An investigation on what may have happened on Dec. 24, 1970 friendly fire accident to 2nd platoon, 1/327th, 101st Airborne/Airmobile Vietnam.

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