It was a Good Plan, I Guess, (But we got Gassed)
by Jim (Doc) Hall
It was a Good Plan, I Guess
(But we got gassed)
At the time it seemed a bit chaotic. But years later actually reading the plan I had to admire the thought that went into it. On or about March 7, 1970 A Co 2/35th discovered a village hidden out in the jungle where it didn't belong. They estimated at the time that it contained 50 residents and included women and children. They never entered the village they merely observed it from a distance and reported back as to what they saw.
Someone in Battalion passed this on to Brigade and a rather detailed plan was made. It was a nifty plan. Someone may of even gotten promoted for their skills at making such a plan.
Maybe the first hint anyone in the line companies had of the plan was recorded in the March 7 Daily Journal. Entry 85 noted as a "late entry" but recorded "at 2015" requested a readout on how much percent of protective masks in 1/A, D Co (-), B Co (-)" (yes they wrote it in those words and were asking about 1st Platoon A Co as well as D and B Companies).
Entry 86 recorded at 2125 replied that 1/A needs 2 masks; D Co needs 6 masks; and B Co needs 9 masks.
From this report Entry 87 responded that Col Yow would provide Col Harrison with "enough CS Canisters with Chemical officer in A.M., to make intensive attack on village." (No mention of providing the needed masks were contained in the message though.)
The plan (in the nutshell) was described over 4 pages of Journal entries. A Co would hold in place until D Co was inserted on one side of the village and B Co was inserted on the opposite side. A would link up with D Co on one side and B Co on the other and B Co in turn would link up with D Co.
B Co would follow a well worn wide trail toward the village while a chopper containing a chemical officer (and chemicals) as well as a loud speaker would follow overhead. At some point after all these link-ups the loud speaker would broadcast to the village to essentially "come out with your hands up" and then elements of the various companies and platoons would so to speak "arrest" them.
Caution was to be taken to not injure women and children if at all possible but security for the troops was paramount.
I'm not sure of when the plan first went awry. (In fact, I wasn't even aware at the time that there was a plan) But I first became aware of an apparent glitch after shots rang out as we paused in the middle of that wide trail.
It got noisy for a while. A bit of incoming fire and a bit of outgoing fire but not as busy as future such incidents would prove to be. There seemed to be confusion but I was too new to begin to understand just what was going on.
But then, something happened that never happened to me again during my time in country. The unmistakable odor of CS gas filled the air (along with a cloud of the same.) This was something out of Basic Training! I can't say that I remember anyone yelling "Gas!" but then they really didn't have to.
I was new enough in country that I had my mask with me and readily available. Brand new it was and contained my very own prescription in the glasses. After a few gulps of gas I whipped out my mask and had it in place in less time than it probably took me in Basic. And as I stood there (actually lay there) with my gas mask in place it kind of hit me that others in my unit didn't seem to have their masks as handy. Guys were gagging and hiding their faces as the cloud built up. A helicopter was hovering overhead and was the obvious source of the gas. (I don't remember hearing any loud speaker at the time but then I wasn't aware that there might be a possibility of a loud speaker.)
For a few minutes there we seemed to my unpolished eye to be in a bit of a disarray as those among us who didn't have or couldn't locate gas masks had to deal with the short term environment. But soon the cloud pretty well lifted and the odor diminished considerably.
Our Platoon Sergeant walked through moving guys off the trail and into different positions but no one seemed too sure of just what was occurring.
Then came the call for "Medic". It seemed to come from fairly close to me but I was not sure who was calling. Running in that direction I found a man who I didn't recognize laying on the trail. Very quickly another medic responded also. I didn't know him (I was too new) but he was the Company medic and he took charge of the situation. As we began to assess the injuries and work on the downed man (Lt John Penman) I became aware that there was actually a 3rd medic there with us. To this day I do not know who this was but I surmise he was the 2nd platoon medic (John Penman's platoon that day)
We worked for quite a while on Lt Penman but it was to no avail. Mouth to mouth soon had to be halted as a result of his airway being constricted. The single shot in the chest appeared to have involved the lungs and getting air to him caused the chest cavity to fill with air and constrict the flow. The Senior medic lead us in creating a new airway through a procedure called a "Cricothyroidotomy" and we continued our efforts until we could get a chopper on station. But we lost a man that day (my first man) and we all knew it long before the chopper arrived.
I, quite frankly, don't remember much more about the circumstances of the day. The "jungle penetrator" used to extract the Lt was a first for me (but then nearly everything was a first at the time.) 1st platoon RTO Mike Slyck got into a row with a dust off pilot that day over his reluctance to hover over us while using the extractor without the benefit of gunships in the area. This encounter would come a full 360 degrees later that month when the same dust off pilot was called in, on Easter Sunday, to extract Mike from the field.
We (or at least I) knew nothing about what was going on elsewhere around the village that day. Later I learned that on the far side of the village a D Co man was KIA (Joseph Postiglione) and another D Co guy was wounded.
But I know for a fact that on that day no one came out with their hands up (I don't believe they were even asked). And I'm pretty sure that no one from any of the companies "arrested" anyone. I'm doubtful if we ever fully linked up to "surround" the village.
Years later I got to read the plan. It still seems a good plan.
I'm not sure even now where it came apart but as I read it these many years later it seems to me that it wouldn't of hurt if they had at least told us that in asking about our masks what they really meant is that we might have to use them. And then knowing that many of the men had no mask perhaps supplying needed masks along with CS Canisters might of made the plan better.
But I was a PFC way back then and didn't really understand.
Today I am once again a PFC (Proud ----Civilian) and though I have a clearer picture of just what the plan was, I'm not sure of how it could have been made better. But I will remember always the time a plan failed to come together and how we got gassed that day.