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Tall Comanche attacked by NVA while in NDP with Ridge Runner
June 19th, 20th, & 21st 1969

Jerry “Doc” Watson

Later in the day on June 19th, Tall Comanche received a message over the radio that nearby Ridge Runner (Company B, 2nd Battalion 5th Cavalry) had been in heavy contact against the NVA and had many wounded and lost many weapons during combat.  We were both working out of LZ Ike and were working the Mustang Trail.  The enemy contact with Ridge Runner had continued throughout the day and into the next morning, June 20th when we heard that they were now running low on ammunition.  Tall Comanche was given the go-ahead to assist and to hump through the dense jungle following the Mustang Trail to meet up with them.

It was about 1300 hours when we ran across a recent NVA camp on a small creek.  It was located just inside of the tree line next to a small narrow clearing.  One of our troopers while looking for recent NVA signs discovered a bamboo fish trap in the creek.  I had been set just below the surface, where the creek was narrow and deep enough to obscure it.  It appeared as if it had just recently been made and was of fine craftsmanship.  The fish trap had been crafted like a basket with small limbs of bamboo woven together with strips of bamboo.  It was about three-foot long with the center diameter at about eighteen inches and a six-inch opening at either end.  The trap was immediately destroyed when fresh tire tracks from NVA “Ho Chi Minh” sandals were discovered, and we figured we better keep an eye out in case the enemy was still nearby.

We decided to take a brake at this location and use the nearby clearing to pick up ammo and weapons for the much depleted supply of “B” Company.  The log birds were on their way, and when they came over the tree line on our left we popped smoke and had several troopers standing by to unload.  There were two slicks and were guided in as they moved towards our position near the end of the clearing.  Just as they were setting down, we were surprised by incoming AK-47 fire from the tree line across the clearing.  We all hit the ground taking cover, and started firing back across the clearing into the tree line where we thought that the NVA might be located.  During this attack by the NVA, the supplies and ammunition were quickly being taken off of the slicks and pulled back to our position in the tree line.

The log birds managed to lift off safely, moving back to their rear and over the tree line returning to LZ Ike.  We were then horrified to hear immediate AK-47 fire coming from our rear.  Several turned and were ready to open fire to our rear, then it was discovered that it was “Top” Allen firing his AK-47 at the NVA.  While all of Tall Comanche was on the ground, he was the only one standing vulnerable in the center of our company firing his captured AK-47 rifle.  He was firing across the clearing into the tree line, and was hoping to draw enemy fire so that we could determine the NVA’s position.  The AK-47 has a very distinctive “clak clak” sound and cannot be mistaken for any other weapon.  The NVA did not return fire and must have left the area, finally all was quiet.

We each packed up our share of the supplies and ammunition needed for B Company.  We were ordered to saddle up, and with our heavier loads we again moved back into the jungle, following parallel to the Mustang Trail and in the direction of Ridge Runner.  After about a three to four-hour hump through the boonies, we could now hear the sounds of combat near by.

We came out of the jungle and into a clearing were we had finally met up with the distraught Ridge Runner.  When we arrived, B Company was scattered all over the place and most were pinned down from enemy small arms fire.  Tall Comanche crossed the clearing and came in behind Ridge Runner taking cover.  We then advanced into Ridge Runner’s position, and then it was rock-n-roll, with our weapons on full automatic we fired into the tree line against the NVA who were held up in a bunker complex.  With our additional fire power against the enemy, Tall Comanche managed to hold back much of the incoming NVA small arms fire. As we met up with each trooper of Ridge Runner, we gave them the needed cover to pull out, and sent them back to the clearing where they would join back up.  While we were there, we were also able to retrieve about a dozen M-16 rifles and packs that were left behind by others of Ridge Runner during their initial combat with the NVA. 

Tall Comanche then pulled back and joined up with Ridge Runner taking cover across the clearing and out of range of the small arms fire.  Tall Comanche would be going back in but would have to wait until we received our air support that had been called for.  After about thirty minutes, two jets arrived overhead and dived towards the bunker complex dropping their bombs and napalm on the enemy target just inside of the tree line.  When the smoke had cleared, Tall Comanche started back across the clearing and took cover in the brush located in front of the tree line and bunker complex.  We got the word to move forward and started to move into the burnt out area.  The ground was still hot and the surrounding trees and bushes had hardened napalm hanging from their still smoldering branches.

Jets had come aboard and were dropping napalm and bombs onto the NVA bunker complex

Just as we were entering the densest area of the tree line where the bunker complex was located, we again started to receive small fire from the NVA.  We quickly hit the ground and took cover as Tall Comanche again started returning fire into the tree line.  The NVA somehow must have been able to protect themselves in their underground bunkers against the intense bombing and the napalm that burns up the oxygen in the air.  We couldn’t move in against the NVA’s secured position, so Tall Comanche again was ordered to pull back out into the clearing and join back up with Ridge Runner.

Black smoke rising over the NVA bunker complex from the exploding napalm

Now two Cobra gunships had come aboard and were diving towards the tree line, firing their rockets and miniguns into the bunker complex.  The Cobra’s continued firing into the enemies position for about fifteen minutes, and when their mission was completed they returned to the rear.  When the smoke had cleared, again Tall Comanche slowly started back in towards the enemies position.  This time we received no contact or small arms fire from the enemy.  The NVA had pulled back moving out of the bunker complex.

h After pulling back again with Ridge Runner, two Cobras came aboard to provide us with additional support

After Tall Comanche checked out the area, the company was ordered to pull back out of the bunker complex and join back up with Ridge Runner in the clearing.  The two company’s were then assembled into a three line formation, and entered the tree line to our rear encountering very dense jungle.  It would soon be dark, and after humping a short distance we had reached a location where both Tall Comanche and Ridge Runner would be establishing a combined perimeter for the night.

On this evening while I was digging our foxhole, I dug it with the intention of making it extra deep.  After so much contact with the enemy and still near the area of our last encounter, I feared another attack was inevitable.  Many others in our company also had the same premonition.  Besides digging their foxholes extra deep, some attempted to fabricate partial covers over their foxholes.  I believe that all of Tall Comanche could sense that something was sure to happen sometime on this evening.  Although exhausted, Ridge Runner didn’t seem to put any extra effort into securing their position.  I believe that they felt secure enough just having Tall Comanche at their side.

While I was digging my foxhole and all noise should have been kept at a minimum, I could hear “B” Company rooting around trying to get set up for the night. Most of Ridge Runner had air-mattresses and each one had to be blown up, so for the next hour or so, all I could hear was the sound of each and every air-mattress being inflated.  Then I could hear the squeaking of rubber as each member had laid down or adjusted their position on their air-mattress.  I just couldn’t believe how much noise a hundred or more air-mattresses could make from just one location.

While I was digging, I was startled by a trooper who had tapped me on my shoulder from behind.  He was from our CP, and had come over to ask me to check out the RTO for our company commander, Captain Douglas Young.  He said that the RTO had been stung by a scorpion while digging his foxhole and it didn’t look good.  When I approached the trooper, I couldn’t believe how much his hand had swollen from the scorpion's sting.  His hand had swollen up to the size of a boxing glove, and looked like one of those rubber surgical gloves that a nurse might blow up into a balloon for kids with the five little fingers sticking out.  It was extremely painful for him, and I wasn’t sure how long he could endure the pain or what other reactions might develop.  I walked over and discussed the RTO’s condition with “Top” Allen to see if maybe we could get him back to the rear.  “Top” said that it would be impossible to provide a dust-off for the trooper, and that I had to do what I could to help him through it.  I wasn’t really sure what to do, others in the past had received scorpions stings but none had ever had this kind of reaction.  When I returned to his position, I did what I thought was best and gave him a couple Benadryl tablets for the poison, and several Darvon 65 tablets for the pain.  Before I left, I gave him a few extra tablets that he could take later on and said that I would be back to check on him later.  I also told him that if his condition got worse, I would see if we could get him back to the rear somehow.

I returned to my position and the digging of our foxhole.  I finally finished the foxhole before it was entirely dark, and found that I had dug it so deep that I had to have Duc, our Vietnamese Kit Carson Scout, give me a helping hand out.  This was one evening that I didn’t have time to make my medical rounds or to grab a bite to eat.  I quickly tied my hammock up between two of the flimsiest saplings nearest the foxhole and set my pack up against the base of the sapling nearest my head.  When I laid in the hammock, the tips of the two saplings almost touched each other as my hammock sagged in the middle almost touching the ground.  I didn’t care, I was tired and at least I was off of the ground.

Several of us in Tall Comanche were lucky enough to have hammocks that we had confiscated from the NVA during earlier conflicts.  I had found mine while I was with a patrol searching an area for body count after we had been in combat with an NVA Battalion.  Most hammocks were made of lightweight nylon.  Unfortunately mine was made of heavy canvas and much too short for me, but it got me off of the ground.  Most of Tall Comanche still used the earth for their mattress.

I had fallen fast asleep, but not for long.  I was awakened by the “puff, puff, puff” from NVA mortars off in the distance. I knew that the mortar rounds would be dropping on us within the next few seconds.  I rolled out of my hammock and scrambled into the foxhole landing on top of Duc who was laid out flat at the bottom.  “Top” and I could always count on Duc getting into the foxhole first as he always seemed to be able sense trouble and was always prepared to take cover.  While I was on my hands and knees on top of Duc, “Top” Allen jumped in on top of me.  “Top” seemed to weigh a ton, but that was all right with me, I felt all the more secure with the protection of his bulk overhead.

After it had gotten dark that evening, we figured that the NVA must have crept up near our perimeter to mark our position for their initial mortar attack against us.  Their mortars couldn’t have been more accurate during their attack on us on this night.

While deep down in our foxhole I could hear the mortars hitting up front, and felt each rounds thunderous vibration through the ground as each mortar round landed, exploding one right after another.  At first I could tell that the rounds were landing outside and near the front edge of our perimeter.  But now each round was thundering closer and closer.  As each round hit, the ground trembled and large amounts of dirt from our birm above would drop down on our faces and helmets.  The rounds were still coming closer, and the ground shook even more.  All I could do was pray to God for them to stop.  Each round was to the point that I didn’t think that they could get any closer or any louder, but they did and they just kept on coming.

I knew now that the rounds were now hitting inside of our perimeter, and that most likely someone would be getting injured.  There was nothing else we could do but to keep down and wait it out.  When I thought that things couldn’t get any worse, we started receiving B-40 RPG rounds into the tree trunks and branches overhead.  When each RPG round hit, the explosion was deafening with a blinding flash of light, and showering hot burning shrapnel onto everyone in their foxholes below. 

Just at the moment that I didn’t think that the mortar rounds could get any closer or any louder, there was the brightest sudden flash and loudest deafening explosion just above our heads over the foxhole.  A mortar round had hit the birm in front of our foxhole sending a large quantity of dirt down on top of us.  I don’t think that I had ever been so scared as I was during this NVA attack on Tall Comanche and Ridge Runner.  The B-40 rockets had finally stopped, but the mortar rounds still continued to be on target in our perimeter.  Now they were hitting one after another behind us and moving towards the center of our perimeter where our CP was located.  Now I could here our M-60’s and M-16’s starting to return fire at the NVA, as the NVA were also returning small arms fire into our perimeter.

“Top” Allen on my back, got onto his knees and climbed out of the foxhole.  Again “Top” standing at the back edge of our foxhole, put that AK-47 into action, spraying AK-47 rounds back and forth over the heads of our troops up front.  The mortars had finally stopped, and we could now hear that all positions around the perimeter were engaged in firefights against the NVA’s small weapons fire.

Then for a moment, all firefighting seemed to have stopped and all was quiet for the moment.  That’s when I heard that dreadful cry know one wants to hear.  “Bandaid! Bandaid!”  The trooper calling for me was from 3rd Platoon and had run over to my position to get me.  He said, “3/6 has been hurt bad, come quick!”  He gave me his hand to help me out of the foxhole and we ran over to where 3/6, LT Paul was being comforted by others.  I said, ”where is 3/6 Bandaid?  I need him here!”  Then I was given the most distressing news that 3/6 Bandaid had been killed during the initial mortar attack.  They pointed in his direction, and as I glanced over I could see PVT Allyn T. Stevens covered body was laying next to a tree.  Just a few hours earlier, I remembered seeing PVT Stevens sitting at the base of that same tree reading a book, he was a real book worm.  PVT Stevens was a medic from “B” Company and was sent out from LZ Ike for temporary assignment with Tall Comanche.  He was filling in for our medic who had gone to the rear to get new glasses.  Our 3/6 Bandaid had his new glasses but had been sent out to B Company until the two could find an opportunity to exchange positions.  The two had planned on returning to their original companies the next day.

I proceeded to care for LT Paul.  I opened up his bloody shirt and carefully wiped away some of the blood on his chest exposing a ragged gapping wound.  The LT was having much difficulty in breathing and I was sure that shrapnel had entered his lung. For the sucking chest wound, all I could do was apply some plastic wrap over the entry wound and wrap his chest with a dressing.  I could only hope that the dressing would help block the path of the air coming through his chest when he inhaled and allow him to breathe a little easier.  Then I tried to find a position for him so that he would be more comfortable.  LT Paul was a most difficult patient.  I had never been called so many offensive names all at once in my whole life.  At first I could not find a comfortable position for him as he struggled to breathe.  Finally I had several troopers that were standing by, hold him up while I bent over and got on my hands and knees behind him. I had them lay him back against my back while I tried to maintain the LT's position at about a forty-five degree angle.  That seemed to help him breathe a little easier, but it hadn’t changed the profane names that he continued to call me.

After about fifteen minutes, he had asked me if he could have a cigarette.  I said, “No! It will only make your breathing more difficult.”  Again he had become restless and again he began to cuss at me.

The Medevac would be on its way, but there wasn’t any place that the slick would be able to set down. First we would have to clear an LZ before the dust-off could take place.  We were in very dense jungle, so trees and bushes would have to be cleared for the Medevac to be able to lower itself down into our position.  We were also still in sporadic contact with the enemy to make this task even more difficult.

Normally when a Medevac can’t set down, the Medevac would hover above the canopy and lower a jungle penetrator down to us to transport the wounded.  But with a serious injury like LT Paul’s sucking chest wound, he would have to be carefully set into the Medevac so that he could remain in a position that would allow him to maintain his breathing.  This also would mean that I would have to maintain my position behind the LT on my hands and knees, and try to keep him propped up until the LZ was cleared and the Medevac had arrived.

While still receiving small arms fire from the enemy, trees were wrapped and blasted with C4, machetes were hacking away and the debris was being cleared.  We had very little time to make that opening big enough for the Medevac to land, and we had just received word that the Medevac was on its way.  We were told that the LZ had better be cleared by the time that they got there.  It would be a close call.  The trees were still being blasted with C4, and logs, branches and underbrush still had to be moved out of the way.

The LT had been fairly quiet for a while, but was now again getting restless and was asking for a beer.  Again I had to tell him, “No liquids!”  I decided to go ahead and let him wet his lips and told one of the troopers helping me to let him have just a sip.  That seemed to help for the time being and now the LT had calmed down a bit, and his language was a little more tolerable.  I didn’t dare ever ask the LT how he was doing.  I knew in some profane way that he would let me know that he was having difficulty in breathing, and I already knew that.

It must have been a couple of hours, at least it seemed that long before I finally heard the Medevac nearing our NDP.  I wasn’t sure how much longer I could maintain my position with the LT on my back.  The Medevac was now finally hovering overhead and had turned on its landing lights. The LZ was still being cleared even as the Medevac was lowering itself down into this small cavity that we had carved out of the jungle.  We were still receiving small arms fire from the enemy, and I prayed that they wouldn’t start concentrating their firepower on the Medevac’s position.

As the Medevac was lowering itself down into this unknown void, its rotor tips and tail rotor were nipping at the branches at all sides, flinging branches, twigs and wood chips all around.  With each contact of the rotor with the branches, the chopper would be kicked into the branches on the opposite side, again flinging more debris over us.  I don’t know how they did it, but those remarkable pilots had finally managed to get that bird set down.

As the Medevac was trying to set down, we had gotten LT Paul ready to be transported to the slick.  I couldn’t help to get him ready.  When I tried to stand up, I had fallen back to the ground because my legs had fallen asleep from the lack of blood circulation, and wasn’t able to stand for several minutes.  Several of the troopers who had been helping me, carefully carried the still cursing LT to the awaiting Medevac.  Body bags had been thrown out for those that had been killed as the LT was carefully set into the bird.  The 3rd Platoon Sergeant, SSG Richard Fujiwara was also severely wounded, and was put aboard the Medevac.

With the injured now aboard, the Medevac then proceeded to retrace its astonishing path back up through that constricted opening in the trees.  Again the bird was chipping away at the branches on its way up, but managed to get up and clear and had sped off to the rear with the wounded. 

With all of my concentration on LT Paul, I knew that the other medics were attending another that was wounded, but at the time I wasn’t able to help them out.  I didn’t know until afterwards, that we had lost two other fine troopers during the initial mortar attack.  One was SGT Dennis M. Resinger who was a Squad Leader with 3rd Platoon, and had also been wounded a couple of months earlier.  The other was 1LT Kenneth J. Susmarski who was a FNG and had only been in Vietnam for fifteen days.  He was temporarily assigned with Tall Comanche for training before he was to be given his permanent assignment.

Finally all skirmishes had ceased around the perimeter, and I returned to my foxhole and hammock.  I was exhausted and had just climbed into my hammock when I suddenly found myself crashing to the ground.  I got up, and upon examination of my hammock, I found that it was just hanging there by a few threads.  It had been perforated by the incoming mortar rounds, and it looked like I would be spending the rest of my tour with Tall Comanche again hugging the earth at night.

I laid down on the ground with my helmet for a pillow, and watched through the trees as the gunship “Spooky” was off in the distance hosing down the area with its mini-guns.

That next morning when I got up and went to reach into my backpack for some rations, I noticed that my backpack had also been pretty well blown apart from the previous nights mortar attack.  This was the third pack that would have to be replaced.  With a small chunk of burning C4, I heated up some water for a cup of hot cocoa, and enjoyed drinking it to the sounds Tall Comanche again blowing up trees with this same plastic explosive.  A larger LZ was being prepared for Tall Comanche’s next CA out of this area.

Story by:
Jerry “Doc” Watson
Company C (Tall Comanche), 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry
1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)
March 1969 - August 1969

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