This story is dedicated to the men who were killed and wounded in the firefight along the Dong Nai River in the Republic of Vietnam on June 2, 1969
In May 1969, I was transferred from 229th Aviation Unit to HHC 1st Bn. 8th Cav. Upon my arrival at the 8th Cav, I met a friend, named Preston Taylor. We had completed our Advanced Individual Training together at Fort Sam Houston to become Medics. Preston had just arrived in South Vietnam from the States. He had completed jump school after A.I.T. and had some Special Forces training before being assigned to South Vietnam. I was assigned to South Vietnam directly after A.I.T. It was comforting to know at least one person at my new assignment while rekindling an old friendship.
Preston and I remained on the LZ for several days getting our medical aid bags supplied and going over procedures about how Dr. Hero wanted medical treatment in the field to be conducted. Finally it was time for us to be attached to our companies. Preston was assigned to Alpha Company, commanded by Captain Marm and I was assigned to Bravo Company, commanded by Captain Hottell. We flew out together in the same chopper since Alpha and Bravo Companies were on neighboring islands, called Banana and Chicken Island, because of their shapes.
The Companies were working a joint operation in the Long Khanh province. Alpha Company was on one island while Bravo Company was on an adjacent island searching for a suspected enemy supply center. This was supposed to have been the first time American Forces had been in this particular area since 1965. During this operation we were able to watch freedom birds flying in and out of Bien Hoi. Since I had been in Country for almost six months, the sight of freedom birds made my longing to return home even greater.
In the late morning of June 1, 1969 Alpha Company discovered an abandoned enemy position, which consisted of 2 hooch's, 1 lean to, 2 bunkers (4in length 8 wide and 4 deep with a 2 overhead), and a 15 sampan on a rack. The rack appeared to have been used for repairing sampans. Alpha Company continued their search after destroying the enemy fortification and materials.
That afternoon, Alpha Company discovered an enemy bunker complex with 13 bunkers (each measuring 15x10x6 with a 3 overhead) and also a hospital bunker (20x20). One of the bunkers contained a cache of ammo consisting of 100 Chi Com grenades, 12 RPG rockets, 12 RPG boosters, 6 boxes of AK-47 ammo (3,000 rounds), and 6 rounds of 75mm for a recoilless rifle.
Alpha Company had pulled back from the bunkers to a small clearing where an LZ could be set up to ship out the seized enemy weapons by chopper. Alpha Company would move back to the bunkers the following day and destroy them.
It was decided that Bravo Company would join up with Alpha Company. As we searched the river bank for a possible crossing site, 8 bunkers were discovered (5x6x4 with a 3 overhead), along with 2 hoochs, a small amount of food, pots and pans. We were to destroy the bunkers the following morning and from there, make our river crossing.
The following morning (June 2, 1969) Bravo Company discovered additional bunkers to our North which needed to be inspected and secured before we attempted the river crossing.
During the night (June 1, 1969), the NVA moved back into the Bunker complex unbeknownst to Alpha Company. It was estimated that the strength of the enemy was a company plus size. In the morning, Alpha Company began their approach on the bunker complex when they were met with heavy fire from machine guns and RPG's. Alpha Company took very heavy casualties from the enemy's intense fire and were forced to pull back, leaving five of their dead behind. Alpha Company then took a defensive position while being supported by jets, gunships, and artillery. During mid morning, the NVA bunker complex also shot down a "Loach" LOH (Light Observation Helicopter - tail number OH-6A 67-16600), killing the three crew members as it exploded upon impact.
After securing the bunkers, Bravo Company discovered that the river had risen during the night. The crossing was still going to be attempted with all packs being left behind, except for those packs belonging to the medics and RTOs. Air mattresses were to be used as PFD's (Personal Flotation Devices) and a guide rope was to be secured on the opposite island.
This crossing was of some concern to me, since I swim like a rock and my backpack with medical supplies was already on my air mattress. The lead man with the rope made it a little more than halfway before the river current became too great to traverse. The order was given to turn around after some of the men lost their weapons, ammo and a radio during the aborted crossing. A chopper was called in to rescue the lead man who was being swept down river. He was able to grab hold of the chopper skid and was ferried back to our location while clinging to the skid. The crossing was now going have to be made by chopper. We only had enough room for one chopper to land at a time. This would take 17 sorties to daisy chain Bravo Company over to Alpha Company.
Upon my arrival into Alpha Company's LZ. I met a fellow medic, David L Adkins, and asked him how my friend Preston Taylor was doing. Adkins looked up and said that he had been killed. My stomach turned into a knot upon hearing of Preston's death. Adkins further stated that Preston had gone to aid a wounded man, and as he began to treat the wounded soldier, he was shot and fell mortally wounded atop of the wounded soldier. Visibly shaken from the carnage which he had just witnessed, Adkins continued his recounting. As the wounded soldier continued to call for help, this medic went to the wounded soldiers aid. As he pulled his fallen comrades body from atop the wounded man, he had recognized him as being the newly assigned medic, Preston Taylor.
There was no time to mourn my friends death. There were still men who needed to be treated from Alpha Company and medevaced out. While I was at the LZ finishing medevacing Alpha Company's wounded and receiving additional supplies, Bravo Company's 1st, 2nd, and 3rd platoons attempted to recover our 5 dead troopers. They were again met with heavy fire from machine guns and RPGs. Snipers who had moved into the wood line near the LZ also opened up. I sought cover behind a fallen tree with three other men. The soldier next to me was reaching into his backpack while exposing himself to enemy fire. I asked him abruptly what are you doing? As he turned into my direction, I could see that this man, at whom I just barked, was a Captain and I thought I was in for it now. The Captain replied "I'm getting this," as he removed his Medal of Honor from his backpack. Dumbfounded I asked, "How did you get that?" Captain Marm replied that he had charged a machine gun's nest and knocked it out during his first tour in Vietnam.
A call for stretchers came down. I left the safety of the fallen tree, grabbed a stretcher and proceeded to the C.P. As I made my way forward while exposed to enemy fire, I watched grunts seeking cover behind fallen trees and ground banks. I remembered my friends in Tay Ninh telling me how hard the grunts had it. I kept thinking to myself that right about now, grunts had it pretty nice, getting to stay behind cover. Its amazing how one can envy another persons job at certain times. We all know the grunts took the brunt of the hardships in Vietnam and it was only after the grunts spilled their blood, that the medics job became a little riskier. As I reached the C.P., I asked Captain Hottell for a guide to take me up to the wounded (one thing you do not need in a firefight is someone advancing forward without knowing where he is going). We went about one hundred yards further when we started to receive fire from the opposite island. The guide said that I should go straight-ahead and that he was going back to the C.P. Straight-ahead was a wood line with no one in sight and no visible trails. I laid on the ground with my back against a sand bank deciding if I should go straight forward as the guide said or should I listen to my instincts and go to the left. I noticed a freedom bird coming in for a landing at Bien Hoi and my thoughts go to home and I wonder if I would ever get out of this living hell. As another burst of machine gun fire came in my direction from the other island, I heard a voice call to me " Doc Doc come over here." The voice was a sergeant calling for me to come to his location on my left. I later found out that there were enemy bunkers straight-ahead and no American troops.
After I finished treating the sergeant's wound, I got up and started to move forward. He grabbed my shoulder saying, "Stay here Doc. We have all moved back now". We set up a medical treatment area where we finished treating the wounded and checked the men a second time for any missed wounds or injuries. The enemy fire finally let up enough so we could evacuate the wounded from our LZ.
While our artillery and gunships pounded the bunker complex, we dug our foxholes extra deep for the long night ahead. As night fell, we could also hear the enemy digging. We all thought that the enemy was digging in for their final stand.
During that night, I had a moment to reflect upon my friend, Preston Taylor's death and said a prayer for him and myself. Preston was so proud about going to jump school and being able to wear jump boots with his dress A's. I remember him showing me pictures of himself when he was taking Special Forces training. Now, he lies dead on the jungle floor. He and the other men who died with him were only a hundred yards out and we couldn't get to them.
I noticed more freedom birds flying in and out of Bien Hoi. My thoughts returned to home and my wife Carol. I wondered again, if I would ever get out of this living Hell alive. I went to sleep exhausted with tears in my eyes that night. I accepted the fact that I would probably be killed in the next day or weeks ahead.
During the night, I was awakened by screams of men yelling "Medic! Medic!" The wind had caused a stream of bullets from Spooky (C-130 with mini guns) to rain down onto our position. I, along with the other medics, went to the aid of the 6 wounded men. They were medevaced out without any further incidents.
In the morning, a mad minute of fire was ordered (when everyone fires their weapon at the enemy position). There was no return fire from the enemy. Later, a body of an enemy soldier was observed floating down the river. A patrol was sent out and they were able to recover the bodies of our fallen men without making any further contact. The enemy had moved out during the night and apparently crossed the river. As the patrol returned with our men, I sought out Preston so I could say a prayer over him, only to discover that none of the men were recognizable due to the extreme jungle conditions. The order was given to put the men into body bags immediately without identifying them. A small prayer service was said over all of the fallen men before they were sent out on a chopper. I still regret after 30 years, not being able to say a separate prayer over my friend, Preston Taylor.
The digging, which we heard the night before, was the enemy burying their dead.
The bunker complex contained supplies, which were stolen from the docks around Saigon. Some of the items found were rice from Texas, Nestles canned milk, and canned salmon from Japan.
On a personal note, this was an extremely fierce firefight during which I lost a personal friend. The thing that made this firefight different from any of the other firefights in which I have been in before and after, was the ability to watch the freedom birds coming and going from Bien Hoi before, during, and after the firefight. This was definitely a morale breaker for myself, just as I am sure it was for others. It was a constant reminder of home and the probability of not making it back in one piece.
The following men died in this firefight on June 2, 1969
* Alpha Company
+ Helicopter Crewmen
Soldiers who were Medevaced out on June 2, & 3, 1969
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