View from the CP (4)
by Stan Traeb
June 9th 1969
"A View From the CP" (4)
June 9th - 10th 1969
The evening of June 9th brought a mission assignment for Bravo Company of following up on Intel gained from the assault of June 8th, which Bravo Company made on the Bamboo thicket, and, the mission was additionally supplemented by intelligence provided by an NVA prisoner captured earlier on June 9th when Bravo Company and the Recon Platoon swept back into the Bamboo thicket the morning of June 9th, and several NVA were spotted moving around near the thicket. The NVA were taken under fire by the point element. When the area was searched, blood trails were discovered. Elements of Recon and Bravo Company then began following the blood trails, attempting to track down the wounded NVA soldiers. One blood trail was followed for several hundred meters, at which point, a single M-16 round was fired by one of the Recon Platoon members as he hollered out "I got him". I, and the CP group, then proceeded to the spot where the sound of the voice came from. The point man who had fired the shot, thought that he had killed the NVA , but it turned out that his single shot was a head grazing shot, and the NVA was still very much alive. Both of his legs had been shattered during the initial engagement about 20 minutes earlier by M-60 machine gun fire, but, he was still able to crawl several hundred meters until he stuck his head above some vegetation to orient himself. It was then that the member of Recon saw him and took the single shot. Battalion was informed that Bravo Company and Recon had a prisoner and a LOCH was dispatched to lift the wounded NVA out of the jungle. Doc Eichsteadt had already dressed the NVA's wounds and the prisoner was in stable condition when a LOCH arrived at our location to evacuate the prisoner from the jungle. He was immediately taken to Brigade for interrogation by Brigade S-2 and, evidentially, provided a wealth of information, as I was to discover at a later date.
Bravo Company had been reinforced by the Recon Platoon when they joined Bravo's defensive perimeter late in the afternoon of June 8th. Recon's addition brought Bravo back up to about 70-75 men strong for the defense of our perimeter should the NVA forces attempt to overrun us as they had previously tried on May 8th-9th. Reinforcements were badly needed by Bravo Company since Bravo had suffered about 36 plus casualties during the three previous assaults on the Bamboo thicket earlier on June 8th, and the fact that all of Bravo's rucksacks had been left in the contact area. Bravo Company had insufficient manpower to allow us to retrieve 80 rucksacks and deal with our wounded, so the wounded got full priority. When casualties mounted from the three assaults, and from the sustained 82 mm Mortar fire, it became imperative that the wounded needed to be evacuated from the contact area rather than recovering our rucksacks, especially since TAC Air was on the way, and an airstrike was eminent. Bravo Company was ordered to pull back to our defensive positions from the previous night. We would deal with the loss of our rucksacks at another time.
As Bravo Company reoccupied the previous night's defensive position, two F-4 Phantoms arrived on station to begin their ordinance runs on the Bamboo thicket area under the direction of LTC Price, our Battalion Commander who was overhead in a C&C helicopter. After the Phantoms dropped their ordinance of 500 pound bombs on the contact area, the Recon Platoon, guided by SSgt Gregory (2nd Platoon Sgt and Leader) from Bravo Company, moved back into the contact area to recover some of our rucksacks before nightfall. Recon Platoon was able to recover about a third of the rucksacks that evening, however, due to the fact that there were close to 80 rucksacks to be recovered, and that the Recon Platoon consisted of less than 30 or so members, they were only able to bring back roughly that number to our night defensive position, which the remainder of Bravo Company was in the process of reinforcing and clearing away additional fields of fire in preparation for a possible assault by NVA forces sometime that night. That assault never developed. Perhaps, the NVA had casualty problems also and didn't want to invest the manpower in attacking Bravo Company while we were in fortified positions. It's also possible that the bad experience the assaulting NVA force had on the early morning hours of May 9th was still fresh in their minds. Each of the battles fought by Bravo Company since then, were battles where Bravo Company was in the attack mode, and we were assaulting NVA forces while they occupied fortified positions in reinforced Platoon strength or larger sized units.
The NVA prisoner taken earlier on the 9th of June, provided information to the interrogators that Bravo Company, on June 8th, in the Bamboo thicket area, had engaged a Heavy Weapons Company of the 24th NVA Regiment, of which he was a member, and that the 24th's ultimate mission was to ambush Highway 14 and sever the ability of resupplying the Kontum and Dak To areas. The prisoner further identified the date that the ambush would be triggered and the approximate coordinates of the ambush. All of this information turned out to be accurate in every detail, and the 24th NVA Regiment was later dealt a devastating loss administered by other American units several days later when a counter-ambush was sprung, lead by an air assault of Cobra Gunships from Delta Troop 1/10 Cav. I believe that other ground units from 1/10 Cav were also involved and that the number of NVA killed from the 24th Regiment exceeded 100. The reported number of NVA bodies is a remembrance, and cannot be accurately stated, since the battle was not witnessed first-hand. The only reason I remember anything about this fight, is because the information which led to the fight, was provided by a prisoner captured by both Bravo Company and the Recon Platoon.
The early morning mission assignment for Bravo Company on June 10th, called for continued pressure on NVA forces known to be in the general area, but without a specific objective. As with most Operations orders, the order was received by Bravo Company, sometime between 0001hrs and 0100hrs on the 10th of June. As Bravo Company stood-to at BMNT on the 10th, we were alerted via radio, by Battalion, that there was going to be a change in mission as a result of the fact that Helicopter Scout ships (LOCH's) were working the immediate area surrounding our position, and we were to be on alert for reacting to any possible enemy activity detected by the Scout ships.
Sometime, shortly after first light, Battalion called and identified a concentration of NVA forces within 700 meters or so of our current position. The Scout pilots had just located a minimum of 42 NVA bunkers with multiple rucksacks on, or around, each of the bunkers. Our orders were to move as rapidly as possible to that location, and immediately assault the bunker complex. Coordinates for this bunker complex were transmitted to Bravo Company and a rough plan of attack was formed in my mind. I alerted Bravo to the fact that we would be moving out shortly since the Scout ships spotted signs of NVA activity nearby. As with all information received from outside sources, some doubt existed as to its accuracy, however, there was a note of urgency and excitement from Battalion, so I suspected that this information from the Scout ships was probably pretty accurate. I knew, then, that Bravo Company was going to be in another fight within several hours. It remained to be determined, how large a fight might ensue.
The Recon Platoon had been detached from Bravo Company around early evening of June 9th, and they had moved off in a different direction from the direction Bravo Company was now headed on June 10th, and, we received no instructions to wait for a re-attachment of forces, so I started formulating Bravo's plan of action based on the fact that Bravo Company had a total strength of 48 Infantrymen that day. The total manpower was all inclusive. This included the CP group, the Engineer Detachment, and the Artillery Forward Observers group of four individuals. I was not particularly happy knowing that Bravo Company was probably headed for an engagement with a NVA force much larger than us, and, entrenched in fortified positions. Basic Infantry doctrine recommends a numeric advantage of 3 to 1 in manpower for an assault against fortified positions. Anything less than the 3:1 advantage is questionable as to outcome. That morning, IF, the Scout reports were correct, not only did we not have the required 3-1 advantage, the probability existed that the manpower advantage was totally reversed in favor of the NVA. I had 48 men, while the NVA had at least 42 bunkers with multiple rucksacks, making a minimum of 84 enemy soldiers Bravo was to attack that day. I mentally prepared myself for June 10th, 1969 as possibly being the day that I would meet my Creator. My thoughts also included the thought that this may be the last of Bravo Company also. Overall, the outlook was grim. Stealth and concealment of movement until we were within striking distance of the enemy position was my only hope for achieving some degree of success. The situation Bravo Company faced that day was beyond the control of anyone but God. 4th Infantry Division forces were spread terribly thin because the 4th Infantry had the largest Area of Operations (AO) of any single division in Vietnam. Coupling the sparse density of troops, along with dense, triple canopy jungle vegetation, and the results were that, reserves or reinforcement troops were never available should a tactical situation warrant either. The philosophy in small unit combat was: whatever you got yourself into, you better be able to get yourself out of, since, any reinforcements by additional troops would take 4-5 hours, under ideal circumstances. Such was the burden of operating in the Central Highlands adjacent to the Cambodian/Laotian border. All Division units were equally affected. This single factor may account for the reason so many individual Rifle Companies/Platoons suffered terribly high casualty rates on some occasions. When NVA forces were discovered by US Infantry, and, the NVA made no attempt at dispersing into the jungle, it normally meant that the NVA believed that there was a good chance of defeating or destroying the unit that discovered them. This situation didn't happen all of the time, but when it did, all bets were off. Gloves were thrown to the ground, and a nasty firefight ensued, with continued existence being the prize. The fights were usually at point-blank ranges with never more than 100 feet, or so, of separation. Often, closer distances were involved since visibility in dense jungle was sometimes limited to 15 feet or less.
As Bravo Company moved from the night defensive position toward the location of the suspected NVA concentration, an alarming discovery was made by the point element of the lead Platoon. Discarded NVA equipment, bloody Ponchos, bloody Poncho liners and used medical dressings were found less than 150 meters from our night defensive position. Evidentially, the NVA had been transporting their own casualties from previous engagements with Bravo Company on the 8th and 9th and were not the slightest concerned that we were dug in just a stone's throw from where they were. It may also reflect the fact that the NVA learned a lesson on May 8th/9th when they tried to overrun our Company position. I really don't know why the NVA didn't attempt to assault us on the night of June8th/9th. We had been seriously hurt on June 8th, and tactically, it would have been an ideal time for the numerous NVA who were in close proximity to us, to attempt to push us off the map completely. Perhaps, they also suffered numerous casualties and were in no position to go on the offensive. Anyhow, the discovery of these items caused me to become even more cautious on our approach to the enemy concentration which was now about 600 meters away. Now, knowing that there were NVA troops basically at my doorstep, I initiated some defensive tactics which would slow down our movement toward the objective, but would possibly prevent having the column ambushed in the process. I requested each Platoon to send out Clover-Leaf sweeps on our left flank, since terrain was more open and visible to our right and not as critical as was presented by the terrain to our left.
The very first Clover-Leaf sweep brought detection of probable enemy movement on our left flank. No contact was made, but reports from the sweeps indicated that Bravo Company was being paralleled on our current course of travel by an unknown-sized NVA force. This caused me great concern since our presence, and our direction of travel (toward the concentration of NVA troops) was now known by the NVA, and any thoughts I may have had about stealth and not being detected until in close proximity to the objective, were now out the window. Our situation had just gotten much bleaker, in my mind. The problem was: We knew that we were moving toward a fight with a large concentration of NVA forces, but, Bravo Company never avoided a fight, even if the odds were difficult. We were committed to engaging the enemy forces, no matter the odds. Pride and honor in the unit dictated that course of action. How it was to be accomplished was my responsibility. I had full faith in the fighting ability of the Grunts of Bravo, and they were the ones who would bear the brunt of the coming fight. Those Grunts had shown before that they were always willing to engage the NVA, so, that was my main asset for the fight that was sure to follow.
Our speed of movement was slowed down considerably due to the constant Clover-Leaf sweeps, but, I believed that it was better to move slowly than to be ambushed in the process. Every time a sweep went out, more flank movement was reported. We traveled perhaps another 400 meters in this fashion. The sweeps were instructed to make contact if possible, so that we could engage and determine the size of the NVA unit on our flank, but contact could never be established. The NVA were determined not to engage us. That made me even more wary since it meant, in my mind, that they were perfectly content to let us proceed toward the main concentration of NVA troops. I began suspecting that the bunker complex that we were going to engage might be larger than was reported, and that the flanking NVA unit was there to keep us moving toward that bunker complex where, it was hoped that Bravo Company would self-destruct during an assault on that position. The day started bleak, and was getting bleaker by the minute. My only hope now was that there was sufficient cover and concealment around the NVA position we were going to assault to enable us to have a fighting chance against their defensive positions. The NVA already knew we were in the neighborhood, and, I suspect that they weren't real pleased with that fact. Surprise was no longer an option. Stealth was still a possibility. The Infantrymen of Bravo Company were very proficient in jungle movement, and were tenacious when engaging an enemy force, so I believed that there was still an outside shot at accomplishing the assault. I still doubted the outcome, but perhaps, once the enemy location was positively identified, we might be able to get support from whatever TAC air was available, and 500 pound bombs do a lot of damage. The problem was that TAC air was not stationed close to the Cambodian border and, for us to have access to TAC air, there would have to be a flight already orbiting somewhere in the general vicinity on stand-by. Otherwise, it would take hours for a custom mission to be available. If an airstrike and artillery could be brought to bear on the target, there was still a chance for success, but we had to get to the target area first and positively identify an enemy force as occupying that terrain.
As we continued moving toward our objective, I estimated that we were within 300 meters of our objective and we began moving even more cautiously. Suddenly, the lead Platoon point element halted the column and I was called forward by the lead Platoon. I, and my two radiomen, Vaughn Connor and Bruce Nagle, along with my CP security person, Bill Delaney, moved up the column to where the point element was located lying in a prone positions. We all did likewise, and crawled up to where the point element was halted. What I saw next devastated me! The terrain we had been traversing was a heavily vegetated plateau. The point element had just come to the end of the plateau, and the end of heavy tree vegetation. The ground now fell away to a stream about 100 meters away, with nothing but chest high Elephant grass surrounding it. NO trees, NO logs, NO cover of any type, other than blades of grass, which are incapable of deflecting small arms fire, RPG fire, or Mortar shrapnel. I was emotionally crushed, since the coordinates of the NVA position were about 100-150 meters on the other side of the stream AND, those coordinates were exactly where a hill mass jutted up from the flat terrain and that hill mass was covered with thick vegetation and large hardwood trees. This hill mass was just sitting in the middle of a flat area surrounded by Elephant grass and nothing else. The hill mass was perhaps 250 meters wide and 150 meters deep. Its height was probably less than 100 feet above the valley floor. It didn't belong there, but there it was anyhow! My last hope for cover being available until we were close to the enemy bunkers, now disappeared. There was no cover, and very little concealment to enable us to maneuvering close to the enemy positions. Mentally, I began searching my mind for contingency plans of any sort to help me cope with this situation. A frontal assault was out of the question. Crossing 250 meters of terrain without a single piece of cover would be tantamount to a death sentence for Bravo Company. I needed to come up with an alternative plan quickly!
I decided that it would be risking the annihilation of Bravo Company if we were to attempt an assault at this juncture. We were within 250 meters of the hill and were in a perfect vantage point for observing the objective and for directing effective air strikes and, artillery fire. My thoughts were to remove about 50 feet from the top of the hill mass. Then, moving in behind smoke rounds, we would attempt an assault after the objective had been softened by heavy firepower, however, before calling for TAC air, or adjusting 8inch Artillery fire on the hill, I needed to confirm, first-hand, that the hill was occupied by NVA. And that the heavy ordinance wasn't going to be wasted on empty terrain.
At this point in time, I asked for a volunteer patrol of 6 men to crawl down from the plateau where the main body of Bravo Company was located, approach the stream bed and look for any signs of NVA activity. If no activity was discovered, then, cross the stream, and continue crawling toward the hill mass looking for any evidence of NVA presence, but also avoiding contact. I was almost certain that there were NVA on that hill since, because of its 360 degrees of clear fields of fire, the heavy hardwood forest providing overhead cover, and the nearby stream, I would have selected it as a defensive position myself. NVA presence however, needed to be confirmed before I requested either TAC air or 8inch Artillery fire support. This was not a typical recon by fire situation. If there was a larger number of NVA troop on that hill, I wanted the first incoming rounds on their position to be large enough to do substantial damage.
I moved all of the M-60 Gunners in the Company up to the edge of the wood line to provide supporting massed fire should the 6 man patrol be engaged. All of the Gunners stood by while the 6 volunteers crawled down the side of the hill. SSgt Gregory (2nd Platoon) volunteered to lead the patrol and to line up the other 5 men. When organized, he reported back to me and said his patrol was ready to go. I thanked him for what he was about to do, alerted all of the M-60 Gunners that the patrol was moving out, and that no one was to fire, unless the patrol was fired upon, then, the M-60's were directed to pour as much fire as possible into the wood line on the hill, until our patrol was safely back within our perimeter.
SSgt Gregory, and the other 5 men, slowly began crawling off of the plateau, and down toward the stream. They disappeared in the Elephant grass, and all was quiet. A relatively short time later, the sound of moving vegetation alerted us to the fact that the patrol was returning very quickly to our location. As SSgt Gregory and the other patrol members came into view, I could see SSGT Gregory's face was flushed and he was in a hurry. I knew that the patrol saw something threatening and important. SSgt Gregory then announced that, as his patrol got near the stream, they viewed 8 - 10 NVA soldiers each filling 8 -10 canteens from the stream. The Patrol had accomplished its assigned mission. We now had conclusive proof of the fact that there were many NVA on the hill, and, I suspected that, by the filling of canteens, the NVA were preparing to make a fight of it on that hill.
I immediately asked LT Bill Wallin, " What do we have available for Artillery fire support?". Bill responded "What do you want?" At this point, I told Bill that anything less than 8inch Artillery, would be insufficient for the situation. He then told me that he would see what he could do about my request. A very short time later, he told me that he contacted an 8inch battery and that they would shoot the mission for us. I told Bill that I would need to move the main body of Bravo Company back about 30 - 50 meters so that there was no possibility of our receiving any stray shrapnel. I alerted the 3rd Platoon to begin moving back a short distance following the same route we used to get to this point. They began the movement back.
The 3rd Platoon hadn't moved back 30 meters, or so, when a heavy volume of AK47 fire broke out from the rear. I immediately attempted calling the 3rd Platoon Leader for a quick Situation Report. I got no response of any kind. Firing was now involving both M-16's and AK47's. I needed to find out quickly what was taking place to our rear. I told the FO, LT Wallin, to start adjusting the 8inch Artillery on the hill, while I, and the rest of the CP, led by Bill Delaney, moved back to the 3rd Platoon position to find out their situation. Bill Delaney was the CP security man, and always led the way for the CP group. He earned this position as a result of his courage, leadership ability, and dedication to the 1st Platoon while serving as a Rifleman, and, later as a Squad Leader. While Bill is being singled out from the rest of the Company because of my intimate knowledge of his job performance, there were many more within Bravo Company who were equally as courageous and dedicated, and I'm equally as proud of them as I am of Bill. Bill's Platoon Leader, LT John Barbeau, was as steadfast, loyal, and more courageous than anyone else I've ever known and deserves special mention for what he endured during the Penny campaign. So many Bravo Company Infantrymen deserve special mention that there are too many individuals to list separately, however, some, I had more personal contact with, than others primarily because of the Chain of Command structure. Those are: SSGT Gregory, SSGT Hathaway, Sgt Bob Toledo, Sgt Ted Balzarini, Machine gunner Joe Soga, Squad Leader Larry Nenne, Rifleman Johnny Unpingco, Rifleman Gary Lee, and all of the rest of Bravo personnel. I respect and admire all of you for your loyalty, courage, and devotion to duty.
That's why I considered Bravo Company as special. God could not have given me a better assignment than Bravo Company, and I thank HIM every day of my life for HIS grace in this assignment.
As the CP group crawled back toward the 3rd Platoon, I alerted SSgt Gregory that his 2nd Platoon was to follow the CP to the 3rd Platoon position. As we got near the 3rd Platoon, mortar fire began falling on our positions, in addition to the small arms fire already coming from the AK47's. As I got within 20 meters of the 3rd Platoon position, I saw that there was some disarray in the command structure. The 3rd Platoon had been hit hard from our rear. Multiple wounded 3rd Platoon members were already down, and were requiring Medical attention, while the remainder of the 3rd Platoon was returning fire on the already exposed NVA positions. As the CP group crawled up to the 3rd Platoon location, I saw, either an RPG round or Mortar round impact the ground immediately adjacent to a 3rd Platoon Rifleman. What I witnessed was a near miss by a high explosive round which tossed Gary Lee, of the 3rd Platoon, about 8-12 inches into the air. The round hit near his lower leg and foot. The round hit so close to him that, upon detonation, the concussion lifted his body into the air, and he ended up with shrapnel wounds in his foot and ankle. Bruce Nagle, one of my Radio Operators, who was originally from the 3rd Platoon, and knew Gary from that time, crawled over to Gary and assured him that we were working on getting all of the wounded out safely. I saw another close-by infantryman digging a hole in the ground with his hands. This action took me by surprise, and I hollered out "What are you doing?". He hollered back "I'm burying Wunchel's left arm, so that the dinks won't find it". Rod Wunschel had just been hit on his left arm by an incoming RPG round. Doc Jenkins, the 3rd Platoon medic, rushed to Rod's assistance and began emergency treatment to stop the bleeding by tying off what remained of Rod's left arm even though incoming rounds were dropping all around his position. Rod also suffered sucking chest wounds, in addition to the amputation of his arm as a result of the RPG round. Doc Jenkins stayed with Wunchel since those wounds were critical. The small arms fire died down somewhat, but we were still receiving a heavy volume of mortar fire, so, we needed to get out of the impact area as soon as possible since our position was zeroed-in. Not only did we have an unknown number of NVA behind us, but we also had mortar fire and RPG fire coming from our right flank. This meant that our right flank contained an unknown number of NVA, and that they were in sufficient force to allow for setting up several mortar tubes which were being used to attack our position (this was our left flank when we were advancing, and was the same flank that was giving us a problem with detected movement while we advanced to this point). In addition, Bravo Company had a large number of NVA on the hill that had previously been our main objective (the hill that we were originally advancing toward). This meant that Bravo Company was nearly surrounded by NVA forces, and that we needed to move from this potential encirclement as quickly as possible. Staying here and doing nothing, might lead to the potential annihilation of Bravo Company. A quick casualty count was taken since we couldn't go anywhere without first evacuating our casualties. I needed an exact count of casualties so that the appropriate number of Slicks would be assigned for the casualty evacuation. I think the total was 9 wounded from the 3rd Platoon, and we needed to get them all out on a single extraction since I didn't think that the NVA would give us more than one chance to get helicopters on the ground. Some of the casualties were critically wounded and needed immediate evacuation. Doc Eichsteadt, the Head Medic from the CP group, was crawling around administering treatment to whomever he could and assisted Doc Jenkins in treatment of Rod Wunschel. Both Doc Jenkins and Doc Eichsteadt took the initiative of crawling around administering treatment for the wounded. Both did this voluntarily and at great personal risk. Mortar rounds were still falling on our position. The small arms fire had died down as everyone, except the Medics, were now behind some form of cover. We were again in a Bamboo thicket, and the clumps of Bamboo were now providing us protection from small arms, and somewhat, from the mortar fire.
The 8inch Artillery was beginning to be adjusted onto the hill mass effectively. The Battalion Commander was overhead in a C&C ship, and there were other helicopters in the area. I suspect that one of the other helicopters was the Scout ship which had originally located the concentration of NVA troops, but I don't know for sure. What I do remember hearing from one of the aerial observers were radio transmissions about enemy troop movements and, the effect of the 8inch Artillery rounds. In regards to the troop movement, I remember a report over the Battalion radio frequency, that an approximate Platoon of NVA troops were observed moving across an open field toward the hill mass that we were to have originally assaulted, and that he observed at least three secondary explosions caused by artillery fire on the hill. A secondary explosion is caused by a stockpile of high explosive ordinance receiving a direct hit by another high explosive form of ordinance. In this case, the 8inch Artillery rounds were finding something big on that hill. When I heard these transmissions, I knew that, if we had assaulted the hill in a forthright fashion, Bravo Company would have been caught between a rock and a hard spot with the potential for total annihilation. The NVA would have closed in on the plateau behind us, when we started down toward the stream to assault the hill, while the hill contained more NVA than Bravo Company had a fair chance of defeating, and, the NVA were in sufficient numbers in the immediate area to allow reinforcement troops to be rushed into the fight. All while Bravo Company had a total manpower force of 48 men. Now, minus the 9 casualties we had just suffered, Bravo Company had a total strength of 39 men. Had we started down toward the hill, we would have been caught in flat terrain, with no cover. The situation Bravo Company faced was: NVA on the plateau to our rear in unknown strength, at least 84-plus NVA on the hill mass that had been our front, additional NVA troops advancing into the fight, and, the probability of other NVA units being in the immediate vicinity. It had the potential for being catastrophic for Bravo Company. I thank God for having guided us to stay on the plateau while utilizing firepower, instead of manpower, to assault the hill mass initially. Leaving the higher ground, with an NVA force prepared to occupy it when we left it, may have proven to be devastating to Bravo Company.
Now that we had a casualty count, I called for some dust-offs, and also for gunship support to help break up the NVA formations to our flank and rear. Within a split second of my requests for support, an old friend came on the air. It was Shamrock 6. The call sign identified the origin of the call as coming from the Commanding Officer, Delta Troop, 1/10 Cav, Major William Schweitzer. I knew him personally since I was his Executive Office once upon a time. I suspect that my requests for assistance transmitted over the radio were probably somewhat strained since the situation on the ground was reaching critical proportions and I was quickly running out of options. Major Schweitzer, Shamrock 6, alerted me to the fact that he, his Cobras, and Slick ships were about 5 minutes out from my location, but, before he diverted his unit to my location, he needed to know if this was a closed party, or an open party? He broke the tension with his question, and I had to laugh. I immediately responded that the party was open, as long as he brought his own! It was his turn to laugh! He then stated that he had a complete load which he was bringing with him. I told him that he was more than welcome to come to this party. In fact, the quicker, the better.
After speaking with Shamrock 6, I alerted Doc Eichsteadt to prepare for the evacuation of the wounded. The evacuation Slicks would come in for casualty pickup, after the Cobra Gunships started providing suppressive fires on the NVA positions to our rear and right flank. Shortly thereafter, a single LOCH flown by CPT Robert King of Delta Troop arrived overhead. He asked for Bravo Company to deploy colored smoke so that our locations would be visible from the air, so that the Cobra Gunships would know where we were located. Bravo Company popped some smoke, but CPT King was not able to identify the location due to the thick vegetation. He then suggested that he would drop down to treetop level and attempt to visually locate us. I told him that in doing so, he would be placing himself in a vulnerable position to NVA ground fire. He told me that "This is my job", I can't find you otherwise. His attitude prompted me to tell him that I would attempt to direct him to us by the sound of his helicopter in relation to where we were located. Very soon, I saw his LOCH overhead as he used his main rotor down-wash to part the vegetation. I stood up and started waving my arms until he confirmed having a visual of me. I then used my left arm to point in the direction that the gunships needed to strike, while stating over the radio that 25 meters from where I was standing, was the target area. He gave me acknowledgement of my request and proceeded toward the area I had pointed to. As he cleared Bravo Company's position, I told him via radio "Mark that spot as target". He gave me a "Roger" and his door gunner dropped a red smoke grenade into this designated area. The Cobra Gunships immediately began their gun runs on this target area. They were firing their mini-guns and 2.75 inch high explosive rockets into the NVA locations which effectively suppressed any NVA incoming fire. This gave us the opportunity to evacuate our casualties. Two Slicks from Delta came to a hover in an open area on our left flank, and the casualties were quickly loaded and evacuated. I think Bill Delaney and SSgt Gregory organized the defense of the dust-off area and helped load the wounded on board the Slicks.
Now, Bravo Company had to break out of the potential encirclement. As the 3rd Platoon attempted to re-organize, SSgt Gregory asked if he could assist in any way. I told him that we needed to fire some M-72 LAWS into the Bamboo to our rear to clear out any remaining NVA, then, Bravo Company would rush the area just hit with the LAWS in an attempt to break through the NVA positions to our rear. He acknowledged, and started to organize a few 2nd Platoon men with M_72's. When he told me that he was ready, I told him to stand-by while I notified the Battalion Commander that we were going to attempt a breakout, and that Bravo Company was going to head for the open field on our left flank which had just been used for the evacuation of our casualties. LTC Price suggested that I should stay in the jungle since his C&C had already taken ground fire from NVA positions on the other side of the clearing, and he was concerned about us being caught in the open. I told him that the Cobra Gunships can't see me in the jungle, but, once in the open and visible to the Gunships, I could direct fire wherever necessary. He responded, " It's your call since it's your life and you're the one that has to live or die by the decision". I was grateful for his response since he was acknowledging that I was the commander on the ground, and my decisions were the final authority. I didn't know how many NVA were in the immediate area, and felt that our chances were better if we were visible to our air support.
I then told SSgt Gregory to fire into the Bamboo clumps when ready. I told the rest of Bravo Company to prepare to rush through the positions hit by the M-72's immediately after the M-72 fire concluded. The M-72's were discharged into the Bamboo and Bravo Company rushed those positions without encountering any further NVA resistance. We didn't waste any time checking for NVA casualties since getting out of the immediate area was our primary concern. Especially, now that I knew that there were NVA positions on our left flank as was identified by the knowledge that LTC Price's C&C helicopter has just taken ground fire from that area. This signified that there were additional NVA available for joining the fight in the general area. This additional information meant that we really were surrounded on all sides, and, I wanted to take advantage of the air support to keep the NVA troops occupied as we broke out of the encirclement. I personally think that, had we not broken out of the area when we did, there would have been additional NVA forces deployed against us. I'll never know for certain, and can only speculate. It's something that has haunted me ever since.
After Bravo Company broke free of the encirclement, we headed back toward our previous night's defensive position which was being secured by a small element of Bravo Company. I only have a vague recollection of dividing Bravo Company and leaving about a Squad-sized element behind to secure the Night Laager area while the rest of Bravo Company conducted a Combat Patrol toward the bunkers occupied by NVA troops. The detachment's mission was to secure our previous night's defensive fighting positions and to secure all of the rucksacks, but, I don't have a clear recollection as to which unit it was. Joe Soga, a Machine Gunner from the 2nd Platoon remembers that when Bravo Company moved out on the Combat Patrol toward the bunker complex, that we were carrying "Fighting Gear" only. Our rucksacks were left behind at the Defensive position so that we wouldn't be burdened by a heavy load, and, it was already pre-determined that NVA were in the immediate area, and that Bravo Company intended to engage the enemy forces. That meant that our rucksacks would be removed from our backs immediately on contact with the enemy forces anyhow, so a decision was made to travel without them from the start. That way, we wouldn't have to worry about leaving them in the contact area again. This was the first time while on LZ Penny that we knew where the NVA forces were located and that there was going to be a large fight soon.
When we broke out of the encirclement area, we were able to traverse the 600 - 700 meter distance without any further contact. Meanwhile, the aerial observers in the helicopters continued to direct artillery fire onto the hill that had been our objective that day. I no longer had visual contact of the area, and, since Bravo Company was no longer in the contact area, I believe that the observers left our radio frequency, and I was no longer receiving radio information as to what was happening at, and, around the hill. We continued to improve our defenses until nightfall, preparing for the possibility of another assault by NVA forces on our defensive position. Bravo Company's total strength was now 39 men. When first inserted at LZ Penny 32 days earlier, Bravo had a total Company strength of 105 men. Bravo Company also received replacements during this time period, but the number of replacements received, is not known. All in all, my estimates of total casualties during the preceding 32 days range from 65% to 70% of our total company strength. We had paid a significant price in blood for our time at LZ Penny, however, we knew that, as badly as we had been hurt, the courageous and loyal Infantrymen of Bravo Company, had inflicted even greater damage on the 24th NVA Regiment.
Bravo Company was withdrawn from the jungle on the morning of June 11th, and became the firebase security element while we were refitted and resupplied with manpower. Shortly after Bravo Company's removal from the field, Intelligence reports identified the fact that the 24th NVA Regiment was withdrawing back to their Cambodian sanctuary and that there were reports of an NVA hospital train (column) of 2 Kilometers in length, as they withdrew.
The evening of June 11th, Bravo Company took over Firebase security (with the assistance of at least half of the Headquarters element on the firebase) since Bravo Company had to occupy about 35 perimeter bunkers, and Bravo only had 39 men. Usual bunker assignments normally provided at least 3 men per bunker to allow for shift sleeping at night, when not at a higher state of alert. That evening, I was summoned to the daily evening briefing conducted at the Battalion TOC (Tactical Operations Center) and, was de-briefed by our own Battalion S-2(Intelligence) and S-3(Plans and Operations), in addition to Brigade S-2 and S-3. After I gave my reports on the day's fight, the Brigade S-2 gave his report. In his report, he stated with 95% certainty, based on intercepted NVA radio traffic and call signs used, that Bravo Company had located the Headquarters of the 24th NVA Regiment on that hill mass which was to have been our primary objective on June 10th. I was stunned! While I knew that there was something larger than Bravo Company could possibly handle on the hill mass, I never imagined that it was of such significance. This fact probably accounted for the secondary explosions reported as coming from the hill during the 8inch Artillery fire, and would have also accounted for the massing of NVA troops which were being deployed into the area to defend the hill. Further into the briefing, it was identified that Bravo Company had accounted for over 120 NVA killed during the previous 32 days. This figure was certainly higher than what Bravo Company had been able to positively identify, but, may have been a reasonably accurate figure, based on the intensity of the fights we were in while in the field at LZ Penny. Those figures also take into account all of the Artillery fire missions, the TAC Air, the Gunship support, and lastly, the casualties inflicted on the NVA as a result of close combat with the men of Bravo Company. Those are figures that were provided to me during the briefing, and I make no assurances that they are accurate, other than the personal knowledge that we hurt the NVA much more than what could be confirmed.
The after-action statistics at LZ Penny, as they directly involve Bravo Company are as follows: The firing Battery from the 2nd Bn/9th Arty, which was in direct support of the 2nd Bn/35th Infantry, fired a total of about 2300 rounds from their 6 M-2 105mm howitzers while Bravo Company was in the field at LZ Penny. About 1500 of those rounds were fired in direct support of Bravo Company operations. Approx two-thirds of the total 105mm rounds fired for the past 32 days involved direct support of Bravo Company. LT Bill Wallin was responsible for controlling and adjusting all of those rounds. These figures also come from that same briefing on June 11th.
Bravo Company was also responsible for summoning 8inch Artillery support on several occasions, however, the number of rounds fired are unknown, since, I believe, that the 8inch batteries were under Division control and we were not part of the flow of information. I estimate that Bravo Company utilized about 50 rounds or so of 8inch Artillery, fired in support of Bravo Company operations during the LZ Penny campaign. Once again, LT Bill Wallin controlled placement of those rounds, with the exception of those adjusted by the aerial observers on June 10th 1969.
Bravo Company was responsible for summoning four TAC air strikes on NVA positions while in the field at LZ Penny.
Bravo Company also summoned a Spooky C-47 Gun Ship on one occasion. That was in support of Bravo Company's initial deployment into the field at LZ Penny and, in the defense of our night position on May 9th 1969.
Bravo Company was the first Company in the 2nd/35 Infantry to have "Firecracker Munitions" fired by 2nd/9th Arty in general support of ground operations on the early morning of May 9th.
Bravo Company also had the highest number of Artillery rounds fired by 2nd/9th Artillery in direct support of a Company involved in ground operations, on a single day. 2nd/9th Arty fired over 500 rounds during Bravo Company's three assaults on the Bamboo thicket, and as part of the attempt to suppress NVA mortar fire on Bravo Company on June 8th 1969.
Bravo Company had, by far, the highest number of casualties while in the field at LZ Penny.
While there were many other incidents and contacts involving Bravo Company while at LZ Penny, Four were of major proportions. Those were on: 8th/9th of May 1969, May 18th 1969, June 8th 1969, and, June 10th 1969. No records of these contacts seem to exist within the scant number of documents that have survived the years since. It's because of this fact that I felt compelled to document the courage, honor, and steadfastness displayed by the Infantrymen of Bravo Company 2nd Bn 35th Infantry. They served their country well under harsh conditions and never once backed away from a fight. In each of the engagements, they fought until I ordered a cessation of fighting. While two Division news stories have been discovered over the past 43 years, the details of the fights are sadly lacking in accuracy and detail. I'm aware of the fact that friendly casualty reports may be bad for morale, generally speaking, however, I also believe that the omission of facts, steal honor from those who were involved in the fights. It's primarily because of this fact that I've recorded most of the missing facts. After 43 years, I want all of the people of Bravo Company, past, present, and future, to remember their heritage, and remember those who were willing to sacrifice everything for God, Country, and Bravo Company. With much appreciation, I am honored to be able to have my name linked to the roster of men who've served in Bravo Company 2nd Battalion 35th Infantry forever.
Bravo Company 2nd Battalion 35th Infantry
May 8th - Sept 27th, 1969