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9 March 1969 Ivy Leaf

‘Cacti Green’ Give NVA Wild Valentine’s Day

By SP4 Craig MacGowan

OASIS — A lightning fast combat assault by the Famous 4th Division’s Company B, 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry, netted one NVA killed and discovery of a 100 bunker NVA complex, loaded with munitions and more than 2,700 pounds of rice.

Minutes after a 3rd Brigade Light Observation Helicopter (LOH) had been hit by enemy ground to air fire, Company B was airborne and then on the ground in the exact location where the enemy fire had originated, west of Firebase Lillie.

"It was a wild Valentine’s Day for all of us," exclaimed Private First Class Lannie Spanninger of Hilltown, Pa.

Crossed Rice Paddy

"We were crossing a rice paddy after we had combat assaulted to the suspected enemy area. Seven of us from the 2nd Platoon reconned the wooded area near the rice paddy and came under heavy automatic weapons fire almost immediately.

"We were pinned down, on and off, for almost four hours. The 1st and 3rd Platoons tried to help us, but were also taken under heavy enemy fire."

During the initial attack, one of the 2nd Platoon members was pinned down by the enemy fire. Private First Class Spanninger, accompanied by two others, low crawled to the top of a small hill. While the others crawled to safety, PFC Spanninger remained atop the hill, laying down a blazing volume of covering fire.

"We could not see the enemy automatic weapons position ahead of us until we were almost on top of It," recalled PFC Spanninger.

"We were almost there when they ambushed us," recalled Sergeant Wright.

Specialist 4 Archie Sanders of Seadrift, Tex., was the first man to see the enemy and yelled out to the others to get down. As he did, the NVA opened up on the Ivy squad.

"Immediately we hit the ground and threw our rucksacks up against some small trees for cover," said Sergeant Wright.

"Then we heard mortar tubes start popping In front of us about 50 meters away, with heavy machine gun fire coming at us from about 25 meters to our front."

The squad was pinned down and separated from the rest of their unit, which was about 10 to 15 meters to their right rear flank.

Knowing that they would have to gain fire superiority in order to move to a better position, Sergeant Wright fired 30 rounds from his grenade launcher at the tops of trees, spraying shrapnel and limbs down on the enemy 60mm mortar position. That stopped the tubes from firing.

1st Platoon Stops

Two machine gunners and the remainder of the 1st Platoon were then deployed to stop the remaining NVA small arms and automatic weapons fire.

Private First Class John Fritchen of Racine, Wjs., in the similarly pinned down 3rd Platoon, killed an NVA who ran past his position.

"The guy was wearing dark fatigues and pack," said PFC Fritchen. "We put a lot of firepower on the enemy and they finally backed out."

The following morning, Bravo Company further reconned enemy positions and uncovered approximately 100 bunkers and a company-size mess hall area with a total of some 2,700 pounds of rice.

According to Captain Jonathan R. Tower of Essex, Conn., company commander, captured enemy equipment included nine B40 rockets with boosters and detonators. 40 pounds of TNT, 30 small cans packed with explosives, Chicom grenades and three 60mm mortar rounds. Miscellaneous letters and documents were also found in the 18 NVA rucksacks captured in the two-day action.

Impact awards were presented by Assistant Division Commander Brigadier General Albin F. Irzyk, in ceremonies at Firebase Lillie.

The Bronze Star with "V" device was awarded to PFC Fritchen, while the Army Commendation Medal with "V" device was awarded to Sergeant Wright, Specialist Sanders, and PFC Spanninger

Warrant Officer Francis J. Martin, of Fairfield, Conn., the pilot of the 3rd Brigade reconnaissance helicopter, was awarded the Air Medal with "V" device for his actions.


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