There is an advantage of being able to look back after forty years. It allows for a different perspective. I can see now that after February 5, 1968 I changed dramatically. I kept friends at a distance and quit writing letters except to my family and my friend Jackie. I was resigned to the belief that I would not return home alive.
C Company had several more incidents around Kontum and later as we continued to follow the retreating NVA towards the Cambodian border.
I was surprised when I got home to find out that the 68 Tet Offensive was considered a victory for the NVA. The 4th Division in the highlands crushed any attempt by the north to gain any advantage. I thought that because of our stunning success on the ground the war would be over that summer. However, we had one major battle still coming.
CHU MOOR MOUNTAIN
I was assigned out of the field to a battalion aid station which was located at a firebase. The change improved living conditions immensely. In the field we moved every three days. The firebase and aid station moved about once a month but the move took much more effort. I slept on a cot. I was able to eat hot meals although the food was still out of a can but someone else cooked it. Daily life was much easier. 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.
Continue to Chapter 9