The experience of our pilot had saved us, speed was the key. Our chopper was hit twice near the tail. The second impact actually swung the tail slightly around.
The pilot straightened out and tilted the chopper back, its main rotor gathering air for a quick stop and landing. Before the skids had touched the ground we were off loading. Sgt Kirk started running toward the treeline and slightly to the right. He had told me to stay close with him so I did. There was no weapons fire at all coming from the trees. What was going on?
I figured out later that the NVA was waiting until as many men as possible were on the ground. Nervy bastards, they didn't want the assault called off. We found out later why. (A note here, as one of the first units to encounter the NVA and VC in the Central Highlands, we were a learning experience for later "Lessons Learned" classes.)
Sgt Kirk and I were about halfway to the treeline, I looked ahead and saw where he was headed. A large bomb crater left by the B-52's. All the trees in a good 50 meter area had been flattened. All of a sudden all hell broke loose. The treeline seemed to erupt in auto weapons fire. I heard a "twip" "twip" sound around my head and it was several seconds before I realized they were bullets. I tried to run faster but, I felt like I was moving in slow motion.
I had the dumbest thought (for the situation) I remembered when just a few months earlier I has lettered on our high school track team. Now running with my pack, the Prick 25 and my weapon, I felt like a snail. I looked down and my legs were churning and intellectually I knew I was making good time, psychologically my brain was convinced I was running in molassas. I just followed Kirk, I didn't know what else to do. I felt confused and if a gook had popped up right in front of me, I'm not sure what I would do. Being on the first chopper and heading toward the right the way Kirk did saved us.
I glanced to the left and saw two of the guys from company C get hit. They came to a disheveled sprawl in the high grass. I started toward the nearest one and I heard Sgt Kirk screaming at me to keep moving. The crater was only feet away. Suddenly mortor rounds started dropping all around the LZ.
Sgt Kirk and I sprawled head first into the crater. I immediately turned back and looked over the edge of the crater toward the two men that I had seen go down. Neither of them was moving.
Sgt Kirk yelled at me to contact the other Rto's with us. He must have seen the stricken look on my face. His voice actually softened and he said, " There was nothing you could do, they were dead when they hit the ground." Then he said "we have to get cover fire in here or we are all dead. Do your job." I called every call sign I knew without a response. I found out later the other RTO's were just trying to survive the next 5 minutes.
Suddenly I heard Capt Chavis's voice come over the radio. I couldn't believe how calm he sounded. He said, "well boys we're really in the shit now."
I looked at Kirk and he had a small smirk on his face. The crazy son of a ***** was actually enjoying this!!!
I stuck just my head above the edge of the crater. About 100 meters away I saw three gooks making their way through the trees toward us. I switched my 16 to full auto and waited. When they were about 50 meters away I let loose a short burst. Two of them went down. One of them got back up and limping he and the other started back into the trees, using them as cover. I emptied my magazine and didn't hit shit. Hell I barely qualified as a marksman. (What a stupid thought to have right now.)
All of a sudden I realized I had just shot two human beings and a feeling passed over me that I can't explain to this day. I ducked back down in the crater. Kirk looked at me and said "Having fun?'
He was leaning back against the crater wall, smoking a cigarette. No wonder everyone said he was crazy!
Suddenly I heard a loud "swooshing" sound and there was a deafning explosion at the edge of the crater. Dirt and rocks showered both of us. My introduction to a RPG. I heard several more rockets coming in and detonating, some near, some far.
All of a sudden I realized it has gotten quite. I only heard sporadic fire from M16's and that gradually stopped. I looked up at the edge of the crater and expected any moment to see a bunch of gook heads appear.
NOTE: This is the first time our commanders became aware of how extensivly the NVA and VC dug tunnels and entire rooms underground. The strikes from the B-52's had barely scratched them. We set down in a hornets nest.
The decision was made somewhere to pull us out and saturate the area with arty fire, air strikes and napalm. Sounded like a damn good idea to me. Suddenly a solid line of Huey gunships appeared over the treeline, one line on the right and one line on the left. The doorgunners were sweeping the treeline with a
withering wall of fire from the M-60's. Sweeping up and back around the pilots fired rockets into the treeline.
As that continued other choppers started setting down, the doorgunners waving frantically at us to board. I saw our men pop up from everywhere and head toward the choppers. As we went back toward the choppers we stopped and picked up our dead and wounded. Sgt Kirk and I were
carrying one of the men we had seen get hit. Horribly I saw what Sgt Kirk had meant.
I tried not to look.
We had barely cleared the LZ when we heard the shriek of arty fire coming in and the trees around the LZ seemed to actually lift off the ground. Just out of sight of the LZ we looked up and saw jets heading toward the LZ on afterburners. Caught the bastards in the open this time. We found out later we had 6 of ours KIA and 17 wounded.
I felt as if our mission was a failure. Our commanders saw it completely differently. They considered it an overwhelming sucess. That is when I realized that intelligence gathered and the chance to draw the enemy into the open, is paid for with blood. We also found out later we had done far more damage to the enemy than I could imagine.
We set back down in our staging area. Medics were taking care of the dead and wounded.
Sgt Kirk came back from toward the C/P. He had that smirk on his face again. Oh shit.
"Boys try and get some rest, as soon as the big guns are finished tonight, we're going back in at dawn." I look down and I see I am covered with blood from the thighs down.
I know where it came from.
I wonder if my mother is alright, I know she worries about me.
Wow, GD, THAT WAS A GOOD READ. THANKS. WELCOME HOME.