On April 13th 1969, we left LZ Alpine, and went north into the mountains. We traveled the same trail that the patrol had traveled when Coker and Playford were killed back on the 24th of March. I remember going by the headless corpse of one of the NVA that had been left at the trail-side ostensibly as a warning to others. The body was very aromatic by this time, and you became aware of its presence long before you saw it. We humped on up the mountain near a stream cascading down. It was really beautiful. At one point, a waterfall cascaded into a large pool, and looked really inviting. However, we kept humping up the hills, over the rocks, and vines, and through the trees. My memory is very foggy at this juncture, concerning the events of the next few weeks. We were out there in the bush humping; hills blurred into only more hills, days blurred into weeks.
In latter April and most of May we humped all over Mutter’s Ridge area, I believe. At one point we were sent to run security for a downed helicopter. It was in a forested area, the main rotor mangled from its landing. Our demo guys blew trees down with C-4 explosives, and cleared an area for the repairs to be made, and the chopper to be able to take off once repaired.
It was in this area of operations, that the entire company was stricken with dysentery. I made a request to the rear (no pun intended) for bulk (again no pun intended) medications to be helicoptered out to us forthwith! The BAS sent out a mount-out box full of Kaopectate, and numerous other medications. Within a day or two, all seemed to be under control again. It amazes me we did not have more problems with dysentery, considering the sources of our water. We got it from streams, ponds, old rice paddy irrigation ditches, bomb craters . . . wherever we could.
Some of it had creatures in it, and some was so black you couldn’t see through it.
The company was back on its feet so to speak, and off we went to our next objective. Some days later, in early June, the company was to be choppered up to Dong Ha Mountain, for a few days, and then to Qua Viet for a brief R&R. The night before we were picked up, good ol’ Doc finally was bitten by the dysentery bug! I lost about 15 pounds overnight. By the next morning I was dehydrated and semi-delirious, and my Corpsmen wanted to medevac me. I refused, saying I just needed some rest, and we were going to be on the mountain a few days, so that would work out.
I reeked. I was, shall we say, extremely aromatic, and it seems that much room was made for me on the chopper ride up to the mountain. Arriving there, my guys went to the senior Corpsman on the hill; he took one look at me, and said, “You’re going out!” By this time, I had to concur. I could hardly walk or focus on anything. So, back on the chopper I went, and off to 3rd Medical Battalion..
I created the Dysentery Squirts Medal with
Toilet Paper clusters for my great war "wound"
At 3rd Med, I was treated for malaria! And, I truly believe, because I was a Corpsman , the next day they sent me on down to Da Nang. There I was put in an air-conditioned ward hootch, and they seemed to desire to freeze me to death. I eventually told the duty Corpsman that, dammit, I was an HM2 who had dysentery, not malaria, and was going to catch pneumonia if I didn’t get some covers! My fever had lowered considerably, so I was given a sheet, and shortly moved to another section, more like tented quarters. I can’t remember how long I was in DaNang, but I’m sure it was no longer than 3 days or so, or how I got back to Mike Company. I did go see a psychiatrist while I was there, due to the nagging guilt syndrome over losing DeMilio. He listened to me, and basically said that I was not God, was not a doctor, and had to go on my instincts. That I had many people relying on me, and that I should get back to them and do the best I could. This was not very consoling to me, but back to the bush I did go!
I think I caught up with the company at Cua Viet, but I really don’t know for sure. A lot of self-imposed guilt was upon me, and I was beginning to lose any semblance of self caring. Responsibility and the conflict were taking their toll. Self-doubt was setting in.
Not a good sign. You lose your edge, people get hurt. Still got a job to do. Keep it together!
June 17th, 1969: Bad day near Gio Linh
On June 16th, if my memory is not totally out of whack, we were at Vandergrift Combat Base (VCB), having been choppered in there the day before. They had been hit, in an ammo dump by rockets, the day before we got there, as I remember. I know we were uneasy, even though it was a relatively “secure” area. It seems like I held a sick call there, but it is really a blur.
We were put on 6x6s, and convoyed into Dong Ha. We passed the Razorback and the Rockpile on the way, and I remember the steep hills to the south side of the road as we barreled eastward. I remember hills and dusty roads.
We got into Dong Ha, and were shuffled into tents. We then had a grand meal of real steaks, vegetables, potatoes, ICE CREAM, sodas . . . maybe even cold beer. (You’d think I’d remember that, wouldn’t you.) Then we were herded back to the tents, and told to sit on our gear, and instructed “Do not leave this tent.” The platoon honchos were called into a meeting, but no word got out what was going on; at least it didn’t filter down to me.
But there was an air of foreboding.
That night, it seemed late, maybe 2200 to 2300 hours, we were loaded back up on trucks. (At night . . . nobody moves in trucks at night. Oh, crap! We were driven out toward Gio Linh (although I had no idea where we were at the time), and we debarked and formed up for movement in a westerly direction at company strength.
There was some slight starlight, if memory serves me, just enough to keep from running into each other but not so much as to really be able to be fully aware of the terrain, and we moved inland for an hour or two, and then moved again, as I recall. Eventually, we sat on our gear for a couple of hours or so of “rest.” Then about sunrise, we headed off again, still westerly bound. Then at some point we turned north, and a scraggly, sparsely treed area was in front of us. Further on, a hedgerow blocked the view. It was around 0800 hours.
The company was split out, and M79s and small arms prepped and teased the area. No response. I was with the CP group, and it seems like we went up the center with another platoon, maybe mortars.
Suddenly without warning, all hell broke loose.
I had never heard so much firing. We surged forward to an area with a few scraggly trees and bomb craters, more or less in the center of everything. I had no idea what the hell was happening, and couldn’t seem to pinpoint where all it was coming from. It seemed to be right . . . left . . . and ahead.
The time frame now leaves me. We were in the middle of everything with the CP: Captain Riley, Gary Burnett
the radioman, and a lot of other guys. Captain Riley seemed to disappear every so often . . . he was running the lines, making sure ammo was distributed where needed, reassuring his men, and doing a thousand other duties too.
Many will remember that damn red bandana neckerchief he wore on his neck.
I knew the chaplain was with us, a hell of a day for that, but didn’t know exactly where he was until later. He was out on the lines with our Marines too.
I remember someone saying, “Doc, you gotta get him down!”
I looked to my right rear where they pointed, and there was Tim, kneeling in the grass, exposed as hell. I ran low, then virtually crawled, to get to him, pushed him down, and told him to keep down. He was with Joseph “Frenchy”
Fournier, an M79 man, who had been hit. They were close pals, but Frenchy was already dead by then. About that time a call for Corpsman came from north of us, and I said, “Tim, get him!” And off he went. Several of my Corpsmen that day were BNG's themselves, but they performed superbly... Thanks Doc's... you made the difference on that day, as well as every damn day in-country! Ya' done good, Gentlemen!
I scurried back to my post, after grabbing Frenchy’s 45, since I hadn’t had one since returning to the bush from my infamous medevac.
Then there was a call for “Corpsman ” from north of me. Since I didn’t know where my docs were, I headed up across and around small bomb craters to the hedge line. The Marine was hit in the thigh, so I whipped a battle dressing on it.
Then someone yelled “Oh shit, Doc,” and I turned to my left to see two Marines going down, as they crossed a clear space in the hedgerow about 50 to 100 feet away. The first one never moved, but the second one was moving.
Someone hollered for him to lie still, but rounds were landing all around him, and he was trying to move to cover, but seemed disoriented.
Somebody arose and was on the move to get to them. I screamed at him to “keep your ass down, I already got two down over there, I don’t need a third!” (Later I realized I was screaming at LtCdr John Dologhan, our Chaplain.) Then I turned to the Marines just in front of me, and told them to throw a grenade to make some dust to cover the retrieval. I got a brief argument, that the gooks would know where they were if they did that.
I told them to “give me a f***ing grenade, I’ll throw it!” Well, motivated, they were ready to pull the pin and toss, when the sky exploded as a jet screamed in just in front of us. It dumped napalm, and I remember the heat, and that smell. Then the air went black in front of us. I signaled the chaplain. He already had grabbed three Marines and retrieved those two wounded.
We heard a resupply chopper coming in, so a Marine and I grabbed the kid I was tending and dragged him by his flak jacket back toward the chopper. About the time we reached the CP area, someone took my place and got him on over to the chopper. The first of the two [who had gone down] in the clearing was KIA, I’m pretty sure; I heard they were FO’s [forward observers].
A couple of years ago (2001) I discovered who the second one was. It was Carmen “Rick” Hazelwood, a Canadian, whom I have gotten to correspond frequently with since. He still has many complications from his injuries that day.
The napalm bomb blew him over, injuring his back, and burned him some also. He was hit in the thigh, and has had problems ever since. The other FO’s body, Pfc Witty, was burned more severely. Rick is one of the wounded from that day that I am positive I have had contact with. (I have had contact in the last few years with many of my Marines and Corpsmen.)
I didn’t know that many of my Marines very well, because I stayed rather aloof, knowing that I could not bear to see a friend dying. But that was lost effort, due to the death of Lieutenant Kolter on this day. While I did not know him well, he always seemed to be pretty cool. I featured him as a schoolteacher for some reason.
Anyway, it was back to the CP area, and then, some time later, a round of WP went off about a click, or closer, to the east. Shortly, a freight train started coming in; at least it sounded like one. I never saw where the round landed, an 8- or 16-inch round from off the coast. [Recently I have determined that it was probably an 8" round from the heavy cruiser USS St Paul CA-73.]
I was tucked inside my flak jacket and helmet, in a basin-sized hole in front of me. I was attempting to get as low as possible to the terrain, and my upper torso was indeed 2 or 3 inches lower in that slight depression. It seems all the firing quit momentarily, then the damn thing landed danger-close, in the middle of us just to the east of me.
I do not recall hearing the explosion. I remember bouncing, and large chunks of shrapnel whizzing past me —zshhhhhoooooffff . . . whoof-whoof —and sure as hell, the dirt that was blown up hadn’t even finished landing, it seems, when I heard “Corpsman ” around 30–50 feet away to my northeast.
I ran to the call, and here was a BNG [Brand New Guy], in a small depression, with his left foot severed, and his right shoulder all out of whack. I tourniqueted his leg; his foot was still connected by part of his Achilles tendon, cut cleanly off right at the boot top. Then I got a battle dressing under his flak jacket and shirt, on that area of damage.
All this time, the battle was intensive, but we were several yards away from the hedgerow, and in that small depression, so it was relatively secure. I talked to him, and he was getting shocky. I gave him some morphine, and another one of those angels, a chopper, was on its way with resupply. We got him in a poncho, and I was still B.S.ing
him, when he asked for his mother. I about lost it right then. I laid his boot with his foot in it, in the poncho hoping beyond hope, that it might be reattached, and with some help we got him on the chopper. I had the opportunity to talk with this Marine in 2003; he did survive although they were not able to save his foot.
My memory from that point on is really fuzzy. Sgt. Roy Hoatland said the contact lasted 3 hours 45 minutes. I pretty much went south later on when all the remaining KIA’s were gathered, laid side by side, and I had to tag them. I don’t remember who assisted with the IDs, but that was the most difficult thing I have ever done.
There were nine of our boys, no, our MEN, lying there, all looking blankly ahead to the heavens. (I still see those faces daily and nightly).
With the weight of the world on my shoulders, and a heavy heart, I tagged Core, Dawson, Fournier, Granberry, Kolter, Revell, Rosenberger, Steele, and Stone. Witty as well as Sgt. Neer had apparently gone out already on earlier chopper runs. I now know we had at least 31 WIAs that day besides the 11 KIAs. Of the WIAs, 14 were medevaced
to 3rd Medical Battalion and beyond possibly back to the States for recovery. Of the remaining 17, I just know who they were, and that they were WIANE (treated in the field, not requiring medevac).
Yet there was an air of foreboding!