Jim Winkeljohn

BRAVE RIFLE/COBRA Companies FO ’69/’70
[email protected]

atr_se_artillery

Forward Observer
B Company July 25, to August 30, 1969
C Company November 2, 1969 to February 16, 1970

My Army service began June, 4, 1967, when I was commissioned through the ROTC program at Mississippi State University. In late March 1968, I reported for active duty to the Artillery School at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. After completing the officer’s basic course, I was assigned to the 2nd Armored Division at Ft. Hood, Texas, where I stayed until I was ordered to Vietnam.

Departure for Vietnam was very early in the morning of July 10, 1969. There were stops in Hawaii and Clark AFB before landing in Cam Ranh. I was assigned to 101st at the replacement center there and the next day I flew to Long Binh where I joined the division. A week was spent there for in-country training and then a move to Camp Eagle. The next week consisted of an orientation for new officers by DivArty at Camp Eagle and included an overnight trip to a firebase Currahee in the A Shau Valley. At the end of the week I received my assignment to A/2/320th Artillery and from there I was attached to the 1/327th as an FO.

On July 25, 1969, I joined B Company and started a tour that only lasted several weeks but included the most deadly days of my time in Vietnam. My first days with the infantry were spent at Camp Eagle as the battalion was on stand down after a rough period in the A Shau. A memorial service was held for about 20 of the unit’s soldiers during the stand down. The rest didn’t last long as we went to the field a few days later. For me the first two weeks in the field seemed more like hiking and camping in the woods as all was quiet and peaceful. We were in the Elephant Valley not far from Bach Ma. The days were hot but on one occasion we had time to bathe in a clear, cool, fast running stream which rejuvenated all that seized the opportunity to clean up. The second week we moved to the Roung-Roung Valley which was quiet too. That all changed when the company was alerted that we would move the assist the Third Brigade in the A Shau Valley. Our mission would be to “exploit an Arc Light”, a B-52 strike, that would straddle a three by three click area of Vietnam’s border with Laos.

When we first arrived in the A Shau the battalion was assembled in a clearing on the valley floor between fire bases Rendezvous and Currahee. Dong Ap Bia was clearly visible to the north. We were there for about a day and on the afternoon of August 10, the companies made their combat assaults into the area the B-52s had bombed to see what was left. Unfortunately most of the bombs were off target and fell into Laos and almost none into Vietnam. Thus the enemy wasn’t dead, dazed, or disoriented like the S2/G2 said they would be. Dug in NVA were near our LZ and they were ready for us. B Company cleared the LZ and surrounding area but it was costly fight. The company took about dozen casualties in that assault and several more in several days that followed. Those days were spent patrolling the area until we were extracted and ferried back to Camp Eagle for a stand down. A memorial service was held for seven of the battalion on that stand down, six from B Company. About the same time as our stand down at Camp Eagle Hurricane Camille ripped through my hometown on the Mississippi Coast. It was almost a week later that I first learned of the storm in the Stars and Stripes and later through a message from the Red Cross. A few days later I left Vietnam on emergency leave to go home because of the storm.

My leave ended in late October I returned to Vietnam and the 1/327th. This time I was the FO for C Company replacing one I met the day we left the A Shau. He had replaced an FO that had been wounded in A Shau operation. I remained with C Company until mid February 1970 and during that time the company went on a variety of missions near the coast and other places more inland. There were numerous contacts with the enemy, which seemed to be small patrols and even individual NVA. Fortunately, for the company, we had no fatalities but others working with us were not so lucky. In mid-February a new FO was sent to C Company to replace me and I returned to at the artillery battalion on Camp Eagle, where I spent my final four weeks before DEROS and ETS. On March 10, I boarded my Freedom Bird, a Flying Tiger DC-8, at Cam Ranh and flew back to McChord by way of Tokyo and Alaska. I had my steak dinner in the wee hours of the morning before going to bed. The next day I was released from active duty at Ft. Lewis and headed home.

Three days after returning to civilian life, I ran into a girl I had known since high school at Sunday Mass. After spending a short time getting reacquainted I asked her out for that evening and she said yes. That was followed by more dates and fifteen months later we were married. It was obviously meant to be and we celebrated our 35th anniversary this past June. We have been blessed with three great children, who are doing well and have made their mom and dad very proud. Since 1977 I have worked for Harris Corporation’s Government Communications Systems Division in Melbourne, Florida. My wife, Tami, and I live nearby in Indian Harbour Beach on the Atlantic Coast. After Vietnam I took a two year break from the Army but then became active in the Reserves and completed 20 years of service in 1990. Interestingly, my first summer camp was to Ft. Campbell in 1973. The Signal Battalion I had joined supported a CPX for the 101st Airborne Division, which had recently returned from Vietnam. It was my one and only visit to Ft. Campbell and it was good to be with the Division again.

One of my favorite songs is “More Than A Name On A Wall” by the Statler Brothers. When I hear it I think of the soldiers of B Company who died in the A Shau on August 10, and 11, 1969. They are 2LT Carl Peterson, SP4 Roger Hollifield, SP4 Lawrence McGhee, SP4, Jeffery Schonfield, PFC John Serrate, and PFC Randal Kaser. Likewise, I remember those on operations with C Company whose names are on The Wall: William T Hatting and Bruce A. McCormick of Tiger Platoon who died on December 22, 1969; CPL Peter Pulaski, a dog handler, killed on January 4, 1970; and John A. Steel, the CP Commo SGT, who was killed on March 26, 1970, after I left. I also send special greetings, to the members of the CP of C Company, the group I worked and lived with for most of my time in Vietnam, many of whom were wounded the day “Steel” died.

My closing tribute is to all the Vietnam veterans of the 1st Battalion, 327th Airborne Infantry. You are as your motto says: “Above The Rest”. It was a great privilege, to have served with you.

May God bless you and keep you.

Sincerely,

Jim Winkeljohn
July 26, 2006