Tony Sottilaire
on June 17th, 1969

I have some time to tell my views of 17 June 1969.  I was a PFC with Mike Co. 3/3 1st platoon, second squad. Up to now, I served as Point, Grunt, M79, and now after 45 days in the bush, humping Mutter's Ridge, on operation "Virginia Ridge", we came to the rear, and I became a Radio Operator.  On 16 June we amassed, Battalion size, and were given steaks, ice cream, and all the goodies I hadn't seen since the States. Totally unaware of what was coming, I thought it was a kind of R&R, like we got when we went to Cua Viet. We got new fatigues, socks, toothbrushes, and cigarettes, wow it was great. Then, after chow, we assembled for a briefing.  A four star General addressed us, the first one I'd seen, since I got to the Nam.

I felt kind of leery at that point, but what the hell; I had just seen the Marine Corps Band marching down route nine, so nothing really surprised me much, anymore. But I must say, when the Chaplain came out and said his spiel, then I knew for sure, something big was coming, especially when he blurted out the part about, "Now Men! We May Not All Be Coming Back From This Next Operation". I soon found out, that before my steak was digested, and the taste of ice cream was still in my mouth, I'd be saddling up and on a six-by headed toward Leatherneck Square.

Before the convoy started, the word came down that there would be no Medevacs before the assault; that this was a surprise sweep we'd be going on. With that in mind we proceeded, about midnight, battalion size, to Leatherneck Square. We rode about an hour, and when the convoy stopped, we disembarked, then moved off the road, about fifty meters, and waited until daybreak. The Battalion was in line, and about a mile long. Mike Company was somewhere, near the middle. From Two A.M. until about Five, I leaned back on my pack, with my M14 in hand, and had my radio on squelch:  all was pretty quiet up to that point.

I started hearing "traffic" about six A.M. There were units already on the move! That seemed odd to me, because I was told, that we were going to sweep, in one line, and everyone was going to move out, together. We all knew that Charlie was there, and we were there for a showdown! The sun was up and suddenly I heard the crack of small arms fire, about one hundred meters to my right. My radio, suddenly came alive.

The radioman of that Platoon, was screaming, "Ambush, We're Pinned Down, We Need Help". Ted Conlon, (Tango), my squad leader, immediately took control, and ordered everyone to drop their packs, to carry just our weapons and ammo, and double time, toward the action. Tango told me, no matter what happened, to stay with him, and keep him informed of the radio traffic. We ran for about fifty meters, and then came abreast of each other. At that point, the Lieutenant of the ambushed platoon made another call for help! His voice fluttered as he screamed, " They're coming out of the hedgerow and shooting my Wounded, lying on the ground!"

Again, Tango ordered everyone to stay abreast and keep firing, as we walked toward the action. Walking next to me, he kept looking left, then right, and yelling, for the laggers to keep up, to "keep their weapons up high, and keep on firing." Hip firing on 'full auto' I wasted seven magazines, out of the ten, I had with me.

Shortly we got to the ambush site. Our Brothers and NVA, were lying there, no more than ten, or twenty feet from each other:  all dead.  AK-47 rounds were cracking at us, so we had to drop down, and take cover behind a berm.  By now the Platoon was all split up.
It was Tango, Ken Lynch and I, and we were taking fire from the hedgerow in front of us. Every time we tried to move over that berm, we took on fire. At that point it was total chaos.  Nobody knew where anybody else was.  We couldn't move for at least ten minutes, as the jets and spotter planes came in, the Gooks were on the run, back to the DMZ.
    As fast as it started, the small arms fire began to cease. We were able to raise our heads, long enough to see over the berm. There was someone moaning, just a few feet in front of us. As the three of us stood to see, we noticed a foxhole; the moaning was coming from it. And as we got closer, we confirmed it was a Gook, and then we dropped back down. Tango asked for one of my cherry grenades. He was the closest to the hole. He stood up and tossed it. The concussion was muffled, so we knew it went into the hole with him. The bastard still moaned. Again Tango stood up. He told me to cover his right side, and Ken to his left. As we approached, we saw him again, leaning back in the hole. His head was bandaged, from a previous wound. He was still alive, so we were being real careful. Tango and I both carried M14's, and we were both on full auto. As we neared, Tango opened fire and finished him.

The Gook turned out to be an ammo carrier, for a gunner. There were several cans of machine gun ammo, in the hole with him.  His gunner must have stayed to cover him, as long as he could, and he kept us pinned down for quite awhile.  Tango took my radio from me, and ordered us to search him.  Well, Ken was the FNG, so I said, "You heard the man! Search him!" Ken jumped into the hole with the Gook, to get him out, and when he went to lift him, the Gook's arm came off.  He was a real Mess!  And for the rest of that day, so was Ken!  Although we found nothing on Charlie, we were later told that the group he was with was all NVA officers.

Tango made contact with the other Platoons on the radio, and smoke grenades were marking locations. Soon, we were all together again and intact. We left all our gear, near the road, so we had to scrounge up ponchos, to put our brothers in, and load them onto the choppers. My Dad kept me well supplied with film for my camera, so I have lots of photos of my time in Nam.  I took my camera from my pocket, and snapped those pictures I sent you.  I also pulled out two joints from my other pocket and smoked them, to help cope with it all.

As far as I know, we got most of Gooks, before they got out of the area. And the ones that did get away, were either melted by the Napalm, or blown away by Puff, and our Mortar team, before they made it back to the DMZ.  As for the prisoners in the picture, I can only speculate, they met their demise, soon after I snapped them. At least I hope so, because the good men, we lost that day, so senselessly, in my view, might be here today, if it weren't for the "showdown" that it turned out to be.

The fact that the higher ups, knew that Charlie was there in the first place, saddens me to think, that they were put in harms way, when we could have just Arc Lit that Square Mile with a few bombs. It was done before, while we were about to be overrun, just weeks before, on a hill, not far from there.  But that's another story. Then again, who was I, just a lowly PFC, following orders, as did those who perished; while the four star Generals, planned their strategies.

We spent the whole day just cleaning up.  After putting our Brothers on choppers, we had to police the area, picking up all the spent brass, shells and gear.  As I walked around, I counted fifteen dead Gooks. Not counting the one that we got.  And yet still, even today, I can't get an actual number of Brothers we lost that day! 

Well Doc, that's my view as I saw it.  It was an experience for me, as well as an omen.  I believe, it's about being in the right place at the right time.  I could very well have been one of those casualties.  But I happened to be with Tango and Ken, with first Platoon, instead.  Maybe God does have other plans for me.  Who knows, maybe someday I'll find out...Why?