A Troop, 3/17th Air Cav
Volens et Potens
(Willing and able)
A true story by Sergeant First Class Robert B. Himrod
United States Army (Retired)
Warning: This article recounts details from war of a graphic nature
On the 24th of April in 1968 I was a Scout Dog handler with the 49th Infantry Platoon, 199th Light Infantry Brigade. My dog, Cracker and I were assigned to support the 3rd Battalion 7th Infantry during a Search and Destroy operation, in the jungles outside Tay Ninh. There was some Intelligence information that a large NVA base camp was in the area and we were to search it out. The Tay Ninh area was a real bad contact spot. It was the southern part of the Ho Chi Minh trail that came out of Cambodia. It was Charlie's backyard.
The battalion manifested it's personnel and started the Air Assault early in the morning. The gun ships went in first and shot up the landing zone (LZ) and laid down a thick cloud of smoke. My dog and I came in with the first lifts. The door gunners were blasting the tree line with their M-60s as we came in and touched down. Springing from the helicopters, we ran to the edge of the LZ and set up a perimeter, as the rest of the battalion came in behind us. We had landed unopposed. When the whole battalion got down, we formed up and started our sweep into the jungle. "A" Company had the left flank, my dog and I had point with "B" Company in the middle, and "C" Company was on our right flank. "D" Company was in reserve bringing up the rear.
We maneuvered for hours through the heavy jungle. The three company point elements had to dodge natural terrain features, so we kept loosing sight of one another. It was approximately 14:00 hours when my dog Cracker gave me a faint alert to the front. I stopped and the Company Commander, Captain John South, and his Radio Operator Specialist Fourth Class Glenn Pagano, came to my position at point. I reported that I had faint contact to the front. Captain South directed my dog and I to continue. We did, and about another 40 yards up this slow raising trail, Cracker gave me a strong alert contact to the front. This was reported and we were again directed to continue forward.
Just up this trail, I found a dripping wet NVA shirt hanging over a bent tree branch. It was still bobbing up and down from someone having just thrown it over the branch. A small concealed camp fire was still burning and a ball of rice had just been dumped on the ground. The rice ball was just loosing it's shape from the container it had been in moments before. There was a small opening to a covered bunker. We were cautiously checking out the area, when all hell broke loose! Automatic weapons and rifle fire raked our postion and pieces of tree bark flew from the trees as the bullets torn into them. Loud bullet cracks sounded all about us. We jumped into the small bunker for cover and started returning rifle fire.
We couldn't see the NVA shooting the rain of bullets on us, but we fired in the direction from where it came. A few moments later the shooting subsided at us and became random. We started to move up this small knoll when a huge explosion went off to the front and above me. The NVA had set off a command detonated explosive in this large tree. It peppered the two soldiers in front of me with sharpnel. Because I was still on the backside of the tree, I didn't get hit with any fragments but felt the concussion. Wounded, they filtered back towards the rear of our line for medical treatment.
We set up a defensive line and directed our rifle fire up the raising knoll. It sounded like the whole battalion was in small arms contact. From the left flank came a thunderous amount of gunfire. "A" Company ran into the main body of this bunker complex, head on. The heavy volume of fire hit it's peak within five minutes and then went to sporadic exchanges. The afternoon wore on with fire fights all around.
My dog had done her job and given us early warning of the enemy. I relocated to where the medics had set up. They were a few hundred yards back from the main contact next to a large bomb crater. We used explosives to blow down some trees to widen the crater area so the Dust Offs could come in for our wounded. The pilots had to hover and come straight down through the trees. As they touched down they threw out some field stretchers. The first casualties were placed on the Dust Off and lifted out. The battalion had called in TAC Air support and the ground was shaking as each bomb slammed into the jungle. The helicopter gun ships were making rocket and machine gun passes at targets, marked by our smoke. Their brass shell casings were raining down on us each pass they made. My dog and I moved around and provided security to the wounded that were filtering back to the medics assembly area. The dead were placed over in an area haphazardly covered with their ponchos. They couldn't be helped. Also with the dead were their body parts that had been severed. A leg from the knee down, hand and forearm and a foot still with the boot attached. The medics were feverishly working on the wounded. It was a hectic but organized sight. The battle wore on into the evening. All the critically wounded had been lifted out. We were now working on getting out the dead.
Radio word came from the last Dust Off that they were not going to come in for any more of our dead. They had been hit by small arms fire on their last lift. We still had two of our poncho covered bodies laid out on the field stretchers. The light was fading fast. The artillery continued to pound the NVAs position and the lumination rounds were casting strange shadows about the jungle through the trees. A squad had come to our location to lead us to that nights defensive position. We moved out with our two dead and followed the squads lead to the command post. The light from the artillery lumination flares continued to play tricks with our eyes. My mind was seeing things that were not there. Stumbling through the dark, we made it to that night's defensive position. My dog and I joined the command post. The bodies on the stretchers were placed on the ground. Their ponchos had been tied over their heads to their waist. Their hands were tied together at their belt line, in front, with a casualty body tag. I set up, watered and fed my dog out of my over turned helmet. I ate a C-ration meal and thought about the two soldiers under the ponchos next to me.
I laid out my poncho, tied my dogs leash to my foot and settled back clutching my Car-15. I heard someone on the radio calling in the paragraph and line numbers of those killed and wounded in that days contact. As the artillery continued to provide lumination to the area, I fell, exhausted off to sleep.
The next morning I awoke and the command post was busy getting the companies organized to return back to the contact area. I was advised that I was being lifted out and a fresh K-9 team was inbound as my replacement. I hurriedly got my gear together and started over to the landing zone where some others had assembled. I could hear the helicopter's blade chop coming in over the trees. I looked back at the two covered bodies and they were still there, dead. Purple blood had pooled about their bodies and their exposed hands had taken on that yellow wax look. I had strangely thought that they would be ok in the morning. I didn't know them, but they were me. They were my innocence laying there in the hot morning sun.
The chopper set down and off jumped replacement rifeman and Sergeant Bob Sinclair with his dog. I yelled over the chopper wash a brief report and told him to be careful. I passed him some extra ammo and got on board the chopper with the others. The aircraft powered up and strained to lift off, but it's load was to heavy. The pilot yelled that one of us would have to stay behind. We all looked at one another and a soldier jumped out. We lifted off the LZ just next to the trees when the main rotor hit a tree limb with a loud smack. Luckily we didn't crash. We continued to climb and headed back to the brigade main base. It had been a hard 24 hours.
Captain John Hershel South of Memphis, Tennessee; Specialist Fourth Class Michael John Cox of Detroit, Michigan; Private First Class Paul Baren Creighton of Memphis, Tennessee; Specialist Fourth Class Luis Antonio Ortiz-Perez of Ponce, Puerto Rico; Specialist Fourth Class Jay Dee Richter of Pasadena, California; Private First Class Terry William Shoot of Charleston, Illinois; Private First Class Jerry Bob Truitt of Novinger, Missouri; Specialist Fourth Class Ralph Voss of Dallas, Texas and Staff Sergeant John Michael Weatherford of Mesquite, Texas were all killed in this action. Their Honored names can be found on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. Thirty three other American soldiers were wounded. A sweep of the battle field confirmed a thirty three NVA body count.
Photo Courtesy of Ingo Haas, HHT - 3/17th
About the Author:
Bob Himrod in Vietnam
Robert "Bob" Himrod - Redcatcher - 49th Infantry Platoon Scout Dog Handler (Gun Smoke & Dog Sh*t) - Bob supported the Spurs Aero-Rifle Platoon in 1968 as our Scout Dog handler when A Troop was supporting the 199th Light Infantry Brigade of which Bob was attached. On 19Aug68 his dog "Cracker" 60X1 and Bob tripped a booby trap south of Saigon near Fishnet. Cracker took most of the blast and saved Bob's life. Sadly, by the time Cracker got dusted off to the vet, she had lost life in two legs and had to be put down that afternoon.
Please also see: 1968 Silver Spur History Page
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© Bob Himrod 2001