Our New CO Met the Test
In the midst of my tour in Vietnam, our battalion came up with an idea of the company that got the most body countwould get to be called the Honor Company. With that distinction you would get to be the last company to go out. You would get to stay behind to drink more beer. Little did we know that when we did go out that we would be the blocking force for the other companies that had found the enemy.
It was Aug 18, 1967 that we jumped off the helicopters and met a pretty good opponent (Straight NVA-Quang Tin Province). I was in the second platoon. Matter of fact, I had the last squad that day with a crew from ABC. 1st platoon was in the lead. Followed by our 2nd platoon. I had heard that first platoon leaders’ Dad was a General and had come out to see him that day.
Two platoons went one way and two went another. About 75 plus men in line through the jungle makes for a long line. SSG. Mitchell was my platoon sergeant that day and he was in the rear with me. We heard that the NVA had shot one of our men over the radio and was trying to get away. However, the guys lost him. Then all of sudden the enemy shows up again and 1st platoon takes off after him again. I said to myself that this sounds like an ambush. Any time the enemy comes back to make you chase him, it sounds like an ambush.
By the time I grabbed the radio and said that sounds like an ambush, 1st platoon was in the midst of it. My squad was the last one on the trail. I had 10 ten guys including an M-60 machine gun.
After a while SSG. Mitchell said he was going up front to see what was going on. He call to Doc Orosco to “come on Doc” let’s go up front to see what’s going on (both SSG. Mitchell and Doc died that day).
Before leaving he said “Sgt Leonard you keep this trail open”. I was getting neverous because ambushes are some tuff shit. To my immediate left and below the hill we were on I could here the enemy coming around to close the trail. I remember my guys saying “Sgt. We got some friendlies coming around”. I was thinking real fast, whether to set up a quick ambush on them or shoot through the jungle, where I heard them coming. I said to my squad “we don’t have any friendless out here “Fire their ass up”. My guys cut lose on the squad of NVA before they got within 25 feet of us. They made it back to the tree line across the field and opened up on us.
For the next 15 minutes Bullets were popping all around us. They were dropping mortars exactly on our positions. Finally we got the upper hand on them and I went back to my machine gun crew to see where they were in the tree line. I grabbed a law and shot in their position about 50 yards away from our position on the bottom of the trail at base of the hill. By the time the law hit their position, all the guys that were left alive up front came running through the jungle.
All of a sudden panic broke out with the guys that were getting out of the killing zone. They had no idea of what we were dealing with in the rear. One of the Sgt. From from the 1st platoon said “lest get the hell out of here” I stopped them and tried to calm them down. I asked about everyone up front. “They are dead and we got the wounded, shouted one of the other men.” So we pull back down the bottom of the hill and began to set up defensive positions.
I am sure that an NVA Officer was calling the shots from a hill higher up; I could tell that they were looking at us in retreat. It had gotten dark and I call for flares to see if they had a spotter on the hill above us. By this time the gunship had arrived to give us some help and I directed them to the hill where the mortars were coming from. The gunship was shooting short of where the mortars were. So we got tracer rounds and pin pointed the position were the mortars were coming from. I think it was some dumb luck, because the NVA shot another round off while the gunship was over head. That mortar landed about 15 feet away from our position as the gunship banked around and asked, “Did I get that Tube”?
In the confusion of the shell landing 15 feet from us and the gunship banking and asking did he get the tube I shouted on the radio “Check your fire, check your fire”. It took me a minute to realize that they (NVA) had zeroed our position and we luck out by having the gunship there at that time.
The shelling stopped after that: Our gunship had saved our ass. I called for more flares because it had to be a spotter calling in on us. (Here I am at 20 years old and the highest ranking NCO ( buck Sgt.) that was left standing) After things quieted down and we had call in to the CO that we needed help.
I began to plot pre set artillery position all around us, while our other two platoons move in the night to help us. It took about 2 hours for the other two platoons to get to us.
During our talks with our forward base camp, I would hear a lot of squelching on the radio. By that time the other two platoons had come to help us in the dark of night.
The 3rd platoon leader mentioned that some one was still alive on the hill. I told him that I did not know what was happening up front because I had my hands full in the rear. The Lieutenant insisted that there were people alive on the hill and he said listen to the radio.
Some one was using Morris code to send signals. (I did not know Morris Code) So he got a squad together to go up and check the hill, while they were gone I briefed our new CO on where the mortars were coming from and that I thought they had a spotter on the hill above.
After a while 3rd platoon Lieutenant and the squad came back down the hill with about five of our guys wounded that we thought was dead. Among these were 2nd platoon leader “Lt. Stevenson”. I really felt bad because we had left some of our guys alive on the hill. But I finally realize that in the midst of trying to get out of the killing zone, our guys from up front had to retreated in haste. I think by my squad keeping that trail open save all of our lives that day, because they had the mortars zeroed in on us to the tee.
It really got busy in the middle of the night with Dust off coming in the dark to get our wounded, acouple of times landing between us and the NVA.
The next morning we had artillery prepped the area before we went right back up the hill and saw where our people had walked into the killing zone. We got all of our boys that had died in the ambush and pulled back the opposite way for a day. Made a right turn and went back up the mountains where the mortars were coming from and surprise the enemy and capture their base camp and kill some high ranking officers inside. However most of the NVA were out in the jungle away from the base camp. We saw where our gunship had blown up the mortar position that was dropping on us.
We stayed in the camp for 2 days. I noticed that we had never stayed in the same locations for 2 days. We cut down trees so our battalion commander could come down with his helicopter to see the base camp that we had taken from the enemy and kill the ones that were left in the camp (a dozen or more).
On the morning of the 3rd day around 3.30 am we got the word to pack up and move out at that time in the morning. After we left the base camp before daylight we could hear all hell broke a lose in the camp. We were about 30 minutes away, and the NVA had counter attacked to take back their base camp. This was our new CO and he had pulled off a good move. Needless to say, I felt pretty good with this new guy Capt. John.
Robert Leonard. Check the Wall USA.com.Search the Wall and Type in Aug. 18, 1967 and It will tell you all the guys that we lost on that day in that battle from the 101st including Doc and Sgt. Mitchell.