February 2011 on-line issue of the Veterans of Foreign Wars magazine.
The following information is presented by Donald E. Thies who served with Company B, 2-506th, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile). I was an RTO carrying the battalion radio in our company's CP group.
The information is based on my memory of the incidents and happenings during this period of time. This information is backed up by the entire collection of my letters that I wrote to my parents that my mom had saved all these years. It is also based on the information that Tom & Dan Shepherd (whose dad SGT Tom Shepherd was killed on March 24, 1971) had gathered in the official officer duty log records and have graciously given to the 506th Association. I want to thank association members Bruce Moore and Mike Bookser for their support and help with the web site photographs. I also would like to thank the people at Risser Color Service in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Portraits Today in West Bend, Wisconsin for their efforts at salvaging 30-year-old images from my negatives and slides.
The timeline ends on April 6, 1971 because that is the day I headed back down to Camp Evans to begin my R & R in Sydney, Australia. The entire unit was pulled out several days later.
I dedicate this in the memory of all those who served their
country, especially those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, to
all my fellow unit members of Company B, 2-506th, 101st Airborne
Division (Airmobile), and to the families of everyone so they
can have an understanding of what went on.
March 2, 1971
Today we were airlifted and brought back to FSB Jack from an area northwest of Jack. We all have heavy hearts since we lost Gilbert Ruff on February 23, 1971. I am none too glad to get out of that area with all the booby traps we hit or found.
Entry 1945 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log:
Sent NDPs to brigade, Company B Jack.
A memorial service was held for Gilbert shortly after we arrived
on FSB Jack. Rumors abound about where we might be headed next.
Hey, this is good duty and each day is another day closer to
FSB Jack. Firebase Jack was the nicest facility that Ive been on. Everyone is wondering what our next mission will be. Rumors are floating that Company B might be going north, wherever that is. It is great to be able to relax a little.
Letter of March 8th. Flash, Mom & Dad, well the "blank" has hit the fan. Tomorrow morning we head north to a firebase near Khe Sanh. It means I probably wont be writing many letters as we should be quite busy. So if you dont hear from me dont worry.
Entry 1930 hours, daily staff or duty officers log: B Company FB Jack.
Entry 2399 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log:
Company Bs mission will be to provide security for FB
Vandergrift. This will be an indefinite stay.
Entry 0910 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Company B will be OPCON to TASIC force 1/77th. They should be prepared to stay for an indefinite period.
For whatever reason weve been issued brand new jungle fatigues complete with the 101st Screaming Eagle patch. It is kind of funny to have clothes that actually fit. Something must definitely be up. I wonder what.
Entry 1639 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Air moves of Company B to Camp Evans. Company C to FSB Jack.
We arrived at Currahee pad at Camp Evans and humped down and up the ravine to Company B compound. Weve been told to stand by at a moment's notice for another possible move.
Entry 2040 hours, daily staff journal of duty officers log: Informed by brigade that Company B will receive 3 dog teams on March 10, 1971 on Currahee pad.
Entry 2045 hours, daily staff journal of duty officers log: Informed by brigade that the ballgame for Company B is at 0700 hours on Currahee pad.
Entry 2305 hours, daily staff journal of duty officers log:
Brigade has informed us that the LZ for Company B will be thunderbird
pad. It will be marked with smoke.
Interesting entry as to what was happening.
Operational Report Lessons learned, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) period ending April 30, 1971. Point #2, B5 Front. Activity in the B5 front continued at a high level and increased significantly over that reported in February 1971. Activity was characterized by ground contacts with small size enemy forces, numerous incidents of attacks by fire, and mine detonations throughout the AO of the B5 front. Concentrations of activity took the form of ambushes along QL-9 from the Rock Pile to the Laotian border and large scale attacks by indirect fire centered on Khe Sanh combat base and its airfield. The central and western Quang Tri areas were the scenes of the most significant events during March 1971. On March 8th and 21st, Firebase Vandergrift (YD002488) received sapper attacks that destroyed a total of 36,000 gallons of JP-4 fuel and 8,600 x 20mm rounds.
March 10, 1971
Camp Evans. Everyone is up early and hits the mess hall. Then back to gather our equipment and form up for the walk back over to Currahee pad. The look on everyones faces is tense with anticipation.
Rations are packed in our rucks. Guys are throwing up. The wait is maddening. The sound of slicks approaching is getting louder. Captain Jensen passes the word to get ready to board.
One after another the slicks land and groups of 5 men get on. Our turn next. I scramble on board with the others, and were off. Time now means nothing, the ground rushes by as were flying pretty low. Something must be up, as the pilots slide their door armor in place, and their 60 gunners lock and load. We must be getting close to something.
Sure enough, they put us down in the middle of what looks like a psp runway landing strip. Vandergrift. We have arrived. What have we gotten ourselves involved in?
Entry 1015 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Company B air moved LZ FB Vandergrift.
The first guys that landed have already spotted what looks like several hidden bunkers on the side of the landing strip. They move into position and check them out. The word comes back that the bunkers are abandoned.
Where do we move? Nobody seems to know for sure which direction we need to go. Shortly, several trucks with high wooden sides and end gate arrive, and we are told to climb on board. It isnt easy with a full ruck and equipment on your back.
The drivers head out, and as we travel through what seems like a huge base out in nowhere, we approach another very large rectangular psp pad. Unlike the first where we landed, this one has slicks coming and going by the dozens.
We disembarked from the trucks and sat down in place at the outer edge of the bank. Captain Jensen and his officers scout the terrain for defensive positions. Our four scout dog teams that came along with us are ready to assist clearing any potential booby traps or unexploded munitions.
Captain Jensen informs our CP group where he wants the command bunker dug. Buford Byers, Steve Doc Commo, Mark Wissel and I grab our rucks and start removing our entrenching tools. We put all the radios close together so one us can always monitor them for any communications while the others dig. Someone yells INCOMING.
A whoosh goes overhead followed by another and another. Many explosions to our right and they seem like theyre straddling the 3rd platoon. Buford, Steve and I take turns climbing on top of each other as the salvos come in. At least this way maybe one of us can survive. Finally it is over. Word is passed that these were 122mm rockets from north of the border and they were trying to target the ammunition dump at that end of the base.
Letter of March 13, 1971, Mom & Dad, Hope you received the letter saying were going to Khe Sanh. Well, we arent exactly there. The place we went to is called Vandergrift. It is a big supply depot for the push into Laos. Weve built bunkers to live in since the NVA mortar and rocket this place so often. In fact, 4 hours after we arrived 31, 122mm rockets came in, but no one from our company was hurt. We all believe it was a welcoming calling card reminding us that theyre out there.
Also, word is passed that the reason we are up here is to provide base security on this side of the base as sappers had recently hit the base and had blown up the JP-4 fuel tanks. Prior to our arriving, this perimeter had been guarded by only 3 tanks! With the helicopter pad to our backside, as we look forward, a very tall ridgeline is to our front.
Many slicks one right after another in a line come from our left, land for a short period of time, and then head off to our right when facing this ridgeline. Thirty years after the fact, when viewing the maps posted on the 506th Association website, these slicks were coming in from the east following highway QL-9, and then when they left, they would follow it again heading for Khe Sahn and Laos.
Entry 2400 hours daily staff journal or duty officers
log: Also today B/2-506th was inserted on FB Vandergrift. There
were no other significant events.
Digging in is the duty of the day. Pallets of sand bag bags are dropped off by our position. How deep do we dig and how big do we make it? What do we use for roof cover? Where do we get all the materials?
Our guys are digging their fighting positions all over the area just like us. Slicks keep coming and going in mass.
Entry 1900 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers
log: NDPs, B-FB Vandergrift.
We continued to enlarge our CP bunker. The weather is miserable. Rain seems to be a constant here, along with the other dangers. A truck got stuck today on the edge of our perimeter, and they had to have a tank pull it out. First tank Ive seen since Ive been over here.
Entry 1953 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers
log: Sent NDPs to brigade. B Co FB Vandergrift.
Letter of March 13, 1971, Mom & Dad, our bunker is 10ft by 10ft and 6 to 7ft down under ground. It will have real good overhead cover when finished. There is room enough for 5 people to sleep in. Im okay, a little sore from digging, but if its to protect me then Ill give it all heck.
My letter continues, I guess this place isnt where we will stay. In about a week or so were again going north up near a place called The Rock Pile. It isnt a very safe place as it is closer to the DMZ than weve ever been. One thing is Ive taken a lot of pictures up here and I sure hope they turn out okay. Taking them and getting them processed and back are two different things. I only wish wed stay here as I like doing nothing. I figure 189 days left in the army. Im dating this letter March 13th but no telling when it will get mailed. The mail is almost non existent now since we moved up here, but we all hope it will improve.
It rained today, and we had our poncho liners spread over the top of our bunker, only to have this jolly green giant helicopter take off right over us and blow them away. I was so mad that I shook my M-16 in the air at the pilot. It seemed like you could just reach out and touch him. Ill never forget the big smile and teeth he showed in his reaction. Being a grunt hes lucky hes on our side.
Entry 1915 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Sent NDPs to brigade. B Co FB Vandergrift.
March 14, 1971
Overhead materials were finally brought over today. They consisted of mainly 2 X 10 wooden planks 12 feet long. We also were able to get some black roofing material to cover the planks and hopefully provide some protection inside against the rain.
We take turns at the radios, while filling sandbags for on top of the roof. Finally we might keep dry for a change. Yeah right!
Im 6 4 and our CP bunker is deep enough where I dont have to duck. We ought to bronze these entrenching tools when were done. We can even sleep the 7 of us in the CP. Nightly radio watch is a standard and will always be one. Everyone is very good about staying awake and alert.
Entry 2000 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Sent NDPs to brigade. B Co FB Vandergrift.
Defensive perimeter pretty well set. Slicks just keep coming and going. No reports from our platoon RTOs on anything happening in their positions. Trying to stay warm and dry. Someone today got a hold of a bunch of soda. Man did that taste good. Dont know how or from whom it was received or taken, but we dont really care. What are they going to do to us?
Entry 1935 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers
log: Sent NDPs to brigade. B Company FB Vandergrift.
Nothing has changed. Has been pretty quite lately. Another
Another day. Helicopters of all sizes come and go. Some are even slinging other helicopters underneath them. I can only imagine what is going on out toward Khe Sanh and Laos. Being between the ridgeline and the helicopter pad, we dont move any place else on this base.
Letter of March 17, 1971, Mom & Dad, my R & R is scheduled for April 10th in Sydney. If you havent sent the money yet please do so immediately. I hope the pictures arrived okay. I received your wax paper and it sure comes in handy so maybe you can send a little more. I really cant think of anything else to add. Take Care. Love. Don.
Entry 1930 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers
log: Sent NDPs to brigade. B Co FB Vandergrift.
Slicks, CH-47s just keep coming and going. We even received a hot meal today. We had to go in small groups so not to leave the positions unguarded. Sure beat C rations. Another day closer to getting out.
Entry 2040 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers
log: Sent NDPs to brigade. B Co FB Vandergrift.
Rumor has it we might be leaving cushy Vandergrift for parts unknown shortly. We build and someone else gets to walk right in.
No change in our routine.
Were moving. Captain Jensen informed us to gather all our gear and clean out the CP bunker. We are going to replace another unit on top of the ridgeline to our front.
Slicks start coming in. As usual, I try to grab the 4th bird. Up and away we go and such a short ride to the top of this hill. As we get off, I ask someone from the unit we are replacing what unit are you guys with? Company C, 2nd 327th is their reply. Hey, that is the unit a friend of mine Chuck Ross is with. I ask someone if they know where he would be, and they point the area out to me. I bee line it over and just for an every brief moment Chuck and I talk until it is his time to leave.
Man, what a site from on top of here. Vandergrift is down below us, and us CP guys are watching to see if we can spot a yellow smoke grenade we left at the entrance to our CP as a surprise for the unit replacing us. Nothing happened.
We search our new surroundings for a location to set up our NDP and CP group. The ridgeline is like a rolling wave, with dips and high points in both directions. To my left, as I look down on Vandergrift, is the outline of FB Sarge. The outcropping of Sarge is very easy to spot. To my right appear several other large land formations, but at this time I dont realize what Im looking at.
Only many years later when going over photographs from Vietnam, the outlines of the Rock Pile and Razorback come into view.
Entry 0607 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: FB Jack closed out. 2-506th up North for operation Lam Son 719.
Entry 1800 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: NDPs. B/2-994544.
Entry 2400 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers
log: 2nd battalion 506th infantry also started in operation Lam
Early this morning due to the fog, all we could see were the tops of the hills, including ours. Pretty site if you think about it that way.
Later in the day in the valley to the east of our location, an operation is taking place by slick. One has trouble and goes down. You can see the guys inside scramble to safety. It seems like everyone got out okay. Shortly there after, another helicopter arrives and the downed chopper is picked up and removed.
Entry 1715 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: One aircraft was downed at A/1 landing location. It went down due to mechanical failure.
Entry 1903 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Downed bird at A/1 LZ has been extracted.
Time at night unknown, but FB Vandergrift defenses lit up the sky tonight. What a light show and noise. First thought is sappers, or was it a mad minute to check defenses? See entry of Operational report of March 8th.
Entry 2030 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers
log: NDPs. B/2-002552.
Word has been received that FB Vandergrift had sappers last night. Theyve accounted for what they believe is all of them. One actually disguised himself as a South Vietnamese soldier and was trying to walk out of the base waving at the various troops. You got to give that guy his due trying to pull that off.
We are on the move today. Picked up by slicks, we are taken to a barren cleared knoll at the base of a large what looks like a pile of rocks. We dig in as best as possible. A large explosion off to our right rear occurs and the fireball rises above the land formation.
The Chaplain shows up in his small chopper. Supplies sent out include gas masks and gas grenades for everyone. Word is that the pile of rocks is a hide out for NVA in the many caves around it.
Entry 1830 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Sent NDPs to brigade. B co ydco1561.
March 23, 1971
Captain Jensen orders everyone to move out. The trail is cut, and we move alongside the southern side of the pile of rocks and gradually swing to the north on the eastern side. Word is passed along that tomorrow morning we will begin to comb the many caves for the enemy.
Word is received from the front of the column that they have come across a walking trail. It is getting late so we set up our NDP and prepare for first light. The trail takes a turn in our perimeter and heads up the hillside. Only recently have I known that this hill is called the Ice Cream Cone.
Entry 1930 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers
log: Sent NDPS to brigade. B co CP and lst YDCO2523.
Bottom east face of the Ice Cream Cone, South Vietnam. Having been issued gas masks and gas grenades on the 23rd of March 1971, we had moved into position at the eastern base of the Ice Cream cone at where the NVA walking trail swung up from the bottom and headed up the hill.
As the dim of the morning gave way to more light, our company commander Captain Carl Jensen orders us to saddle up and prepare to move out. Having stripped down to only the bare necessities, were leaving our rucksacks behind. The front of the column began to move out. The time was approximately 0720 to 0730.
I carried the battalion radio in a sling and began my climb over the first giant boulder. Just as I got on it, we heard a loud explosion coming off to the right rear of us. I reported to battalion that we had heard a loud explosion. Time approximately 0750.
Entry 0750 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: B Co reported hearing SAF and RPG fire north of QL-9
Since we were very close to the major highway QL-9 leading to FSB Vandergrift, Captain Jensen orders us back to gather all of our equipment and move out. By the time I had put the radio back in my ruck sack, the column had already started moving north toward the road.
One by one we come up out of the jungle, up the embankment along the road and walking right down the side of QL-9 in plain view. We head east toward where the explosion had occurred. We stop near a bend in a river just north of the highway in a clearing. Nothing could be seen near the river due to the dense growth. There was a berm that had been pushed up right at the riverbank's edge, and several of us stand on that. Captain Jensen is conferring with LT Speet, our artillery forward observer. His RTO Patrick Bailey is on his radio. Captain Jensen and LT Speet have asked for artillery fire to our immediate west just north of the road and to the west of the river and to the south across from the road.
We are informed that we would have to move out of the area for it to be safe to fire. Back down QL-9 heading toward where we came from we go. We go past the point were we had come out of the jungle to the northern base of the Ice Cream Cone. There was a small clearing that looked like it had been pushed aside by a bulldozer or something, so we dropped our rucksacks again. LT Speet and Captain Jensen again have Patrick Bailey call in the artillery. Once again we were informed that the area was too close to QL-9, and they couldnt afford to tie up traffic in the area.
A squad of men is ordered back to the area along the riverbank from which we had just come from to search out where the NVA might have gone. LT Knipmeyer takes his unit and heads out. In a matter of minutes after reaching the berm and heading down the banking toward the river, intense small arms AK47, M-16, M-79 fire erupts.
Entry 0925 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: B Company, 2nd initiated contact with 3-4 enemy with organic weapons fire & enemy returned SAF.
Word comes back from LT Knipmeyer's RTO that one man is down and another wounded. Firing continues along with numerous explosions. The battalion commander flies in on his helicopter and lands near our perimeter and asks, who has the battalion radio? I raise my hand, and off he and I go back down the middle of this blacktop highway QL-9. I can remember the sounds of bullets whizzing by to this very day. As we approached the riverbank, Captain Jensen and the rest of the company has followed suit. We get a report back that one of our guys had been hit and killed (SGT Thomas Shepherd). They have also had found a cave in which the enemy is cornered, but his size and strength is unknown, and they wont surrender. To insure that they didnt escape, members of the squad, when first contact was made, had crossed the river to an island with point blank view of the cave. They received a tremendous amount of enemy fire while using their over and under grenade launcher in response.
Meanwhile, we receive an urgent call from LT Knipmeyer that the squad is almost out of fragmentation grenades and asks for more. Captain Jensen asks for volunteers to gather up the remainder of the companys grenades and to take them down to the squad. Steve Commo "Doc" and myself volunteer. Steve wants to get to SGT Shepherd and to positively check his condition. We head down the embankment to the edge of the river; one of our guys turns when he sees us and motions us to keep down. I looked up and see a body of an NVA floating in the river near the bank.
He motions us to go up the bank. I head up the river banking and see SGT Shepherd lying there about 20 feet away. "Doc" (Steve Commo) is right behind me. I walk forward, and out of the corner of my eye I see LT Knipmeyer standing. To his right rear another NVA is draped over a small tree. LT Knipmeyer indicates that we should keep quiet by placing his finger up to his mouth. He takes all the grenades in the helmet from me.
I then walk over to SGT Shepherd, kneel down and try to feel for a pulse. I find none. "Doc" (Steve Commo), who is right behind me, does the same thing and he swears that he feels a pulse and starts to give mouth to mouth to try and revive SGT Shepherd. It is to no avail. Later I learned from LT Knipmeyer that SGT Shepherd had been killed instantly.
The NVA force refuses to surrender, and finally the firing dies down. Someone brings down a poncho, and we slide it underneath SGT Shepherd. It takes 6 of us to carry him out of the jungle up to the berm area. As we are carrying SGT Shepherd out, I remember seeing a piece of binder twine lying on the ground and walking right by. I didnt think too much of it at the time.
Entry 1020 hours daily staff journal or duty officers log: B Co contact ceased results: One US KIA (John Shepherd). One WIA (PFC Jackie Gottman). 9 NVA killed in action. NVA were wearing dark green uniforms.
Entry 1230 hours daily staff journal or duty officers log: 2nd platoon B Co found a cave with 5 AK47s, magazines (AK47), 1 B40 rocket launcher, 1 NVA gas mask, 1 AK scope and assorted web gear.
Entry 1407 hours daily staff journal or duty officers log: Sent to brigade the name of the person who was wounded (Jackie Gottman).
Having left our NDP of March 23, 1971 so quickly, the mechanical ambushes that were set to protect our trail from the rear had not been deactivated. Not being exactly sure where set up and to prevent any sister unit from tripping them, a flame drop sortie was called on to try and explode them. A CH-47 Chinook rolled in with a sling below and proceeded to drop the explosives at the base of the Ice Cream Cone.
Entry 1415 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Called brigade flame drops. They were completed at 1325 hrs and started at 1220 hours.
Entry 1430 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Sent to brigade B Co findings in reference to their contact. 5 AK47s, 1 B40 launcher with sight, 10 AK47 magazines, 8 Chi Com grenades, 10 ¼ lb block of explosives, 5 gas masks, assorted medical supplies, 1 RPG round, 1 Chi Com or NVA newspaper, 1 diary and papers. Time of contact: 0930 hours, 24 March 71. 1 NVA was a 1st LT by uniform insignia.
As the bodies of the NVA were being pulled out of the cave and floated down to the island, someone noticed the binder twine again. Checking it out they found out that it was attached to a large land mine that was propped up in the wire alongside the road.
A gathering had taken place on the berm, including a wheeled armored vehicle. A discussion on what to do with this land mine took place, and it was decided to blow it in place. Armored military police vehicles blocked both ends of the road; we all got down behind the berm on the riverside, and someone pulled the string. The explosion was deafening. Had the NVA been successful in their early morning ambush against the JP-4 tanker truck heading toward Vandergrift, one can only assume that they would have detonated this land mine to block the road and make it impassible.
Entry 1830 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: B Co 1st Platoon found a Chi Com claymore BPT facing the road. Its 10 inches in diameter, 6 feet off the road and has a 50 ft pull string 75 meters from the contact point.
The swift actions of guys like SGT Keith Harrell, LT Knipmeyer, PFC Jackie Gottman and others from the squad prevented more GIs from being wounded. For his actions that morning SGT Harrell received one of the two Silver Stars awarded in this action.
Having dropped my ruck sack early in the morning near the base of the Ice Cream Cone alongside QL-9, I once again walked back down the highway to retrieve it along with others of our unit.
The final episode of the day included watching an F4 Phantom roll in at tree top level along the road and then discharge his payload to the northwest of us. Being just below the DMZ, he had to keep low in fear of any potential SAMs from up north.
It was too late in the day to move to a new defensive perimeter. Battalion sent out re-supplies, including ammunition, food and water. Captain Jensen told us to move off the berm to the edge of the jungle. We set up the secure set radio for Captain Jensens communications with battalion. We only could feel the sadness of losing SGT Shepherd and how tired we all were.
Entry 1930 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Sent NDPS to brigade. B Co CP and 1st YDO11565, 2nd YDOO7565, 3rd XD992516.
Entry 2400 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers
log: B Co had contact today at YDO7571 resulting in 1 US KIA,
1 US WIA, 9 NVA KIA and they also found a cave with weapons and
miscellaneous equipment. Later B Co also found a BBT 6
off the road at YDOO8566. These were the significant events today.
Captain Jensen told us to saddle up and get ready to move out. I set the new secure set codes that he gave me. We were going to move Northwest of the highway somewhere.
SGT Keith Harrell and his men were assigned to try to scale the Ice Cream Cone and provide a lookout station over the area. The NVA were using a large culvert right below the Ice Cream Cone and underneath QL-9 for their path so not to expose themselves in the open.
SGT Harrell called in, telling us that his squad had successfully scaled the Ice Cream Cone and was setting up their defensive perimeter on top. They also reported small arms fire coming from around the base of the cone. Battalion was notified to let units know there were units in the area.
Entry 1645 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: B Co reported small arms fire at the base of the ice cream cone. Truck convoy was reckoning by fire when brigade was notified.
Entry 2000 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log:
NDPS, B/2 007568.
Shortly after sunrise we continued the move, swinging more to the north now. We headed out across the short knee to waist high grass that made for easy going until we finally reached the riverbank and decided to take a break; I coded up our location and sent it back in. All of a sudden there was this commotion. An old enemy hand grenade had been found right in our midst where we were sitting. No one remembered where it came from or how it got there. Was it thrown at us, set as a booby trap, or had someone gathered up a souvenir and accidentally dropped it? Our Kit Carson scout looked at it, motioned, pulled the cord and tossed it. It never went off.
We moved out, crossing a very shallow stream heading north. We came up to another larger stream and found a place to cross. As we came up the stream bank, the foliage stopped. The terrain ahead of us was flat grassland with no cover. In the distance there was a clump of trees, and Captain Jensen ordered the head of the column to go that way. It wasnt too long, and we received a call from the front that they had discovered an enemy gun emplacement and bunker. Getting the coordinates, I radioed them back into battalion, and the rest of the column moved forward to secure the sight. What we stumbled upon was a 51 caliber anti-aircraft site. Attached to it was a bunker. The bunker was checked out, and all that was found were a few rounds of 51-caliber ammunition. The sight had the classic walking circle around a raised mounting pad in the center. The trees around the perimeter acted as camouflage. It wasnt very old.
Entry 1420 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Late entry, B/CP/2 found at grid XD996573 a 51 cal. Machine gun position. The position was 6 in diameter with reinforced bunkers & tunnel passage found running 6 in length to a sleeping position 5X4X5, large enough to sleep 3 personnel. Also found an ammo can containing 250 rounds of new 51 cal. Tracer ammo. Position estimated to be 1-2 weeks old.
Entry 1505 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: B Company CP took 4 rounds of SAF impacting 200 m in front of them. They checked this out with negative results.
Having noted the anti-aircraft site location, we moved out. We headed north along a ridge with foliage to our right. Again the front of the column called back, informing us that they had come upon some shallow bunkers or fighting positions. As we (the CP) arrived, I was given the location and called it in to battalion. Our Kit Carson scout became very nervous and told Captain Jensen that tonight no one should sleep. We found a place that gave us some protection and set up our NDP.
As I was preparing my night position, I killed a very small snake about 6 inches long.
Entry 2045 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers
log: NDPS. Co B 994582.
We headed out to the northeast. The terrain turned into double canopy jungle. We really didnt move very far this day.
The jungle growth became thicker. During our movement something came crashing through the jungle. It appeared to be something like a water buffalo or something like that. Captain Jensen picked out a hilltop for our NDP. It was all rock and trees. He gave me the coordinates, and I relayed them back to battalion. You had to move rocks in order to get a place to lie down. It was either that or sleep sitting up.
Several of us were almost out of water. Captain Jensen asked for any volunteers who wanted to look for water at the bottom of the hill. I grabbed my M-16, a bandoleer of ammunition, my canteens, and machete and led the way down the hill. I came to the edge of a bank, and about 20 feet below me, I saw a small stream. Half sliding and half walking down the bank, I got to the stream; I started to walk across it and stopped dead in my tracks. As the others came down the bank and some not too gingerly, I motioned to them what was ahead of me. It was a very well worn trail going from north to south. I cautiously headed to my right. There were two steps leading up from the stream bank, and I made sure I didnt step on either one. The trail went to the bank of a river, where it ended. You could see across the river where it came out on the other side.
We filled up our canteens and scrambled back up the banking as night was approaching. When we got back to the NDP, we reported to Captain Jensen what we had stumbled across. We radioed back the location and settled in for the night.
Entry 1900 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: B Co found a trail at XD994583 running from E to W. It was 2 wide, well traveled and hard packed with NVA boot prints. Thought to be traveled by 5-8 packs. This trail crosses the blue E of the grid. Recent activity estimated 12 hrs.
Letter to Mom & Dad, Just a brief note saying everything is okay with me here. Only 12 days left till R & R. Been keeping busy and the time is flying. March is almost gone and here comes April. Another month gone.
Entry 2000 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: NDPS, B Company 2nd and CP XD996584.
March 28, 1971
At morning light we moved out immediately down to the vicinity of the trail we had found the day before. We set up one M-60 machine gun at the river's edge facing the southern end of the trail across the river. The other end of the trail was also secured with another M-60 machine gun. We dug in for the day, as we were due to be re-supplied the following day. This area mainly consisted of trees on part of the perimeter and elephant grass on the rest. It was determined that this was as good as any place.
Entry 2057 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers
log: NDPS, B Company 2nd and CP XD994585.
Daybreak was interrupted when the M-60 team on the bank of the river to the south opened fire. They had observed an NVA starting to cross the river. A squad immediately crossed the river in pursuit, but nothing was found. Our position had now been given away. The equipment we found suggested to us that he probably was a medic. He also had in his possession bricks of what was a high protein chocolate mix.
Entry 0645 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: 2nd platoon B Co at XD994585 engaged estimated 2-3 enemy 50 meters E of said NDP. Element is presently searching area.
Entry 0750 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: In reference to item at 0645 hours, 2nd platoon B Company found, medical supplies, food seasoning, 1 NVA ruck, 1 AK47 magazine (loaded), 4 blocks ½ lb TNT with blasting caps, cleaning equipment. Negative blood trail.
Captain Jensen decided for safety concerns that the elephant grass covering the LZ wouldnt be cut until the chopper for re-supply was inbound. As radio transmissions were received indicating it was inbound, the LZ was furiously prepared. The order was passed not to use smoke to mark our position but to use a mirror to flash the chopper.
Just as the chopper hovered to set down, the first thunk sounded. To anyone in the infantry we all knew what this meant. Incoming mortars. I scrambled to my foxhole and called battalion that we had incoming. How many rounds we received, Im not sure. The chopper kicked out the supplies, and with people hanging on as best they could, it got the hell out of there. Meanwhile, a Cobra was dispatched to our location. As it came inbound, Captain Jensen decided instead of popping smoke that we should use a mirror to identify our position and direct their fire accordingly. The Cobra opened up with everything it had toward the hill line to our north. That hill line was the beginning of the DMZ. The mortar fire had stopped. Im not sure, but I believe we had one person slightly injured as the mortar rounds barely reached the northern end of our positions. A squad sent forward toward the north didnt find anything either.
Entry 1145 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: CP/1st/2nd/B/2-506 element was being re-supplied upon which mirror was used to bring chopper in. After chopper left element received 15 60mm mortar rounds impacting approximately 25 to 100 meters from said elements.
Entry 1210 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Request ARA for CP/1st/2nd/B/2-506th.
Entry 1925 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: NDPS, B Company 2nd CP XD993587.
Entry 2400 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log:
B Company also had movement and engaged with enemy at XD994585
neg. casualties. These were the significant events of today.
That night we moved across to the southern side of the river and set up our NDP. Once again the northern end was secured with an M-60 team, and another M-60 team secured the southern end of the trail, along with claymore booby traps.
Something smelled awful. A body was found. It probably was the NVA from the M-60 deal from a day ago. The secure set was readied, and the events of the day discussed. We settled in for the night, taking our normal turns on radio watch. Company B was in the valley, and C Company was on a ridgeline to our east.
Enclosure (Operations Narrative/Significant activities) to Operations report Lessons learned: 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), period ending 30 April 1971. Item #23, March 30th B/2nd 506th Inf., in the vicinity of XD 995585, discovered 1 booby-trapped NVA body approximately 2 days old.
In June 2000 at Fort Campbell during a reunion, Captain Jensen informed me that when he rolled this NVA body over that day, it had a grenade underneath it, but it failed to detonate.
Entry 1950 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: NDPS, CP & 2nd XD992585.
March 31, 1971
Everything seemed to be pretty normal. Captain Jensen was on the secure set with Battalion, but with yesterday's activities, it wasnt surprising.
Entry 1930 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers
log: NDPS, CP & 2nd XD995585.
At approximately 1:00 A.M., just as I was getting off of radio watch, I heard an explosion and the most chilling scream that anyone can imagine. It came from the direction northeast of our position in the direction of C Company. (Note: during the time we were up in this vicinity, nighttime defensive fire was more standard than not).
I immediately called battalion and screamed for a cease fire, as artillery rounds were coming in on Company C. Very soon the night sky was lit up with flares and medivacs taking the wounded out. We learned later that 4 GIs were killed and 7 wounded by our own artillery. That scream is something that Ive remembered all these years.
Entry 0051 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: C Company requested priority medivac at XD989587. 3 to 5 personnel injured due to artillery round entering into the perimeter.
Entry 0148 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Medivac on station.
Entry 0215 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Medivac off station.
Letter to Mom & Dad entry of April 4, 1971, Also in a friendly fire incident 4 GIs killed and 7 wounded. I guess our own artillery did it and we were close enough to hear them screaming. Not that close but close enough for us.
Entry 1930 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: NDPS, 2nd and CP XD993585.
Entry 2400 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: C Company had a friendly fire incident at their NDP resulting in one WIA.
I beg to differ with this latest entry of this date and want it to be so noted.
April 2, 1971
We moved back north across the river and then turned to the northwest toward a little known FB called Pete. Word was that the NVA had moved onto the FB when the Calvary unit that was on it had moved off for a recon, and had repulsed several attempts by the unit to re-establish control. They were going to try another assault, and if they didnt succeed in getting back on the base, then Company B located in the valley and Company C on the ridgeline to our north would assault it.
We started to set up our NDP position. Looking south on the ridgeline, we could see an American Tank. Not thinking too much about it, we continued to clear our spots for the evening. All of a sudden the tank fired a round. It looked like it was aiming at the hillside to the north of us. However, instead of putting in an HE round, they had put in a fleshette round by mistake. Our NDP was sprayed with small arrow-like pins.
A report was sent that one guy was hit. Turned out that one of the guys I came into the unit with, Randall ONeil, had taken an arrow near his kidney, and Doc didnt want to take a chance, so we called for a medivac. Randy protested, saying he would be okay and that he did not want to leave the unit and his equipment behind. However, he did end up going. Once again, we used a mirror to signal the medivac into our location, avoiding the use of smoke grenades.
Entry 0945 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: OPCON to US had a rif out north of FB Pete, engaged two enemy in the open with organic weapons fire. Negative return fire. Results 2 NVA KIA. And equipment captured.
Entry 1905 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: At approximately 1815 hours one personnel was wounded by a friendly fire incident. He got hit in the lower part of the back by a flesheit round. SP4, Pallone, Richard M. (It was Randall ONeil thank you).
Entry 1920 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Requested dust off priority at 1837 hours. Dust off on station at 1850 hours. Dust off station 1852 hours. Man taken to 18th surgical.
Entry 2030 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: NDPS, CP & 2nd XD987585.
Entry 2040 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: B Company 2nd and CP reported movement 25 meters north of NDP. They engaged movement with M79 and frags.
Entry 2400 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log:
There was a friendly fire incident and individual was taken to
18th surgical. These were the significant events today.
Word was passed that the Calvary unit had been successful overnight in regaining FB Pete.
However, our enthusiasm was dampened by rain, and it just kept coming. We received orders to move out fast back across the river from where we had been several days ago. In every case prior to this, Captain Jensen always made us cut a new trail, never wanting to use our old ones, but we needed to move fast and so back we went.
I chuckle went I remember my falling head first into the muck when crossing a small muddy area. My M-16 barrel totally swallowed up as I fell forward. I was glad it was raining to wash the mud off and to try and render my weapon useful again.
Entry 0855 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: To B Company from LTC Bellochi: Move with one element to XD983583 and sweep back and call us when read said grid. All elements will NDP at XD997584.
We reached the large river's bank, and it was already swollen from all the rain. A lot of us took everything we could out of our rucks to try and keep it dry as we crossed the river. Being 64 helped me a lot. Buford, who carried the company radio, started to float, and we grabbed him to help him across. LT Speet saw his airborne cigarette lighter in its plastic case pop out of his pocket and float down the river, never to my understanding to be seen again.
Having crossed the river, we cleaned out our NDP from several days back. Again, this wasnt Captain Jensens normal mode of operation.
Entry 1930 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log:
NDPS, B Company YD010515.
All of a sudden there was this loud explosion to the south end of our defensive perimeter and the sound of small arms fire. All hell had broken loose. We scurried about, packing our gear and getting ready to move.
Buford Byers, the company radio operator, received word from the southern squad that they had just sprung an ambush with their claymore and small arms fire. They had counted 5 NVA bodies, and no one from our side had gotten hurt. Shortly after the fireworks died down, the ramifications of just what happened began to unfold.
We had just intercepted an NVA forward observer team. They had on them sighting circles, Russian wrist watches, 9mm pistols, a wad of money beyond description, and the scariest thing of all was the map of the entire area with all the defensive positions mapped out and identified. They had everything and were heading back north.
In June of 2000 in Clarksville, TN, Carl Jensen and I spent a lot of time together in my car going to and from different events. He told me that on that day back in 1971, he had received a radio message from battalion that told him they had intercepted an enemy radio message, and it was almost right on top of us. We were very lucky to be in the position we were at that specific time. It is open to conjecture how many lives might have been saved that day with the information that didnt get through.
A slick was dispatched to pick up the captured equipment on the LZ just across the river from which we had been re-supplied the day before.
Entry 1945 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: NDPS, CP and 2nd XD996585.
Entry 2025 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: B Company CP and 2nd had a MA go off 50 meters outside their perimeter on a trail. They will check it out at first light.
The photograph that is posted with the Chinese radio was taken on this day even though the entries show April 5th. This team of 5 (and there were 5 and not 3) had Russian wristwatches and a huge amount of currency on them. LT Knipmeyer, when we had a stand down later at Camp Evans, came up to me and gave me some NVA currency for my help in the events of March 24th. It even had a bullet hole in the middle of it.
Letter to Mom & Dad of April 4, 1971, Well, received
letters yesterday April 3rd dated March 24, 26, 27, and 22nd.
Now I have all the money completed for my R & R to Australia.
Come the 8th of April our battalion is going back down south.
This could vary a few days but will be a welcomed relief. So
far our battalion has killed 20 NVA, 1 captured and 2 killed
GIs and 4 wounded. Rained yesterday and it sure felt good.
Got all wet but didnt mind it one bit. Also crossed a river
about waist high deep. There is only one thing going on and that
is the ARVNS getting out of Laos, Khe Sanh closed down
and Vandergrift is about closed. Soon well be out and thats
okay. I see I just ran out of paper, so Im fine and okay.
Today we moved southeast toward higher ground. Once again we came across another well-worn trail (2nd to last photograph posted). Captain Jensen decided that maybe we should follow this trail back southwest, as questions arose as to where all these NVA were coming from. He thought there might be a bunker complex near by.
We dropped our rucks. I took my radio out and slung it over my shoulder before moving out. We started down the hill following this trail. Eventually, it ended up at the river's edge, but we couldnt see it come out on the other side. We started to walk down the river, as it was pretty shallow. It started to curve to our left, and Captain Jensen decided it was better to back out than to go any further. We arrived back at the location we had dropped the rucks.
Entry 0730 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Informed Bde that B/CP/2 had negative findings on first light check.
Entry 0845 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: B/CP/2 at XD997583 had one MA detonated 50 meters south of their NDP, upon searching the area, rcn by fire they received SAF.
Entry 0930 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Upon searching area, B/Cp/2 revealed 3 NVA KIA, 1 ruck sack, 2 AK47s, green fatigues, sandals, and od socks.
Entry 1050 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: B/1/2/CP while checking out contact area found a radio with head set and miscellaneous documents.
Entry 1200 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Item found by search of B/1/2/CP 4 to 5 maps, radios, telegraph key and mortar aiming circle.
Entry 1810 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Personnel from B/1 was accidentally killed when a rock gave out from underneath him. He fell down the side of the hill and the rock fell on his head. The dust off reported him dead; an urgent dust off was requested at 1820 hours on stat at 1838 and broke station at 1845 hours. Grid for this incident was YD002564; name Fiedler, Gary J. E-3.
Entry 2135 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: B/1 reported their MA was detonated at the time they got later or earlier that a NVA KIA was found. At first light another check will be made.
Entry 2400 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log:
A man was accidentally killed at YD002564 when a rock slipped
out from underneath him making him fall. The rock fell on his
head killing him. There were no other new significant events
to report for today.
An explosion occurred toward the direction of where we had gotten the 5 NVA. A MA had been set up in that area with a squad set for an ambush.
They hustled back with their findings. More equipment. AK47, AK50 etc. We were informed that we had 3 more NVA killed. That would make our total since the 24th of March at 18 NVA.
Entry 0910 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: B/1 found 2 NVA/KIA, 1 ruck sack, 1 AK47 while investigating the detonation of one of their MA.
Entry 1110 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: B/2 found 2 AK50s, 2 ruck sacks, 1 pair of binoculars, 1 compass, 1 protective mask and a book of azimuths with the 2 NVA KIA they had.
Entry 1900 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: NDPS, B/2/CP 000584.
I carried back to a FB today the equipment we captured, and when the helicopter landed, handed it over to S2. Steve and I were then placed in the back of a truck heading back to Camp Evans and told to make sure we showed our weapons. I can remember going through one town, and my eyes watered with what I believe was tear gas. This was my last day up north with the unit. I rejoined them back down south when I returned from R & R.
April 7, 1971
Entry 2005 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: NDPS, B Company 2nd, XD996574.
April 8, 1971
Entry 1130 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: B CP/2/1/1-506th found one satchel charge consisting of 10 lb of TNT with pull type firing device. One Russian grenade. Recent activity 10 days, will blow in place, may be booby-trapped.
Entry 1850 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: NDPS, B Company, CP and 2nd and 1st XD999566.
April 9, 1971
Entry 1200 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: Sent Brigade the air move times for the move from FB Khe Gio to My Loc.
Entry 2000 hours, daily staff journal or duty officers log: B Company 1st Platoon FB Rakkasan, 2nd platoon YD 485196, 3rd and CP YD495192.
Summary of Lam Son 719
When asked by Bruce Moore of the 506th Association to do a Narrative on the events of March 2, 1971 through April 9, 1971, I felt honored to be asked to do so.
Lam Son 719, for many veterans, is just a period of time in our lives many years ago that we wanted to forget. For many of us, it brings back both good and bad memories. In thinking about some of the things we did back then, boy, we were either extremely dumb or awful lucky. I hope that by telling the events of this time frame, people will understand what we all went through.
For me, I would find it difficult to say no to Bruce. Ever since The Wisconsin State Historical Society published their book Voices from Vietnam (Voices of the Wisconsin Past) in which one of my photographs was used on the front cover, Ive become involved. Ive been asked to participate in discussions at several colleges in Wisconsin on Vietnam. The local elementary school has had me talk to their 5th grade class the last 4 years, and if all you veterans could read the letters I get from those kids, it would warm all your hearts.
To my fellow members of Company B, 2nd BN, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), I am proud to be associated with each of you. The same goes for any Vietnam veteran.
To the families who lost loved ones in Vietnam, especially those of Gilbert Ruff, Thomas Shepherd, and Gary Fiedler from Company B, I hope you find some closure. Your loved ones may be gone, but they will never be forgotten. I encourage you to join and be part of our unit.
Donald E. Thies
From Doug McNeill (A Co, 158th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1970-1971):
I'm not very accomplished using the Internet, but I came across
your excellent photos and narrative re Lam Son 719 and had to
respond to you.