Christmas Eve Accident Memories

These memories were brought forward by a request from the families wanting to know what happened to their loved ones.

If you have any memory that you would like to add, please send it to David J.


Hello Derika,

My name is Mike Carretero. Paul Shaffer has sent me Email stating that you were looking for any information that anyone might have about your father Jaime Laboy. I was with 3rd platoon A CO from July, 1970 through November 1970 before being transferred from the bush to HHQ/TOC (Tactical Operations Center) for the 1/327th. I was working in TOC when the accident happened.

I know that you have been communicating with Paul Shaffer also and he has been kind enough to forward your Email to me . He was with 2nd platoon when the accident happened and was one of the fortunate ones to survive the tragic ordeal. His name is on this Email. I have also included some of the names of the other veterans that are also familiar about what happened that day. They may be able to give you more information as to what happened that day and the day after.

As I said, I was on Firebase Bastogne when it happened. Colonel Hilbert (battalion commander at the time) was bringing all of the Company’s in closer to the firebase so that hot Christmas meals could be choppered out to the troops.

I received the following Email from Mike COLAs who was a forward observer (FO) with 2/320 Arty, and was with C-1/327 from Jan. 1970 through September 1970.
He wrote:

“I was in the FDC at Camp Eagle when this happened. All the Arty side was according to spec, but someone in the field had misrepresented where the platoon was on the ground. Then when the regular defensive targets (delta tangos, as we used to call them) were fired in, the rounds landed right in the middle of where the platoon was set up. I forget the FO’s name, but he was wounded and survived.

I remember a thorough investigation being done, but never saw the outcome. It was definitely a plotting error by either the platoon leader or the FO or both. Don’t know if this sheds any further light on it, but this is what I know.”

Just recently we had another ABU by the name of Mil Thorton who found the 327th website. He was with 1st platoon.

In an Email to Paul Shaffer Mil Thorton also recalls some of what happened that day, and wrote:

“I was the RTO in 3rd platoon. My name is Mil Thornton. I just found the 1/327th site. I’ve been looking for any contact with others from the 1/327th for years. When I was surfing through the names I got to yours (Paul Shaffer) and its’ the first that I’ve seen that remembers XMAS eve of 1970.

My heart is jumping right now and I just want to say, Welcome home.

I knew Mike Bertell, real well. He was the RTO for your platoon. We did a lot of things together at Eagle Beach when we would get together. As I recall there weren’t to many that made it unharmed from that incident. I remember that it was the stupid new platoon leader you got that screwed everything up and didn’t know what the normal routine for setting up artillery coordinates etc. At least that is what we had learned in 3rd platoon. I have a vivid memory of hearing the RTO letting us all know that you had takin 2 H.E. rounds and the fire center saying to get your heads down because there where 2 more on their way. I was listening on my radio and it was really frustrating.

We lost a lot of good friends that day. I remember that your platoon had the guys with the shortest time left also.

I have come to learn over the years that so many of our soldiers in different wars lost their lives in friendly fire incidents.”

Dave Hansen was the Captain I worked for in S2 in TOC. He sent me the following Email:

“From what I remember, the platoon was setting up their NDP’s (Night Defensive Perimeters) for the night and the platoon leader plotted his position about 1000 yards (or meters) off and then called in a round and it landed right in the middle of his platoon. If you remember, they had him out of the field with in hours of this happening. Well, I reread it, but If I remember correctly they were setting up before the cease fire time of 6 pm.”

Captain Hansen and I remember that they brought the platoon leader out by chopper to Firebase Bastogne. Colonel Hilbert dressed him down in front of everyone on the helipad in front of TOC. They then put him on a chopper again and we think they sent him somewhere to the rear. If they would have left him out in the field, he would have been dead meat. I remember he was a 2nd louie who had just graduated from ROTC.

There are a few conflicting points, but they are still almost along the same lines. What I can remember is that, as Captain Hansen stated, the Platoon Leader misread his map and he was about a 1000 meters off from the actual map coordinates that he stated he was located. One of the other platoons, and for some reason I want to say Bravo Company had an FO (Forward Observer) also. He had called for a marking round for his squad’s Delta Tango’s (Defensive Targets). When the marking round went off a safe distance from their location, he then called the Arty Battery to fire for effect. Unbeknownst to the FO, the round went off directly above 2nd platoon of A Company. The RTO’s from ABU tried to call in to report the incident about the marking round but it was too late. The next round landed directly in the middle of their NDP(Night Defensive Perimeter).

“Mike,

Checked the date and I show 9 from A/1/327 lost that day. I’m also seeing a pattern here with your Unit in the 70/71 time frame. For most Units, when guys were killed due to friendly fire, they coded their cause of death as ‘Misadventure’.

But with 1/327, all 9 of these men (and similar friendly fire incidents); they’re being coded as ‘Non-hostile, Other Accident’. This latter coding is a little misleading…..esp with these 9….as it usually infers a unique accidental death (such as Wilken in the race relations incident). As time goes on, your Assoc needs to clarify these type of deaths as to what they really were. Chances are that the families of these fallen soldiers have never been told as to just what happened.

Mike, here are the names that I show:

SP4 Paul D’Amato
SP4 Gregory Felker
SP4 Larry Heen
Cpl Calvin Mack
SP4 Thomas Noble
Sgt Michael Nugent
Cpl Vern Odom
Cpl Wesley Phillips
SP4 Steve Pohancek

Beyond Christmas Eve, I did find three more that died of wounds sustained, and they were probably also hit that day:

SP4 Anthony Brese Died 12/26/70
Cpl Kenneth Griffin Died 12/28/70
Cpl Jaime Laboy Died 1/8/71

All 12 coded to A/1/327, and all due to Non-Hostile, Other Accident. If you guys can corroborate that these last 3 were hit on the 24th, please let me know so we can annotate our Master List accordingly.

Hope this helps,
Bruce Swander ”

I have also been in contact with Terry Berkbigler who also was with 3rd platoon during the time of the incident. He wrote me a letter of what he remembered that evening and the next day. I will have to transcribe the letter and send it to you via Email. Their platoon was sent to provide aide and security during the night for the wounded and to pick up body parts on Christmas day.

Below is the memorial web-page for your father that is on the 327th website. If you happen to have a Vietnam picture of your father or could provide one to Hannibal, he will put it on the page also.

Jaime Laboy

So far, you are the third person who has found this website and has ask for information regarding one of the ABU’s who lost their life that day. Welby Schrader the cousin of Steve Pohanchek and Angel B the friend of Thomas G. Noble have both requested information.

I hope this gives you a little more information as to what happened that day. We don’t know what information any of the families received from the military as far as what happened that day. In his entry on the 327th Guest Book, Welby Schrader stated something about a 105 round that was short. It wasn’t due to a short round if that is the picture the Army tried to paint.

It was due to human error. The platoon leader reported his coordinates a 1000 meters from where he was actually located on the map.
If you have any additional questions, or if I can be of any additional help, don’t hesitate to ask. All of us still remember and grieve the loss of your dad and all the other ABU’s and veterans who didn’t make it home.

They will not be forgotten!

Above the Rest and Among the Best,
Mike


More memories from this tragic event…….
My name is Bernie Davies and I was with D Btry, 2/320 FA, located on the upper position at FSB Birmingham, Christmas 1970. I just found you web site and read what was written bout that day and would like to add some perspective from Arty. We were located on the top of Birmingham and Alpha battery, 2/320, was located at the base of the hill. My recollection is one of devastation, there is no other word to describe how I felt or the others in my unit felt when we heard of the friendly fire incident that had been fired by Alpha battery. We were told that it had happened and that 9 of our brothers were killed. A friend of mine from our battery had even been down there visiting and helping hump ammo when it happened. Please accept this humble note that the grunts in the field and the families at home were not alone in grief. Every Christmas since then that day is prominent in my mind. If I can be of further assistance please let me know.
Bernie Davies


Regarding the Christmas Eve friendly fire incident that occurred near Fire Base Bastogne in 1970. I was the chief computer for C Btry, 2/320 Arty, stationed on Bastogne. The incident occurred while we were celebrating Christmas eve services in our unit, less than an hour before the Christmas cease fire.

I did not know any of the people who were in the unit that was hit. It was my understanding that the infantry platoon had left the fire base earlier that day. The platoon leader was anxious to adjust in a couple of defensive targets prior to the cease fire. That platoon was supported by the artillery unit at Fire Base Birmingham because it was too close to our hill for our unit to effectively support it.

Standard procedure for that kind of fire mission would have been for the artillery unit to fire a first round marking round – a 200 meter up white phosphorous air burst. D Btry apparently did not have any white phosphorous rounds and, instead, fired two consecutive smoke rounds. Smoke rounds are not as obvious as white phosphorous. When the smoke rounds were not observed, the people on the ground assumed that it was safe to fire the high explosive round. Only one hp round was fired and you know the result.

It is a memory that I can never forget.
John Mundinger


Mil Thornton:

On December 24, 1970 Alpha Company of the 1/327 ABU’s 101 I.D. , humped off of FB Bastogne for FB security during the Christmas cease fire. I know from seeing the battalion day report for Dec 24, 1970 that Bravo Co. also humped off the FB Southeast of Alpha co. We got off kind of late in the day and we had to set up our night defense targets (Delta Tangos) coordinates quickly before 6:00 pm which was the start of the 24 hour cease fire. I was RTO for 1st herd of Alpha Co. and called in the DT’s at around 5:15pm. 3rd platoon was also calling theirs in when all hell broke loose on the radio. 2nd platoon had taken an H.E. round in the middle of their NDP killing 9 and severely wounding 9 others. Mike Bertell was in the group with those 19 guys. They had just arrived at their NDP. Mike was the only one in that group that was unharmed physically by the shrapnel from the H.E. round. (since that day and up to today Mike’s injuries could not be seen and he has suffered from PTSD of that event for many years.) He was sitting behind a tree stump in the middle of the 18 other guys that were either killed or wounded. What all the rest of us had heard after the incident was that the new Platoon Leader, who had just joined up and was in command of 2nd platoon on FB Bastogne, had called in the round on his own and misrepresented their location and put the round in his own NDP.

Over the past year I have had communication with brothers from A Battery and D Battery of the 2/320Artillary, my good friend and brother Mike Bertell, also receiving the day report for that day from the archives and what some of the stories on the 327 website have mentioned, I strongly believe a different story exists of the accident.
A&D battery’s of the 2/320 Artillery were located on FB Birmingham where the fire missions were coordinated that day. one person with A-bat told me that they were located at the top of the hill firing Delta Tango missions while D-bat was located at the bottom firing Delta Tango missions. I’ve talked with several of the D-bat brothers and only one from A-bat, but their stories seem to make since on what took place that afternoon. D bat said that they did not have any white phosphorous (Willie Peters) rounds to fire for marker rounds and said that they were given orders to fire 6 adjusted H.E. rounds out with out any markers fired. They always felt that was rather odd because the procedure was to always fire a marker round to confirm field coordinates. A-bat said they had WP’s and that they fired them for markers. D-bat thought they were firing for A-co. 2nd platoon while A bat was firing for Bravo Company.

When I talked with Mike Bertell about what he remembered, he was insistent that just before the round hit their NDP that he remembered hearing the sound of a WP marker round go off above them and looked straight up and he saw the WP just above them. About 2 minutes later the HE round hit them. If you look at one of the stories on the 327 website someone mentioned an FO was operating in the field somewhere. Alpha company never had any FO’s with us that I was ever aware of, but Bravo company did. I think from what I have put together from all of these stories is that Bravo Company was calling in their DT’s at the same time the LT for 2nd platoon A-co called his location coordinates in and they were possibly wrong. If he was in the wrong location and he was actually where Bravo Company was firing their rounds, unbeknownst to B-Co. that 2nd Platoon A-co was sitting right there, then this could have been the cause of the accident.

I personally think that the Army put to many platoons in the field to close to each other that day. We all were calling in coordinates for DT’s and these two platoons from different company’s were to close to each other. I am still trying to piece more of it together and keep getting leads every now and then so the story is on going. I do plan on getting as many facts on this to be able to help find the truth for those families of the killed and wounded and closure for those that survived and have been affected all these years of this accident. I have been in contact with so many that were involved to include the 85th Evac Hospital at Phu Bai that worked on our wounded that night. 9 soldiers lost their lives at the scene. 3 more died later to make 12 killed total. Many others were severely wounded. I have been in contact with a doctor that worked on them at the 85th Evac. and they have reunions. He says that was one of the worst nights of their lives seeing what had happened and they always honor those injured and killed. I have a picture that he sent showing them working on one of the guys while one was laying on a table next to them with one foot missing and the other leg burned and torn up. All of this information has helped many of the artillery guys get closure and put this incident behind them after 42 years of suffering guilt for what happened. No one had ever come to tell them anything other than their shells killed Americans. A couple of them shared that they were kind of black balled by the other guys in the artillery company the rest of their tour. This is why it’s important to try and locate the Platoon leader for 2nd platoon as I am not convinced that he was at complete fault for this accident as it was made out to be and he should know what the truth is or else he has been living with the truth that he has never been able to reveal. Perhaps I can get more information as to the LT’s name if someone reads this message on the 327 website. No one can remember it because he had just hooked up with 2nd platoon that day on the FB when we all went off the hill. I hope that with this information that someone will be able to remember his name and let me know it and/or that if you have a memory of this incident that you share it on the 327 web site or you contact me.
Mil Thornton


More from Mil Thornton:

Vietnam December 24, 1970

On December 24, 1970 US soldiers from the 2nd platoon, A-co. 1/327th infantry of the 101st Airborne Division were killed or injured by US friendly fire when a 105 artillery round landed in the NDP just 30 minutes prior to the 24 hour cease fire of the Christmas holiday. 9 where killed and at least 9 were severely wounded. A total of 12 died from that incident.

We members of A-Company 1/327 will never forget. There are many others; Artillery, Doctors, Nurses, Medivac crews and family members that will never forget these young men that died that day. Those that sustained severe injury’s physically and emotionally continue to suffer from that memory.

This memorial is lit at 5:45 pm AZ time on Dec. 24 for 15 minutes in remembrance those lost and injured. It is our way to remember the bravery of those men. God Bless all of them and their families. NEVER FORGET!

SP4 Paul D’Amato 12/24/71
SP4 Gregory Felker 12/24/71
SP4 Larry Heen 12/24/71
Cpl Calvin Mack 12/24/71
SP4 Thomas Noble 12/24/71
Sgt Michael Nugent 12/24/71
Cpl Vern Odom 12/24/71
Cpl Wesley Phillips 12/24/71 SP4 Steve Pohancek 12/24/71

Beyond Christmas Eve, three more died of wounds sustained.
SP4 Anthony Brese Died 12/26/70
Cpl Kenneth Griffin Died 12/28/70
Cpl Jaime Laboy Died 1/8/71

Memories from Steve Cooper

I worked with the 101st Casualty Branch in 1970.  My main job was
letters  of sympathy and MIA letters.  I recall Christmas Eve very
vividly, however exact numbers and names I am not sure about.  A buddy
of  mine kept a journal while in the Nam and he put it in a book he
published.  The book is “Recollection of a Remington Raider.”  The
following are two of his entries concerning this incident.
Thursday, December 24, 1970:  We got eight casualties from friendly
artillery.  They just had to get those last couple in before the cease
fire.  Correction.  The eight has been upped to eighteen, with nine dead.
Monday, December 28, 1970:  Another of the friendly fire guys died.
That brings it to eleven dead and seven wounded.  They were really
messed up on that one.  Damn army.
It confirms at least eleven but I do recall many times we had guys die
several days later generally on the hospital ship or in Japan.
Steve Cooper