I arrived in the field in the afternoon by helicopter.
I joined a fire team and it totaled 3 not 5. The other two were Maceo Daste from Los Angeles, CA and Larry Bedoya from Yuma, AZ. Both had come over and were assigned to the 9th Division. About June 1967 there was a swap between the 4th Division and the 9th Division to get more experience in both Divisions. Both Daste and Bedoya had a DEROS of December 1967. We were already dug in and I watched them set out trip flares and claymores. Then we were told to get in our bunkers as they called in artillery to mark our location. We built our hootches by snapping together two panchos and placing them over a frame that we made from small trees. We then put one poncho on the ground and blew up two air mattresses. Comfy and cozy.
When it was getting dark the LP’s (Listening Post) went out. Our guard duty for the three of us was one hour on and two hours off.
The next day our platoon went out on a sweep. We were gone almost all day – no sight of the NVA. That night back in our company perimeter I learned that it was my turn on LP. I was given a radio and out I went and found a spot where I could listen and hopefully not be seen. About every hour there was a ‘comm’ check and I would squelch the handset to let them know I was still there and awake. I think about two squadrons of mosquitos were out that night and every one of them seemed to be dive bombing me.
The next day we broke camp and emptied the sandbags in the fox hole of our bunker and buried our trash. The entire company moved out and we made a sweep in a valley where aircraft had dropped some sort of test bomb a few days previous. The valley had grass about three feet high and we were told to be very careful as some of the bombs may not have detonated. I understood the bombs were about the size of a soccer ball.
The ensuing months were about the same.
Sometime in September my backside became infected and I was taken by helicopter to the aid station at The Oasis. They sliced and diced and bandaged me up. Remember in Basic Training I mentioned the gung-ho DI SFC Conover? I saw him in a tent at the Oasis and he was shaking and crying. I made inquiries and was told he had not even been in the field yet. I guess Vietnam was not what he expected or maybe he did not expect to go to Vietnam. Over the next few months as I saw other members of My Basic Training Company I told them the story of SFC Conover.
A few times we took some sniper fire but we were not ambushed or in a firefight. It was enough to get a CIB. Later we would really earn it.
On November 17, 1967 southwest of Ban Blech I experience my first real firefight. We were conducting search and destroy operations when we made contact with an estimated battalion-size force of the North Vietnamese Army that was dug in on a ridgeline. We lost three men that day including my buddy Mike Flannery. SGT Meadows was near me when he took a round in the front of his helmet. The bullet turned sideways and stopped half in his forehead and half in his helmet liner. Mike tells me he still has that helmet to this day.
Orders dated December 22, 1967 appointed many of us to Specialist Four E-4. In addition to me the following were also promoted:
Louis Barker; Alfonza Moore; Vern Watson; Joe Cox; Robert Roark; James Campbell; Ken Pierce; Jesse Corrales; Bennie Thomas; Doug Monger; Edward Cashman
We had several other battles including one near Ban Me Thout when the firebase came under attack and was almost overrun. I don’t remember the dates of that one.
Early January 1968 we went to an area where there was absolutely no water. I remember putting a 5 gallon can of water on my back and lugging it in. Also, during January 1968 there was an award ceremony at Camp Enari. General Westmoreland himself presented the awards and the company was awarded a battle streamer and many of us received awards for the action on November 17, 1967. I received the Army Commendation Medal with “V” Device. I had absolutely no idea I was going to receive an award.
February 1968 was Tet and we were in Kontum. I remember nearing the compound and we were taking sniper fire from a church steeple. A couple of us dove in a bomb crater but we were still exposed to the fire. It was either a tank or recoilless rifle that stopped the sniper. Afterward I notice a rip in my fatigue pants just above my right knee with blood on the pants and also on my leg. Our medics were real busy and I went up to one of them later and showed the wound to him. He inspected it and said…”It’s just jungle rot; get back to your squad.” There is still a scar there to this day.
In late April 1968 we were in the Battle of Chu Moor Mountain. During a combat assault just a day or so prior I fell out of a helicopter and landed on my steel pot and pack. I got up and said I am alright. If only I’d known. I do not remember anything about Chu Moor Mountain and my next memory was of a Stand-down at Base Camp.
During May 1968 when we returned to the field we were guarding a firebase west of Dak To near a river. During a small sweep of the area the squad came under fire and Larry Caplan was killed. Later we moved to Dak To to guard the air strip. While in Dak To I was treated for the dreaded Hookworms. See Related Story.
In late June we were in the VC Valley area of operations when we were ambushed and lost 3 KIA and 1 MIA.
In early July I returned to Base Camp to get signed out and go home. Others who were processed out under the same orders were:
Robert Roark; Jerry Jolly; Bill Garman; Sam Drake.
Bill Boling and I met up and were bussed to the Air Field were we got a ride to Cam Ranh Bay. We spent the night in the EM Club.
The next day we boarded a Boeing 707. It was so quiet when we boarded but when it was wheels up it was the loudest cheer you ever heard. I was sitting in the middle seat for the next 23 hours. We made a couple stops along the way, one being in Honolulu and then we arrived in Seattle on July 5, 1968 about midnight.
We processed out overnight and then were taken to the airport to catch a flight home.
My next duty station was Fort Carson Colorado.
NEXT – On Leave