Posted By Bill Howell on February 22, 2001 at 15:06:03:
Prior to the crash of the helicopter, killing some 13 people, including the crew, Bravo 4/9 had been in contact for much of the past several days. The company had been split up into several groups, and our platoon was to the north of the eventual contact spot. We had spotted the entrance to quite a few tunnels, and took advantage of this fact to use some training the officer’s and NCO’s had received recently back at the base camp. The grand idea was to use a self-contained generator to move air with enough force, that if smoke grenades were thrown in one of the entrances, you could see where the other holes were.
We called back to the base camp, and got them to bring out this equipment, a lot of smoke grenades, and the E-7 who had given the instruction. He came out, but clearly did not want to be a part of any of this. All this, of course, was done with helicopters.
The equipment was started up, and a number of purple smoke grenades were thrown into one of the entrances. We were all stunned to see the smoke come up from perhaps 30 or more holes over a very large area. Clearly, the battalion and perhaps the Division thought they were now onto something big. Other troops were brought in---either that day, or perhaps the next to act as a blocking force to the west.
In the meantime, another element of Bravo came in contact with the enemy who was clearly occupying this complex. There was at least one casualty at this point, a Sgt. Yapsuga. This contact point was more to the south, where we were instructed to move and reinforce the element under fire. We moved to them, flanking the complex to the east.
I then recall that we were resupplied with ammunition by air---by having the stuff kicked out of a helicopter to our general location. By this time, there were lots of helicopters in the air overhead, and the Air Force began to strafe the area with machine guns and rockets. At some point, they decided that that was not enough, and told us that napalm was on the way, and advised us to move back. Either none of us, or certainly very few of us, had ever seen napalm in action at such close range. We were reluctant to move back, since this was pretty thick jungle, and it would not be easy to do. After the first drop of napalm, we clearly saw the wisdom of moving further back, and moved as far and as quickly as we could.
Eventually, we were told to move in on the complex, which, above ground, consisted of quite a few bunkers, made with trees that were the size of telephone poles. Some of
the heavy explosives (shape charges) were used at this point, but really all they did was to blow these telephone poles into the air, so they could rain down on us. I do not recall that there was any firing on either side---the VC were either in their holes, and were going to stay there, or had used some other exit and had left the area. Some of the explosives were handled by 4/9 people, and some by the engineers.
Bravo was now done for the day, and other units took our place. We were told to move towards the west to a clearing where the slicks would pick us up. This was difficult to move with dead/wounded through the jungle to meet the time limit placed on us. Once to the clearing, the normal exit procedure was in place. There were to be three or four lifts of perhaps five choppers each to take us back to the reasonably close base camp (Rhode Island??). As I recall, the second ship in the second lift was the one that blew up shortly after liftoff-perhaps half way between the pickup zone and the base camp. I do not recall hearing any firing, but it was certainly possible. The ship blew up killing all aboard, and the force of the explosion left very little in the way of remains.
The extraction of the rest of the troops back to the fire base was eventually completed, and naturally, all were in a state of shock and disbelief that so many could meet their end so quickly. I recall that by coincidence, the Battalion Chaplin was at the firebase, and quickly improvised a service for those who had met their end just an hour or two earlier. I also recall that all of us present at the extraction site had to sign a paper concerning the members of our unit, that we had last seen them at, say, 1400 hours on such a day, and after the explosion, had not seen them since. This supposedly was because of the lack of remains, this was the only way that the family members could collect on any insurance.