Ambush 30 January 1968

By Jeff O’Donnell

My best recollection of a night ambush pulled off by the 3rd squad of the 3rd platoon, or should I say my vivid memory of my squad’s moment of glory.

The 3rd squad was assigned what in my mind was a routine ambush that evening Southeast of our base camp Alpha 3. I don’t believe any one in the squad thought we’d do anything that night except get some much-needed sleep. About sundown the squad took off toward our site co ordinance to find a nice place to setup. The area was pretty flat and barren but we managed to find an area with a few clumps of bushes to hide us.

We setup in non-military fashion in a circle (which is against any training we ever had, but it covered everyone’s backside) with myself, our radioman and Corpsman in the center. Once set in, we loosened our gear and divided up the night watch as to who and how long each man would be up answering sit-reps and watching out for every one else, while we got some sleep. (NVA activity in the area had been pretty sparse at that time) Designated time to start watches was 10:30 P.M. and would go till sunup.

It was dark that night with no moon so visibility was poor, but I had taken with us a Starlight scope so we had a much better view of the area than with just the naked eye. Around 10:00 P.M. while looking through the scope I spotted some figures coming out of a tree line, couldn’t tell if it was NVA or friendlies at first and actually thought they were one of our recon teams. I remember telling everyone to settle down and be quite as recon was passing through. Well that all changed as these little figures got closer; all of a sudden I realize they’re Gooks. (Now it’s too late to reconfigure the squad for maximum fire power, we would have been spotted moving around)

I counted 20 maybe 25 of them as they came closer and heading right for us, I mean they’re going to walk right over us. Talk about being nervous God I wasn’t sure if I should SHIT or get off the pot. The whole caravan of these little guys come right up to us and not knowing we were there, decide to sit down and take a break. I’m not talking about them taking a break 10 or 15 yards away from us, I’m talking the lead Gooks were 1 to 2 feet away, so close that a couple of them after see us thought we were part of their group and started talking to my machine gunner. Of coarse he couldn’t answer them, (about the only words we knew in their language was Dee Dee Mau and that wasn’t going to make it) at that time these 2 or 3 Gooks realize that we’re not part of them and the shit was about to hit the fan. They remained very cool though and just got up and tried to nonchalantly walk away not yelling or anything. Probably thinking they needed to get a little distance between them and us.

I don’t think they wanted to do hand-to-hand combat with us. Just then my machine gunner yells “ They’re on to us” and I yelled back “Let’em have it” ( The Shit has Just Hit the Fan) and he jumps up with the M60 and commences to fire (damn I wish I could remember his name, he’d been man of the hour if only the gun worked) and the gun goes bang and jam’s, he re-cocks it and it goes bang and jam’s again (the following morning we checked why the gun jammed and found the gas piston in backwards). The same time we decide to mow them all down with a machine gun that didn’t work I jump up with a M79 grenade launcher spot 4 Gooks off to my left and fire at them, it seemed like an eternity before that round hit them, but when it did, they went down like bowling pins. By now everyone’s firing all over the place, some guys shooting at Gooks some guys shooting at nothing but thin air, you got to remember we were set up in a circle and the guys in about a third of the circle really couldn’t see what was going on, but that’s O.K. fire power is what counts.

The Gooks at that time were returning very little fire and after a few minutes of kicking their asses I decided we better move back and regroup. This was not the smartest thing I ever did, as the few Gooks that were left (I know we had to kill or wounded 10 or 12 just on our initial burst of fire) had time to come to their senses and return fire as we were moving out. They didn’t put out a lot of fire but enough to hit and wound one of my guys. I seen the muzzle flash and got the M-F’er with the M79 (God I fell in love with that M79 that night, I fired every round that was in the bag which had to about 40 shells, talk about fire power that baby sure had it that night). A minute or two later the Gooks stopped firing and took off toward a tree line, we continued to fire at them till they disappeared.

We then needed to get our wounded Marine back to safety and get medical attention. I covered our retreat back to the perimeter with the M79 (damn I still can’t say enough about that weapon) along with a couple of guys with M16’s, while some of the other guys carried our wounded guy. We got a little lost on the way back because it was so dark and had to have someone inside the perimeter send up a flare so we could get our bearings. We got back to the base camp without any other incident and had our wounded Marine medevaced out that night. (He lived and I remember getting a letter from his mother to our squad a few weeks later thanking us for getting him back to safety)

Once back in the base camp perimeter we were debriefed by the powers to be. The guys were so keyed up; to listen to them you’d have thought we killed a million or so Gook’s. All I could hear was “O’Dee, O’Dee, I know I got 4 or 5,” from every man in the squad.

The following morning I think the whole company went out to check out the area of the ambush; we found NVA equipment all over the place and 1 dead Gook. Our squad got to pick and keep anything that wasn’t of military value as souvenirs, which I got an AK47 bayonet and a Russian belt buckle. That belt buckle turned out to be of great value as I traded it to our XO for R & R in Sidney Australia. The R & R was taken on March 6th, 1968, a dreadful day in the history of Mike Company.

Below is the official Command Chronology report of what happened that night, notice that it’s a dash inaccurate about how well our machine gun worked.

30Jan68 – At 2012H, a Mike Company ambush observed and engaged approximately 20-25 NVA at YD 183719.  At least 15 NVA were in killing zone at a distance of 5-25 meters when ambush leader triggered ambush.  The M-60 machine-gun malfunctioned after approximately 5 minutes and the ambush withdrew to the objective rally point.  The enemy fired only small arms and was observed withdrawing to the northeast.  The enemy was carrying packs. Several NVA fell during the initial burst of fire.  Heavy H&I fires were continued throughout the night in area of killing zone and known infiltration routes.  The site of the ambush was checked out at 0600H 31Jan68.  One NVA KIA was found and also two weapons and numerous packs and equipment. One Marine was wounded and MedEvaced.

Since writing this story and through the power of the internet, several of the Marines and Corpsmen involved that night have been found and reunited after roughly 35 years.

Machine Gunner:  Curt Morgan
Corpsman:            Les Lil' Doc Osterman
Wounded Marine:  Guy Everett
Squad Members:    Vito Lavacca
                                John Mick
                                Sam Rubino
                                John Elliott
                                George Wilson
  Rex Collins
                                Ken Holden