Events

of

June 1st & 2nd, 1969

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Written by

LTC. SAMUEL W. AULT, III   

(Retired)

Copyright 2000

 

I was a 1st Lieutenant with  A Battery 2nd Battalion 19th Field Artillery, attached to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion 8th Cavalry as a Forward Observer to A Company's commander, Captain Marm. If I am not mistaken, Captain Marm was the second commander for the company since I had joined them in January 1969. As of June 2, 1969, I had logged more time in the field with Alpha Company, than any of the other Officers.

On June 1st 1969, A Company was working a search and destroy mission north of Xuan Loc, along the Dong Nai River in Long Khanh province. We discovered an NVA/VC supply area that contained tonnage of canned Mackerel from Japan, Rice from the USA, and Nestles canned milk. It seemed odd finding this material in the area.

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We also discovered Sampans, which we attempted to destroy but found it almost impossible to blow a hole in them using C4. Subsequently the company floated the sampans downstream and placed C4 in their bottoms in an attempt to rupture the frame. Some sampans sank, while others did not. We crossed the islands and were located on the North bank of the Dong Nai River.

Captain Marm was notified by Battalion to proceed West along the bank to a bunker complex that had just been bombed. We were to destroy a 2000-pound bomb that had failed to explode upon impact. The bunkers were located, but not searched. We set up a night location 100 Meters from the complex. I called in artillery fire for defensive targets on three sides of our position. Our backs were to the river. Around 1500 hours, a Log bird arrived with supplies, in addition to two enlisted engineers with cases of C-4. The engineers were sent by the Brigade to destroy the bomb in place, so as to keep the explosives away from the enemy.

The two engineers, another man from Alpha Company, and myself, proceeded up the trail to the bunker complex without incident. The bomb had penetrated the hospital roof, punching a hole through an operating table. This was a well-stocked medical facility. I left the bunker and watched the area with the other soldier. When the engineers finished setting their charges with a 10-minute delay fuse, we cleared the area. We did not hear a large explosion. It was determined that the bomb had failed to detonate. The engineers gathered their remaining sticks of C-4 and we once again returned to the bunkers. Twice would be the charm. While they again readied the bomb, I began a short survey of the other bunkers. I noticed a bunker very near the hospital which contained small arms ammo, recoilless rifle rounds, and RPGs with charges. I wanted to destroy the enemy supplies before we left, but the engineers had no spare C-4. A three-minute fuse was set, forcing us to run from the area. A tremendous explosion ripped through the jungle, knocking us off our feet. We could hear large pieces of shrapnel flying through the air, hitting trees.

Upon our return to the CP, there was a debriefing before bedding down for a peaceful night.

The morning of June 2, 1969 began normally. The 1st Platoon Squad led by SSG Lyman Bach formed up next to me as they prepared to move out to destroy the bunker complex. The men were talking about their cars back home. One of the men asked me to come see his car when I got out. I was asked to join them (as I had done on previous occasions). At that moment, I received a call from the fire direction center, forcing me to decline the invitation to accompany them.

I was the last person to speak to the men before they proceeded up the trail. They were gone only a short time when a command detonated charge killed all 5 soldiers instantly. Almost immediately, automatic weapons began firing. A machine gun team, which was near my location, ran toward the firing. I immediately called for fire and had rounds landing behind the enemy within minutes. I began to walk the rounds 100 meters at a time towards our location. My greatest concern was the probable error of a gun target line round falling short. Tactically speaking, artillery is much safer when fired perpendicular to the line of sight.

The Command & Control helicopter arrived with the Battalion Commander, LTC. Grahm, and the Artillery Liaison Officer. They flew across the artillery round trajectory, forcing me to check fire until they were clear. I asked the LNO (Liaison Officer) to spot my rounds so I could get them close, but that request was overruled when LTC. Grahm came up on my radio frequency asking for a situation assessment. He was unable to contact Captain Marm. I told them to get out of my line of fire, and that we had been hit hard with possibly 50% wounded or killed. The Battalion Commander overruled artillery and recommended I call Blue Max for helicopter air support. The Battalion Commander told me that Company B would be sent in to assist. Time was lost while waiting on Blue Max and not being able to fire artillery due to the Command and Control bird.

Blue Max arrived with a "Hunter, Killer Team" consisting of a Light Observation Helicopter (LOH – pronounced "LOACH") and a Cobra (Attack helicopter armed with mini guns and rockets). The LOH began flying behind us, moving upstream on the river doing a quick recon. While flying at tree top level, the LOH was hit by enemy fire approximately 100 meters to our right flank, causing the LOH to crash with a tremendous JP4 fuel explosion. The main rotor broke free and whirled toward us, only being slowed by the trees in its path. The rotor landed within reach. There were no survivors from the LOH.

We observed NVA soldiers running toward the river after the crash.  I opened up on them with my M-16.  We later observe three NVA bodies floating down the river. 

I believe the LOH spoiled their flanking action, which would have brought the enemy to our weak flank that was being protected by my RTO and myself. As the firefight began, those troops on my flank moved toward the contact, making us vulnerable to an attack from upstream of the river. Nothing was between my location and the downed LOH but two M16s.  

Max was unable to see anything, so I directed our most forward element to pop smoke to allow Max to identify their position. After identifying the smoke color, Max rolled in and let the rockets fly. We repeated Max and artillery during the day.

The company medics tried to get the wounded to the waiting downstream medevac, but the land route was cut off by small arms fire. I instructed our medic to inflate air mattresses and float the wounded downstream to the helicopter. This provided ample defilade and security, working without any difficulty.

Suddenly, we were receiving fire from the South bank of the Dong Nai River. I directed the tactical spotter in a fixed wing aircraft to the location of the 51 caliber machine guns and they were taken out by tactical air strikes using F-4’s.

Five mortar rounds (82mm) were walked down from the downed LOH towards the medevac helicopter.  One round nearly took SP4 Dennis Taylor, my RTO, and myself out when it caught a palm tree limb, slid down the tree center and exploded about 3 feet from us.  I believe the enemy thought we were about to flank their position. That was the only volley of 82mm I knew about.

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SP4 Taylor          Lt Ault  

The firefight was still going strong, despite artillery and Rockets. I called in more Tactical Air Napalm and Bombs. The Forward Air Controller contacted me to direct his spotting rockets,so the F-4s could roll in and drop napalm and bombs on the bunker complex. The strikes were close enough for us to feel the heat from the Napalm.

The first encounter lasted 6 hours. Company B arrived in the early afternoon, and proceeded to attack, also taking significant casualties.

Somehow, as A Company pulled back, I wound up behind a downed tree. Some time later the Forward Observer from Company B, who was wounded, arrived at the same location.

That night, sounds could be heard coming from the complex.

Soldiers reported being hit by rocks, thrown by the enemy. No one revealed his position until later in the night.

A C-130 gunship arrived after dark. About 2200 hours, our position was hit by Gatling gunfire as bullets rained down. It sounded like a heavy rain coming through the Jungle. The B Company Forward Observer and myself were leaning against a large tree while bullets fell around us, hitting the tree. Six soldiers were injured from that experience and were medevaced out in the middle of the night. The Medevac landing lights exposed many personnel. I heard that most injuries were leg wounds.

The next morning prior to the arrival of the Log bird, there was a mad minute of firing into the bunker complex.

No return fire was received.

When the log bird landed that morning on June 3rd, I paid my respects to the Commander and left for R&R, returning back to Alpha Company on June 15th.

It must have been divine intervention that I was not in a body bag awaiting transport home, with a wife enroute to Hawaii at the same time we were in contact.

Ltault.jpg (7357 bytes) Lt. Ault holding an AK-47

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