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CHARLIE COMPANY, 2nd/5th CAVALRY
1st CAVALRY DIVISION (AIRMOBILE)
4-8 OCTOBER 1969
On 4 October 1969, C Company, 2nd Battalion 5th Cavalry, air assaulted into a clearing northwest of Fire Support Base Ike. Its mission was to interdict North Vietnamese Army forces that were infiltrating into South Vietnam from Cambodia.
The company was commanded by Captain J. L. Kuykendall, (Comanche 6), the ramrod was First Sergeant William (Top) Allen, 3/6 was 2LT Tim Holden, acting Third Platoon Sergeant was SSG John Curtin. Attached to the company was 2LT Brian Phipps, who was new in country and was sent with us for some experience. Also attached to the company was a Forward Observation Team from A Battery 1st/77th Artillery that included 1LT Dan Bertram (Birth Control 28), Recon Sergeant Charlie Dickey (Birth Control 28 Delta), and RTO Sammy Price.
The landing zone was green and a perimeter was quickly established. One thing about the LZ - it had plenty of water. LT Holden got a running start from an incoming bird, his forward momentum carried him into a bomb crater filled with water and he had to be helped out before he drowned.
SGT Mike Hayes recalls that as the company expanded its perimeter it became apparent that the area had seen a lot of NVA activity. Ambushes were set up on some well-used trails and the company settled in for the night. Before daybreak the company was probed by a sizable force of NVA. As result of this action, 3 NVA soldiers were killed. Specialist Four Gene Fussey was a member of the foxhole credited with the kills.
Besides its FO Team, the company had a scout dog and handler with it. LT Brian Phipps remembers this about the initial firefight.
“I was sharing my fighting position with the handler when the dog went to hell real quick. He was shaking violently because of the noise and was trying to get in the hole with us. Every time he attempted to get in the hole, his handler kept throwing him out. I felt real bad for the dog so I dragged him next to me and told the handler to go screw himself, the dog stays.” Three-Six Band-Aid (Don Bongle) added that he too saw the dog “huddled with his handler next to a tree.”
As the company searched the area, it encountered AK fire. A wounded NVA, thought to be an NCO, apparently was pulling a rear guard action. His fire held up our troops long enough for the rest of the NVA to escape. In short time he was wounded again and taken prisoner
LT Phipps states that the one thing that really sticks in his memory has to do with that prisoner.
“When he was brought in, I was asked to hold on to him until the chopper came to pick him up. The captured enemy was in very bad shape with numerous shrapnel wounds to the face and body, but what really caught my attention was that the fingers on one hand were black and hanging off and the meat part of his hand looked like hamburger. He had rubber bands wrapped around his wrist (probably to stop the flow of blood). These were old wounds and I couldn’t believe he was still able to fight. Also he appeared to be in his forties, he was certainly no spring chicken. I was very impressed with his stamina and courage and wondered if all of the NVA fought with kind of determination.”
LT Phipps continues.
“The NVA was still alive when they took him out, but from what I understand he didn’t last too long. Long enough to give our G-2 (Intelligence) people some bad intel, which was believed, and would lead Charlie Company, 2/5Cavalry into the eventual ambush."
As the company began to move out, it once again encountered AK fire and a firefight ensued. This was to be typical for the day. The NVA kept setting up small ambushes meant to hinder us in our pursuit. We took machine gun fire, RPG’s and Chi-Com grenades. These actions took a toll on Comanche.
The recollections of Mike Hayes, Dan Bertram and Brian Phipps confirm these small but effective ambushes posed quite a burden for everyone in the company, psychologically and physically. In almost all exchanges of fire, the company took casualties. On October 5th we took only wounded, but we were losing fighting men.
According to Mike Hayes, 3 /6’s Platoon Sergeant, SFC Miguel Calzada, had left for R&R just prior to the mission. Knowing that he had a new and untried lieutenant in Tim Holden, Pepe Calzada moved SGT Hayes from squad leader to Holden’s RTO with instructions to “look after Holden”.
With Pepe gone, SSG John Curtin became acting Platoon Sergeant. John was wounded the night of October 4th. He was Medevac'd out. John had been scheduled to leave the field on October 5th. SSG Bob Davis took over as Platoon Sergeant.
Mike Hayes recalls that the company set up around a smoldering dead tree which he thought made a good target. He also remembered that the company did not dig foxholes that night. Dan Bertram remembers CPT Kuykendall telling him to call in the Delta Tangos close. (105 mm artillery rounds fired at the 4 major compass points to be used as starting points for defensive fires if the need arose.)
The morning of the 6th, we moved out in our standard three columns. Mike Hayes recounts that we began to see NVA bunkers that were well constructed. I remember seeing NVA weapons and other material. The more we saw the more nervous I became.
Major contact came at mid-morning. My memory tells me we had just stopped for a break; some one had broken a pack strap or was doused with red ants. No sooner had my butt hit the ground when automatic weapons fire came from our right front. A firefight began in earnest. My position at that time was behind Comanche 6 and Birth Control 28. I moved forward into the CP just as Gene Fussey who had been walking point on the right file was brought into the CP. Gene had been hit in the chest by automatic weapons fire. Dan "Doc" Hooks, the company’s head medic, and 3/6 medic, Don Bongle, worked on Gene, but his wounds proved mortal.
At this time LT Bertram called for tube artillery support, and the 2nd/20th ARA (Aerial Rocket Artillery) - the legendary Blue Max - was bounced. The Cobra gunships were inbound to our location immediately.
Leaving LT Bertram with the CP I made my way to 3rd Platoon, which was attempting to flank the enemy. My job was to direct the Cobras that day. As we attempted to maneuver to the left, we drew automatic weapons fire. The platoon broke away from the fire - some went left, and a few of us went to the right front. This movement to the right took us into the kill zone of a .51 caliber machinegun, which opened up on us from about 15 meters.
The NVA had planned and set a perfect ambush. The NVA had placed soldiers in well constructed bunkers, with only firing ports showing, L-shaped ground fighting positions, and snipers in the trees. In addition they had enough men to able to move a large force to whatever part of battlefield the Commanding Officer felt would best suit his plan of attack.
LT Phipps is under the impression that the actual ambush was in the form of an X and Comanche had stopped just short of entering the bottom part of the X, either by luck or Divine intervention. (I favor the latter). As soon as the company stopped moving forward, one of the NVA became over anxious and opened up before the entire company entered the kill zone.
This concept of an X ambush explains why elements of Comanche were unable to maneuver. As 3rd and 2nd Platoons attempted to move left in a flanking move, and 1st Platoon to the right, the top legs of the X were in position to swing much like a gate on a hinge and bring withering fire on those elements.
LT Phipps states that when the X was triggered:
“I was on the left flank of the Command Post and the bullets were coming in all around us at ankle level and we really couldn’t fire back because we would be firing into either the CP or you up in 3/6. Some time into the battle, Captain K called me to the CP (Command Post) and told me to go forward and bring you guys back, and to assume command of the platoon.”
At the same time, the left side of the company was taking heavy fire, and all Hell was breaking loose to the front and right flank. Dan Bertram relates that he, CPT Kuykendall, and a couple of RTOs were in a small space between some trees and were drawing AK fire from NVA soldiers.
Top Allen grabbed his AK (his weapon of choice), picked Larry “Grandpa” Bradshaw and a couple of other battle tested troopers, and told them they were going to bust through to the guys who were cut off. Top Allen said “I’m going to get those SOB’s”, which I have interpreted to mean the NVA between the CP and the troopers out front. Of course, Top could have meant the cutoff troopers (SOB’s) and in rescuing them, would knock off some NVA along the way.
1LT Bertram recalled that there was a flourish of small arms fire and then it stopped. A short time later Top came walking back. He was pale white, his right arm hanging limp. There was a large bullet hole in his right shoulder which was streaming blood. Doc Bongle took him to the rear of the CP where the wounded were being collected.
As these events were unfolding, the few of us in front of the CP were taking heavy fire from machineguns, AK 47s, RPG’s and Chi-Com hand grenades. We had put out a call for help.
I can remember hearing Top yelling, cussing and laughing - and of course, his AK firing. Later, troopers me that Top shot a sniper out of a tree, but another sniper sprayed Top and his group with AK fire. Top was hit and Larry "Grandpa" Bradshaw took a round through the chest.
In a recent interview, Larry recalls regaining conciseness and finding himself alone. He has assumed that the other troopers thought his wounds mortal. However a short time later, he found himself being pulled back into the relative safety of the CP. (Larry told me that at one of the reunions he was able to meet with and prove his wounds to the two troopers who pulled him back. However he is unable to recall their names.) (Webmaster Note: I recall Grandpa talking to Dan "Doc" Hooks at the Atlanta reunion in February, 2000. Grandpa took his shirt off to show the large scars on his back to Dan. They both laughed and said Doc did good work.)
Mike Hayes reports that Larry "Grandpa" Bradshaw had pulled the pin on a grenade and was throwing it when he was shot. He fell forward landing on the grenade and fortunately was able to throw it way. Doc Hooks told Mike “that he still does not know how Larry survived." Larry was hit with an AK round and had a full entrance and exit wound. Normally, with a wound like that you are dead in 30 minutes. Larry waited for at least 3 hours to be Medevac'd out. Along with Larry, Ken Hollister and William Rech also survived sucking chest wounds.
Leading up to this time, SGT Hayes and I were working together to direct gunship fire. SGT Hayes was acting 3/6 for by this time in the fight. LT Holden was hit with shrapnel from a RPG-2 (B-40) and was incapacitated. SFC Calzada was on R&R, SSG John Curtin had been wounded and evac'd out on October 4th, and SSG Bob Davis had taken some shrapnel and was with the medics.
SGT Hayes gives this account of what took place:
“You and me worked together on some fire missions. I remember talking to you as rounds were snapping the branches over our heads. We talked for quite a while as we waited for the artillery and Cobra strikes. We were right on the line and I was throwing smoke grenades to mark our position for the Cobras. During that time it was believed that 2/6 was moving to our left and there was confusion as to who was firing at us, 2/6 or the NVA. It was determined to be the NVA."
However at the same time AK fire was heard from our right rear. I called Birth Control28 (LT Bertram) to ascertain if we were surrounded or if Top Allen firing his AK. Dan Bertram assured me it was Top Allen.
During the time Top Allen and his men were advancing, the men in my position were taking AK fire from above. After Top’s action we took no more fire from above.
NOTE: To a reader who was not there that day it should be pointed out that the action described took place over several hours. The initial springing of the ambush about 10:00AM to about 4:00 PM, and without significant let up in the amount of firing from either side. Some of the events in this account of the action took place simultaneously, while other stretched over the entire period Comanche was in contact with the enemy.
As the day progressed, the situation of the men from 3rd platoon cut off in front became increasing perilous. We were losing men to enemy fire. According to Mike Hayes, he went forward after a Cobra strike to carry Ken Hollister to the rear. Ken had had a sucking chest wound (he survived). As Mike returned to the line (maybe a minute later), he recounts that we were in heavy contact and he remembers putting out a lot of rounds and that he could see the NVA moving to our front. According to Mike, several RPG’s were fired in our direction and one landed in the middle of his group. As a result, Mike was wounded along with Russ Killhorne.
It was about this time I called on Cobra Flight Leader 27 Bravo (Captain Joseph Hogg) to fire on our position, as in my opinion, the NVA were launching an assault in an attempt to overrun our position. (Please read FO and the Cobra Pilot)
As all this was going on to the front, other actions were taking place. We were expending large amounts of small arms ammunitions, 5.56 (M16), 7.62 (M60), 40mm grenades (M79), and frags (US hand grenades). We also required medical supplies and WATER.
For the uninitiated, water was a precious commodity. We had only what we could carry and therefore practiced water discipline. We were re-supplied by air every 3 days. My own load was 9-10 quarts for the three-day period. This was used for drinking, making coffee and used in freeze-dried rations called LRPS.
However during and after a firefight, the flow and ebb of adrenalin left most men with an incredible thirst. As a result the company requested an emergency drop of Class Five (small arms ammunitions), medical supplies and WATER.
As the re-supply bird hovered over the company’s position, it began taking heavy fire. One of our log guys on the Bird was wounded as well as a door gunner who later died from his wounds. His name was “Hayes” and he is listed on "The Wall" right next to Gene Fussey. (Source Mike Hayes)
The Medevac birds were busy as well. There being so many wounded, some critical, Mike Hayes had to wait his turn, Mike recounts that when two birds came in, the first carried out three troopers who were on stretchers, and they had sucking chest wounds .
“I was the first guy up in the next bird and was extracted by way of a jungle penetrator. When the penetrator broke the tree line, you could see forever and felt very vulnerable.”
Mike had to wait while five other troopers were lifted out of the jungle, and all this time the Medevac bird had to maintain a hover, making it an inviting target for the enemy. God bless those pilots and crews.
According to Dan Bertram, contact was broken off around 1600 hrs. This was made possible courtesy of the United States Air Force and two F-4 Phantoms. The NVA was so well entrenched that the Cobra’s rockets and close in tube artillery could not dislodge them. Tac Air was called and when the Phantoms arrived on station, they were able to drop napalm very near our front line. Don Bongle reflects on that strike:
“If memory serves me right the jets came in because Max (Cobras) couldn’t bust them loose. The reason it sticks in my mind is because I was amazed that they could put it so close to us, and how it lit up the jungle.”
The company moved back a short distance and set up an NDP (Night Defensive Position). Being with CPT K, I knew that Arizona 6 (Battalion Commander) had ordered us to attack the NVA position at dawn the next morning. SGT Dickey and LT Bertram fired in the DT’s real tight that night.
Many troopers spent a sleepless night. First call came at 0400 hrs the next morning. While the company was getting ready for dawn, Comanche 6 got a call from Arizona 6. It seems the S-2 (Intelligence) had decided that we were up against such a big force that they were a target worthy of an Arc Light Strike (B-52’s). We were ordered to pull back to our original LZ position on the 4th and be picked up so the 52’s could make their bomb runs. I was never so glad to hear such an order.
Tall Comanche was withdrawn to fight another day and the Unit’s Guidon was returned to Fort Hood Texas in April of 1972. (1)
This story a small part of what took place between 4 October 1969 and 8 October 1969. It is based on the memories of Mike Hayes, Dan Bertram, Don Bongle, Brian Phipps, and Charlie B. Dickey.
1. Capt. Dolf Carlson, the last Vietnam Commander of C Company, 2nd Battalion 5th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division (Air Mobile).
© June 2002 Charlie B. Dickey
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Updated December 28, 2002