War Stories

29 March 1969

by Wiley Dodd
29 March 1969

29 March 1969 - Recon 2/35th

By: Wiley "Tiny" Dodd

It started as a pleasant day in the bush for the members of Recon 2/35th. We had been really successful in the Chu-Prong mountains in the month of March. We had found a huge cache of weapons, and had ambushed a squad of NVA, and reinforced all our line companies in several firefights and hadn't lost a man. We were feeling cocky and morale was high, even though we had recently had 5 or 6 members DEROS and had picked up new replacements for them.

Our Plt. Leader 1LT Dick Winn had gone in for R&R and left our Plt. Sergeant SFC Jim Tibbit as acting Plt. Leader. We had been out a few days and the humping had been easy compared to the climbing mountains we had done recently.

About mid-morning on March 29th we came down to a blue line (stream) we had to cross. It was about 30 meters wide; the water looked clean and was flowing. Sgt. Tibbit decided we would take a break there and clean ourselves. He had an OP put out on the trail and we moved about 100 meters down the bank of the stream and took a break.

A lot of us took our boots and shirts off and went into the water; it felt cool and refreshing. It was almost like there was no war going on and a bunch of guys had just decided to go swimming. I got into a wrestling match in the water with our medic and we were trying to dunk each other. It was fun.

Rick Tolbert had been assigned the OP position and Lou Ricardi was guarding on the trailside of our break. Tolbert spotted a company crossing the stream a ways down from us and came to Lou with the information. Lou went back with him and they saw it was one of our line companies and went back to their position.

The break was over and we were all getting out of the water and getting dressed when Tolbert again spotted some soldiers crossing the stream on the same trail we had used. At first he thought they were probably our guys again.

He then took a second look and realized it was a platoon size group of NVA regulars. He came back and told Ricardi, and they came in and told Sgt. Tibbit. He told us to get ready to go now. We got our stuff together and took off down the trail at forced march speed. Dave Peterson our FO called in artillery a couple of hundred meters in front of us and kept it coming. The terrain the first hundred meters from the stream was open with the trail running thru knee-high grass. The terrain we then approached was thick with brush that you couldn't see into. The trail ran down one side, there was a wooden fence on the side about 3 feet high and we stopped there.

Sgt. Tibbit sent one squad led by Bob Carson (Airborne) down one side of the thick brush and the rest of the platoon went down the other. I was Sgt. Tibbit's RTO but was not being used as an RTO because while he was acting Plt. Leader he used our battalion RTO. John Ryan, a photographer from HHC 4th Div. was with us. He carried a camera and not a weapon.

Sgt. Tibbit ordered me to stay where we were and to keep Ryan with me. Ryan and myself set up on a little berm to the trailside of the thick brush. The Rucksacks from the platoon were left there with us. I was aware that our backs were to the open land to the water and told Ryan to watch that way. It was strange the two of us there; after the platoon went down the trail it was quiet.

Then we heard the crack from an AK-47 followed by M-16's on the side Carson's squad went down. Then we heard the same thing on the trailside along with some grenades exploding. I didn't like the position myself and Ryan were in, so we moved up closer to the brush and more to the trail side and laid out in the prone position. I then saw some movement coming down the trail. I sighted my M -16 down the trail and was waiting for better target recognition when I saw it was our guys. Our medic was bringing Gerald Drew, a new guy to us who had been sent down from the 101st only about a week earlier. He had a nasty wound from an AK-47 on his right biceps. By now our S-3 was in the air in a chopper above us. I requested thru him a medivac for Drew and helped Doc apply a bandage to his arm. It was then the medic told me that in the brush was a maze of ditches and the NVA were in the ditches. A few minutes later from the other side another man was brought back; a new guy named Johnson with an almost identical wound as Drew's.

The men along the trailside all took defensive positions along the brush. The NVA would move up and down the ditches; they were popping up in spots and firing quick bursts and throwing their grenades. Our best weapon was our grenades, each member having at least four and some with six. At a position along the trail manned by Gerald Hobbs and Tim Marick, they were receiving and returning fire.

During a slight lull, Marick rushed forward, jumped into the ditch and emptied a magazine into an NVA soldier. He then jumped back out and was running back to his position when an NVA fired, shooting his boonie hat off and grazing his head.

Back at my position Ryan spotted movement from the brush. Since he didn't have a weapon he yelled to me and I fired a magazine and threw a grenade into the brush. Then I had several AK rounds come my way from the brush. I couldn't see anything from the brush and I don't think the NVA could see me. We traded about 3 magazines and I threw about 3 grenades.

While my personal firefight was going on with this NVA, the battalion S-3 from the chopper above was ordering me to go find Sgt. Tibbit so he could be filled in on the situation.

I was later told that I responded with "F---k You! I'm under fire down here!"

Sgt. Tibbit moved throughout the fire fight redeploying his men to cut off any escape of the NVA. He exposed himself to enemy fire several times. He came back to my position at one point, saw the wounded men, crossed back over the stream by himself to find a suitable LZ, and then returned to the battle. When he had the NVA sealed off he called a cease-fire and had us all call for the NVA to surrender. "Chui Hoi" we all called several times, the response we received was more bursts from their AK-47's. Sgt. Tibbit called for more grenades to be brought to us and in just a few minutes a chopper brought us 2 cases of grenades. He had a couple of men dispense these to all our positions.

We then all at the same time, on Sgt. Tibbit's command, threw a grenade into the ditch. Some were thrown right back. The NVA knowing they had no escape started firing from the ditch. One of our new men, his name I am sorry to say I cannot remember, was hit in the chest. A few other men were also injured from shrapnel, but none seriously, from the grenades thrown back. We then on Sgt. Tibbit's command took grenades, pulled the pins, released the handles, and on his count -- threw them. Some of these exploded in the air above the ditch and some in it. We did this several times.

Sgt. Tibbit then called a halt, all was quiet for a few minutes. We thought maybe it was over when one of our men, Mitch Moss, exposed himself and was shot in the neck. He was one lucky soldier as the bullet passed thru the side of his neck and was not fatal. We then opened fire again and threw more grenades. Then all was quiet again.

It was getting dark now. We had a seriously wounded man who had not been medivaced. So we moved back to the stream and set up a defensive perimeter. We sent out an ambush in case there were survivors among the NVA. A chopper was unable to come after dark and pick up our wounded man. Our medic worked on him and stayed with him the whole night. Although guard duty was assigned, every man stayed awake all night on alert.

In the morning we medivaced our seriously wounded man. Then we went back to the battle sight and searched the maze of ditches that had been a death trap for the NVA. We recovered 11 dead NVA all blown into pieces by the grenades. We had four men seriously wounded and their tours were over. We had five more with light shrapnel wounds, none serious. SFC James Tibbit was awarded the Silver Star for his actions that day. SP4 Timothy Marick was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions. For all of us it was a day we would never forget.