War Stories

Final Mission of 1st Lt Michael Sudborough

by Cacti35th.org
21 March 1967


At 0952 hours 21 March 1967, Company A 2-35 departed its night location and continued on existing operation to sweep to the south on three axis. Shortly after 1000 hours, Company C, after reconnaissance by fire along the intended route, left same night location on two axis. Company A traveled with 1st Platoon and 2d Platoon to the east and Company C to the southeast. At (unreadable) hours 21 March 1967, Company C located a well traveled, high speed trail, vic YA679567. The trail had been used recently and CPT Rykowski, C Company Commander, directed a search of the trail in both directions. All three platoons searched with Company C completing its search first. While 1st and 2nd Platoons completed their search, Company C continued on the original route. After completion of the search of the trail to the northeast, 1st and 2nd Platoons reformed and moved again to the southeast. At 1525 hours, as the lead elements of the patrol moved up the ridge line to their south, the rear security element observed two unarmed NVA traveling south on the trail that had just been searched. The security element fired on the two NVA, who fled back to the north. At 1550 hours, 1st and 2nd Platoons discovered a bunker complex vic YA680569. While searching the area, the 1st Platoon discovered a grave containing nine NVA KIA. The search was intensified with both platoons probing all bunkers for graves. At 1552 hours, the two platoons began receiving AW fire from two NVA armed with AK 47's. The platoons immediately returned fire and the NVA fled to the southeast. One friendly WIA was suffered. After the NVA withdrew to the southeast, CPT Rykowski radioed that he would take Company C to the northeast to block the retreating NVA. 1st and 2nd Platoons then radioed for a medevac helicopter. A few minutes afterward, 1st and 2nd Platoon received fire from an estimated five different AW positions to their southeast and southwest. Company C turned in the direction of the fire to envelop the enemy forces. At 1620 hours, Company C, while maneuvering against the enemy force firing at 1st and 2nd Platoon, made contact with an unknown size enemy force which was dug in to their northeast. CPT Rykowski deployed Company C on line with the 3rd Platoon leader, 2LT Alvarado, on the west flank and the weapons platoon leader, 1LT Sudborough, on the east flank. The attack was slowed by the dense vegetation and the heavy enemy fire. At 1623 hours, the company began receiving heavy 60mm and 82mm mortar fire while continuing to attack the enemy force. At the same time, the enemy attacked Company C's east flank, in mass, with an estimated battalion size force. Meanwhile, Company A was directed to link with Company C, while Company C was directed to break contact to allow full use of air and artillery support against the large enemy force. CPT Rykowski informed the battalion commander that he was heavily engaged on two flanks and that he was unable to disengage the enemy. At 1640 hours, CPT Rykowski was severely wounded by enemy fire. 1LT Charles R. Emory, the company artillery FO and 1LT Michael G. Sudborough, the weapons platoon leader, were mortally wounded by enemy fire. The 3rd platoon leader, LT Alvarado, was lightly wounded. CPT Rykowski directed Company C to try to disengage; however, the enemy initiated human wave assaults on the besieged platoon and the disengagement was halted. During the fight that ensued, Company C inflicted heavy losses on the enemy; but also suffered heavy casualties. In spite of the seemingly overwhelming odds against Company C, the men were still able to return fire and repeatedly repelled the enemy assaults and, successfully defended their positions. The 1st and 2nd platoon of Company C were unable to break contact with the enemy to provide the necessary reinforcement to destroy the enemy force. At 1701 hours, LT Rutledge, the 2nd Platoon leader was directed by the battalion commander to assume temporary command of Company C. At 1715 hours, gunships from the 170th Aviation Company were able to identify all friendly units in the area of contact and engaged the enemy with excellent results. As the gunships started to make their initial pass in support of the 1st and 2nd platoons of Company C, the NVA force initiated an assault on both platoons. The effective fire of the gunships broke the pending attack and was instrumental in destroying a large number of enemy troops. At 1740 hours, heavy contact was broken by the enemy and efforts were made by other elements of the force to link with Company C(-) who, at the time, were still surrounded and receiving heavy sniper and AW fire. There were no further efforts made by the NVA to overrun Company C(-). However, under the cover of the heavy fire, the NVA were effective in policing the battle area despite the heavy concentrations of artillery fire delivered to block this action. Efforts by CPT Rykowski, even while severely wounded, to bring the airstrikes and artillery fire closer to the area being policed, were hampered by the ineffectiveness of signaling devices, smoke and flares, in the thick jungle canopy. At 1825 hours, Company A linked with the 1st and 2nd platoons of Company C and CPT Barcena assumed command of the force. He immediately had Company A assume responsibility for the perimeter while the two platoons from Company C reorganized and reconsolidated in the center. Enemy sniper and mortar fire was received intermittently throughout the time of link-up to consolidation. At 1845 hours, the battalion commander, LTC Granger, led a seven man command and control party on a combat assault into an LZ 300 meters south of Company C in order to provide control of the battalion on the ground. At 1900 hours, Company A and the 1st and 2nd platoons of Company C linked with Company C and cleared an area which would allow medical evacuation helicopters to hover and evacuate the more seriously wounded by hoist. Blood plasma, stretchers, and morphine were requested, as well as the battalion surgeon to provide emergency medical treatment for the more seriously wounded prior to medical evacuation. The medical evacuation helicopter arrived at 2000 hours and, while hovering to hoist the wounded, was shot down by an enemy B-40 rocket. Two of the four helicopter crewmen were KIA, and the remaining two were WIA. The enemy rocket launcher team was killed by SSGT Wehner of Company A when he assaulted the hidden position. The explosion of the medical evacuation helicopter ended any further attempt of medical evacuation at that location. LTC Granger, aware of the downed "DUSTOFF" was able, with his patrol, to secure a more desirable LZ and directed Company A and Company C to link with him for the evacuation of the wounded. At 2210 hours, the first elements of Company A and C linked with the battalion control group and medical evacuation helicopters were again called. At this time CPT James Lanning assumed command of Company C on order of the battalion commander. The first helicopter arrived ten minutes later with the 2nd Battalion 35th Infantry Battalion Surgeon CPT Stilp, as well as an attached engineer team aboard. The addition of the battalion surgeon and the control group was instrumental in saving several lives and in improving evacuation of the seriously wounded, as compared to the slightly wounded who were not evacuated until first light. The engineer squad had immediately started the LZ clearing operation. At 2235 hours, the remainder of Company A and Company C entered the LZ and assumed responsibility for the security of the LZ while the battalion commander organized the force into task organizations: Litter parties, medical teams, and an LZ control team. These task organizations proved to be the best solution and resulted in a minimum of confusion. By 0130 hours 22 March 1967, all seriously wounded were extracted and the battalion control group was airlifted back to the FSB to provide coordination for subsequent operations. Fifteen sorties were required to medevac the wounded from Company C. The two companies organized the perimeter around the LZ and established security for the balance of the night. There was little enemy firing until 0627 hours 22 March 1967, when the two companies received approximately 25 - 30 rounds of enemy 82mm mortar fire. Counter mortar fire from the 60mm mortars in the companies, reinforced by artillery and mortar fire from the FSB effectively stopped the enemy fires. There were no friendly casualties in this mortar attack. Friendly artillery and mortars boxed the position throughout the night to contain the enemy and prevent a police of the battlefield, but the effort was not completely successful, and the enemy evacuated an estimated 85 dead, leaving behind 45 bodies which he could not evacuate. At 0907 hours, Company A, while making a sweep of the battle area, made contact with two NVA, both of which were KIA during the resultant fire fight. At 1045 hours, Company A suffered five WIA while recovering friendly KIA. A US body was booby-trapped. The area had been liberally sprinkled with booby traps made from US manufactured hand grenades taken from friendly KIA. One man later died of wounds. At 1030 hours 22 March 1967, Company B made a combat assault 300 meters south of Company C(-) point of contact in order to effect a relief of Company C. Company B secured an LZ and sent a contact team to Company C to lead them back to the LZ. Company C was then airlifted back to the FSB where they assumed FSB security and reorganized their forces. After Company B relieved Company C in place, Companies A and B conducted a thorough search of the battle area. In addition, a search was conducted in all four cardinal directions with negative enemy contact; however, extensive bunker, living, and hospital installations, totaling regimental size, were located in the immediate vicinity of the action.

[From cacti35th.org]