November 2, 1969
AMBUSHED

We had stayed in the same LZ for three or four days. I have several flashbacks of the LZ but mainly spending Halloween night. Some of the guys made a jack-o-lantern out of a gourd, put a flash light inside, and a North Vietnamese pith helmet on it. It was a gruesome sight and I wondered what some North Vietnamese Army scout must have thought when he looked at the lantern.

On Sunday, November 2, 1969, the company received orders to move the tracks (Armored Personnel Carriers or APCís) to a new location. Our units were being ambushed almost daily. Thoughts of an ambush were replaced with a vision of an enemy moving across the river and out of our area of operation. Additional orders stated my Platoon would run point and it was my trackís turn to run point within the Platoon. Thankfully, the three tanks attached to our company always went first, so my squad would actually be the fourth vehicle.

It was time to move out. We cranked up the engines, put on our flack jackets, and waited for the tanks to move out. Because we had lost some tracks in the previous weeks, some men from 2nd Platoon decided to ride on the tanks since it was getting crowded on the APCís. One of the turret men was wearing a white T-shirt (olive was the standard issue) and reminded me of home. I only had 58 days left in Vietnam as I quoted the short timer's motto "I am getting to short for this Sh**"

The track followed the tanks onto a dirt road as I rode on top of a mini-gun-can watching for anything unusual. The scenery passed in front of me while the heat from the exhaust hit me in the face. The sound of the diesel engine drowned out all sounds and left me alone with my thoughts.

  • It was a small blessing to know the dry season had begun and there was a good chance of going all day without getting wet.
  • The bunker complex where Shorty was killed was only about a mile away. I was glad I was not there that day, but I knew it was in the thoughts of the men.
  • November 2, back in the world the leaves are changing. I wondered if anyone realized that the trees stay green all year in Vietnam.
  • Yesterday two tanks were ambushed coming down this same road. I wonder if anyone got hurt? I do not recall anyone saying. The NVA have been taking a hard beating. Surely they have crossed back over the river.
In front of me was a barren open field. Most likely it was used for farming by the nearby friendly Montagnard village. An explosion suddenly overpowered the engine noise. I turned to see if the tank had fired its cannon when I felt the shock of a second explosion. The explosion turned the turret of the tank in front of me around 90 degrees and it just stopped as if it was dead. A mushroom cloud began to form over the tank.

  • My God, itís a mine. No, the mushroom cloud! Could it be a 122 rocket fired at point blank?
Ridgerunner, the driver, turned the track to the right to cover the tank as we had been trained to do. The tracks behind us continued to alternate turning left and right.

  • Someone must be out there. Start firing.
I released the safety on the M16 and fired into the open field. There was no target. Two birds took to the air from a lone bush. I fired at them and missed. My mind began to catch up with my actions.

  • Thatís stupid to shoot at the birds. There is nothing to shoot at on this side. The tank was hit from the left and is not returning fire. Weíve turned our back to the ambush and we are next in line to be hit. Give a command.

"RIDGERUNNER TURN THE OTHERWAY" I yelled. Anticipating the command, Ridgerunner turned the track and was out of the hatch pointing where to shoot. Sgt. Poole fired the 50 caliber machine gun beside me. I do not know how many magazines I fired, but my rifle was so hot the ammunition cooked off from the heat and fired automatically without touching the trigger.

The casings from the 50 caliber covered my left foot as the barrel turned red. Ridgerunner was pouring oil on the barrel to cool it and the oil burst into flames. Ridgerunner put the fire out by slapping it with an oily rag. Johnsonís rifle had jammed and everyone was holding their weapons away from their body in case a round cooked off before it was chambered. As I continued to fire I noticed for the first time someone was laying on the back of the tank.

  • Thatís right. 2nd Platoon had men riding to the outside of the tanks.

Without thinking I yelled to Doc and pointed at the injured man. Doc grabbed his First Aid kit and jumped from the track and ran toward the tank. I yelled to Sgt. Poole "Our rifles wonít last much longer". Sgt. Poole was the Platoon Sgt and was sitting behind the 50 caliber machine gun and was in radio contact with the Captain six tracks behind us. I yelled a second time "We canít last much longer. Tell the Captain to flank the ambush." Sgt. Poole yelled back "The Captain is getting air support." I yelled once more "We need more rifles." It may have been ten long minutes since the first explosion.

I jumped from the track and ran for the tank. I was sure there were unused rifles on the tank. Before I reached the tank I saw a GI lying on the ground. My memory only allows me to remember that he was bloody but alive. His rifle was lying next to him. I picked up the rifle along with a bandoleer of ammunition. I touched the man on the shoulder and said "Donít worry weíll get you out." I noticed the rifle had love beads on it.

I reached the back of the tank and spotted another rifle. And as I picked it up I noticed there were feathers all around. The mushroom cloud. It was the result of a direct hit into a sleeping bag. I looked up to see not just another soldier, but a friend. Afraid, unarmed, and hugging the side of the tank. (I later found out my friend was suffering from shock. He lost a finger in the initial blast, but fortunately received no other wounds.) I again yelled "weíll get you out" and returned to my track with two rifles.

Sgt. Poole repeating orders he received over the radio told Ridgerunner to drive to a clearing on the other side of the ambush. Like a miracle black smoke came out of the exhaust of the tank in front of us and started moving forward. Crawling out from under the tank came Doc. He grabbed the back of the tank and let it control his running speed. As we started I remembered the wounded soldier in the road. We just missed running over him. Sgt Poole alerted the track behind us and they picked up the wounded soldier.

We reached the clearing and everyone was giving the same command. "Unload! Unload", to avoid any more weapons from cooking off and hurting someone by accident. There was no time to rest, because we could still be in danger. Jets arrived first and we watched the display of fire as the napalm bombs hit the ambush site. My squad started reloading all the magazines and bringing more machine gun ammunition to the top of the track, and dumping the empty cartridges.

As I reloaded the magazines, I noticed the time was 11:00 AM. The moments after contact are when you begin to realize the reality of the last few minutes. The truth is scary, for life ended for some that day in the jungle near Plei Mrong, and others will carry scars for the rest of their lives. How ironic, had I been in the world that morning I would have been at church.

A dust off (medical helicopter) landed in our temporary LZ to pick up the wounded and dead. The Captain came to my track and notified me Doc had been wounded in the head after saving the lives of two men on the tank that was in front of us. We all envied Doc, not for his job well done, or his act of heroism, but the fact that Doc knew he was going home with his life. For the rest of us the war was close and life was unsure. As I pondered my future, I encourage myself by saying "If I am still alive Wednesday then everything will be OK."


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