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Battle of March 11 1967
As seen through the eyes
of SGT. Dennis Henzi who was a SP 4 Grenadier,
March 11, 1967, is a day that those of us who were there at Bong Son Province, Vietnam, near the small village of Phu Ninh, will never forget. Our Captain, Don Markham described the Battle for Hill 82 at the base of the Nui Mieu Mountains, also known as the Battle of March 11th and as the Battle of Phu Ninh. ( "A Great Trench of Bloody Hell" in an article he wrote about it.) It is 35 years later and I still can't get it out of my mind. I was a 20 year old Sky Trooper in Charlie Company, 2/5 Cavalry, at the time, with two months to go to my 21st birthday. That morning if you told me you knew I might not make until the end of the day I would have laughed in your face. What follows is my recollection of the battle as I saw it through my eyes.
The morning of the 11th of March 1967 found me and 1st Platoon out at the scenic white sand beaches of the South China Sea. I live in the High Sierras now. As I write this at eleven in the morning, it looks much like that day 35 years ago. The sun is out and shining brightly with a few cotton candy clouds floating by. During the 11th of March 1967, there were a few clouds floating across the sky in a similar fashion. The only real difference is we have snow on the ground and it's colder here.
I remember half the platoon went out on a patrol. "Gee, I got to go again!" It was about 10:30 or 11 AM and we were searching a village. Over the PRC 25 radio we were ordered to get back to the beach "FAST", which was our Landing Zone. The company was in a fire fight. Five KIAs in our company and it was getting worse. We were told to get prepared to go in and help them out! We got back to the platoon area and we were told to sit down and wait. We would be going in anytime. This was before noon. We waited and waited. What was going on was our buddies and friends were dying. More and more reports of KIAs coming in over the radio.
"Hey, what the hell are we waiting for? These guys are our friends. They need our help. Lets go!"
No such luck. We had to sit and wait while we knew our friends were being butchered. It wasn't a nice feeling. We wanted to go in and help them. I was in the country seven months since September 1966. I was a good "Sky Trooper". At least I thought so. I wanted to go in there and kick the enemy's ass! This waiting was unhinging me. I remember I started to get the shakes. "Lets Go" was all I could think of. But we had to continue waiting. We were told they couldn't get choppers for us, they were somewhere else. Then the message was relayed to us "Choppers on the way! Saddle Up!" Most of us had our gear on and were ready to go. I never had the shakes in the past, but on this morning I was getting them very bad. I couldn't control it. I knew that today I die. I knew it. I had been in a previous fierce battle where a NVA Colonel had been captured and I remembered our guys who were killed in that one. I think the memory of knowing what happened to my friends in battle was getting to me. I sensed it was my turn this time.
I believe it was Pat Rankin who said to me "Denny, knock it off!" I guess I was upsetting everyone. I tried to get a hold of myself and did the best I could to calm myself down. It was impossible to stop the shakes, but I did manage to get myself somewhat under control. Messages kept coming in over the radio of more KIAs. At last count it was 12 or 13 guys dead by now. That didn't help my shakes. Somehow I just knew I was going to die this day.
Well, then the birds came in and landed. "Get ready to move out!" Once we started to roll I felt much better. Sitting around doesn't help.
We loaded up on one of the choppers and off we went. I didn't know where we were going. No one knew except the Lieutenant and platoon Sergeant. We were flying inland over the Bong Son Lagoon in towards the Nui Mieu Mountains.
We are going in! Rockets were fired and machine guns opened up. I was feeling better. The action actually calmed my nerves. I made my peace with God. If I get it---Well, I get it!
But boy am I going to try and not get it. It looks good. No one is shooting at us so far. When you come in and receive enemy fire 20 feet off the ground you can't do a thing. Well, so far no enemy fire. At least that's good.
As soon as that chopper was on the ground, every one must have had the same idea as me. I never saw a bunch of Sky Troopers unload so fast. I didn't know guys could run that fast. I remember thinking, boy, would we do good at the Olympics!
We moved out in a circle like we always do. We circled the landing zone were we had landed on top of the hill. We found out later it was called Hill 82. We all moved over to the side of the hill and looked over. It was a beautiful sunny day with deep blue skies. As I looked at the gorgeous Vietnamese paradise we were in, and I thought this is not a day to die, but a day to live - this place is too pretty. We stayed in that area about a half hour when another message came over the PRC 25 radio. We were ordered to "move out" and relieve the hard hit platoons.
So down the hill we went. I was in 1st platoon, 1st squad. I was feeling panic again. I just knew I was going to die today. Try as I did I couldn't shake that feeling.
My mind kept going back to September of 66 a few weeks before I got to the company. A guy by the name of Billy Lauffer got to the company and was put in 1st platoon, 1st squad. Hey, that's were I was on March 11th.
The old timers told me Billy got no training. They sent him right out to the field. And like the Army always does, they put him on point. That was out at the coast south of Bong Son near LZ Crystal. Billy looked up and saw NVA in bunches.. It was an L shaped ambush. Billy started yelling "Ambush! Take Cover! Old Billy had 13 Chinese made machine guns open up on him. He was firing his M-16 as he looked for cover, but he was cut to hamburger before he could find it.
Billy received the Congressional Medal of Honor for that day's action. A lot of the guys I was with on this 11th of March 1967 didn't even know about Billy and what he had gone through. I couldn't get Billy off my mind. He was in my squad and platoon and a true hero. I didn't want to end up hamburger like poor Billy, but I was determined to uphold his honor and go out with my guns blazing, if it came to that.
Well, just about then it happened. I thought an AK had opened up on me, but after watching the rate of fire on a History Channel program about these weapons, I now realize it fired too fast for an AK-47. Also the accuracy was much better. So after 35 years I know now that it was an RPD light machine gun, a SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) that had fired at me. I always thought the 7 to 9 rounds that smashed into the ground inches under my feet were hitting a bit too fast to be from an AK-47.
The guys and I ran for cover. There were these huge rocks, some two stories high, to our left all over the side of the hill from the top down. Most were as big as houses, some as big as barns. The majority of us ran to the left into these rocks.
The enemy was firing many machine guns at us. We could hear bullets ricocheting and whistling all around us and smacking into the ground near our feet. We could hear the crack of rounds going over our heads and feel the wind like shock wave of rounds coming uncomfortably close to our faces and bodies. At first the shots were low, then the gooks tried to correct their aim and the shots started coming in closer. Lucky for us the NVA hadn't thought about lifting their sights to correct for range.
Some of the guys out front of me were firing M-79s out to 100 or 150 meters. Every time they would jump out and fire they would jump back behind the rocks for cover and you could see dozens of bullets hit where they had been standing and hear them ricochet off the rocks. In my opinion the NVA were 500 or more yards away and there were many of them all firing at once. Hundreds of rounds were fired at us. Luckily none of our guys were hit.
I fired over 20 rounds in the direction of the enemy from my M-79. I couldn't pin point their location exactly, but I put my rounds where I thought they were. Many of the other guys in our platoon were doing the same thing. Each time I would jump out from the rocks, fire and then jump back. A couple seconds later the area would be peppered with enemy rounds hitting the ground and rocks.
After awhile things quieted down. The word went out that some of the guys will go back up the hill. I thought this is the Army alright. Like I told the Lieutenant, "Why can't we just stay here?" We were told to move over to the right. To do so put us into the beaten zone of the enemy guns. Well, as they say, "ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die!"
A Sergeant was ordering me to run out in the open area that was being riddled with NVA machine gun fire. I told him what I thought of that idea (in language I don't want to repeat here) and I also told him what I thought of him for asking such a thing. He said he didn't like what I was saying. I answered, "too F----n bad!" The Sergeant and Lieutenant Dewly (Webmaster note: Correct spelling is "Dooley") were discussing whether they had the authority to order me to certain death into a field being chopped up by enemy machine guns.
In the meantime I made my mind up that I must go out there. I was a Sky Trooper and Sky Troopers obey orders. But I was really enjoying the argument they were having. Then I just got up and ran across the field. Bullets were hitting behind me as if they were chasing me to the big rocks. I heard bullets cracking over my head and ricocheting off the rocks after I got behind them. Then I started yelling at the lieutenant and sergeant to come on over "the water is just fine" I yelled. I just love sergeants and Lieutenants! They were giving me some really bad looks, but they didn't say a word to me. After all I did what I was ordered to do. Now it was their turn to eat some of the soup they wanted to drown me in.
I was in an excellent position between to huge rocks with bushes in-between. I had the perfect place to lob M-79 rounds at the enemy without being hit.
One, then two then three guys went up the hill. The fourth man turned and got one through both lungs. He was hit hard. Lieutenant Dooley gave the order. "Open Fire!" We put down repressing fire so some of the sky troopers could get the wounded man up the hell for helicopter extraction."
The platoon let those NVA see what we had going for us. It was beautiful! You should have seen the rounds us Sky Troopers put out. It was one for the record books. We covered every inch of that area with hot lead. Interlocking fire from the two M-60 machine guns, M-79 rounds pounding everything in sight and M-16s spraying the area with hot lead. I even fired canister rounds (an M-79 Shot gun load with police style buck shot riot loads) Our cover fire kept the enemy pinned down so our guys were able to get the wounded man back up the hill and out of the fight.
We were at the bottom of the hill by now. The NVA were on us hot and heavy. They knew we were there. I was on the right behind two large boulders (rocks?) with an excellent position to fire my M-79 grenade launcher without being seen by the enemy. I believe it was the furthest edge of the platoon. We were all shooting it out with the NVA. At first we didn't know they were NVA (North Vietnamese Army) but after all the heavy fire power they were unleashing on us we knew it was NVA. Viet Cong shoot a couple shots at you and run, they don't stand and fight like a regular army unit. It was the NVA and not VC alright.
I saw a couple targets I wanted to work over with an M-16 but all I had was my M-79 and .45 Automatic Pistol. I yelled at Pat Rankin, and then at Tom Rutten, to throw me their M-16s. They were behind me on the trail and pinned down. If they lifted a finger it would have been shot off. One by one they tossed their M-16s to me, so I used them to work over a couple of areas really good. If anyone was behind those bushes, I turned them into hamburger. It sure looked like there were gooks hiding in there. World War II vets, especially of the Pacific war, tell me they nearly never saw the enemy, they just shoot up everything where they figure the enemy might be. Vietnam was the same. I don't think I ever actually saw an NVA soldier that day of the 11th. I did see flashes from some of their guns though and by the number of bullets they let fly in our direction, there had to be hundreds of them there.
While I was between those huge boulders, I kept remembering back to February 67. I was sent an XM-148 over under. It was an M-16 with an M-79 grenade launcher connected under it. I only had it seven days. Our battalion commander didn't like it because I guess he thought it was ugly. What in the hell would a rear echelon desk soldier know about a combat weapon anyway? In February of 67 we were on a hill, don't remember it's name if it had one, in the Bong Son area. The guys told me to go up the hill to the platoon Sergeant and take along my XM-148 and some ammo. It was pitch dark already. Sergeant Misel (not sure of spelling) said "Hein-Zee, you see those flashlights in the creek down there?"
I said "Sure Sarge, I seem um!"
"Take them out Hein-zee, if you think you are good enough! I don't think you are!" A couple of the guys said you were pretty good with the M-79 - so okay then, Hein-zee, take them out!"
It was so dark I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. Some of the guys thought I would just point my weapon out there and shoot blindly. No way! I always used tactics. I could see the lights from those flashlights out at about 100 meters or so. So I thought, let's see. They are moving to my left. If I shoot the VC farthest to the left, the guy in the back will kill his flashlight. Sergeant York of WWI would have shot the guy to the rear first so the one in front wouldn't see it happen. Then he could get both of um. So I thought, hell, I'll do it like that. It worked. Poomp, Kablam! Shot over the heads. Then I corrected and Poomp Kapow! One light out. Poomp, Blam! Second light out. I must have made a direct hit on the second VC's Flash light. You could hear it bouncing off the rocks in the creek. Not bad for a shot in the dark of night where I couldn't even see my sights. Sergeant Misel thought that was pretty good shooting too. I thought, boy, if I only had that XM-148 up here on Hill 82 would I show those gooks something!
Back to Hill 82. I was getting really low on ammo. I kept telling myself, slow down Denny, stop shooting it all up. Make them last. This looks like it's going to be a long fight. We went down the trail that led to another trail that went down the hill. Anyone who showed himself got shot at. Plue and Evens told me someone was shooting at us from behind a bush. They could see the flashes from his weapon. So I jumped up and took a shot with the M-79 and then dove for the ground. Bullets started cracking the air right over the top of me. If I would have stood up, they would have got me. No one could stand up. So I jumped up really fast and fired my M-79---Poop, Kablam! My second shot found it's mark. I got a direct hit on the bush Plue and Evens had seen flashes coming from. If that NVA machine gunner was still there he would be in world of hurt, or dead. I could hear the shots from Plue and Even's M-16s as they were pouring it hot and heavy into the enemy. I was almost out of ammo. All I could do now was direct fire. I asked other grenadiers for extra ammo, but they said they were saving it for the counter attack. Good idea. So I figured to leave it at that.
We were at the east side of Hill 82 near the bottom. Then we heard the order that one half of the platoon would have to go back up the hill. I remember asking Lieutenant Dewly (sic) when we were up on top, why were we all going to the bottom of the hill. Shut up and do what you're told Hein-zee, was his reply. That's the Army!
The thirteen of us that were left moved back to the east of the hill going towards the South China Sea. I figured there must be 250 to 500 or more NVA just from the firepower they were letting loose at us. They weren't scared and they were in there slugging it out with us. If there had been only a few of them they would have beat it out of there fast. Anyway, Lieutenant Dewly took one half the platoon up the hill. We were sitting on the trail away from the shooting. I was sitting on the trail with my .45 1911A1 Pistol cocked and locked. I only had one round of HE (High Explosive) M-79 ammo left and two rounds of canister buck shot. I had three loaded magazines for my .45 pistol. I also had two HE hand grenades and one Claymore mine. I know this sounds like a lot of ammo, but I felt naked against all those NVA soldiers armed with AK-47s, RPDs, RPG rocket launchers, hand grenades and mortars. I was saving this for the "counter attack". By the way, it never came. But one must be prepared for it.
Anyway, I heard noise of people coming from the direction of my flank and behind me. They were quite noisy. I thought, now we're going to really catch it. I turned with my .45 pistol expecting the worst, but to my great relief, I noticed G.I. M-1 Helmets with camo so I knew they were our guys. I noticed the lead man was older so he must be an officer or Sergeant. There's a lot of guys coming. It looks like a platoon, no it's a company. The lead man was Captain McInerney, Delta Company's commander. He came right up to me, smiled in my face, shook my left shoulder and said, "Not to worry Charley Company, Delta is here to save the day." I guess I must have had the look of death on my face and he was trying to cheer me up. I said "yes sir!"
Down the trail they went with Captain McInerney on point. This is a very dangerous position for an officer, especially in the middle of a fire fight. I remember thinking to myself. What a man. The Captain is on point! My kind of man. Even though I was in a world of hurt and thought this might be my last day on earth, Captain McInerney made me feel good. This is the kind of officer we can all be proud of.
Down the trail they went. In five minutes or so I heard that damned automatic fire from AK-47s and RPDs. I remember thinking. Damn, I hope the Captain is alright. Hope he and his men were able to get to cover. Within a minute of hearing the shots we heard the bad news come in over the radio. The Captain and all the Lieutenants and all the sergeants except one and the medics were KIA. Killed in Action! All of them dead. My heart sunk. I felt like crying. The men of Delta were my brothers, and now they were gone. The best of them. Gone. These brave men of Delta company came to help Charley company and they ended up taking more casualties and KIAs than us. Had we moved up that trail instead of waiting for them, all 13 men of 1st platoon, including myself, would have been KIA. We would have been slaughtered. So Delta did save us that day. I really like and admired Captain McInerney, a good brave and kind man. May God rest his soul and the souls of our brave brothers from Delta Company who were killed on Hill 82 that day, they were my friends and acquaintances my brothers in arms.
We were at the bottom of the hill waiting to see what goes when we heard that D Company needed a medic. Doc Meyers said he will go. So Doc headed out with Pat Rankin and Sergeant Kellogg going after him to look out for him. I noticed Sergeant Misel had two M-16s and a few extra magazines. I said "Hey Sarge, is that an extra gun. I need one because my M-79 is out of ammo". He gave it to me without a fuss. I knew we must be in it pretty deep shit because that was so unusual for him to do. Anyway, now I had a weapon to use when the counter attack came. Thank God I never needed to use it.
We were on our way to join in with Delta Company because I guess someone figured out that 13 men didn't have a chance by ourselves against that large enemy force. With Delta we would have a chance and be a reinforcement to them. When we joined up with D Company I noticed that Sergeant Kellogg was standing there with his arm bandaged up. He was in real pain by the look on his face. I asked him what happened and he answered "I got shot!" I could see he was in a real hurt. Then I saw a D Company men bringing up a wounded man on a poncho. Who got hit? Oh no, it was Doc Meyers. Doc was a really alright guy who cared about other guys unlike some of the previous medics in our platoon whose names I won't mention.
Yes, Doc Meyers really cared! I was left in the field for 3 months without help, with malaria suffering miserably because one of the former medics made up his mind that I was shaming. I had to threaten the medic and Lt. to get help and out of the field, or I would have died there of that malaria. How could I be shaming with 105.8 degree temperature? Well I don't know what they were thinking of? I'll just live with that...it was war time after all. I didn't get help until 5 December 1966. Well, I finally did get my malaria treated.
Seeing Doc Meyers down really disturbed me because he is one Medic that would never let a guy suffer like I had to. Then I learned that Doc Meyers had been hit with 2 RPD bullets in his chest just above his heart. I said "Oh no! Not Doc!" Doc looked up from that poncho laughing and said, "Knock it off Hein-zee! Get a hold of yourself!" That was Doc Meyers. There he was hit hard, flat on his back in a world of hurt with a very serious wound and he cared enough to tell me to get hold of myself and he tried to cheer me up. I heard he survived his wounds. Thank God for that. Doc was a hell of a nice guy.
Then I saw Pat Rankin coming up the trail. No rifle. He was having the shakes. I said "You Okay buddy?" I wasn't sure if he was okay or not, he wasn't making much sense. I guess he had just walked through hell. "Where's your rifle, Pat? " I asked. Pat answered, "out there someplace." I could see by his eyes he was in a big hurt. I think he was shell shocked. I remember giving him the M-16 rifle and ammo Sarge Misel had given to me. So here I was back to my .45 and one round of HE and two buckshot rounds for my M-79.
So what did happen to Pat Rankin, Doc Meyers and Sarge Kellogg? From what I learned later, when they went over to help the wounded guys in Delta Company they asked "where are the wounded men?" They were told they were out in the field. Doc said "okay, go get them and bring them in so we can work on them." They answered "No way! We ain't going out into that meat grinder again!" So Doc Meyers, Pat Rankin and Sarge Kellogg went out to get the wounded men themselves. Then a gook RPD Light Machine gun or it might have been an AK-47 opened up on them. They were pinned down hard, and couldn't move. They decided if they didn't get out of there they were going to be cut to hamburger so they decided to run back out of the field. As they were running Sarge Kellogg got hit in the arm. Doc made it out and was giving aid to Kellogg but was cut down with two bullets above his heart. Pat Rankin sprinted the last 15 meters, all six foot six inches of him was flying, with bullets cracking and hitting all around him. They missed him. Charley or I should say those NVA regulars wanted to kill these guys really bad.. NVA and Charley like to wound a few of our men so when others come to help they can cut them all down, unfortunately these are American Apache and Plains Indian tactics our OSS taught the Viet Minh in World War II to use against the Japanese. Now the NVA and Viet Cong were using this tactic against GIs. Of course any young American soldier brought up watching Western movies knew all about this trick. Anyway, all three men survived this trick. Of course Doc and Sarge were wounded. The fact they survived speaks highly of their guardian angels.
As the rest of us went over with D Company, they seemed to be really in a hurt. That's when I noticed an old gook lady with her brains blown out all over the ground near where she lay. I asked the guys what happened here. The machine gunner told me he did it with his M-60. He related to me how the men were taking heavy fire and many casualties. He noticed this old lady coming right towards D Company's position. She carried a whicker bag and she was reaching into it as if to take something out. He yelled at her "Deedee Mou!" "Get out!" "Beat it!" Over and over he yelled at her. All the other men started yelling at her as well. She headed right into the direction of the enemy fire. She heard the guys telling her to Deedee Mou, but ignored them and kept coming in closer and closer with her hand in that bag. She looked suspicious as hell. Most gooks don't hang around a battle area let along walk in towards firing weapons. He told me he didn't want to do it, but he knew if she got in close enough to throw a grenade they would all be dead so he cut her down. He let her have a burst right in the head. He felt terrible about having to do that. He looked like he was in really bad shock. I don't even think he heard me when I told him he did right. What else could he do? She was probably some fanatic commie VC woman intent on killing our guys even if it meant her own death.
Anyway, that's war. Nobody ever said it was pretty or nice. It left scars on so many of us we'll carry to our deaths. What I remember is we considered our buddies more important than ourselves. I think most of us would have given our lives to protect our buddies. That's the good that comes out of all the horror. But how does a guy ever forget having to kill an old woman? He never will forget. No man can. It will haunt him all his days. But that was war. You try to do what's right and stay alive. All you can do is protect yourself and your buddies.
I was trying to direct the machine gunner's fire when a UPI photographer came in and jumped on my legs. He was using me to steady himself to take pictures. I told him to get off my legs, but he kept taking pictures of the machine gunner while I was trying to direct his fire. Finally I said, "get off my legs you damned idiot or I'm coming down on your head with the butt of this M-79! Can't you see I'm trying to direct the machine gunner's fire?" It didn't do any good. He ignored me until he was finished with his pictures, then he got off my legs.
I heard our RTO got shot in the gut. He was up the hill with Lt. Dooley when he looked over the edge of the hill and a dammed NVA shot him right in the belly with an AK-47. I heard later he made it okay.
After another half hour or so we went back to the bottom of the hill from where we had started. Night came. It was one of those really dark nights. I remember we sat in a tight circle for what seemed like a very long time. Then we were told to meet up with D Company. They sent two men out with flash lights to meet us. After we got to the D Company area we dug a fox hole. It was about 9:00PM at night. I remember the fox hole was deep enough to cover all of Rankin's six foot six size.
I laid down and fell asleep very quickly, mostly out of exhaustion. I was out all night, but a couple of the guys told me they stayed awake all night so I didn't have to pull guard. They were too nervous to sleep anyway. We were in with Delta Company so they were more or less guarding the perimeter. I was out so deep they had to kick me the next morning to get me up. I didn't even know where we were when I first woke. Someone told me we got mortared really good by 82mm gook mortars. Some of the hits were really close. I thought the guys were just pulling my leg, but they said they called me and I didn't get up and go to the fox hole. I said, "knock it off guys, I didn't hear a thing!" While looking for a place to take a leak I noticed a mortar blast hole not more than 25 meters from where I slept. Next to it were about 4 more mortar blast holes. I was thinking a couple of those were close enough to have blown me to bits. I'm thinking how did I live through that? My Guardian Angel must have been working over time. Luckily I wasn't hit nor, were any of the other guys. Boy, were we lucky or what?
We all moved out to the creek on the east side of the village. I don't remember if it was just us 13 guys from C Company or if the rest of the Platoon met up with us. Anyway, it was our job to be a blocking force.
During that night you could hear a considerable amount of shooting all over the place as the NVA troops we had trapped were trying to escape the area. A friend of mine from AIT had 6 NVA come out on his position. He told everyone he was never going to ever kill anyone in Vietnam. No way! Well, when those NVA soldiers started pulling their AK-47s down from over their shoulders and he could hear the clanking sound of them pulling their bolts back to load rounds, he knew if he didn't do something he would end up in a body bag. He thought of his wife and kid back home. So the instinct to survive took over and he cut loose with his M-16 raking all six of them with full auto. When the smoke cleared there were six NVA soldiers KIA. I won't give his name because he was very upset about this at the time. I don't want to bring back bad memories for him. I'll leave it at that. All I can say is he did right. What else could he do? All night long this sort of thing went on in the dark all around us. You could hear the distinctive crack, crack, crack of the AK-47 followed by the buzz saw sound of our guys M-16s cutting loose on full auto, with a few pop, pop, pop of the guys firing semi auto. Then you could hear the occasional Pop, Ka-Pow of the M-79s. Bursts of M-60 machine gun fire could be heard with the explosions of grenades and now and then the loud KA-BOOM of mortar rounds exploding . Guys on both sides were yelling and screaming at each other all night long. You could hear men on both sides crying in agony and calling for their mothers or medics. Then there were long periods of such stillness and quiet it was like the sound of death. I rather hear the shooting than that damned quiet. Anyhow, these were some of the sounds in the air all through the night of March 11th 1967.
Well, we were successful at blocking that hill that morning. No Gooks were going to get out of there. Sergeant Misel told me to go 150 to 200 meters in front of the ditch. "Hey Sarge, who do I take with me?" I asked. "Just you Hein-zee. Can't spare anyone else. "Sarge, I don't have any more ammo!" "Get going right now Hein-zee!" "Can some of the grenadiers give me some ammo?" I asked. "No! Get going!"
So I went. I got out in the village, I think it was Phu Ninh. I walked into the courtyard of the hootches. I was getting really hungry. We hardly ate a thing for a day. We were out of food and water early the morning of the 11th. We must not have gotten our supplies the night before, or we would have had C Rations and water. So there I sat, 200 meters out in front of where our guys were in the village. (Phu Ninh) This was a bad idea. No food, no water, and hardly no ammo. What in the hell was Sarge thinking of? At least that's what I was thinking at the time and still wonder about today.
The NVA could have
gotten me very easily with a gook potato masher, their pineapple grenade with a
club handle on it. (stick grenade)
Anyway I said "don't mean nothing!" So I took my shirt off and drank water out of the well hoping no gook had poisoned it. I used the water to wash up. Drinking it was good as I hadn't had a drop of water all night. As far as I knew, none of the guys back in the ditch had any water. I had loaded one of the last two M-79 buck shot loads into my weapon and I had my .45 Automatic close by. I remember some of the village kids and women came by and I talked to them a bit in pigeon and sign language. So weird the way they were right there so close to this battle as if nothing was going on. The gook kids were always friendly to me. Anyway, after awhile they went away. I hoped not to tell the NVA where I was.
The first thing I did was take that damned heavy M1 Steal Helmet off. Thank God Sarge wasn't near this time to order me to put it back on. I kept thinking, I'm a dead man, so why not be comfortable as I can. I was thinking well, if the NVA come in on me, I'll get at least one of them with the M-79 buck shot. If I'm lucky maybe I can line up two or more. That's how I lined birds up back on the ranch. If they get within a hundred yards my .45 would sure wreck their day. Lucky for me I'm a damned good shot with the .45 mostly because I practiced shooting handguns since I was a kid. I also owned my own .45 back home since I was 14 so I got pretty good with it. I qualified expert with the .45 Forty hits out of forty shots. So I figured if it came to that, I was going to take some of those gooks with me. If they got close I was thinking I'd get one of their fancy AK-47 (actually it's a ChiCom Type 56) gook guns and use their own weapon to wreck their day! Thank God, I never had to do that.
We stayed in that area a couple hours or so if my memory serves. I'm not sure as that was a long time ago. Anyhow, there was a field to my right and I was hearing noise up by the hedge row about 200 to 400 meters in front. My God the NVA have tanks! It sounded like tanks coming. Nope, they were our own M-113 Armored Personnel Carries (APC) coming our way.
As they got closer, there were about five of them coming, I could see the gunner on top of one of them swing an M-2 fifty caliber Browning heavy machine gun on me. This was when they were about 35 meters away. My God, he thinks I'm a gook and he's going to cut me in half with that heavy .50 Browning. I grabbed my M-1 helmet and put it on and started pointing at it as I said "Hey guy, do I look like a F—n gook with this helmet and my pink skin?" He swung that big fifty off me fast. He knows I'm a GI. I waved at him and he waved back. That was close. A .50 Browning heavy machine gun will do a job on you. I wouldn't be here to talk about it if he had cut loose at me. They would be lucky if they found all my body parts.
About noon time they yelled for me to get back to the platoon. As we were going back to the hill, it was quiet. By that time the jets, helicopter gunships and artillery had let up firing on Hill 82. It was a sight to behold watching the gunships working that damned hill over. Any NVA or VC who didn't get the hell off that hill with their tail behind their legs would be permanently planted in it.
Charley Company went out in the field with Delta Company looking for dead or wounded. There were dead men everywhere. Heads missing, blown to hamburger, some totally missing arms and legs and guts everywhere. There was blood and guts and parts of hands and fingers and other body parts laying all over the field. They were all dead. It was a massacre. I've never seen such carnage. I'll never forget the horrible sight I saw that day as long as I live, nor the horrible stench. These were not NVA soldiers, these were my brothers. The dead we saw that day were GIs. The NVA had us pinned down the night before (March 11th) so there was no way we could get to these guys to help them. Many bled to death and could have been saved if we could have gotten to them. The NVA was using them as bait to wipe the rest of us out. I felt so sad. It was the saddest thing I will ever experience in my life. The night before while we were pinned down, I could hear some of our guys who were wounded crying for their mothers. Funny how a guy cries for his Mom when he's dying. We couldn't do a thing without being cut to hamburger ourselves. Now all these guys were dead! Nothing about this battle for Hill 82 bothers me more than knowing we couldn't get those guys out. A sky trooper never leaves a man behind, but in this case, it happened and it will haunt those of us who lived through it all the days of our lives.
Some of the guys of D Company had been putting some of the dead men in ponchos draped over M-16 rifles. It was such a horrible sight to see so many of our guys butchered like that. I knew too many of them. I saw dead faces that day, too much blood, too many internal organs, too many blown off body parts and too many bodies missing heads, but something else I saw that day haunts me even more.
It was the faces of the living. Everyone had that "thousand yard death stare" in his eyes. I'd say every single one of us there that day was suffering from shell shock— combat fatigue. The human mind isn't conditioned to see such horror. It's unreal and what you want to do is believe it's a dream and that it didn't really happen. So I closed my eyes for awhile, said a prayer to the Lord, asked the Blessed Virgin Mother to make this all go away, but when I opened my eyes, the horror of it all was still there. You can't close your nostrils to that smell of death either. I got sick and couldn't move.
Something got me in the stomach. Sarge said "Move Out!" And I couldn't. A Chinese medic from one of the other platoons came up to me and said I probably had a bug from bad water or something. He could see the look I was giving him so he said, "Hey guy, I'm American Chinese from L.A. I'm not a gook. Look at my face and remember it! I'm not a gook!" I said, "Sure Doc." Then he gave me a pill and I took it and within minutes I felt much better. I said it was seeing all the dead guys that made me sick. He said no. But he was wrong. But thanks for trying, Doc.
We swept through the area. Other men were gathering the dead. When we moved out to Hill 82 we came to the "Great Trench of Bloody Hell". There were no bodies there. The other platoon must have been there already and removed them. I got my first look at the trench. It was a creek that was dug out deeper with small tunnels to hide from our grenades through into the trench. No guns or ammo there and no bodies visible. But there was a body in a shallow grave. Sergeant Misel ordered me to dig it up. "Oh no, not me again Sarge?" Back in February me and some other guys dug up 3 dead gooks. I said then—never again. But here I was digging up another dead body.
As I started to
uncover him, I saw his black hair. I just reached into the soft dirt
grabbed him by his hair and pulled him up. There was this dead body
sitting there with us. I said, "Yuck, it stinks and, yep Sarge,
it's a gook!" He was a nice looking kid. Too bad
-sans won't get to know him. I thought, this kid has family who love him back in Hanoi or someplace, maybe a girl too. How sad. He used to be a human being. "Sorry Gook! It's war you know?" Well, I'll say a prayer for your soul to go to gook heaven.
I think it was my
friend Starnes who got this gook. As it was told to me, Starnes and
his buddy jumped into the trench and his buddy took 29 hits from an AK-47.
Starnes took one through the knee. He told me he threw an M-26 hand
grenade and was sure it got that NVA. I'm pretty sure this body was the
same gook Starnes took out. Well, they killed Starnes' buddy and
wounded him, so what could he do? He stopped them before they could hurt
or kill more of our guys. All I can say is it's war and war stinks, but
good job buddy. I think Starnes was with 4th platoon.
We found no more gook bodies. They had a habit of carrying off their dead
so we couldn't count them. Sneaky little bastards!
We were all in a big hurt. It seems all we found was one dead gook, and they had ripped us up really bad with about 49 KIAs and about 79 wounded, some really bad. At first we thought they had gotten the better of us. It was over a month before we learned how badly we mauled them.
They were under orders not to engage U.S. forces, especially the First Cav. But evidently one of their hot headed soldiers got angry when we blew away some of his buddies so he started a chain reaction among the NVA which had all of them taking us on. Big mistake! This one NVA soldier caused the 18th Regiment, 9th Division, of the North Vietnamese Army to be nearly wiped out by the Cav. They ceased to exist as a fighting force after we finished with them. It's estimated we killed and wounded over 520 NVA soldiers out of the 630 or so man regiment. It cost us many lives and wounded, but we destroyed them. That taught them not to mess with the Cav.
Later that afternoon the Commanding General came in and we lined up in front of the Great Trench of Bloody Hell. He told us he had put us in for the Silver Star—every last one of us. He said we earned it. But we wouldn't get it because the Army doesn't like to give out more than one or two and no more. So he gave the Silver Star medals to our Lieutenant and Platoon Sergeant. I don't know if they really got it, but we were told they were supposed to.
As the General
walked by each of us he shook our hand and said "Job well done. I put
you in for the Silver Star, but you won't get it even though you earned
it." I do think we received the Unit Citation for the
battle. This was told to me so I don't know. To qualify as a
major battle the bureaucrats say we need 50 KIAs, we had 49, but how can you say
the Battle for Hill 82 wasn't major? I think all of us GIs who
fought there, including the gooks who were wiped out by us, would say it was a
totally major battle. One for the record books!
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Updated January 05, 2003