How Did We Do What We Did?
by John Lorts
How Did We Do What We Did?
By John Lorts, B 2-35, 1966
As I look back on my time in Vietnam, I really can't believe the things we did and endured. Let me start off by saying that I don't consider myself a hero, but like MAJ Dick Winters said in the HBO series Band of Brothers, I served in a company of heroes.ï¿1/2 Along with looking for the enemy and facing the possibility of death each and every day and night, we had to be concerned with poisonous snakes, blood sucking leaches, malaria carrying mosquitoes, stinging ants, jungle rot and punji stakes, all while humping the mountains and jungles all day long with 70-80 pounds of gear on our backs, all in the heat and humidity of the tropics while rationing two canteens of water over several days at a time. Stopping for the night, we would do a sweep of the perimeter, dig our foxholes and then eat our cold C-rations. Sleeping two hours and then on guard for one hour, all night long until an hour before daybreak when we were all up, waiting for a possible attack. When daylight broke, we ate a can or two of cold C-rations, filled in our foxholes and started the day all over again, putting one foot in front of the other, looking for the enemy (but hoping to not make contact with them or run into a deadly ambush.)
Maybe it was because most of us were only 18-19-years old. Maybe it was the training we received. Or maybe it was counting on our company commanders, platoon leaders and sergeants to know how to win a battle with few casualties. I had an outstanding company commander, CPT Jim McQuillen, and we all felt better when he was with us. I only knew my second company commander for a short time before I was medevac'd out due to an injury. LT Vaughn Brauer was my first platoon leader and he knew what he was doing but the other two platoon leaders I had fell short of their duties during fire-fights. I had some great sergeants too, SFC Ken Whitmier and SSG Bobby Norkett. I'll never forget them yelling, Spread out th one round will get you all!ï¿1/2 SSG Chuck Beauchamp was severely wounded at the 10 Alfa battle, which happened before I got there. Unfortunately, SGM Norkett (R) and SGM Beauchamp (R) have sadly passed away. Both were Cacti Association Members and attended our reunions regularly. They are greatly missed.
My worst memory was when the 1-14th ran into an NVA base camp just on the Vietnam side of the Cambodian border. The NVA had a strong defensive perimeter with bunkers and tunnels. The 1-14th took heavy casualties in two of their companies and the Recon platoon who was ambushed on their way to help out. My company, B 2-35, was called in to reinforce them. The battle had already gone on for about five days when we got there. There were dead NVA scattered all around, some had been laying there for four or five days, bloated, stinking and with flies and maggots crawling all over them. One body had been hit in the forehead by an M-16 and the back of his skull was gone along with his brains. During the next five days we were engaged in battle, advancing, getting pinned down, pulling back for airstrikes and artillery. One day I had not eaten anything most of the day and during a lull in the battle, I decided to open a can of C's. The only problem was that I was lying within arm's reach of a long-dead NVA. The flies and maggots were crawling all over him and the flies kept landing on me and my food! I had to keep shooing them away. The stench was terrible, but it was the only chance I had to get something in my stomach.
The good news was that B-52's were called in on the second day, so we had to pull back five-miles to the 1-14th Battalion perimeter prior to the bombing. Along the way there was another dead NVA on the trail. He was mostly a skeleton in uniform; his skull was partially covered by dry skin. There was a small river we had to cross and a log had been placed over the river. We had to cross one man at a time; each man had to step carefully to successfully make it across. This delay caused us to get spread out way too far. I was the platoon RTO. Once I got across the bridge,ï¿1/2 I looked up the hill and saw my platoon leader's head disappear as he was moving quickly down the next hill. Once I got to the top of the hill, he was no longer in sight. Many of us were moving along the trail all alone, running to catch up while looking behind every tree for the enemy. I radioed the Company Commander and told him how we were spread out and he stopped the patrol so we could all form up again into a single unit.
That night, we stayed up for the air strike. When the B-52's got to the target, the 2,000 pound bombs they dropped lit up the sky and we could feel the sound waves on our faces! The next day the NVA were still there ready to fight. The bad news was that the air strike missed its target!
After couple days of battle, we returned to the battalion perimeter to wait for two more B-52 strikes, one at 2200 hours and one at 0200. It was another great show of force and we were hoping that they hit the target this time. The next morning we were told to pack an extra load of ammo as we were going to be making an all-out attack. Fortunately when we got there, you couldn't even recognize the terrain as the air strikes hit their target dead-on. There were huge bomb craters everywhere and the trees were stripped of their leaves with most of the trees down on the ground, broken into pieces. I saw huge tail fins from a bomb lying on the ground as I passed by. The NVA were gone as their perimeter was completely destroyed. A tunnel was partially uncovered by one of the bombs and it was estimated that 50 dead bodies had been stacked in the tunnel over the course of the battle.
The artillery and mortar support was suspended but unfortunately, an unauthorized four-deuce round fell right in the middle of our line, killing PFC's Joseph Arimento and David Crabtree and wounding several others. They were our only casualties of the whole battle and I credit CPT McQuillen as he used the smart strategy of using mostly artillery and air support rather than making an all-out attack on the bunkers, where we would've had a lot of casualties. We patrolled to the border but found no sign of the enemy. We spent the night at the battle site. The next day we returned to the battalion perimeter. It was Thanksgiving Day and they flew out a Thanksgiving meal of turkey and dressing and all the trimmings, at least most of the trimmings. However, many of us didn't feel like celebrating and some of us weren't interested in eating a big meal as the stench of dead bodies permeated our clothes. The next day, B 2-35 was air lifted back to the 2-35th Infantry Battalion. We were Home!