SGT Larry W Maysey
COL Gregory I Barras
SGT James D Locker
SSGT Elmer L Holden
CMS Charles D King
MAJ Carl B Mitchell
PFC Eric D Saltz
OTHER IN TRIBUTE PAGES
The Recovery of JG 23
A Visit To The Wall
From The Other Side
Still The Noblest Calling
The Bravest of the Brave
The Fiery Loss of Strobe 01
The Prison Camp Raid
at Son Tay
A Man is Not Dead
Until He is Forgotten
Copyright © 2006. Gamble Dick. All rights reserved.
Continued from The "E-Ticket" Ride
November 9, 1967... approximately 1400 hours / November 9, 1967... 0600 hours Zulu
General Eisenhower said, "Plans are everything before the battle begins, but once the shooting started plans were worthless." Hatchet Force "Bull Dog" doesn't have a plan, but they have a mission, and it is to get to the crash sites, do what they can, and get out of town by sundown. They will have to go with General Patton's response to "Ike". "Victory…will depend on Execution, not Plans."
The leaders of "Bull Dog" are finally seeing the terrain from the ground and it is problematical. We don't have a lot of time; thanks to the extremely late start we got, and will have to cross a lot of open ground to get to the crash sites because time is of the essence.
A quick meeting of the "Bull Dog Brain Trust" confirms everyone's concerns. Because the ground is so open along the necessary route of movement, there will have to be security along the ridge top that parallels the main force movement and the high ground over-looking the crash sites will have to be cleared of possible enemy. MSG. "Skip" Minnicks starts out with his two Americans and a small element of Cambodian "Red Devils" to secure the ridge.
November 9, 1967... approximately 1415 hours / November 9, 1967... 0615 hours Zulu
The main force is moving east from the landing zone through knee-high "Elephant Grass". It is ubiquitous to the warmer climates of Africa and Asia, and is a tough, fibrous grass that can grow twenty feet tall in stands thick enough to slow, and sometimes deflect, bullets. In this case, however, it offers no cover or concealment.
Everyone within ten kilometers knows "Bull Dog" is here and everyone within five kilometers knows exactly where "Bull Dog" is... they are watching. I couldn't feel more exposed if I were standing naked on the fifty-yard line of the Super Bowl during halftime. I don't expect to make it to the crash site(s) before we are hit by mortars or heavy automatic fire. Our only advantage will be to stay on high ground as long as possible. We are thankful for the obvious presence of Covey, the helicopters, and the A-1's. They are real deterrents to enemy attack.
As Lloyd Fisher recalls:
(A field team from the Task Force for Full Accounting first visited the area of the USAF HH-3E Jolly Green tail number 66-13279 and U.S. Army UH-1D tail number 66-00847 crash sites in January of 1995 to search for remains of American military men lost on the night of November 8th and 9th, 1967. They were unable to locate the sites, but did learn of a possible witness who was due to return to the area in March. The team returned in March, and with the help of the witness, located both crash sites. While they found equipment consistent with both types of aircraft, they found no human remains or personal equipment.
Lloyd Fisher and Ronald Bock returned to the crash site with another field team in 2003. Again no human remains or personal equipment was found. Lloyd and Ron reported that the team made an extensive excavation and they felt no stone had been left unturned.)
November 9, 1967... approximately 1430 hours / November 9, 1967... 0630 hours Zulu
Within minutes of leaving the LZ, a blond headed man wearing an olive drab flight suit is spotted coming up a grassy draw toward the main body of the Hatchet Force. He is Specialist 4 Jarvis, the gunner on the U.S. Army UH-1D "Hueyv shot down the previous evening. (The Army helicopters, 2 UH-1D transports using the call sign "Spartan" and 2 UH-1C gunships using the call sign "Gladiator" are from the 190th Assault Helicopter Company (AHC). Although stationed at Bien Hoa, near Saigon, the 190th had been temporarily assigned to support the Marines in I Corp. The Company had returned to Bien Hoa several days before, leaving two "slicks" and two gunships behind to support FOB 1.
Jarvis seems to be in pretty good shape, considering what he's been through. I ask him about the rest of the crew and the location of the downed Huey. He says everyone else was injured, and he thinks Bill Whitney, the Crew Chief, may be dead. He had been with Warrant Officer Bill Zanow for a while during the night hiding at the bottom of the hill, but Zanow was badly injured and not able to get up the hill to high ground, so he sent Jarvis up the hill to get help. Jarvis thinks both Zanow and Warrant Officer Kent Woolridge, the Aircraft Commander of Spartan 53, were picked up earlier in the day. (VNAF Kingbees picked up Zanow and Woolridge separately and transported them to Phu Bai.)
Specialist Jarvis also tells me about a heavy machine gun on the other side of the valley. Good information that will pay off later. A helicopter is called to evacuate Jarvis and "Bull Dog" moves on.
November 9, 1967... approximately 1530 hours / November 9, 1967... 0730 hours Zulu
The main force of "Bull Dog" proceeds to an area of burned "Elephant Grass" near the southwestern side of hill 891 (so named because it is 891 meters in elevation). There are two partially burned bodies there. They are carrying some U.S. equipment and both Fisher and I especially note the K-Bar knife, which is issued to all U.S. Marines. There is also a pair of U.S. binoculars.
We both initially think the bodies are Americans because of the American equipment. Lloyd reads my mind when he says, "Poor Bastards". But, they are dead NVA soldiers, and they almost certainly have seen combat against our Marines. War is an ugly thing and people die. Better the NVA than us!
I remove a boot from one of the dead NVA. It is canvass with a rubber sole. I have been briefed by the S-2 (Intelligence) to bring back examples of enemy footgear when possible. Just as James Bond has "Q", SOG has a CIA run group in Taiwan that provides all sorts of unique weapons and items with which we can fight, and subvert, the VC and NVA. One of their on-going projects is to equip our recon teams with footgear that will leave the same boot print as an NVA boot, hence the need to have current examples of enemy boot treads. (At one point, they even produced a boot sole that left an impression of a bare foot.)
Fisher removes the U.S. binoculars. They are pretty smoked up…like looking through heavily tinted glass, but they magnify and they may be useful.
He then leaves with a small force to sweep around the backside (north side) of Hill 891 to make sure it is clear of enemy soldiers. On the map it doesn't look too bad and should not take him long if he doesn't run into trouble. The map lies…it's a cliff, muddy and very steep. He, and his group have their hands full and it's a tough climb to the top of the hill from the north side.
I start to the front side of the hilltop with the main body of troops. We can reinforce Fisher if need be.
November 9, 1967, YC 016918 Laos... approximately 1545 hours / November 9, 1967... 0745 hours Zulu
"Skip" Minnicks and his group have found the Army "Huey" crash site. They destroy weapons, ammunition, radios, and anything else that might be useful to the enemy. Nearby, they find the body of Sgt. Bill Whitney, the much beloved Crew Chief of Spartan 53. He has died of wounds sometime during the interim between his helicopter being shot down and the arrival of the Hatchet Force. His M-60 Machine Gun is in his lap. Minnicks calls for a helicopter to evacuate Whitney's body and the sad and badly flawed process of returning him home begins. His remains will be lost for over 30 days in the confusion of being an Army crewman, far from his parent unit, and sent to a Marine Corp facility. The demands of the moment require his friends and fellow crewmen to press on and he is sent on without any acknowledgement of his bravery.
Once that sad task is complete, Minnicks and his group start across the face of the hill to catch up to the rest of us. The transport helicopters are returning to Phu Bai, but the Marine gunships are remaining over us by cycling through Khe Sanh for fuel and armament. They are a comfort. In our haste to accomplish the mission, we are getting spread out and we are expecting an attack.
Fisher and his group are climbing the north side of Hill 891. We are all in a hurry to find the Jolly Green crash site. I start down the hill toward the tree line with the main force. Lloyd's group has swept the hilltop and is not far behind and "Skip" has almost caught up. I will be glad to have everyone "rejoined".
November 9, 1967... approximately 1630 hours / November 9, 1967... 0830 hours Zulu
Lloyd has found a blood trail and some U.S. bandages. His group is following the trail when the gunships report seeing another American in a flight suit emerging from the tree line some distance from us. We all turn in that direction. The gunship radios that he is almost out of fuel and thinks he's light enough to land and pick the survivor up.
(Many helicopters were underpowered. Depending on weight, altitude, heat, and humidity, they were sometimes unable to land or hover in the mountains of Laos until they had reduced their weight by burning fuel or pitching equipment overboard. Pilots carefully computed what was known as the "Density Altitude Factor" when planning their flights.)
The gunship makes the pick up and we learn that he has the pilot of Jolly Green-26, Captain Gerald Young, on board. The gunships leave the area and those of us on the ground resume our search for the Jolly Green crash site with renewed vigor. If Captain Young survived, maybe there are other survivors!
The terrain is deceptive and as we enter the dense vegetation in the tree line we are channeled into a deep gully. It is about a yard wide at the bottom and maybe 3 yards wide at the top. There is no evidence that a helicopter has crashed here. It is the wrong ravine. And it is dangerous. One enemy soldier with grenades and an automatic weapon at the top of the gully could damn near wipe us out. I radio the others not to follow us.
The 15 to 20 foot sides of the gully are steep and unclimbable for a large force such as this. It will take too long to get out that way. Heavy brush grows over us, the sun is going down and it is getting dark at the bottom of the gully. The air in the gully is fetid and I feel stifled. It is possible that no human beings have ever walked this gully. I can understand why. We need to get out of here.
A Soc Chan (we called him Sam), the Cambodian Battalion Commander and our lead interpreter makes his way to me, looking scared and concerned.
"Sir," he says, "this is not a good place. The soldiers are very scared. We must leave this place."
I agree and tell him we are looking for a way out. I look back at the line of Cambodian mercenaries behind me. They are Buddhists. They are very superstitious and they are quite intuitive. Every one of them wears an amulet on a leather thong around his neck. The amulets are little bags, usually made from a small square of red bandana, containing grains of rice and other tiny objects that have been blessed by a Buddhist Priest. When they are scared or stressed, they will touch the bags in much the same way that devout Catholics finger their Rosary Beads.
Every one of the soldiers that I can see has his "Prayer Bag" in his mouth! For the first time today I feel true fear rather than the usual dose of healthy apprehension. I quickly suppress it and move on.
We continue down the gully for another 50 meters and finally find a way out on the east side of the gully. Unfortunately, we want to go west, so we must go back up the hill to the beginning of the gully where we can cross to the west and help look for the crash site of Jolly Green-26. The hill is steep and slippery. With the added weight of our rucksacks, it is a tough climb.
November 9, 1967... approximately 1715 hours / November 9, 1967... 0915 hours Zulu
Covey reports a "Beeper" in a heavily wooded area about 600 meters southeast of where Captain Young was picked up. Someone in the Air Force Chain of Command wants us to check it out. I think that would be a particularly bad idea. We cannot get to the location before it turns dark and it is in the opposite direction of the Jolly Green crash site. I decide our best move is to keep looking for the site of the downed Jolly Green. Odds are that the "Beeper" is a trap.
I inform Covey that we will continue to the Jolly Green crash site. This "Beeper," as well as several others, will cause concern and confusion for the next several days.
November 9, 1967... approximately 1815 hours / November 9, 1967... 1015 hours Zulu
The light is fading fast and we have not found the JG crash site. Keeping in mind that I was told to be out of the area at last light at all costs, I radio Covey, who is still in the area. Two Marine gunships are back as well.
"Covey, Bulldog, over."
"Bull Dog, Covey, go ahead."
"Covey, it'll be dark soon. I don't think we will reach the JG site before dark. We're going to find a PZ (Pick up zone), over."
"Bull Dog, Covey, stand by, over."
After several minutes, Covey calls back with the news that we can't be picked up because a severe storm has moved into the coastal areas of South Viet Nam, including Phu Bai, and all the helicopters are grounded due to weather and visibility. We are advised to find a good location to RON (Remain over night). They will come for us at first light tomorrow.
Nothing to do now, but to head to the top of Hill 891 and prepare a night defensive position as best we can. We have no defensive armaments; no food, not much water, and many of the soldiers have nothing to protect them from the elements other than the clothes on their backs. It will be a cold night in the mountains of Laos at best. At worst, it won't matter. We begin our trek up the hillside in the fading light.
THUMP! A small explosion in the column behind me, and a really bad situation just got worse. SFC. Osborne has just stepped on a "Toe Popper" and it has taken half his foot off and injured his lower leg.
The "Toe Popper" is a small anti-personnel mine designated M-2. It is an insidious device that shows no mercy to man or beast. I refused to carry them. Team "Flat Foot" had left this one behind the night before as they tried to slow down the NVA who were after them.
A number of us passed over the mine, but "Ozzie" was the unlucky one who stepped on it. I called Covey and asked for a Med-Evac, not really expecting to get one, but about a half hour later a Huey (Spartan 52) hovers into our hastily prepared LZ near the top of Hill 891. The sun has set and it is almost completely dark.
SGT. Ron Bock, the Medic has done such a great job with SFC. Osborne that the Doctors at Phu Bai are able to save enough of his foot so that he will walk again. Ron has also been caring for a very young Cambodian who is suffering from stomach cramps. He is also evacuated on the Huey and at the last minute another Cambode jumps on just as the helicopter lifts off.
At first, Ron thinks the guy is "bugging out", but on reflection he realizes that Sam had ordered him to go to look after the sick Cambodian. Indigenous casualties are transferred to Vietnamese Hospitals for treatment. That is a real problem for our Nungs and Cambodians. They are minorities and racism is alive and well in Vietnam. If the young Cambode goes into a Vietnamese facility alone, there is a good chance he might not come out, so Sam sends along a bodyguard.
In the rapidly fading light, the gunships contact me, saying that they are almost "Bingo" on fuel and will be leaving in a few minutes. I direct them to expend their ordinance on the heavy automatic weapon location described to me by Specialist Jarvis. They put rockets and machine gun fire into the dark shadows of the cliff to our south. There is no return fire. Odd!
It is almost dark. As the gunships fly over us, they request that we mark our perimeter for future reference. We display strobe lights at our east and west limits of the perimeter. A door gunner on one of the gunships opens up on the strobe thinking it is ground fire. One of the “Bodes” is wounded. Great! We won't be able to get him out tonight and Ron goes back to work stabilizing him and making him comfortable as possible for the coming night. The gunship pilot apologizes profusely and bids us good luck. The gunships fly off in the direction of Khe Sanh.
It is now completely dark and Lloyd Fisher and I stand atop hill 891 looking into a clear ink-black sky. The stars are appearing. At first there are hundreds, then thousands, then millions. The normally taciturn Master Sergeant Fisher steals my thoughts again when he says, "Sir this is really bad."
I reply, "Top, I'll be surprised if we see another sunrise."
I sense him nodding his head as he says, "Yep."
His reply is eloquent in its simplicity. We will fight with all our beings until we die. Then it will be someone else's turn to come for us. We silently make peace with whomever, or whatever, we believe in and prepare for what lies ahead.
The story continues on If I Should Die Before I Wake...
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