I don't know Spanish, so I'm not sure about the way to spell 5th of May. It
is however a big holiday in Mexico and for some of us, one to remembered, in
Vietnam in 1968. If you haven't done so you should go to Roy Stanford's web
site (you're already here) and click on "In the wire" It offers two other accounts on what happened that night.
On the 5th of May 1968, 3rd Amtracs had the following officers in Command
Lt Col Haebel C.O.
H&S Capt. Charles Smith
A Co.. Major Ray Berling (on the 4th) Ist Lt John Roth on the 5th
B Co.. Major Molineaux
Bn XO Major Frank Chace
S-1 Ist Lt MCCabe
S-2 Capt Pfister
S-3 Capt Vredeveld
S-4 Major Vann
S-5 Ist Lt. Jurczak
Our attached units were: Ist Plat. Co. B Ist Amtracs and I Plat Co B 5th
Amtracs Our strength was 27 officers and 635 enlisted..2 Navy Officers and 12
Corpsmen. We also had 1 Chu Hoi (Ben) formally an NVA Sgt from North Vietnam.
Although most of the Battalion personnel were spread around the Rocket Belt
we were in support of (By Platoons) of the 7th Regiment (2nd , 3rd and 27th
Marines) 2nd ROK Marine Brigade, Task Force X-ray,1st Engineer Battalion
During the month, we had 90 Amtracs committed daily: 74 on resupply missions,
3 on patrols and mine sweep operations; 9 were involved in blocking force;
2 Med evacs: 2 Med cap force: 20 reaction force; 19 search and distroy 1 on
ambush mission; 62 involved with security patrols; 28 on administration
details; 3 on recovery missions 53 troop movements. The vehicles operated 7
hours a day, carrying 8.7 persons and 388 pounds of cargo. The LVTE-3's
fired 32 line charges that month.
There were 3 KIA's and 45 WIA's..45 Purple Hearts awarded to in country
members of the Battalion. 15 LVT's were damaged or destroyed (6 Destroyed 9 damaged) 3 were destroyed and 7 damaged by satchel charges; (5th of May) 3 destroyed and 2 damaged by mines. So not only was it a very busy month, but the events on the morning of 5 May will long be remembered by many of us.
It was around midnight when the 1st of an estimated 82 rounds of mortars
were fired into the CP, resulting in the destruction of 4 buildings. At the
same time we lost contact with LVT bunker in the southwest corner of the Camp. It was a half buried P-5 facing south. Attempts to communicate were futile. When the mortar rounds went off we cranked up our siren and everyone headed for the wire. B Co Marines reached the Amrtrac Bunker and called in that the sentry was dead. By this time we knew we had been penetrated. With all the Marines on the wire except for H&S Marines around COC, we had Sappers
running in all directions throwing satchel charges in the LVT's of H&S. One LVT was quite close to COC and was filled with 20 mm rounds. The vehicle caught fire but it did not explode the ammo. At that, I remember a Marine falling down the steps into COC. He was badly burned and the skin hung loosley from his upper torso and arms. The corpman in the bunker grabbed a 5 gallon can of water and poured it over him..then another and then another. He was given a morphine shot and carried to sick bay. He had been in one the vehicles that took a satchel charge. We had called for illumination from the 3rd Marines and some was provided by the Green Beret "Nung" Camp to our north. The CP was like day light..but dangerous. There were so many shells being fired, that the cannisters were bouncing all over the place. At one point, we lost contact with the bunker just south of the LVT road that led to the beach.
I decided to check it out and on the way down the road, I saw a Marine lying
in the roadway. I reached down and felt his jugular vein and there was no
pulse. His right foot was at right angle to his leg and it appeared to have been blown off. Sgt Cobis was with me and I heard him say "It's Joe Foot.' We checked out the bunker and the sentry was wounded. He had taken a grenade.
Back in the CP, we got the word that several of the sappers were in an
unoccupied bunker near the Staff NCO club. Haebel asked me if I thought we
could take one of the sappers alive. With Ben, our Chu Hoi, and a sound
powered microphone and Cobis, I went to south corner of the Staff NCO Club
and told Ben to tell them to surrender. There were several in the hole.
Ben began his speech but a grenade was the answer. It fell harmlessly about
half way to where we were. By this time there was a semicircle of Amtracers
there. Ben started hollering in English, over the mike "Kill those fuckers," which he repeated several times before I got the phone away from him I told him one more time to see if they would come out. Another grenade came out. I then took the phone and told the Marines to unload. A whole bunch of fire followed and a couple of grenades went into the hole, and it was over. There were 6 in the bunker.
I was really surprised, when at first light,I retuned to the bunker. They
looked like teen age kids. Wearing only tan shorts and from one I took a
Russian wrist watch which I still have.
What ever happened to the rest, I don't know. It was estimated that 28
were inside the wire. The question then became what to do with the 6 bodies. I don't know of the communications that took place with the ARVAN's but I do
know there was no plan for picking up the NVA'/ s who were killed. I
finally talked to Cobis about turning over the bodies to the Bhuddist Priest on Chin Strap. This was agreed to. We put the bodies in body bags and drove a P-5 over to the stairwell leading to the Bhuddist Temple. We also supplied six bags of lime as requested. What happened after that, I don't know. I
assume that 6 bags of lime were used to decompose the bodies.
When the sun came up, I put on my bathing suit and went to the beach. It
was a beautiful morning. Somewhere during the night I had run into a wire of
concentina and my left arm was on fire. I remember laying there in the
surf zone trying to figure out what had happened.
Around 0800, I went to the CP and met with the Sgt Major. He gave me a
list of WIA"s at the Naval Hospital. I told him that the list was wrong and
that Joe Foot was dead. He told me, at that time, that the Marine who was so
badly burned was the son of a Sgt Major in the 1st Division. Later during the
day, I found out thar Joe Foot was alive and in intensive care. I never met the Sgt Major whose son had been so badly burned...our Sgt Major told me about him from time to time. In early August I was reading the morning message traffic and it said the Marine had died of pneumonia in the burn center in Texas and to send his sea bag to the following address. By this time I was CO of the Battalion and I remember trying to write to the Sgt Major and his wife about their loss. It was one of the most unpleasant days of my life, since I thought the Marine had made it. As for Joe Foot, I was in the SNCO Club at Camp DelMar when Joe arrived on two elbow cruthches. I remember hugging him and crying since the last time
I saw him was in roadway thinking he was dead. All he could say and he said
it many time thereafter, "Here's the colonel who said I was dead!"
It was a night to be remembered. I remember talking to Bill Cobis the
morning after and I said "Why did you follow me all night?" He replied that
although I had my pistol in my shoulder holster, I had no clips of ammunition with me. Maybe someday I will be able to record the affection that Cobis and I had for each other, going back to Korea.,and for many years there after.