Capt. Jim Furlow
Today started as a walk in the sun with Bill McAdam and Mike Company. Tex Keyes was carrying the radio. I was always more confident if Tex was with me. Colonel Marsh and Sergeant Major Neal, newly arrived, also came along, not in command, but more for orientation.
It was a beautiful morning and I was in pretty good spirits. If I could live a few more days, I was going home. The Colonel and I talked some as we waited to go out the wire. I'm still bitter about being in the field my last week in country. Back in the rear many pilots quit flying in their last month. Some, like Bill Shively, get to leave country early. But here I am with a few days to go; still walking down the trail. We had not been walking very long, when there was an explosion and we lost a Marine to a mine. His body was carried back to A-3. The patrol continued west.
About mid-morning; the action started quickly with rifle fire. Light at first, but it soon became heavy. We had run into NVA; they had holes and they began to fight back. The command group was about fifty yards behind the lead platoon. There was a berm there and I could see Marines firing from behind it. I saw one Marine stand up and throw a grenade almost straight down the other side of the berm; so the NVA were real close. Mike Company formed a sort of a "U" shaped perimeter and firing and explosions continued.
We called for an AO and I began looking around for a place to land med-evac helos. I found a place that offered cover for the helicopters toward the open end of the "U". It had a tree line between the berm and the LZ. When I got back to the command group and told the Colonel what I was going to do, he asked me to land the helicopters closer. He felt there would not be enough protection for the helos in the open end of the perimeter. I explained that to get closer the helicopters would be exposed to more ground fire during their approach; they would have to come in above that tree line at slow speed, then drop into the perimeter; also more exposed when they tried to leave. The Colonel listened to argument; but stuck with his dea to bring the helos in closer. I thought that we could try the closer LZ and if the birds got shot up we could move the LZ back to my original location. By this time, we had begun getting wounded men into the LZ. We had med-evac helos enroute. We were unable to get an AO.
The Marines started flipping mortar rounds at the NVA, and soon we were getting artillery support from the rear. The NVA were also getting organized and they begin to fire mortars at us; plus they started getting artillery support from their positions north of the Ben Hai River. The air was filled with noise of battle; explosions from mortars, artillery, RPG's and rockets; the firing of automatic weapons. This went on for hours.
When we called for our first med-evac, some jerk in the rear, back at Dong Ha, came up on the net and told us not to use the frequency we were using and to change it! We were using the frequency that we always used. Can you believe this? I in a real live fire fight; men are bleeding all around me; explosions are occurring all over the place; I'm running from hole to hole getting everything ready for the med-evac; talking to Corpsmen and to the wounded to determine who we would send out first; and this son of bitch in the rear, sitting in a tent, tells us we have to change frequency and possibly screw up our life saving efforts! When he wouldn't listen to Tex, I got on the radio.
I explained that I had an emergency med-evac in progress and that I was not about to screw it up by changing frequencies with helicopters inbound. I did this in a pretty calm voice. When I finished explaining my situation to him his reply was; "My six says for you to get off the freq!" I now went into my voice that left no doubt to his imagination! I told him I was the, "Mad 14 Actual and that I was going to run my med-evac on this frequency; and that if he came on the air while I was running my med-evac that I would find him when this was shit was over. My actual words were more like; "If you **** this up for me, I'm going to come find you and I'm going to kill your sorry ass!" Believe me, at that moment I was not kidding! And he knew it!
We ran med-evacs all afternoon. Once when we were loading wounded and dead, a body shifted in the tarp it was in and the body was half in and half out of the helo. The mans stomach had been ripped open and his insides began to fall out right in front of me. God! That was terrible! I froze; I felt I should grab those insides and push them back in his body; but I hesitated to do it; a Corpsman was standing beside me and when I didn't react he grabbed the mans insides and stuffed them back. I looked up at the helo pilot who was watching this; our eyes met and we just shook our heads.
Another crazy thing happened similar to the frequency fight I had earlier. We were getting casualties all afternoon from NVA mortars. A Huey gunship, circling overhead during a med-evac, called me on the radio. He said he had spotted an enemy mortar crew, out on the trace, and in the open, setting up a tube to fire at us. I asked him to, "Take them out!" But he said his orders were to protect the med-evac helo in our LZ at the time and that he could not break away to attack the mortar crew. I said to him, "Jesus, we will get more wounded if you don't take them out!" He just ignored me; the med-evac lifted out of the LZ and they were gone.
There was a Marine mortar crew set up opposite me in the LZ. I didn't know what to do about the NVA mortar; so I ran over to our guys and told the story to the Lieutenant running that crew. He had no answer for me; but we shared our thoughts for a moment. They had found some NVA mortar rounds and he showed them to me; he explained they were fixing to fire them back at the NVA! I wished him well and went running back across the LZ. I hadn't gotten more than fifteen or twenty yards, when there was a large explosion just behind me! I turned around and the Marine mortar crew were all knocked down. Damn! That was close! I wondered if this was enemy incoming or if one of those captured mortar rounds was booby-trapped? We had a similar incident with captured rounds on a patrol west of C-2 Bridge.
The helicopter crews were very courageous. It made me proud of my fellow aviators. The LZ was not more than fifty yards from the main part of the fighting. The H-34's were under fire coming in and going out of the zone; and often while in the zone. I had always said that I would not ask a pilot to fly into a LZ that I would not stand up in; so I stood up each time they arrived to show them I would hang in there if they would. But there was a lot of fire over the LZ and at times incoming mortars. Once when we were loading wounded an explosion went off near by. I was standing just under the pilot's window and I could read his lips when he told the crew that he was leaving. His eyes were looking right into mine! I ran to the radio and begged him not to leave. We still had wounded to get on board! I was getting pretty emotional by this time; I told him, "The explosion was nothing; that I was standing up in the LZ; right under his window! What more could I do?" But he was gone. I was desperate to save as many men as I could. I don't blame the pilot for leaving; there was too much fire! But I had wounded and I was trying to get as many of them out as fast as I could.
We would often read old magazines and newspapers while standing the night watch in the command bunker at A-3. Colonel Marsh and I would often talk about what was news stateside. Jackie Kennedy was often in the papers in those days; she was traveling and being accused of having tryst all over the globe. Sometime in the afternoon, I dived into a hole beside the Colonel. He looks at me and says, "Jim, you reckon Jackie's getting any this afternoon?" There is nothing like being a Marine! My head had started hurting early on in the firefight. And I had been taking Darvons through the afternoon. My system was pretty immune to them and they didn't help much.
Late in the afternoon, I got called to go see Captain McAdam. He was forward about fifty yards in front of the LZ. I could see him up against the berm the Marines were firing from. We made eye contact as I was starting to run across the brush toward him; he signaled me with his hands that I should crawl through the weeds and brush to his position. I dropped down and started a fast crawl on my hands and knees. After just a few yards I came up on a wounded Marine; I stopped beside him to see how he was and to talk with him. I could see he had one leg blown off below the knee, but he wasn't bleeding. He was alert and calm. I asked him how he was doing? He said he was okay except that he lost part of his leg. I offered him water, but he said he had plenty of his own. He told me someone had gone for a stretcher for him and that he thought help was on the way. He was very calm, and very
collected. My heart just went out to him for his display of courage; laying quietly all alone in a battle; his leg gone; in a land half the world away from his home. God! How inspiring these men are. I told him I had to leave, but that I was concerned that he would be okay. He told me he was fine. I promised him we would get him out. I looked into his face, eye-to-eye, "Take care, Marine!" And I left.
When I got to Bill McAdam he asked me to try to clear the LZ of wounded. When it was clear, and he got the word from me, Mike Company was going to start backing out. On my way back to the LZ, I ran into a Corpsman moving through the brush toward that wounded Marine. He was a little guy, smaller than me, his eyes were full of caution and fear; I gave him directions to the wounded man and he pushed on. I bet when he joined the Navy he never dreamed he would end up with the Marines on the DMZ, crawling though the brush in the middle of a firefight. I always felt some sympathy for the Corpsmen; unlike Marines who volunteered for this stuff, these Navy guys were just thrust into these terrible situations. But they always came through; no Navy corpsman who served with Marines in combat will ever have to stand alone in a bar fight if there is Marine infantry around.
During this period of trying to clear the LZ; we continued to take casualties. I decided to again inspect the alternate LZ further to the east of the one we were using. I thought if we could withdraw the company back a hundred yards or so, to the tree line, that we could defend that position and we could use this LZ to remove our wounded and the wounded I felt we would receive when we started our withdrawal. I walked around this open space and tried to picture how it could be defended as well as I could being an aviator. I felt it would work, but that Tex and I would not have a hole to get into when the NVA started dropping mortars in to the LZ. I got out my entrenching tool and started enlarging a small hole I found there. While I was digging, a salty looking sergeant came walking by; looked at what I was doing and gave me a smug look; sort of a, you dumb ass chicken ****, look. But I went on digging out the hole. If that was going to be my new LZ, I knew we would take incoming and I was determined to have a hole to dive into. After I enlarged the hole I returned to the firefight.
It was impossible to clear the LZ. We just kept getting more wounded.
After awhile we realized we were just going to have to carry some of
them out with us. I loaded the last helo's with the most serious wounded
and the dead; if they could walk or at least walk with help from others they
would have to come out with the Company. I had run around the LZ
checking with the wounded and the Corpsmen about who would walk out.
After conferring with Captain McAdam he told us to start backing out.
We started the corpsman and wounded back toward A-3. Mike Company
started backing out with us. Just as we were nearly clear of the LZ and I
was fixing to abandon it after I was sure we had everybody; an H-34 landed
in the LZ totally unannounced! The wounded were clear; we had no one for
them. I went a little crazy about then; I felt that the helo would draw incoming
and that I would have more causalities. We were caught right in the middle
of transition; the wounded and the corpsman had left the LZ area and only
Tex and myself were still in the zone; with Mike Company moving back
through it. I started yelling into the radio, "Get out of the LZ! Get out of my zone!" I was looking right at the pilot and waving my arms. I was boiling mad; totally frustrated; after working all afternoon to get clear and we were finally
moving, now we were going to take more incoming and not get away. I know the pilot meant well; and I'm sure he had some choice words for me; but I had about lost it and could not contain my frustration. The pilot yanked the helo into the air and busted out of there. We took no incoming and were able to keep moving. The last of Mike Company came across the LZ moving fast; I left with them.
As we were walking out, I came up on a wounded Marine being helped along by two others; he was begging for water and was fixing to drink water out of a bomb crater. I told them not to drink that **** and gave them one of my canteens. As we walked out, the sun went down on us; we walked through Lima Company who had moved toward us and set a perimeter for Mike Company to escape through.
Finally, the day was ending. That night we marched into A-3. We had lost thirty killed and maybe fifty wounded. I was never sure about that. Later that night we had a helicopter come into A-3 to get our courageous wounded who had walked out. The helicopter pilot berated me over the radio for calling him out, because he said they were not emergency med-evacs.
About midnight, when all was quiet, I learned that my friend, Sergeant Bill Rogers, had been killed. He got a direct hit from a RPG round. Sometime during the day I had put him on a helicopter; but I didn't recognize him. He was in intelligence; he always had to get to the action; to the front! He had to see what was going on. I walked out of the command bunker, into the dark night, I found a place to lean against and I tried to cry. I wanted to cry; I prayed to cry; but I couldn't. I began to see what the war and the Corps had done to me. I was just there in the dark; a shell of a person. There, for a while anyway, was nothing left. The men who died that day are listed on Panel 42E and Panel 43E at the Wall.
Capt. Jim Furlow, the Forward Air Controller that day.