1st Battalion 22nd Infantry

 

 

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----------------42nd Field Artillery-----------22nd Infantry

 

Memories of a 4/42 FA Forward Observer

1968

by Jim Eckl

 

Although I was officially assigned to C/4-42nd Artillery, I never spent any time with the battery,
and most of the time I did not even know where it was: the whole time I was assigned, which was from sometime in May
1968 to sometime in September 1968,1 spent with the rifle company to which I was attached as the forward observer,
which was C/l-22nd Infantry.

I joined the rifle company sometime in May 1968. At that time, I do not know where the battery was:
the infantry battalion headquarters was at Dak To Airstrip, which I believe was also called Fire Base 1,
and the rifle company was at a little patrol base on a ridge a couple kilometers north of the airstrip.
Dak To Airstrip was a big and busy place because it was the location of a brigade headquarters of the 4th Infantry Division.
Although as a forward observer I was officially assigned to the battery, as a practical matter I did not answer
to the battery commander, as a practical matter the guys I answered to were the company commander, and the liaison officer
who was assigned to the artillery battalion headquarters battery and attached to the infantry battalion headquarters company.
At the airstrip I met my liaison officer, and then I got on a helicopter and joined the rifle company on its little patrol base
on a ridge in the jungle overlooking the airstrip. As far as I know this rifle company was typical of rifle companies
in the 4th Infantry Division at that time: it usually consisted of about ninety men: a headquarters element of about ten men,
the company commander, the field First Sergeant, two or three radio operators, a medic, an artillery forward observer party
consisting of myself and one or two other men, and a mortar forward observer party from the infantry battalion's
weapons company consisting of two men; and three rifle platoons, each consisting of about twenty-five men,
the platoon leader, the platoon sergeant, two radio operators and a medic, and two squads each consisting of about
ten men including a machinegun section. Occasionally for a few days we would get LAWs or 90mm recoilless rifles,
and once we even got a flamethrower, but ordinarily the only weapons we had heavier than rifles were the machineguns.
A couple weeks previously, the rifle company had been very badly shot up in the fighting around Chu Moor,
near Polei Kleng Special Forces Camp, which was also called Fire Base Bass, I believe, out west of Kontum:
the company commander had not been hit, but one of the platoon leaders had been killed and the other two platoon leaders
and the forward observer had been wounded. The forward observer had recovered and returned to the field,
but that was why I had been sent to replace him, because he had been wounded.

We operated in the area around Dak To Airstrip for awhile. At some point, the rifle company was moved to Dak To Airstrip
to be what was called "palace guard" for a few days. Once we went on a patrol up Rocket Ridge, south of the airstrip,
that required us to ford a shallow but fast river, and we nearly lost a couple guys swept away and drowned.
Around this time, we got a new company commander: the old company commander and the new company commander
had been classmates at West Point, Class of 1965, and three years later both of them were doing their second tours already,
they stayed up for hours talking about which of their classmates were dead and missing. Also at this time,
I got sent for the day to Dak Seang Special Forces Camp further north to shoot in some defensive concentrations
around the camp, there was a self-propelled 175mm gun platoon at Dak To Airstrip at the time, I do not know from what unit,
probably a unit of the 52nd Field Artillery Group since the 4th Infantry Division Artillery did not have any of those weapons:
they had a range of thirty-two kilometers, and they were the only artillery that could hit anything around Dak Seang
Special Forces Camp. I still remember how surprised I was to get sent there: I had thought the Special Forces guys,
the Green Berets, were all supermen, I found it hard to believe that none of them were capable of shooting in
a few defensive concentrations. I quickly got very good at shooting in defensive concentrations, because I did it
absolutely every time we occupied a new position for the night. I can still remember the target numbers
that were assigned to me: my series began with DJ6300,1 would assign that to the concentration closest to the north
of my position and then assign the following numbers going clockwise: I always did it the same way
so I would not have to stop to think about it later if I needed to call in fire in a hurry. The terrain around the position
dictated where I wanted to put the concentrations, and of course I was limited to using the batteries that had my position
in range. But when I could do so I preferred to use two batteries, because it was extremely dangerous
to have concentrations that would place our position in line with the battery, because concentrations were always as close
as I dared put them outside the perimeter and there was too great a risk that a round would go a little long
or a little short and hit our position; and of course there was always the chance of a treeburst. So I liked to use two batteries,
say, for example, one battery located to the west for concentrations to the north and the south of my position,
and one battery located to the south for concentrations to the east and west of my position. Often we would be walking
so late into the afternoon that, by the time we got done doing what had to be done in the light, digging bunkers
and the like, it would be night before I could start shooting in concentrations. But it was much easier adjusting fire at night
than during the day because, at night, I could see better to figure out where it was impacting:
at night I could see the streak of the first smoke projectile burning and then the flash of the high-explosive projectiles exploding,
which can be used to calculate the distance from the observer by counting the seconds from the time the flash is seen
to the time the noise is heard, and figuring sound travels at about 350 meters per second; but that was not noticeable
in the day and sometimes during the day it was impossible to figure out where it had impacted by the sound alone.

Anyway, this camp was in a low area surrounded by hills, with a very short airstrip. At the end of the airstrip
there was a pile of washing machines. The explanation I got was that a fixed-wing cargo aircraft, either a Hercules
or a Caribou, had something on board to be delivered to the camp and had the washing machines on board
to be delivered someplace else, but after it landed at the camp and dropped off the delivery for the camp,
the crew decided that the aircraft was too heavy to take off from the short airstrip loaded with the washing machines,
so they just dumped them. Anyway, later, the rifle company moved out from Dak To Airstrip and operated in the area
west of Dak To Airstrip, along the road between Dak To Airstrip and Ben Het Special Forces Camp.
We were at a fire base that was just called Fire Base 3, I believe, it was at a point where the road crossed over a river
by a bridge, and we all were able to go swimming in the river; then at another fire base further west
that was just called Fire Base 13, I think there were a couple batteries there, a self-propelled 155mm howitzer battery
of the 5-16th Artillery and I do not remember the other, the fire base came under mortar attack one night,
and also one of our platoons was on a patrol out in the jungle near the fire base and got into an ambush
and lost a man killed. Then finally the whole rifle company was out in the jungle for awhile. We came under a mortar attack again
at a patrol base. And it was sometime during this period while we were patrolling around that we made contact,
we did not sustain any casualties, but that was the first time I had come under hostile smallarms fire. I was scared,
of course, but I was trying my best to do what was expected of me, crawling around, trying to see what was going on
without exposing myself too much, trying to direct artillery fire on the North Vietnamese position which was not far uphill
from the company's point. And I think I did a decent job of it. And I distinctly remember noticing a hissing noise
every once in awhile but I could not figure out what it was and basically ignored it so I could concentrate on
adjusting the fire where I wanted it. Anyway, we spent that night at Ben Het Special Forces Camp, and sometime
during the evening I asked one of the experienced members of the company, a platoon sergeant, what the hissing noise was.
And he explained to me, it was the noise of bullets passing by my head.
I had not realized at the time what a close call I had had.

From Ben Het Special Forces Camp we moved to the area around Dak Pek Special Forces Camp even further north
beyond Dak Seang Special Forces Camp. The camp was down in a valley, just like Dak Seang Special Forces Camp.
In my experience it was common for these camps to be in valleys surrounded by hills or mountains, which of course
is the worst possible location to try to defend. I think I remember having been told by some Special Forces trooper,
or possibly I remember having read it somewhere, that a lot of the camps were at the location of camps
used by the French during the late 1940s and early 1950s, and they had been deliberately placed in valleys
where there was room for airstrips, which the French needed because they had to rely on fixed-wing aircraft
because they did not have the helicopters that we had. There was at least one large fixed-wing cargo aircraft
wrecked alongside the camp's airstrip, but I do not know if it had crashed or if it had landed and then been damaged
on the ground. Anyway, the camp was down in a valley, and the battalion occupied two fire bases on mountains to the west
of the camp: the southern of the two was called Fire Base Eagles Nest, there was a towed 105mm howitzer battery
located there, I believe it was C/4-42nd Artillery, secured by my rifle company; and the northern of the two
was called Fire Base Crows Nest, there was the 4.2" mortar platoon of the battalion's weapons company located there
secured by another rifle company. Because my company was at the fire base and I was not needed for awhile,
I and the two guys working with me got loaned out to the Special Forces Team at the camp, and we went on an operation
for about a week with a couple Special Forces troopers and a hundred or so Montagnards from the camp strike force.
We went by helicopter from the camp airstrip to a landing zone which was only a series of overlapping bomb craters
on Hill 1558 which was the ridge to the east of the camp. One of the helicopters crashed and burned on the landing zone
so we stayed there for the night. We got a resupply of water in 155mm powder cans, which were commonly salvaged
for transporting water because they were made to be waterproof to protect the powder, they were tough enough
to drop out of helicopters, and they were disposable. The water tasted bad, of course, from the powder residue,
but it was a lot better than going thirsty. We made it a habit never to leave anything behind that would be useful
to the Viet-Cong or North Vietnamese, so if we could not send the cans back to be reused, we would knock holes in them
with a pickax. The next morning, one of the Special Forces troopers, a Sergeant First Class, instead of simply
knocking holes in the empty cans, lined them up on the rim of a crater and shot them full of holes with his carbine,
an old model, an M2 or M3. He was just a few feet behind me when he started shooting, without warning,
and I dove for the bottom of the crater. He thought that was hilarious, which says something about the sort of guys
who ended up in Special Forces. We spent the next few days patrolling around but fortunately we did not make contact.
I could barely keep up with the Special Forces troopers and Montagnards who traveled a lot lighter than we did.
Typically, I would carry my map and compass and codebook, a helmet, a gas mask, an M16 rifle with fifteen
or twenty loaded magazines, a few smoke grenades, a machete and entrenching tool, an extra radio battery,
a couple ponchos and a poncho liner and an air mattress, five quarts of water and nine canned C-ration meals,
and maybe some sandbags; together with a few personal articles, a shaving kit and some stationery
and maybe a paperback book. It took everything I had in me to carry that through the jungle: there were lots of times
that I would throw food away before a patrol, it was easier to live on candy bars and cigarettes than to carry the extra weight.
And there were also a couple times when I was reduced to drinking swamp water, filtering it through a bandanna
as I refilled my canteens from the water I was wading in, adding iodine to kill the germs and then kool-aid
to cover up the taste of the iodine. At some point during the time the battalion was operating in the area, one night,
Fire Base Crows Nest came under ground attack, I can still remember thinking what a pretty scene it was
all lit up with illumination flares, and hoping that we would not get sent out into the jungle to attempt a counterattack at night.

And another time during the day the camp came under 122mm rocket fire from the next ridge to the west of the fire bases,
we could see the red flare of the rocket engines burning along the trajectory along the valley between the two fire bases
toward the camp. Later, that ridge was bombed by B52s during the daytime, we did not know the strike had been planned,
I remember being seated, paying attention to something in my lap, when the whole mountain started to move underneath me,
I can still remember thinking that it was an earthquake; then I looked up, and the whole ridge a couple kilometers away
was disappearing in smoke and dust, in complete silence, the vibration had traveled through the ground
before the sound could travel through the air, it is one of the eeriest things I have ever experienced; then of course
the sound arrived, an awful rumble.

Then from Dak Pek Special Forces Camp we went to Camp Enari by fixed-wing cargo aircraft for a couple days stand down.
And then we went to the so-called V. C. Valley area east of Camp Enari, south of the Mang Yang Pass where the highway,
as I recall Highway 19, went through the mountains between Pleiku and An Khe. We got put on the west side of the Valley
by helicopter and very fortunately did not make contact on the landing zone. Because I was the forward observer
it was expected that I would be on the first helicopter going into an unsecure landing zone, and on the last helicopter
leaving an unsecure landing zone, so that I would be there to start directing artillery immediately if we made contact
when we were most vulnerable. Fortunately, we never went into a hot landing zone. Sometimes the landing zones
would be large enough to allow the helicopter to set down; but other times the landing zone would be so small
the helicopter could not set down, so the helicopter would just hover ten or fifteen feet off the ground, as low as it could get
without clipping the trees and brush, and we would jump. Every landing zone was dangerous, but the small ones
were especially dangerous because that meant the helicopter could not set down to pick us up even if we were being overrun:
there was at least a chance to retreat, by helicopter, from a large landing zone, but retreat was impossible from a small one,
no matter how bad things got. And of course, the North Vietnamese were not very much inclined to take prisoners.
Jumping off the helicopter was an irrevocable commitment: there was never any going back from that moment.
Sometimes I would be so scared that I could not talk. But I always jumped. Anyway, we landed alright and set up
a patrol base and then we set out to patrolling around. The next few days were just terrible; after all these years
I can still remember the exact dates, I sure do not know why but I do. On June 26, the entire company went on a patrol
and got into an ambush and lost two men wounded, one of whom later died, although it took a while for us to find that out.
Naturally we wanted to blast the whole mountainside, I directed artillery fire against where we thought the North Vietnamese
positions were, and the company commander directed air strikes including napalm. On June 27 the company commander
decided he was only going to send one platoon to patrol around the area some more to see what we could see.
He wanted to send one of my guys with the patrol and keep me at the patrol base, but my guy was short
and I was the Lieutenant so I figured it was up to me to go instead, so I did, and that was one of the toughest decisions
I have ever had to make in my life. There were certainly times when I failed to do everything I later thought
I ought to have done, but this time at least I did the right thing, although I was plenty scared of going back to where
we had been ambushed just the day before. This time we did not make contact; although the platoon lost a man missing:
at some point, somebody noticed that he was not with us any longer, although nobody knew what had happened
and to this day he is still missing and as far as I know nobody has figured out yet what had happened.
We searched and searched but he had vanished. I believe he must have fallen asleep during a break,
then the platoon moved out without realizing he was being left behind, then he woke up and found himself alone
and got killed, or maybe captured, trying to find his way either to the platoon or back to the patrol base.

And on June 28, we were planning on setting up a new patrol base, so the company commander sent one platoon
along with the engineer squad straight to the new patrol base location, and the rest of the company,
the headquarters element and two rifle platoons, took a roundabout way to patrol around, planning to meet the other platoon
at the new patrol base location by nightfall. Shortly after lunch we got into another ambush, and I admit I was far beyond scared,
I was convinced I only had a few seconds left to live and I was paralyzed. It was impossible to figure out what was going on
or who was where, because this was happening in very dense jungle where visibility even during daylight was limited
to a couple meters because of all the trees and brush, and the noise of all the small arms fire going off in an area
probably the size of a tennis court was just deafening. But we hung on: we had to hang on, there was nowhere to run,
although I think I might have run if I had had any place to go. I lost my helmet scrambling around, trying to stay as close
to the ground as I could; so I took a helmet from a casualty. The rifle company lost two men killed that day,
and another six or so wounded. That was the only time I ever saw a dead North Vietnamese soldier,
killed by small arms fire inside our perimeter. Usually, of course, we were the ones getting ambushed, and when that happened
the North Vietnamese typically shot us up from a distance away rather than trying to penetrate our position.
I am sure that many were killed by artillery fire and bombs, but they were as conscientious as we were
about recovering their casualties, and I never came across any North Vietnamese soldiers who had been killed
at a distance from us. We were pinned down in dense jungle most of the afternoon until nightfall when another company
of the battalion came to help us out, and naturally it had been impossible to get our wounded evacuated.
We moved a ways away from the ambush site and set up an improvised patrol base in the dark.
We brought all of our wounded with us, of course, but left one of the dead behind. The next morning,
a patrol went back to recover the dead guy, and then the next priority was to find an open area where helicopters could land
so we could get our wounded evacuated. So we found an open area. The fog was so dense, the only way to direct
the helicopters to our landing zone was by throwing trip flares up into the air. We got the wounded evacuated,
and the dead too, and started patrolling again toward the new patrol base location we had been heading for the day before.
That was another long day, all of us were expecting another ambush; but we did not make contact that day,
and finally joined up with the other platoon. At some point I noticed a tear in one of my boots: to this day
I do not know if I cut it on a sharp rock or if it just fell apart because it had rotted from being wet all the time
or if I got hit by a stray bullet. We got a meal in insulated cans shipped in to us by helicopter and I can still remember
what I got for supper that evening on June 29: chili on spaghetti. I was so glad, so relieved, to be still alive,
it tasted like the finest meal I had ever had.

A couple days later we moved to Fire Base Batman, where, as I recall, the battery was located.
I know we were there on July 4 because I remember the guys playing with signaling pyrotechnics
on the perimeter, using them like fireworks to celebrate the holiday. It was while we were there that we found out
one of the guys wounded on June 26 had died. Also while we were there another company got into an ambush
and lost several men killed: I remember listening to it all on the radio, like listening to a baseball game.
After a few days, we went back out into the jungle, at a little patrol base on the east side of the Valley.
While we were there, one of our platoons was able to ambush a North Vietnamese Army patrol and kill a couple of them
without any friendly losses. I was not on the ambush, I must have stayed back at the patrol base.
One of the North Vietnamese dead was found to be a medic, but he had been carrying a pistol
and since we had lost one of our medics wounded on June 28, we all agreed that was fair.

After a few more days we went back to Camp Enari for another stand down, and we needed it.
And then we went to the area around Plei Djereng Special Forces Camp. Our stay there was uneventful.
There was one evening when my rifle company was at the fire base, whatever its name was. The battery was there,
and also the self-propelled 155mm howitzer battery I had previously been assigned to, B/5-16th Artillery,
where there were still some guys I knew. That evening I got three suppers, one from the company, and another one
from the battery, and then another one from guys I knew in the battery I had been in previously.
I was always desperate for anything in the way of even halfway decent food after spending so much time
eating C-rations. Although I made out alright even eating C-rations because I liked stuff that a lot of guys seemed to dislike,
in particular I remember I liked the pimento cheese, that was not very popular but I thought it was pretty good;
although the meatballs-and-beans was the best, especially with a little garlic powder thrown in, and peaches and pound cake
for dessert. The C-rations were tolerable when we had heat tablets to burn to warm them up, but so often
we did not get heat tablets: then we tried to get C4 from the engineers if there were any with us, it burned really fast
and usually scorched the C-rations but it sure warmed them up; sometimes guys would open up claymores to take the C4.
But that evening I got the chance to get something better than C-rations so I stuffed myself. While we were there
operating around Plei Djereng Special Forces Camp, we temporarily relocated for a couple days to Duc Lap
Special Forces Camp, which was on Highway 19 out west of Fire Base Oasis. The objective
was to make a helicopter assault raid on a North Vietnamese Army division headquarters area that was supposedly
located further west, near the border: I think it was called Operation Bold. When I found that out I was really nervous
about what we would be getting into, and everything I saw confirmed my suspicions. They loaded us down
with extra ammunition, I even carried a few hundred rounds of machinegun ammunition which I ordinarily did not have;
and the infantry battalion medical platoon set up a clearing station at the camp; and just when I thought
I could not be more scared, sitting on the helicopter setting on the airstrip, the first helicopter of course,
just ready to take off for the assault, the battalion chaplain came down the line of helicopters, wishing us luck
and making the sign of the cross. I nearly fainted. I am sure the chaplain thought he would be a comfort to us
but it looked to me as though he was administering the last rites ahead of time, and I figured the command
had already written us off as lost. But we went anyway, me and my guys on the first helicopter along with the pathfinders,
and nothing happened, we did not make contact or find anything. Although one of the guys from the battery
who worked with me broke his leg jumping out of the helicopter, and I got some damage to my hearing
from the machinegun in the helicopter door putting out suppressive fire while we jumped. But nobody got killed.
So then we went back to the area around Plei Djereng Special Forces Camp for a while longer.

But suddenly we had to leave the Plei Djereng area. I do not recall now how much I was told at the time,
and how much I found out later, but what had happened was that somehow the command had gotten intelligence
that there was going to be an attack on Ban Me Thuot, like on Pleiku and Kontum and all the other cities
during the Tet Offensive in late January and early February. So the command decided to assemble a brigade-size task force
around Ban Me Thuot to defend the city. Ban Me Thuot was a fairly large city, it was a provincial capital
and location of a South Vietnamese Army division headquarters. So we got loaded onto trucks and convoyed
through the night all the way from Plei Djereng down Highway 14 to Ban Me Thuot. That was a miserable ordeal.
I remember, one of the guys in the back of the truck was reading a paperback book, The Graduate, I believe,
and I was so bored I read it too over his shoulder. We got there the next day. I figured serious contact was inevitable,
and at some point, I remember I made sure to burn my maps from the Plei Djereng area, I did not want
to be carrying anything of intelligence value that could be captured by the North Vietnamese if I were killed.
Then we left Ban Me Thuot, and somehow the convoy made a wrong turn in the city, and every vehicle
had to turn around in those narrow streets. While we were riding through the streets, I remember seeing
a South Vietnamese soldier standing on a corner, looking a lot cleaner and better-fed than we were, and he waved to us:
maybe he was only trying to be friendly, but I became enraged at the thought that we were going back out into the jungle
to protect his country while he stayed behind in the relative safety of the city. Anyway, we were sent to set up
a patrol base on a low hill out west of the city. The idea was to put a screen between the Cambodian border,
where the North Vietnamese Army units would be coming from, and Ban Me Thuot, to intercept
the North Vietnamese before they could reach the city, out in the jungle where they could be destroyed with artillery
and air strikes without the risk of civilian casualties. We ended up staying there for a month or so, and we really moved in:
the usual sleeping accommodations when we were only staying for a night or two consisted of a hooch
made out of two ponchos snapped together hung over a bamboo ridgepole lashed to two bamboo uprights,
but as we realized we were staying we gradually built low walls out of sandbags which provided both protection
and extra headroom, and floors out of more bamboo poles to keep us out of the mud, because it probably rained
twenty hours a day; and we were being fed well, not subsisting on C-rations all the time; altogether,
it was almost enjoyable, like an extended camping trip. We were always working on the bunkers on the perimeter,
of course, always reinforcing them and clearing fields of fire for the machineguns, putting out trip flares and claymores
and barbed wire; we even built a pad for a helicopter to land at complete with a windsock made out of the parachute
from an illumination flare. We ran a number of operations from that patrol base, mostly platoon-size operations
that I did not go on, but there were a few company-size operations.

Once I remember jumping out of the helicopter into a swamp: it is absolutely impossible to tell how deep water is
by looking at it from the air, but we jumped anyway and it turned out the water was about five feet deep
and we nearly lost a few more guys drowned when they lost their footing and went under.
Another time we were supposed to search this Montagnard hamlet, for some reason
I still remember the name, Buon Bor, command had some intelligence that it was controlled by the Viet-Cong
and that they were providing shelter and guides to the North Vietnamese Army; except in the interest
of avoiding civilian casualties the command had used helicopters with loudspeakers to warn everyone to get out of the hamlet.
The warning was given one afternoon. We moved out that night, through the jungle to avoid getting into an ambush
on the road, although movement was extremely difficult between the darkness and the rain. The idea
was to surround the hamlet by the end of the night and then move in at dawn. Because the warning had been given,
we figured that anybody we found in the hamlet could be considered hostile; but of course it also meant
that the North Vietnamese knew we were coming. This hamlet, like every hamlet I can remember,
consisted of a cluster of thatched huts raised up off the ground on stilts, in the center of a cleared area
that was used for gardens. That meant, to move into the hamlet, after we left the jungle, we had a wide cleared area
with no cover to cross before we could get to the huts. And of course we knew they had to know we were coming.
I have never felt so exposed and vulnerable. But as it turned out, there was nobody there. We started searching the huts,
I was inside one hut, by myself, which probably was not a very good idea because when I went in I could not know for sure
that there was no one there, and I heard a burst of small arms fire. I went running out, scared and ready for anything,
and I found that a couple guys had shot a water buffalo. It had been wounded by artillery fire put onto the hamlet
to prep it for our arrival, and they said they wanted to put it out of its misery, and I am sure that was true,
but I suspect that part of what was going on too was that everybody was so nervous that they just wanted to shoot something,
to break the tension. In the month or so we spent around Ban Me Thuot, we lost a couple guys wounded
on different operations. Sometime during that period, the command got some intelligence that our little hill had been selected
as the location for the North Vietnamese Army division's 122mm rocket battalion and that an infantry regiment
had been assigned to attack it to seize it from us. We did everything we could think of to get ready,
we even whittled our own punji spears out of bamboo to supplement the barbed wire,
which was the only time we ever did that. For one afternoon, I was the company commander: one of the platoons
was off on an extended reconnaissance patrol, leaving two platoons at the patrol base, and one of them
had a Staff Sergeant rather than a Lieutenant as a platoon leader; so when the company commander took his R-and-R,
the other platoon leader took over temporarily as the company commander; so when he was called to the
infantry battalion headquarters for a briefing on the new intelligence, it was left to me to temporarily assume command.
That seemed to be a very long afternoon, but fortunately, nothing happened. And the attack never came.
Instead of attacking the city of Ban Me Thuot, the North Vietnamese attacked Due Lap Special Forces Camp
near the border out west of the city. More and more units were committed to the Due Lap area as it became clearer
what was going on. So eventually we left our little hill and got sent west to secure a fire base
although I do not remember the name. There was a towed 105mm howitzer battery located there, I am not sure which unit.
Anyway, the battery was moved out, I do not know where it was sent. It took most of the day to move it by helicopter.
We waited until the battery was gone, then we went through the garbage they had left behind, looking for food:
I still remember, we found an unopened gallon can of hotdogs and had a feast.

Once the battery was gone, then it was time to extract the rifle company and move it to another fire base
closer to Duc Lap Special Forces Camp. That took a while because there were only a few helicopters available
and it was a long roundtrip. Naturally I was expected to remain on the ground and leave on the last helicopter.
When there was only a few of us left, myself and a rifle platoon leader and a half a squad, we got a radio message
that the helicopters could not take us just then because they had to go back to Ban Me Thuot to refuel.
This was the ending of the afternoon, it was getting dark, the wind was picking up and it was fixing to storm.
I was not completely confident they would not forget us, and even if they remembered us there was a real chance
that the weather would prevent the helicopter from setting down. It seemed to take forever.
Just before the helicopter landed to pick us up, a trip flare went off in the barbed wire: to this day
I do not know whether it was tripped by North Vietnamese soldiers entering the position, or whether it was tripped
by some wind-blown debris. But we got out of there without incident, and were let off in the dark and the rain
with the rest of the company at the other fire base, I cannot recall the name, closer to Duc Lap Special Forces Camp.
There was a towed 105mm howitzer battery, I believe a battery of the 4-42nd Artillery, at the fire base
that had been secured by a company of the 4-503rd Infantry which was a unit of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
The fire base had come under ground attack a few nights previously, and the battery commander, who I knew,
had been killed, he had been my liaison officer in the headquarters company of 1-22nd Infantry
and had extended after he was promoted to Captain to accept the command of the battery, and the executive officer,
who I also knew, had been wounded, he had been the forward observer in A/1-22nd Infantry.
The only artillery officer left in the battery was the assistant executive officer, who I think I also knew,
I believe he had been the forward observer in D/l -22nd Infantry. We stayed there a couple days, I believe
there were a couple probes to our perimeter but no real contact. Then the battery moved out, and the company next,
all by helicopter of course, although I do not know where the move was to. In the middle of the extraction,
the company commander's radio operator got a message, and urgently told me, with no explanation,
to get on the next helicopter. So I did, figuring that the company was in contact at wherever it had been moved to
and that I was needed to direct artillery fire, and I was going to be landing in an unfamiliar place in the dark
in the middle of a fight. So I threw myself on the next helicopter, and after it lifted off I was told I was getting transferred
back to Camp Enari. I had been plenty scared of what I thought 1 was going to have to face
when I got to wherever I was going, and then in that instant everything changed: I had gotten a reprieve.
In a way I regretted leaving without so much as a goodbye, and I felt guilty about leaving the company
without a forward observer. But I was immensely relieved to be getting out of the field. I was so tired
of being scared all the time, and I figured my luck must be running out. I figured that getting out of the field
meant that I would really have a decent chance of surviving. And that was the end of my assignment to C/l -22nd Infantry,
after some five months, basically the entire monsoon season, out in the jungle: always hungry and thirsty
and wet and dirty, always sick and sore and exhausted, and always, always scared. I do not remember where
or how I spent that night, but the next day I left Ban Me Thuot for Pleiku.

 

 

Copyright 1st Battalion 22nd Infantry Website
on behalf of Jim Eckl

 


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