The Battle of Chu Moor
By Bud Roach
I was assigned out of the field to a battalion aid station which was located at a firebase. However, only about two weeks after I joined the aid station staff we moved. The location was on a ridge line near the Cambodian border. It was in steep mountain terrain and dense, very dense triple canopy rain forest.
While we were moving in and setting up air strikes and artillery pounded the next ridge line. This meant lots of bad guys in the area to get that kind of prep before sending soldiers on the ground. The ensuing clash was called the Battle for Chu Moor Mountain. This was a huge operation maybe the largest single battle I was part of. For the last week of April, 1968 the battle went on. Those of us at the firebase could listen to the radio traffic to know what was going on. The NVA were in tunnels at the top of the mountain (The Mountain was a beehive of tunnels). This had probably been a staging point off the Ho Chi Minh Trail for many years.
Our soldiers were advancing up the steep hill only to be pushed back by the NVA. This tactic was attempted several times resulting in heavy U.S. casualties each time. On April 28 Charlie Company reported that all of their medics and officers had been wounded. I agreed to return to my old unit as did Bill Zimmerman who had been my platoon leader with C Company.
Bill went in on a helicopter just a few minutes before I got a flight. The chopper I was on carried supplies. I was on my knees between the pilots’ seats so I could see our destination clearly. Was I scared? For a long time I didn’t want to admit just how scared I was. I think I can relate to the soldiers who were on the landing craft approaching Omaha Beach in World War II. I knew the situation I was headed for and had time to think about it. My heart was racing. I was so excited that I could taste the adrenalin.
As the helicopter neared the landing zone shots were being fired at it. The dull thud of the bullets hitting the chopper is an unmistakable sound. I can’t say it enough; helicopter pilots had ice water running through their veins. They did this time and time again. The landing zone was a little patch of chopped down trees on the side of the mountain. The choppers hardly touched down.
When I got on the ground I was shocked at what I saw. There were very few able-bodied men left of C Company. To my left two guys were trying to help a wounded person. I went to check on him but he had been killed. I told the two soldiers to get in the bunker. The most prominent feature was a huge tree in the center of the camp. Past the tree was a small open area and then the trail leading up the mountain. In the open area lay the bodies of Bill Zimmerman and one of his squad leaders. I was shocked. Bill and I had been in the field together from the beginning. He had been killed only minutes after arriving. The situation could not have been worse. There were not enough men left in C Company to defend the position against an attack.
The tactic of the NVA was to fire mortars into our site when helicopters were landing. The noise of the chopper concealed the direction of the mortars. Richard Cassano, the top sergeant, and I were recovering bodies when a chopper neared. Knowing the NVA would fire mortars, we were running around the big tree to get to a bunker when a mortar round exploded. Top sergeant in front of me was seriously wounded and Cassano behind me was killed. I did not get a scratch. The big tree saved me. I checked the sergeant and although he was wounded it was not life threatening. I turned to Cassano and he was obviously in trouble. I leaned him against the tree and tore his shirt open. He had a very large hole in his chest and was losing color. I knew I was losing him. The wound was too serious I couldn’t save him. I turned to the sergeant and patched him up until a chopper could carry him out.
C Company began being replaced by another unit. A chopper would bring in about six from the new unit and about six from C Company would leave. I went out late with the KIAs back to the firebase. In the last year I have talked to the Medical Officer who was at the firebase. He said when I got off the chopper the only thing I said was “they’re all dead.” I don’t remember saying anything. I went to the aid station bunker to be by myself. Just about every friend I had in Nam had been wounded or killed. It was never the same.
The plans were to pull all U.S. forces out of the area and call in B-52 strikes called arc light strikes. The firebase was a busy place being the staging point of everyone leaving the area. It was crowded. On the night of April 30 an artillery round exploded as it left the barrel of the cannon. The shrapnel wounded several in the firebase. We medics were called out in the darkness to do our job. There was a lot of disorganization because nobody knew what had happened. We called for a dustoff for six of the most seriously wounded. The pilots did not want to fly in the hazardous conditions at night but after some discussion about who would be responsible if the wounded died, the choppers came and the injured were medevac’d to a field hospital. That is pretty much the end of my medic experience in the field. I took an R&R as soon as I could.