The Battle of Chu Moor Mountain
by Mike MacCallum
D/1/22/4th Infantry Division
April 24, 1968. Day 1.
We left fire base C-Rations at about 8:00 AM. D/1/22nd was nearly full strength, I believe that we had about 130 men in the company. Although I don’t remember which platoon was on the point, the 1st Platoon–my platoon–was last in the formation. I also remember that we had a German shepherd and a dog handler assigned to the company. They were on point.
The valley between C-Rations and Chu Moor was very deep and it was hot. April is the hottest month in Vietnam because it is the last dry month before the monsoons start. We were heavily loaded, carrying about 65 to 85 pounds per man. I was the radio-telephone operator (RTO) for the 1st Platoon Leader, whose name I don’t recall.
At the bottom of the valley, the dog went on alert and we paused for a bit and reconned by fire. Apparently, it was a false alarm. On the other side of the stream at the bottom of the valley, we began to climb Chu Moor. The mountain was high and the side that we climbed was mostly covered with grass, shrubs, and with a few trees here and there where there was enough soil for them to grow. At times it was so steep that we had to grab the bushes and pull ourselves up by hand. We ascended in single file.
As we climbed the mountain in the heat, the German shepherd began to tire. At one point the entire company stopped to let the point dog rest. When the dog needed to rest again, the company commander refused to let us stop, instead the dog and his handler stopped and let some of the company pass by. Eventually, the handler ended all the way back at the 1st platoon. The handler carried the dog over his shoulders for a while, but the dog was big and that didn’t last very long. When the point reached the top of Chu Moor, the 1st Platoon may have become slightly separated from the rest of the company because of that dog.
When the point reached the top of Chu Moor, it walked into an ambush. From my position down below the brow of the summit, I could hear rifle fire and explosions up ahead. It was very intense. A salvo of 105 artillery was fired from C-Rations and it came in near the front of our platoon, wounding Jim Plumb, a machine gunner. He receive a serious wound in the kidney area from shrapnel. I remember shouting into the radio to stop the artillery, which must have been heard because that was the only salvo that came in on top of us.
There was a small, reasonably level clearing near our position down below the top of the hill. Our platoon leader instructed one squad and me to secure the clearing for a landing zone (LZ) and he called in for a dustoff (medivac) for Plumb. Then he took the rest of the platoon up to the summit to join the company, which I estimate was about 50 meters away.
Meanwhile, up on the top of Chu Moor, the rest of the company was in an intense firefight. At least one more WIA was sent down the mountain to us at the LZ, but I think there must have been a few more. I handled the radio, we popped smoke and a medivac helicopter squeezed into the little LZ and picked up our wounded.
One guy, I don’t remember his name, had been shot in the chest and the bullet had gone through his left shirt pocket. He seemed to be feeling alright, though, and he told me that he had seen NVA up in the trees. Later, when he returned to our unit, he told us that the bullet had gone through his pocket bible and then hit one of those little can openers that came with the C-rations. The bible and the can opener has slowed the bullet down enough to where his wound wasn’t as serious as it could have been. He told us that the doctors dug both the bullet and the can opener out of the wound.
While the dustoff was going on, we could hear small arms fire and explosions coming from the top of the mountain. The helicopter came in low, rising up the mountain, so I think it was pretty well protected. I thanked that pilot with all my heart for coming into that situation to pick up our wounded. All that took place in about half an hour or so, certainly less than an hour. Once the dustoff was over, we climbed our way to the top of the mountain to rejoin the company. There must have been another medivac later that day, but I wasn’t involved in it.
We found the company formed in a perimeter. The 1st Platoon occupied the third of the perimeter where we had come up the mountain, the furthest from the enemy positions. Our platoon leader and medic–and there may have been one more guy–were digging in just back from the perimeter. The ground was hard, there were periodic B-40 rockets and rifle fire incoming, and we had to stay low, so progress was slow. I joined the platoon leader and began digging as well. It was an absolute misery be so scared and to feel so helpless.
As I recall, we were on a pretty flat ridge line, that must have led to the actual summit of Chu Moor a little further on. Where the 1st Platoon was digging in, we were on the brow of the ridge and the mountain slopped away below us. Our bunker was actually slightly above the line bunkers on the perimeter. The ridge was heavily forested and it was difficult to see very far in any direction. Above, the leaves of the trees formed a nearly solid canopy over our heads.
With all the intense firing, our company began to run low on ammo after just a short time on the mountain and a resupply helicopter was dispatched to our position. I remember seeing a resupply helicopter arrive above our perimeter. The wash of the blades as the helicopter hovered above us pushed the leaves and branches around so you could catch glimpses of men in the helicopter throwing crates of ammo out the doors as fast as they could. I have always admired the bravery of those guys. They were just sitting ducks up there. In fact, that first resupply helicopter was hit my small arms fire and just made it back to the fire base where it crashed. We saw that helicopter later, when we returned to C-Rations and were told that all the men that were in it were ok.
I honestly don’t remember much about that first night up on Chu Moor. I don’t remember eating, although we must have eaten. I don’t remember being short of water and I don’t believe that we were. I don’t remember how we went to the bathroom, pinned down like we were, but we must have found a way. We must have kept watch and slept as best we could when we were off watch. I remember artillery being called in after dark and flares, so that we could spot the enemy if they attacked. I must have slept at least some during the night because I don’t remember being particularly sleep deprived the next day.
April 25, 1968. Day 2.
First thing in the morning, probably about 7:00 AM, the NVA began a ground assault on our position. I believe that the entire perimeter was attacked at the same time, but all I know about for sure is the portion of the perimeter in front of our bunker, the 1st Platoon’s portion. One group of the enemy circled around and attacked from the direction of our LZ, where we had come up the mountain from the day before, against the 1st Platoon bunkers. From the platoon leader’s bunker, I was away from the perimeter and not engaged in fighting against the assault. I monitored the radio for the platoon leader. I remember that the amount of incoming fire, both small arms and mortar and rocket was incredible. Just a constant roar of incoming and outgoing fire.
When the assault was over, I was sent down to the perimeter to help with the wounded. We had taken quite a few WIAs and one KIA, Karl Lucas, during that assault. Some of the WIAs were very serious. One guy, his name may have been White, had his leg blown nearly completely off. It was hanging by a thread, and others, including Fred Sena who I knew pretty well, had gunshot and shrapnel wounds to the chest and abdomen. One man (I don’t remember his name), who had served in Vietnam before and had volunteered to come back for a second tour of duty, was also wounded somewhere in the torso. He told me that he had seen the NVA coming through the trees and that he had thrown hand grenades as fast as he could and had probably gotten four or five of them. He may have been the man quoted in the Stars and Stripes article that is posted on the 1/22.org website. It sounded very much like the same story. I believe that the 1st Platoon was down to about half strength as a result of that morning assault.
After the the assault had been beaten back, the company was ordered to send out sweeps in front of their respective sections of the perimeter. I was ordered to accompany a squad of unwounded men to go out on the sweep. We went out single file from the left side of the perimeter as I remember, to a distance of perhaps 50 meters and then moved parallel to the perimeter to the other end of the 1st platoon section, and then back into the perimeters. I believe we found two NVA bodies, but I definitely remember one. He was on his back with his head down hill and his legs folded underneath him. He was in an awkward position, one that a living person would find very uncomfortable. He looked to be about 15, but I am sure he must have been older. He was very thin with a narrow, thin copper ring on his right ring finger. He was dressed in an NVA uniform. During that sweep, we noted his position but left him where he was. I think that later he may have been dragged to the LZ and put on a chopper. We also found some abandoned enemy equipment, such as a helmet.
When our sweep was completed, we had reestablished contact with our LZ and some of the other guys from the 1st Platoon began bringing the wounded down to the LZ. Another platoon, I don’t remember which one, sent out a squad to sweep in front of their position, almost immediately they took heavy fire and had to crawl back to the perimeter. One of the men, a sergeant I believe, was hit by a bullet right in the forehead. The bullet went through his steel helmet and hit the helmet liner right on one of the fastenings that holds the webbing in. The bullet was lodged in the fastening, protruding out both sides of the helmet liner, just inside the webbing. Thank heavens for that steel helmet. We again came under heavy fire from the enemy.
I don’t know if the third of our three platoons also attempted a sweep in front of their portion of the perimeter. It may be that they didn’t or couldn’t because of the enemy’s response to the second sweep.
Meanwhile, back at the LZ, the first dustoff had occurred (there were two, I believe). For some reason that I don’t remember now, I was sent down to the LZ. When I got down there I am pretty sure that Karl Lucas’ body was still on the LZ because the priority pickup was for the wounded. I distinctly remember seeing Fred Sena dead on the LZ. I had seen him wounded from the early morning attack and I knew that he had been taken down to the LZ with the rest of the wounded. For some reason he did not get on the first pickup–probably he was thought to be not so badly off or perhaps he had already died.
Things were a little scarier down on the LZ, now. The enemy had shown us that it could round the mountain and get behind us without being seen and it would have been a good tactic to lie in wait for the medivac helicopters. Those of us that were pulling security down on the LZ were pretty much out in the open. We were nervous down there and highly alert. The next medivac helicopter came in and picked up the remaining wounded and the bodies of Karl Lucas and Fred Sena and I returned to the perimeter. Although I wasn’t keeping track of the time, I believe that all of this happened by about 10:00 AM.
After returning to the perimeter, I rejoined our platoon leader and we continued to try and improve our bunker, along with all the rest of the guys on the mountain. We would chop down trees and dig and fill sandbags for a while, trying to stay as low as we could. I am sure that the enemy could hear all this activity and every now and then, probably when they could hear that we were most active–and, therefore, most exposed–they would fire a B-40 rocket into our perimeter, oftentimes resulting in a casualty or two. Afterward, there would be dead silence for a while and then we would respond by firing blindly in their direction–probably to little effect–and by calling in artillery in the direction that we thought the rocket had come from. Then we would continue digging in. We suffered a KIA during the second day. He was someone I didn’t know and I don’t know how he died, but probably because of incoming rocket fire.
John Piraino, from the 1st Platoon and assigned to carry the Company Commander’s radio, was just above us in the middle of the perimeter trying to dig in. He had a few sandbags filled already, piled up behind him, in the direction of the enemy positions. With his back to those sandbags, he raised his entrenching tool over his head and swung it down into the bottom of the hole, so that he was bent at the waist, below ground level. Right at that instant a rocket came whistling through the trees and slammed into his sandbags. If he had still been standing up, he probably would have been torn in half.
At one point during the second day, I went over to the bunkers of one of the other platoons, I am not sure which one. Their part of the perimeter looked out in the direction of the positions. I could see nothing in that direction but forest and underbrush. They told me how they were keeping watch and would periodically fire one of their M-79 grenade launchers out in the direction of the enemy, hopefully to help keep them pinned down. The shells from those grenade launchers follow an arch and, in the hands of an inexperienced soldier, can accidentally get up into the branches of the trees, instead of going through the clear spaces between the trunks. They told me that they had two WIAs because of M-79 grenades exploding in the low-hanging tree branches and wounding our own guys. Both had received shrapnel in their upper trapezius muscles at the top of their shoulders and had been medivaced out. Those rather minor wounds turned out to be million-dollar wounds because the soldiers who received them could no longer hump the heavy rucksacks that we had to carry in the infantry. They spent the rest of their tour of duty in the relative safety of the 4th Division base camp, pulling guard duty and doing menial chores.
And so the second day passed. It was a constant battle to dig in and stay low. Helicopters brought us ammo and carried off our dead and wounded. Artillery was almost constantly screaming over our heads and impacting the enemy positions. Periodically, there would be a pause in the artillery and helicopter gun ships or air strikes would take its place.
At about 4:00 PM in the afternoon, B/1/22nd arrived at our perimeter as reinforcements. My recollection is that our company was maybe 1/3rd strength by then, with 3 KIA and perhaps 40-50 WIAs. Had the NVA known how decimated our unit was, they perhaps would have tried another assault and we would have been hard-pressed to fight them off. If it wasn’t for the artillery, helicopter gun ships, and air strikes, we would have been in an even worse situation than we already were. B Company spread out along the perimeter and integrated into our positions.
The night passed much as the previous one, with artillery flares lighting up the night so that we could see if the enemy tried a night assault. Artillery also continued through the night and Spooky (the AC-47 equipped with three mini-guns, each capable of firing 6,000 rounds per minute) circled Chu Moor that night and rained lead down on the enemy positions. Again, I don’t remember the night very well, how we slept or how we ate, but somehow we made it through.
April 26, 1968. Day 3
Day three was much like day two, although the NVA did not mount an assault. They continued to fire rockets and small arms fire into the perimeter and we continued to be pinned down and could not move against them. Artillery fire and air strikes continued to support us, as well as resupply, gun ship, and medivac helicopters.
On the third day, a sergeant E-6, I believe his name was Campbell, was killed by an incoming rocket. Campbell was a career soldier who came to us, I believe, from a supply job. He was older and out of shape, maybe in his early to mid thirties. He may have had infantry training somewhere in his past, but we could all tell that he was not one of us–he really had no business being up there on that mountain. There was some speculation that he had pissed someone off and had been transferred out to the field. If that was so, it turned out to be a harsh and final punishment for him.
We continued to take more WIAs as rockets, mortars, and small arms fire came into the perimeter. In the early afternoon, we received word to pull back from Chu Moor to LZ C-Rations. We left the mountain at about 3:00 PM and arrived at C-Rations at about 6:00 PM. A Company, 1/22nd relieved us, arriving to reinforce B Company at about 4:00 PM. We passed them on the way down the mountain, but I don’t remember if we did or not. I remember that after we left the perimeter, where we had been under almost continuous contact for 48 hours, and when we had gone a couple hundred meters or so, B Company all of a sudden opened up with everything they had. I felt sorry for them, but my predominate feeling was relief to be getting off that mountain.
Although it doesn’t agree with the KIAs and WIAs reported in the Battle of Chu Moor radio logs, I distinctly remember counting the number of us who walked down the mountain. There were 27 of us left, although the greatest proportion of our losses were WIAs.