BATTLE OF THE HORSESHOE AT THE SAIGON RIVER
August 30, 1967
By: Bill Fitch
Chain of Command during the Battle of the Horseshoe
25th Infantry Division Commanders
Major General Fillmore Mearns-25th Infantry (Tropic Lighting) Division Commander
Colonel Doniphan Carter-----------1st Brigade Commander
Lt. Colonel Stanley Converse-----4/9th Manchu Battalion Commander
Major Bob Sage---------------------4/9th Manchu Battalion S-3 Officer
1st Lt. Fritz Wiese-------------------4/9th Manchu Battalion Support Officer
269th AVIATION COMMANDERS
Lt. Colonel James H. Merryman--- Commanding Officer 269th Combat Aviation Battalion (Black Barons)
Major John Zugschwert ---Operations Officer (Black Barons)
Lt. Colonel John H. McWhorter, Jr.---Commanding Officer 188th AHC (Black Widows)
Major Joe Sites--------Flight Leader and XO for the Black Widows
Major William F. Bauman-----Commanding Officer 187th AHC (Black Hawks)
4/9 Manchu Infantry Company Commanders and Officers
Captain Thomas Lewman--------4/9th Alpha Company Commander
Lt. Ron Beedy---------------------Alpha Company 1st Platoon Leader
Lt. McNeal-------------------------Alpha Company 2nd Platoon Leader
Lt. Bill Howard--------------------Alpha Company 3rd Platoon Leader
Lt. Duane Niles--------------------Artillery Forward Observer attached to Alpha Co.
Captain Al Baker------------------4/9th Bravo Company Commander
1st Lt. Joe Wilson------------------Bravo Company Executive Officer
Lt. Jerry Nations-------------------Bravo Company 1st Platoon Leader
Lt. Graig Greaves------------------Bravo Company 2nd Platoon Leader
Lt. Dave Milde---------------------Bravo Company 3rd Platoon Leader
Captain Rosenthal----------------- 4/9th Delta Company Commander
Lt. Frankenhauser------------------Delta Company Executive Officer
Lt. Rich Parris----------------------Delta Company Platoon Leader
Lt. Jim Itow-------------------------Delta Company Platoon Leader
4th Battalion 9th Infantry Regiment, 25th "Tropic Lighting" Infantry Division
The Manchus had been in Vietnam since April 29, 1966 and were stationed in Cu Chi at a fire support base in Trang Bang. At the time, the Battalion consisted of one Headquarters Support Company and three Combat Companies, which were Alpha, Bravo and Charlie.
During the early weeks of August 1967, it was decided that a fourth Company needed to be formed. To avoid fielding a new Company made up entirely of FNG's (Fucking New Guys), it was decided that each of the existing companies would send one platoon of seasoned men to the newly formed Delta Company-giving it a total of three platoons of combat tested veterans and one platoon of FNG's with less than 60 days in Country. Approximately 125 new guys arrived in Vietnam aboard the USNS Barrett during the first week in August and they would form the bulk of the new people in A, B, C and D Companies. There were also some new guys pulled from Cu Chi that had arrived in Vietnam by military chartered jets, and were used to fill in the company rosters.
In the end, approximately 36% of the Manchu Battalion had not been in heavy combat before their first battle at the Horseshoe on August 30, 1967. Before that (from August 1 through August 29, 1967), it had been mostly routine patrols, with maybe some sniper fire or short skirmishes with a small group of VC (Viet Cong) doing quick hit and run tactics. This new Battalion formation was not a popular move, every Company felt vulnerable after losing over 30% of their best combat-experienced NCO's and Specialists 4's. This problem was even worst for Delta Company, since the men hadn't worked together as a Company unit under any "trial by fire" missions and it wasn't a cohesive fighting unit yet. In fact, many of Delta's new guys had never been out in the field or faced hostile enemy fire before. This would prove to be a devastating disadvantage for Delta Company, when they participated in what was to be the largest and most horrific battle that the Manchus fought to-date since arriving in Vietnam on April 29, 1966.
August 29, 1967
On the afternoon of August 29, 1967, Bravo Company of the 4th Battalion 9th Infantry Regiment (Manchus) had finished a search and destroy mission near the Saigon River and they were waiting in an old rubber plantation to be extracted and taken back to Cu Chi by the 116th Assault Helicopter Company (the "Hornets"). At about the same time there was an artillery barrage going on across the Saigon River to the southwest of them. At 1600 hours Bravo Company moved out to a dirt road (Highway 14) toward their PZ (Pick-up Zone) and immediately began receiving sniper fire from the west side of the road. When the first lift of 10 slicks made their final approach into the PZ, heavy automatic weapons fire hit two of the helicopters. One helicopter made it back to Cu Chi under its own power, but the other was forced down-having to make a hard landing 200 meters away from the PZ. Bravo Company's 2nd Squad (led by Sgt. Rodriguez), and with the help of several gun ships, rescued the crew of the downed helicopter, which luckily did not have any casualties. The downed helicopter was recovered while Bravo Company and several gun ships gave out covering fire.
The second lift was also met with heavy automatic weapons fire while extracting the remainder of Bravo Company. The VC was closing in on the last of Bravo Company's men, who were trying to board the helicopters. Sp-4 C.W. Bowman Jr. (one of the helicopter door gunners) opened up with his M-60 machine gun killing 3 Viet Cong that had closed to within 30 meters of the PZ.
During the same afternoon, a reconnaissance helicopter from the Troop D, 3rd Squadron 4th Air Cav spotted an entrenched VC Battalion near the location where Bravo Company had made contact with the Viet Cong earlier. The search and destroy mission that Bravo Company was carrying out was part of Operation Barking Sands. It was unknown at the time, but this area of the Iron Triangle contained a vast underground tunnel complex running in a north-to-south direction. The tunnel complex was so large that it took 3 days and nights to walk/crawl from one end to the other. The Viet Cong were spotted in a Horseshoe shaped area on the Saigon River located eight miles north of Phu Thuan. The Air Scouts (Centaur) from Troop D had found a large concentration of VC, believed to be the battle-harden 2nd Go Mon Battalion, dug in along a U-shaped bend in the river at a point where the Thi Tinh River merges with the Saigon River. General Mearns decided to use Korean War tactics of heavy pre-strikes before sending in the infantry into the area. More than 5,000 rounds of air and artillery ordnance were used to pound the area.
The problem with this pre-strike tactic of "prepping" an area with air strikes and artillery shelling is that it works fine on an enemy that does not have heavily fortified bunkers and are not well-disciplined soldiers. This pre-strike tactic, when used in Vietnam, told the VC "exactly" where the Landing Zone (LZ) was and where our helicopters were going to insert our men. This tactic did not work with the Go Mon Battalion. They were well disciplined, highly trained, and heavily armed. Perhaps, most ominous of all, the Go Mon had constructed heavily fortified bunkers in a 7-point ambush inside of the Horseshoe-shaped area, which was bordered on three sides by the Saigon River.
The following day [August 30, 1967] the Manchus were about to test the battle worthiness of the Go Mon's fighting positions: (a) Alpha Company's LZ was defended by a complex of 20 enemy fighting bunkers with 2 escape routes each, and on their right flank were open fighting holes; (b) Bravo Company's LZ was defended by a bunker complex consisting of 2 large bunkers (6' x 8' x 8'), 2 smaller bunkers, 4 two-man fighting foxholes, a reinforced bunker hut with a tin roof, 12 spider holes dug into a canal line, and a half completed command bunker; and (c) Delta Company's LZ was defended by a 12' x 7' concrete-walled bunker extending four feet above the ground (with 2-inch steel beams supporting the roof), 3 large fighting bunkers (9' x 5' x 4'), 1 large command bunker (14' x 5' x 4') and 15 spiders holes spaced fifteen meters apart. The Manchus were going to be unknowingly dropped into the middle of Hell.
On August 30, 1967, the Manchus were enjoying a rare stand-down in Cu Chi. They were being held in reserve for some Divisional Base Camp R & R (rest and recuperation) from the field.
In the predawn hours of August 30, 1967, the Manchu Company Commanders were summoned to the Battalion Tactical Operations Center and issued orders to conduct an air assault. They were told they were going to a place northeast of Cu Chi in Binh Duong Province-located 8 miles northwest of Phu Cong, and about the same distance directly south of Ben Cat-at the southern most edges of the Iron Triangle in an area shaped like a Horseshoe along the Saigon River, where the Saigon and Thi Tinh River meet.
The surrounding area was a Hellish place of danger and death, containing hard-core Viet Cong soldiers. If any place in Viet Nam could be called the frontline, it would be the Iron Triangle. This was the enemy's territory, and when in this area there were no secure areas that could be called safe. The Iron Triangle was a no man's land and a free fire zone. Anything that moved was considered Viet Cong and a legitimate target for being destroyed. Historically, the Iron Triangle was a 60 square mile area, bounded by the Saigon River to the South, the Tri Tinh River to the east, and to the north by a line running west from the town of Ben Cat to Ben Suc-as well as taking in the Thanh Dien Forest Reserve to the north. This area was a heavily fortified Viet Cong sanctuary known for containing VC Headquarters for Military Region IV, which directed military, political and terrorist activities in the Saigon-Gia Dinh Region (approximately 13 miles away). VC control of the Iron Triangle permitted their forces to dominate key transportation routes in the surrounding area, as well as controlling and supporting their operations.
During Operation Cedar Falls (January 1967), Military Intelligence suspected VC units in the area were the 1st and 7th Battalions of the 165th Viet Cong Regiment, the Phu Loi Local Force Battalion and three local force companies. Other intelligence sources indicated that the 2nd, 3rd, and 8th Battalions of the 165th VC Regiment might be in the area as well. Operation Cedar Falls' mission was to attack the Iron Triangle and Thanh Dien Forest Reserve, and to destroy the enemy forces, infrastructure, installations, and Military IV Headquarters. The civilian population was evacuated to establish the Iron Triangle as a Free-Fire Zone to preclude the area's further use as a support base for Viet Cong operations. This was a joint operation conducted by the 1st and 25th Infantry Divisions and the 11th ACR. The results of the operation were 720 know enemy casualties, 576 "ralliers", 3,294 tons of rice, 429 small arms, 18 crew served weapons, large caches of ammunition, and sampans. The Manchus didn't participate in Operation Cedar Falls.
This was to be a "hurry-up and go" operation. Division command was confident that most of the VC Battalion had been decimated by the heavy air and artillery strikes. The Manchu company commanders were told that this was going to be a short 2-to-4 hour operation to do a Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) and to count the number of dead VC. They were told a few VC may have survived and they might have to mop-up some pockets of enemy soldiers. The Manchus were instructed to prepare for a quick "in-and-out" mission. Therefore, it would not be necessary to carry C-rations, ponchos, night kits or additional ammunition-it other words "travel light".
The 188th Assault Helicopter Company (the Black Widows, based in Dau Tieng) and the 187th Air Assault Helicopter Company (the Black Hawks, based in Tay Ninh) would be inserting the Manchus into the Horseshoe. The Black Widows would be flying the new H-Model of the Bell Huey that was an improvement over the older B-Model. The newer H-Model Huey had a wider rotor head with a 1300 HP Turbine Engine.
The aerial assault would consist of four Lift Companies, totaling 40 slicks (troop carrying Huey helicopters), and as many Spider Escorts (gun ships) as could be spared. The air assault plan was to take Alpha Company in as the leading element, landing them first to the north sector of the Horseshoe; followed by Bravo who would immediately land in the south sector. Delta Company would come into their LZ after Alpha and Bravo, and land further south of Bravo Company. Charlie Company would stand down and be held in reserve in Cu Chi, because it was thought that three infantry companies would be more than adequate for a routine mission. The last days of August 1967 would become a dark and foreboding chapter in the history of the Manchus, Black Widows and the Black Hawks.
THE ENEMY (GO MON BATTALION)
It has been said that Military Intelligence is a contradiction in terms; this was certainly the case on August 30, 1967. Military Intelligence didn't know anything about the Go Mon Battalion other than its name and that the ¾ Air Cav had located them along the Saigon River. The Manchus would fight other battles with this VC Battalion and would learn more about them as the years of 1967-1968 went by. If Military Intelligence had told us more about whom we were fighting, I am sure we would have been better prepared and the KIA and WIA casualties would not have been as high for the Manchus, Black Widows and Black Hawks.
This is what we found out later about the Go Mon Battalion that we fought at the Battle of the Horseshoe. The Battalion was named for its leader and was formed in the 1950's to fight the French during the French-Indochina War. They were an elite combat unit along the lines of our US Army Rangers. Their area of operations was from the Ho Bo Woods to the Iron Triangle. They were a cohesive hard core military unit that had been together for a long time. Their Battalion and Company Commanders were the best VC officers in the region. They were a specially trained unit that received their military training in Hanoi, North Vietnam. They had been issued modified AK-47's with folding fiberglass stocks. The Go Mon had specially trained sniper teams using mounted scopes on their weapons. They were trained to go for a headshot and told not to fire wildly or rapidly at just anything that moved-and to fire only a few controlled rounds at a time. The Go Mon also used captured U.S. weapons from the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) such as the M-1 rifle, M-1 automatic Carbine, .30 caliber Machine Gun, and the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). They had excellent fire discipline, firing only when they were sure they could hit their target.
The Go Mon made the local population prepare fighting bunkers for them and held family members hostage to make certain no one gave information to the US Army about where their fighting positions were located. They were experts at designing fighting positions, which were always heavily camouflaged. They built their positions in-depth so that they could fight both forward or backwards with a way of escaping nearby. If supporting fire (artillery strikes) were brought to bear on their front positions, they could fall back to their second or third lines of defense. If the artillery was readjusted to their fallback fighting bunkers or holes, they could move forward again to their frontline positions and take-on their adversary with close-in fighting. They took great care to remove their dead when retreating so that their true causalities and presents in an area would not be easily known. The Go Mon never fought without an escape plan by shallow water boats, hidden tunnels or paths. The Manchus were about to face one of the best enemy battalions in Vietnam. The Go Mon would outnumber us and 33% of the Manchus were green soldiers. As if this was not bad enough, one of the three Manchu Company's (Delta Company) was a still a new thrown together Company, and was not a cohesive fighting unit yet.
THE APPROACH TO THE LANDING ZONE
The Black Widows approached the Horseshoe with 40 slicks and gun ships and went into a circular holding pattern while artillery and air strikes dropped their remaining ordinance on the area. By then it was riddled with bomb craters over a wide area, and many of the craters had already filled with water giving the appearance of numerous one-acre ponds scattered throughout the operational area. WO Mark O. Hayes (Black Widow 14, chopper pilot), who was in the lead element of helicopters made the remark going in on the initial approach, "The LZ appears to have been prepped with everything short of an Arc Light (B-52 bombers)…."
The entire area was an infantrymen's worst nightmare. The LZ was open water filled rice patties with low dikes running parallel and at right angles to each other. The most sinister features of all were the heavily wooded areas, tree-lined embankments, narrow canals, stream inlets and bamboo thickets around the LZ. Indeed, upon seeing Alpha's LZ for the first time, Lt. Ron Beedy said, "My God, we're not going in there are we?"
Alpha Company Insertion on the Landing Zone
The first 20 Black Hawk slicks entered the Horseshoe at approximately 8:00 AM in a "Trail" formation, with Alpha Company as the lead element of the three infantry companies being deployed. The Black Hawks entered the Horseshoe from the northeast and proceeded toward the southwest, making a 45-degree turn toward their assigned landing zone. There was no incoming fire as the first choppers made their final approach-slipping pass the tree lined forested areas surrounded by expanses of water filled rice patties. As the landing zone came into focus one could clearly see scores of wooded areas, creek inlets, canals, overgrown embankments and hedgerows scatter throughout the Horseshoe. As the Black Hawks approached Alpha Company's LZ (at the northern sector of the Horseshoe), their initial drop was made along side the Southeast corner of a large rectangular shaped forested area with diked rice patties filled with water in front of its southern and eastern sides. Separating the tree-lined embankments of this wooded area from the first dike directly in front of both sides [south and east sides] of the Southeast corner was a water-filled rice patty field-approximately 30 to 40 meters wide-creating the appearance of a moat wrapping around the corner of a protected fortress, with an open field of fire on both sides of it.
The first group of choppers carried Alpha Company's Command Group (consisting of Captain Thomas Lewman, RTO Spec-4 Nick Summerfield, and Alpha's forward artillery observer, Lt. Duane Niles), as well as elements of the 1st and 2nd Platoons. The Command Group was known by the call sign "Alpha-6". On this particular day, Captain Lewman was wearing "silver captain bars" instead of the blacked out insignia patches. This caused Nick Summerfield some distress-feeling that he with the radio and Captain Lewman with his shiny silver bars would be just a little too conspicuous if the lead started flying. As Captain Lewman and the rest of the Alpha-6 party landed, he was trying to check the terrain to decide which way to go. Captain Lewman made a quick decision that the mission's objective was away from the wood line. The Command Group started moving to the south of the LZ. As the rest of the other lead elements started landing, sporadic enemy small arms fire suddenly erupted from the wood line that Alpha-6 was about to leave. Captain Lewman quickly ordered an about-face and moved back toward the wood line to engage the enemy. Alpha-6 took up positions behind the first rice patty dike that was directly in front of the wood line. This dike was 30 to 40 meters from the tree line and an open rice patty field filled with water separated the dike from the wood line. As more choppers started coming toward the LZ, the enemy began concentrating their gunfire and mortars on the incoming choppers. Immediately the helicopter pilots started reporting that they were in a hot LZ and taking hits from intense automatic gunfire.
In the meanwhile, back in Cu Chi, Lt. Rich Parris was listening intently to the radio while waiting for the third lift to take Delta Company into the Horseshoe. The initial reports on the radio were "LZ Cold" and everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief. However, this report was short lived. Within seconds the radio waves were alive with numerous calls of "LZ Hot!""LZ Hot!" Then the screams over the radio took on a terrifying tone, as "Chopper Hit!" "Chopper Hit!" began filling the airways. The Go Mon Battalion waited patiently until Alpha Company's first ten choppers started unloading their men (approximately 50-to-60 soldiers). Then springing their ambush-opening up with everything they had. The Battle at the Horseshoe had begun.
Willie Gin's following description of his initial approach into Alpha Company's LZ is typical of what Bravo and Delta Company would experience on their approach into this Hell-hole.
The initial approach to Alpha's LZ was nothing out of the ordinary. The door gunners closest to the wooded areas began putting M-60 machine gun fire into the tree line as they passed by them, with their passengers doing the same. Everything appeared normal; a routine maneuver. As we got closer to the landing zone and lower to the ground, the scene quickly changed; looking entirely different from what most of us had previously seen or experienced before.
As the lead slicks slipped pass the Southeast corner of the forested area in Trail formation, explosions suddenly started going off to the front and to the sides of the slicks, mixed in with automatic gunfire coming out of the woods on the right side of the formation. Long lines of green tracers rounds from the enemy's automatic gunfire came zipping through the formation hitting their intended targets. Immediately the other incoming slicks began breaking formation. Some of them veered off to the left of the leading slicks that were still hovering above the ground dropping off their troops. Others went seeking safer spots nearby, while others came straight into the hot LZ replacing slicks that had just flown off after disposing of their troops. The rest of Alpha Company was being helplessly scattered throughout the area.
In the midst of this ambush, while our slick was still hovering 4-to-6 feet above the ground, the aircraft pilots starting yelling "Get out of the fuck'n chopper! Hot LZ! Hurry-up, get out! Jump!" while maintaining hovering speed-and set to take off quickly in fear of being shot down by the incoming gunfire, or worst yet a mortar round or rocket grenade (RPG) that would send all aboard to their death. The aircraft pilot was not about to land, so we followed their crew's command, dropping out of both doorways into the muddy paddy, up to our knees and waist in deep muddy water infested with leeches.
Most of us had fallen so deep into this watery mud-hole that we had difficulty working our legs and ankles free. This drastically impeded our attempt to get quickly behind a small dike for protection from the enemy's gunfire. Even the slick's powerful rotor blades hindered our attempt-whipping up strong gusts of swirling wind, combined with muddy water and debris picked-up and lifted into a swirling wind tunnel, capable of blowing you over. It was tough enough wading your way through water-filled patties and just trying to keep your balance, much less standing up and fighting that powerful force. A force that stung open eyes and brought out tears, while simultaneously slapping you in the face and hitting the sides of your body-throwing you off balance, making it harder to see where you're going and what was happening around you. All this time we were under attack; stuck in the mud like sitting ducks, water exploding upward in plumes from gunfire impacting the water's surface, and desperately trying to work our way to safety before we could engage the enemy.
The Go Mon Battalion's strategy quickly became apparent. It was to hold their fire until the landing zone was full of choppers unloading the bulk of Alpha Company's first lift, and then firing at the choppers and their disembarking infantrymen simultaneously. This is a moment in time when the chopper and their men are the most vulnerable. The chopper is at a stop and still in a hovering position and men are jumping off with no protective terrain features to take cover behind. It was estimated that before all three lifts were completed, 90% of the Black Widows' helicopters had sustained damages from enemy gunfire. WO Mark Hayes (a chopper pilot) flew in the first lift. His chopper had taken a hit from an armor piercing bullet that cut both oil lines-draining the oil from the engine and causing the chopper to leave a smoke trail from an overheated engine all the way back to Cu Chi. Upon arriving at Cu Chi, Hayes' helicopter was disabled and it could not be flown again. However, there was another chopper that been flown by WO Chuck Restivo, that had sustained hits but was still operational. Restivo and several members of his crew had been wounded, and pilots were needed to fly it. Mark Hayes and WO Spearman took command of Restivo's chopper with door gunners Sp.4 William Sondey and Sp.4 Alfred J. "Smitty" Smith: who was killed later that day while on an emergency re-supply and evacuation mission. The re-supply was desperately needed because the Manchus were running out of ammunition and had wounded and dead soldiers needing to be evacuated.
The remaining choppers in Alpha Company's first lift were now coming under intense gunfire on their way toward the landing zone. Enemy tracer rounds were streaking toward the choppers, through the flight formation, and hitting the choppers and some of the men onboard. Many of Alpha Company's men were becoming casualties as they jumped from the choppers. Lt. McNeal and "Doc" Daniel Zogg (medic) were among the first WIA's (Wounded in Action) who didn't make it off the LZ before being hit. As Lt. Bill Howard and his RTO disembarked their chopper, they made a dash for a dike in front of the wood line for protection. A burst of machine gun fire barely missed Lt. Howard, but his RTO caught the full force of the blast.
The rice paddy LZ was a deadly mixture of sucking quicksand-like mud laying beneath the surface in knee-to-waist high water. This made moving quickly an impossible task, and the VC took full advantage of the slow moving targets. However, bringing down a chopper was the primary objective of the VC-getting them while they were approaching and still hovering above the ground when most vulnerable. So for a few brief seconds, most of the enemy gunfire was directed at the choppers. These precious seconds barely gave Alpha Company's men enough time to find cover. If the Go Mon had concentrated all of their firepower on Alpha Company's men during the landing, the casualties would have been horrific. Lt. Ron Beedy said many of the men were hit during the first few seconds on the LZ. The command group, weapons squad and parts of the 1st and 2nd Platoon had managed to make it to the first dike, and the rest of the Company was scattered and pinned down all across the LZ, out in the open water-filled fields.
Willie Gin and two other Alpha FNG's (who were recently promoted to the rank of PFC upon entry into Vietnam) were finally able to stop a moment to catch their breath after being dropped into the hot LZ and getting to safety. Peeking over a dike they were able to observe what was happening in the area around them. Incoming choppers were still dropping off troops, and groups of soldiers were forming up along the very first dike in front of the tree line and firing into it. They could see Alpha Company's command group (Captain Thomas Lewman, his FO Lt. Duane Niles and RTO Nick Summerfield) there with them. Separating their dike from the tree-lined embankment in front of them was a long water-filled rice patty 30-to-40 meters wide. This was the place where Alpha Company's first lift was receiving most of the enemy gunfire from-the south side of a large rectangular shaped forested area, along a 60-to-70 meter section of it, starting from its Southeast corner and extending west for quite a distance.
"We (the three of us) had worked our way to another dike to the right (East) of them, which ran north perpendicularly pass the Southeast corner of the forest. We could see this perpendicular dike was also 30-to-40 meters in front of the eastside of this same-forested area, which also had a water-filled field in front of it-creating a moat like appearance wrapped around a fortress. In short order, a Sergeant was yelling over to us to move out-pointing toward the corner." Willie Gin and two others started running down the dike, pass the Southeast corner to the other side-this being the fastest way to get there.
When they were no more than 25 meters pass the Southeast corner, the two Manchus running in front of Willie were hit by a quick burst of enemy fire. The guy in the lead fell to the right side of the dike into the water and the guy behind him fell to the left, exposing himself to further enemy fire. Luckily, Willie was able to reach over the top of the dike and pull him over to safety, and quickly attended to the bullet wound to the side of his waist. As soon as Willie had him bandaged up, he went to the aid of the other PFC who was slightly wounded and laying along side of the dike, with his head leaning against it and his body submerged below the surface of the water.
It was then that Willie saw another wounded Manchu, who turned out to be Alpha Company's 1st Platoon medic, Daniel "Doc" Zogg. Doc Zogg was lying stranded out in the open exposed to the enemy fire, in the water-filled rice paddy. He had made it one-third of the way toward reaching the Southeast corner of the tree line when he was hit. At the time, Willie and his two WIA's were the only people behind their dike, with no one else close by. Doc Zogg appeared to desperately need help and could not move, so Willie reluctantly disposed of his weapon and went after him. Willie went up, over the dike, and away from the protection it offered. He kept slowly crawling toward him, keeping his body as low and below the surface of the water as possible. Upon getting to Doc Zogg, he said he had been hit around his inter-thigh-groin area. Willie drug him through the shallow muddy water up to the edge of the dike, and tried to lift and push him over the top. He was too big and heavy and after several failed attempts, Willie stopped trying. Willie was now exhausted and these attempts had been painful for Doc. Leaving him was not an option so Willie took a bandage out of the medical bag and tried to put it around his wound. Due to the mud and water, Willie could not see the wound to bandage it. Finally, several others arrived and helped pull Doc to safety behind the dike. Willie then took some bandages from Doc's medical bag and left him in the care of the others. Looking back on this incident, Willie considers it a miracle that he and Doc Zogg were not killed. Either the VC were preoccupied with other parts of the LZ or Alpha Company had begun to lay down some effective suppressing fire into the wood line that made their escape from the open paddy possible.
No sooner than leaving Doc, several guys were yelling and frantically waving at Willie to get his attention and to come to them in the next field behind him. Too his surprise, that was the first time he noticed any group of soldiers (about the size of several squads behind him). Willie headed off in their direction and discovered they were in a dry grassy field, hunkered down behind a dike and several depressions in the ground. At the time, he recognized none of them and thought they were from another platoon or even another Company. They wanted Willie to help with one of their wounded, thinking he was a medic. Someone had placed an unwrapped bandage over the top of the guy's stomach wound, which was soaked in blood. Willie lifted the bandage up and saw that a gunshot had opened up the fatty tissue of his stomach and you could see some of his intestines protruding out. Willie was not a medic but he did what he could for him. He wrapped several clean bandages securely around the wound to slow the bleeding. Lucky, for them, taking some of Doc Zogg's extra bandages came in handy.
Willie felt as though he had done enough medic work and the wounded were being taken care of, so he headed off to find his platoon. Not wanting to get too close to the wood line, he headed off in an outward-circular direction toward the south and doubled-back toward the front of the tree line. Willie could see Alpha Company in front of the Southside tree line, exchanging heavy fire with the VC. Up to this point, he had not fired his weapon because of trying to take care of casualties that did not make it off the LZ. Finally, three or four patty fields from the woods, he came across someone he finally recognized. Doc Randy Dunphy who was the 2nd Platoon's medic. Happy to see Doc Dunphy, he put his hand on his shoulder to get his attention because he was lying real still, flat on his stomach. Willie was beginning to wonder, "Is he shot, is he dead, or what?" As Willie rolled him over, Doc said, "I just got shot in the back!" After examining Doc, Willie could see where a bullet had gone through the back of his jungle shirt but did not cause a wound. Doc had been badly shaken by this near miss but after Willie told him he was not wounded, he quickly got moving again to help with the wounded. During the day, Doc Dunphy had found Doc Zogg at the same location where Willie had left him and performed first aid on his first causality that day. However, Doc Dunphy had to leave him too, because there were cries for "Medic!" all across the LZ. Before leaving, Dunphy gave instructions to someone as to how to care for Doc Zogg's wound, to periodically release and gently re-apply pressure on the bandage covering it.
At some point during the chaos on the LZ, Lt. Ron Beedy also located Doc Zogg, his 1st Platoon medic. His medic was still alert, talking and regretful that he could not help with the wounded. Doc said in his Texas accent, "Guess I ain't gonna be much help to y'all today, Lieutenant." Many hours later Zogg was finally loaded onto a dust-off chopper along with Alpha's other WIA's and KIA's. Lt. Beedy thought his wounded medic had weakened to the point of not surviving. It was now toward the end of the daylong battle before the wounded could be extracted due to the intense enemy fire. Doc Zogg had been laying in the mud, water, heat and huge swarms of leeches since early morning and become seriously weakened. A chopper pilot, (Mark O. Hayes), came in to take out the wounded, under intense fire and displayed great bravery, which saved many lives. Lt. Beedy also displayed a great heroic effort, over and above what was expected, in retrieving all the wounded and killed. Lt. Beedy had to gather the casualties from all over the LZ and put them in a central location. Lt. Beedy, himself, brought some of these men to the PZ. If it had not been for the chopper crew that was brave enough to fly into the heavy enemy gunfire, and including Lt. Beedy's efforts, many Manchus would have died. Doc Zogg and many others survived because of the sacrifice and bravery of others.
Willie Gin finally found several guys from his 2nd platoon and they began to move toward the wood line where Alpha Company was in a furious firefight with the entrenched VC positions. He was carrying an "over and under" M-16 (an automatic rifle with a one shot M-79 grenade launcher attached underneath the barrel). Willie and others of the 2nd platoon began to move off the LZ toward the tree line and took up positions behind the third dike in front of the southern end of the VC bunker line. Sgt. Ronnie Massengill and Spec-4 Terry Craft told Willie to lob some M-79 rounds into the tree line. Since we were engaged with fortified bunkers, an M-79 grenade could inflict casualties on the enemy if it hit close to a firing slit or open fighting hole-more so than a M-16 round. Within minutes, Willie had fired most of his M-79 rounds, over the heads of Alpha Company's men that were pinned down behind the first dike. As his first rounds landed, they were too high and exploded in the trees. He was told to drop them lower and even lower still. Willie was in great fear of dropping one too low and hitting the men strung along the first dike. Fortunately, a few rounds did hit the VC bunker line, hopefully creating some pressure on the VC.
There was now movement of others trapped on the LZ as they began to go over the dikes to link up with the rest of Alpha Company near the tree line. Willie and his small group moved forward, closer to the Southeast corner and entered Alpha's position from there. More of Alpha Company's men that had been trapped on the LZ began to close in from the eastside. A few had actually closed to within the border of the tree line and heard intense gunfire coming from deep within the woods to the west. For fear of being killed by friendly fire, they made the decision to pull back because they were now in the line of fire of Alpha Company exchanging gunfire with the enemy positions deep inside of the woods.
When Doc Randy Dunphy jumped from the chopper he was riding, he headed straight toward the wood line. There were a few choppers ahead of his. He and Sgt. Schultz were together as they made their run for the wood line dike. As soon as Doc Dunphy starting moving forward, he heard a cry for a medic. The WIA was Lt. McNeal (who had been shot in the thigh trying to get a medic for a wounded Manchu) and Doc Fulkes helped treat him. As Doc Dunphy moved forward, he gave his M-16 to Terry Craft and shed his web gear, steel pot, and flak jacket. Doc Dunphy went to the aid of Doc Zogg who had been hit earlier. After treating him, Doc Dunphy moved to another area on the LZ and an AK-47 round passed through the back of his shirt without inflicting a wound (described earlier). Doc Dunphy spent the rest of the day crawling from one place to another through the sucking mud, not daring to stand up or even knell due to the intense and very accurate enemy fire. Doc Dunphy ended up the day back with Doc Zogg to help extract him for loading on the Dust Off.
Bill Fitch, Weapons Platoon, came into the LZ behind Alpha-6 and the lead choppers. The first 5 or 6 had already headed out of the landing zone. As Bill's chopper approached the LZ, he noticed large amounts of white smoke and asked the door gunner why they were using white smoke to mark the LZ instead of the standard red, yellow, or purple smoke grenades. The door gunner replied, "The LZ is hot and you are going to have jump, the pilot is not going to stop!" Bill knew what "LZ hot" meant but he did not know what not stopping and jumping meant; but he was about to find out in 20 seconds. The chopper flew straight into the LZ, pulled up its nose, and began to make a 180-degree turn at a hover as the door gunners were yelling, "Jump! Jump!" Alpha Company's Weapons Squad came spewing out of the chopper from all directions as the chopper spun around. Bill Fitch was an ammo bearer and had an Alice Backpack filled with mortar rounds for the 60mm mortar. As he hit the water, the weight of the mortar rounds drugged him completely under the water of the mud sucking rice paddy field that they landed in. Bill managed to struggle back up so that his shoulders and head were above the water line. However, as Bill tried to move forward, he discovered he was imbedded in the muddy bottom up to his waist. Bill yelled out, "Help, I need to be pulled loose, I'm stuck!". Fortunately, there were three Manchus close by that came to his rescue and with great difficulty they managed to dislodge him from the sucking mud. The Weapons Squad with its 60mm mortar then made a mad dash toward the wood line dike where about 30 Alpha Company guys had taken cover. The incoming rounds were sending spurts and plumes of water shooting straight up into the air, as the Squad ran and fell toward the dike. There was automatic fire coming from every foot of the woodline and the VC were beginning to get their range on us them as we they desperately ran for Alpha Company's position. By some miracle, the entire Squad (Truman Boyce, Jack Connell, Bill Fitch, Alejandeo Hernnandez, Vaughn Morgan and Jim Stitt) made it to the dike without any causalities or losing any equipment, especially the 60mm mortar tube. The Squad headed toward the Southeast corner of the dike, at the extreme right flank of what would become Alpha Company's line, which was closest to their drop off point
The Weapons Squad immediately set up its 60mm mortar, without any orders to do so. From behind the dike, Truman Boyce (the gunner) began estimating the range needed to hit the wood line. Bill Fitch was shocked when Truman said "Charge 1!" This meant all the propellant charges except one was to be removed from the tail fins of the mortar round. This meant only one thing, we were on top of the enemy, or more accurately, the VC were right on top of us. As we began to lob rounds into the wood line, it really got the attention of the Go Mon and they didn't want any heavy firepower like a 60mm mortar round dropping onto or into their bunkers. They immediately began to direct heavy suppressing fire on our mortar position to take us out. However, one advantage to having a mortar is that you can still engage the enemy from behind and below a dike without exposing yourself. We continued to pound the front line positions of the Go Mon. Truman Boyce decided that some of the positions were even closer and called for "Charge 0!" This meant the round would only have enough propellant to leave the tube and would land dangerously close (close enough for the round's own shrapnel to come back on us). The combined roar of a 60mm mortar, M-60 machine guns, M-16 rifles, M-79 grenade launchers, 12 gauge shotguns and even Colt Army .45 caliber pistols firing all down the line was deafening, and our causalities were still mounting.
Some guys who attempted to prop their elbows up on the dike to aim and fire were hit immediately. This was especially frustrating for a M-60 machine gunner that was next to Bill Fitch. Whenever the machine gunner propped his M-60 on the dike, he was being met with a hail of AK-47 fire and had to duck back down without firing a shot. He then did something very foolish or very brave depending how you look at it. He let out a yell and said, "You mother fuckers are going down!" He then stood up, threw the bandoleer of M-60 machine gun rounds over his shoulder and began firing non-stop into the wood line, raking it from one end to the other. We were all screaming at him, "Get Down!" "Get Down!" It was an amazing sight to see him do this "John Wayne Thing" with that M-60 blasting away at the VC on full automatic. He almost got to the end of his bandoleer before he was suddenly thrown backward as if he was hit by a truck. He landed flat on his back, causing a huge splash in the water. A medic went over to him and found that a bullet round had passed through his left shoulder below the collarbone and out his back. As the medic began to bandage him, he began to yell and scream and starting tearing the bandages off. It was not the wound that he was hysterical about, but the fact that the medics were bandaging up numerous leeches attached to his shoulder and chest along with his wound. The medics had to remove all the leeches before he would let them finished bandaging the wound. The Go Mon had well trained marksmen waiting for anyone to expose themselves for more than one second.
The Weapons Squad had expended all of its 60mm mortar rounds into the wood line and it didn't seem to have any effect except to attract intense fire on their own position. At best, they may have wounded a few Go Mon, but their fighting bunkers were still operational. The Weapons Squad now fought with their M-16 rifles, quickly popping up and firing short 1-to-3 round burst, and ducking back down as the Go Mon quickly answered our bursts with several of their own. It became a deadly cat and mouse game of trying to get a round off before they saw you and could fire back. Alpha Company was now fully engaged, pinned down and in a desperate situation with casualties mounting.
Lt. Ron Beedy, Alpha Company 1st Platoon leader landed with the first 10 slicks and had also gotten stuck in the mud and was struggling to make his way to a dike for cover. Lt. Beedly's Platoon was scattered across the LZ, and some of his men were pinned down by heavy fire and unable to maneuver. Lt. Beedy had a small group of his men with him, but could not take the chance of standing up to look for the rest of them. Lt. Beedy said, "We were pinned down for hours by small arms fire coming form a tree line of thick bamboo growing along [what appeared to be] a canal which led into the Saigon River." The classic fire and maneuver infantry tactic was impossible in this situation. It was a grim scenario, if anyone put his head above the dike, he immediately became a casualty. The only way to get to the wounded was to crawl alligator style below the incoming fire. Lt. Beedy put one badly wounded man on a dike to prevent him from drowning and the wounded man was hit again by enemy fire; it was a grim and deadly situation.
The enemy's forward fighting positions were 30 to 40 meters in front of Alpha Company and they were firing at Alpha from fortified bunkers. Then some other Go Mon fighting positions began firing at Alpha Company's position from their distant far right flank. The situation was now becoming extremely deadly; we had point blank gunfire coming at us from our front, gunfire from our left flank, and distant gunfire coming from our right flank. The Go Mon had Alpha Company in a 3-point ambush and were inflicting casualties as the minutes went by. Captain Lewman made three desperate command decisions that saved Alpha Company from total annihilation. The first decision was to bring artillery fire in on the Go Mon's position, which was so close to Alpha Company that shrapnel fragments from the explosions came back us. It was so close that everyone was praying that no artillery short rounds would fall directly on the Company. The second desperate order was about to be given to Lt. Beedy to suppress the gunfire coming from the left flank.
Bravo Company's Insertion on the Landing Zone
Captain Al Baker's Company just came in from a patrol the day before, on August 29, 1967, after being attacked while being extracted from a patrol. He had gotten orders to get Bravo Company ready to go out again the next day after VC were spotted at the Horseshoe during his Company's search and destroy mission. Captain Baker went to the mess hall at 6:00 AM and he didn't feel the least bit apprehension about the impeding mission, since he was told they would probably be back no later than 12:00 PM. He was told that the area was being prepped with between 2,000 to 6,000 rounds and anything of significance should already be destroyed.
As Bravo Company approached the LZ, Captain Baker asked the door gunner if Alpha
Company found the LZ hot. The door gunner shook his head up and down and directed Captain Baker's attention to one part of the LZ. As Captain Baker took a closer look, he saw a downed chopper that appeared to be ablaze on the landing zone. Almost immediately upon seeing this, incoming rounds began to popping and snapping into his Command party's chopper, and bits and pieces of the chopper's airframe were flying off with each hit. They hadn't even got close to the drop-off point and the gunfire was already intense. Suddenly a round passed between Captain Baker and the door gunner, striking the soldier next to him in the neck. It was a serious wound and he was bleeding heavily. The closer the chopper got to the LZ, the more accurate the incoming fire became. Captain Baker said, "It sounded like someone was beating the hell out of the chopper with a big hammer." The chopper was beginning to come apart and Captain Baker wanted to get on the ground as soon as possible before the chopper was knocked out of the sky. As the chopper pulled to a stop, it began vibrating and shaking uncontrollably. Captain Baker jumped out leaving the wounded soldier on board, hoping the chopper would make it back safely so the wounded Manchu on board could get surgical help at an Army Hospital. Luckily, the wounded soldier survived.
Like Alpha Company's ordeal, Bravo Company's men got stuck in the quicksand-like mud when they jumped from their choppers. As Captain Baker was trying to free himself from the mud, he looked up and saw the chopper turning around with its tail rotor blades skipping across the water like a stone. He was in the direct path of the oncoming tail blades and thinking this was how he was going to die. However, the tail rotor swooped by, missing him by 4 to 5 feet. Now an immediate threat presented itself. Many of Bravo Company's men were stuck in the mud and the Go Mon was beginning to turn their firepower toward them. Bursts of automatic weapons fire began to intensify and bullet rounds were popping in the water all around Bravo Company's men. Bravo Company made the decision to swim out of the LZ. By lying down, half-swimming and half-dragging themselves through the water and mud, they made it to a berm that was 10 to 15 meters behind their drop off point. Captain Baker recalls "there were so many snipers that you had to crawl were ever you went, if you stood up you died on the spot." As Bravo Company made it for the berm, they found a depression in the ground that they quickly took cover in. The AK-47 rounds and B-40 rockets were hitting all around Bravo Company's defensive position. Then our gun ships arrived on the scene with their mini-guns and rockets-firing off all their ordnance trying to suppress the Go Mon's relentless attack on Bravo Company.
About two hours later, Bravo Company tried to give some covering fire for Delta Company's incoming choppers. One of the choppers from Delta's lift flew into a no-man's land between the crossfire coming from Bravo Company and the Go Mon's fortified positions. The chopper was flying low, approximately 15 feet off the ground. Captain Baker saw the door gunner get shot and he fell forward hanging by his monkey strap. Once on the ground Delta Company's objective would be to attempt an assault on the lower right side of the Horseshoe. By this time, Alpha Company had already made a charge into the northern sector of the wood line to the north of their perimeter. Alpha Company had to fall back into the rice paddies because of the fortified VC bunker positions, accurate sniper fire, and heavy automatic weapons fire. It was difficult to determine the location of the camouflaged bunkers to return fire and Alpha was still exposed in the open rice paddy and taking causalities.
Captain Baker took his 2nd Platoon and worked his way along a dike until he was now southeast of Alpha Company's far eastern flank. The tree line in front of Bravo Company was actually part of a finger stream branching out from the Saigon River. Alpha Company to the northeast of Bravo Company was under intense fire and still pinned down in front of the tree line. Captain Baker ordered his scattered platoons to organize by "chalk" (smoke grenades), flares, and radio. Captain Baker said, "We could show nothing to this unit, if a soldier raised his hand, he would be shot in the hand, if he showed his foot or his head, the same…If we showed nothing, the VC held their fire…This was a Top Flight Unit." Bravo Company called in artillery support to help them get off the LZ. The 7/11 Artillery laid down a "Ring of Steel" around Bravo Company. You could hear the 105's, 155's, 175's and huge 8-inch rounds whistling through the air and descending toward the trapped Bravo Company. Captain Baker said, "The ground would roll and shake, as the concussion from the explosions would roll over us." This rolling artillery barrage was followed by F-4 Phantom jets flying in so low that you could see the pilot sitting in the cockpit as the jet screamed by. The F-4's released Snake Eye 750-pound bombs that would wobble until the tailfins popped out to stabilize the bombs descent before impact. Bravo Company was bouncing up and down on the ground from the enormous explosion of 750-pound bombs being dropped close by. When the F-4's finished their bomb run, they flew back around firing their 20mm cannons-making the long burping sound that hundreds of bullet rounds make when fired on full automatic-and empty red-hot 20mm shell casings discharged by the strafing jets rained down on Bravo Company's men, causing many of them to think they had been hit by enemy gunfire. However, this massive barrage of fire support gave Bravo Company a window of opportunity to move off the LZ to drier ground covered with high grass.
Delta Company's Insertion on the Landing Zone
Back in Cu Chi, Lt. Rich Parris was listening to the radio reports and waiting for the second lift's return to take Delta Company out to the LZ. After a few brief moments of hearing "LZ cold, "LZ cold" there was a deafening roar of gunfire, rockets and people screaming coming over the net. Alpha and Bravo Company's battle to get off the landing zone had been raging for over an hour before the last of the three infantry companies would finally arrived. Delta Company's lift was delayed because at least two of the returning choppers were so badly shot up that they couldn't be flown again, and replacement choppers were being brought in.
Delta Company's landing zone was approximately 300 meters south of where Bravo Company had landed. Delta experienced a similar nightmare as Alpha and Bravo Company. The last lift began seeing tracer rounds and taking hits as soon as they were within rifle range of the landing zone. The inside door gunners could not provide covering gunfire because the Manchus on the ground were in their direct line of fire; however the outside door gunners were cleared to do so-firing non-stop, on full automatic, to the point that the machine gun barrel was about to melt-down.
The landing zone had become a chaotic, hellish place with smoke coming the from the burning brush, explosions going off in every direction, green and red tracer rounds going back and forth, bodies lying out in the open, gun ships circling overhead firing rockets into the tree lines, and everyone on the LZ trying to find a way to fight and survive. Rich Parris said, "The LZ was a sea of chaos." There was one chopper down in the paddy as Delta's lift approached [the LZ] that appeared to have been shot down.
Delta's lift tried maneuvering to safe places to hover over without being shot out of the air-dropping Delta Company's men in small groups wherever they could. Delta Company was now scattered; as was Alpha and Bravo Company, but much more so. This scattering of green soldiers was a devastating event for many of Delta Company's men. The small groups were scattered all over the landing zone and many of the new guys got out of the water and up on the dikes, running for cover to escape the heavy incoming gunfire. This was a fatal decision. Bravo Company could clearly see the Delta Company's men getting up on the dikes trying to run for cover. Bravo Company screamed at them, as loud as they could, for them to stay off the dikes-watching helplessly as deadly snipers were easily picking them off. Even the more experienced soldiers did not escape this deadly trap. As Alpha and Bravo Company had already learned, if you showed any part of yourself over the top of a dike you were immediately shot by a sniper.
The insertion of the Manchus for the Black Hawk and Black Widow helicopter companies were now complete. The Horseshoe would become known to the these two Army aviation companies as a "meat grinder" and "…the hottest LZ most of our guys experienced in Nam." Dick Detra (a helicopter door gunner) said, "When the Delta guys bailed out we landed right on top of the VC who were trying to outflank Bravo Company." Of the 24 slicks (Huey Troop Helicopters) that went into the LZ, 22 of them took multiple hits. Also, there were 4 four Spider and 4 four Rat Pack guns ships laying down suppressing fire and they were taking hits on each pass. The 3rd lift of choppers had been shot up so badly that the Manchu's remaining company (Charlie Company) at Cu Chi could not be air lifted in due to the extensive damage to 90% of the returning helicopters.
Dick Detra (a door gunner) was on Chalk-10, the last of ten choppers in Delta Company's lift. The Gon Mon opened up on the last two choppers in the formation, which was Chalk-9 and -10. The Manchus immediately bailed out while the chopper was still moving foward due to the intense incoming enemy fire. Chalk-10 was about 15 feet off the ground, when Jim Trublood (the crew chief) was hit by the incoming fire, and was thrown backwards into the cargo bay by the gun blast. Detra then left his M-60 machine gun to go to Trublood's aid, and immediately a burst of AK-47 fire exploded through the transmission housing where Detra had just left his unmanned machine gun dangling in the gun bay-going to the aid of Trublood had saved his life. Chalk-9's WO Herm Fulp leaned over to reset a switch just as a camouflaged Viet Cong soldier rose up out of the water, 15 feet from the chopper, and opened fire. The AK-47 rounds smashed into the overhead panel where Herm's head would have been if he had not been leaning over to reset the master caution switch. One of the rounds wounded the door gunner (Ed Pettinato), but he still managed to get off a blast with his M-60-killing the VC instantly. Instantaneously, both helicopter pilots radioed in that they were breaking formation and getting out of the LZ anyway they can, because the VC were now coming out of the tree line shooting at their choppers (Chalk-9 took 38 hits and Chalk-10 took 39). After this third mission the helicopters were so badly shot up (Red X'd) that there weren't enough left to fly in Charlie Company that was being held in reserve.
Melvin "Buzz" Copple (a Delta Company machine gunner) rode into the Horseshoe on one of the other choppers and sat on the left side of the chopper's open doorway. Buzz could see pieces of a chopper to the right of him flying off as the incoming bullet rounds were hitting it, and then its door gunner being hit and slumping over his M-60 machine gun-firing wildly in the direction of Buzz's helicopter and wounding his chopper pilot in the neck. The co-pilot frantically regained control of Buzz's chopper and brought it to a hover 12-to-15 feet off of the ground. The door gunners in a rush to get their passengers off began kicking some of the Manchus off before they could get their feet on the chopper's struts to jump. After landing, Buzz crawled over to a dike and looked over it and saw a large numbers concentration of VC. His first thoughts were, "God! I don't have enough ammo!"-they were on top of a major Viet Cong bunker complex.
Manchus Counterattack the Go Mon Battalion
It was now late morning and approaching midday; all three Manchu companies were still pinned down on their landing zone and our casualties were mounting up. Alpha Company was the first company to land and the first to attempt a counter attack against the Go Mon Battalion. Captain Lewman's first order was to call in a series of artillery barrages to hit the wood line directly in front of Alpha Company. It was midday when Captain Lewman radioed Lt. Ron Beedy, who was on the left flank of Alpha Company. He told Lt. Beedy there would be one more artillery barrage coming in, and after it was over, he was to take whoever was near him and "…Get to that wood line!" Lt. Beedy said, "…It was the most ominous order I received during the war…." However, Lt. Beedy was eager to move, to escape the misery of being pinned down behind the dike. There was little chance of making it across the open rice paddy alive, so Lt. Beedy decided to creep down alongside of the dike to his left that ran parallel to the Viet Cong's frontline positions. Lt. Beedy, Pete (Peter Rabbit) Gaviglia, and several other men made the left flanking maneuver. This parallel dike intersected with another dike that ran perpendicular to it, into the wood line. When Lt. Beedy's small squad of men reached the intersection of the dike, they jumped up on the perpendicular dike and ran 25 meters to within a few meters of the wood line. It was then that Lt. Beedy saw a fighting position on the edge of the wood line to his right and he jumped down behind the dike he was on. The squad then lobbed hand grenades into and around several fighting holes. Lt. Beedy's squad moved forward and only found bloody web gear lying around. All of the wounded or dead enemy bodies had already been removed by shallow water boat, down what appeared to be a small canal just inside the tree line. However, now the extreme left flank of Alpha Company had been secured and Alpha now controlled a small part of the hidden canal line.
Captain Lewman now faced a dilemma: how to break out of the ambush and engage the enemy that was putting pressure on Alpha and Bravo Company. Captain Lewman prepared his 3rd [and final] order to break out of the ambush. Captain Lewman called in air strikes into the tree line. Bill Fitch of weapons platoon watched as two jets came flying in from behind Alpha Company at tree top level. It was a terrifying sight for anyone that hadn't been in a close air strike situation before. Fitch thought the jet pilots had made an error and they were dropping their bombs on Alpha Company. The jets released their bombs far behind Alpha Company's position and you could hear a dull metallic click-clank as the bombs were jettisoned from their wing pods. The bombs then wobbled, turned and twisted downward toward Alpha Company. Bill Fitch said, "You could read the serial numbers on the bombs as they passed with a whooshing sound over our heads." Then the bombs exploded 50 to 100 meters inside of the woods. The concussion from the explosions seemed to push you down into the water. In fact, many of Alpha Company's men ducked under the water when they saw the bombs being released and coming in their direction.
After the air strike, Captain Lewman gave an order that shocked everyone. Captain Lewman ordered everyone up over the dike and to charge the tree line across the open rice patty. This military tactic of breaking an ambush is an option of last resort. If you are pinned down, can't maneuver and taking casualties; you should charge the strongest point of the ambush and take whatever casualties you have too in order to break free of the trap. This makes sense in a morbid sort of way. Usually you will take more casualties by staying put in one place, and being picked off one by one. Then it is best to get into an offensive position as soon as possible, to escape being annihilated. Nick Summerfield knowing what the Captain intended to do asked "…Are you sure you want to do this Captain?" Captain Lewman's response was short and chilling, "Let's Charge!" Nick Summerfield said, "…bullets were hitting the water around the Captain and me…all I could think of was, the fool has silver bars shining and me with my radio…a couple of great targets!"
Alpha Company moved out as one unit, in a long line resembling an old Civil War charge. The charge materialized into a long line of green uniformed soldiers (not blue or gray) charging forward, firing their weapons as they sloughed through the mud knee-deep in water. As the charge progressed toward the wood line, the Go Mon abandoned their forward fighting positions and began taking up their secondary fighting positions deeper inside of the woods. There was some heavy fire during the initial phase of the charge and then it tapered off as the Go Mon fell back. When Alpha Company reached the tree line, the firefight began to intensify as the Go Mon began firing from their fallback positions.
Alpha's Weapons Squad charged the wood line from the extreme right flank of the Alpha's assault line. As the Squad came to within 10-20 yards of the wood line, the incoming fire became more intense and Vaughn Morgan was mortally wounded by a burst of automatic weapons fire. The weapons squad stopped to help Morgan who was going into shock. Hernandez and Jim Sittt made a heroic effort giving Morgan CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as the squad withdrew. However, a medic said Morgan was dead when he finally got to him. Sgt. Dennis Gabbert, who was toward the middle of the charge, was also hit and mortally wounded during the assault.
Alpha Company's assault stopped short of securing the wooded area because the enemy fire had become more accurate and intense as they began entering the tree line. Alpha Company had no choice but to fallback, taking cover behind the dirt embankment at the base of the tree line. However, Alpha Company had achieved one major objective; they had broken the ambush. Many of the Go Mon was now pushed back further into the woods and their gunfire was not as effective. Helicopter gun ships were called in to keep up the pressure on the Viet Cong. The gun ships made numerous passes firing their mini-guns into the bamboo thickets and the woods. Bamboo stalks were falling like shafts of wheat cut by a sickle. Alpha Company now had two new problems to deal with: its casualties and running out of ammunition. Alpha Company desperately needed volunteer helicopter pilots to come back into the LZ to bring a re-supply of ammunition and take the wounded out before they died.
Willie Gin and his group was pulling out of the tree line when an emergency ammo drop came in. Willie observed the scene of the desperate re-supply run; he watched through the tree branches and undergrowth. The slick approached from the West and the pilot was struggling to maneuver into position. There were small groups of Alpha Company's men struggling through knee-high water toward the chopper. They were crouched down and covering their eyes from the blinding swirl of muddy water and debris stirred-up by the long pounding rotor blades of the hovering chopper. Willie could see ammo boxes being kicked out. Then a desperate rush to put as many WIA'S and KIA's on board after the ammo boxes were out. Alpha Company expended their last remaining clips of ammunition; some soldiers had less than 20 rounds left in their magazine to shoot into the woods to cover the chopper. Jack Connell's M-16 exploded or was hit by an AK-47 round during this barrage and was disabled. Bill Fitch threw him Morgan's M-16 so he could keep firing. The VC still managed to shoot up the chopper bad enough to the point of almost bringing it crashing down. Captain Al Baker (Commander of Bravo Company) saw this heroic effort from his men's position. He said, "…The slick was shattered by small arms fire. I swear there was no Plexiglas left in the Huey. Either the door gunner, or its crew chief, was killed and one other was wounded. Somehow this shot up Huey bounced around and managed to take off. As he cleared the "Z" he radioed back to Captain Lewman to get some more [men] ready. He would change helicopters, get some new crew, and be back. In my three and one half years in Vietnam, I never saw a more gallant act. I watched with tears in my eyes."
Captain Baker had observed Alpha Company's charge across the rice paddy into the tree line, remembering, "…It worked for Alpha Company initially. As they pursued, the Go Mon pulled back into their positions in depth. When Alpha Company tried to pull back, they (the Go Mon) followed them back, and continued the fight." Captain Baker decided to take a different tactic. He decided that Bravo Company had enough ground cover to make a covered approach to the wood line. Captain Baker had a SFC (Sgt. First Class) with him who was from Battalion S-2, who had taken sniper team training at Fort Benning, Ga. Captain Baker and his sniper worked their way along a dike and found a place were a hole had been blown through it and the SFC sniper could see through the hole, seeing a VC bunker emplacement. Captain Baker decided to use an old "Tom Mix" cowboy trick to draw the VC's fire. He lifted his helmet up above the dike on the end of the barrel of his CAR-15. Immediately a burst of enemy fire came from an aperture in the bunker. From the opening in the dike, the SFC quickly squeezed off several well-placed rounds from his M-14 sniper rifle into the firing slits of the enemy bunker, and knocking the bunker out of action. Now several small streams were open to Bravo Company to move down and Captain Baker made that his offensive objective.
The silenced bunker now enabled Captain Baker to bring up Lt. Craig Greaves' platoon and move it up into the little finger of a stream to try to roll up the VC's flank. From the small finger stream, Captain Baker discovered that the VC's right flank was unprotected and we could roll them up across the edge of the wood line. As this promising counterattack began to unfold, two incidents prevented it from happening. Captain Rosenthal of Delta Company saw the movement of Bravo Company's men, and mistook them for Viet Cong troops. Captain Rosenthal then called in a gunship strike on Lt. Greaves' platoon, breaking up the counterattack and wounding two of Bravo Company's men. The first gunship made a pass at the Lt. Greaves' platoon, firing all of its rockets at them. Now another gunship was coming in for a second run at them and Captain Baker was desperately trying to call off the gunship going after his own men, but could not get through because too many people were on the radio net. Finally, the net cleared for a few brief seconds and he made contact just in time to abort the second gun ship's attack, as it flew into striking position and rolled off and away from Bravo Company.
There were several layers of Command and Control helicopters circling above the Horseshoe as the battle raged below. There was heavy radio traffic and getting on the net for the ground commanders was difficult. There were now officers from 25th Division Command, COMAS-MAVC, Brigade and Battalion Command flying over the battle zone. It was getting late in the day and although Bravo Company could have resumed the flanking counterattack, Lt. Colonel Stanley Converse (the Battalion's Commander) called a halt to Bravo Company's counter attack. This lack of willingness to inflict casualties on the enemy-just when the Battalion had an opportunity to do so-will always be one of the greatest controversies of the Horseshoe. Perhaps all the commanders flying over the Horseshoe had been so shocked and dismayed at what they had dropped the Manchus into, they feared more casualties. However, the Manchu Company Commanders on the ground felt otherwise; that Division Command had failed the Manchus by not giving them the go ahead to destroy the enemy, after they had fought so hard and paid such a high price for fighting their way out of the Go Mon Battalion's massive ambush.
Delta Company (commanded by Captain Rosenthal) was scattered in small groups all over their LZ, where the choppers had dropped them off in an attempt to avoid the enemy's concentrated gunfire on their tight lift formation. As small groups of soldiers tried to escape the enemy gunfire and regroup, well-trained VC snipers immediately shot them. As mentioned earlier, some of Delta's casualties could have been avoided if their less experienced soldiers had not attempted to run along the top of the dikes.
Bob Castillo was one the Manchus pinned down in a small group. Bob crawled through the mud to a dike where some other men had gathered and began to return fire. Bob said, "I couldn't tell what everyone was shooting at. I could see a woodline or clump of bushes and trees about a hundred yards across the rice paddy…there was a lot of confusion."
Dave Cline was pinned down immediately after splashing into the sucking mud. Dave moved up to get behind a dike for cover from the intense fire. Another Delta Manchu had gotten stuck in the mud, could not move, and was screaming for help. Dave went over to pull him out and was immediately hit in his upper left back and the bullet round exited out his lower right back. Dave's left lung filled with blood and he collapsed. Dave would have to fight for his life for more than an hour, before a Dust Off (Med-Evac chopper) could get through the intense anti-aircraft fire to take him to a base hospital.
There were fighter jets coming in trying to roll back some of the Go Mon positions that were right on top of Delta Company. Buzz Copple recalls seeing a bomb released behind Delta Company and scoring a direct hit on a group of VC: "I saw it hit right in the middle of the gooks and they just disappeared…vaporized…then I saw pieces of body parts flying away. The jet then began to make strafing runs…this is the only thing that bailed us out."
Larry Criteser of Delta Company carried a small 60mm mortar tube into the Horseshoe battle that day. Larry jumped out of the chopper and took cover behind a dike just as a Chicom grenade exploded on top of it. The muddy terrain gave him no solid ground on which to mount the mortar for firing, so Larry used his helmet for a base plate on which to mount the mortar. After the 4th mortar round was fired, the recoil punched a gaping hole through the top of Larry's steel pot. The fighting had become intense, and choppers were coming and going from all directions. Larry fired off another mortar round at the woodline and was horrified to see it heading straight for a chopper, but fortunately the chopper was climbing and got out of range of his projectile.
Lt. Jim Itow was the only Delta platoon leader to gather enough men to make an attack on the enemy positions. The only solid ground between Delta's LZ and the woodline was a single dike running straight toward the middle of a VC bunker line. Lt. Itow used the cover of the dike to take his platoon closer in, hoping to knockout the bunkers that were pinning Delta Company down on the LZ. As Lt. Itow's platoon approached closer to the woodline, they suddenly started receiving gunfire from both flanks and from directly in front of them. Bob Castillo said, "They didn't have a chance. They just got cut to pieces."
A chopper with a re-supply of ammo came in and kicked out ammo boxes into the muddy rice paddy field near Delta's position. The Delta Manchus had to fish around in the mud for the crates, with enemy gunfire popping in the water around them. Then someone saw a lone figure stumbling and desperately trying to get back from where Lt. Itow's platoon had made a heroic but fatal attempt to counterattack the Viet Cong positions. The closest Delta soldiers began laying down suppressing fire for the returning Manchu. It was Lt. Itow returning to get help for his platoon, which had been decimated. Lt. Itow was breathing hard, straining for air. Someone gave him a cigarette, and he drew hard on it, and began to talk. Lt. Itow said he wanted more ammo and volunteers to go help him save what was left of his men. Bob Castillo said, "We couldn't believe it. He was already hit 2 or 3 times. It was suicide to go out there. Lt. Itow then took a bunch of bandoleers, put them around his neck, and bolted back over the edge of the berm…[then] all hell broke loose again with automatic weapons fire going both ways." Lt. Itow went back alone. As some time passed, Bob Castillo heard cheering and went up to see what was happening. Lt. Itow was coming back with a wounded man. They were both stumbling along the dike and Lt. Itow was dragging the wounded soldier along most of the way.
The wounded solider had been shot twice in the back. A medic came to his aid and he the soldier was trembling and crying silently. He was told to hold on; a chopper was coming for him. As the chopper approached, an exchange of gunfire erupted again. Doc Hyder was organizing the wounded for evacuation and came over to ask, "Think you can walk?" The wounded soldier nodded yes. He was a big heavy kid. Bob Castillo and Doc Hyder were struggling to carry him, in keeping him moving toward the incoming chopper. When Bob was halfway to the chopper, he stepped into a bomb crater in the paddy and went completely underwater. When Bob emerged from the water, the wounded soldier was leaning on the dike holding on with both arms. By this time, Doc Hyder collapsed from total exhaustion and was shaking badly-the adrenaline had finally run out of both of them. Bob told the wounded soldier if he wanted to get out of here, he would have to go the rest of the way on his own. Bob told him, "That's your chopper man…go get it." The wounded soldier lurched forward over the dike; with his arms extended forward, walking toward the evacuation helicopter in quick jerking movements like Frankenstein. The chopper's crew reached down, yanked him inside and quickly flew out of the Horseshoe.
During the chaotic attempt to get the wounded out, a bizarre sight appeared in the distance. A Cambarra jet with a gunship on his right side was heading straight for the Bravo Company's perimeter with a medic-vac chopper underneath them. The Cambarra jet with its 20mm cannon and the gunship with its 7.65mm guns began firing into the wood line forward of Bravo Company's position. The medi-vac swooped down under the gunfire and extracted what wounded men it could get. The medi-vac chopper took numerous hits, making it out safely.
Captain Rosenberg asked Lt. Rich Parris to find Lt. Jim Itow's platoon. Lt. Parris asked for volunteers, and more guys volunteered than could be spared for the recovery attempt. Lt. Parris finally settled on 10 volunteers (Kieth Bolstad, Al Clinton, Bob Castillo, Sgt. Beard and Scott Curtis were among them). They crawled through the mud and sniper fire for three hours recovering what was left of Lt. Itow's men. There were 15 to 20 living and dead to be recovered. Lt. Parris and his RTO (Scott Curtis) stayed behind trying to recover as many weapons and gear as possible. This was a daunting task as bodies, weapons and gear was scattered across six rice patty fields. The closest was only 50 meters from the woodline. It was getting toward the end of the day, and it was beginning to rain, the fog was rolling in and visibility dropped to nearly zero in the approaching darkness. The Go Mon took advantage of this and left their bunkers trying to encircle Delta Company's rescue party. Some of the fighting was at close quarters, being only a few feet away. The rescue party managed to recover many of the Delta casualties, but could not recover those closest to the Go Mon bunker line. Six Delta Manchus were not recovered until the next morning. Lt. Parris was wounded while returning to the Delta's perimeter and he was evacuated on one of the last dust-offs for the day.
Night of the Leeches
Much to the Manchus dismay, they were not air lifted out of the Horseshoe and were left to spend the night out in the water filled rice paddy fields, with no re-supply of ammunition, rations or fresh water.
Captain Baker had taken the finger stream objective, but could not get the Battalion Commander's permission to roll up the VC's flank. Our Commander was afraid of getting bogged down and said no. The C & C choppers left the area and Captain Baker was put in command of organizing the entire Battalion for the night's stay. Alpha, Bravo and Delta Company had linked-up for a long night and the Go Mon knew the battle was over. They were outflanked by Bravo Company, air strikes could still come be called in and our artillery was on standby. In addition, the Wolfhounds were ordered out of Cu Chi and were marching to our relief. We could see the flares throughout the night as the Wolfhounds crossed the Saigon River to the East of us; and the Go Mon could see they were being encircled as well. The Go Mon slipped away in the night, probably using their tunnel complexes and the numerous canals, streams and the Saigon River as their escape routes. The Manchus were not sure if any snipers stayed behind and were still around, so the darkness of night did not give us any rest or comfort.
It was raining and getting colder as the wind began blowing. Many of the Manchus slipped down into the rice patty water because it was safer and warmer than sitting on a dike shivering in the rain and the wind. Parachute illumination flares were dropped all night long-lighting up the night sky, casting eerie shadows and flickering light across open fields and the surface of the water-just enough so you could see what seemed like thousands of leeches swarming around. The leeches looked like small snakes trying to slither into openings in your clothing. At the first hour of daylight, everyone was striping naked-and began the painful process of pulling, burning and scraping leeches off each other, which left bleeding wounds and sores. It was good to be alive the next day.
In retrospect, there were no victors at the Battle of the Horseshoe. The Manchus may have accomplished a tactical victory by temporarily driving the Go Mon Battalion from one of their major bases, but they had many more yet to be found. The Go Mon were far from being destroyed; they would appear again during the 1968 TET Offensive and they would participate in the attack on Saigon. During the TET Offensive, the Manchus would be sent down from Tay Ninh to hunt them down again, after being pulled from fighting fiercely with the NVA [North Vietnamese Army] near the Cambodian border.
The Go Mon probably suffered as many, if not more, casualties as the Manchus on August 30, 1967 at the Battle of the Horseshoe. As the first rays of daylight broke, there were no victors on either side, only survivors.
August 30, 2002
For years now (36 to be exact), I have had an immense interest in finding out more about what happened to us (the Manchus of the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment) at the Battle at the Horseshoe, north of Cu Chi and south of the Iron Triangle along a U-shaped bend in the Saigon River, on August 30, 1967. Like many others, I only knew what was happening directly in front of me that day. There were surely more acts of bravery, heroism and sacrifice that we don't even know about, and I felt we needed to record what we collectively do know. Three things were evident in putting together and writing this article: (1) the bravery of so many Manchus, Black Hawks and Black Widows; (2) the extraordinary leadership of Captains Thomas Lewman and Al Baker; and (3) all of the Manchus holding their ground and taking the fight to the enemy.
This event couldn't have been written about without the help and memories of those who were there. I was more of a facilitator, rather than the author of this article. This article had actually already been written in brief accounts and previous emails written by others. The most difficult thing was pulling it all together in an hour-by-hour action report and in chronological order. Hopefully I have done this correctly, in preserving that day's events and providing a more complete picture of what happened with first hand accounts from those who were there.
Willie Gin (4/9 Manchu) and Dick Detra (Black Widows' Association Historian) were a tremendous asset in helping me pull all these facts together; along with the recollections and memories (both large and small) contributed by Mark Hayes (Black Widow chopper pilot), Al Baker, Ron Beedy, Craig Greaves, Melvin "Buzz" Copple, Randy "Doc" Dunphy, Nick Summerfield, Bob Castillo, Larry "Bear" Criteser, Jim Stitt, Truman Boyce , C.W. Bowman , Dave Cline, Rich Parris, and others. Mike Smith (for finding documents from the National Archives-and of course, Willie Gin and Dick Detra again for their recollections of that day as well.
To all of you, "Guns Up!" and "Keep Up the Fire!"
4/9 Alpha Company,
2002 © Copyright