Cacti War Stories


Edited by Wiley "Tiny" Dodd
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May 19-22nd 1967

by David Crocker
1967

May 19 & 22, 1967

The month of May, 1967 for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division had started off with two people being wounded but then kind of smoothed out with the daily routine of making search and destroy missions of area hamlets while in search of the NVA or VC.
We were basically making sweeps and if there were any enemy they were either hiding in tunnels and caves or fleeing the areas as we moved in because we hadn't seen any.

If we found evidence that the NVA was using a hooch/shack for resupply purposes to move their weaponry into South Vietnam we would set a match and burn them to the ground.
That is the only time that we'd set the hooch's on fire.
We didn't go about burning complete villages out for no known good reason, contrary to what the press wanted the people back home in Port Huron, Michigan to believe.
By now we were part of Task Force Oregon working the area south of Duc Pho in Quang Ngai Province.

Later on I would learn that the area was believed to have been one of the main resupply routes for the NVA.

We spent May 18th humping to the top of a mountain and then held up for the night on the other side while waiting for daybreak to make a sweep of another village which was about a dozen rice paddies away.

As daybreak on May 19 approached we headed for the small village, arriving about noon.
When we observed one hundred or more of women and kids fleeing down the trail it should have been a warning to us that there were NVA or VC in there for sure, but we kind of just figured they were fleeing because of us but in reality they knew all hell was about to break out.

When we were in those rice paddies we were basically a sitting duck with no place to go.
The only cover was at the perimeter berms that enclose each rice paddy with each being about two foot high.
At each village edge there would be a trail separated by trees or some kind of bush or hedgerow and then the rice paddy berm.
As we entered the rice paddy closest to the hamlet the unforgettable crack of an AK47 rang out.

Once you hear the crack of an AK47 you will never forget it or mistake it for another weapon. It is distinctive and in a family of its own.

We immediately took cover at the nearest berm that was at the edge of a trail but elevated a little with a hedgerow and trees that enclosed the hamlet.

We immediately tried to burrow into the side of the berm and the hedgerow in front of us while trying to determine exactly where the live automatic fire was coming from.

When someone is trying to kill you and you have no idea where he is there are a thousand things that run through your mind and across your imaginary vision.

We had absolutely no place to go but down.

As I raised my head there was immediate response from the shooter as leaves would fall from above. After several attempts to raise my head and get a fix on the shooter I realized the sniper had my exact spot zeroed in. There was movement to both my flanks with no response from the sniper but every time I moved he fired off.
It was decided that I would move to the left but hold my helmet up in my original location to draw fire so we could then catch the sniper on a crossfire.

1st SGT Charles Letteny came running up from the rear area but soon realized that we were being held at bay by this sniper.
As we were putting this crossfire plan into operation LT Everette Johnson came running up from the rear area also and dropped into the spot that I had vacated.
He had recently been assigned our Platoon Leader, possibly that same day. I'm really not sure as some things of that day aren't too clear but I do know he wasn't with us long enough for me to get acquainted with him.
I told him that the sniper had that spot zeroed in and to not raise his head.
He was an eager 2nd LT and was determined to better access the situation.
At the time I was still a PFC so my warning went unheard.
As he raised his head the same thing happened as it did when I was in that spot. The leaves began to fall. He raised his head again while trying to ascertain exactly where the sniper was located and the shots rang out again.
We were still unable to locate where the shots were coming from.

When someone sees you and you don't see them they have a distinct advantage over you and in a life and death situation it can and will cost you your life.
On LT Johnson's third or fourth attempt he was shot in the head and died almost instantly and would lay there for the remainder of the 100 degree day.

We moved to a more secure area of bushes along the trail and waited for nightfall at which time it was decided that we'd recover his body even though the sniper still hadn't been located and eliminated. Although we hadn't received anymore sniper fire since midday my gut feeling was that he was still there.
It was believed by some at the time that the sniper had run off.
I felt then and feel the same today that the sniper had his weapon set up on a tripod of some sort and when anyone crossed his sites he'd fire off.
As we approached LT Johnson's body a shot once again echoed through the air and PFC Walter Geiger fell to the ground.
At this time we weren't sure if we were to continue on or if we were even going to get to the body and then after a few more steps PFC Kenyon Bean was shot.
With the remainder of the squad and under very close heavy automatic support fire we were able to retrieve all three bodies.
It was several hours before we could safely land a Medivac (Dust Off) to evacuate all three.
PVT Geiger died almost instantly of a head wound but PFC Bean was still alive but not coherent.
As I held his head in my arms it was clearly evident that he didn't stand a chance of survival even though I prayed to God that somehow he would live.
"I will never leave a fallen comrade behind" is part of the Soldier's Creed and it was never more evident than on 19 May, 1967.
I now understood why it was so hard to become friends when I first joined the squad. The loss of a buddy in an instant is something that nobody wants to live with.

The next day we were able to clear the village of all NVA.

We then moved on with revenge on our minds.

A couple days later on May 22nd we were approaching a village across highway 1 when we were once again stopped dead in our tracks.
Highway 1 was elevated somewhat so it acted as a barrier for us but that was all we had for cover.
We were about half way across the road when a sniper opened up on us, spraying the area with automatic fire.
SP4 Robert Murphy, our grenadier, dropped immediately where he would lay for almost 24 hours in 100 heat because we couldn't safely get to his body.
We took cover on the low side of the road and found our entire company pinned down by continuous automatic fire coming from fortified bunkers on the opposite side of the road.
We called for all the aerial support we could get.
Parachuted lighted flares illuminated the area, turning night into day all night as Puff "The Magic Dragon" aka Spooky continually circled the area dropping flares and spraying the area with thousands of rounds of ammunition all through the night and into the next day. The helicopter gunships peppered that village continually from noon on the 22nd till noon on the 23rd.
During the night Bravo Company was airlifted into the area on our flank to help get us extricated.
Napalm was inadvertently dropped in the middle of the road and it immediately burned several of our backpacks but fortunately nobody that I knew of was burned.
Close artillery support that was so close that we thought it was coming in on us was called in all through the day and night by CPT Lloyd Yoshina. He had been wounded early on but refused treatment until much later.
Had it not been for his calling in close support things probably would have been a lot worse.
As noon approached on the May 23 we finally received aerial support from the jet bombers.
As they flew in dropping bomb after bomb we could see the flames coming from the rear of the jets.
It felt almost like they could suck us up off the ground.
There aren't enough words to explain the feeling that you get when support arrives and you realize that somebody knows where you are and that they are there to help.
After bombing the village continuously for hours they flew down the middle of the road laying a cloud of white smoke that blanketed the entire length of the combat zone.
Except for one PFC that I won't identify here, we proceeded through the cloud across the road and took control.

With all that bombing we didn't think anything could survive but there were woman and kids that walked away from those fortified bunkers the next day.
Most of the NVA were either killed or fled during the night.

After a day and a half of fierce fighting and the largest battle at that time for Task Force Oregon we were credited with killing 81 NVA and capturing huge amounts of ammunition and documents.

The PFC who refused to join in the attack was Court Marshaled several months later. By then I had been promoted to SGT so SGT Ricky Johnson and myself had the privilege of escorting him to the Long Binh Jail (LBJ) in Saigon.
When we arrived at the Provost Marshals Office in Saigon they said we'd have to turn in our weapons as soon as we turned the PFC over to the jail guards. We couldn't believe our ears. "You have to be kidding" I said. "No we are not, this is a secure city and you have to turn in your weapons as soon as you report to the jail with your prisoner and the weapons will remain here for the remainder of your 3 day TDY".

We had come from a war zone to a secure city all in the same country in a matter of a few minutes and I just couldn't comprehend that.

A couple months later the TET Offensive broke out and Saigon was overrun.
So much for a secure city.