When the sun came up September 10, 1969, it was Sunday morning and LZ Ike looked much worse than it did when we arrived the evening before.  The first thing I remember seeing was Johnson peeing in the water that was standing in the LZ. I thought, Oh my God! I was in that water last night. I saw other guys using the same water to shave. The battalion commander told us that were not leaving Ike until we had gooks piled in the wire all around the berm. We had several piled in the wire that day. One of them I shot. I felt pretty good about it too. I knew that several of us hit him at the same time, but I called him mine. Brown came over to me and told me that I would be getting Blue 3. He said “Go ahead now and settle in, it looks like we gonna be here for a while.” I went over to Blue 3 where I met Jackson. He started telling me how to operate a mortar. I interrupted and told him that I had been trained on mortars in AIT and in NCO school. Jackson looked at me and said, “Man that don’t mean nothing, man, like I mean, that don’t mean shit. You’ll have to learn everything all over again cause you in a damn war now man. Don’t be talk’n shit bout what you know. I mean, I’ll help you here and all, but don’t try to tell me what you know.” I said, “OK.” I looked around and saw that the aiming stakes were positioned wrong. I asked Jackson why the aiming stakes were set the way they were. Jackson said, “There you go talking shit man. You need to keep your mouf shut til ye know what the hell ya takin bout. You understand me?”

  I thought Jackson and I would never be able to get along. That proved to be wrong. Of course, I had to prove myself to him, but he turned out to be a good guy. I had noticed that the front aiming stakes were set 180 degrees out from the rear aiming stakes. That was wrong. I knew that the stakes were supposed to be at 0400 and 2800. There was complete logic to that placement due to the fact that the M34 aiming sight on a mortar sets right next to the barrel. I walked over and asked on of the other guys at another gun pit why they had the aiming stakes set up like that and he just said, “Cause that’s what Brown said to do. You don’t need to be asking questions and acting like you know something that he doesn’t know because he can really get pissed off.” I thanked him and went back to my gun.

    I heard the phone in the gun pit ring. Jackson answered the call. When he got off the phone, he said we had a fire mission to the north. He said he would set the gun and I could pull the charge. I asked what is the charge? Jackson said they didn’t tell him that yet, that they always call back and get that. It turned out that it was taking at least 3 calls on the land line to get a fire mission set up. The first one was to let the gunner know which direction they would be firing. The next one was to get the deflection and elevation. Then they would call back and get the charge. I was amazed but kept my mouth shut.

    Later that day Brown came by my gun pit. He asked me if everything was going ok. I told him everything was fine but that I was a little confused about several things concerning the fire mission process.  Brown asked me what I was confused about. I mentioned the placement of the aiming stakes. I said the way your fire mission comes out you could easily fire 180 degrees in the wrong direction. He said no that can’t happen. We tell them what direction the fire mission is going. I replied that I felt someone was going to get hurt because it would be too easy for a new person, like myself to misinterpret the direction. Brown called me a damn cherry as he walked away.

  That night I stayed up on guard duty in my gun pit until about 1:30. Jackson was with me in the pit. We did not talk much. I was watching what everyone was doing on the LZ especially in the other mortar gun pits. I believe Jackson thought he had intimidated me and was feeling pretty good about that. I was in people watching mode. I felt that there was a lot to learn. Maybe the way Brown did things was better than what I had been taught. I kept going over in my mind the processes that were being used and comparing them to what I had been taught stateside.

  At about 1:30 Jackson suggested that I should get some sleep. I asked where. He said around there in that hooch. I eased around into the hole designed as the entrance to the hooch. It was spooky in there. There was an air mattress laying on two pallets. I laid down on the air mattress. There was dirt on the mattress. It stuck my skin like sandpaper. It was hot in there. I sat up to take may T-shirt off. Bumped my head on the metal. “God, what am I doin here?” Got my shirt off, put it in my steel pot and laid back with my head in the steel pot. Just as I was starting to settle down, there was a turmoil and a noise from some king of animal. I thought, “What tha hell was that?” I crawled out of the hooch much faster than I had gone in.

    “Jackson, what’s with the noise in the back of the hooch?” “Oh, some people been throwing empty C cans in the back of the hooch. Some rats are getting into them. Go on back in there. They ain’t going to bother you.” “Have you slept in there with them?” “Yeah man, all the time.”

    I crawled back in the hole, laid back down on the mattress, put my red lens flash light on an ammo box beside the air mattress, and was determined to go to sleep. I did just that. I was tired. It had been two days since I slept. I was out of it. Some time passed and I awoke feeling weight on my chest. I opened my eyes, but I could not see anything. It was really dark in that hole. I eased my hand over the light that I had laid on the ammo box. When I felt the light, I turned the switch to on. OH, MY, GOD!, the biggest gopher rat I had ever seen was laying on my chest facing me. I screamed, the rat panicked, and ran rapidly across my left shoulder, scratching me with every step. I was instantly out of the hooch. I started to tell Jackson what happened and he started laughing. I asked Jackson if he really slept in that hole, and he said yeah, they don’t bother me. Maybe they’re afraid of me cause I’m black. I thought Jackson was crazy.

    The next day, we had to wear flack jackets all day because we kept getting incoming mortar rounds. Every time about three guys got together, a round would fall right where they were standing. We could hear the tubes pop out in the jungle. Everyone would take cover, and we did not get anyone hurt during the incoming. Late in the day, someone saw a reflection about 200 meters outside the berm. They got a sniper out to the berm, and after a few minutes the sniper popped the dud right between the eyes.

    On Wednesday, a detail was organized to bury the dead gooks. It was hot, and they had been laying out there in the hot sun since Sunday. I thought I would walk out to see the one that I had shot. I had looked over the berm several times at him, but I could not get a good look at him from inside the berm. An old boy from Chicago was on the detail. They had put on gas masks, so I did the same. Chicago started trying to be funny. He chastised one of the dead gooks for being in his wire. The gook was in a rather contorted position laying in the wire. Chicago hit the gook with a rake. When he did, the gooks hand fell off and maggots poured out of his arm. Chicago turned around toward us and was throwing up into his gas mask. He was fighting with the straps to get them loose. Somebody yelled, “Somebody better help Chicago.” Someone else said, “Looks like he’s on his own.” I knew I had seen enough so I went back inside the berm.

    We were on LZ Ike for several more days. We then moved to a bridge near Phoc Vinh, north of Saigon. We were there to guard the bridge. We were guarding on one side of the river and the ARVNs were guarding the other side. That was a good place. Nothing ever happened there. We went swimming in the river, shot rats, and did a little target practicing. I set up a hooch on top of a bunker. I did not want to sleep in a bunker. A few days after we got there, I had a heat stroke. I got medevac’d. When I came back, I was wearing glasses. The doctors said I would have to wear the glasses all the time. They were right.

    At the bridge was the first time I remember Capt. Jones. Jones was a West Point graduate. He was a really nice guy, but he never tied his boot strings and never buttoned his shirt.

    A few days after I had the heat stroke, I was sent out to the field with a small group. We set up a little perimeter. We dug a depression for the mortars and used the dirt to fill sand bags. The first night, an artillery round went right over our heads and landed 100 meters beyond our position. Everyone hit the dirt. The LT called on the radio to ask for a cease fire. He was told that there wasn’t anyone firing in our direction. Another round came over. I don’t remember what the outcome was, but we did not get hit. Maybe it was a gook rocket.

    While we were out there a chopper landed a short distance away to resupply us. Some guys went out to the chopper to get the supplies. When they came back, they had milk in quart cartons. White and chocolate milk. I love milk. Someone came walking up and said we would have to share the milk. I had caught one. It had been on ice and was very cold. I opened the carton and turned it up with great anticipation. After about four big swallows I realized the milk was spoiled and clabbered. I blew the crap out after having swallowed way too much. I felt sick for a while after that. The milk had been allowed to sit on a runway somewhere until it spoiled and then they put it on ice. That was typical of the things we got in the field.

    I was sitting writing a letter when a Lt. came into the area and asked where Richards was. I answered. He called me over to an area away from the other men. He said, “Have you been trained in mortars?” I said yes, in AIT and again in NCO school. He informed me that some men who were out on listening post got killed in one of our sister battalions. They were killed because the men on mortars fired their guns 180 degrees away from the intended direction of fire. I continued to listen. He said, “I understand you expressed concern over procedures we have been using.” I said, “Yes sir, I have been very concerned.” The Lt also stated that he understood that I had told some people that this was a possibility. I answered in the affirmative. He then said, “I need you to explain to me how everything is supposed to be done in mortars so I can get this mess straightened out.” It was clear at that point that he wanted information that he could use for his advancement. I explained that mortar training is a complex undertaking that cannot be just explained. I told him that he could not possibly learn everything about mortars in  a few minutes. I suggested that he get a training manual for mortars. He said he had checked on that and none were available. He said, “You will have to write the manual.” I thought, “You are out of your frigin gourd.” And then answered that it would take some time. He instructed me to start giving it some thought and put my ideas down on paper. He said, “I’ll look over it and make any corrections that are needed. Oh, by the way, how much education do you have?” I told him I had a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture. He looked at me and said, “Why in the hell are you in mortars?” And I said, “Military intelligence, SIR.” I did not see him again until we got back to the bridge.

    We rode back to the bridge on twice and a half trucks. It was the dry season, we were on a dirt road, and there was at least one truck ahead of us. I was sitting at the back. Slim Eubanks was sitting in the middle. Little Alabama (Charles Rushing), was between us. Alabama fell asleep and laid over on Slim. I looked down after a while and Alabama’s left ear was completely full of dirt. The dirt was now draining down the side of his face. I pointed it out to Sim. Slim said, “Ah don’t bother the little boy, he needs some sleep.” I believe Alabama may have been in Slim’s gun squad. I will see both of them next week at our reunion. They can clarify this point. When we got back to the bridge, Alabama could not hear a thing in his left ear.

    I had made several notes and started an outline of the training procedures that would be needed. At the bridge, I began to write my training procedure in earnest. I got assigned as the section leader over three mortars. I believe this was the thank you that I received for straightening out the mess we had. I knew there would be reluctance on the part of the men in the platoon. I mean after all, I had only been with this group of men a short time, Brown was gone, they didn’t trust me, they didn’t even know if I actually knew any more about mortars than they did. There was some pretty sharp harassment. And then, I started the classes. At first the other section leader, Sgt. Keeton, a really good guy even though he was a lifer, did not like being instructed by me. He had more time in grade than I did and he told me that. He said, “You should not be instructing me, I should be instructing you. I have been in the Army longer than you and I have more time in grade. They should let you write the class and I should be the instructor.” I had only been in the Army about 14 months, but that was long enough to learn that knowledge is of little value in the Army compared with time in grade. And some people can’t figure out why we could not win that damn war! I’m sure the military has changed by now (yeah-right), but the idea that a man can do anything just because he went through the training is ludicrous. Well, I’m just glad I live in America where I can make fun of dumb shits who ran the Army during Vietnam.

    Let me clear up exactly who I am talking about! Though I was a member of the Young Democrats at UGA in 1964 and worked hard to help get Lyndon Johnson elected, I would have to put him at the top to the dumb shit list for being big enough fool to get us committed to Vietnam with no plan to win the war. Damn right, I said WAR! When I came home from Vietnam, my father-in-law, who served in England and North Africa during World War II, said, “What if you had gone to a real war?” Well, from all the guys who served in Vietnam and many of who gave the ultimate sacrifice, let me explain that anytime you are in a foreign country trying to either kill or keep from getting killed because you were sent by the United States of America, you are in a “By God, REAL WAR”. My second tier of dumb shits would have to be all the politicians who rubber stamped everything Johnson suggested. They knew that Johnson wanted to be a domestic president and knew nothing about executing a war. I won’t even mention the puppets Johnson had at the cabinet level. For the most part, they had to be brainless, or they would have given Johnson better direction. Oh well, I said I was not mentoning them.

    And now let’s get to the generals in Vietnam. This was a new war, a new enemy, a new arena, and they were clueless as to how to deal with an enemy that did not wear uniforms and who hid in the jungle to ambush and kill by savage methods. But with us as rats in their new lab they experimented with various tactics, but never seemed to figure it out. We all said then, and I still say now; if we had been given the order, we could have kicked every ass in Vietnam in 6 months. Some said we would have needed to get all the rear echelon trash out into the field to fight, but I maintain that they would have made matters worse. No, all we needed was a winning policy from the top down. We should never have entered Vietnam without a end-game in mind that was “us winning”. We have had the same problem ever since. I’m on the box, so I will finish. If we ever get out of Iraq and put our full focus on Afghanistan, where it should have stayed in the beginning, and then win in Afghanistan, we must redefine our military actions moving forward.

    And now, back to the mortar problem. We started the classes with lots of laughing on the part of the peope who had to attend the classes. We started out with the basics. I taught them the proper method for setting up and laying in the motar. I taught them to set out the aiming stakes at 0400 and 2800. Both sections were taught these procedures. Then we had several timed competitions. I would use the Aiming Instrument to lay in my section after the guys had set up their guns. I would read and call out a defection to Gun 1 and while they were setting that defection on their M34 sight, moving their gun to line up on the aiming instrument with that deflection, I would read and call out defections to Guns 2 and 3. We would cycle back through this procedure until they read back the same defection that I called out and declared their gun laid in. Sgt. Keeton would do the same procedure with his section. Once we turned it into a competition, the guys began to get competive and have fun. Next, I taught the men how to set up a proper fire mission. They honed their skills until they worked like a fine machine.

    During the time while I was training the gun crews, I was also working with FDC. They had to be retrained in the proper methods for plotting a fire mission and calling that mission successfully to each gun crew. We then began conducting simulated missions until all elements of the mortar platoon were functioning at a high level.

    We never had an accident in the mortar platoon after that training with the exception of a few short rounds caused by wet powder bags and one hang round which caused us considerable concern. One of our short round happened in Cambodia during 1970. Our Battalion commander was sun bathing on top of TOC. We hung a round that apparently was a little bit damp. It went off like a charge zero and only went about 250 feet right in the direction of the LTC lounging on TOC. I screamed short round two times and the LTC scrambled under cover. The round landed on top of TOC (Technical Operations Control). Needless to say, the LTC was pissed. He came over and chewed my butt out. My LT was gone at the time so I got the initial delivery of ass chewing. When the LT got back, he got his butt chewed out, so he had to chew my butt out again. Yes, it will always roll down hill. The key to dealing with it is to smile and say “I’m sorry for my mistake.”, even if you know it was not your fault. While in the education arena, when facing a person who was so mad they looked like their freeze plug would blow any minute, I would always say, “I’m really sorry you feel that way.” The person would usually say, “Well, that’s more like it. All I wanted was an appology.” They never realized that I did not apologize.

    Our duty at the bridge continued for some time with interspersed little excursions into the jungle on a few missions. The duty at the bridge was great and we did some interesting things while there including fashioning a make-shift ice cream freezer which we used to successfully make ice cream on several occasions.



Posted by Randall at 9/15/2008 1:37 PM

Categories: Echo Company, 1st Cavalry Division, 2/8, Vietnam, LZ Ike, Mortar Platoon


As Featured On Ezine Articles

  We moved in to build Illingworth during March.  The site was a grassy clearing. We arrived late in the day and started building gun pits for our mortars, hooches for sleeping, and storage for our ammo.  We had our mortars, 105’s, our radar unit, a line company, and our battalion headquarters (TOC).  We were told that we could not go to sleep until we had 3 layers of sandbags on our sleeping hooches.  It started raining about sundown.  Filling sand bags became very difficult. Around 11:00 pm we gave up on the sandbags.  I laid down on a cote and placed a sheet of plastic over me.  I woke up at first light the next morning and thought I had lost my hearing. Then I realized the cote was holding water which was up over my ears.

Fire Support Base Illingworth was named for John Illingworth who died on or about March 14, 1970. Dan Boettcher sent a picture of Jack Illingworth, Dan, and Pat Coode. Jack Illingworth was in Co. A of 2/8 1st Cav. In the book “Incursion” Jack was described as an exceptional soldier.

The next day we continued to build the fire base.  We had been told that we would be firing on targets in Cambodia.  Charlie had been moving down in Cambodia and then moving across the border to attach our units. Illingworth was called a jump LZ.  We would be there for a few days and then move to a new location.  By about the second day there, 3 155’s were moved in.  (I originally said there were six 155s, but Ken Corbin who proudly served with the 155 unit corrected me. They made enough noise for 6 guns! Ken was wounded that night when the battle was just getting started. The medic patched him up and he fought all night. Ken is an example of a great American hero. Thanks Ken.) We were getting fire missions several times a day.  The 155’s were firing day and night.  The 155’s were pounding targets on a regular basis.  We were getting so much ammo for the mortars each day that we could not possibly fire it in one day.  We were having to stack up boxes of mortar ammo on the ground.  At one point we just rolled two pallets of mortar ammo off the mule and let it lay where it landed.  After we had been there several days, two track-mounted 8 inch artillery guns were moved to the fire base.  You may have noticed that I never mentioned any wire or claymore mines.  We didn’t have any.  There was nothing between us and the wood line.

A few days before the end of March Bobby Barker came to me and asked if I would consider letting him go to the rear to get his teeth fixed.  He said you know sarge it is just a  couple of weeks before I am supposed to go home.  Bobby was a great guy, he always did his job, and he had a great attitude.  I told Bobby that I would like for him to leave the next day.  I wrote a little note the 1st Sgt asking him to send Bobby to have his teeth fixed.  I suggested that Bobby should stay in the rear since he only had a couple of weeks left in country.  Bobby left on chopper after we all told him goodbye and wished him well.

Near the end of March, a young Lt named Mike Russell showed up on the fire base.  He had several months in country with the 4th ID.  The 4th went home, but Mike did not have enough time in-country to go with them.  The unlucky guy ended up with us.  By the end of March, Mike had been there long enough for us to become pretty good friends.  He was a squared away guy.  A couple of days before the end of March, Fire base Jay got hit really hard.  They were located a few clicks from us.  The sky looked like it was on fire.  I didn’t know any guys on Jay, but I continually prayed during their attack that they would be able to defend against the attach and that we would not get the same dose of medicine. LZ Jay had been established as support for Fire Base Illingworth. The brass thought Illingworth would be hit because of the all the firepower that had been brought to the base. That turned out to be bad thinking. The Gooks figured out the plan and knocked out LZ Jay so attacking Illingworth would be much easier.

On the last day of March, 1970, things seemed extremely tense.  I saw high ranking people leaving the firebase on choppers.  I look up and see Bobby Barker walking in from one of the choppers.  Bobby came over to me and said sarge’ I just had to come out and let you see how good I look with my teeth fixed and I wanted to tell everyone goodbye.  Bobby gave me a big smile as he showed his teeth and said, “My mamma is going to be so proud of me and my teeth.”  I told Bobby to go see everyone and get back on a chopper and get out of here.  I then said Bobby weren’t you supposed to leave today.  He said yea I didn’t get on the plane, I got on a chopper instead to come see you guys.

I learned later that Bobby had gotten into country about the same day that I did. That was September 3. I learned this years after I got home from Vietnam. I had no idea when anyone’s date to return from overseas was. That information was kept in the rear.

Ammo for the 8 inch guns was moved on to the fire base all day.  They had the same problem that we did only worse.  They had tons of ammo and no place to put it.  They fired at the wood line a few time during the day.  It was truly awesome to see the power of these weapons.  Late in the day I saw Bobby was still on the fire base.  There was a chopper on the ground.  I told Bobby to run out there and get on that chopper.  He said sarge’, please let me just stay out here with the guys I love just one more night.  I said, “No Bobby, you need to leave.”  He walked away from me.

    At about 11:30 pm, our radar unit notified Lt. Russell and me that we had a lot of movement on the Red Ball which was just across the border.  The border was about 1 click from the fire base.  Some say it was a greater distance, but it was close enough. They had determined that the NVA were moving troops down in trucks and turning west into a large field.  They would unload the troops and then go back to get more.  We fired mortars, 105’s, and 155’s on their position for about an hour.  I thought we had wiped them out.  We laughed and said they would have the rest of the night to drag their dead out of the area.  I laid down in FDC and Lt. Russell did also.  At about 2:30 am all hell broke loose. Mike and I ran out into a cloud of dust.  There were gooks standing on the berm firing RPG’s at TOC.  They were everywhere.  I went to all three gun pits and directed the squad leaders to fire charge zeros randomly to the west and to keep it going as fast as possible.  Mike and I both ended up in Blue Three which was led by Juan Romero.  Juan and the rest of his squad worked to pull down charges to charge zero and Mike and I handled the gun.  I was aiming the gun and Mike was hanging rounds.  At one time I told Mike that I was afraid I was going to send one straight up and it would come back down on us.  Mike said, “At this point, I really don’t think it will make a shit.”  Blue One was wiped out with a satchel charge.  Luckily, they all got out of the pit.  Blue Two was wiped out by a gas stove from our kitchen tent.  The stove blew up and sailed through the air leaving a trail of burning gas and landed in Blue Two.  As with Blue One, the guys all got out and went to the berm.  I saw Bobby running for FDC.  I yelled at Bobby not to go to FDC.  He yelled out that he did not have a rifle.  Bobby disappeared in the dust.

    We saw gooks on the 8 inch guns trying to turn them around.  The 8 inch guns were about 30 yards from us.  A barrage of small arms fire erupted toward the 8 inch guns.

    At some point during the battle, I tried to call FDC on the land line.  It was dead.  It had been working earlier when I talked to them.  They had tried to call a fire mission to us.  I had answered the horn.  They started calling out the fire mission.  I said, “we don’t need a direction, charge, or elevation, we can see the bastards.”  Looking back now I realize I should have told them to get their butts out there to help us.

    Some time after the battle had been going on for what seemed like forever, the eight inch ammo blew up.  We all left the ground.  I thought we were all going to die right then.  We looked up and saw things in the air that are not supposed to be there.  Things like PSP, tree trunks, ammo, and lots of dirt.  The problem was that we knew that it was going to have to come back down and it looked like it was headed our way.  I will admit that I just about lost it at that point.  I had a wife and a two year old son at home that I figured just lost their husband and father.  Though we were a short distance from the 8 inch ammo, we did not take the direct blast.  The 8 inch artillery guys had left a track mounted ammo carrier and a five ton truck parked between us and their ammo.  The next morning, the 5 ton was demolished and the ammo carrier was on its side looking really bad.

We continued to fight off the gooks for some time.  Around 4:30 am we noticed that everything had suddenly gotten very quiet.  For a while we felt alone on the fire base though no one mentioned it.  Then we heard someone screaming, “Richards, are you guys still over there?”  I had a bad feeling.  I screamed, “Yes.”  The person then yelled out that the gooks had that half of the LZ and we needed to get the hell out of there.  We all went over the blast wall like snakes.  In basic training I had been about the fastest low crawler at Sand Hill.  I started out crawling along with the other guys and then thought that I should go to FDC to be sure everyone got out of there.  I turned left and headed for FDC.  As I approached FDC, I saw Bobby Barker laying on a stretcher.  He had dirt all over him.  I crawled up and tried to get Bobby to get up.  I then realized that Bobby was dead.  Damn!  I said my quick farewell to Bobby and started plowing through the dust to the direction where I had last heard that voice of hope.  Thank you to the drill sgts. at Sand Hill who made me low crawl for miles.  That crawl was easy.

We grouped near the berm.  I looked for my guys but could not find them.  We had Blue Max choppers spraying their mini guns all around the west and south sides of the berm.  They were a beautiful site and sound.  Things quieted down and we waited for daybreak.  As the sun rose and we could see the fire base, I realized that we had been wiped out, but we survived.  I walked around looking for my guys.  I walked along the line of wounded guys.  I almost walked by Sgt. Huggins.  Huggins and I came to the mortar platoon the same evening at LZ Ike.  We got hit hard that night too.  That’s another story.  Huggins reached out and grabbed my leg.  I knelt down to talk to him.  He said, “I’m the lucky one, I’m going home.”  He had gotten a bad wound on his calf.  I wished him the best and walked on looking for more of my guys.  We had choppers coming in to haul out the wounded.  I helped load the choppers.

Those birds were being piloted by true heroes.  At one point there was so much blood in the floor of one of the choppers that we threw dirt in on the blood so people could stand on the floor.  I remember very well picking up one end of a stretcher and heading for the chopper and the door gunner waved us back indicating that they were full. The man on the stretcher was wrapped in gauze from his knees to his head. His arms were outstretched and wrapped in gauze. He also had a piece of steel through his chest and it stuck out his back. We backed off and started to lay the stretcher down.  At that point someone told me the pilot wanted someone up front. I ran up to the cockpit and one other soldier and I talked to the pilot.  He said for us to load the rest of the wounded because it was going to be a while before another one got back to our location.  The pilot told us to pick up on his skids and run with the chopper. We loaded the bacly wounded man in the door gunners seat and strapped him in. We picked up on the skids and ran with the chopper till we could no longer keep up. We all fell on the ground.  He picked up speed and then converted to altitude just before the wood line.  I would love to know that guy’s name.  I’ll never forget him.  He is a true hero.  I guess I helped load Pete Lemon on one of the choppers that morning.  Pete was a member of the Recon Platoon in our company.  The faces were all dirty, bloody, and contorted with pain so I don’t remember any of them in particular.  Pete later won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions that night.

A Side Note:

            Sometimes it feels that we are living on a giant revolving wheel that keeps bringing us by the same point in our lives.  Forty years after this event, I met that soldier that we carried to the chopper for a second time.  His name is Ed Collins.  Ed read this blog and got in touch with me.  Ed attended a memorial service held April 1, 1970, at Ft. Sill, OK (see FSB Illingworth and FSB Jay in this site).  I got to meet Ed Collins who I had often thought of over those forty years.  I had wondered if he lived to make it to a hospital.  I had wondered if he lived through the event. Ed said he remembered the gunner waving us back from the chopper.  That was amazing because I thought Ed was at the point of death.  There was a rod sticking through his chest, the meat was blown off the top side of his arms and he was badly burned.  Ed now has cancer and when I met him at Ft. Sill, he said he believed that God had extended his life to allow him to attend that service.  I send an email to Ed periodically to check on him.  I have Ed on the prayer list at my church.  He told me that something is keeping him alive.  He begged me to keep him on the prayer list at my church.  Hang in there Ed. We are praying for you brother.

    After all the wounded had been loaded, I walked over to the dead.  I started to help move the bags.  On the first one I made the mistake of getting in the middle.  Anyone who has ever taken on that position knows the problem I had.  I knew Bobby was in one of those bags.  I really did not want to know which one.  Bobby wasn’t even supposed to be there.

I found Mike, Hutch, Juan, and Terry.  We all went back to the mortar area to see what was left.  We were amazed that we had gotten out of there alive.  At Blue three there was a unexploded rocket buried in the ground two feet from where I had been inside the gun pit. I had heard it hit the ground during the attack but dismissed the sound due to all the explosions and noise during the battle.  Ammo was blown all over the entire area.  There were very large pieces of shrapnel from the 8 inch ammo.  There was paper everywhere.  We looked at the 5 ton and the ammo carrier.  It was then that we realized what had saved our lives.  It was just by chance that they had left the units parked where they did.  They had so much ammo in their area that I think they could not get any closer to their area. I recently digitized a few pictures from Illingworth. They are included here:

On the left is Jack Illingworth for whom FSB Illingworth was named. Next is Dan Boettcher (Dan gave me this picture) and Pat Goode.

This one is me holding a piece of shrapnel the next morning. Ralph Jones made 4 posters with pictures from Illingworth. One of those is at Ft. Sill, one is at Ft. Hood, and I do not know the location of the others. April 1, 2019, my wife and I met with Ralph Jones at Ft. Sill, OK to pay tribute to our fallen heroes. Ralph gave me a picture of the display at Ft. Hood. I am including that picture here.


  This is shot toward the eight inch guns.


This is a view down into the hole blown by the 8 inch ammo. The second picture shows Juan Romero on the right and me on the left enjoying a nice hot beer.


This is Sgt. Juan Romero, my Blue Three squad leader, leaving the Blue Three gun pit. You can see the rear of the 5 ton truck that was parked between Blue Three and the 8 inch ammo.


These are the 8 inch ammo carriers that were also between Blue Three and the 8 inch ammo.


The water had all drained out of this water tank. The entire Firebase was littered like this.


This is the setup for the two chapel services that were held on March 31, 1970.


Catholic Chaplain, Father Boyles


And this is the Chaplain’s dog —NoNuts


8 inch gun


8 inch gun during fire mission

This is me on the left, Lt. Russell in the middle, and Sgt. Terry Self on the right.  Notice that I have no M16. It was blown up when the first rounds came into the base. The Army wanted me to pay $160 for a new one. I told them to just send me home because I did not have $160. We finally found my barrel and lower in a tangled mess of scrap metal that was recovered from Illingworth. Then they assigned a new M16 to me. Woop Eeee!


Bobby Barker’s grave

 Some little jerk Captain came in with a group that was to relieve us.  The little jerk told us to start policing up the area.  Lt. Russell walked over to the jerk and told him that he would have him know that his men had been in a battle all night and they were not about to police up a damn thing.  The jerk asked him if he realized who he was talking to.  Mike said, “Sir, I don’t give a shit who you are or what your damn rank is.  My men will not clean up this mess.  They can hardly stand up.”  You gotta love Mike Russell.  He’s still got that same edge.  No crap, no way, no where!

 I recently received an email from someone who was offended by my comment about this captain. He thought I was referring to his captain who he liked very much. After a couple of emails, we decided that he was not the same guy. I am certain that the captain in question meant well, but he did not understand what we had been through.

 Juan Romero and I went down in the crater created when the 8 inch ammo blew up.  It was huge.  I believe Hutch made our picture in the hole.  We then went out to look at some of the dead gooks.  I looked at one that had his left arm blown off.  You could see the socket where the ball joint had been.  Surprisingly, the guy had about three rounds of gauze wrapped around his shoulder.  He had been wounded when we fired on them for an hour.  They put a bandage on him and sent him on the attack.  I never knew any of our guys who would have done that.

I remember going out to the landing pad to get on a chopper.  Sgt Mike Self, 1st Lt Mike Russell, Wendall Hutcheson, and I were walking together. We had no mortars and we had no M16s.  They had been destroyed in the battle.  I looked back at the firebase with total disbelief.  The chopper lifted off and we all looked back at the firebase in total silence.  I don’t remember anything being said until some time after we got to a rear area that we were taken to.

 Charles Rushing from Alabama whose nickname just happened to be “Alabama” remembers us returning from Illingworth. Alabama said they had been told to leave us alone because we had been through hell and might be in some state of shock. Charles said he had never seen a group of men who looked so tired and depressed.

 I recently learned some disturbing information about the battle on Illingworth. At the dinner after the memorial service at Ft. Sill, I learned that there was a total of about 208 people on the FSB. We know that 25 were killed in the battle. I seem to remember that we sent 87 out who were severely wounded. I recently learned that several were hiding in bunkers during the battle. I was told that I had several hiding in the mortar FDC. These were not my men. My men were on their mortars or if their gun was disabled, they were on the berm, probably in hand-to-hand combat. That information was not revealed to me at the time or during the days that followed. This was very disturbing to me because my men knew if they lost their mortar they were to go to the berm and take up a fighting position. I also learned that there were several hiding in one or more of the artillery FDC bunkers. LTC Conrad went into one of those bunkers and told those men that it was one of the toughest battles he had been in. He told those men to go out on the berm and take some of the bastards with them. The disturbing thing in all of this is that when I do the numbers, I realize that there were probably only about 50 to 65  men left fighting the enemy that night. At the time the 8 inch ammo blew and for days afterward, our thoughts centered on the fact that several guys were killed when the 8 inch ammo blew up. I now realize that if the 8 inch ammo had not blown up, we would have all been slaughtered. The exploding 8 inch ammo might have been divine intervention. It is what ended the battle and saved many lives.

Posted by Randall at 8/11/2008 7:46 PM

Categories: 2/8, E, 1st Cavalry Airmobile, 2nd Battalion, Vietnam, Firebase Illingworth, 1st Cav, 8th Cavalry, Echo Company, Mortar Platoon, 1970, 1st Cavalry Division, US Army


As Featured On Ezine Articles     I came into country at Cam Ranh Bay.  I had been in country for a few days and had been through Cherry School.  On the 9th day of September 1969, my name was called out as being assigned to E, 2/8, 1st Cav Div.  We left for Tay Ninh.  When we got to Tay Ninh we were told where our company headquarters was.  When we got there I thought this is not so bad.  I saw lots of sand bags and plenty of places to take cover.  About the time I decided on what looked like the place I would want to be during an attach, we were told to come pick up our gear.  We were shown the supply room where they gave us a pack, 10 empty M16 magazines, a poncho, a poncho liner, a soft canteen, and some bug juice.  I packed the stuff into the back pack in the same order that it was given to me.  We were then told that a Chinook would pick up in a few minutes.  By then it was probably 4:00 pm.  We loaded on the chopper.

    After the chopper had been in the air for quite a while, it started to circle.  I looked out a side window.  There were people running around in what looked like a field of mud surrounded by a mud berm.  It looked like a creek ran through the middle of the mud field.  The chopper started a decent.  Huggins asked the rear doorman what was down there.  He said, “Your home.”  Huggins turned and looked at me as he said, “No, Man!”  Well sure enough, they made us get off the chopper and wade through mud into the LZ.  We were met by Sgt Brown.  He was a real jolly guy who started out by showing us a Chinese hand grenade.  He said don’t be like the dumb ass we sent home yesterday.  He pulled the string and blew his balls off.  Brown never smiled.  He said, “Now this is serious so you always listen to what I tell you.”  We were all ears.  I had been trained in mortars in AIT and in NCO School.  I’m not sure Huggins had ever been in mortars.  Brown told Huggins that he would be in FDC and that I would be going out with the Recon Platoon the next day.  I said, “But all my training was in mortars.”  Brown responded, “I don’t need any mortar men.  You’re going with Recon.”  I asked, “How many of these men have had mortar training?”  Brown snapped back, “None of them, but that don’t matter cause I spent a lot of time in artillery.”  I was reminded of the term “military intelligence”.  Sgt. Brown showed us a small metal hooch that had a poncho on each end with a couple of sandbags laying on each poncho to hold it on.  Brown said “now put 3 layers of sandbags on this hooch then you can go to sleep.” We looked at each other in complete amazement. Sure, we thought. Where’s the damn sand?

  We put a few bags of mud on the hooch and then gave up, crawled in, and laid down to try to sleep. Shortly after we got in the hootch, all hell broke loose. We figured out that we were having a mad minute. Tried to go back to sleep, but I just laid there listening to the sounds on the LZ.  Some time later, I don’t know what time, explosions started going off way to close to us.  We sat up and looked at each other.  We decided it had to be incoming.  We started digging in our back packs to get the empty magazines that had been issued to us.  About that time shrapnel came through the poncho and cut a large hole in my air mattress.  I plopped down on the pallet.  Someone yelled from outside, “Is somebody in that hooch?”  We reluctantly answered in the affirmative.  He said get out on the berm and start firing.  I told him we didn’t have any ammo in our magazines.  He told us there was plenty of ammo at the berm.  I crawled out and briefly met Sgt Kilgore.

    I crawled toward the berm.  On my way, I crawled right into what had looked like a creek from the air.  I thought I was going to drown.  I hung on to my M16 and scrambled out on the other side.  I crawled up to the berm and asked for ammo.  Somebody threw several magazines to me.  I loaded my rifle and looked over the berm.  Right there in front of me was a gook about thirty feet from my location.  On the trip to Vietnam, I worried that I would not be able to kill someone when faced with the need to do so.  It had really bothered me, but I did not tell anyone about my concern.  As my eyes fell on the gook I unloaded a twenty round clip into him.  Oh well, some much for fear of killing.  When the brown fecal matter hits the rotating wedge, training takes over and you do what you have been trained to do.  Thank you God.

    That night the squad leader of Blue 3 was wounded and medivaced.  The next day Sgt. Brown assigned me to that job.  He said, “Now I need a mortar man.”



Posted by Randall at 8/12/2008 12:30 PM

Categories: Mortar, 1st Cav, Vietnam