QL 19 was named in Bernard Fall's classic book "A Street Without Joy" about the French Indo-China War, and is the road where the French "Mobile Groupment 100" had been destroyed in 1954 in a series of ambushes between LZ Schueller and Bridge 26. The mission of securing Highway 19 turned out to be a mission without joy, as a lot of our troops were killed or wounded with not much to show for their sacrifice. In the Uplift and Bong Son area we had been taking the war to the enemy, looking for him and digging him out. We would be out there looking for the enemy until they found us. Here on Hwy19, for the most part, we were sitting ducks just waiting for them to bring the war to us. But orders are orders and that's what we did. There were some patrols, but these were limited and for the most part we would man Strong Points and Brides during the day and Bridges and LZ Schueller and LZ Action during the night.
The NVA would get to the Strong Points and the road and place mines during the night. There were over a hundred mines found on the road, SP's and Bridges in a period of a few months on QL19. One of the mistakes done by the French was sticking to the road where they were vulnerable to ambushes. We didn't learn from their mistakes. The ambush on the French pictured in the movie "We Were Soldiers", happened in the area where we were operating. Other scenes of the 1st Cav battle of Ia Drang and LZ Xray were further west and south of our area of operations. The Groupment Mobile 100 was ambushed several times in the area between LZ Schueller and Bridge 26 in 1954.
Seven days after we had moved to the An Khe/Schueller/Action area, some intellegence apparently indicated an impending attack on Bridge 26, a major bridge which spanned the Dak Xa Wong River, which had water year round.and became a torrent in the wet season. An Armored Personnel Carrier from the Scout Platoon had been sent to reinforce Bridge 26, commanded by Squad Leader John Hunt and including Specialist Roy Valadez, the driver George and Specialist Ignacio Evangelista. This brought the total number of men guarding the bridge to eleven. (We usually put two tanks on this bridge. The big bunker in the right of the photo contained a large Starlight scope, the type mounted on crew-served weapons such as the 106mm recoiless-rifle. With this device, the grunts in the bunker could view the approaches to the bridge clearly even on the darkest nights, making it almost impossible for the NVA to attack undetected.) (Strongpoint 7 Located on the ridge that ran down to the cut made for the highway, this strongpoint was intended to cover the blind spot that the ridge created for the Bridge 26 guards. This was another fairly safe strongpoint since it had excellent fields of fire and observation.)
On 24 August 1968, Bridge 26 was severely attacked and overrun by a large force of NVA.
Specialist Jack Noble on Bridge 23 a few miles away from Bridge 26 heard the transmissions on the radio. Lt Abernathy had requested permission to shoot at the NVA he had seen with the starlight scope crossing the highway to the west of the bridge. Permission to fire was denied, perhaps to avoid hitting the pipeline, and was told to keep the individuals under surveillance. Later on they were attacked by a large force of NVA with B-40 rockets, satchel charges and automatic weapons. Lt. Abernathy, Specialist Hearkins, and Specialist Gutierrez were killed in the initial barrage of B-40 rockets.. The NVA had set up on a small hill NW of the bridge and put one or more RPGs into the bunker. The next radio transmissions before the radio went dead said they were getting hit from the west. The last transmission was, "there's too many of them, they're all over us".
John Hunt, Specialist Valadez and Evangelista kept on firing with all they had. Evangelista had to change the barrel on his fifty as he had burned the first one from so much firing. It was through their efforts that the enemy was not allowed to blow up the bridge. At one point, squad leader John Hunt went to check on the Lt at the bunker, as there was no response on the radio. He found them dead, but while there he got into hand to hand combat with the NVA which had overrun that sector. During the fight, he was hit on the head with an AK 47. He rushed back to the APC, and told the crew, "Let's get the hell out of here". When they tried to get to bridge 25 to the east, the APC got mired with the concertina wire. Luckily they had been cleaning the APC during the day and SP Evangelista found some wire cutters, which were used to free the track.
According to official reports on the Battalion History for that date reads like this. Bridge 26 was attacked on 24 August 1968 by a large NVA force. There were 11 personnel guarding Bridge 26. Three personnel were KIA, and 6 were wounded in action.
That meant that only two survived without getting killed or wounded, Roy Valadez and Ignacio Evangelista who were ordered to go back to the bridge and take it. A relief force from LZ Action was sent. At daylight they were on the west side of the bridge and outside the wire.
A high ranking officer, possibly the battalion commander, arrived at the scene in the morning and at seeing all the expanded ammo on the APC, he mentioned: "You guys put up a great fight", and he added that he was going to put them up for a Silver Star, nothing ever happened. The reason given was that the lieutenant in charge had been killed.
About three weeks after the attack on Bridge 26 we were pulling night security on the perimeter of LZ Schueller when in the early early morning hours , a barrage of 82 mm mortars landed inside the perimeter from VIC of BR362465. A total of 18 82mm mortar rounds impacted within LZ Schueller wounding 5 U.S. personnel. Counter mortar fire was put into suspected mortar positions with unknown results.
One of the 82mm mortars hit my APC right on the M60 and shield blowing it up, just a ew inches away from coming in where I was lying down inside the APC. Earlier I had buttoned up and closed the hatch and put the 60s on the side of the APC, but was ordered by a new Plt. Sgt to open up the hatch and put the 60s back on the track. If I would have been killed by that mortar round I would have been pretty mad at that new Sgt. Roy Valadez and Ignacio Evangelista's track also got a direct hit, which prompted Evangelista to say- "These gooks really got it in for us".
On Sept. 26, 1968 there was another mortar and B-40 attack on Schueller, Strong Point #2 and Strong Point #3. One man died at Schueller, one man died on SP3 with an 82mm mortar that went inside the hatch killing him and destroyed the APC completely. Ignacio Evangelista was on Strong Point #2 when he got attacked, got a direct hit with a B40 rocket losing his leg. Before the attack there were some woodcutters revving up a truck like if it was stuck in the mud. It was a diversionary tactic so the NVA could sneak up and attack the APC. Strong Point #2 was one of those that was permitted to have weeds & vegetation grow 50 meters from the strong point. Evangelista lost a lot of blood in that attack and spent a couple of weeks in a comma at the 17 Field Hospital and was evacuated to the United States.
I spent a couple of weeks at the hospital recuperating from the wounds and went back to the field until the last part of October, 68. The biggest compliment I got in Vietnam was when someone called from the field on the radio to An Khe and said "Get Ordaz (2-6) out here, We need some leadership."
My sendoff was a barrage of mortars on Camp Radcliff on Oct. 31, 1968.