My friend and fellow 1st Cav brother, Douglas Crow, allowed me to share his summary (periodic diary entrees – after-action reports) of his first 3 1/2 months in-country during the Vietnam War. He was an infantryman assigned to Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cav. Div.
CLOSE ONES: situations of present danger during my ’69-’71 tour of duty in the Republic of South Vietnam
Our Pacific flight from the U.S. landed in Cam Ranh Bay Air Base, and after completing operations at the base’s Replacement Center, we were flown to Bien Hoa, 1st Air Cavalry Division’s “First Team Academy” jungle training center.
05/12/69 General Roberts, 1st. Cav. Division Commanding General, announced to an assembly of trainees this morning to the men zeroing their weapons, that the Bien Hoa Base was rocketed last night. I recall being almost jarred (out) of my bunk last night by some kind of explosion but I just went back to sleep.
05/26/69 Lord help us, what a night!! Delta Company’s 2nd Platoon was assigned night ambush duty last night. We set up the ambush amidst a virtual neighborhood of squirrels and rabbits and as a consequence, every slight movement we heard last night put us all on a rather sharp edge. The C.O. decided to call in an artillery strike at around 2:00 AM. About 9 or 10 105mm shells slammed into the jungle floor mostly to the left of our ambush line. Then came the real “ringer.” At about 5:30 A.M. that same morning, the company area together with our ambush position was hit with about 10 or 11 mortar rounds all of which were air bursts. 5 people out of the 4th platoon were evacuated by helicopter shortly after we cut a landing zone in the jungle. 1 person was killed In action during the mortar attack.
05/27/69 Yesterday, after an airstrike, we did reconnaissance by fire in another bunker complex. 2 squads of 2nd Platoon moved-in online with a secondary, backup line for support. Kind of edgy moving through the timber. Our Company F.O.B (Forward Observation Base) last night, was set up in a position just beyond the blasted bunker sites that our platoon reckoned-by-fire earlier. No one suffered being W.I.A. but there were, however, 5 or 6 men who passed-out from excessive heat.
05/30/69 We had just completed setting up Delta Company’s night defensive perimeter by late dusk and I was sitting at our foxhole on guard. J… came over to my position and warned me that he had observed an NVA soldier reconnoitering the jungle just forward of the foxhole about 20 meters away. After J…’s warning, I decided it best that I get in the foxhole. Not more than 10 minutes after I had gotten in the foxhole, a burst of about 6 or 7 AK-47 rounds came at me from the jungle. I saw the weapon’s muzzle flash and at the time of the burst, I was the only available target: those rounds had to have been meant for me.
Later that same morning, we looked for the expended AK-47 cartridge casings at the NVA Soldier’s firing position and found 3 live AK-47 rounds. The round’s primer disks had firing-pin indentations indicating that his weapon had jammed! Later that morning we were attacked with mortars but suffered no casualties.
06/08/69 We conducted a helicopter assault in a hot area inhabited with fortified bunkers and troop concentrations. We replaced Apache Company that had, just a day previous to our arrival, received daytime mortar and rocket fire. Apache had suffered about 10 casualties. We set up a company FOB with no detachments for ambushes. The FOB was located very close to a trail that had been very recently used by the enemy.
I opened up with semi-auto M-16 fire and after they were within the range of my claymore mine on the trail, I jumped in the foxhole and squeezed the detonator with a most reverberating “Ka-BOOM” sound. We got at least 4 of them and they left 1 behind, finding him in the morning further down the trail.
Later that night we heard sounds of movement immediately beyond our FOB perimeter. After radioing our company command post about our detections, the C.O. called in artillery and a Cobra Gunship strike.
We were alerted to turn on our aerial strobes so that the gunship pilot could adequately locate our positions in a very dark Tay Ninh Jungle night. The Cobra fired barrages of grenades and rockets together with its mini-gun strafes, just yards away from the front of our foxhole.
The next morning, after checking “dead-end” blood trails from the previous night, Delta Company started moving through the steamy morning jungles and promptly ran into an NVA bunker complex that seemed abandoned. (I used the word “seemed” because a fellow company Skytrooper related to me a bunker-complex war tale in which his squad had penetrated to the center of a similar bunker complex. At one point in the penetration, the complex erupted into a volcano-like eruption of rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47, and heavy-machine-gun fire replete with WIAs and KIAs suffered by his buddies.)
And as the Skytrooper’s tale had related, we were moving deeper into the complex. However, this time rather than taking hits from the enemy, we “fragged” (threw grenades) into every bunker we saw until we reaching what appeared to be a larger, central bunker surrounded by zig-zag trenches and all types of defensive devices and immediately apparent tripwires. The entire complex was located beneath heavy, low-hanging, tough, virtually impenetrable bamboo which made any advancement difficult and exceedingly hazardous. After we came within sight of the central command bunker, we withdrew from the “volcano’s mouth.”
06/09/69 Well we are back for the 3rd dangerous time at our log site (resupply flown-in via helicopter), we used on the afternoon of June 4th.
Last night the CO located five foxholes extremely close to a well-used trail. On LP(Listening Post), during the early part of the evening, took a pot shot at an NVA (Soldier) walking down the trail at sling arms (with weapon carried over the shoulder.)
The foxhole next to us received all sorts of harassment last night. The NVA threw rocks and pestered us by pelting us with hedge apples so that we would fire back at them thus giving our positions away so they could (snipe and) mortar us toward morning.
We went through another bunker complex yesterday but it too was abandoned.
06/15/69 Yesterday, June 14th, 2nd Platoon went out on a cloverleaf recon patrol. Just before that, an ARA (Aerial Rocket and Artillery) helicopter had sighted NVA movement to the company’s front. We advanced no more than 100 meters when the leading portion of our recon patrol ran square into an NVA patrol sighted by the ARA bird. Both elements immediately opened fire on each other. At that point, I was located some 35 to 40 meters behind the men who made the initial contact.
The 2nd Platoon Leader and I attempted to advance forward on-line to give the leading elements some fire support and at a low crouch, I felt a little twinge of warmth in my neck. I immediately hit the prone and just waited there a few seconds. I brought my hand up to feel my neck and as I looked at my hand I found it covered with blood. I yelled for a medic and crawled further to the rear behind a large log. Shortly after, the medic came up to me, more shaken than I and he applied a field dressing around my neck. Then J…, the squad leader moved to my position and guarded as I lay there sweating, trying to calm myself so that my heart rate would slow down. After five minutes or so the firefight was over.
The 2nd Platoon leader was also hit, probably with the same kind of shrapnel that issued from the device which hit me. Poor guy was a rather bloody mess by the time we both got to Navajo 6’s (company) command post. Within 10 minutes or so of our arrival at the CP, a medevac (Red-Crossed Huey Slick) helicopter (came for) us wounded in action people…and we tumbled aboard. By this time most of the bleeding had stopped from my wound but platoon leader’s wounds were bleeding profusely by the time we reached the medevac station at Tay Ninh.
The shrapnel in my neck was about 1/4 inch in size and had entered just right of my larynx and lodged somewhere in the leading edge of one of my neck vertebrae. The shrapnel didn’t miss my vocal cords by much. (In fact, the shrapnel trajectory missed my jugular by about 1/8 to 1/2 inch.)
The surgeon examined the Xray and probed the wound to about a depth of an inch and a half but did not extract the shrapnel because of extensive surgical complications.
06/19/69 On the afternoon of the 17th (of June) Delta Company moved into LZ Ike. They had not made any contact since the day I was medivacked to Tay Ninh. That night, the night of the 17th, LZ Ike was hit hard with at least two platoons of NVA (later assessed to be a regimental-sized unit). One platoon assaulted the perimeter from the south (and) the other from the north. As fate would have it, I happened to be picked for one of the LP (listening post) positions outside the (L.Z.’s) perimeter. At dusk, we went outside the wire equipped with M-16s, grenades, claymore mines, and an M-60 machine gun and set up positions for LP and OP.
As it was, they (the assault/sapper NVA elements) slipped by us totally undetected. They must have observed us at dusk from the jungle’s wood-line in front of the LP positions, for in the morning, it was discovered that the claymore blasting caps had been disconnected from the mines.
After my guard period, I went over to the side of a hillock located about 4 to 5 feet behind and 1 to 2 feet above a foxhole and caught some uneasy shuteye.
At about 2:30 A.M. all hell broke loose. I was awakened by a single M-79 grenade round which exploded about 20 feet towards LZ Ike’s perimeter. As I opened my eyes, I saw and heard red tracers zinging just over my sleeping place. I grabbed my helmet, sleepy-eyed, and made a swan dive for the cover.
By the time the perimeter opened up with flares, grenades, M-60s, and .50-cals., the NVA assault had succeeded in wedging itself between us and the (LZ’s) perimeter. The result was a hellish, nightmarish 30 minutes of not knowing whether we were going to get rocketed by the NVA or accidentally mortared or shot by our own at the perimeter.
The rear element of sappers kept us pinned down with AK-47 fire while at least a regiment-size outfit of NVA fired B-40 rockets at us from the outer jungle wood-line: a most miserable crossfire indeed. Towards the end of the 30 minute period, an NVA mortar tube was set up just inside the jungle and to our left front. The RTO (Radio Telephone Operator) located the enemy mortar and called-in strikes from our own mortar teams inside LZ Ike and silenced the NVA mortar.
About halfway to the gate, not more than 10 feet in front of us, a prone NVA trooper emptied his AK-47 at the ten of us. We all dove for cover then eliminated the enemy trooper. How on earth we all escaped that deadly AK-47 arc I’ll never know. The only explanation, other than divine intervention, was that the AK-47 shells went between us! We again took to our feet and this time we weren’t stopped until we met Ike’s West gate.
Inside Ike, we took up positions and started blasting away at the wood-line. From around 3:00 A.M. till before daybreak, Ike maintained a steady rate-of-fire including 105 mm artillery, direct fire flechette rounds.
One trooper atop a bunker failed to heed artillery’s direct fire alert and was killed. There were reports of hand-to-hand combat replete with rifle butts and bayonets at the LZ’s berm-line and at least one attempt to resupply Ike with class-5 failed because of withering enemy fire.
At 6:00 AM in the morning, a ceasefire was called and at 7:30 a recon patrol was organized to see what damage occurred. And there was, indeed, grim carnage outside the perimeter as well as in it. Of all the dismembered and partial bodies I saw, one particularly grizzly scene remains etched in my mind. One of our snipers had nailed a sapper as he was crawling towards the perimeter during the attack. The shell had entered the top of his head, penetrated the entire length of his thorax and abdomen, and exited his sacrum externalizing most if not the entirety of the man’s entrails.
Each NVA trooper we found outside the perimeter, was carrying B-40 rockets, satchel charges or chi-com grenades. Some toted bags of marijuana.
06/28/69 Yesterday we made a helicopter combat assault and we are now about 3 or 4 clicks from LZ Barbara…
07/10/69 We fobbed last night practically in the middle of a bunker complex. Whether it was occupied or not, I know not. Our platoon had ambush duty last night and the trail was extremely fresh. Interestingly enough there was nothing whatsoever to ambush.
07/22/69 Yesterday, we combat assaulted an enemy ambush site positioned at the edge of a jungle clearing. The bunkers were just inside the jungle and faced the clearing.
The NVA had attacked C-company (500 meters) to our west with 80 and 60mm mortars, M-60 machine guns, and other ballistics. They also had attacked 2 other times since then, including this morning. Despite 3 airstrikes the NVA seem undaunted and just come back for more. They must have had underground cover for they always manage to slip away from the airstrikes. Our Delta Company is now scheduled to close-in on this aggressive NVA unit while moving closer to C-company as a backup force.
07/23/69 Our platoon, set up ambush last night and it was most assuredly a chancy situation. We set the ambush on a fresh trail just outside the bunker complex we re-conned yesterday. The complex we reconnoitered yesterday was reasonably large and seemingly well equipped. It was constructed with a large rice storage bin with stoves nearby. The ‘un-friendlies’ must have left in a hurry just before we got there for they had left-behind several B-40 rockets and RPGs. The 1st Sergeant stayed back and detonated them with C-4 (Composition 4, a plastic-explosive) after the company had completed its’ search.
As I iterated before, the ambush was most assuredly a perilous happening. All night, NVA troopers moved around us and on the trail but never tripped any flares or became visible.
We are now halted, configured in a columns-abreast-formation with attention to our flanks. Just got the alert that there is a large enemy force moving to our east.
Back to the ambush: I awoke at 5:30 this morning from strange jungle sounds and footsteps. I slowly retrieved my weapon, clicked-on full auto and eased into the foxhole. They were all or must have been, all around us. At least it certainly sounded that way. We’ve been pretty tense ever since we got back to the jungle and on constant alert. Haven’t had much time to do anything except just be totally alert.
I forgot to mention that while moving through the bunkers yesterday we found a sniper-tower constructed by the lashing limbs with vines between 2 trees… Before we moved out of our FOB yesterday morning, I could have sworn we received sniper fire. That tower may well have been the point of its issue.
The belated ambush setup occurred because just a few hours previously, we were on recon to find a fresh trail for (the) ambush site. While on the recon the point-man and number-2-man saw an NVA Soldier run into the thick of the jungle. We then brought the squad online and a few minutes later were reinforced by P…’s and O…’s platoon. We then re-conned-by-fire the whole jungle area in front of our platoon with grenade launchers and assault rifles.
After the night ambush, we packed up, moved 200 or 300 meters and found a tunnel complex. Evidently, it was quite complex. The First Sergeant and another man crawled into the complex and discovered that there were 2 stories of tunnels. These sorts of tunnel complexes, as I am told, are rarely inhabited but are used for storing arms and ammunition. After the tunnels were explored as far as possible, the company then began to move out of the area while the First Sergeant contributed a few CS (tear gas) grenades to the complex’s interior.
BATTALION MOVE NORTH TO PHOUC LONG PROVINCE
07/28/69 Yesterday, the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment picked up, lock-stock-and-barrel and moved north from Tay Ninh Province to Camp Gorvad, the 1st Cavalry’s Division Headquarters located in Phouc Long Province.
A vast array of equipment ranging from Skytroopers to wheelbarrows to file cabinets inched their way into a C-130 Hercules Cargo Aircraft and flew us to our new northerly Area of Operation.
07/29/69 We have just broken our night defensive perimeter (NDP) and are on our way to a supposed log (resupply) site. We will probably move about 600 meters today.
07/31/69 2/6 platoon, had ambush last night but it seems our ambush was ambushed. We could not return fire because 4 men were out of the platoon’s perimeter on LP and OP (Observation Post & Listening Post).
Thus, they had us at bay and kept us hugging the ground for 10 or 15 minutes. The area we planned to set up the ambush was comprised of tall elephant grass, 6 feet in height, to be exact. S…, T… and I were just on our way out to trip-flare the trail and the unfriendlies opened up on the LPs with grenades and automatic weapons fire. Needless to say, the whole lot of us were horizontal as we could be. Luckily no one was hit and my prayers were again answered.
After darkness set-in, 2/6 platoon moved back towards the company perimeter and married-up with 3/6. At the halfway point we established a perimeter for the night in a clearing: 2/6 platoon on one side and 3/6 platoon on the other. Nothing occurred during that night but we nevertheless kept up a guard vigil from all positions at the perimeter rather than the usual one-guard-per-squad.
I was truly expecting to get mortared, during that time, which would have most assuredly put us all in pinch. The clearing in which we were set up, had a slope of about 15-degrees; the precise angle at which mortar shrapnel travels. Thus, had we been mortared, shrapnel from the rounds hitting below us would have skimmed right along the surface of the ground making a mortar attack a severely nasty scenario for us.
This morning we received resupply by helicopter while Sergeant O…’s Platoon was conducting a recon of the positions forward of our supposed ambush. A trooper from his platoon charged an NVA fighting position which was previously determined to be unoccupied. Lamentably, the platoon member was killed with a round through the chest.
This train of events activated the company to get girded for a scrap. First, ARA birds softened up the positions with rockets, mini-guns, and auto-79s accompanied by a barrage from the nearest LZ mortar battery. Soon after, 3rd and 1st Platoons assaulted the positions online successfully taking them out by about noon.
08/01/69 Last night was a comparatively quiet night despite the fact that it rained miserably all night. The temperatures were also significantly lowered last night as a cold front whipped through the area with some pretty high winds and Luckily, none of the trip flares ignited which would have signaled the company’s location to the enemy.
08/03/69 Well, yesterday and the day before were really fraught with danger, to say the least. On August 01 we followed a large, well-used trail equipped with bunkers and zig-zag trenches. The company traveled columns abreast with one column per either side of the trail. It was extremely hazardous as there were turns galore and it seemed the further we progressed along the trail, the denser the undergrowth became. Sometimes, visibility horizontally was cut to 2 and 3 feet and this was extraordinarily tricky considering the NVA have been attempting ambushes on our company now ever since we arrived here.
We fragged every bunker we came to and before advancing along the trail we re-conned the entire area with M-16 fire.
So much has happened during the last few days and so little time have we had, that I’ve scarcely been able to scribble a note… Even now I’m rushed to write this. Thus I forgot to include what preceded our searching on the trail.
Before going by way of the trail, we perceived considerable movement in an area we had come through just the day before but from a different direction. This time, we heard all sorts of movement so we stopped for a break and during the break, we heard much more movement. We spread our flanks out still maintaining columns abreast formation, re-conned by fire and received return fire several times.
After an airstrike of 750 Lb. bombs and napalm assisted with a dash of mini-gun fire, we resumed searching-out the trail. That day was the first day my rifle jammed. A shell lodged in the chamber and I was unable to extract it.
On the 2nd of August, we broke camp, on a hill crest just above the trail, and we proceeded down-hill towards the river. 3/6 and 1/6 Platoons re-conned the river for a place to cross while we, for a time, stayed back and secured the gear and the company’s flank. 1/6 and 3/6 ambushed several NVA across the river and likewise drew fire from the hill across the river.
Loaches re-conned the hill eliminated two NVA Soldiers with M-60 fire and hit a bunker position with hand-thrown grenades. Finally, after 1/6, 3/6 and 2/6 platoons pulled-back to the hill, we began to cross the river en masse. Just down-stream from where we crossed, the NVA had constructed an elaborate bridge. The river was about 4 to 4 1/2 feet deep and about 30 feet wide where we crossed.
I expected falderal as we crossed the river but thankfully, nothing came to pass. After all of us had waded across, 1/6, 2/6 and 3/6 spread out online at the base of the hill some 50 to a 100 feet higher than the rivers’-edge. At the given word we assaulted with full packs. While I carried a shovel, T… carried a starlight-scope.
The going was, again, extremely hazardous considering there (were) bunkers above us, the vegetation was dense cutting down visibility, the side of the hill was slippery with mud and the NVA could have easily rolled grenades down the hill from their bunkers. The bunkers were sparse and arranged in an irrational order along the hillside, never-the-less, they were still an invitation to disaster. We advanced up the hillside San-Juan-Hill fashion, fragging bunkers as we progressed.
08/04/69 Today is the day I walk point for the Company.
Yesterday was the first day a shot was not fired at the company out of hostility since our redeployment here on 07/28/69. One member, however, accidentally shot himself through the hand. These accidents with one’s own weapon have been increasing lately. The whole company needs a medical stand-down.
As best I can remember, it was about this time when we set up an ambush in an area of thick bamboo. The trooper occupying the foxhole next to me was smoking marijuana. Sometime in the middle of the night, he opened up with M-16 fire to his front giving away the location of his position; a particularly perilous thing to do anytime much less when one’s unit is set up for an ambush. The trooper later confided that he could have sworn NVA were crawling toward his position. Everyone occupying adjacent foxholes was awake and saw nothing of the kind. For his action of pot-smoking, the trooper received an article 15 (a “Uniform Code of Military Justice action permitting commanders to administratively discipline troops without a court-martial.”)
08/05/69 Yes, yesterday I had point for the Company and during the first hundred meters forward, my fatigues were ringing wet with sweat.
A little information handed down to the squad level made the lead-element duty point even more uninviting. The information that came from the 2nd Battalion Officer-In-Charge, (OIC) contained the fact that a LRRP Patrol team had observed “many NVA” migrating from our immediate area to some other area. Thus the OIC said we could and should expect anything and everything.
Be that as it may, yesterday at about 16:00 or so, I departed a very little way from our original azimuth to check a suspicion or hunch of my mine while the rest of the Company stayed at a halt. The object of my curiosity was an apparently well-trampled spot in the middle of the jungle.
As we drew closer it became apparent that it was not a spot but a rather large, freshly-traveled swath through the jungle. On an earlier recon that day, we had found NVA versions of the LRRP rations with small tins of fish. All this evidence found previous to our find of the swath-trail, appeared not to be over 3 or 4 days old. T… immediately posted 3 LPs on the trail and passed the word to the CO about the finds. Soon the entire company’s CP was wandering about the trail. Evidently, the trail was rather unusual, for a very large force had moved on the trail quite recently and the NVA usually don’t move in such large numbers.
The CO then radioed the newly acquired intel up the chain-of-command and that night, Delta Company set up its’ company perimeter squarely on that trail. Our squad’s (M-60-machine-gun-foxhole) was positioned facing up the trail, with the main CP to our rear. There were 2 foxholes flanking the M-60 gun hole and they were zigzagged for fire-and-cover. It seemed we were fairly well prepared for anything that would make its’ way along the trail that night and nothing did make its way there, thankfully.
This morning, evidently, Arizona 6 had radioed the Company with the intelligence that the unit that moved through was probably the 5th NVA Division.
08/06/69, Noon… Well, T… appears to be coming down with a skin infection (“jungle rot”). He will probably go back to one of the LZs today to receive medical attention traveling via one of the log choppers returning to LZ Mary or Song Be.
MY WITHDRAWAL FROM THE FIELD AND RETURN TO TAY NINH BASE
08/20/69/ On August 6th we were to receive log in the field… When, at last, it came time to find a resupply site for helo access, the whole company was considerably “bushed.” The jungle which was chosen for a logistics site was anything but a “natural log site” and the bamboo stretched out above and concealed the sky. Finally, after 40 minutes or so (of machete-cutting the bamboo) a clearing was cut large enough for a Huey log copter… I had no idea cut or splintered bamboo was that sharp. It cuts as a razor blade would cut. Nothing is felt until one notices the blood.
I was off on the first log bird, and as the helicopter ascended slowly above the LZ I had helped hewn, I saw the slim remainder of my platoon give me the thumb’s up sign and I reciprocated while my eyes became watery not from intense air circulation.
I spent that night on the LZ (Mary), pulled guard-mount in the rain, and for the last time slept in the mud. On the 8th, I boarded a log bird and arrived in Tay Ninh Base Camp with a rare nonstop-flight.
TWO UNRECORDED INCIDENTS OCCURRING IN MAY OR JUNE OF 1969
1) In the Tay Ninh Province jungles, while on guard shift at a Company FOB perimeter foxhole, I was visited by what I believe to have been a large snake of some sort. The area had been defoliated and there were dead leaves about the jungle floor.
The night was pitch-black. I heard something in the distance to the front of my foxhole like rustling leaves. The rustling sounds slowly came closer until the sound stopped directly in front of my foxhole and I did not move. A deep hissing sound came from an area located at about eye-level and directly to my front. Seconds stretched into an interminable and inestimable length of time. At last, the leaf-rustling sound started again and moved slowly back into the distance.
The creature which confronted me that night, by process of elimination, must have been a large Cobra snake because Cobras can perceive living bodies via infra-red detection and the creature of the visitation must have been a large Jungle Cobra Snake!
The Platoon Leader coordinated succession of indirect, high-trajectory, grenade launcher disbursements timed closely to match the NVA’s mortar firings and in the general direction of the NVA’s ‘thoomping’ mortar tube(s). After about 3 or 4 grenade shells were fired, the NVA tubes ceased firing and never bothered us again for some time to come. The NVA possibly became convinced that Delta Company was armed with its own mortar team!
© 2019 Douglas L. Crow
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