A Day Remembered!

– Recollections –

Remembering June 19th

On the morning of June 19th, I had just finished packing my bag to go on R & R on the next day. I was laying in my bunk on the ship when 1st Sergeant Crockett came hustling into the bay yelling, “Kerr, grab your gear and your weapon and report to the helo pad on the ship ASAP. Charlie Company is in a fierce fire fight, and your platoon leader has been wounded. By the time I got to the helo pad the chopper was already running, full of ammo and was ready to lift off. I did not find out this until our reunion, but Stan Cockerell was also on the chopper with me. Stan had been on sick call and was not given the okay to go out on patrol, but everyone was needed that day. Our chopper flew over the battle scene once before it landed. I helped Stan unload the ammo then asked someone where the 2nd platoon was located. I started to run in the direction of the platoon but enemy weapon’s fire was too great, bullets hitting all around me. I dove behind a rice paddy dike and I never reached the platoon until that night when the fire fight was finally over. I saw jets fly over and firing on the wrong side of the river, I could hear someone on the radio yelling to get the fire on the other side of the river. I was so scared that some of our guys were wounded or killed from friendly fire. I lost track of Stan somewhere as we manuerved towards the 2nd Platoon and I did not know where he went. I remember our troopers getting on the Tangos and going down the river and assualting the other side of the river, but that is all I can remember other than tallying up our losses for Lt. Jack Benedick at the battle’s end. It was a brutal day to say the least.

Platoon Sergeant Dan Kerr

2nd Platoon, Charlie Company

Written April 5, 2014

The last day I saw my friend, Timothy A. Johnson. . .

Every time I think about that night a cowardly sniper shot and killed Timmy Johnson, I swell up with emotion and anger. Obviously, I do not know whom that sniper was, or whether the sniper was eventually killed in other battles or firefights, or if that person is still walking around today. Whenever I see Vietnamese people these days that would be of age for that period, I wonder, are you the one who killed my friend. Sounds rather ridiculous I know. I should just let it go since it has been thirty-five years, but that was such a horrible day that I simply cannot forget.

I can still see Tim lying lifeless on poncho there on the dirt floor of that old grass hooch. My friend Tim was gone. He was lying there in full battle gear with his steel helmet still on his head. The sniper’s bullet had pierced through his helmet and Tim never had time to suffer as he was killed instantly. Tim, as usual was doing his job as a leader and as a diligent soldier. A superb soldier, he was always on guard and that is how his life ended – peering out a window, looking for any sign of enemy movement out there in the darkness. The battle, that 19th day of June 1967, had raged all day long and the shot down med-evac chopper still laid in a tangled heap upside down on the battlefield with Forrest Ramos and other dead troopers trapped inside. I suppose that is why Ramos’ death is recorded officially as June 20, 1967, but I know that chopper went down on the 19th because I aided Ramos onto the chopper telling him that everything was going to be all right, “you have a million dollar wound”. Then those VC bastards shot it down shortly after it was airborne. I still have a lot of hate in me from that war and I guess that’s why I remember it so well. I had just walked back into that hooch from my guard post on a make shift perimeter in the darkness to speak to Tim when I saw my friend and leader lying there on that poncho. I can’t help but believe that just maybe if I had came back moments earlier to talk with my friend about how things were going he would not have been at that window.

Timmy Johnson is on guard forever now. Rest in peace, my friend. There is really nothing further I can add, except that in the days and patrols following that battle of June 19th, I did some dark things that I am not proud of, as I was not in my right frame of mind – I took no prisoners.

John Bradfield – December 28, 2002

This monument near Ap Bac Village, built after 1975 by local residents, memorializes the soldiers who lost thier lives during the June 19, 1967 Battle. In typical communist propaganda, it honors their mighty victory over the 9th Infantry Division. The inscription reads (roughly): Soldiers of the Liberation Army, here in Can Giouc District, (Long An Province), between the dates 5 June 67 and 20 July 67, defeated units of the 2nd Brigade of the US 9th Division, destroying 1400 soldiers, 21 boats, and 12 jet aircraft.

John Young’s 2004 Trip to Vietnam. John served with the 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 4th/47th Battalion, 2nd Brigade throughout 1967.

Here’s John Young on the old battle field pointing out where the enemy had been entrenched and awaiting our arrival.
One of the small rivers near Ab Bac Village – it looks very peaceful today. . .

John wrote: We happened to be in Hanoi on the day that the Viets officially turned over the remains of an American MIA from 1966. There was this big, beautiful US Air Force transport, with a smart-looking US honor guard, and the ceremony was very formal as they carried the casket on board. I watched this and cried like a baby. . .

John wrote: Remember the news film of the NVA tanks crashing through the Palace gates in April ’75? This is said to be the first tank through. Our guide told us that it’s not actually THE tank, but it’s a Soviet T-55, just like the ones they used back then. This is on display on the Palace grounds. The fella I’m with is retired Major General Ben Harrison, who went with us this year. He commanded an aviation battalion for a year, then commanded 3rd Brigade 101st Abn, during the last big American fight (FSB Ripcord), March through July of 70. Ollie North recently did a show on this battle for “War Stories”. I learned a LOT from this man during the trip.

Written By Michael A. Snider � Alpha Company

My experiences and battles of Alpha Company, 4th/47th, 2nd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division from Jan 1967 through Aug 1967: I started out as a Senior Aid man in 1966 when the 9th was reactivated at Fort Riley, Kansas. I was the only Medic in A Company with all new recruits taking their Basic Training; I participated in every class and I was free to fire all of the weapons they trained with. I got to know most of the guys because I held sick call every morning before they went to class and I treated every sickness. If they had something I couldn’t treat then I would send them to the dispensary, this cut down on how many men missed training. I believe this helped everyone get as much training as possible. After Basic, everyone went through Advanced Infantry Training while the medics were sent to medical training at Fort Sam Houston.

Upon completion of AIT and Medical training, we all trained for South Viet Nam’s Mekong Delta. At that time I received my new Medics and they were assigned to their respective platoons. After 6 months of hard training we were ready for combat in Viet Nam. Right after New Year’s 1967, the 2nd Brigade packed up and traveled by troop train to Oakland, California where we boarded the USS General John Pope and sailed to South Viet Nam. We landed at Vung Tau in late January 1967 and they put us on a truck convoy to Camp Bearcat. We spent half the time building our base camp there with new tents, mortar trenches, latrines, a mess hall, the whole works. The rest of the time we went on patrols around Camp Bearcat. The few weeks that we were there we didn’t find the enemy except for their boobie traps, which wounded a number of our guys. This made us all angry because we weren’t actually fighting the enemy but we were losing men anyway. This went on until we had Bearcat all set up into a nice area to return to after each mission – then they shipped us down to Dong Tam in the Mekong Delta.

We did the same thing building our base camp, just like at Bearcat. We started patrolling the Delta via Huey choppers until we joined the Mobile Riverine Force, whereby the Navy took us to our patrol areas on Navy landing craft called Tango’s. During this time we finally made contact with the enemy. I don’t remember the date of our first battle with Alpha Company but we were a blocking force for a battalion operation. I think one of the other companies was being shot up pretty bad and they brought us in behind the enemy and we moved towards the battle. Our lead squad was about one hundred meters in front of us and a VC with an automatic machine gun pinned them down in an open rice paddy. The CO Captain Brazee wanted to go rescue them but we decided he was too valuable to do that, so me and a couple of other guys moved around to the side of the enemy, we were in a ditch. I jumped out of the ditch and was going to shoot the VC with the automatic but my M-16 wouldn’t fire. He saw me but I jumped back in the ditch before he got me. One of the other guys jumped up and blew him away. We found out later that some of our ammunition wasn’t any good – a big help that was in a firefight.

After we eliminated the VC we moved up to a tree line � we knew the Viet Cong were in there so four or five men with M-79’s lined up and fired into the tree line and wiped out the whole area. We then moved up and found 3 or 4 dead VC and then, after we sat there for a few minutes, we found a hidden foxhole � we decided to investigate and there was a VC with an AK-47 inside. Our CO saw him and instantly shot him dead. The VC’s AK-47 jammed or he would have got us all. We captured one other VC and sent him out by chopper. The other companies had already stopped the main force. This was our first battle and I was proud of our troops as they were plenty mad and ready to fight when we finally made contact. We had no casualties that day in our company. We had many skirmishes like that and we usually came back without too many injuries. Periodically, the Navy Tango’s took us to the Rung Sat Special Zone where the NVA and VC had been setting up for quite awhile without being bothered by us. We were now officially River Raiders. We had many fights in the months to come and lost men here and there. Usually, when we had Battalion size operations we ran into many NVA & VC elements and usually kicked their butts. The 4th/47th had more battles than any unit in Viet Nam during 1967.

The worst battle for Alpha Company was on Fathers Day, 19 June 1967 while on a battalion size operation near Ap Bac Village. Alpha Company moved in and unloaded in some rice paddies and our boats moved back out on the river as fire support. We had moved across several rice paddies and were nearing a tree line in front and to the right of our unit. To our left was the river we landed on. Our company commander radioed and asked for artillery into the tree line because it looked suspicious, but the request was denied because no enemy had been sighted and there were civilians in the area. So at this point we moved on, the lead squad was almost to the tree line and the rest of us were in open rice paddies spread out across two or three rice paddies. All at once all hell broke loose. The NVA and VC had permanent bunkers set up made of cement. The tree line was in an L shape covering the front and right side of us. They had 50 calibers and AK-47’s shooting at us in crossfire; our men in the middle of the rice paddies didn’t have a chance and 75 % of Alpha Company was wiped out in the first 5 minutes of the battle. The ones who were not hit initially were trying to find cover but couldn’t. I was in the middle and I was shot in the flak jacket – I was hit with an AK-47 in the back and it knocked me about 5 feet. I lay there wondering how bad I was hit, so I felt around and couldn’t find any wounds. The bullets went through the first layer of flak and went out the side of my flak jacket. Before the operation started my CO made me put on my flak jacket – I was not going to wear it because it was so hot. Believe me, I always wore one after that day. The longer we laid there the VC began zeroing in on each one of us. Bullets kept getting closer and closer to each of us. I decided that I was just as safe running around trying to patch people up, so I did. I don’t know why but I cannot remember how many men I patched up that day, but I kept moving from soldier to soldier. For some reason I wasn’t worried about getting killed, all I could think about was how the hell was I going to get all of these wounded men out of here. All of my medics were killed within a short time – they did patch up some men before they were shot. By the time I got to them they were already dead. I patched up one soldier and a chopper landed at that time so I picked him up and carried him to the chopper. But they were receiving too much fire so they lifted off hitting us with the tail of the chopper. The rotor barely missed us and we went flying into the mud. A few of the wounded did make it on that chopper; our 1st Sergeant was one of them. That was the only chopper that made it in and out that day. After I helped as many as I could find still alive we started trying to move our wounded down a little ravine to the Tangos. There were not enough of us left to do too much, but we called in artillery and air strikes, which kept the enemy from getting the few of us that were left. Cobras came in behind us shooting rockets over our heads; they were so close you couldn’t stand up without being hit. This went on all night, finally one of the other companies either B or C Company moved up to cover for us for the night. It’s been a long time but I only remember me, two RTO’s and the CO were still standing that night. I had all of my equipment shot off of me in that battle but was never wounded. The good Lord decided it wasn’t my turn to go so I didn’t. We lost 40 some men that day with at least 140 more wounded. The next morning I think the rest of the Battalion moved in and cleared the area. At least 250 enemy soldiers were killed that day. Twice, people who had made it out by chopper reported me killed in action. The few of us that made it were sent back to Bearcat to receive new troops for the company. I lost many friends who I had doctored for practically two years – after the battle we sat and cried for quite awhile. The medics that were under me were the best guys in the world and they were dear friends of mine. I have always felt bad about me making through that battle when none of my friends did. There were more battles after that but not with the buddies I spent almost two years taking care of. This was just one incident where a lot of good soldiers were lost. I also lost my brother to the communists two months later. I feel I (and my family) gave a lot for our country but still not as much as they did. They gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country and no one should ever forget them. May God Bless them all.

Remembering June 19th � Battle Near Ap Bac Village

My memories of June 19 do not jive with many accounts that I have read in a number of books written about Viet Nam. I had just returned back to my unit from my out of country R & R on June 18th and was told I would be carrying the radio for Sgt Zimmer the next morning. So in the early hours of June 19th we went out as usual, walking through rice paddies and such. We were being guided by our Battalion Commander, Colonel Tutwiler and he was directing us which way to go and for how many clicks. Since I was on the radio I heard all of his instructions – I was Blitzer 2 Alpha. We were told to go toward a horseshoe shaped tree line. We were crossing a rice paddy just before noon when we got the call to hit the deck because Sgt. John Hill who was on point had spotted a claymore, so we all hit the deck. That’s when all hell broke loose; I was 5 yards in front of Sgt Zimmer. We were in no way bunched up; we were spread out so far that we covered several rice paddies.

As I was trying to get a sense of where the firing was coming from, my radio started slamming me around and I couldn’t figure out what the hell was happening. I was told later that 50 caliber rounds were hitting my radio and it looked like the 4th of July. I was looking to the front when someone called my name, so I looked left then the lights went out. I woke up about an hour later, I thought I was dead but I could still hear the sounds of one hell of a firefight but I couldn’t see anything at all and I figured I must be blind. Then I wiped the blood out of my eyes and I saw that they had left me for dead when they saw my helmet go flying and blood splattering. I looked forward to see that my guys were scattered behind berms and firing into the tree line so I rolled over and unassed the radio and spun the dials as I was taught. Then I grabbed my M-16 and my ammo and grenades and ran as low as I could up to a berm and got down behind it. I was firing from there when I saw a Huey that had wounded on it go down.

Our artillery support was constant; every time a shell went off we were showered with shrapnel. This went on for hours. One soldier who had been shot in the face came stumbling towards me; I jumped up pulled him down. I had the mother of all headaches; I must have had a concussion as I kept passing out. Finally when it started to get dark the firing slowed down so we thought we could crawl out. We started crawling when it got dark. We got about halfway to the river when Puff the Magic Dragon started dropping flares – that enabled the VC to see our positions and they started firing at us again. Once Puff stopped dropping flares we were able to crawl to the river where the Navy was waiting. A Navy corpsman put us on boats and took us to Nha Be and I was sent to 3rd field hospital.

So I want to be clear; all of those accounts of us being tired and causing us to bunch up is a load of BS, since when could a rifle company’s men decide which way they would go? It’s BS.

Sonny Castellano

Alpha Company, 4th/47th

May 1966 – Jan 1968

Memories of June 19th

By John Sclimenti � 1st Platoon, Charlie Company

To my memory we got the op order late that night on the 18th. A few NCO’s, John Young and the other team leaders went and we sat in the isle between the bunks on our barracks ship. It sounded like Charlie Company was going to be a blocking force or on standby.

The op order reported that the Viet Cong had lots of people maybe a battalion or more and they had crusade weapons and automatic rifles.

I got up early that morning and went down to the floating barge tied to the ship where ammunition was stored. I did my normal thing before my team went out on a mission, got ammo for the team rifles, tried to find clean ammo for the machine gun and opened up the wooded crates for hand grenades and smoke grenades for my squad.

We all took off in the Tangos and were on our way. I didn’t detect any feelings from the guys other than this was just another search and destroy mission – I remember the smell of diesel fumes blowing in the boat and we were all cramped for space.

We landed near a small village and we were looking around like normal. I remember it was a nice sunny day and not too hot yet; lunch was called and the guys were spread out in the village. There was a large pond and the houses were spaced a good 50 feet or more apart.

The funny thing happen is that one of the guys saw a fishing pole leaning against a hut; he grabbed it and was walking by a very large pond. All at once a really old mamma son came out and was yelling something as the solder was walking down towards the pond. I remember her face showed she was quite upset, her black teeth was shining as the sun hit them (she chewed beetle nut) aand I thought she was mad at him for taking the fishing pole. But that was not the case. As I and the other solders looked at the pond we caught a person walking on a long narrow dock that almost went to the center of the pond. We watched this person walking toward a very small like shack at the end of the dock. The walls of the shack just went up to your waist, it had a grass roof. It was a mini gazebo ha-ha. As we watched the man go inside and then he ducked down, we could only see his head.

By his motion it looked like he took down his pants and stooped down below the wall. All of a sudden something dropped into the water. Then all of a sudden the water below brewed up and what we saw was fish fighting for what ever dropped in the water (it was like a horror move with Piranha fish attacking). Then it dawned on us, this was the way this village kept there village clean by using this pond as their sewer. This is why the old lady didn’t want us to fish in the pond.

We thought about it for awhile. We were finishing our lunch when every radio in listening distance went off. I could see the officers scurrying around giving orders. We got moving as fast as we could to the river where our boats met us. The word was that A Company was hit hard and needed our help.

As we were waiting for the boats all you could see is the guys checking there weapons, checking there ammo, some of the guys wanted to know if anybody had extra ammo. Some guys dumped anything that they didn’t need to carry incase we needed to move fast; all of our RTO’s were in full conversations. We were next to one and we could hear automatic gun fire.

When the boats arrived it was silent in the boat as we traveled down the river except for our guys clicking and clacking their rifle receivers – our weapons were being prepared for combat. As we got close to the landing zone we could see a Monitor boat firing on a bunker with the Forty caliber cannon. My guess it was about 50 yards from the bunker. After the boat poured heavy fire on the bunker all the guys in our boat roared with yay’s and hooaawhs. We thought that was the end of the gooks. Smoke was just clearing then suddenly the bunker fired back at the Monitor rat tat rat tat rat tat, that deep fearful sound of a 50 cal machine gun. That didn’t phase the Monitor boat one bit, now it pulled up to 25 yards and there it went again boom, boom, boom, boom repeatedly� our guys in our boat cheered again. We knew the bunker had it this time – SUPRISE NOT SO – THE 50’S RANG AGAIN.

The Monitor this time pulled up I swear 10 yards away and didn’t let up boom, boom, boom, boom, boom; the Forties roared and there was nothing but dust and smoke clouds everywhere.

Our boat went wild with cheers, this time the Monitor was successful in silencing the Viet Cong.

Our Tango moved us to shore as we embarked in a fast manner while being cautious from the reports blasting over our radios. So far so good as we were moved towards the other Companies without any shots being fired.

As we approached we could see the other Company on our left and rear in a tree line. What was weird some were standing up and eating lunch. A few shots were heard in the distance. We got directed to secure a rice paddy berm that was straight ahead – a tree line was out about 300 to 500 yards away.

We had lunch after we set up, everybody was in place; then you know the rest of the story��