The Sunday Star Bulletin & Advertiser
Everyone Got Sore When They Killed Sgt. Spears
By BOB JONES
Advertiser Military Writer
BAN BRIENG, Viet Nam—Everybody says that Sgt. Benjamin G. Spears was a great guy to have in the outfit and a scrappy little jungle fighter with an M-16 rifle.
He was going to come back to Honolulu and marry his girlfriend as soon as he could hang up the camouflaged fatigues he wore with the reconnaissance platoon of the 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry (Cacti).
T h a t made everyone twice as sore when a North Vietnamese infantryman killed Spears with a burst from an old Thompson sub-machine gun on a mountain trail near here.
SO SORE, in fact, that they went to some unusual lengths to kill the Vietnamese and to recover Spears’ body at a time when it looked like the platoon was going to be lucky to get out of there with only one dead.
Note: Sgt Knepper was later KIA 24 June 1966
S/Sgt Damien K. Kaaihue, 29, of Lahaina, was with Spears. So were two other Hawaii Gis attached to the flank squad: S/Sgt Sergio T. Gatpatan and Sgt. Warren Knepper, 23, of Hawaii. (addresses deleted)
"We’d just cleared a village and were heading to the landing zone where the helicopters were going to pick us up," Kaaihue said. "It was about 10:30 in the morning and sudden] we ran smack into those two PAVN (North Vietnamese) crossing the trail and going down to get water.
"THEY TURNED around and ran like bell. One was faster than the other, but I fired my M-79 (grenade launcher) and got the one. The other got away in the jungle.
"I yelled to the platoon sergeant that the guy was coming his way, but he couldn’t find him.
"It turned out hh had a buddy who had Stayed behind with their packs. They had dug into a Montagnard grave because it was soft dirt and made a foxhole out of it.
"Then they pinned down the platoon with fire from those damn machineguns. We couldn’t see them to fire back.
"SGT SPEARS came over to where we were. We were going to try and work our way around their position. I turned and yelled to the guy on my right and when I looked back, Spears wasn’t there.
"Then I saw him. He was laying on the ground and had been hard to see because of his camouflage fatigues. The first shot had got him right through the head.
"I crawled over and dragged him behind a log, but the Thompsons just cut right through the dead log and they hit Spears again.
"I WANTED to get him back, but I couldn’t. The bullets were hitting right behind my heels as it was and so I just played dead for a while until I could crawl out of there under some protective fire.
"Capt. John Fielding, the battalion Intelligence officer, asked me if I was sure Spears was dead and I said yes. He said we’d better get out of there.
"But that’s when we decided we had to get Spears out, too. We were going to call in an air strike all over the area, but we figured that would get Spears’ body too..
SO ONE of the guys went up and marked the place where the PAVN were dug in with a smoke bomb, and then we called in the air.
"The first bomb run by the A-1s (Skyraiders) landed right on the spot and got both PAVN right in their hole. And they didn’t even touch Spears. So we dragged him out and just left the PAVN there."
SPEARS AND Kaaihue had been over here last at Vinh Long, as shotgun riders on U.S. helicopters. They had hoped to get back home together, too.
Kaaihue takes it all philosophically. Some of his other shotgun buddies have been killed here, too.
"Only about nine months to go over here," he said as we talked about the war and about dead friends under the shade of a tree.
"But like a pregnant woman who’s going to have a baby, you feel that’s a long wait."