Cpl. Mick Johnson, a member of the 1st Cavalry Division, sits at a 105 mm Howitzer emplacement at Landing Zone Jamie near Tay Ninh, Vietnam in 1969 shortly before they were almost overrun by North Vietnam Army troops. He’s holding an M-79 Grenade Launcher. Photo provided by Betsy Brach

Fifty-three years ago, NVA troops awaited the completion of the LZ so they could attack in force. My friend, John Gross, who also served in the 1st Cav. sent me this article. On May 12, 1969, all hell broke loose. After fighting all night, Puff and other air assets saved the LZ from being totally overrun. Click below to read one soldier’s account of this fight.

By Don Moore

Mick Johnson of Bird Bay subdivision in Venice, Fla. was “sluffing off” on a football scholarship at Philadelphia’s Villanova University in 1968. At the end of the school year, the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted him as a minor league pitcher.

“I played a half-season with the Dodgers. In September ’68 I lost my military deferment when I dropped out of college and the government drafted me into the Army at the height of the Vietnam War,” the 64-year-old local resident said, “After eight weeks of basic at Fort Bragg, N.C. and several more weeks of artillery training at Fort Sill, Okla. The Army sent me to San Francisco and put me on a TWA flight to Vietnam.

Seventeen hours later, I stepped off the airplane at Bien Hoa Air Force Base in South Vietnam. After an in-country indoctrination, the Army assigned me to the 1st Air Cavalry Division at Landing Zone Liz. When I first got to Vietnam, my artillery unit moved when the enemy moved.

“Eventually we established an artillery firebase about 20 miles north of Tay Ninh in the middle of a bamboo jungle, along a dirt road at Landing Zone Jamie,” Johnson recalled. “The bamboo was so thick you could be 10 feet from someone and not see him. It was five or six clicks from the Cambodian border near the Ho Chi Minh Trail, used by the North Vietnamese Army to transport military supplies.

“When we arrived there, they dropped the guys, guns and material for setting up the base from choppers. The Army Corps of Engineers brought in bulldozers to build the fire base and clear the land. It took them about two weeks to complete building the L.Z.

“All the time the North Vietnamese Regulars were watching us. It almost seemed like they were waiting for us to finish the L.Z. so they could attack,” he said.

At 2:01 a.m., May 12, 1969 all hell broke loose at Landing Zone Jamie:’ Mick Johnson

“It started around midnight on May 12, 1969, with sporadic gunfire. Then at 2:01 a.m., all hell broke loose. The NVA hit the L.Z. with 200 rounds of mortar and rocket fire,” Johnson said. “Uniformed NVA troops broke through our barbed wire perimeter defenses with human wave attacks and overran parts of the L.Z. A much larger enemy force surrounded our 130 infantry and 55 artillery guys.

Almost immediately, one of the NVA’s mortar rounds hit the 105 mm Howitzer providing illumination rounds over the base so we could see our attackers. The direct hit killed all but Cpl. Len Duchene.

“For the next 2 1/2 hours, Duchene worked by himself on the Howitzer. He did the work of six men. He was unbelievable. Enemy bullets were flying all around him, but this guy was like Superman. He worked all night firing one illuminating round after another. The NVA would have overrun us if he hadn’t performed.”

After the battle, Duchene received a Silver Star medal for his heroism at Landing Zone Jamie.

“I was only an acting corporal when the battle broke out; my six-man squad worked in the ammo dump and moved ammo around during the battle.

“At the height of the attack, the NVA overran three of our bunkers. We had 26 in all in the oval firebase. The ammo base we were protecting was only 20 yards from one of the perimeter bunkers the NVA held.

“My five guys were as good as it gets. Jim Fuller an 18-year-old San Diego native and ‘Flippy,’ a 140-pound dynamo–stayed with me at the ammo base. The other three guys ran ammo to the gun crews.

“We had five other 105 mm Howitzers, but we couldn’t fire them at the NVA because they were too close. We fired mortar rounds instead,” he said. “By timing the mortar and rockets, the NVA were firing at us. We pinpointed their fire and knocked them out with our mortars.

“Shrapnel wound me in the shoulder during the battle. Spec-5 Greg Wood, this fantastic medic, patched me up. He told me, ‘If you don’t think about your wound it won’t hurt.’ He was right,” Johnson said.

“About dawn, the fighting slacked off a little and then the NVA sent in another human wave attack. It was like they would never give up. You’d knock one down and another enemy soldier would keep on coming.

“Then they sent in ‘Puff the Magic Dragon,’ a C-47 twin-engine transport equipped with Gatling guns that covered the ground around the outside of the L.Z. with bullets every five inches. After that, the Air Force sent in fighters that strafed the area. Then ‘Cobra’ gunships came in and finished it.

“Things started quieting down. We were just about out of ammo when we got resupplied. The twin-rotor Chinook helicopters brought in bulldozers that immediately began digging a pit that was used to bury the NVA dead. I don’t think anybody ever counted, but there must have been hundreds of them.

“We lost about 40 killed and a bunch more wounded,” Johnson said.

“During my year in Vietnam, I lost one man in my squad. We were both hit by a single NVA rocket fired at 9:15 p.m. on Aug. 13, 1969. He lost his left arm and leg and I had minor shrapnel wounds.


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