My Last days in the Nam
by Lyle Shargent
March 29th 1968
My Last days in the Nam
March 29th 1968
The day begins at Dak To where the whole battalion had just been arrived the night before after a two day stint in the Phu Cat mountains. A 5 man LRRP (Long Range Recon Patrol) team had gone silent and the worst was feared so either Alpha or Bravo company was inserted close to the base of the mountains and were to follow a trail up and Charlie company was inserted into an old abandoned Battalion Fire Base which scared up because of the ability to easily booby trap the site. We set up and spent the night starting down the mountain the next morning. We had not gone far when we received word the company coming up the trail had found the bodies, All the LRRP's ere KIA.
We continue to the bottom of the mountain and into a PZ or pick up zone and got transported to Kontum for a battalion 1 day rest and party in place. This was the first time in my tour anything like that had ever happened. Movie screens were set up and alcohol was provided as well as sodas to drink. I do not remember the food but I am sure it was a hot meal prepared by the cooks stationed at the base there and I am sure it was very good although I do not remember what it was. I am guessing but most likely someone had accidentally killed a Water Bo or water buffalo and that was the main course. Water Bo was usually a pretty tough cut of meat to try to eat.
While the whole battalion was at Dak To landing strip waiting for lifts of choppers to take us out to a Special Forces camp called Poli Kleng close to the tri border area of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia. A very scary place I thought of at the time and most everyone felt the same. This would be a new kind of war fare for us as we were not used to such high mountains to climb and being so far away from any artillery support and we were totally dependent on the weather staying good for any help from the air. Eventually Poli Kleng and all other bases such as Mile High and FB 14 would be closed because of the inability to support them due to the weather.
After the whole battalion had provided perimeter support for the Special Forces Camp we began our one ship at a time insert onto the mountain on the maps listed as 1198 meaning it was 1198 meters high or roughly 3720 ft tall. A height for which we would name the FSB as LZ Mile High but quickly became LZ Medivac. Unbeknown to us the enemy which was primarily NVA or North Vietnamese Regulars meaning troops trains and equipped just like us but from North Viet Nam. We were inserted at the 800 meter level into a one chopper LZ and would have to walk the final 398 meters to the top. We were replacing two battalions from the 4th Inf Division from Pleiku who had been battling to take the hill for several days and had suffered such high losses they needed to pulled out and replaced with fresh meat. That meat was the 1/35th Inf who was grossly undermanned after all the TET of 1968 battles each company had fought and suffered many KIA and WIA's.
Because of the altitude and most Huey's having been in VN for some time the helo's cold not carry more than 4 people for each trip. Like the soldier after a year the machinery also wore out. Heavy usage of choppers was necessary for our survival. Birds and pilots were all pushed to the limit during this time.
As we follow a trail up the mountain we are looking at all the packs and rifles and other personal gear and mail and whatever each soldier carried strewn along the trail so we new there had been a big battle for this hill and many casualties were taken on both sides. Charlie Company was not in the first group who made the ascent to the top. We were probably no more than 80 men split between 4 platoons and the CP group. For most Infantry companies in VN in that time period that was a normal company size.
We arrive at the top and go to our assigned perimeter area and begin to clear it for firing positions that we can use in case of an attack. The date today is 31 of March or April 1 1968. I did not write home so I have no reference material to verify the date exactly and if anyone remember please post the correct date. With each platoon breaking up into however many people would be assigned to each position we begin to create the CP bunker.
Each day after that we spend clearing the LZ to open up areas to defend better and to make room for everything connected to a Battalion such as the 4.2 mortar and the 105 howitzers. Also for our own 81 mm mortar pit so we can also help defend the FSB.
On the 5th of April we get a new diversion to the monotony of digging, filling sand bags and cutting trees down. We get a Colonel from an Engineering unit and he directs the laying of tracks first and then the delivery of a Cat to assist in tree and brush clearing. As we are all watching this happen we start taking mortar rounds impacting where the cat is being assembled. All this is happening less than 50 yards for the CP bunker. Eventually someone got shrapnel from the mortar rounds impacting the top of the hill. A medivac is called and the wounded get taken to the hospital. Also as all this is going on Alpha Company had been ordered down the side of the mountain on a search and destroy mission. They very unluckily get ambushed about 200 meters down the side of the mountain. The call comes for charlie Company to saddle up and go help. No one really wants to go and especially me. As we are putting on our gear a call comes from the rear for me to catch the net chopper out of there and start me DEROS, meaning it is time for me to go home. Only problem is the only choppers that have come to Mile High so far that day are sling loads of mortar ammo to replenish what has been fired by Charlie company's 81 and the 4.2 mortar. Indirect fire is the only way to support infantry when you are located on the top of a hill. 105's are direct fire meaning in a straight line although they can be used over a distance of almost 11,000 meters.
Finally a chopper comes and I am standing at the LZ with the Colonel from the Engineers as he looks terrified and wants out of there in the worst way. Everything gets offloaded from the chopper and the Peter Pilot (what is called the left seater and not the Aircraft Commander) the AC always sits in the right seat motions both of us to come up to his window and he points at me and asks "where are you going" and I answer home. He motions me on and smiles slyly to the Colonel and shakes his head and holds up 1 finger meaning he can only carry a maximum of 1 passenger. I climb aboard and wave to the Colonel who looks like he is about to have a heart attack as I am sure he had no thoughts of being there over night.
We make the long trip back to Kontum via making a low level pass down the runway at Poli Kleng as the Peter Pilot looks back at me and grins again so I am sure this buzzing of the special forces camp was in my honor. I arrive and get a ride to my company trains area and turn in all my gear and my weapons and before I can head back to the air strip for a flight to Pleiku we get a bunch of 122m rockets incoming and on the air field damaging the air strip so no aircraft can fly that day of the next. Along with everyone else I am in a bunker with no weapon is case of a ground attack. I am thinking what can I do" Throw rocks at them? I am totally defenseless for the first time in my 1 year tour. Damn straight I am scared shitless. 45 minutes later the all clear is sounded and life goes on. I am sure I did not sleep much that night. The next day with the air strip damaged so no aircraft can use it me and a couple of more GI's heading to Pleiku get on a duece and a half on 1 layer of sandbags and again with no weapon off we go to drive the 50 km to Pleiku. Covered in the red dust of Viet Nam I take a couple of cold showers and go to the NCO club for some refreshments. The next day I was flown to Cam Ranh Bay to awake a flight home. That would take another 7 days to finally happen and I would leave from the 90th Repo Depo in Saigon and not Cam Ranh Bay. I would leave on the 13th of April and arrive on the 13th of April. It is Easter Sunday. I am back from the dead. I have left Viet Nam but did not know yet that Viet Nam would never leave