War Stories

Recollections of Jack Burr

by Jack Burr
November 1966


It seemed uncommonly cold and wet. But it was that time of year, November 28, 1966, high in the mountains where rainfall had reached its peak for this time of year. Trees so many and so high you couldn't see the tops. Vines and saplings so dense that vision was restricted in all directions.

Our company was on a search and destroy mission. Our foe was believed to be a well trained NVA (North Vietnamese Army) force of about 1000-1500 soldiers supervised by Chinese advisors. In this case Headquarters was right.

Most of my men were seasoned soldiers, but I was not. As an Infantry lieutenant, I had trained in all weapons and tactics used by platoons and companies in this kind of a warfare. One thing I didn't have was experience. This was my Third week as Platoon Leader. It was a memorable one.

The infantry platoons took turns leading the company formation and providing flank security. This day it was my turn to take up the rear with the mission of reserve to be deployed if the rest of the company got in trouble and needed help.

Specialist 4, Pickles, my radio telephone operator, RTO, got the call about 30 minutes after we heard heavy volumes of weapons fire about 500 meters to our North. The Company Commander, CO, instructed me to attack from the west flank and relieve enemy pressure placed on the other two platoons. He didn't have to tell me they were in trouble, pinned down and couldn't move.

The plan I devised was a simple one. I would move my platoon in column for 300 meters West. We would then deploy into a three squad line formation and attack North using squad fire and maneuver designed to find and kill the enemy.

Things seldom go as planned, and this one was no exception. A sudden burst of enemy fire caught PFC Toy, our M-60 gunner, who was crouching next to me high above the chest.

Suddenly, every man in my platoon was on the ground returning fire. But the fire was not effective since we could not see the concealed enemy positions.

As our medic tended to the wounded soldier, it was clear that three bullets had entered high in a place above where his flak jacket was buttoned. Such small distances between life and death. We had little time to grieve. We would do that later.

I shouted orders to Sgt Penny on the left flank to move his squad further left to find better firing positions. But his men did not move. Other men were also unsure and would not move. I understood their reluctance. I was just a raw lieutenant, new in country. What did I know about this enemy?

Just at that moment, an NVA soldier threw a grenade. It landed near Specialists 4 Dill (AKA Pickle) and me. It did us no harm since these munitions were from WWII, made of wood and a few ounces of black powder. A bit of a concussion response but no more. To our good fortune his action revealed a well concealed bunker with a small parapet about 50 meters directly in front of us. I motioned the RTO to follow me as we ran from tree to tree.

A few rounds nicked at tree bark but we kept going. When we were a little more than half way, I reached for one of the grenades I carried for just this reason. It wasn't there. Somewhere I had lost both of them. I motioned for Pickle to toss me one of his. The parapet looked a lot smaller as I took aim.

I pulled the pin and threw the grenade hard and straight as a third baseman might, but was disappointed when the projectile fell short. Lucky me, the grenade took two bounces and fell into the opening. The explosion was mighty. I yelled with excitement and waved for the men to follow me.

In the resulting rout not a single one of my soldiers was wounded. It appeared the enemy withdrew to fight another day, leaving behind a sizeable delaying force. A few hours later when we were winding down after our victory, I noticed that a C-Rations can in my pack had a hole in it. When it happened, I do not know. It was a can of beans. The story became, "LT was shot in the can".

The Company Commander came forward congratulating my men as he came. He sent the other two platoons to establish 360 degree security around our night position. Observation Posts were set up on incoming trails in case of a counter attack. NVA were known to do that. My platoon rolled out our ponchos and sleeping bags and went to sleep. Tomorrow might be an another eventful day.

I was with the 3d platoon for six months. From this point forward this was my platoon. The men trusted me and I them. We were known as the 3d herd and took on the hard missions from time to time, confident we could do the job. I lost Three other men before I was transferred to another job .

As I look back on these memories I sometimes wonder: was the fighting and dying worth it? In retrospect, I think not. As incongruous as this may seem, I would do it again. It was a lawful order and I was a soldier. A good one I hope.