Troops made an opposed airmobile assault into a small clearing near the abandoned village of Suoi Tre in central War Zone C, Republic of Viet Nam. Their mission was to establish a Fire Support Base at that location to support further offensive operations. The Fire Support Base was code-named “Gold”. Unbeknownst to them, this area was a major staging area for the 274 VC Regiment. At dawn, two days later, the 450 defenders of Gold were attacked by an estimated 2,500 VC soldiers. This is one soldier’s story:
March 19, 1967, our Battalion minus ‘C Company’ deployed from Dau Tieng by fixed-wing air transport to a staging area near Soui Da Vietnam, this was the beginning of Operation Junction City II in preparation for our units to assault into Landing Zone Gold. We were not alerted to the possibility of it being a “Hot LZ” or that enemy resistance was expected. The flight time to the LZ was short, I was on the 5th Chopper sitting on the floor with my feet on the skids, in a flight of 10 aircraft, and as we approached the LZ it was obviously a very “Hot” landing. The Chopper to my front was hit and exploded mid landing about 25 feet in the air, the blast and concussion blew me out of the chopper some 10-15 feet up. I hit the ground hard, my rucksack over my head and helmet blown off, rifle in the dirt and hit my head on something hard.
The enemy snipers were firing from the nearby tree line, leaving no time to gather myself or assess my injuries or pain, fear and adrenalin raging, confusion and reaction firing my weapon into the tree line suppressing any enemy fire if that were possible. The flights of choppers continued coming in, three of the downed choppers were burning, bodies and parts from the explosion were everywhere. The morning wore on and the enemy action reduced and ended, but the day was far from over. I was detailed to take my weapons platoon and assist in picking up our dead and gather the body part of those in the choppers blown up. I was stunned and still somewhat dazed, from the hard fall, sore knee, stiff neck, and a crease in my skull still there today 52 plus years later. The bodies were difficult to gather, one was a soldier torn in half, the skin of the upper torso yellowed like a neoprene rubber, the lower half still with his pants and boots on sickened me. My first real introduction to the horrors of war.
The next few hours the euphoria of the unit was overwhelming, The day is a blur, not sure if the Generals were there before or after we collected the bodies and parts of the enemy. The newspaper article said there were 423 bodies, but that was in the first few hours, as the mass grave that was dug had over 647 bodies and parts in it, looking like a scene from newsreels of the WWII Holocaust. My inner humanity suffered a huge tear in the fabric of what I have always believed, “Thou Shall Not Kill” to me even a small animal being killed was offensive, and here I am looking into a hole in the ground with 647 bodies that we killed. Yes, the reality is nearly certain that if we had not killed those enemy soldiers in front of that 105, that most of the remaining 380 of our unit may have died. Even so, that does not reduce the feelings of guilt that I feel.
I’m including a video donated by Bob Hayes taking place at a couple of survivor reunions.
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