Charlie Making His Move

April 5th, 2005

May began just as April ended, rough. We weren’t going very deep into the mountains surrounding the Bong Son plains in Bihn Dihn province. Even though we weren’t going very deep into the mountains we were going on a more regular basis in smaller units. It seemed odd to all of us that we operated in a company size unit out on the plains and going through the villages but when they sent us into the mountains the largest force we used was platoon size.

They began sending us into draws coming out of the mountains looking for trails to set up on. They would split the company and platoons into 10-12 man teams for these ambushes. Here’s where military intelligence becomes an oxymoron. If I’m Charlie sitting on the ground watching the choppers moving into the mountains in pairs and setting down on several different LZ’s. This turned into a big duh. Charlie knew we were setting up ambushes on the trails in the draws. Who among the readers of this blog would think the NVA was going to walk into one of these ambushes? Once in a while you might catch a couple of stragglers but that was about all. Hell, they knew where we were better than we did. If they chose to they could have wiped out every ambush set up for them but they had other things on their minds. They were slipping over the border and through the mountains in platoon size groups going into staging areas for company and batallion size units.

Lessons learned from LZ Bird? It appears as if nothing was learned. Before we were over run on Bird intelligence knew the 22nd NVA was operating in force in the Kim Son valley yet they put us out there as bait anyway. Those of us that wiggled off the hook at Bird knew there was something wrong with the picture and we talked among ourselves about it. When we talked about what was going on you could see the fear in the faces of the FNG’s. When someone tripped a booby trap the fear among the FNG’s grew even more. Those of us that had been around for several months knew the bobby traps were standard procedure. One thing the new guys invariably asked was “where were the punji sticks” and those type of booby traps. We simply explained to them that wasn’t the type of enemy we were facing in the central highlands. These guys were hard core NVA and Main Force Viet Cong. They weren’t the farmer by day, VC by night type of enemy. Most of the less than lethal booby traps were in the south in the swamps, not in the mountains.

Bihn Dinh province was crucial to the NVA. They needed it to cut the country in half and to have a better base of operations to operate from. As we got deeper into 1967 we all knew something was coming at us. We just didn’t know what. We were moving constantly from the mountains to the villages and back to the mountains. Around mid May we began to run into larger elements, not stragglers, squad and platoon size elements all headed to the middle of the Bong Son plains. We’d have a quick hit and run fight or hit a booby trap but the difference was it was happening more often.

We were air lifted to the top of a mountain with a well traveled trail we knew the NVA were moving troops and equipment along. We set up in a company size position and sent platoon patrols out to cover the smaller trails coming into the larger trail we were sitting on. When the patrols were sent out we always kept a few men from each platoon to secure the company command post. We would rotate people staying back so everyone got a chance to rest a little. One day five of us out of my platoon got the gravy duty of resting while the rest of the platoon went down the mountain and were to come back up the other side of the draw. Walking point was a guy from Florida by the name of Larry Clausen. He was a hot dog but had reason to be because he was a genuine bad ass, not afraid of anything. Behind him was an Indian from Arizona by the name of Poolaw. Very quiet, very likeable man. He was the definition of stealth on a patrol. Suddenly we heard an explosion about halfway down the mountain. I saw Doc Ennis running toward my position which was facing the explosion. He wasn’t running to see me. I grabbed a rifle and ammo and was right behind him to cover his ass heading down the mountain. One of the radio operators followed me. We ran into some extremely thick brush. We could see the position of the explosion down the mountain but just couldn’t get through the brush. Then we heard the medevac coming in. We saw them drop the stretcher into the jungle and knew someone was hurt bad. At the same time we heard on the radio it was Clausen and Poolaw that had been hit. The position of the booby trap was set in such a way that it killed them both instantly with pellets to the head. I remember hearing the company commander asking my platoon leader if it was Poolaw. This was confirmed and we all just sat down and cried. That was a very unusual thing because we always tried to block out the hurt when someone went down. I was stuck in the brush with Doc Ennis, he was the chief headhunter (company medic), and the RTO. Poolaw was special to all of us, there is always someone like that but the loss of Poolaw simply devestated all of us. Yes there had been another man killed but it just wasn’t the same. The platoon made it back up to the company CP and we were extracted and dropped into LZ Pony for a day.

The next day we were right back at it. We were out in the plains checking the villages surrounding the village of An Qui. Suddenly we heard a fierce fire fight break out over in An Qui. We were about a click (kilometer) from there so we were ordered to move out and move into An Qui from the west and push through to A and B companies who had set up as a blocking force. we got to the edge of the village and dropped down behind the rice paddy dikes. We saw movement and some NVA heading into a hooch. The platoon leader screamed for the 60’s to open up on that hooch. That was my cue since I was then humping the 60. We pretty well shreaded the hooch. If there was anyone in there they were dead or shot all to hell. We then got up and began to move into An Qui, 1st squad to the left and 3rd squad to the right with second (mine) squad in the middle. When we moved into the village we had to cross an open area about 50 yards across. We got out into the open moving quickly and all hell broke loose. Two men in front of me and two men behind me were hit immediately and I kept moving firing all the way. I knocked out two bunkers, one a machine gun bunker and killed 4 NVA in those bunkers. That gave us time to get our flanking squads pulled back. As I was moving back I saw Doc Word in the brush with wounded. One was a young man that had just joined the company the day before. I asked Doc if he needed help. He said he needed to get the platoon leader out of there but the new guy was already dead along with two squad leaders. Doc and I grabbed Lt. Mordue and got him to safety. I returned to the crossing and laid down fire to help get the rest of the men out of the killing zone. The Lt had his ankle shot all to hell.

We finally got out of the village and had our wounded medevaced. We had to leave three dead in the village. There was no way to bring them out then. The gunships, jets, and artillery began to pound the hell out of that village and pounded it all night long. The next day we had to sweep the village because the NVA had moved out during the night. It seems we had walked right into the middle of an NVA batallion dug in looking for a fight. We lost 7 men out of my platoon that day and several wounded. The company commander came to me and asked me to show the armor where the bodies were. Apparently I was the only one that had made it that far into the village and lived to tell about it. We went in with chains and I pointed out the bodies of our men. The armor guys thanked me and said they would take it from there. They had to drag the bodies out with chains because they might be booby trapped. I got back to the company position and batallion air lifted us back to English to stand down.

For that day the Batallion Commander awarded me the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for valor. They also gave me a Purple Heart for scratching myself in the bushes, go figure. I wondered why because all I did was get the hell out of there as quick as I could. I did nothing anyone else would have done had they been in the same position.

After that fight we stayed in a stand down position for 3 days to collect ourselves and pat ourselves on our collective backs for still being alive and mourned the dead.

It was getting worse and we all knew it.

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