D Troop 1st Squadron 10th Cavalry
28 August 1970
Tom Wilson's Account:
On August 28th 1970 an estimated 10 man NVA squad ambushed a convoy on the highway between An Khe pass and An Khe. D-1/10 Cav reacted to the ambush. The plan was to insert the Aero Rifle Platoon along the NVA escape route and sweep back to the highway. The Aero Scouts identified a one ship LZ on the lower peak of a saddle and cleared the LZ for insertion. The first ship successfully insert its troopers, but took heavy ground fire from well camouflaged bunkers. The second UH-1H in the lift was shot down while attempting to land. It crashed in the LZ killing two of the Aerorifle troopers from the first aircraft. The aircraft burned and was a total loss. The burning aircraft effectively blocked the LZ. The survivors in the LZ were pinned down by heavy fire from NVA bunkers. After about a half hour the 3rd and 4th ships in the lift inserted the remainder of the Aero Rifle Platoon onto the upper peak of the saddle in an attempt to link up with the troopers in the first LZ. The second LZ was also surrounded by well camouflaged bunkers and the soldiers were pinned down as well. Fortunately the site of the battle was only about 3 kilometers from the 4th ID base camp at An Khe, and clearly visible from anyone watching there. AH-1Gs from D Troop formed a daisy chain between the Division rearm point and the contact site, providing intense suppressive fire on the NVA positions. One of the initial lift A/C had been shot in the main transmission and was leaking oil. However, the aircraft commander elected to take his wounded door gunner to the dust-off pad. A tactical emergency was declared.
I was not scheduled to fly that day, but was called out to make the extraction, since the 4 mission slicks were shot up too badly to fly or had been shot down. I was the crew chief on UH-1H 68-16355. Sven Akesson was the aircraft commander and Bob Braid was the co-pilot. I grabbed an off duty door gunner. He was off flight status since he was going home the next day, but there wasn't anyone else available. We took the machine guns off of one of the aircraft that was shot up and put them on my helicopter. There wasn't a chicken plate for the door gunner, so I gave him mine.
When we got to the contact site we join a 4th Aviation (Black Jack) UH-1 for an extraction of the lower LZ. We took the number 2 slot. As we made our approach we passed over a platoon of M48 tanks from 1-10 Cav laying down a base of fire with their 90mm main guns. The Cobras were flying parallel to us, firing rockets into the LZ. All the survivors of the first LZ got on the first slick, so we just made a fast pass and lined up in the #1 slot for the second LZ. I could see black smoke trails from what I assumed to be B-40 rockets and concentrated my machinegun fire on suppressing the rocket fire.
When we landed in the LZ, the Cobras walked 40mm grenade fire around the LZ. The Cobras reported that they could see muzzle flashes all around us. Two NVA soldiers came up behind the helicopter. My door gunner could see them, but he couldn't shoot them because of the stops on the machinegun. He didn't have a personal weapon, and the Aerorifle Troops were out of ammo. When he leaned over to try to shoot them, his flight helmet became unplugged, so he couldn't report that they were there. They must have been out of ammo too, but they threw two grenades at us. One went off and the concussion lifted the aircraft about a foot off the ground and blew a hole about the size of a silver dollar in the sync elevator. The second one landed under the hellhole, it was a dud and did not go off. We got everyone on the aircraft and pulled pitch. As we were leaving the gas cylinder plug fell off of my machinegun, but it didn't really matter since I had only 27 rounds left.
We went straight to the dust-off pad since we had wounded on board. When we landed the medic came running out and slipped and fell when they hit the transmission oil that had spilled on the PSP from previous aircraft. We dropped off the wounded and returned to the Shamrock Green. (D Troop ready pad). Maintenance replaced my sync elevator. The pad looked like a used helicopter lot. We only had 2 of 8 UH-1s operational. A ground Troop from 1/10 Cav assaulted the hill. They lost an M-113 ACAV and had one trooper killed. They were able to secure the first LZ. So we picked up a graves registration team and flew back to recover our dead. The ground troop was unable to secure the second LZ. I though the battle was over, but that night we attempted a night insertion with soldiers from the 4th ID. However, the artillery illumination was not sufficient so the insertion was aborted. The next morning we made the insertion, but the NVA had withdrawn during the night. A 38 cal pistol was recovered in the LZ. It belonged to the Aero Rifle Platoon Leader who had thrown it at an NVA soldier when he ran out of ammo. We lost 5 KIA and 18 WIA from D Troop that day. The Aero Rifle Platoon Sergeant received the Distinguished Service Cross and a sucking chest wound for his actions. Intelligence latter determined that we had been in contact with an NVA battalion.
Ron Stillwell's Account:
The night of August 27th 1970 I pulled guard duty with a few of the guys in the platoon on the flight line at Camp Radcliff, our unit's base camp. We were relived about 06:00 on the morning of August 28th.
We got back to the hooch and crashed. Before I lay down I was either told or I saw my name on the load list to be ready to go out on a mission if the platoon was alerted.
About 11:00 hours that morning the platoon Sgt, (Sgt Van Horne) got the call to move. And the word went out. Scramble !!! Scramble!!!! Get on!!! Get on !!!
Every one on alert hauled ass to the heli pad where our ships were. I jumped into the first ship on the left side. The platoon was airborne in about 5 minutes and was headed out to where we didn't know yet. But we didn't have far to go. It was a small mountain (hill 674) with a ridgeline running north and south, with an old abandoned fire support base on top with little cover and a trail running the length of the ridge down to highway 19, the main highway running through the central highlands of Vietnam.
As we approached the LZ, I was still trying to rub the sleep from I eyes. As we came in the word was given to "lock and load"!! As we got closer to the LZ, I got closer to the door readying my self to jump out and deploy. Our LZ was about from 1/8 to 1/4 mile down from the top of the hill.
As we came into the LZ, I jumped out first on my side and deployed out from the LZ about 10 feet. The LZ was very grassy and brushy about 10 to 15 feet high. You could only see about 5 or 6 feet in front of your positions. The LZ was small and tight.
We were facing out waiting for the other ships to come in and drop off the rest of the platoon.
As I remember the first ship had departed and the second ship was coming in to drop off the next squad. Then all hell broke loose. I heard the Lt. yell, "contact !!! Contact!!!!" and then gunfire. I put my M16 rifle on full auto and started to firing in an arc in front of me. I was firing and not watching what was happening behind me. What I didn't know and didn't see was the second ship had been shot down in the LZ blocking it. At the same time the automatic weapons fire is getting stronger and closer to us. I lay down as flat as I could. Trying to return fire. The muzzle blast of the AK 47s was deafening. The enemy was very close to us, but we couldn't see them for the brush and thick grass.. They were not only close, they were in the LZ in a spider hole and with the crashed ship in the LZ we were cut off, the other ship couldn't come in.
Dan Jackson and Danny Pursley pulled the pilots out of ship after it crashed. One or both pilots had been shot through the legs. That's when the ship went out of control. I think Jackson and Pursley got the Silver Star for their actions. Doc Lamora did a good job taking care of the wounded that day to. There were a lot of purple hearts earned that day.
I remember Don Ronnea [Pineapple] next to me, he's firing back at the enemy but the in coming fire is so great and low it's hard to return fire. I've got my head and body so low that my spine is kissing the ground and my rifle in front of me shooting back. Thinking back, none of us had any way of digging in. No one had an entrenching tool with them.
Then I looked over at Don. He's been shot in the head. His face is very bloody, his arms and head are shacking and jerking uncontrollably. It shocked the hell out of me!! I yelled for the Doc and no answer. I yelled again still no answer. By this time Don had passed out. I turned and started to crawl across the LZ to find the Doc. I found my friend Ray Hodges, He was dead, decapitated by the helicopter blade. That spun me around and back to Don. By then Don had come to, I put my aid bandage on his head wound. The bullet had gone through the steel helmet and liner and creased the top of his head, what a luck bastard!!! Don was one tough little guy!!!
Every thing was happening so fast and all at once. I remember meeting up with Dan Jackson a Sgt. When I met up with him I'll have to say I was shook up some from all I'd seen up to that point. I said something to the effect that we needed to get the fuck out of here and now.!!! But Dan to his credit spoke to me in a calm voice and told me to take it easy and then I was ok.
The RTO Joe C. was wounded and the radio had been hit and out of action. Someone had taken the radio off of him. I remember that me and some one else cut his shirt open and tried to put a bandage on him, but the wound was almost the length of his back. The bullet had gone between the radio and his back, it was long but not deep. Somehow the bandage stayed on and he was able to walk when the time came to medi-vac him out.
One of our scout ships brought in another radio so we could communicate with our commanders and gun ships and who ever else needed to talk to us. Dan and I were both Sgts. at the time so we shared command. He would work the radio (he was a good RTO) and I would see what I could do with the perimeter and the wounded.
I tried taking a head count by voice but that didn't work, so I checked the perimeter to see who was still in the fight and who we had lost from wounds or who was killed.
It was about that time I found Tom Messer. He had been killed, possibly by the helicopter. One of the skids was on top of his body. I saw one of the door gunners, Ramiro Saenz about that time too. He was a little banged up, but he had found himself a gun and was helping out. We needed every person and gun we could get.
The helicopter was on fire in the LZ. It burned down and caught the grass in the LZ on fire. About that same time the fuel cell blew up . It blew burning fuel on some of us. I got 2 slight burns on my back that I didn't know I had until I was back at base.
I remember we were all prone at one time or another, firing back at the gunfire. We couldn't see them so we shot at gunfire.
The fire was burning Ray and Tom, there wasn't much we could do for them. Ray had 2 or 3 grenades on him, and the fire started cooking them off one by one. We didn't dare get close to him for fear of getting wounded or killed. One good thing though, we were below the blast cone of the explosion although we were only a few feet away. No one wanted to try to get a hot grenade off of Ray. The smell of them burning was sickening.
The Lt. had been shot, but he had killed 2 dinks in the spider hole that was in the LZ. He showed me where the spider hole was. He wanted me to put a grenade in it to make sure the dinks were dead. I crawled over to it looked in and saw that they were pretty dead. I couldn't see wasting a grenade on them so I threw it out in the brush where we had been taking fire.
Some time after the ship had burned down and the fire was out in the LZ we started getting the wounded out by medi-vac helicopters. I was helping get the wounded on as they came in. We got the 2 pilots out along with the Lt., Sgt Hyatt, Pineapple Don Ronnea and the rest. The ARVN Scout that was with us tried to leave with the wounded, but I wasn't going to have any part of that. I pulled his ass off the ship. We needed every one that could shoot and secure the LZ.
After we got the wounded out we just hunkered down and fired back at the dinks at different times to keep them off of us. We'd fire for a few seconds then stop for about 2 of 3 minutes then fire again trying to keep them off balance. After awhile the incoming fire seem to have died down. The cobras helped suppress the dinks fire a whole lot with rocket and mini guns. They saved our bacon for sure.
Finally a 4th Aviation battalion ship came in to pull the rest of us out. I remember standing about 30 feet from the ship with my back to it as I backed up I was firing again in an arc to keep the dinks heads down. I waited until everyone was on the ship before I got on. Then we got the hell out of there and back to base.
After we got back we learned the fate of the rest of the platoon. They were inserted at the top of the hill where an old fire support base was. They were going to try and fight their way down to us. There was little or no cover for them. The dinks were waiting for them. They met the same fate as we had, 3 KIA and 8 wounded. Somehow they were able to hold on, as we had, long enough to be pulled out. In the lower LZ we had 2 killed 8 or 9 wounded.
We learned later on that we jumped on top of a NVA battalion that was strung out from the top of the hill clear to highway 19 where a battle had been going on before we had been inserted. The NVA had laid a big trap for us and we jumped right on top of them. When I think about it, I wonder how in the hell did we get out of there alive. God for sure was there helping us.
To this day I don't know how the rest of us got out of that trap alive. They could of overrun us if they had the mind to. Both sections of the platoon were just holding on by the skin of their teeth. I still get chills and a bite shaky thinking about that day, that day changed my life forever. I thought I was really going to get killed.
That afternoon Ross Cirri and I went to the morgue to identify one of our guys that had been killed, he didn't have any ID on him. The trooper was Joe Luna. He was only 18 years old, Joe had taken a round through the head, later on I was told that Joe said "I'm died" as the bullet hit him and he feel off the ship. I don't know how the others were killed, or how the others were wounded. I was told that Sgt Van Horne had been shot in the chest and took some grenade shrapnel, but he made it out.
The Air Force fighters bombers and our own artillery gave that hill and ridge line a pounding!!! It made my heart feel good seeing those dinks catching so much hell !!
That night the troop area was very still and quite. It was like that for sometime to come. And with in a few days we, what was left of the platoon started getting replacements. I guess we received maybe 20 or more new guys, or as they were called them when new to Vietnam FNG's (Fucking New Guys).
We went to see the guys at the hospital a few days later. That was a rough day. The guys were in good spirits considering all that they had been through. I think I went to see them a couple of times, but it pulled at my heart too much. It really tore me up to see my friends shot up like that. I just couldn't go see them anymore and I still feel bad about that, "guilt "!
The more information about the action of August 28th that I find I'll add it to the story of the D Troop 10th Cav history. I'm trying to find the guys that were there that day so they can add their stories. If you know anyone who was there that day please have him or her call me so they can add their story.
Ron Stillwell (970)260-6264 or 21973 2225 Rd, Cedaredge, Co 81413
Dan Siegel's Account:
For a few weeks prior to Aug 28th we had several missions where we would scramble the aero rifle platoon, load, then go to the designated LZ and do a insertion of the teams only later to extract them after finding there was nothing there. Then on Aug 28th we got a call and scrambled again. A four ship mission, to a area just outside base camp a few miles where a CAV APC platoon was taking fire. We loaded the aero rifle teams as normal and launched from the Shamrock green. I was the crew chief of the fourth ship in the flight. We went to a stage area outside of base camp and started a 360 circle while the little boy team looked for LZ's in the area for us. They had two cobra's with them for cover of course. They located and marked the primary LZ in a saddle half way up the side of the ridge of the mountain. As always they also looked and marked a secondary LZ in case the primary lz was to close. The secondary was higher on the ridge, part of a old firebase. It was pretty overgrown.
The primary LZ would be a tight one ship LZ. We did a wide 360 and spaced out the flight for a straight in flight to the lz. Chalk one was inbound on short final to the LZ, once in the lz chalk one called taking fire. Chalk one's team was inserted and he was on his way out of the lz under fire and chalk two was short final to the LZ. Chalk one went down the south side of the hill towards the highway and back towards base camp with wounded on board. Chalk two spun in the LZ, probably from loosing the tail rotor. Then it rolled over on its right side, that blocked the LZ. Chalk three called for abort and go around. The radio traffic was very heavy at that time. The team's in the first LZ were taking heavy fire. The two cobra's were working the tree lines of the LZ to suppress fire.
Chalk three and us did a high right hand turn to set up the altitude for the upper LZ. The second LZ was a lot higher then the primary. I hoped the upper LZ would be clear, not so! We did a long dog leg to set up for the secondary LZ. On our approach to the LZ you could here the radio traffic from the guys in the first LZ, they were in big trouble with the LZ blocked by chalk two which was then on fire. You could hear the guys calling and directing the cobra close support fire. I told the aero rifle guys sitting on the floor to lock and load and that the lz would be hot going in. The guys were sitting on the floor with their feet on the skids as usual. Myself and my gunner had already locked and loaded our sixties. There would not be much space between chalk three and us. The LZ being hot would mean that it would be just a touch and go landing. There would be no full stop in the LZ. Most times the skids would not even touch the ground. Chalk three was in and out, when he came out he was nose low tail high and in a right slide. I knew he had problems as he went over and down the backside of the ridge. I lost site of him. As we entered final to the lz we went hot and stayed hot until we were out of the LZ. I could see fire from the center of the LZ, I couldn't get my sixty turned far enough to light up the center of the LZ.That meant there were spider holes in the LZ and all we could do was hope. I could see the team of aero rifle guys firing both ways, towards the LZ center to protect us and the tree lines around the LZ.We were taking heavy fire from under the aircraft and the tree line. We did not have the cobra support while we were inserting our teams. They were still working the first LZ. The first aero guy sitting on the floor next to me just fell out of the aircraft, I knew he had been hit bad. I knew it was bad because he did not jump out like the rest of the team. Radio talk was loud then silent. We had put down all the sixty fire we could along the tree line on our way in and out of the LZ. The aero rifle team had left the aircraft before touch down , it was a slide touch and go.
I screamed too the pilot to go go go!!!.an then we were on our way out of the LZ. I looked around as I held on to the sixty. We did not wear lap belts or monkey strap's in the well of the aircraft in case we had to get out quickly or turn the sixty to full stops. My door gunner was laying on the floor face down in the center of the aircraft. His sixty had been hit by a round or rocket at the gas cylinder plug and that threw him to the floor of the aircraft. We had no commo in the aircraft. As we went down the side of the mountain the aircraft was not performing in a normal flight or going straight in flight, kind of a tail swinging pedal turns, we were also smoking out the side and back of the engine area. We made a rough landing to the shamrock green pad. Not one of our best landings, but a safe one. We shut down quickly. All those there at the green pad gathered and checked each of us out and talked about what was happening. We all checked over my aircraft to see what was smoking and if the aircraft was able to go back to extract our teams. I had no engine oil left and very little transmission fluid. The center console was all shot up and that did in all the commo of the aircraft. This aircraft was not going anywhere. Some one took my sixties off and the ammo cans and put them on another aircraft on the pad, another crew took off back towards the hill to extract our teams.
A later inspection of my aircraft would find that my aircraft had taken fifty two rounds. What a good aircraft. One aircraft had been destroyed and three made un flyable that day. You could see from the green pad the fire from the one aircraft burning. The hill was being pounded all the rest of the day by the cobras and arty. The LZ's were to hot to get back into that day. Even though the crew had tried. Latter we were told that there was a battalion of NVA soldier's moving into that area to set up and we had stumbled on to them. They were waiting for us and were going to later on attack the base camp. Their plans were broke up. That has always been a very sad day to me since, for the friends I lost, yet proud to have been there with them doing what we believed in. I can still see in my mind that approach into that LZ, only now it scares me, it didn't at the time. We were all together in it that DAY. God bless those that we lost doing their job for our country.
Danney L. Siegel
On August 28,1970 I was a Combat Medic with Co A, 2/8 Mech Infantry 4th Infantry Divsion. We were pulling bridge security on Highway 19 on Bridge 19 just East of An Khe (Camp Radcliff) and East and just below Hill 674. We had one APC, the driver, two grunts and myself (Medic). We had been there a few days when we started seeing movement and with green lens flashlights at night near the top of Hill 674. We radioed every night of what we saw to Camp Radcliff for the next three or four nights as movement was increasing and were told it was Montagnard's cutting wood? At two and three o'clock in the morning in a free fire zone? I had lived,fought with and treated Montagnard's in the Bahnar and Rhade village of Polei Krong Brock for my first six months In-Country and KNEW it wasn't Yards and so did the others. We were hoping they would blow the hell out of the Hill as we knew there wasn't any friendlies out there and it was a free fire zone. We begged them to do something and they told us the next night if we see movement we could recon-by-fire. We did that for two nights toward the lights and movement ceased after that second night. The next morning on August 28th between 10:30 and 11:00 we got a call that a patrol of C Troop 1/10th had been ambushed and they needed a medic. We jumped on the APC and took off on Highway 19 West toward the Hill when we got about half way there we started taking fire. The grunt on the 50 cal opened up and I and the other grunt jumped off and returned fire with our M16's after I had fired about three clips when someone on the horn hollered that the patrol was in-between us and the NVA that were firing at them and us. I prayed very fast that I or we hadn't hit some of our own. We mounted up again and the driver went full throttle up the hill looking for the patrol until he spotted a clearing to our right and stopped. I jumped off with my aid bag and went toward the clearing and where the most fire was coming from. I think about this time a B-40 rocket hit the front of the M113-APC but I am not sure as things were moving pretty fast.
|From the Shamrock Green at An Khe, you can clearly see the hill were this battle was fought in the right side of the picture. The lower highest hill showing is the second LZ and the lower knob to it's left is the first LZ.|
This is another few of the hill looking from North to South.
"Courtesy of Ron Stillwell"
|This is all that was left of the UH-1 that was shot down in the first LZ. Note the tracks left by the ACAVs.|
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