Fire Fight During a Night Ambush Patrol

U.S. Army Sergeant Arnold Krause told journalist Peter Alan Lloyd: “Shots ring out and the platoon dives for cover, each of us landing in pools of water and mud on the floor of the rubber plantation. We are as surprised as Charlie as we come face to face less than 50 feet apart. Because of how we were moving, not everyone has a clear field of fire. I have a number of troops between me and the enemy. There is random and sporadic fire directed at the VC. They are returning fire as well. I can hear the crack of some AK-47’s and then “Whoosh”. I know a RPG is coming and there is a loud explosion to my right, then another one. This one sprays me with shrapnel. Nothing serious, just small fragments in the hands. PFC Juan Antu, a 20 year old Mexican kid from Yvalde, Texas, one of our grenadiers who packs a M-79 Grenade Launcher, is hit in the exchange. [Source: Arnold Krause with Peter Alan Lloyd, Wall Street Journal, Eyewitness Accounts General News The Vietnam War, May 2013]

“We have no cover other than the darkness that surrounds us. Everyone is staying put from where they have dropped to the ground. Finally, we are returning a base of fire at any muzzle flashes we can see and Charlie disappears into the darkness, the firing stops and the rain, which was pouring down, eases up but the wind continues to blow hard. It’s around 2100 hours. We do a quick check to see what our casualties are. Juan Antu, who was in front of me, has taken a bullet. The round hit his helmet, spun around in the helmet liner and entered his skull in the back. 

“I try talking to him, “Juan, can you hear me? Where are you hit”, but I’m getting no response. The medic is busy with other wounded so I try to see what I can do. I’m feeling around on his chest and arms trying to feel for wounds or blood. His helmet is off and he is lying in the wet mud on his back. We can’t risk using any light because we are unsure whether the enemy has fully retreated or still hanging around. I continue to try and find out where he is hit. I lift him up out of the water and mud to check his back side. He is limp and lifeless. There are no wounds that I can find to his chest so I probe around on his head and it feels like a cracked egg. He is gone. A good kid, quiet, polite and someone whom I was just getting to know, is no longer. I stare at his limp figure for another minute, then radio for an immediate dust off [a Medevac chopper]. The weather is bad and the winds and rain are heavy. We are told the dust off will have to wait until the weather lifts.

“Dau Tieng “Dust off” says they can’t go up in this wind. An hour later, Dust off 77 attempts to brave the weather, then radios to us that they are aborting the mission and return to base camp. We wait and we can’t get a Medevac for several hours from anywhere. We try and make the wounded comfortable and set up a security perimeter and hunker down in the storm. There is no sign that the VC are still around. Finally, a crew from Cu Chi volunteers to come to get us, but the team from Dau Tieng makes another attempt and braves the weather and arrives at 2240 hours. I radio to the chopper and try to talk the chopper down to our location. We have a flash light we are using to get his attention. The light is placed into a helmet so it can only be seen from above.

“There is a clearing that we have moved to alongside the main supply road and a quick security perimeter is put in place. We have more wounded than the chopper can take. It can’t get off the ground. Someone needs to remain behind until a second Medevac arrives. We lighten the load. There are nine wounded on board heading back to Dau Tieng. Our KIA [killed in action] is left behind and we have instructions to bring him back to camp in a vehicle. It has been a rough night. What’s left of the ambush patrol waits near a main road for daylight and we sweep the area once more. We find 4 VC ponchos, one with a lot of bullet holes, but no blood trails and no bodies. Not surprising in the heavy rain we had during the night. We report a possible 5 VC body count anyway.

“As dawn arrives, a second chopper is ordered to our location, then once again the flight is cancelled by battalion and orders are issued for a second time, to get back to camp via convoy. We finally get Antu loaded on a deuce and a half. The convoy reverses direction and as it heads back toward Dau Tieng, it picks up the rest of the company at their ambush site locations and we are then trucked back to base camp. The final tally is 13 WIA’s, 4 are hospitalized, and one KIA. Two of the wounded is our commanding officer, Ron Hendricks who remained with 3rd plt as we set out on our ambush and LT Brown. Hendricks is hospitalized for three weeks and we get a temp C.O.,1LT Jimmy Ford to fill in. [WIA= wounded in action]

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