Delta Air Strike

101st_splash

August 10, 1968 2nd battalion’s newly formed “Delta Company” was decimated by their own air strike. Eight were killed and over 50 wounded. Posted here are stories from a few that were there that awful day:

Ben Costello, Delta Company Machinegunner-

As I recall the incident began mid-afternoon or so on August 9, 1968. D Company was part of a three company “hammer and anvil” search and destroy mission. We were acting as the anvil, with two sister companies flanking us some distance away. We were slowly working our way along a bicycle trail that was steadily climbing toward some higher hills. My squad was on point. We were crossing a series of low ridges with ravines between them. I was toward the end of the point squad. The trail started down a small ravine and then up across a hillside covered with elephant grass. One by one the point man, slack man and M-79 man crossed the small ridgeline, went down into the shallow ravine and started up the elephant grass covered slope. Just as I reached the edge of the ridge, the man in front of me crossed the ravine and disappeared into the elephant grass as he start up the slope.

At that instant, before I took another step, one shot from an AK rang out, then another. We hit the ground. I was right on the low ridge and set up my M-60. Suddenly there was a lot of movement in the grass farther up the slope. I started shooting and the movement stopped. I kept up intermittent fire as the rest of the company moved up, and we sent a squad in to see what happened. Pretty quickly it was determined that the point man had been shot in the throat and killed and the slack man had been shot in the upper left chest area just below his collarbone. The squad pulled both the point man and the wounded slack man out of the grass and Shay and I went down into the ravine to carry them up the slope and pass them on to other troopers that took them over to an area being cleared for use as an LZ to medi-vac them.

About this time the CO started dropping artillery on the slope and into the jungle at the end of the grass. It seemed to be both fire directed at the enemy positions in the grass and H&I fire to keep them from getting away into the jungle. My gun position was on that ridge all the rest of the day and all night. We were firing intermittently, with some occasional incoming rounds, but the artillery was keeping them pretty low.

Just after dawn, the next day, four jets started the air strikes. I sat in my foxhole and watched the napalm and 500-pound bombs impact the slope as each pilot took his turn. The jets were using a standard attack pattern, flying from our right to our left, with one jet attacking, one jet climbing out at the 9:00 position, a jet high at 12:00 and one jet ready to attack at the 3:00 position. I recall watching each jet drop the heavy ordinance. About this time the Lt. came over to me and said I was to take my gun off the line because I had been in the thick of things since the fighting started the day before. He sent me back to get ammo and cleanup the gun a little for the assault. He said as soon as the jets finish strafing we were going in, so get ready. Shay and I got our gear and pulled out of the gun position and the other M-60 in the Platoon moved up. Every third guy was making a water run to the ravine on the back side of the ridge from the fighting. Shay took the canteens and went down for water.

I cleared a place to sit down in the trees on the back side of the ridge away from the jets. Just before I sat down to clean my M-60, I glanced over the ridge and saw one of the jets on a strafing run. I sat down and disassembled the action on the M-60 and was oiling and reassembling it when I heard an AK-47 go off – full clip on auto. As near as I can figure, one of the Charlies was shell shocked, or had just had enough and figured to take out one of the jets. I did not see what happened next, but when I asked in the hospital and read a letter from my Platoon Medic about a month later, it seems that the pilot saw the Charlie that fired at him. Seeing his position, the pilot altered his attack pattern and swung way out to his right in an effort to come around and get that guy. By doing this, the pilot made his strafing run right straight at us. The rockets and, as I understand the incident, the cannon fire swept over the enemy positions and then over us.

I recall a roaring noise and I rolled over to my left when the shrapnel impacted my neck low on my right side. There was no ear splitting sound like a 500-pound bomb going off, and no ground shock either. At that instant, everything went into slow motion like it did for me in combat and in the two automobile wrecks I have since been in. I recall rolling down the slope to my left with trees – ground -trees – sky – trees – ground – trees – sky – trees – ground – trees- then finally sky filling my vision. The air seemed clear, and I do not recall the smell of detonated HE. After three rolls, I had come to rest on my back, lying across the slope with my left arm on the down slope side and my right arm on the upslope side. I lay there for a few seconds and then tried to get up. My right side would not move, it was like it was nailed to the ground. I tried to get up again, and I still could not. In frustration, I reached over with my left hand, grabbed my right shoulder and lifted my self to a sitting position. I felt something wet, and when I pulled my hand away and looked at it, it was covered with blood.


Dick Farr, Delta’s 2nd Platoon Leader-

Was interesting to read Ben’s recollections of that tragic event of so many years ago. I have often thought of those days but have never written anything of them before. Whatever hazy recollections I have of those few days have been obscured by both the fog of war and the passage more than three decades, but let me offer a couple of brief vignettes to add to the discussion:

A few days before the incident, I recall seeing a very emotional Sgt Meyers (who was in another platoon) visibly upset and apparently struggling with a premonition of his death and his never seeing his family again. At the time, I attributed the incident to SGT Meyers being temporarily overcome by some of the fears that were always in the shadows around us. Nevertheless, SGT Meyers soldiered on and I understand he was walking point when he was KIA on the 9th. A bit spooky in retrospect.

I do have some photos of the aircraft attacking the hill next to us taken on the afternoon of the 9th and possibly the morning of the 10th also. As I recall, we were being supported by a flight of Navy F-4s on the 10th when the accident occurred. I recall monitoring the communications between our CO (CPT Dietz) and the supporting FAC, but I don’t recall anything out of the ordinary as a precursor to the accident. In ’71, I returned to the 2/17 Cav (101st) flying Cobras in the same general area and I can appreciate the difficulties involved in closely supporting troops on the ground – particularly from a fast-mover over thick jungle.

My first awareness that something had gone terribly wrong was hearing calls for ‘medic’ slowly arising out of the jungle all around me. The company CP was a short distance away and there I found CPT Dietz had been wounded but was on the radio calling off any further strikes and arranging for medevacs. As I recall, Doc Stewart died just a few paces away from the CP as he tried to assist other wounded.

I have a dramatic photo of an M-60 team (probably Ben Costello’s) engaging the bad guys on the afternoon of the 9th. I’ll try to locate these and some others of interest to D Co troopers and post to the net somewhere. During the aftermath of the air strike, I didn’t take any pictures of the injured, the medevacs, or much of anything else – just seemed too personal and private at the time for those involved. Besides, we were pretty busy trying to understand the scope of the tragedy, to care for the wounded and get them prioritized and evacuated all while trying to maintain security.

I do recall coming across Ben Costello shortly after the incident. He was bleeding heavily from his neck wound and I undertook to get an IV into him. After a few fumbling attempts on my part, Ben’s bleeding subsided, he got pissed, and simply got up and walked off to the medevac site. While he was at Walter Reed in DC, I asked my mother who lived in the area to look in on him. Good to know he got through it all in relatively good shape these many years later.

Although a few folks like Ben might disagree, my platoon (the 2nd) was extremely fortunate throughout this incident. Although we had been fairly interspersed with the rest of the Company getting water resupply, we suffered only 8 wounded (no KIA) while the rest of the company had only about 8 troopers that were not wounded. I was the only officer still with the unit at the end of the day; all others had been evacuated with injuries. I can only attribute our relative good fortune to the capricious whims of chance, but, again, kinda spooky in retrospect.

With something near 80% casualties, Delta Company was essentially rendered combat ineffective that tragic morning of the 10th. Somewhere, the decision was made to reconstitute the unit in the field and the rest of the 10th was largely taken up with evacuating the wounded and placing the bewildered replacements into the perimeter with their new units. The replacements were scrounged up from all across RVN – new arrivals, lots of folks from other units returning from R&R, anybody found just standing around, whatever. My NCOs were suddenly the seasoned ‘old timers’ and were tapped to provide the leadership for the other platoons being reconstituted.

Enough for now. My thoughts now, as then, are with our fellow Screaming Eagles.

Later….


Tim Lickness, Charlie Company Platoon Leader-

I remember this very well. In my essay in the Wall Street Journal (…and the War That Brought Out the Worst in Us, November 11, 1996) there’s a reference to a soldier propted up on his remaining arm having lost the other and both legs. That was from this event. I saw this happen. I was near firebase Berchesgaten (sp) when the strike happened on Delta while it was operating in the A Shau Valley. We were providing security to the firebase and the wounded were brought there for triage and transporting back to hospitals. I believe LTC Beckwith (Chargin’ Charlie) was at the landing zone also as the troops came through (at least that’s my recollecting). Bad day. It was stunning as we had watched the air strike and then to find out that our own guys had been hit. In the book Rescue Under Fire by John Cook there’s a picture (I can find the page number if you want) of the medivac landing zone at Berchesgaten. I doubt if the picture of the dustoff in that picture was of this event but it’s within a very short period of time.


Howard Baldwin, Delta Company 2nd Platoon-

3 Aug 08

My intent, in writing the original letter, was to reinforce the memory of one of my 5, applying for PTSD assistance. My 5 coalesced, following a misdirected Air strike, effectively, annihilating the Delta 2/327 I loved and was proud to serve with. We realized we could no longer allow ourselves to get too close to anyone else; the emotional price was more than any of us could endure. We had each other’s back, and would gladly give up life in the protection of each other. And so it remains today; I love my 5 now and always.

Reading this testament, will not ease your conscience, it is not intended for that purpose. I would appreciate feedback, since not one of us can bear complete witness to the tragedy occurring on 8 AUG 1968. It remains buried somewhere in the collective memory of all the survivors. And, now, please remove your head cover:

You are standing upon holy ground.

The following narrative is derived from my recollection of events leading up to the decimation of Delta 2/327 on the 8 AUG 68. I humbly dedicate this meager effort to the memory of the 12 not surviving the most horrific and life changing event of all my 60 years.

Forgive me for the myopic content of my memory, as it is severely limited to a 50-meter radius around my defensive position.

Anyone, not present at the time, would be incapable of understanding the fury and trauma produced, yet sadly, never forgotten, by this friendly fire incident.

Consequently, I have neither spoken, nor written in detail of 8AUG 1968, to anyone except my father.

I must now digress; it is difficult to remember exactly the events leading-up to 8 AUG 68. Was it part of NEVADA EAGLE or APACHE SNOW? I do not remember.

During a joint 101st AIRBORNE/ARVN operation, Delta 2/327 Combat Assaulted into the Au Shau Valley, somewhere in the vicinity of the old French landing strip at TA BOT.

ARVNS didi-moued up a hill and began cooking chow. Shortly, a 155mm landed in the center of their clusterfuck and, to me, this did not appear to be the typical “short round”.

The hump through the lowlands and mountains began, interrupted only during the extraction of Sgt. Ed Meyers and Ralph Hedger[1] he, receiving a throat wound. Both were sniping victims. I knew they were dead. I was devastated; these were Delta’s first causalities.

2nd platoon pulled drag that day when 1st and 3rd platoons encountered enemy resistance at the top of a rise. We heard the firefight progressing, even from the base of the hill.  We did not stop to refill canteens at the stream flowing there. We were driven to ascend the hill to add our support to the Delta brothers already engaged in combat.

Apparently, there had been an attempted “John Wayne” assault on the enemy position, but the return fire was effective enough to repel that assault. A decision was made, and we would hold position until daybreak (8 Aug 68).

Close combat support required the use of “Swift Movers” (A4-D’s commonly known as Phantoms) to soften, or eliminate any resistance from the enemy defending the opposing hill. If I remember correctly, the first run was 3.75 rockets or 40mm cannon, second run was H.E. 250 pound bombs. (That is the equivalent of T.N.T., not the weight of the bomb).


Some months later, Hedger walked onto the blessed ground of Hill 88. I thought he may have been resurrected but; I personally choose to believe he had been kicked out of Hell.

We all enjoyed this unexpected re-union.

Meanwhile, back at Camp Eagle, unknown to any of us digging into our defensive perimeter, one of the most respected men, I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, jumped a chopper with Sgt Alonzo and other troopers whom, without a doubt in my military mind, gave a fuck, about our first combat encounter.

What these men did that day is legendary and became one of the most poignant life lessons, I have ever learned.

As rumor of the assault reached the rear, Edwin “Doc” Stewart, himself in the process of DEROS(ing) the Nam, cancelled his ticket on the “freedom bird” (fondly remembered as the 70-QUICK).

His decision, to rejoin his people, cost him his life. At the time, I could not understand why a man would elect to do such a thing. It was inevitable, in a short time; I would be destined to understand.

Everything was Sit-Rep negative during the night. At first light, troopers began moving about, cleaning weapons and performing the usual morning routine. I did notice some, moving down the hill (to my rear) on water run.

Selected troopers would gather all their platoon’s canteens and line–up, heading down to the stream at the base of the hill, to refill them. You could never count on receiving your original canteens, but I never cared, as long as those returned to me, had never been polluted with that nasty shit known as Kool-Aid.

I was atop my entrenchment, cleaning my M-60 when the world as I knew it, ceased to exist and the GOD I believed in, was on vacation that day.

Platoon C.P. was only 100 meters from my position, and I clearly heard LEVITAN yelling into the horn, it was a futile warning attempt, as most radios were probably not being monitored.

The GET DOWN command still rings in my ears; I had no idea what was happening, but I got my ass down into my slit trench.

The explosion was not excessive, it sounded simply like WHOOMP. The earth appeared to rise about 18 inches, taking me with it, and abruptly settled back.

Exiting my foxhole, everyone around me was wounded or dead. The cry went out to bring our battle dressings to the company C.P.

Choosing not to go to the C.P., I forwarded my battle dressings, deciding to take care of the wounded nearer my position.

The first man I approached was dead, spread out, among pulverized tree leaves, a fine dust covering everything. I noticed blood spatter in all directions, accompanied by the unpleasant taste of copper filling my nose and mouth.

There was a smoke grenade still attached to his web gear. It had ignited during impact, painting the body and surroundings a vivid yellow.

I never knew the name associated with the body, but the memory never fades. The head was missing, and I could not find it. I did spend many years searching in my dreams, but even there, I failed.

A wounded man, slumped against a tree, caught my attention. He was still alive. His name was Samuel James, not from my platoon, but I knew him.

Kneeling beside him to ascertain the extent of his injuries, I found nothing. He appeared composed, but one thing worried me, his breathing was slow and sounded like a person deep in sleep.

My mother had suffered a stroke perhaps 4 months prior, the slow breathing and snoring like sounds, were indicative of a coma.

Standing up, I noticed a huge blood stain on my fatigue trouser. I had been kneeling in a massive pool of blood.

Positioning himself against the tree, he had managed to hide the arterial damage to his backside.

I felt we could still save Samuel; all that was needed was in any medic’s kit bag. They all carry plasma or albumin into battle don’t they?

On the 8 AUG 1968, I was informed, at a time most needed; the entire supply of plasma and albumin carried into the field by the medics was expended.

When I carried the M-16, I always toted 41 magazines of ammo, plenty enough for any extended firefight.

In retrospect, I probably did not need all 800 rounds of ammo. The space taken by half of those magazines could have been filled with plasma or albumin.

I stayed with Samuel, because I believe that no one should ever die alone.

The short time I was allowed at my mother’s hospital bedside had convinced me that people in a coma, feel your presence and understand what you are saying, even though they are incapable of response themselves.

Samuel was still breathing, as we placed him on the chopper; I was informed later that he died during transport.

We Medi-Vaced the dead and wounded, saddled up and walked off that hill. I still recall how difficult it seemed to place one foot in front of the other, the adrendeline rush fading; replaced by depression. These extreme highs followed by extreme lows, interspersed with boredom, provide the breeding ground for PTSD.

I do not remember anything happening after we left the hill. We survivors were attached to a recon platoon in an effort to fill the voids left by the dead and wounded, and moving on, we continued the mission. I do not know if we spent days or months chasing gooks through the Au Shau, it was as though I went to sleep and when I finally awoke, I was on Hill 88.

King Delta died on 8 AUG 68. A company, so special, because I do not believe that a Delta company of the 2/327 had ever existed before 1968. It was made up of outlaws and vagrants of Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie companies. Troopers previously engaged in their own hell (Hue and the Tet Offensive). These were the veterans we all aspired to be, I might not have done much with my life, but I have accomplished a few decent things that, I feel, would make Doc Stewart proud.

I apologize if this account brings out some bad shit. I intentionally buried the memories myself, never intending to visit them again. I am considering researching and interviewing everyone willing to talk about 7 & 8 AUG 68 in order to provide an accurate chronological history of what really happened that day.

I will take it in 50-meter increments.

RESPECTIVLY SUBMITTED,

Howard V Baldwin


Additional Information . . .

My son has spent some time trying to get information on the August 10, 1969 friendly fire air strike that hit Delta Company. The Amicicide Adobe file (link below) write up is the only definitive information he has been able to discover. The Word file (posted below) deals with which A-7 Squadron was operating dawn-dusk in August ’69.

Ben Costello

Amicicide Adobe file

The ACGSC study Amicicide states on page 57:  “Aerial rockets could be equally dangerous to friendly troops.  In August 1968 a Navy A-7D fired two 5-inch aerial rockets into the HQ CP of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry (101st Airborne Division), during an operation in the A Shau Valley.  Fifty-five casualties resulted.”


In August 1968 there were only four A-7 squadrons in Vietnam:

Attack Squadron 82 and Attack Squadron 86 in USS AMERICA (CVA-66) and Attack Squadron 27 and Attack Squadron 97 in USS CONSTELLATION (CVA-64).

CONSTELLATION was operating on a dawn-to-dusk schedule, while AMERICA was on the dusk-to-dawn shift. If the aircraft type is correctly identified in the ACGSC study, it appears that A-7s from VA-27 or VA-97 were involved in the incident.

The author of this note was an aviator with VA-85 (A-6 INTRUDER) embarked in USS AMERICA. The carrier’s operating schedule in Aug 1968 was determined through reference to his flight log book and notes.