Tet truce violated

The year was 1967, and Delta Company, 2/12th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division, was standing down to honor the 7-day truce for Tet, the Vietnamese lunar new year celebration. Our status had changed three times during the nine months of my tour and on 11 Feb 67, my 3rd Platoon was activated and changed to a LRRP platoon.

Our cook, who was sitting many kilometers away back in base camp, actually flew us out some ice cream as we broke camp high in the mountains in Bong Son, overlooking the beautiful South China Sea.

Into the fire

The squawk box on our PRC-25 came to life, alerting us of a mission, and four Huey choppers swooped in to pick us up and fly us straight into hell. A large compound, with a main house and businesses in a fishing village, was the front for a large PAVN or NVA regimental command post and they had been violating the truce by stockpiling ammo, weapons and other combat things that were forbidden by the truce. As soon as our choppers swooped over the village, we were under heavy automatic weapons fire.

The choppers dropped us like hot coals onto an open beach, and the only cover were some high, wavy sand dunes. I was the acting squad leader since Sergeant Steve Sudor had been injured in a chopper crash three weeks earlier, and had our platoon spread out to form a straight old-fashioned infantry line of defense. We returned fire with our small arms but, due to the ceasefire, we could not get support fire from any Air Force, artillery or any standard fighting support. Worse yet, our mortar platoon was kilometers away guarding the vital LZ English. Enemy rounds were coming at us like a Hollywood movie.

As squad leader, I had to switch my M-60 machine gun with another squad member, so I carried the one-shot missile projector: the Colt M-16. In short order, we began to run out of ammo and my machine gunner was having jam issues with his M-60, so I got on the radio and called for more ammo and a new M-60.

Facing the enemy

Mine was the first squad on a sand dune facing the dug-in enemy. Along with me and a new M-60, was my assistant, Sp4 Saul E. Atkins from Alabama, and our usual squad members including PFC Roderic James Rodenbeck, from Illinois, returning fire and picking out moving targets down in this ancient fishing village. Tall trees surrounded this village and some hardcore snipers had climbed up to fire at us. To my left was Atkins feeding me belts of ammo and to Atkins’ left was Rodenbeck.

We heard a nauseous, metallic sound and an enemy round blew through Rodenbeck’s steel pot at the top, passing through his entire head, bouncing off of his neck bone. It all happened in a second. Arterial blood gushed upon Atkins, then me, blinding us momentarily. He bled out right away. One of our other comrades dragged his body to the sand dunes behind us to our medic.

After over an hour, we finally got some brave Air Force jet pilots flying out of Da Nang to bomb the compound, but fire was still coming from the fortified building. The next sortie came with napalm, and tons of it. Our platoon leader, 1Lt. Don Simmons, was on the radio directing fire from atop of a sand dune.

SP4 Larry “Andy” Anderson, our company clerk, flew out to the water’s edge and dropped off a chopper load of more ammo and weapons. He was our hero. When the flames died from the burning enemy compound, Lt. Simmons gave the order to saddle up and move into the village to kill the remaining commies.

Another loss

The first squad in was led by SP4 Marcus Delmar White from Kentucky, my old friend and comrade. Enemy fire cut him and his entire squad down, but Marcus took a round in his head. The rest crawled, wounded and bleeding, to gain cover behind a handmade reed fishing boat lying in the sand. Our medic froze. He just could not go down to respond to the screams of those wounded skytroopers. Lt. Simmons saw me begin to ease down to try to help and he motioned for me to put my helmet on since most of us were still wearing our soft LRP boonie hats. I reached the reed boat and patched up about three of the guys, enough to stem the bleeding.

I then spotted Marcus lying face down, still alive, but drowning in his own blood. I low crawled out to him, flipped him over placing him between my legs and began to revive him. I had been trained in advanced first aid back in high school during my three years in Squadron 103 in the Civil Air Patrol as both a drill sergeant and a Ranger rescue team leader — plus, being a huge fan of the Doctor Ben Casey TV show back in the world, I felt confident that I could bring Marcus back.

As I reached up to clear his blood-filled airway, the hard cores saw me and unleashed a torrent of 7.62mm automatic weapons fire upon Marcus and me. Three bullets tore through my left thigh, breaking my femur and ripping up my quads and hamstring. Not a good hit.

I screamed so loud my Father woke up in the middle of the night back home in Philadelphia, 12,000 miles away.

“Edna, Jimmy’s been hurt real bad.”

My mom replied, “Dan, you watch too much Channel 6. Roll over and sleep.”

Dad’s Irish clairvoyance was correct, as 24 hours later both a Red Cross telegram and two charming Army reps showed up at our Philly row home.

Somehow, I survived, but was hospitalized for 15 full months. God bless those who didn’t.