an IED.  I heard a commotion from behind, which turned out to be the film crew tromping up road. I was livid and sent them back to the rear.  Eventually we determined to the best of our ability that there was no detonation devise, so continued up the hill.

We were in a  column formation, a file on either edge of the road : Point squad, M-60 crew, me, my RTO and the remaining two squads. The point squad was crossing a steep ravine when we came under small arms fire. The M-60 gunner jumped forward into the ravine but was snagged by a wait-a-minute vine.  These hooked thorns were so tough that if one hooked you, you could not pull loose.  I wanted to quickly get the 60 into the action. I pulled an NVA machete/knife I carried and started to hack him  free.  Just as I did he gave a lunge, and I ended up slicing the top of my thumb off down to the bone.  To stop the bleeding, I stuffed it into my fatigue shirt and continued on.  Firing was light and sporadic and soon we were able to enter the NVA base. Forth Platoon secured the near side of the NVA perimeter, and other platoons passed thru us to secure the artillery and other equipment.  As I recall, they had light contact while taking the rest of the hill.  This looked like a typical US firebase with dug-in positions and modern equipment. The CO arrived and wanted a debriefing. I remember sitting on the ground updating him, holding my injured hand against my now blood soaked shirt.  About this time the film crew showed up and began filming us with great interest. I could see the headlines: “Courageous gut-shot Lieutenant reports to his commander.”  When they inquired about my “wounds” I held up my thumb saying I just cut it. They turned and stalked off in disgust, looking for a better story.  Yamashita and I couldn’t help but laugh.

I only got a brief look at the 105s.  They were reported in the ARR as being put out of commission by US artillery fire.  I didn’t notice any damage, but was focused primarily on securing the perimeter we had established and preparing for an expected counter attack.  Surprisingly, none came while I was there.  I believe we were the first platoon extracted, and the remaining ones did end up in a firefight while getting the artillery pieces out.

“11 March, 1969: 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 11 March, 1969 continued its reconnaissance in force mission with Company B. securing Fire Support Base 20 utilizing local patrols and security, and platoon-sized ambushes to the Southwest, South and Southeast of Fire Support Base 20. Companies A and C received mission to conduct BDA vicinity YB 870984…..”

From 12 March thru 19 March, D Company provided security at FSB 20 and provided ambush and road interdiction missions off of the firebase.  Details are included in the AAR .  Neither I nor other Company D members who I talked to feel that we spent 12 days on FB20.  Possibly this is explained by the fact that one or more platoons were on two or three day patrols around the firebase.

company positions 11-17 march 1969. 


company positions from 18 - 30 march 1969. 

“20 March, 1969: 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 20 March, 1969 continued ambush patrols and interdiction of roads in assigned A.O. …..Company D moved overland on reconnaissance mission to east of Fire Support Base 20. Company D joined 2 platoons in that area and reconned in force to vicinity YB 876074 employing 4 squad-sized ambushes vicinity night location. ….”

21 March, 1969: 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 21 March, 1969 continued ambush patrols and road interdiction in assigned A.O. Company A conducted airlift from Task Force A to Fire Support Base 20 assuming security mission and employing ambushes vicinity YB 814082 and YB 819082. Company B minus conducted airlift from Fire Support Base 20 to Task Force A….Company D minus continued a reconnaissance mission to the east moving from previous night location vicinity YB 876071 to night location vicinity YB 870053. Employed 3 ambushes (general area of night location). ….”

“22 March, 1969: 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 22 March, 1969 continued operations with patrols, ambushes and road interdiction missions in A.O. Company A continued security of Fire Base 20, with local security, patrols and two platoon-sized elements used as ambushes vicinity 818088 and 814082. Company B minus conducted patrols with two platoons covering objectives vicinity YB 805042, 809049, 800031, 808021 and 808045. Abatis were blown at 815042. Company B minus joined other platoon-sized element at night location vicinity 808045. Company C minus moved to vicinity 812022 from Task Force A location. There they made contact with unknown sized enemy force. Results: 1 U.S. WIA, 1 NVA KIA. Company C minus moved back to Task Force A location employing ambush vicinity 796026. Company D minus continued reconnaissance sweep to east of last night location vicinity 855055 to present night location 863037 employing 3 ambushes vicinity 856055, 859033, and 868035. …”

At some point in this timeframe, 4th Platoon moved alone to Task Force Alpha’s firebase. We provided squad-size patrols and filled in on the perimeter at night. This was for two days, but does not appear in this record.  We must be the “minus” that shows up in the “Company D minus” references.  At some point we moved back to FSB 20 as a single platoon. 

This was our first unpleasant experience of being on the receiving end of a persistent artillery strike.  It was unnerving sitting in a light duty bunker hoping a round didn’t enter the doorway.  I was treated for an injury by Doc Howard, the Battalion Surgeon.  We had an enlightened  talk about the stupidity of war.  One man from the other company on the hill had just been killed retrieving C-rations from the LZ.  I was glad to leave TFA and return to the comfort of patrolling.

“23 March, 1969: 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 23 March, 1969 continued ambush patrols, and road interdiction missions in A.O. Company A continued security of Fire Support Base 20with local security, patrols and ambushes vicinity 819066, 819078, 820084, and 825083. Company B minus conducted reconnaissance sweep to vicinity 821037, 825024. Company B’s 24 element encountered enemy contact approximately 350 meters west of Task Force A location. Mortars from Task Force A location were employed, along with Spooky gunship in support of this action. Results: one U.S. KIA, 8 U.S. WIA and 4 NVA KIA. Company C continued security of Task Force A. Employed local security and reconnaissance patrols. Company D continued reconnaissance to east from night location, to new night location vicinity 870053, encountering light contact. Results: One NVA KIA. Ambushes were employed vicinity 848040, 845038, and 837037.

Artillery: Arc light 7183 was employed at 2115 hours 3000 meters southwest of Task Force A. Artillery was in support all day for the battalion. When incoming started 175-mm from Ben Het were employed on grid 750092 with negative results. Artillery was in support of Task Force A. Also on suspected enemy artillery positions. Mortars were also employed from Fire Support Base 20 in support of Task Force A.”

24 March, 1969 : 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 24 March, 1969 continued ambush patrols and road interdictions in the A.O…..Throughout the day Task Force A received incoming indirect fire from mortars and B-40 rockets along with sniper fire from east and west sides of perimeter (small arms). Company D minus continued security vicinity of their previous night location with local security and reconnaissance patrols. They employed patrols in a cloverleaf around vicinity of night location. Company D minus had a water patrol make contact with one NVA. Results: 1 NVA KIA, 1 rucksack CIA and negative U.S. casualties. Reconnaissance platoon undertook mission of security of Fire Support Base 20 with one section located at Task Force A location. Mortars fired support for Company B contact and defensive concentrations of Task Force A.”

Beginning around 24 March the AAR appears to me to contain frequent errors in unit positions, or units were being dispatched in a crazy fashion, or both most likely.  This is probably attributable to several factors. The units had lost several officers and NCOs and the acting replacements may not have been trained or experienced in map reading. The personnel at the field TOC (Tactical Operations Center) logging data had to be operating in extremely hectic conditions.  Both TFA and FSB20 were under daily artillery and rocket bombardment, and most units were in frequent contact.  I did a brief stint in a TOC as duty officer in much less severe conditions, and logging radio transmissions and grid coordinates accurately was a challenge. Simultaneous reports must have been coming in using similar abbreviated call signs. Log styles change as duty officers and RTOs rotate.  Finally clerical errors and typos probably occurred as the writer composed the AAR several weeks later.   Examples:  On Mar 21-23 Co D generally swept clockwise from FSB 20 to TFA.  Night locations reported have it backtracking on the 23rd to the NL for the 21st, leaving the ambushes up to 3.5 kilometers behind, a highly unlikely move.  On Mar 25 Delta moved to join with TFA. Both D and C have 3 reported patrols with destinations within 10 meters of each other, again highly unlikely. One Co D patrol was reported moving 5 klicks to the center of FSB 20.  On the same day Co A is reported as sending out seven short range patrols from FSB from 4 to 7 klicks from the firebase. If these were the intended locations, someone was crazy for sending them, and naive for thinking they would go that far.  All seven locations couldn’t be typos on the other hand.  Also on the 25th, one A Co. Platoon was sent from FSB 20 to secure a new FB 27 for D Co who were to move there on the 27th. One D Co platoon, the 4th, remained on FSB20 until the 29thTwo Co A Plts. were reported as returning from FB27 to FSB 20 on the 28th. Why wasn’t 4th Plt. D Co simply sent to FB27 in the first place, one unit move instead of three.

“25 March 1969: 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 25 March 1969 continued ambush patrols and interdiction of roads in assigned A.O. Company A continued security of Fire Support Base 20 with local ……….Company B minus departed night location YB 797023 for cratering mission on road vicinity YB 794020. After completion of mission Company B minus had contact at 1215 hours vicinity YB 755020 with estimated 20 NVA. Contact was broken and initiated again at 1413 hours. Results: 2 U.S. KIA, 11 U.S. WIA and 6 U.S. MIA, 4 or 5 NVA KIA. Company B’s 21 and 22 elements located at Task Force A with mission to secure that area. Task Force A came under attack at 0700 receiving B-40 rockets and small arms fire. Gunships, airstrikes and mortar fire were employed against enemy in open with results unknown. Results of ground action: 13 U.S. WIA, 1 U.S. KIA, 2 NVA KIA, possible 3 additional NVA KIA and 1 AK-47 CIA…….Company D moved overland from previous night location to Task Force A’s location. They employed short range patrols vicinity YB 825082, YB 802033 and YB 802034. Task Force A received 60-mm and 82-mm mortar fire sporadically throughout the day. Reconnaissance platoon continued security of Fire Support Base 20. Mortar platoon continued to support battalion operations from Fire Support Base 20 with one section located at Task Force A. Mortars at Task Force A fired in support of Company B contact and Company B minus contact.”

26 March, 1969 : 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 26 March, 1969 continued operations in assigned A.O. Company A conducting patrols, local security and road interdiction. Company A continued Fire Support Base 20 mission employing local security and patrols. One Company A platoon moved from their previous night location to Fire Base 27 to secure this area for Company D who was to move from Task Force A location to this new location. Fire Support Base 20 began receiving incoming artillery and mortar rounds from enemy positions approximately 1320 hours. A total of 13 rounds of 105-mm, 7 impacted inside the perimeter, were received. At 1400 hours this barrage ended. At 1535 hours Fire Support Base 20 again receiving incoming artillery which ended at 1600 hours. A total of 19 rounds were received with 18 impacting inside the perimeter. Counter artillery and mortar fire was employed during both instances resulting in stopping the enemy fire. Results of the artillery and mortar attacks were: 1 U.S. KIA, 2 U.S. WIA, Battery A 6th of the 29th Artillery suffered 2 U.S. KIA and 7 U.S. WIA as a result of the enemy attack. One more round of incoming artillery was received at 1800 hours with negative injuries and damage. Company B minus located vicinity 805026 evacuated 7 WIA from their location prior to linking with Company D who had been sent to their location to assist Company B minus back to Task Force A location. Company C undertook mission to secure southeast and southwest portion of perimeter to allow Company D free movement to Company B minus location. Company D and Company B minus met and started moving back toward Task Force A’s location. On this move back, 4 of the 6 MIA joined Company B minus. After Company D and Company B had reached Task Force A location Company C withdrew elements to Task Force A location. Companies C, D and B at this time resumed mission to secure patrol base vicinity Task Force A. Task Force A came under intense small arms, rocket, mortar and artillery attack starting at 1100 hours and lasting sporadically throughout the afternoon. Alligator 110 attempting a landing at Task Force A location was hit with small arms fire as he sat down on the pad. B-40 rockets were fired from the west into the vicinity of the pad. Dust off 52 coming into Task Force A also received ground fire and 1 gunship escorting them received rounds also.. Throughout the night Task Force A received reports of sightings of from 1 to 2 NVA probing During this time the enemy fired 5 B-40 rounds, 6 82-mm mortar rounds and small arms into Task Force A perimeter. Shortly after this attack Task Force A began receiving incoming 105-mm from enemy positions near the border. This continued sporadically until 1845 hours. A total of 44 rounds were received during this time. Results of the attacks were: 1 U.S. KIA and 5 U.S. WIA. Company D 23 element made contact about 200 meters to southeast of Task Force A while trying to move to short range patrol location. An estimated enemy squad was encountered by this element vicinity 810034. Results were 1 U.S. WIA and 1 NVA KIA. Mortars were employed and 23 broke contact and moved to different night location..These individuals were taken under fire with M-79, hand grenades and mortar fire with results unknown. Companies B, C and D continued security of Task Force A with local security and short-range Platoon-sized reconnaissance and surveillance patrols. Reconnaissance platoon continued security of Fire Support Base 20. Mortar platoon continued support of battalion operations from Fire Support Base 20 with one section located at Task Force A. Mortar missions were fired from Fire Support Base 20 and Task Force A in support of ground operations and counter mortar fire was utilized on suspected enemy mortar and rocket positions vicinity Task Force A and Fire Base 20.”

27 March, 1969 : 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 27 March, 1969 continued operations in assigned A.O. employing reconnaissance patrols, short range patrols and local security. Company A minus located vicinity of Fire Base 20continued security of Fire Support Base 20 ….. Fire Support Base 20 received incoming 105-mm at approximately 1047 hours. A total of 19 rounds received with 12 impacting inside the perimeter. The enemy artillery barrage ended at 1127 hours. Results were 2 U.S. WIA. Company B continued security of Task Force A with local security, reconnaissance patrols and short range reconnaissance patrols being employed in that vicinity. Throughout the day, especially during the air lift of Company d from Task Force A to Fire Support Base 27, Task Force A received 2 B-40 rockets inside the perimeter and an unknown amount of small arms fire. Company C undertook mission to sweep from Task Force A to vicinity of Company B minus previous day’s contact, in general vicinity 800033. Company C moving from vicinity Task Force A came into contact with enemy snipers to their front and left flanks with a B-40 rocket firing at them from their right front along with snipers. Company C pulled back to employ artillery in the area of contact. As they were pulling back they started receiving 105-mm incoming enemy fire. A total of 15 rounds were employed on their position forcing them back into Task Force A location. Results of contact were: 4 NVA KIA and negative friendly casualties. Counter battery artillery was employed. Gunships were employed in vicinity to Company C’s front with results unobserved. One of the gunships was hit by enemy fire vicinity 810030 or 807030. Gunships expended and withdrew. Artillery and mortars were employed in vicinity of Company C contact where enemy forward observer was suspected to be….. Company D minus conducted air lift from vicinity Task Force A to Fire Support Base 27. The 24 platoon continued security of Fire Support Base 20. Company D minus was Reaction Company for the 7th of the 17th Cavalry. Company D minus at Fire Support Base 27 employed a total of 6 short range patrols while their 24 element employed 2 short range patrols vicinity Fire Base 20 for local security. Reconnaissance platoon continued security of Fire Support Base 20 and employed a tracer team vicinity 822074 with negative results. 1st Brigade LRRP 4C became OPCON to the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry and started moving from its night location vicinity 880062 to vicinity Fire Support Base 27 for extraction. Mortar platoon continued support of battalion operations from Fire Support Base 20 with one section located with Task Force A. 4.2 inch mortar was fired in support of Company C’s planned move to southwest of Task Force A. 81-mm mortar located in Task Force A was fired as counter mortar and on possible enemy forward observer location in support of Company C operation.”

28 March, 1969 : 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 28 March, 1969 continued to operate in assigned A.O. employing local security, reconnaissance patrols and short range patrols. Company A minus continued security of Fire Support Base 20 with local Ops and LPs…….. A total of 120 rounds of incoming 105-mm artillery was received at Task Force A location throughout the day. Results were 4 U.S. WIA and 1 KIA. Movement was encountered throughout the night vicinity Task Force A. Each time M-79 and fragmentation grenades were employed resulting in movement ceasing. Company C continued security of Task Force A with local Ops and LPs. Company C also employed 4 short range reconnaissance patrols vicinity Task Force A as a screen. There were several enemy sightings during this day. Each sighting was taken under fire with results unknown. Company D continued security of Fire Support Base 27 with local Ops and LPs and short range reconnaissance patrols. A total of 4 short range patrols were employed in this area as a screen. Light contact was initiated by Company D on an NVA truck convoy by adjusting artillery fire onto them. Results were unobserved. Reconnaissance platoon continued security of Fire Support Base 20 with negative results. 1st Brigade LRRP 4C closed Company D location and was extracted. Mortar platoon continued to support battalion operations firing in support of Task Force A and Fire Base 20. One section located with Task Force A with the remainder located at Fire Support Base 20.”

29 March, 1969 : 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 29 March, 1969 continued operations in assigned A.O. with local security and short range reconnaissance patrols. Company A continued security of Fire Support Base 20 employing local security and short range reconnaissance patrols. Two short-range patrols were employed vicinity 819087 and 814085. Fire Support Base 20 received a total of 16 rounds of 105-mm enemy artillery fire throughout the afternoon with 12 falling inside the perimeter. Counter artillery was fired into suspected enemy locations vicinity YB 716062, YB 731074 and YB 729071 with results unknown. B Company 21 and 24 platoons continued security of Task Force A location while Company B minus element continued reconnaissance patrols vicinity east and southeast of Task Force A and closing Task Force A location during the afternoon. Heavy movement was encountered throughout the early morning, afternoon and evening with Task Force A receiving B-40 rockets, grenades 60-mm mortars and small arms fire from the northeast, east, south, southwest and west. A total of 19 B-40 rockets, 12 60-mm mortar rounds and 1 Chicom hand grenade was received at Task Force A location. Snipers on the east, south and west harassed friendly movement throughout the day. Results of this action were 3 U.S. WIA, 5 NVA KIA ………Company D minus continued security of Fire Base 27 with local security and short range reconnaissance patrols. A total of 5 short range patrols were employed in vicinity of Fire Support Base 27. Company D minus 24 element was air lifted from Fire Support Base 20 to Fire Support Base 27 rejoining the main element. Reconnaissance platoon continued security mission at Fire Support Base 20 assisting Company A. Mortar platoon continued to support battalion operations from Fire Support Base 20 with one section located with Task Force A. Counter mortar fire was employed by Task Force A throughout the day on suspected enemy mortar positions to the west and southeast. Defensive concentrations were fired throughout the early morning and late evening on suspected enemy movement with results unknown.”

I remember a very heated discussion between myself and the Bn CO and S3 at a briefing outside the TOC, on the 29th.  Forth Plt. was to be the last line unit off FSB 20, Alpha would leave that day, but the Artillery would remain, the 4th Plt.  and the Recon Plt. were to secure the firebase until the following day. I protested that it was impossible for us to secure the entire hill. My points seemed unheard, and I was ordered to prepare to defend the perimeter. I left the briefing and began to do so. A few hours later we were told to start an immediate airlift, choppers were on the way.  I didn’t even know where we were going.  A Co stayed and we rejoined Delta.

30 March, 1969 : 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry on 30 March, 1969 was in the process of moving all elements to Fire Base McNerny for stand down and regrouping….. of the extraction was 3 helicopters and one gunship disabled by enemy fire. Company C and Company B moved overland from Polei Kleng to Fire Base McNerny. …….Company D was extracted from Fire Support Base 27 with the final extraction completed at 1535 hours. Company D moved overland to LZ Mary Lou and stayed there during the night in preparation for the move to Fire Base McNerny. The extraction of Company D was without incident. Reconnaissance platoon was extracted along with Company A. Reconnaissance platoon remained with Company A at Polei Kleng. Mortar platoon was extracted along with Company A at Fire Support Base 20 with one section being extracted with Task Force A. The mortar platoon minus remained with Company A at Polei Kleng. One section was located at Mary Lou with Company D while Company D while one section was located at Fire Base McNerny with Companies C and D.”

31 March, 1969 : On 31 March, 1969 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry assumed stand down status at Fire Base McNerny. Company D moved from LZ Mary Lou and closed Fire Base McNerny at 1100 hours. Company A, mortar platoon minus, reconnaissance platoon, and Tactical Operations Center minus closed Fire Base McNerny at 1500 hours.”

nolan dirty and tired, but wiser.

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The Cambodian Conjecture

There is certainly no smoking gun, but Lt. Hines and I discussed at the time that twice we traveled so far  West that we had to be in Cambodia.  At the time our highest politicians proclaimed that the US was  never in Cambodia.  Our Generals backed them up.  It wasn’t  until the 1970 major incursion that entry into Cambodia was made public.   (Nixon actually authorized Operation Menu, and B-52 bombing in Cambodia started on March 18, 1969, half way thru Wayne Grey; although this was always denied, and records revealing it were not released until 2000.)  I feel no need to protect politicians’ stories, and the Cambodians living along the border certainly knew the truth.  I do feel the men who fought there, and the families of those who died do deserve to know the truth.  Most importantly is the possibly some MIA’s may be found if investigators looked on the correct side of the border. Delta 1/8 never lost anyone there, but I wouldn’t doubt other units did.

The primary factors that made me suspect we were over the border was the amount of time we flew west before reaching our destination, lack of maps,  and issues over map locations.  The first event was our original CA into the region on the second of March.  The second time was when we CA’d from FSB 20 to retrieve the 105 howitzers.

  For the initial CA it was the only time in my tour that we went on a mission without a topo map.  I would have given up my M-16 before my map.  In a recent conversation, Cpt. Yamashita reminded me that we were given aerial photo-maps instead. These black and white photos had large interval contour lines on them and were difficult to read without extensive training.  They were good for picking out enemy emplacements, but not for navigation.  Yamashita reminded me that we were to land on a hill top- LZ Susan according to the AAR.  When we landed  there was no hill.  Yamashita got involved with Battalion, and the explanation was an airstrike had blown away all the trees, and what had once looked like a hill, in fact wasn’t.  We were told we were in the right place.  If you buy the explanation, then there were no Central Highlands-  just forests and flatlands.  All the topos used in Vietnam were based on aerial survey, and proved mostly accurate, especially hilltop locations.  What  was sometimes inaccurate were steep ravines which were tree covered.  These ravines were hidden by trees and did not show up on the topos.

According to the ARR night locations after leaving LZ Susan,  Delta moved only about 3 kilometers in four days, or 700 meters a day.  My own, and several people I talked with about this, remember our more typical 3 to 4 kilometers per day.   The public policy of the time was that Cambodia was a neutral nation, and the US did not infringe on its borders, certainly  official records could not reflect an entry into Cambodia.   If my assumption is correct, and in fact we started our eastward sweep from somewhere in Cambodia,  then the documented unit locations had to be compressed.  The AAR shows us CA'ing into  LZ Susan 3 kilometers east of the border.  Over the next three days it is reported that we traveled less than 4 klicks, spending the night of March 5th  about two kilometers from the south west base of  Hill 1030, FSB20.  By March 4th or 5th we had been issued true topo maps.  I remember trying to figure a route up 1030 the afternoon of March 5. To be clear, I don’t remember the date specifically, just having a topo trying to get up 1030.       

According to the AAR,  C and D Companies landed at LZ Susan and from March  2nd  to 5th moved to the east in parallel  with each other,  about 1 to 2 klicks apart.  C was in contact on the 3rd 4th and 5th, employing  gunships  and artillery.  D had no contact.  Neither I, nor others I spoke with recalled hearing any of this.   For us not  to hear  this kind of weapons fire  it would be necessary for it to be several  kilometers away.  If we started in Cambodia and C Company didn’t, then we would have been far enough apart to not hear their fights.  The AAR indicates both C and D landed at LZ Susan.  I have no recollection of another unit being there.  It is possible that one unit departed before the other arrived, but that would not have been normal procedure.  Once an LZ was secured, it was held until all units were on the ground.

The second occasion when I felt we must be in Cambodia was when we did a Combat Assault to recover two 105 mm howitzers on March 10th, as described earlier.  It was very peculiar that at the briefing giving  us this mission the grid coordinates of our destination were unavailable.  We were at the BN TOC where these plans were developed and issued.  The artillery knew where they were and had conducted a fire mission to destroy them.  The Air Cav unit that CA’d  us in had to know the location to get there, yet on the helicopter they were unable to tell me where we landed.  The Operations Order format used for issuing missions was so routine and standardized that it is impossible to believe that someone up the chain just forgot about  including the mission coordinates in the mission.

According  to the AAR, the LZ used was 7 kilometers SSW of FSB20, this would have been about a three minute flight.  We flew West for several minutes longer than that.  When I study the official location of the LZ and the 105 emplacements, they don’t match my memory.  My recollection is of more or less a straight walk up hill for 5-700 meters.  The indicated locations require that we came off a small knoll, down a small ridge, across a valley, across a major trail, and up the final hill, all in one kilometer.  This could be reconciled if either our LZ or the 105s were off location by a few hundred meters, or by several kilometers. 

We marched into the NVA artillery base with extremely light resistance!  Basically they were left undefended. On March 3 and 5th Company C had major firefights two klicks on either side of the indicated location.  On March 4th however they passed within 700 meters of the artillery position, but also without contact.  Why would they leave such critical equipment undefended?  One could say our artillery prep drove them off.  But continual artillery and air strikes didn’t drive them off from attacking Task Force Alpha day after day.  I did not see the entire hill, but enroute and at the site, I saw little bomb damage.  I think a more plausible explanation is that the NVA felt they were safe, protected by the curtain of the Cambodian border. There was a firefight at the end of the mission, but that was a few hours after our landing.  This would have given the NVA ample time to move troops in from several kilometers away.

In a recent discussion I had with an Artillery Forward Observer/Liaison  on FSB20 during the operation he revealed that the Battery ”inadvertently”  fired on and destroyed another set of 105s that were  in Cambodia. He was given a mild reprimand, but of course, was doing what had to be done to save GI’s lives.  This shows that  the NVA were deploying artillery within Cambodia, that we knew about it, and took action against it.

It’s really not too important whether we were or weren’t in Cambodia, but  it is an interesting footnote to the unit’s history, if we did cross the border. If anyone else has any light to shed, post up on the comments section.

After completion of operation Wayne Grey,  1st Bn, 8th Infantry was relocated from the Dak To area to operate from An Khe.

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Stand Down/Blackhawk

After Wayne Grey, Delta moved to a large roadside Fire Support Base between Kontum and An  Khe.  I’m not sure, but I believe it was Blackhawk.  This was our first, all-be-it short, stand-down since Xmas.  With the exception of a short patrol outside the wire, we had three days to just relax.  The terrain was gently rolling hills and 6” grassland, more like Kansas than Vietnam . On that patrol less than a klick outside the wire, the point alerted us of a bunker ahead.  This was a fallen log with a large dark hole beneath it.  We deployed, and I pondered our options: call a mad minute and get laughed out of base camp for assaulting Vietnam ’s equivalent of the groundhog or get shot up by machine gun fire.  I was about to have a couple of M79 rounds fired when over the hill came a family of Montagnards.  By the time we could motion them to stop they were between us and the “bunker”. There was a momentary standoff with the Montagnards frozen with fear.  Finally I decided to walk out to meet the Montagnards.  I swear I heard the theme from “High Noon” playing in the distance.   I was given a very warm greeting and went over to explore the bunker:  No NVA, no groundhog, no one hurt.  Delta’s good fortune continued. That evening we had grilled steaks and all the beer we could drink, a first in a long, long time.

We began to patrol again the next morning  at 0700. It was Easter morning, but Yamashita had to get the unit moving.  I’d say the condition of the troops ranged from poor to miserable.  Guys were dropping out and puking all along the route.   The Old Man showed some mercy and let us set up a NL about 3 klicks from Blackhawk.  Of course, platoon recon patrols were required, but at least without rucks.  We struggled on through the low grass and entered sparse woodland.  Another klick and the point alerted.   The word came back that a large NVA compound was ahead.  I could hardly believe it and started to crawl forward.  I was directed to the edge of an embankment, and 10 meters below was a depression about 300 meters in diameter.  Inside was a small compound with maybe 20 NVA, 10 men in civvies ( VC ?), and a few women and children, all going about their business.  Their hooches were cut into a thick Bamboo grove.  This was obviously NVA.  While deploying the platoon half way around the top of the depression, I sit rep’ed back to the CO.  I was looking for direction on how to handle the situation and was sick about what the answer might have to be.  I was suggesting we try to demand a chu hoi (surrender) but expected a firefight.  The advantage was all ours due to the elevation and cover we had, but there would be no way to differentiate between soldiers and kids if a firefight started.  The word came back that I was lost, 180 degrees out of position, and that it was a farm village of friendlies.  I was adamant about where I was and who they were.  Someone up the chain came on my frequency and started to berate me saying there was no way an NVA compound could go undetected 4 klicks from their HQ in an area that had been patrolled by ground and air for two years.  I persisted, but was told to withdraw.  All of the radio traffic had alerted the village and they were running around like crazy.  Pulling back was now hazardous duty.  We managed to pull out without contact and returned exhausted to the company perimeter.  Yamashita believed us and just went away shaking his head.  A few minutes later he returned saying that he had convinced HQ  and that we were to return and assault the compound.  I went ballistic and said it would be a sure ambush, it was near dusk, and the platoon was beat.  He ended up taking two men from  4th as point and used another platoon as first in order with the rest of us second.  Our points took us right to the compound in the dark.  We surrounded what appeared a deserted camp, and after reporting back were told to recon by fire, then search the village.  We did so and only recovered some ammo.  We burned the village and started back to camp.  I worked my way forward along our file until I came up behind Savage.  He had the M-60 swung over his shoulder with something dangling from the muzzle.  As I got close I could tell it was a bamboo basket with a hen and chicks inside.  Happy Easter.  The Bn Chaplin met us for a moonlight service.

This operation was a fiasco, but one that ended up with no one hurt on either side.  It could have ended differently.  If we had been believed from the start, we might have captured 20 NVA with their arms and intel.  Or, while withdrawing, we could have ended up in a nasty firefight with casualties on both sides.  We might have killed a bunch of women and kids and have had to deal with that the rest of our lives.   As it turned out, we destroyed a significant NVA outpost a few klicks from a major firebase without firing a shot. And, hopefully, someone up the chain of command learned to trust the troops in the field, although judging by subsequent fatal events, I don’t think they did.  But as far as Easter Day 1969 is concerned, I am pleased with the way things turned out.

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An Khe/Mang Yang  Pass

After “Blackhawk”, Delta moved to An Khe.  The first couple of weeks we were on light duty at Camp Radcliff , pulling perimeter guard every few days.  Meals were three hots a day.  There was running water for showers. We slept on cots in wall tents.  One night, coming back from Air Force’s Officers Club, I came across a pile of watermelons behind another unit’s mess tent.  I felt a couple of these should be reallocated to the 4th and proceeded to do so.  I got caught by a very drunk and angry mess crew who were giving me a hard time.  Luckily, Savage and, I think, Anderson happened by and rescued me and the melons.  I was never quite sure which they were more concerned about.

Then the 4th platoon was assigned bridge security in the town of An Khe.  This was like R&R for the troops.  Steam baths and boom-boom girls 100 yards away.  Beer and soda on call.  No action.  After a week or so I got a message to go to the Brigade Tactical Operations Center (TOC) back at Radcliff for new mission Op Order.  This seemed unusual, but I found my way to the TOC.  It was underground and was entered down a long reinforced corridor.  Once inside, it looked to me to be something out of a James Bond movie.  It was nearly dark inside and set up like an amphitheater.  Several large screens showed maps and tactical information.  I was briefed on 4th platoon’s mission by several staff officers.  Basically we were to be inserted by Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) the next morning at the base of the ridge that defined Mang Yang Pass.   For years, convoys had been ambushed with automatic weapons, mortars and rockets as they went thru the pass. (The French had a large unit destroyed here.) The intel report was that an NVA weapons platoon would move back and forth along the ridge top to set up above QL19 and fire on convoys below.  Now we were to ambush them for a change.  We were under the operational control (opconed) of an Armor Company  (1/69, I imagine) which had been setting up conditions for the secret insertion by patrolling for a couple of weeks through the lowlands at the base on the ridge.  It was hoped that we could be dropped off undetected, then move up the ridge top and find a good ambush location. I left the briefing thinking that 4th Platoon’s real mission was to be bait.

The following morning before dawn we were loaded into 3 APCs and headed out escorted by a couple of M48 tanks.  After being bounced around inside the noxious APCs for about an hour, the rear doors dropped down and we looked out into a solid wall of underbrush. We had to hack our way out of the vehicle.  I asked the Track leader where we were, and he drew a circle on my map about two kilometers in diameter; then off they roared.  I called back to the Armor CP and asked for two artillery registration rounds to be fired so I could triangulate and get a fix on our position.  No go, we couldn’t risk alerting the NVA that something was up.  I took a bearing on where I thought the ridge was, and our point started to chop his way thru the combination of bamboo, elephant grass, and vines.  I know one thing- the NVA didn’t see us dismount. 

Fortunately, within 200-300 meters, we broke through the brush into high canopy.  Then we started a horrendous climb up a particularly steep slope on wet highland clay.   This clay is as slippery as axle grease when you’re trying to get a footing in it, but sticky as tar when you want to get it off your boots.  Very quickly we had an extra ten pounds of red goop stuck to each foot.  (We were climbing up the ridge on the south side of QL 19.  In this same general time frame Lt Steedly had a similar ambush mission on the north side.  He gives a good description of climbing through the mud up Mang Yang pass on his Bravo Co. site.)   After a couple of hours of climbing, we intersected a well used trail short of the ridge top, our assigned destination.  This was a four foot wide trail with indications of recent use.  I wanted to set up the ambush here and radioed in my intention.  The CO was not pleased and wanted us to move on to the top.  When I asked if he could guarantee us that there was a trail at the top, he hesitated.  The clincher was when I observed that if we went on and there was nothing there, we would not have time to return to the current spot before dark.  At least here we were sure of a good set up on a well used trail.  We got the go ahead.

 I put out two LPs overlooking the trail about 50 yards on either side of the body of the platoon, each with an M60 and a radio.  Claymore mines were put out, and we hid the best we could in the medium cover available - not an ideal spot, but workable.  We were in position not more than 15 minutes when Ed Foley, my RTO, told me the south LP had just radioed in approaching troops.  I thought he was kidding. He quickly convinced me this was for real and they were close.  The Armor TOC was monitoring our push and immediately jumped in wanting details. I told them something to the effect of “shut up and stay off the push.”  They continued with transmissions.  Before I could say shut up again, the south M-60 opened up. Troops to my right began to fire, and running and screaming was heard to the south.  Three NVA went down in front of my position but were still firing. I blew our string of Claymores, and all went silent with the exception of “sit rep, sit rep” over the radio.  I told Foley to ignore it.  We swept the kill zone, and recovered one enemy KIA.  There were other blood trails.  Now something about air strikes came over the radio. That got my attention. I called back that that was the last thing we wanted.  Why, the Armor CO wanted to know.  Because I didn’t know where I was. The CO was furious that I was on ambush and didn’t know where I was.  I reminded him his drivers dropped us off blind (we moved several klicks inside a steel box before drop off) and that he had refused an artillery position fix.  I was furious that he had ruined our ambush and endangered the LP.  While this exchange was going on I was getting a brief from the LP.  As suspected, the NVA squad had heard the radio calls from the TOC and had spotted them.  They had no choice but to open up.  Three NVA ran into the kill zone, and most turned and ran back the other way.  We sent out two recon sweeps.  The CO was still insisting on air strikes and we could, in fact, hear jets on location.  I recommended that we would mark our position with smoke and they would expend half way between there and the valley floor.  I hated close air support in this situation.

Both sweeps reported blood, but no body count.  I called in that I was going to pull the patrols back in and head for the ridge top for a NL.  The Armor CO or Bn told us to come down instead and bring the NVA body for “evaluation.”  I refused to bring the body, saying that all they needed was the uniform, pack and AK47.  Going downhill sounded a lot better than climbing to the top since I thought we were to be extracted. Once down, however, we were informed that we were to set up a platoon ambush.  Astonished, I pointed out that we were on the flats with the Mang Yang ridge looking down on us. The guys sitting in a steel bunker a half mile inside the perimeter didn’t see the problem.  We were out of water and had expended about a third of our small arms ammo so we requested resupply.  We got a fraction of what we asked for and dug in for a rainy and restless night.  We all thought we would get mortared into oblivion that night.  It indeed seemed we were there as bait for an artillery strike.

Delta’s good fortune held.  We didn’t receive a single sniper round that night.  The bad news was that we were then ordered to move out at once for the ridge top. I pointed out that we were still low on ammo and out of water.  Basically that was tough.  I was able to get hold of our own CO, Yamashita, and got him to intervene.  I was not complaining about the assignment, just the lack of resupply.  He got that straightened out quickly.

It took several exhausting hours to reach the top.  I was amazed at what we found.  A trail that resembled a path in a state park back home.  We followed it north towards the overlook onto QL19.  There we discovered a pit about 30 meters in diameter and a meter deep, perfectly flat and with  straight walls.  It must have been for the NVA mortar platoon. We set up our next ambush here and spent the next day and a half with no action except for an assault by a company of leeches.  The first morning everyone in the platoon had 4 to 6 stuck to them.  These were the only ones I saw all tour, and we were 3000 feet above sea level! I was prepared to stay a second night, but we were pulled back in. Shortly after this operation Delta headed East to build FB Denise.

Once again Base camp decision making turned what could have been a significant success into a minor one.  However, 4th Platoon traveled for three days through an enemy stronghold and a firefight without casualties.

mang yang pass map

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Fire Support Base Denise

After four or five weeks operating in and around Camp Radcliff , Delta was moved by truck convoy to establish a new firebase (Denise) about eight kilometers northeast of An Khe.  Denise is on the Kan Nak map, sheet BR 6737 III, at grid 520 512,  Hill 444. The designated site was a low knoll densely covered in ten foot high brush.  On our second day, 4th Platoon made a long sweep of the surrounding area.  This included a low but steep forested hill, probably 200 meters above the surrounding farmland, grid BR 541 534, designated Hill 531.  When we reached the top we discovered an obvious enemy observation camp: An 8’X10’ grass hooch, covered foxhole and fire pit overlooking route 19 and the side road past Denise.  We had seen a lot of these by now so could easily recognize them.  We radioed this up the chain, recommending that we withdraw and call in artillery to clear the hilltop.  After fifteen minutes we were informed that we had found a wood chopper’s hut and were told not to disturb anything.  This was another example of a base camper overriding the firsthand knowledge of troops in the field.  It would turn out to be a fatal decision.

We spent the next several days building bunkers, laying out concertina, and clearing fields of fire.  Denise received a 105mm battery and a mess hall.

Delta was now required to operate in the conventional way of patrolling from firebases in a fixed Area of Operation.  Adding to the risk was the fact that, for the first time, Delta was not in a free fire zone.  The non-GI persons we met on patrol could be civilian, VC, ARVN or NVA.  For eight months prior, we were in NVA controlled terrain and the mode was to shoot first and ask questions later.  We did daily road openings, i.e.  provided security to engineer mine sweepers, went on short recon patrols of the same area we had done the day before, and secured FB Denise.  Cpt. Yamashita was replaced by Cpt. Caldwell.  Caldwell was a competent and experienced CO who had done one tour with the First Cav.  We all respected him for his experience and cool headedness in a tight situation.  However, he was willing to continue operating in the traditional way; it was quite possible that he had no choice.  Delta was forced to operate with fewer and fewer men. It had dwindled from around 140 in 1968 to around 90 by the summer of ’69.  4th Plt. shrank to 18 men.  At this manpower level, operating was almost impossible.  Troops would be required to pull LP duty one night, then go out on ambush the next and be sent on a platoon patrol when they returned from the ambush. Eventually one platoon was dissolved, and men were redistributed to the remaining three.

firebase denise and hill 531. 

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May 16th

On May 16, 1969 , the 4th Platoon was returning from a night ambush about four klicks from Denise.  By 10 AM the heat was almost unbearable.  We took a break in a pineapple farm, finding a little shade and eagerly helping ourselves to the best pineapples I ever had. We closed on Denise nearly in a state of heat exhaustion.  Later we heard distant small arms and artillery.    Caldwell called me to his CP.   The 4th was given the mission of reacting in support of the platoon from another company that was currently under heavy fire and in trouble. For the first time in Vietnam , I protested an assignment.  Both I and the platoon were too exhausted to function. Caldwell pointed out that we had been up the hill before and wanted us to go. I argued that there was a fresh platoon at Denise that had been on firebase security.  I got nowhere and was ordered to get moving immediately.  I normally got an adrenalin high and reacted aggressively to a potentially hot mission.  I approached this one with dread, mostly due to the exhaustion of all of the 4th Platoon.   No Hueys were available, and we headed out at a fast pace with web gear only.  As I recall, one platoon was on road security, and one had to stay at Denise securing the firebase.   Caldwell would follow with the other platoon as soon as it returned to Denise.

We were headed for the same Hill  531 where, several weeks earlier on our arrival at Denise, we had spotted an NVA outpost which we wanted to destroy, only to be told that it was a wood chopper’s hut. ( A map is attached with locations marked to the best of my memory.)  Now one unit was in trouble there, and we were headed to join them.  On route we passed within feet of an ARVN compound in a small village, probably An Binh 2.  The ARVN were watching the artillery fire on the hill but were doing nothing to help.  As we went by they were laughing and cheering us. It is hard to understand the hate I felt for this supposed ally.  I know I was not alone in wanting to unload on them. 

We pushed ahead, observing the artillery fire on the hill.  When we reached the base of the hill, we met the platoon that we were coming to relieve.  They were pretty shaken and had obviously had a rough go of it.  After being briefed by them, we continued on and rendezvoused with an armored platoon that gave us a ride halfway up the hill.  I was amazed at how the tanks were able to push down 12-18” diameter trees while going up a 45 degree incline. When they could go no further, we dismounted and proceeded in file towards the top. 

Jerome Parker’s squad led the platoon, with Joe Fowler walking point.  Both men were highly experienced and competent.  One M-60 machine gun team followed the point squad, and I was immediately behind them.   The rest of the platoon followed in single file with Sgt Brown bringing up the rear element.  As usual when expecting contact, we traveled off trail, a painstaking task on this steep a hill.  We had only advanced a few hundred yards when I stepped onto a trail and realized that the point unit had made a left turn and was proceeding up the hill on the trail. The platoon was now in a dangerous “L” configuration. I shouted for the point to get off the trail. The platoon immediately began to receive automatic weapons fire.  Apparently my shout had triggered the ambush. There was a large fallen tree across the trail and I hit the ground behind it. I was erroneously sure that all the firing was coming from behind me and that the tail-end of the platoon had mistaken the point element for NVA.  Therefore, my immediate effort was focused on stopping our firing.  Fortunately there were enough of our men who could see what was really happening and they continued fighting. 

Parker’s lead squad was taking the brunt of the fire from the hill above. I was quickly convinced that we were in a real fight.  By now we were also receiving grenade or rocket fire.  Parker and his men were putting out a tremendous rate of fire, and the M-60 crew had set up on the log and was firing aggressively.  Under Sgt. Brown’s direction, the men at the tail end of the platoon who had a clear view of the NVA position were also returning fire.  The mid-section of the platoon, including myself, were more or less pinned down by our own fire coming from the back end of the L.

Men from the point element began to shout for a medic. I looked to the rear and saw Doc moving forward without hesitation.  He was very new with the platoon, and I wondered if he was up to the task.  All doubts soon vanished. I went over the log to join Parker.  He was hit multiple times, but was actively directing the squad in both returning fire and recovering Fowler, who appeared unconscious.  We were able to get Joe to safety behind the log as Doc arrived from the rear. Doc immediately began to tend to him.  He never regained consciousness and was apparently killed instantly from multiple wounds.  Doc then moved forward to help Parker.  Within 6 or 8 minutes all firing had stopped.  We regrouped and began to tend to the casualties.  Several from the point squad had minor wounds; Jerome was seriously wounded.  Two teams were sent to sweep the area. They detected no one.  Cpt. Campbell directed us to withdraw to the Armor platoon so that artillery could be called onto the hill top and our casualties could be extracted. We carried Joe with us. Jerome walked out under his own remarkable power.

 We then rejoined the other D Company platoon and Co. HQ at the base of the hill and established an ambush for the night.  There was no further contact.

The next morning Cpt. Caldwell wisely assigned 4th Platoon as point to sweep the Hill once more.  We searched the ambush site and located the enemy position from the day before.  There we found a large pile of expended M-60 ammo and links and a blood trail leaving the area.  The enemy had used one of our own most potent weapons against us.  We continued on to the top without incident.

The fight on Hill 531 has troubled me ever since.  I don’t think of it often, but when I do I’m angered by several things:  First, being denied the opportunity to destroy the observation post the first day in the FB Denise AO;  second, the ARVN compound two klicks from the hill, which had to be aware of the NVA presence but did nothing;  third, being forced to pull this mission when the platoon was completely exhausted -  both Fowler and Parker were so savvy that I can’t imagine them turning onto that trail if  they had been able to think clearly;  and fourth, my own failure in not realizing their mistake sooner and my confusion in the early seconds of the contact.  This may have been just poor judgment, but I believe my performance was also affected by my own exhaustion.  If anything good can be said of the ambush, it was that my fortunate shout caused the ambush to be sprung before the entire platoon was within the killing zone.  Or that may have been a coincidence, and Fowler had spotted the NVA at that instant and began firing on them, protecting the rest of the Platoon.

Jerome Parker and Joe Fowler were excellent soldiers.  They could be relied on to handle any assignment.  Joe died and Jerome was seriously injured assaulting an unimportant hill, but what they did in Vietnam was in no way insignificant.  They were leaders within their squad and the platoon before I arrived in Vietnam .  They led by example and contributed to the safety and successful functioning of the platoon on a daily basis. In good times their quiet, good natured humor made life a little more bearable for their comrades.  I know their courage and alertness kept us out of harm’s way on many occasions.  They epitomized the best in the US Army: courageous young men doing their job correctly and unflinchingly.  What they did was not just clear a hill one day in May;  they provided an example every day to all the men around them of what professional soldering is all about.  Joe and Jerome were the finest of Infantrymen, and it was an honor to serve with.

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Firebase duty

For the next few weeks things were routine and quiet.  We conducted day sweeps, ambushes, road clearing and security missions, all without contact.  The platoon began to relax - too much so. They became careless. Many of the old pros had returned home. It was becoming necessary to nag the way I did when I first took over.   One of the problems was that they would bunch up when patrolling.  This made them a prime target for an ambush.  When bunched up as they tended to do, a single Claymore would have been disastrous.  A well spread out platoon was an unlikely target because plenty of men would remain outside the killing zone to counter attack.  One day after pulling road security all day, we were headed back down what I think was Route 508 towards Denise.  We were in a column of two, and I had already yelled at the men a couple of times to “spread it out”.  They were bunched up again.  I was thinking ‘what’s it going to take to get these guys to listen’.  I was so pissed that I decided maybe scaring the piss out of them would make an impression.   I auto fired an entire magazine of M-16 rounds into the air.  It certainly got their attention: There were twenty-some men flattened onto the roadside.  Only I was left standing. And I began to berate them.  The RTO had cut his knee hitting the ground, and was bleeding a lot. Some thought I had shot him.  I knew my muzzle was pointed at the clouds the entire time and that he had just cut himself.  There were some heated discussions with a couple of the guys.  I could have cared less.  I wanted to shake them up and would have done the same again.  Their alertness did improve, but I got a cold shoulder the next couple of weeks.  I also got chewed out by Cpt. Campbell, but I felt it was my platoon and I knew how to run it best.

I took R&R.  A couple of weeks after returning I was transferred to Co A as their new XO. 

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To The Platoon

As I wrote in the section on Captain Yamashita, I feel fortunate and proud to have been a member of Delta 1/8.  But it is 4th Platoon that I have the greatest attachment to.  Of course, the platoon is the men who were in it.  You were mostly green when I took over in late 1968, as was I.  It was obvious that you were agreeable enough and responded well to assigned missions.  Your inexperience and youthful feeling of immortality initially resulted in a lack of concern and respect for the danger that was always lurking around the next bend in the trail.  Your lack of noise and light discipline were a persistent problem at first. In the early days we would be on patrol and I would hear music playing on a radio and would go ballistic.  At first, maintaining safe troop spacing while moving in our typical file formation was a perpetual problem.  You would bunch up, increasing the risk of ambush or increased casualties in a fire fight. Thus the constant warning “spread out, one round’ll get ya all”.  After our early minor contacts and some nagging, the platoon gradually shaped up and began to move through the jungle as true guerilla fighters.

From the start I was amazed at how well the squads managed themselves. It was almost democratic how you decided, assigned and rotated assignments.  Who walked point, who filled in as a squad leader if one left the field, and coordination of night tie-in locations were typically handled by you.  This was not the typical Army style, but it worked, so why mess with it. I would spot check things, but found an adjustment was rarely necessary.  My morning frag order usually consisted of a map review showing that day’s destination and the route to take and relaying any current intel we had (minimal). I was pleasantly surprised by how well the point men and lead squads navigated.  The point unit would take us to our objective, only rarely with any adjustment from me.  The points were all sharp enough to know when they needed guidance, and then I would get the call to go forward. More often the point had come to a fork in the trail or ridge we were following or suspected some sort of potential enemy position.  Usually they already had the right solution in mind.

After I left Vietnam and returned to civilian life, I rarely talked about my tour and, if questioned, summarized my experience in one or two sentences.  I didn’t often think about Nam , and was blessed not to have the flashbacks that so many suffered from.  What occasionally happens even today when driving or hiking is I see a hill or trail and have the strongest urge to be with the Platoon, to lead you once again towards some objective.  We often hear or read that a soldier has left a piece of himself in the country where he fought.  It seems my own version of that is that I left a piece with 4th Platoon. I don’t have a strong desire to go back to Vietnam , but at times I will be grabbed with this desire to patrol with the Platoon just one more time. I yearn to sit in the morning sun, a topo map spread on the red clay, and discuss the day’s mission with you. To sit with you young squad leaders, see your youthful faces and men’s deadly serious eyes, keenly awaiting the day’s mission.  These feelings surface rarely, but when they do, they grab me like a vice. We of the 4th Platoon were lucky to never go through the pure hell of a Khe Sahn or Ia Drang.  Nevertheless, each morning we stepped out of a hilltop perimeter and headed into a potential valley of death.  This was not done without fear, but was done with determination and professionalism. You can be proud of yourselves and how you did your job. You will always be a part of me. 

Saddle up.

knife, can opener, and dog tags. 
L-R:   C4 explosive cleat, worn by many in the Platoon, resin injected fiberboard, used to aid in attaching explosive to objects quickly by threading knotted cord through it. P-38 can opener. My dog tags.  Top knife was carried by my uncle in Italy Campaign, and by me in Nam.

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