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In war there is no second prize for the runner-up.
-- General Omar Bradley
Now, the way I recall it seems to be quite a bit different than the “official” version as reported in the “After Action Reports” on record for the early morning of 30 January 1968. Myself being a trooper of E Co.-Recon, 1st Bn./501st Inf., 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division and being a participant in the defense of LZ Jane against the assault upon it in those early morning hours that turned out to be the onset of the 1968 TET Offensive, that is, as perpetrated 1 day early in error by a number of communist forces in I Corps.
The 2nd Brigade of the 101st had been "Opcon-ed" (put under operational control of) the 1st Air Cavalry Division and ordered to move "lock, stock and barrel" from its temporary base so graciously given us (another story) by the 25th Infantry at their base in III Corps at Cu Chi up to a new A.O. (Area of Operation) in I Corps near the DMZ.
We were in the process of doing just that (which required a truck ride from Cu Chi through Saigon to Bien Hoa then an airplane ride from Bien Hoa to Phu Bai and another truck ride from Phu Bai through Hue to our particular assigned areas) when all this came down and the TET Offensive began.
As would be expected Recon Platoon was one of the first outfits sent and until the late afternoon of 29 January had been out and about in the "bush" in the vicinity of LZ Jane, which happened to be a brand new LZ and still in the process of being fortified.
It was located on a small, gradually sloping knoll or rise a short distance (about 4 or 5 kilometers) southwesterly of the town of Hai Lang near Quang Tri, Vietnam. It was intended to be the base of operations for the 2nd Brigade of the 101st, I believe, although it didn't end up as such.
Anyway, it seems that wherever Recon went we noticed very heavy enemy troop movement but for reasons we didn't really fathom at the time they consistently avoided contact. So, the afternoon of 29 January we were ordered back to LZ Jane purportedly to assist in it's fortification by filling sand bags to build up the defensive bunkers in a certain sector of the perimeter being established around the LZ.
Being as we were only a platoon-sized unit we were assigned a fairly small section of the perimeter to man... three or four bunkers I believe. The remainder of the perimeter was manned by two (perhaps three) of the line companies of the 1st/501st and I hope the troopers of those line units forgive me but I don't recall exactly which ones they were. Also onsite were a couple Batteries of 105's I believe from the 1st of the 321st Artillery, some engineers from the 326th (helping to build up the fortifications) and some REMF's with 2nd Brigade HQs. If I missed anyone or misnamed anyone I apologize, as I wasn't afforded much time to acquaint myself with the occupants as the turn of events unwound.
In spite of there supposedly being some sort of stand-down or "truce" being in force for some Southeast Asian holiday or something, we all felt an uneasiness. An uneasiness that had an air of something rather heavy-duty about to come down. We manned our assigned defensive positions and worked out our individual watch times but I'm sure none of us really assumed a completely restful mode whether on watch or not. I, myself, found it quite hard to get any sleep at all (of course after having just come in from the bush where there was generally very little sleep a person got quite used to it) so I was up and very awake at approximately 2:00 A.M. when the assault came.
Now I have absolutely no idea why the "official" reports are so underestimated because I estimate that we were hit by at least a battalion-sized unit of NVA and VC supported by a company-sized unit of Sappers. The Sappers were totally suicidal in their attack. They were dressed in scanty loincloths and headbands and would run full steam (often uphill) with satchel charges (consisting of TNT with a blasting cap in a canvas bag), leaping over concertina wire 2 or 3 strands high (at least 6' high) and attempting to dive into one of the defensive bunkers while setting off the satchel charge, thus eliminating those manning the bunker but also annihilating themselves. All this while their cohorts were launching a full fledged assault on the entire perimeter utilizing Mortars, AK's, RPD's, B-40 rockets and RPG's and goodness knows what else.
The battle raged intensely for hours and they managed to breach the perimeter in the area of C Company (I believe), which happened to be on the opposite side of the perimeter from us. This was rather hairy as we had green tracers coming at us from one direction and red tracers coming at us from the other. They eventually managed to route out and eliminate all the enemy soldiers inside the perimeter. The two Batteries of 105's (six guns, I believe) were firing at point-blank range with grapeshot and flechette rounds. I recall firing my M-16 until the barrel actually glowed in the darkness. Deciding that it would be quite dangerous to continue use of an M-16 with a red-hot barrel I quickly glanced around and noticed that the machine gunner a few positions over (one of the line company positions) had taken a hit, as did his assistant. I have no idea how I made it in all that shit but somehow I got to their position and replaced the wounded gunner. With the aid of the assistant who wasn't hit that bad (bless him, whoever he was) we managed to fend off continued attempts to breach that area until sunrise when they broke off their assault and pulled back to lick their wounds.
One rather amusing side-note... The trooper that was assigned to us as 4.2 Mortar F.O. had spent the previous day trucking supplies and equipment up from Phu Bai and upon completion of his final run sometime after dark he was so exhausted that he crawled off into a gully somewhere inside the perimeter and fell fast asleep. Well, he must've been really exhausted because he managed to sleep through the entire ordeal, even while B-40's were hitting mere meters from his position. Can you imagine?
Daylight brought to reality just how intense a battle it really had been. And again I totally disagree with the "official" reports because there were dead and dying enemy soldiers sometimes a couple high strewn about the entire perimeter. The "official" "After-Action Report" cites a mere 14 enemy KIA's however I had the unfortunate duty that day (that is, after it was determined that the enemy had completely broken off) of searching through the personal effects of all the dead enemy soldiers looking for anything of use intelligence-wise, then loading the bodies (sometimes two or three high) onto mules (no, not the animal but a rear-engine four wheel drive vehicle consisting mainly of a flat bed with a rather short railing around it and just enough room in front for a driver with the open-air driver's seat being at the very front and the foot-pedals extending out in front) to be taken to a pit hastily dug out by the Engineers with a small bulldozer and unceremoniously buried between layers of earth and lime (to help quell the stench).
Now, some of my memories of my stint in Nam are rather fuzzy and faded through time but this I recall vividly as we were somewhat "green" or what was referred to as "cherries" having only been in country approximately 6 weeks or so and although prior to this we had been involved in what might be considered "minor skirmishes" this was essentially our first experience with a major engagement (of course there were to be many more especially after the onset of TET). Personally, I recall loading up at least 4 or 5 of these mules with approximately 7 or 8 enemy KIA's each and they were still in the process of cleaning up when Recon received orders to establish squad-sized ambush patrols at a number of locations out and around LZ Jane to essentially serve as early warning against a second and/or renewed attack that following evening.
I would've been perfectly happy loading up bodies clear into the night rather than go out on what we were sure was a totally suicidal mission. As it turned out I guess the enemy had had quite enough of us from the night before and none of the ambush patrols had any contact what so ever. Whew! What a relief! It seems that the enemy units that had attacked LZ Jane that morning decided or were ordered to assist other enemy units in the area to take and hold the nearby town of Hai Lang on the morning of 31 January 1968, the "official" onset of the TET Offensive of 1968. Hence we start upon an entirely new story, but basically that's the story of the assault on LZ Jane. At least that's how I remember it and since re-establishing contact with a number of my fellow troopers from Recon who also experienced the Hell of that morning at LZ Jane I'm much more assured that my recollections are very much the same as theirs.
Note: by Michael Bradshaw, E Co.-Recon, 1stBn. /501stInf., 101stAbn. Div.
This Day in History
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