24 June 1966
Submitted by: Michael Kellermeyer
A battle account for 6/24/66
We walked to a position where we were resupplied with water and C-rations, left two men to guard them while we moved forward to establish observer positions near the Cambodian border. Our intent was to send a party back to retrieve the supplies after suitable positions were found. A few hundred meters into our foray we encountered a huge field of moderate length grass. On the other side, several hundred meters distant, a pair of North Vietnamese regulars were walking along the dense tree line, hand in hand with no observable equipment, as if they were out for a stroll. The platoon sergeant reported this couple\'s presence to Battalion and we were ordered to do a reconnaissance by fire on the opposing wood line with 4.2 inch mortars from HHC. There was no lieutenant or any other officer present as the platoon leader was off on a pay mission to hospitals. I misread the map and fired the first round about 800 meters to our rear and, after a sheepish reread, was able to place a High Explosive round into the tree line near the strollers. The following fires for effect produced a pandemonium of screaming and running NVA soldiers within the wood line. I adjusted fire right, left and over a small hill to their rear. An Air Force FAC plane showed up and was reporting bodies within clearings in the wood line. In one clearing he counted 15 to 18 mangled bodies. We were still hidden in the sparse tree line on the opposite side of the field and our presence was completely unknown to the large enemy force. The Mortar Platoon called to inform us that we were running them out of ammunition so I ceased fire after nearly 9 or 10 six round salvos into the heavy wood line. From our position, with field glasses, we were able to observe the frantic activities of the NVA force as they scampered to and fro within the wood line to evade the rain of death from the very accurate mortar fire. I and the patrol leader were very pleased with the results as was the Air Force FAC pilot. Battalion then informed us we were to recon the area that was hit and, although we moved out with some trepidation, given the numbers of enemy soldiers we saw scampering about during the attack, we moved cautiously around the end of the clearing, staying well within the forest. At the first corner of the field a machine gunner named Valentine was placed to cover our exposed flank as we made our way around the end of the field. As we proceeded along the wood line toward the area of attack, we were hit with six 155 shells out of nowhere. Even though they hit right among us, we were able to take cover under and around enough fallen trees that no one, miraculously, was injured. It turned out that some 155 battery was reconning the area by fire and didn\'t know we were there. Figures. THEN we saw one NVA at our right front, looking in our direction. The lead element of Recon opened fire and dropped the individual, killing him. Closer examination determined that he was an NVA medic, carrying packs of bandages and medicines.
We encountered no more NVA until we had proceeded to the next corner of the field beyond which lay the tree line that we had attacked with mortars. I think it was first squad that attempted to cross a little clearing that led to the denser wood when at least four automatic weapons opened fire, mowing down most members of the squad. This was Sergeant Knepper\'s squad. Most, if not all, of them were killed in the deadly cross fire. The rest of us went into defensive positions wherever we could; stumps, overturned trees, those cast iron ant hills found only in Vietnam, and returned fire. The enemy was unseen, firing from several concealed positions within the forest and, as we returned fire, the volume of fire from the enemy steadily increased, as though more and more NVA were joining the fight. We recalled a squad that was assigned to ambush a trail nearby and they joined us about thirty minutes to an hour later, reporting that they had to fight their way through enemy positions in our rear to reach us. At that point we were hopelessly surrounded and cut off from ground forces. The fact is, I continually called artillery fire on the enemy positions throughout the battle, even though their proximity was a little close for comfort. I am convinced it\'s what saved our asses from being completely overwhelmed. The fight lasted for near seven hours, during which forces were dispatched to relieve us only to meet heavy resistance from different NVA elements that were helping to isolate our situation. Also, I helped direct several airborne attacks on the enemy positions with Huey Hogs from some aviation company, a squadron of A1Es who dropped napalm bombs and effectively strafed the NVA positions. Between the air strikes and the artillery, the NVA tried to assault our position several times but were repulsed by accurate small arms fire from our well hidden troops. I remember a SSG Padilla getting hit by at least two bullets in the chest as he lay in a prone position carefully sighting and firing. \"Son of a bitch!\" he exclaimed in surprise before he collapsed. We were finally reinforced by an element of A 1/35 who fought their way through the snipers at our rear and came under the same ferocious fire that we had been experiencing for nearly four hours. Their captain was the first casualty as he walked up to our position, stood by a machine gun riddled tree and asked for a situation report. His answer was a stream of automatic fire that hit him in the chest and knocked him down. He fought his way back onto his feet only to be hit again. He spent the rest of the battle on his back, fighting for life. Despite air strikes and artillery fire as well as fresh troops with ammunition, the NVA relentlessly continued to pour fire into our positions. There were several (I think four) .51 calibre machine guns eating up the trees and ant hills we were using for cover. In the end we decided to hightail it before dark so we called for eight inch guns to fire on the enemy positions so we could withdraw. I helped carry Sgt Padilla in a poncho as RPGs streamed past us and gigantic explosions erupted behind us as we ran. The engagement had lasted seven hours on a very hot day in June. The next day we went in to recover bodies and the NVA had moved out. The battlefield was a nightmare of grotesque twisted bodies and body parts. The number of NVA dead was closer to 70 than 35 and more than 70 automatic weapons were recovered. There were many, many blood trails leading off in different directions. I helped place Sgt Warren Knepper\'s body into a body bag. I had tears in my eyes. Sgt Knepper was one of the best soldiers I had ever seen and very considerate of his subordinates. Men would follow him right into hell if he asked. And they did. Strangely enough, enroute to the resupply point early the morning before, during a short break in a grove of trees, he predicted that he would not live the day. Having seen no signs of NVA previous, I told him he was full of shit. Another interesting note: in all the excitement and clamor of our hasty retreat, we all forgot about Valentine, who spent the entire day of the battle and the ensuing night, alone and scared to death at the corner of the field with the machine gun.
It was a singularly heroic event, holding out for four hours with 19 men, some of whom were wounded against a vastly superior force of NVA. Although I was merely attached to recon, I will never forget the valor that these few fought with in the best traditions of the service. Had there been an officer present, I\'m sure that many awards would have been merited. Instead, HHC receive a battle flag for their guide-on as recognition for the valor of the fight.