Jim Eckl was our Forward Observer (FO) during the Battle of VC Valley.
The following are some of Jim’s recollections:
I always had a code book with me to encrypt grid coordinates for radio transmission, and the code changed every week, on the weekend, Saturday or Sunday, I don’t remember that detail, but the point is, I had to keep track of the days so I didn’t use the wrong code
06/26: — [The] quoted 4th Inf Div records say, company made contact resulting in two US “slightly” wounded: but that’s wrong, there were two WIA, one maybe could be described as “slightly” wounded, that was a Sergeant named Cady who recovered and later rejoined us, but the other was Michael Davis who was evacuated alive but later died of his wounds
06/27: — Vince Giammarino went MIA on a platoon-sized patrol reconnoitering the area where we had made contact the previous day; that was 1st platoon, led by Lieut. John Bobb, and I accompanied the patrol; Vince Giammarino had been out on an LP the previous night, that is, the night of 06/26-27, and hadn’t slept much if at all, so he was even more exhausted than the rest of us; I cannot know for certain, but my guess is that he simply fell asleep during a break, was inadvertently left behind when we moved out again, woke up to find himself alone, and then tried to make his way back to the company’s base; after he was found absent, before the platoon returned to the company base, I believe I recall hearing a transmission from the company commander’s RTO, Elmer Hale (the transmission was probably to John Bobb on the company frequency: my radio would have been on a different frequency, the artillery fire frequency), Elmer Hale asked in very urgent manner, what was happening, were we in contact? Small-arms fire had been heard coming from direction of our location; but I hadn’t heard it; maybe it seems incredible, but I believe I remember that our location was upwind of the company base, at the time I noticed that and wondered if that was explanation of why we hadn’t heard what was heard at the base; again, I cannot know for certain, but I have always suspected that Vince Giammarino and NVA had stumbled into each other and that fire was an exchange between them
06/28: — a platoon was sent direct to the new company base location, that was 3rd Platoon led by Lieut. Charlie Betz (who was as new as I was: he had been replacement for a platoon leader who had been killed at Chu Moor named Zimmermann; I was replacement for the forward observer who had been wounded at Chu Moor, Greg Shawn); so the force that walked into that ambush was 1st Platoon and 2nd Platoon (I cannot now recall who the platoon leader of 2nd Platoon was, when I joined the company north of Dak To airstrip around 05/15, it was Lieut. Gene Westbrook, and a month or so after VC Valley when we arrived out west of Ban Me Thuot it was Lieut. Bob Schmidt; but I don’t remember when Gene Westbrook left and Bob Schmidt replaced him); the order-of-march was, 2nd Platoon in the lead, then company headquarters element, then 1st Platoon in the rear; the point made contact as we were proceeding downhill, a brief exchange of small-arms fire, then as we were halted and everybody’s attention was focussed downhill, the main NVA force attacked our rear from uphill, behind us, all hell broke loose, the noise was simply deafening; it’s correct that there were two KIA & six WIA; I don’t remember all the WIAs, one was a Sergeant, Danny Watson, one was named Christensen, I don’t remember the others; the two KIAs were Blair Keown (although I had known him as “Pat” which I suppose had been a nickname) and Louie Kimbrell. “Pat” Keown was a grenadier in 1st Platoon, I didn’t really know him; Louie Kimbrell was one of the company commander’s RTOs in headquarters element so I knew him because the headquarters was usually my place, a few steps away from the company commander; at this time the company commander had three RTOs, Elmer Hale, the senior of the three, one named Murphy and Louie Kimbrell; but there were only two radios, one for the company frequency and one for the battalion frequency, so the third man carried a big collapsible radio antenna (I think it was called a 292) and they rotated among them who was carrying what; that day Louie Kimbrell had the antenna; when the intense firing started in the rear, he dropped the antenna and headed for the rear, back to where 1st Platoon was getting shot up: he had been in 1st Platoon before he moved to headquarters and those were his friends getting shot: he could have stayed at headquarters, no one would have faulted him for it, that was his place; but because it was Elmer Hale and Murphy who had the two radios, he must have figured he wasn’t needed at headquarters and his friends in the rear of the column needed him more; and so he died; I am sure remember seeing a NVA KIA inside our position when we moved back uphill at dusk to get out of ambush location.
06/29: — after all these years I can still remember that hot food that got sent out to us at the new company base, it was one of the most memorable meals of my life because I hadn’t been expecting to survive to eat it or anything else: supper that evening was chile con carne served over spaghetti!!
07/04: — Independence Day, at which time we had been moved out of those mountains, south a little bit to FSB Batman on flat & open ground, securing a 105 battery, and we celebrated the Fourth of July the best way we could, M-60 tracers & pyrotechnics all over the place: it was while we were there that we found out Michael Davis had died