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Story Of The Black Virgin Mountain
Nui Ba Den
The Mountain of the Black Virgin is a Powerful
and Mysterious Symbol.
A giant green cone, a massive piece of tree-covered granite, soars up out of the endless rice fields and jungle into the clouds. To millions of Vietnamese who live in it's long shadows, it is a political symbol, a source of cloudy legends, and enigma. To pilots and strangers within it's sight, it is initially a navigational marker and then gnawing mystery. The few pilots who glide over the peak when it's clouds have lifted briefly still feel this strange atmosphere.
Below on the tip of it's cone, is an isolated two-acre camp spotted with huge boulders and rocks. Bunkers and small permanent buildings nestling within the rocks bristle with antennas.
American lookouts, sitting on rocks dangling over the slope, stare up at the visitor briefly, then resume their watch of the tree line below them. They watch for the enemy prowling on the mountain below them. The mountain is Nui Ba Den (Black Lady Mountain, or Mountain of the Black Virgin,) a 3,000 foot pyramid of trees and solid granite 18 miles from Cambodia in Tay Ninh province.
The camp on it's summit is an American radio retransmitting station maintained by U.S. soldiers and signal men from 15 different units. This combination of visual prominence and American occupation of the top make Nui Ba Den a powerful symbol. To millions it means that the Viet Cong are not capable of winning the war.
Nui Ba Den's importance as a symbol has a long history. Before a U.S. Special Forces unit took the top in a helicopter assault in May of 1964, the Viet Cong had camped on the same ground. Before then, the mountain and it's pinnacle had belonged to the Viet Minh, the Japanese, and the French.
The mysterious aura which permeates Nui Ba Den today is the product of two factors-the mountain's legend and it's physical appearance.
Legend has it that prior to 1700, when Nui Ba Den was still in Cambodian territory, a Cambodian chieftain lived on the mountain with his son and a 13 year-old daughter, Nang Denh. A Chinese Buddhist monk, wandering through the region, came to the chieftain and asked for a place to live and spread the teachings of Buddha. Nang Denh's father built the monk a temple called Chua Ong Tau (Chinese Monk's Temple) whose ruins can still be seen on the foot of the mountains Eastern slope. The pretty, young daughter in time became a devout disciple of Buddhism and when her father proposed her marriage to the son of a neighboring chieftain, the girl went into hiding on the mountain. Soldiers dispatched to find the girl eventually found a section of her leg in a stone cavern on the mountain's slope. Having vowed herself to the Buddhist non-acceptance of married life, the girl had apparently killed herself rather than break the vow.
Years later, a priest who practiced Buddhism on the mountain for 31 years claimed to have seen her walking on the mountainside. He built her an altar, the Shrine of the Black Virgin, which still stands on the mountain's slope today.
The mountain's appearance has this same air of the supernatural about it. When low-ceilinged clouds blanket the floor of Tay Ninh province and rain slashes across it's rice paddies, helicopters will be landing in clear weather on top of Nui Ba Den. When the entire horizon ringing the mountain is clear and cloudless, Nui Ba Den will have a big puff of cotton cloud on it's top and the soldiers in the peaks camp will be huddling from the rain under panchos and in buildings..
Living on "The Rock", according to Captain Lee G. Scripture, the camp's former commanding officer, can only be described as "hard". All supplies for the soldiers on the mountain-food, water, mail, ammunition, building materials, have to be brought up to the camp by helicopter.
Circling above the cloud-capped mountaintop, resupply helicopters watch for holes to appear in the mist. Within a few minutes the top may again be lost to sight.
By Colonel John A. G. Klose, USA (Ret.)
His call sign was "Music One Six". His voice was very deep, clear and
unforgettable. Everyone there knew who "Music One Six" was, but nobody knew
his name. His remains, and those of his copilot First Lieutenant Alan
Boffman, came to the United States on 19 July 1990, 19 years, four months
and one day after being shot down in Laos, 18 March 1971.
It was during LAM SON 719. "Music One Six" was the leader of an attack
helicopter section from "D" Company, 101st Aviation Battalion. He and his
section were assisting in the extraction of 1st ARVN Infantry Division's 4/1
Battalion after six weeks of heavy combat in Laos.
The 4/1 Battalion had a strength of 420 when they had been inserted 40
kilometers into Laos by helicopter combat assault. After six weeks of
continuous contact with North Vietnamese Regulars, the battalion had been
reduced in strength to 88, 61 of which were wounded. An English-speaking
sergeant whose call sign was "Whiskey" was in command and had the only
operable radio. They were surrounded in a bomb crater at the base of a 1,500
foot escarpment near the Xe Pon River. The enemy had loudspeakers and was
calling for the unit to surrender.
Sixty-eight U.S. Air Force airstrikes were used to keep the enemy forces
from overrunning the 4/1 Battalion's final positions. U.S. Army Cobra
gunships fired in direct support of the unit. Often, the effects of their
fire were on the perimeter of the bomb crater.
"Music One Six" and his section had refueled, rearmed a number of times,
returning to the battle and expended their ammunition throughout the
afternoon in support of "Whiskey" and his unit. The last smoke grenade to
mark the friendly position has long since been used. "Music One Six" knew
exactly where the 4/1 survivors were. It was he who volunteered to lead the
troop carrying helicopters into the bomb crater to extract the unit. He said
"Spasm Two Two (Operations Officer of the 173 Aviation Company) this is
Music One Six, follow me and I will lead you to the friendlies".
On final approach to the bomb crater, "Music One Six's" Cobra came under
intense enemy ground fire. He aborted the approach and told the other
helicopters to follow him around for another approach. His aircraft was on
fire and he had lost his hydraulic controls. He brought his gunship into a
slow 360-degree turn back toward the friendly unit. He calmly stated, "My
mast is on fire and I've lost my hydraulics. There they are twelve o'clock.
100 meters, I'm going to try to make it to the river."
Smoke and flames could be seen trailing from his gunship as it turned toward
the river. His rotor RPM was decaying as the rotors noticeably began to slow
down. "I've lost my engine and my transmission is breaking up. Good-bye.
Give my love to my wife and family", were "Music One Six's" last words as
his helicopter crashed and became a ball of fire.
Everyone in the air over the bomb crater knew that they had witnessed an
unparalleled act of courage and selfless devotion to duty; that one aircrew
had given their lives so that 88 other soldiers might live. Everyone there
will always remember "Music One Six". But nobody there that day knew his
name. The urgency of a situation involving fellow soldiers on the ground,
had everyone together that day.
To paraphrase General MacArthur, "I know not of the dignity of their births,
but I can attest to the dignity of their deaths..." No heroes ever died more
courageous deaths. I was proud to be with them on the field of battle that
day. I was privileged to be at Travis Air Force Base on 18 July 1990 when
"Music One Six" Captain Keith Brandt (age 31 at death) and his copilot 1LT
Alan Boffman (age 24 at death) came home. I was proud to salute their
caskets on behalf of their many comrades who served with them that day in
Laos. None of us will ever forget them.
By John Senka
Shortly before Thanksgiving 1968, Charlie Company 4/9th 25th Infantry Division, better known as "Manchus," lost 2/3 of their unit when Captain Winters and his men walked into an NVA base camp.
Our platoon had spent the prior night on an ambush patrol. As we walked into the fire support base. I joked with radio operator, Dave Briggs, of North Collins, N.Y. Little did I realize this would be the last time I would see Dave or my other buddies alive.
After this, our unit spent many days in limbo; only a handful of grunts. Most of us hoped we would be sent to the rear. No such luck-- our ranks wre filled with brand new replacements. We nervously awaited for some word of our next destination. Finally we were told to send our radios,and personal belongings to the rear area. We were also issued flak jackets. We would rendezvous with Alpha and Bravo companies about 2
"clicks" from the Cambodian border.
The following days were spent on patrols and digging large, deep bunkers Henry Maul, a quiet redhead from Wyoming was always close by, however, Don Culshaw, a muscular, seasoned rifleman from Minnesota was my partner in the construction of our bunker. Don and I spent several days in the hot sun, digging and filling sandbags. We placed steel over the bunker, and laid the sandbags over the steel. We later dug out the rice paddy dikes and placed the earth over the sandbags. This not only camouflaged our position, but provided an unobstructed view on our side of the perimeter. We were proud of what we had built. We both agreed we could do this for the rest of our tour if it meant not having to confront the enemy. Ironically, neither of us would get to use the bunker.
It was December 22, 1968--Christmas Truce. A prisoner exchange was taking place nearby. We spent our morning walking through a nearby village. We held our empty M16's in one hand and our loaded magazines in the other; our arms were held high over our heads. Several of our group passed out T-Shirts as a gesture of peace and goodwill. We hadn't received mail, or other supplies in several days. We were eating green eggs for breakfast; supposedly from Gook chickens. Finally, at about 9:00 that
night, we received fresh supplies, mail, Christmas cards, cookies and miniature Christmas trees from home. I remember Don placing a 2 foot artificial tree on top of our bunker. I also was pleased and surprised to get a Christmas card from Bruce Pealer. Sgt. Pealer, a combat Vet from Johnson City, Tennesee had served with me at Ft. Jackson, How happy we were!
At about 10:00, we were given our orders for the evening. Don was going to go out on a night patrol; evidently Intelligence suspected enemy activity along the Cambodian border. Phil Glenn, a lanky, popular 19 year old from St. Paul, Arkansas; and Jose Olea, a seasoned, pistol packing sergeant from Buffalo, NY would also join the patrol, which eventually totalled nine. My instructions were to occupy and defend one of the others bunkers. Our perimeter consisted of deep bunkers, connected by deep trenches. We were 500 strong. I was glad to see Hank Maul in my bunker. Justin Anderson, a tall blonde Swede from Chicago was also there. I engaged Malcom True, one of the new- est replacements, in conversation. True, who was from Tampa,
Florida, had just arrived, along with Jimmy Walker from Red Oak, Oklahoma. The newest "grunt" told me he was married and his wife just had a baby. He was obviously very much in love and a tape recording from his wife was his constant companion.
At about midnight, Lt. Mosher told us to get ready-there was going to be a "Turkey Shoot"! We were told that there were 100 Gooks between the patrol and us, and that the patrol couldn't get back in.
We had no idea that 1500 hard core NVA soldiers were storming in from Cambodia. Little did we know we were outnumbered 3 to 1. I was shocked to find out many years later, that this had been a suicide mission; each enemy soldier had his grave marker strapped to his back. The sky suddenly lit up. It looked like daylight as illumination rounds floated from the sky, dangling from their parachutes. The sky was further brightened as ammo dumps exploded.
The four of us began firing our M16's through the narrow slots in our bunker. We blew all our claymore mines, still not fully understanding the hellish nightmare we were about to face. Malcom True and I climbed out of the bunker and vigorously heaved hand grenades. As we rejoined Hank and Anderson, a grenade suddenly exploded, filling our dark hole with deadly shrapnel. Almost in unison, we screamed, "I'm hit". We were lucky, none of us were hurt badly. We quickly got into position, and laid down a devastating hail of gunfire. Seconds later,a tremendous explosion filled the air. Anderson let out a blood curdling scream! He was within inches of me. Looking his way, I could see he was dead. My eyeglasses were blown off my face, as was my "steel pot". Not realizing my right leg was shattered, I started crawling behind True, out of the smoke filled hellhole, and into a muddy trench. We found another bunker filled with GI's, many already wounded. A young medic was doing his best to help those most in need. Having barely squeezed through the rear entrance, suddenly a thud hit in
the mud next to me. My brain told me that a hand grenade was going to blow the Gooks were inside the wire! Impulsively, I threw myselt towards the center of the blackened dundgeon.
Following the explosion there was a deadly silence. Trying desperately to regain my senses, I discovered three of my comrades still able to fight. One of them was a new replacement who had just arrived in country. I recall he was from New York City, was slightly over 5 feet tall, and fired a blooper (M-79 grenade launcher). Roger Cantrell, also a newcomer, was in good shape, as was Lynn Welker, a respected squad leader
from Jonesboro, Arkansas. Unable to move my lower body, I urged the others to keep firing.
Unbelievably, concussion grenades were tossed in; I still remember being hit in the face and hesitating to open my eyes for fear that I was blind. I'll never forget the sudden silence as my eardrums exploded and blood streamed down my face. My lungs and nostrils smelled like and felt like the inside of a gunbarrel, as yet a third grenade exploded, filling my belly with hot steel. As I laid there, I prayed that this would soon end.
As I gazed into the area outside of our bunker, the bright light was again visible. The shadow of someone walking in a zombie-like manner appeared. Remarkably, Henry Maul had somehow found me, he crawled into our hole and collapsed by my side. He was somewhat delirious, and I urged him to stay quiet. From the corner of my eye, I could see Sgt. Welker climb out of the bunker and into the trenches. The silhouette of him firing his M-16 has been etched in my mind for 21 years-I remember seeing him hit by small arms fire and roll- ing past me into the bottom of the bunker. My many attempts to get a response from him were futile. He appeared to be dead.
Hope filled my head and mind as the gunships approached. Their guns rattled away, the enemy became silent. When the choppers departed to resupply, the enemy once again could be seen and heard scurring amoung us like deadly rats. At one point, an enemy soldier jumped into my shelter this was probably the only time I thought I might die. What crazy thoughts were in my mind? Math! As a high school student, I was lousy at it, absolutely hated it. All I could think of was, "If I knew this was going to happen, I wouldn't have worried so much about math.
Slowly, reaching for my weapon, and aiming at the Gooks heart, I suddenly was painfully aware that the gunbarrel was filled with mud. Gently, the weapon was placed beside me, my legs were curled up to protect my vital parts, and groping in the dark I found a fruitcake tin, which I plopped over my head in a desperate attempt to protect my head. Miraculously, no bullets hit me as the "Dink" sprayed the interior of our bunker. How much time had passed? I don't know. Unconsiousness engulfed me.
When my eyes were again opened, there was daylight outside, but complete silence. A different kind of fear came over me. Who won the battle of Mole City? Were the NVA in control? Would I be taken prisoner? How bad are my wounds? The only other person moving was Cantrell. He mechanically told me his leg was no good, and he wanted a drink of water. Feeling a canteen under my torso, I dug with my fingers until I freed it and tossed it to my buddy.
The most beautiful sight I've ever seen was when a black Mortar Sergent poked his head into our blackened grave and rejoiced, "There are some Americans alive in here." I urged him to get Hank out first as he was hurt worse than I. He said,"You get out first, because you're blocking the entrance. Besides, your friend is dead.
I was flooded with emotion when became apparent that I was saved. The reality of what had happened these past seven hours struck me like lightning. The realization that most of my buddies were dead caused me to sob uncontrollably, as tears filled my eyes and fell onto my bloodied uniform. I was filled with anger and hate for having had to go through this. As the second shot of morphine entered my body, I sucked the life
out of a Winston. Everyone could hear me screaming, "I hate this place." What a horrible experience! "Send me to L.B.J. (Long Binh Jail), because I refuse to come back."
The medics, who were picking steel out of my gut and leg, assured as I wouldn't have to return because, "You're going home." And I did.
When the medivac chopper landed at the 12th Evac hospital, I was shocked and thankful to see Lynn Welker, whom I thought was dead. We spoke briefly from our stretchers. I made contact with him again in 1990, via telephone. He is an accountant today. Hank Maul, Malcom True, and Justin Anderson all died. Phil Glenn and Donny Culshaw both died heros, as part of the patrol; Jose Olea survived that patrol and is a fireman in California. I've corresponded with the Glenn Family and have met personally with Don Culshaw's family. Jimmy Walker survived this battle unscathed, completed his tour and owns his own construction business in Oklahoma. Jimmy filled in many of the gaps of the Mole City Battle for me, as did Dan Gregory, another platoon member, now living in Montana. After 21 years, X-"Manchu" John Yelton from Newton, Utah is spearheading an effort to get all Charlie Company 4/9 25th Division members who served during 1/68 to 1/69 together for a reunion, especially those of us in the 2nd platoon.
By : "Doc" Reynolds
My name is Donald W. Reynolds. I am a 52 year old Vietnam veteran I left home at the beginning of my junior year of high school in Tacoma, Washington, and spent the remainder of my junior year living at Dyslin's Boy's Ranch for abused children.
I voluntarily entered the United States Army on August 26, 1966 at the age of 17 and completed basic training at Fort Lewis, Washington. I was then sent to Fort Sam Houston, Texas for AIT (Advanced Individual Training) as a field medic. Following my training as a medic at Ft. Sam, I was sent to Fort Gordon, Georgia where I worked in the Emergency Department and in the Dermatology Clinic. I submitted a 1049 (request for transfer) to Vietnam.
I received orders transferring me to Vietnam in June of 1967 and after 30 days leave arrived in Vietnam on July 25th 1967. When I arrived in Vietnam I was 18 years old. We came into country on a World Airways 707 who held a contract with the government to transport troops both to and back home from Vietnam. I was three days late getting to Vietnam as I had been partying in Los Angeles with my older sister and her roommate.
My first memories of Vietnam were of landing in country on that plane. The pilot informed us that, given the very real possibility of taking incoming fire on landing, we would be making a steep approach and landing and that we should be ready to exit the plane as soon as we came to a stop. When we landed in the evening, the sun had gone down and the heat, humidity, and the smell were overwhelming. There were artillery pieces, either 155's or eight inchers, firing outgoing rounds. I couldn't tell the
difference between incoming and outgoing, as at that point they all sounded the same to me. We were transported to the 90th Replacement Battalion in Long Binh in buses with screens on the windows. When I asked the bus driver the reason for the screens on the windows, he explained that they were to prevent the VC from throwing grenades through the windows. That information, in addition to the fact that the bus driver drove the bus like he was driving a sports car on a road course, kept me in a state of absolute fear for the first two weeks I was in country. I realized at that point that I could either live in fear for the next year and develop an acute case of ulcers, or I could resign myself to the fact that I had little control over whether I got killed from some errant
incoming round or some other crazy happenstance.
After arriving at the 90th replacement Battalion, we were required to attend formations three times a day in order to receive our assignments. I was fearful that they would punish me for arriving three days late by assigning me to an Infantry outfit out in the bush. As luck would have it, on my third day in country I received orders transferring me to the 11th Aviation Battalion in Phu Loi. I was taken over to the helipad at Long Binh and told to report to the operations shack and let them know where I was trying to go. I did so, and about 40 minutes later a Huey landed. They told me to put my stuff on and climb aboard. We got to Phu Loi and I was taken to Battalion headquarters. I received my assignment to the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company. I stayed overnight there in Phu Loi at the transient barracks at the 11th Avn. Bn , and was told to report the next morning to flight operations for a flight to Lai Khe, the headquarters of the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company.
The next morning I reported to flight operations, and after waiting for what seemed like hours, a slick (passenger carrying helicopter), landed and I was told to climb aboard. I guess in retrospect I should have been suspicious because of the looks that the pilots and crew chief and gunner were exchanging, but I was so scared and in awe of all the new experiences that it didn't occur to me. We took off from Phu Loi enroute
to Lai Khe and shortly after taking off, the Aircraft Commander, who I believe was Timothy Artman , took the helicopter down to within about two or three feet off the ground. I had never heard of low level flight, and I thought it was pretty exciting for a while until we began to get close to a copse of trees in front of us. As we got closer I realized that we were too close and the trees were too tall for us to go over them, and at what seemed like the last possible moment Tim turned that ship on its left side and slipped through a space that didn't seem big enough for anything to go through. When he executed that maneuver, I was sitting on the far left seat of the chopper with my legs over the end of the bench seat and I was looking down at the ground going by at an incredibly fast rate and it felt like I was going to fall out of the aircraft. After he straightened the aircraft out I realized that everyone was having a real good laugh at
my reaction to the maneuver. When we sat down a Lai Khe and shut the ship down, both pilots, and the gunner and crew chief came over and shook my hand, still chuckling to themselves and said, "Welcome to the Robin Hoods." From that moment on I was hooked on helicopters and flew whenever I could.
My first week at Lai Khe was a blur of new experiences. I had to attend an in country jungle school taught by the 1st Infantry Division. Most of the guys attending the school were 1st Infantry guys slated to go to grunt units and I wondered what I, who had been assigned to an aviation unit, was doing out here.
I vaguely remember being taught about trip wires, booby traps, the importance of not walking on trails or rice paddy dikes because of the possibilities of ambushes. We had been exposed to, and had the opportunity to fire M-6o machine guns, a .50 caliber machine gun, M-16, and the LAW at hulks of M-113's. I remember eating C-rations and the final night march to the firing range at the south end of the Lai Khe
I had somehow acquired an M-3 grease gun, a .45 caliber submachine gun used in WWII as a tankers weapon, and had filled the three 30 round (I think) magazines with tracers. I don't know where I got this stuff, but I thought that it was pretty neat shit. When we arrived at the firing range and got on line, we were given the order to commence firing and the sight and sound of about 15 different weapons firing at the same time, most loaded with one tracer in every five rounds was the biggest rush I
had ever experienced up to that point in my life. When I fired that grease gun on full auto, full of tracers for the full three magazines, it looked like an orange rainbow going downrange. It was the finest light show I had ever seen. I thought that, having completed the jungle school, I was prepared to survive in the bush if I ever had to, but thank God I never did.
I got back to the company area at about 2300 hours and stripped off my clothes to take a shower. I had leaches all over my legs and crotch and just about freaked out. One of the medics in my hootch, after he got finished laughing at me, got out a bottle of bug juice and put some on all of the leaches. They all dropped off, but I continued to bleed from the bites for about two hours because of the anticoagulants in their saliva. I went down to the shower area and scrubbed myself raw until I felt clean, then walked back to my hootch to the accompanying sounds of an 8 inch gun emplacement at the end of the runway firing H&I fire at some unknown target. I flopped into my bunk and passed out awaking in the morning to a bunk saturated with blood from the leach bites from the previous night.
I was a medic with the Robinhoods of the 173rd AHC at Lai Khe from July 25, 1967 to July 25, 1968. I worked as a medic in the Quonset hut dispensary at the north end of the company area directly across the road from an engineer unit and to the west of the 2/2nd Mechanized Infantry of the 1st Infantry Division. Most of the work we did as medics in the dispensary was running daily sick call, passing out bandages, suturing the occasional small laceration, and testing and treating cases of gonorrhea for those who enjoyed the entertainment of the "ladies" in the village across the runway from us. After having been in the unit for about a month or a month and a half, a couple of gunners in slicks suggested that I come "fly the friendly skies" as a gunner on an occasional basis. Their names were Gary Wetzel and Jimmy Banicki. They took it upon themselves to train me in procedures and gunnery, taught me how to strip and clean the M- 60 machine guns and generally made sure that I was prepared to do the job of a gunner without being an embarrassment to them. I flew once or twice a week for about four months prior to the 1968 TET offensive on combat assaults and ash and trash missions.
On January 8, 1968 we were doing Eagle flights supporting the 9th Infantry Division. ( I don't remember the unit) We were sitting on the ground at the old French Fort along the Nha Be River eating C-rations when we got the order to crank up. We loaded up the slicks and flew to the LZ which was just outside of Ap Dong An. As we were about 1 minute out of the LZ, and flying in a heavy right formation we received orders to go in heavy left. Gary Wetzel's ship, piloted by WO Timothy Artman switched places with mine. He ended up the trail ship on the left and my ship, piloted by a Japanese CWO, was the trail ship on the right. I had taken sporadic fire before but was totally unprepared for the amount of fire we received flying into the LZ. I saw so many big orange fireballs flying through the air as we flew into the LZ that I really had no idea what was going on. I knew that we were in big trouble because there was a lot of excited radio traffic flying in. I could not fire as I was on the inside of the formation and ended up being an observer. As we came into the LZ Gary's ship was hit in the left, or Aircraft Commander's door with an RPG, (Rocket Propelled Grenade) as they were about 4 feet off the ground. They crashed immediately and as soon as they hit the ground, I saw two more explosions inside the ship and troops came flying out. As we sat down to insert our troops, I said to my Aircraft Commander "I have my aid bag,
I'm gonna go help." The AC replied "If you step one foot outside this ship I'll shoot your ass. You're here to protect this helicopter. We flew out of the LZ leaving two ships in the LZ and another, carrying Jimmy Banicki, was hit flying out and set down somewhere outside the LZ. The rest is, as they say, history. WO Tim Artman was critically wounded and died in the LZ later that night. Gary was awarded the Distinguished
Flying Cross the next day in the hospital and subsequently was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. We figured out later that the artillery and air strikes had prepped the wrong side of the river and left for us a horseshoe shaped ambush with 3- .51 caliber machine guns, more RPG's than we could count, and shitloads of small arms fire. I didn't see Gary for 18 years. In July of 1986 I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago for the Welcome home parade and weekend and finally had an
opportunity to sit down and talk with Gary. I had felt and still feel guilty that I didn't just grab my aid bag and run to his assistance. I feel guilty that because of fate, he was injured and his pilot was killed and I survived with no injuries other than the emotional ones I carry to this day.
I have vivid memories of three or four other situations to which I was exposed during my tour in Vietnam, all of which happened during the 1968 TET offensive. Lai Khe was referred to by the individuals who lived there as "Rocket City" because of the enormous amount of 122mm rockets that the Viet Cong showered on the base during TET. The 122mm rocket consisted of a rocket body about six feet long with a 100 pound explosive warhead. They sounded like a jet flying overhead and when they landed, caused extreme destruction to the surrounding area. For a period of approximately one month leading up to TET we experienced rocket attacks three or four times a day, usually in flights of three or four rockets. We lived in constant anxiety and terror of a rocket landing in our vicinity.
Early one morning, I awoke on the floor of my tent and was attempting to determine why I was there when I heard a rocket explode a short distance away. I stayed on the floor until the rockets had stopped impacting and then ran, with my aid bag, to where I heard people screaming. At least one rocket had impacted in the rubber trees directly above the mess hall, and on my way to the mess hall I observed an individual, (Bill Gleixner, 408th TC Det.) who had been hit with a large piece of shrapnel in the head. It had taken the entire back of his head off. Realizing that there was nothing I could do for him, I continued on to the mess hall and as I entered I was confronted with the sight of 15 or 20 people in various stages of injury. I was the first medic on the scene and it felt like it took me forever to identify the most severely injured person. This individual had been hit high on the left thigh with a large piece of shrapnel and his leg was attached with only a small piece of tissue. His femoral artery was spurting blood six or seven feet in the air and, as I arrived at his side, I placed a tourniquet on his leg and attempted to bandage his leg. I remember saying to someone who was helping me " We've got to get this guy to the hospital. We won't be able to save his leg, but we might be able to save his life." After transporting him to the surgical hospital on base, I thought no more about him, hoping that I had saved his life but never knowing how he had turned out. When I returned to the states after my tour in Vietnam, I was stationed at Madigan General Hospital in Tacoma, Washington. I was walking down the hall at the hospital one day when an individual approached me and said "Hey Doc, how
are you doing?" I didn't recognize him and told him so. He reminded me of the rocket attack over the mess hall in Lai Khe and told me word for word what I had said while treating him. He looked at me as if I was his hero, which made me extremely uncomfortable, and said " I want to thank you for saving my life, but more than that I want to thank you for the job you did that day. This is my leg I'm walking on." I muttered something about just doing my job and left as soon as I could. In retrospect, I'm
pleased that my training allowed me to treat his injury, to save his leg, and to save his life, but I have never been so uncomfortable in my life as I was when this guy was thanking me. I'm not a hero and I really didn't know how to deal with the adulation I saw in his eyes. I would like to sit down with him now and talk with him, but I couldn't do it
One of the other effects of the constant rocket attacks during that period of time was that base ammunition dump at Lai Khe sustained a direct hit early one morning. A number of us were sitting on a bunker about a mile away from where the ammo dump was exploding and enjoying the 4th of July like fireworks when a large chunk of metal crashed through a building about five feet from where we were sitting. We walked into the building and found ½ of a 90mm artillery round on the floor of the building. Completely sobered by what we had seen and realizing how lucky we all were to be alive, we adjourned to the safety of the inside of the bunker until the ammo dump had quit exploding.
One evening, we received orders to take our ambulance to the helipad across the airfield from where we were stationed to assist in transporting wounded from a unit of the 1st Infantry division that had been ambushed. Apparently Alpha company of the 2nd of the 28th Infantry had walked into an ambush. We waited for about 45 minutes and a CH-47 Chinook helicopter landed. We had been expecting to transport wounded troops to the base hospital, but we soon found out that all of the casualties were dead. We spent the rest of the evening and most of the night transporting bodies and parts of bodies to the graves registration point, assisting them in trying to match body parts to bodies, and cleaning up the bodies so that they could be prepared for burial.
The final incident that I remember seems so senseless to this day. One evening I was assigned to CQ (Charge of Quarters) duty in the dispensary to deal with whatever medical emergencies might arise, when I heard a gunshot about 30 feet away. An individual was brought into the dispensary with a gunshot wound to his left hand. The bullet had entered just beneath his left thumb and exited under his little finger. I applied a pressure bandage to the wound and transported him to Charlie Medical Company of the 1st Infantry Division across the runway from our unit. When I arrived at their dispensary, I turned my patient over to the medics there and observed the Doctors at Charlie Med working to resuscitate an individual from our unit, (John "Ranger" Stevens) who had been shot in the right chest with a .45 caliber pistol. They did venous cutdowns on both legs in an attempt to get replacement fluids into him all the while doing CPR on him. After about twenty minutes of working to save his life, one
of the doctors said "count two minutes on your watch" I did and told him that two minutes was up at which point he said "All right, lets stop, we've done everything we can for him, he's gone."
I subsequently determined that two individuals from the 2/28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division, one black and one white, had been drinking in our NCO club and insulting one another all night. The white guy went out the back door of the club to use the urinal, and the black guy approached the bartender, said that he was leaving, and asked for his pistol. John "Ranger" Stevens had been listening to the two of them argue all night and
had a bad feeling. He exited the rear door and walked in between the two troopers. John tried to talk the guy with the gun out of shooting, but to no avail. The black guy shot himself through the left hand and the bullet entered John's right chest and exited out the left armpit. When they called an end to the lifesaving measures on John, I very quietly walked into the other room where the staff sergeant was being treated and proceeded to choke him. The other medics pulled me away from him and carried me outside. When our troops heard that John had died, they armed themselves and were enroute to kill the sergeant who had killed him. The sergeant was transported out of Lai Khe within minutes. We later heard that he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in Leavenworth.
I returned to the States finishing up my last year in the Army at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington.
By: "Doc" Reynolds
This story has been wrought with controversy since it was wrote. If you were an Officer, you would think this was a criminal act. By Army standards it was. If you look at it from an Enlisted Man, that toiled on the project it was nothing more than just payback, and a hell of a prank. When you are 19 in a war zone things are more governed by what is politically correct at the moment, and not necessarily legal. Disputes were more well served being solved in house without the services of the Commaning Officer or the Inspecter General. This is one such incident.
CSing the O-Club
I'll tell you a story about the building of the NCO club in Sherwood Forest. It was either late 1967 or early 1968. (CRAFT) The NCO club was situated on the west side of the dispensary on a newly poured concrete slab, and the O-Club, a Quonset Hut which was already built by the time I arrived, was on the other side.
The NCO club was built by volunteer labor from all ranks and grades, Pvt. through RLO's. I have no idea who requisitioned the plywood that lined the interior walls of the club, and I can't swear to the veracity of this information, (I heard that the individual responsible found a pallet or two of 3/4" interior grade plywood, hooked it up and one of our slicks came by and flew away with it) but there was enough plywood to completely cover the inside walls of the club.
I spent a few days torching the interior walls of that club and enjoyed the hell out of it. There was a certain artistry to burning the wood as too little flame did not bring out the grain well and too much flame overburned the wood so that the grain was obliterated by the scorching of the wood. It didn't take long to get the hang of it and I put in some
pleasant, self satisfying, hours burning the wood. I seem to recall that when the burning was done, they used verathane to seal it and it looked damn fine. I was more than a little disappointed that after the opening, I think there was a party, I never got to set foot in the damn place again.
Speaking of requisitioned merchandise, it seems to me that there was an air conditioner that had been requisitioned by a group of people in the company for the purpose of making the dispensary a more comfortable place to do business. I don't have the specifics, but the air conditioner was appropriated to the use of the officers club, and there were more than a few individuals who felt that they had been
treated poorly by said appropriation.
After some talk and conspiratorial collaboration among a number of individuals, it was decided something needed to be done to send a strong message that rank may have its privileges but the assertion of rank to gain that particular privilege would not be without a cost attached.
Now, if I remember correctly, the individuals who participated in this particular outrage, were thoroughly intoxicated on alcohol and medicinal marijuana. There had been a meeting of the minds, if you will, in a slick out on the flight line, where the perpetrators had spent a goodly amount of time scheming and conspiring, smoking and joking, prior to coming up with the agreed upon plan. It was determined that a couple of CS grenades placed in the intake of the air conditioner would have the desired effect of getting the message across to the officers who had so blatantly pulled rank in the appropriation of their air conditioner, that their act was unappreciated by at least a small group of individuals within the company.
The individuals involved swore one another to absolute secrecy, knowing that if their involvement were ever identified, that their actions would probably be looked down upon with some disdain if not with outright rage. One young troop, who shall forever remain nameless, agreed to place the grenades in the intake at an agreed upon time. The remainder of the conspirators found places where they could watch the reaction of the officers after the CS had infiltrated the O-club without being overly conspicuous. At the agreed upon time,which was around 2000 hrs, it having been determined that the individuals in the club would probably be fairly intoxicated by then, the CS was released and the havoc commenced.
The O-club was rather crowded that evening, and the effect of the CS was rather rapid in its effect on the personnel within the club. The CO was there along with the Flight Surgeon, whos office WAS the O-club. You've never seen such a sight in your lives as 25 or 30 WO's & RLO's came busting out the front doors of the club gagging, puking, crying, spitting, and threatening absolute havoc on the perpetrators of
this vile act.
For about a week or so there was a serious investigation which attempted to identify the individual(s) involved, with the threat that, if found, they would probably be given a free ride to the overheated Conex's at the Long Binh Jail. No perpetrators could be identified as they all realized, in retrospect, that they might have overdone the revenge card, and the price they would have to pay, if their identities were discovered, was greater than they had realized while planning the act.
After a few weeks went by, tempers cooled and the investigation was placed on the back burner. Those involved, however, realized that if they were ever identified, they would be going to LBJ, regardless of the amount of time that had transpired between the act and their discovery, because they had stirred up a hornets nest by their act of vengeance.
I am somewhat mystified that the perpetrators were never identified, given the amount of individuals involved in the conspiracy.