(December 1969 to March 1970)

Reflections on 1st Battle at FSB Granite -- 20 Mar 1970


To:  William Higgins
From: Dr. Ralph Matkin
Date:  5 January 2011

Subject:  Events leading to, during, and immediately following battle of FSB Granite, 20 March 1970, I Corps, Vietnam  Re: Alpha Battery, 2nd Battalion, 319th Artillery


The following events and experiences are intended to supplement the account expertly written by William Higgins of the exploits of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Brigade, 101st Airborne (Air Mobile) Division, Thua Thien Province (I Corps), Republic of South Viet Nam,  May 1969 - October 1970.

matkin2The account that follows is confined solely to general operations of Alpha Battery, 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Brigade, attached (from the 82nd Airborne Division throughout the Vietnam War) to the 101st Airborne (Air Mobile) Division.  Furthermore, the following account is confined to first hand experiences of the author (Ralph "Doc" Matkin), who served as a field medic with said artillery battery from 20 December 1969 until 20 March 1970, taken from his personal journal written at that time.  Moreover, the scope of the following is narrowed further to actions of said artillery battery in conjunction with those of the aforementioned infantry company immediately prior to and during the first battle of Fire Support Base (FSB) Granite on 20 March 1970.  Source of the account is the author's personal journal written while in Vietnam, and vivid recollections.


March 1970

FSB Mooney

2 March -- Alpha Battery headed out (from Camp Evans) to reopen FSB Mooney.  I was on the second Huey, perhaps 30 minutes ahead of the Chinooks bringing Tom "Doc" Rumore, the bulk of the battery crews, our 6 howitzers, FDC, and lots of 105 mm ammo.  We were told to make Mooney home for at least several months, before either relocating to the A Shau Valley, or back to Camp Evans for a brief stand-down.  Seems all of us considered that "long-range planning" a crock, considering how often the REMF brass changed their minds about everything to date.

Arrival, laying in our howitzers, distributing 105 mm ammo among the 6 gun crews, staking out optimal locations to place the FDC and support troop (medics, commo, etc,) took most of daylight to complete.  Real work (building hooches, gun parapets, sandbagging, field sanitation setup, expanding the FSB perimeter's open field of fire, creating a protected ammo dump and better situated LZ, laying in concertina, tanglefoot, setting claymores, etc. will begin in earnest tomorrow.  Looks like about a company of infantry assembled on site throughout the day.  Perhaps only a platoon or two here when we first arrived -- about a dozen at the higher end of the FSB clearing and burning foliage, and at least that many more within sight setting up mortar and perimeter positions I can see.

Weather was clear and hot, but a breeze from the ocean up the ravine "fingers" helped.  Shaded thermometers in the temporary ammo storage bins around each howitzer, however, uniformly read 105-degrees today!  Word is that the powder's explosive volatility is around 110-degrees.

First "friendly fire" casualty today -- infantry (possibly mortar crew) fellow, Spec 4 Sickich (?) -- head laceration from a "fire-in-the-hole" demolition.  No dust-off required.  Doc Rumore and I patched him up.

3 March -- rained.  Continued building up FSB.  Hooch construction delayed until more ammo arrives (empty 105 mm ammo boxes are principal building material).  First priority for empty ammo boxes are for building the gun parapets and their ammo storage bins.  Filling beau coup sandbags in the meantime, setting up "piss tubes" around the battery area, and helping built a more stable latrine to replace the temporary slit trench the infantry dug yesterday.

5 March  -- Accompanied an infantry patrol consisting of approximately 15 men plus an infantry medic and myself to investigate a Huey gunship crash site reportedly about 1 click (1000 meters) from Mooney, and to retrieve crew if necessary.  Took nearly half a day in the hilly/mountainous terrain to reach the site.  Chopper was located in the bottom of a ravine, upside down, broken up, and burned.  Charred remains of 2 KIA (pilot and co-pilot) recovered, and a 100-yard sweep of the site found no evidence of additional crew members.  Other medic and I humped the remains back to Mooney strapped to our backs - only charred torsos and heads intact.  Charred appendages humped separately by willing grunts.  Arrived back at Mooney shortly after dusk.  Remains were wrapped in plastic sheets, and stored in my hooch awaiting transport to Camp Evans.

3-7 March -- heavy morning fog daily until noon, returning by dusk each day.  Two chaplains had arrived at Mooney sometime on 5 March while I was humping the boonies re: downed chopper.  They were "billeted" in my hooch (shared with Tom "Doc" Rumore and our two commo specialists, named Smitty and Vandehey), along with the 2 KIAs.  Flew out with the remains on 7 March during a break in the weather.

7-10 March -- only journal entry made indicated that Charlie Battery (2/319th Arty) reportedly had been hit by an NVA force "several days ago" (presumably on or about 4-5 March).  Only indication of its location I wrote at the time was that they were about 2 clicks (2 kilometers) from Mooney.  No other journal entries made beyond us being on alert for a similar attack in days to come.

11 March -- Visit by CPT Miestrich (2/319th Arty medical officer) to Mooney to resupply Doc Rumore and me with pills, ointments, field dressings, and to check the healing progress of my shoulder wound (from 22 February -- Doc Rumore had removed the stitches more than a week earlier).  Miestrich passed on a rumor circulating in the rear area that Camp Evans would be turned over to the ARVN by June (1970), and 3rd Brigade (101st Airborne Div.) would be moving to DaNang or Chu Chi.  We took the veracity of that rumor with a grain of "military salt," much the way we had been told that the war would be over long before the end of 1970!

The following entry is verbatim from my journal, based on what was told to us at the time by our battery commander, CPT Phillip Michaud.   On the other hand, you (Bill) probably know the extent to which these are accurate facts:

"Yesterday morning [10 March 1970] at 0620 hours, Alpha Company [1/506th] (the infantry unit at Mooney) got hit hard by the VC.  One platoon was nearly destroyed -- 6 KIA, 14 WIA, 4 uninjured.  No gooks were killed.  Later in the [same] day a Cobra shot and killed two of our own men.  Who said this war is over?!  All this happened just 3 clicks away from us [located on Mooney]."

FSB Granite

13 March (Friday the 13th!) -- Arrived at FSB Granite by 1000 hours, less than a click away (to the west) from Mooney.  The site has never been a firebase before.  Engineers have been blowing trees, clearing jungle, leveling the ground the past 2 days in preparation for our arrival.  LZ is on the south end of a skinny piece of real estate that can't be more than 50 yards wide in some places, and no more than 75 yards wide in others.  The entire length, north to south, appears less than 2 football fields.  Steep drop offs into jungle on east, west, and south sides.  Dense vegetations right up to the bulldozed flatness that's supposed to be a fire base.  How the hell are we supposed to lay-in 6 howitzers without them bumping into each other's trailing supports?!  Our FDC unit is situated on the southern end adjacent to the LZ.  Damned edge of the fire base is so steep that the infantry positions on the east and west sides are dug in only 15-20 feet  from our artillery parapets.  Mortar platoons are bunched up to the north, literally within spitting distance from our northern-most 2 (howitzer) crews.  Infantry TOC looks no more than 15-20 yards south of the northern-most mortar position.  What looks like a D-3 caterpillar is positioned just south of the Infantry TOC near a huge boulder.  What an absolute cluster-fuck waiting to happen!!!  Haven't the REMF army tacticians who planned this place ever heard about "fish in a barrel"???

matkin314 March -- Reason given why we left FSB Mooney to this "island in the sky" is that there was an old NVA bunker within 30-40 meters (to the east?) positioned above Mooney.  Of course, we knew that -- our infantry guys were using it as one of their lookout posts to protect the firebase!!!!  If the REMFs in the rear were so concerned about us in the first place, why the hell didn't they check a map first to discover there is higher ground overlooking Mooney?  For that matter, why the hell was Mooney ever built there in the first place?  We certainly weren't the first battery to occupy that location!

Word from the rear is that we'll be on FSB Granite only 5-10 days, so no point building up the place -- no ammo bunkers or parapets for any of the guns, just break out and stack shells around each howitzer, cover with plaster sheets to keep dry, construct easy-to-teardown hooches (i.e., use poncho liners for shelter).

Heavy contact missions reported to our south.  We fired beau coup illumination rounds for a patrol reportedly surrounded by the enemy.  Everyone was humping ammo for our gun crews.  After awhile I spelled the loader (position #1), doing his job for crew #2 until the end of the fire mission.

15-19 March -- Have been socked in by clouds and fog since the 15th.  No resupply.  105mm ammo dwindling at a high rate.  Got word on the 17th to be prepared to remain on Granite at least a month, instead of the 5-10 day period initially ordered.  OK to start building more protection (howitzer parapets and hooches) for a longer haul.   Suspended night fire missions on the 17th to conserve what we have left -- approximately 100 rounds per howitzer (HE, WP, illumination, beehive as last resort).  Only provide fire support when an outfit calls a contact mission.  By the 19th we had less than 40 gallons of gas/diesel to power the generators for the FDC.  Remaining potable water is what we have in our canteens.  One box of C rations per man per day in the way of food.  We heard a Huey make several passes overhead, but couldn't land in near zero visibility.  Discovered barefoot prints in the mud within the battery area this morning.  Only possibility in our minds is recon and/or sapper infiltration, since none of us ever have walked around barefoot in this quagmire!

20 March -- Shit hits the fan around 0130 hours!  While not noting the precise time when I was awakened by explosions, I checked my wristwatch by lighter flame while gathering my gear before exiting the hooch.  It was well before 0200 hours when I entered the fray.

(Perhaps my watch was slow, however, because more official accounts [e.g., 1/506th rear area officer's radio journal/log] have reported that the battle began with opening shots received from small arms fire at 0204 hours, followed at 0210 by in-coming mortars, and at 0215 the continuing mortar attack was supplemented by sapper attack.  At some point during the battle, I lost my wristwatch, but wasn't aware that had happened until I was awaiting treatment in the hospital ER triage area in Phu Bai.)

My hooch was located on the southwestern slope of the firebase, above 10 feet below the base of the artillery FDC.  It was occupied by myself, Doc Rumore, Vandehey, Smitty, and a new commo PFC who had not been with us on Mooney.  I was the last to exit, because I couldn't find my boots in the commotion of my hoochmates scrambling out the "doorway"!

Digressing for a moment -- when we hit the sack earlier (probably around 2200 hours on 19 March), our new hoochmate was wringing the last bit of juice out of his cassette recorder batteries, playing a tape of Otis Redding's "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay," which made the song's signature bass refrain painfully slow to listen to.  I went to sleep trying to get it out of my mind.  Next thing I knew it popped back into my head as a dream, except that its bass staccato was out of synch, like a skipping record.  As I awoke, I suddenly realized the sounds were in-coming explosions instead of "music" in my mind!

During the brief time I was in the hooch alone, lacing up my boots, a sudden surge of unspeakable fear began welling up inside me about whether I'd survive if I dared going outside.  As it (my fear, explosions, and soldiers outside yelling) increased, I found myself trying to talk myself into staying put out of harm's way, even coming up with lies to tell my companions and survivors who might ask me later where I'd been during the battle.  Finally, I accepted the bottom line: I couldn't live the rest of my life knowing I had been a coward, purposefully shirking my duty, in this circumstance.  That was that.  I had to do my job.

As soon as I climbed the short distance up the slope to the flatness of the fire base, all my  fear, second thoughts, etc., left me!  I won't say I felt calm, but I vividly recall feeling purposeful.

I asked the first gun crew I approached (from the southwest) whether any of them were wounded.  They said they were fine, but reported they'd heard calls for a medic from our northeastern-most gun crew.  That crew also reported no casualties, but indicated the adjacent mortar pit immediately to its north was where the call for a doc may have come.  I worked my way to the edge of the gun crew's parapet, and began low-crawling to the mortar position's parapet about 10-15 yards northward.  An infantryman was prone at its entrance, squeezing off a round or two (toward the north) when I arrived.  I asked about casualties, and he said there might be some in the mortar pit which had taken a direct hit  moments earlier.

I crawled into the mortar pit.  Pitch darkness inside.  Immediately encountered obstacles strewn everywhere, and the body of a critically wounded soldier in its midst.  Literally couldn't see my hands in front of my face.  (No exaggeration.  I moved the palm of my right hand toward my face until it touched my nose, and still couldn't see it!)  Began assessing the soldier's wounds totally by feel.  He was alive, gurgling, talking gibberish.  Severe head wound, felt like a broken egg shell.  Right leg amputated above the knee, with a gash/split extending to his groin.  Could feel his exposed femur to about mid-thigh.  Squatted beside his right side, my back to the north.  Elevated his head so that it rested on my left thigh, which seemed to ease his breathing (i.e., stopped gurgling/choking on his own blood), but increased the gibberish he was uttering (e.g., disconnected words, phrases without coherent meaning).

I decided to treat his leg wound first, while trying to figure out how I was going bandage his head wound.   Repositioned my aid bag to directly behind my rear-end, and placed my M-16 alongside the bag (I knew where things were in my aid bag by feel).  Repositioned my helmet farther back on my head, over the collar of my flak jacket (damned thing kept falling off each time I bent over the soldier).  Retrieved a tourniquet and a handful of field dressings from the aid bag.

I was in the process of applying the tourniquet when an explosion occurred 3-4 feet to my right (west) inside the mortar pit.   Sprayed with mud, dirt, bits of shrapnel head to toe on the right side.  Immediately lost hearing in the right ear.  Fortunately, I had shielded my patient from the blast.  I didn't feel any ill-effects from the blast (other than hearing loss on the right side and a lot of dirt in my mouth), so resumed tending to the fallen soldier's leg.  An instant later came a second explosion.  Felt like my butt had been hit by a paddle full of nails!

I felt a momentary floating sensation, followed by a thud, followed by a stinging ass!  The explosion had tossed me over the patient and up and out of the mortar pit.  I landed between the southern wall of the mortar parapet and northern wall of the artillery crew parapet I had been at a few minutes earlier.  Took a moment to check myself out and shake the bats out of my belfry.  Felt nothing life-threatening about my condition, so I crawled back to the mortar pit entrance to resume where I had left off.

Same soldier I had encountered earlier was still there.  He remarked that he thought I'd "bought the farm" with the two explosions, and asked where I thought I was going as I was making my way past him back into the mortar pit.  I said I had to retrieve the wounded guy and my gear.  Thankfully he prevented me from entering, just as the mortar pit took two more direct hits.  At that point I figured my patient had been killed and whatever might be left of my aid bag had been blown to kingdom come.  So I crawled south toward my artillery battery, with the purpose of retrieving more medical supplies from my hooch.  Red (ours) and green (enemy's) small arms tracers were whizzing overhead continuously in north-south directions, punctuated by in-coming explosions (I assume enemy mortar fire, since I never saw any RPG trails), and our own out-going 105 mm rounds.

As I made my way to the second gun crew location (south of the mortar pit, on the east side of the fire base), SSG Jack Prince reported a wounded soldier there needed treatment (either one of the engineers or an infantryman who had made his way into the artillery section).  He was inside the gun crew's makeshift hooch with a tarp covering its entrance to conceal light sources inside.  I don't recall whether illumination was provided by flashlight or makeshift candles we created from waxed wrappers scavenged from ammo crates.

The wounded (black) soldier was the size of a whale who had been peppered in the back by shrapnel from neck to lower thighs.  I estimated well over a dozen entry wounds, several the size of quarters, many the size of dimes, and countless smaller.  No sucking chest wounds were evident, and the rate of blood loss suggested no major vessels hit.  No exit wounds were found on his front side.  I covered the largest wounds with personal field dressings provided by men in the hooch, and covered others with cloth patches from the man's torn up t-shirt.  Then headed to the LZ (which we -- the medics -- had previously designated would be our triage site when necessary) to seek additional medical supplies to finish the job.

I'd estimate 9-10 wounded had been assembled and were being treated at the LZ triage area by at least three medics when I arrived.  Doc Rumore was tending one WIA, while assisting an infantry doc tending a double-leg amputee next to him.  No one had any medical supplies (dressings, bandages, D5W, Ringer's lactate, etc.) to spare, so I worked my way to my hooch to scrounge for anything we might have left behind -- found a couple of bottles of D5W and IV kits, but no field dressings -- then made my way back to the northeastern gun emplacement to finish treating the black soldier.

I had just finished hooking up an IV for the soldier when SSG Prince entered the hooch with our BC (battery commander),  shouting that CPT Phillip Michaud had received a head wound.  It appeared a piece of shrapnel had found its way under the back of his helmet, grazing his scalp before exiting forward, leaving a jagged 2"-3" laceration in its wake.  In spite of what appeared as massive bleeding (common for most any degree of head wound), there was no evidence of skull fracture or penetration.  I treated the BC's wound with his personal field dressing, secured in place with strips from the WIA soldier's torn jungle shirt or t-shirt.  CPT Michaud refused all further treatment, and returned to the battle.  I followed on his heels, newly armed with a .45 automatic (tucked into my leg pouch with my morphine syrettes) and a K-bar knife secured at the waist by my belt, complements of SSG Prince.

I decided to work my way north back to the mortar pit to find any remnants of my aid bag and M-16 to salvage.  Arrived at the pit's entrance and discovered the soldier who had saved my life (by preventing me from re-entering it just as it took 2 more direct hits) was still there.  Crawled alongside him, and asked what had been happening since I'd left.  The battle was still underway, but seemed as though the intensity had decreased somewhat -- far fewer in-coming explosions, and only on-and-off sporadic small arms fire.   No reply from the soldier.  Nudged him, and still no reply.  Tapped his helmet.  Nothing.  Lifted his helmet slightly, and discovered (by the flash of an explosion to the north) that he'd taken a round in the middle of his forehead.  Found no carotid pulse -- KIA.

I re-entered the mortar pit to scavenge for field dressings, etc.  It was still pitch black, except for an occasional explosion flash.  Couldn't feel anything recognizable, except for the soldier I had been working on when I had been hit.  Apparently the 2 subsequent explosions had taken their toll on him.  My tactile re-examination of his body discovered he now had both legs missing, as well as his right arm.

(I never knew any of the C/1/506 names of WIA/KIA from that day until about 18 months ago.  Doug Moniaci believes the KIA mortarman I worked on was SP4 James Davis [probably not James Davis as Davis was not with the mortars unless he had moved their during the battle], based on my description of his wounds and location where I was treating him.)

As I was exiting the mortar pit, an explosion (to the northeast) backlit someone working his way south in a semi-crouched walk along our perimeter, wearing what looked like a GI helmet, but little else.  Seemed strange to me, so I pulled out my .45, made sure a round was chambered, and began guess-ta-mating where his path line and rate of movement might be.  Another explosion revealed I had guessed pretty close, so I fired.  Next explosive flash revealed nothing.  I figured I missed the shot, and so just went about my business.  (At first light after the battle, I discovered a dead NVA sapper near that location, and a GI helmet punctured by a single round in the right side.  The sapper looked like he was asleep.  His entire brain lay about 2'-3' away in the mud!)

Next thing I heard were shouts from the artillery battery (south of my position) to get down.  They had leveled (I presume only the two northern-most howitzers) tubes (to horizontal) to fire beehive and/or WP (white phosphorous) rounds to stave off further NVA penetration into the firebase from the north.  Such rounds generally were fired in such situations as "charge 1" (six of the seven powder bags in the canister removed) with a timer fuse set for detonation after approximately one second.  Apparently, we had exhausted all our HE (high explosives) rounds by this time.  I felt the concussions of several salvos passing overhead.

Soon afterward, more shouts came from the artillery battery "to get real small," followed by in-coming artillery rounds zeroed in on Granite's perimeter from one of our nearby firebases (possibly Rakkasan), reportedly ordered by CPT Michaud.  I lost count of how many rounds exploded around us, but vividly recall the impression they made on me -- the sounds just before impact were like someone was raining Volkswagens on us!  At some point during that barrage a few illumination rounds were mixed in, which continued as needed after the HE salvos ceased.

When it seemed apparent that our artillery "shield" had lifted, I moved toward the approximate north-south centerline of the firebase, which offered a relatively wide path between the artillery battery and the infantry TOC.   I was about five yards south of the TOC tent, crawling south toward my battery perimeter about 30 yards up a slight incline.  From the light of an illumination round I came upon a massive blood trail in the mud that was approximately 10"-12" wide, extending at least five yards, uninterrupted, in the direction I was heading.  Its source was another critically wounded infantryman lying on his back about halfway between the TOC and artillery battery.

The soldier was semi-conscious when I got to him.  His left arm was badly mangled from what he subsequently reported was a bullet that had struck him in the elbow as he was pushing himself up and out of his foxhole (somewhere on the west or northwestern sector of the firebase perimeter).  I used the man's belt to craft a crude tourniquet mid-way up his left bicep, then struggled to find a vein in his right arm to start an IV with the last bottle of D5W I had with me.  When I discovered he had no field dressing pouch on his person, I tore a large portion from his shirt to cover his wound and immobilize his arm as much as possible, then started dragging him closer to my battery to seek more cover, supplies, and any assistance I could solicit.  In doing so, I was facing north, while pulling him southward.

In the waning flickers of an illumination round, I noticed a sapper approaching the TOC, preparing to toss (what I assumed was) a satchel charge into the tent.  Before I knew what I was doing, I found myself running toward him, grabbed him around the neck, plunged my K-bar knife into his back in the area of his right kidney and twisted, then cut his throat.  Perhaps I dropped the K-bar at that point, because I didn't have it afterward.  I returned to my patient near the artillery's northern perimeter.

A cannoneer volunteered to keep the IV bottle elevated while I again scrounged for supplies (to no avail) in my hooch and again at the LZ triage site.  When I eventually returned to the patient, he seemed more alert, but was in a lot of pain.  I administered a single morphine syrette, which seemed to help him out a bit, and started inspecting him more closely for other wounds.  None discovered beyond his wounded arm, which was massively distorted.

 (The bullet seemed to have impacted at or slightly above his left elbow, which must have been weight bearing at the time, causing total dislocation and separation of his radius and ulna from the humorous, resulting in his left wrist/hand becoming repositioned to approximately where his elbow would have been ordinarily.  The proximal ends of both radius and ulna were exposed near his left shoulder, but appeared undamaged otherwise.  It was impossible for me to tell in the wet and cold conditions, with mud caked on our person's, whether his affected hand was getting sufficient blood supply, even when I readjusted the makeshift tourniquets periodically.)

I eventually noticed that the IV bottle was nearly empty, so asked the attending cannoneer to find another bottle either in my hooch or at the LZ triage area.  While waiting for him to return, the IV drained itself.  Then I did the dumbest thing ever -- I removed the IV needle in the man's arm, instead of simply clamping the line.  When the cannoneer returned with a new bottle, I soon discovered I couldn't find a vein in my patient's arm to re-connect him to the IV -- his blood loss had collapsed the veins in his extremities.  The only thing I could think to do, after sticking his arm repeatedly and unsuccessfully getting the IV to start flowing again, was perform a minor cut-down procedure on his arm to locate a vein.  Fortunately, I always carried a small Swiss Army Knife, which worked like a charm in this instance.  Made an incision approximately 1" long above his right wrist, approximately 1/4" deep, found a vein (with the Swiss Army knife tweezers), succeeded in reinserting the IV needle, and reestablishing the IV drip flow.  The patient never uttered a peep of protest -- hardcore Currahee!!!

I don't know whether it was my concentration on that task that blocked out everything going on around me, or simply that the battle had run its course.  Regardless of cause, the battle seemed to have finally come to an end.  It was still dark, but getting light enough to make out people and objects in the fog shrouding the firebase.  I'd guess it was close to 0400 hours.

Didn't hear anymore calls for a medic, so I stayed with that WIA trooper for the most part until it was fully light, then got help carrying him to the triage area.

At some point, possibly around 0600 hours, I was walking north from the LZ toward the center of my artillery battery when an explosion occurred somewhere to the northwest.  I heard a "plop" in the mud a few paces ahead of me a moment or two later.  It looked like a  6"x6" swatch of black carpet.  Turned out to be the top the dead gook's skull who apparently blew himself up inside the perimeter, rather than being taken prisoner.

A Huey landed on Granite around 0730 - 0800 hours, I'm guessing, to evacuate our most severely WIAs -- perhaps 5-7 men.  The fog was thick as pea soup.  I recall barely being able to see the chopper beyond the top of the trees when it lifted-off.  At ground level, the TOC was nearly invisible 75-100 yards from the LZ.  I have no memory of a second Huey landing for evacuations or resupply, but my attention and activities between the Huey's landing and departure, and arrival and departure of the Chinook that followed, were consumed mostly with helping assemble our remaining WIAs and KIAs.  CPT Michaud and I were among the 21 or so WIAs evacuated on the Chinook.  He and I were the only artillery battery casualties.  If memory serves correctly, there were only 5 of us who were "walking wounded" among all the casualties.  (I recall this mostly from events that followed once we arrived at the evac hospital in Phu Bai.)

I returned to the mortar pit where I had been wounded to retrieve our KIA mortarman (James Davis?) with assistance of (presumably) an infantryman.  As I had detected in the darkness earlier, he was now missing both legs and his right arm.  We placed him with our 9 other KIAs, covered with ponchos, just north of our northwestern-most artillery gun emplacement.  I returned to the pit to search for and retrieve body parts, but found none in the immediate area.  Found remnants of my blasted aid bag -- nothing usable.  It looked like the mortar that struck me had landed directly in the bag!  Also discovered remains of my M-16 -- front stock missing, rear stock blown to smithereens, barrel twisted into a corkscrew!  (Doug Moniaci mentioned years later that he saw a similarly damaged weapon in the approximate location I described.)

Continued policing up GI equipment near the mortar site -- web gear, etc.  Picked up a jungle boot and discovered it was filled with the foot/ankle of one of our KIAs, whom I noticed was missing a foot when we placed the mortarman among the bodies.  Placed the boot/body part with the KIAs.  Discovered the aforementioned KIA sapper (top of head shot off) just outside the eastern edge of the mortar pit.  Walked past the aforementioned KIA sapper (throat cut) approximately 2-3 yards south of the TOC -- didn't notice my K-bar knife, but did see a lot of small, wrapped, enemy demolition charges scattered around him.  Checked out the remains of an enemy KIA on the northern perimeter -- apparently had taken the full blast of a 105mm beehive round -- nothing from the waist up, spent flechettes everywhere in and around him.  Left the three enemy KIAs where they lay.

Eventually had my rear-end wound checked by Doc Rumore.  He said it looked pretty chewed up, but had nothing to dress it with.  So, I pulled up my pants and "soldiered on."  Actually, I never seemed to feel much discomfort from it after the initial surprise of getting hit.  Never felt woozy, so figured I wasn't bleeding badly, and within a few minutes the residual pain seemed all but gone.  Never lost any sensations in my lower extremities, thus I also figured I had no nerve damage either.

Headed back to the LZ to assist with loading the remaining WIAs when the Chinook arrived.  I figured I'd hitch a ride to the rear area to get my butt tended to properly before returning to Granite in a day or two.  We were instructed by the flight crew to leave all non-essential gear to keep the liftoff weight down, so I tossed my web gear and flak jacket in the pile, but kept my steel pot on (forgot about the .45 in my pant leg pouch until I was at the hospital).  That's when I noticed the back of my flak jacket was totally shredded from a few inches above the waist to just below the collar from the mortar explosion.

(While passing through the battery area toward the LZ, I don't recall seeing any dead NVA actually in the battery compound, let alone draped over any of our 6 howitzer tubes as claimed by someone's account.  There was word, however, that one crew had disabled its howitzer's breech with an incendiary cannister, fearing we were about to be overrun by the enemy.)

I was near the right door gunner's forward window with CPT Michaud as we lifted off.  When we broke through the fog/cloud cover into clear skies, I asked the door gunner how they ever had found Granite.  He claimed that when they arrived at our coordinates, the pilot dropped through the soup until they were at treetop level and then slowly had inched their way up the hill until they found us!  I spent the remainder of the flight going from man to man checking their wounds, sorting out which needed most immediate attention when we landed, relaying that info to a crew member, who passed it on to either the pilot or co-pilot to relay to the hospital.  I'd guess the flight took about 20-30 minutes until we touched down at Phu Bai.

(Early into our evacuation on the Chinook, CPT Michaud told me that a crude sketch had been found on one of the NVA sapper KIAs, mapping out every foot of the firebase.  He surmised that the barefoot prints we had discovered the morning of 19 March inside the compound had been for that purpose.)


I entered the tented area of the hospital, immediately beyond the LZ, which served as the emergency triage area.  Floor was concrete constructed on a slant -- I supposed to provide drainage for all the blood and guts in such situations.  There were 4-6 stretchers on saw horses, each surrounded by teams of surgeons, nurses, and medical personnel working feverishly to stabilize the most severely wounded men.  I plopped myself on a stool away from the path of countless lifesavers, to wait my turn to be examined/treated.

After a few minutes a nurse (CPT) asked what I was doing there.  I told her I had helped bring the wounded in from Granite and was waiting to see a physician.  Apparently, she didn't hear the last part, because she told me, "We have it under control, so you can head back to your unit now."  I repeated the last part about waiting to see a physician, adding that I had been wounded, too.  She appeared skeptical (probably because I said it in a rather matter-of-fact manner), so asked where I'd been hit.  I simply replied, "I'm sitting on it!" adding something to the effect of, "They taught us to keep pressure on wounds at Fort Sam (Houston: medical AIT)."  Then I stood, dropped my pants, and turned around for her to check out my story.

Needless to say, my butt got her attention.  After she corralled a physician to check out my wound, she asked about my "Fort Sam" comment, to which I told her I was a medic.  From that point on, I swear I felt like they treated me like a 5-star general"!!!

After a cursory exam by a physician (determining no life-threatening wounds), the four of us enlisted "walking wounded" were told we could take a shower outside behind the triage area.  CPT Michaud was nowhere to be seen, so I assumed his officer rank had him being treated somewhere separately by that time.  The shower was open-air in plain view of hospital cadre (male and female) passing by to adjacent buildings.  We didn't mind, but the water was cold, we were given no soap, no towels, nor clean clothes.  After getting most of the mud and blood off ourselves, we put on our muddy, bloody, and torn-up uniforms again, and were given passes (by some Medical Service Corps 1LT) to get chow in the mess hall where most the gawkers had been heading.

(Redressing after the shower, I became aware of the extra weight of my pants -- the .45 still in its pocket.  I also noticed the cover of my steel pot [helmet] was torn.  Closer inspection revealed not only was the camouflage cover torn/shredded in back, but  a fist-size dent and gouges in the steel were evident.  Immediately recalled the back of my flak jacket where the shredding had ended near its collar.  Then recalled how I'd tilted my helmet farther back on my head/neck to keep it from falling off while working on the wounded mortarman moments before the explosion catapulted me out of the mortar pit!)

When we entered the mess hall, the place went dead silent.  We had entered a sanctuary of starched jungle fatigues, highly polished jungle boots, well scrubbed faces, brushed teeth, and combed and clean hair.  By contrast, the four of us were armed to the teeth, wet, muddy, bloody, and dropping clumps of mud on their waxed floor with every step.  All eyes followed us through the chow line, to our table, until we sat and dropped our gear on the floor around us.  Their silence was replaced by a hushed murmur of disbelief.

Within a moment or two of digging in, the top-sergeant (CSM-type!) strode to our table demanding why we were there!  His uniform was pressed and starched to the max, and his damned jungle boots were even spit shined!  We showed him our signed mess hall passes, which he immediately dismissed as unacceptable.  What the heck, I thought, so I stood up, exposing the seat of my chair covered with ooze from my behind, and loudly told him not only had an officer authorized our presence, but that since I was a wounded medic, someone in the mess hall probably would have to replace me in the field ASAP!!!  The look on his face was priceless.  He executed a textbook about-face and made tracks to the door.  Utter silence in the mess hall, followed by mass exodus of the majority, followed by a cook coming to our table, grinning broadly, asking if he could bring us more chow.  Best moment I'd had in the army to that point!  I mean, what could they do -- "Send me to Nam?!"

Don't recall anything afterward until approximately 1800 hours when I was carted off to an operating room to have my wounds treated.  Regained consciousness as I was being rolled out of the OR and noticed a wall clock indicating it was a bit past 2000 hours.   Had an IV in my arm and my butt was sore.

Woke up the next morning (21 March) between clean sheets, with a CPT pushing penicillin into my IV tube while reading a paperback book -- "Catch-22" of all things.  Later in the morning, CPT Michaud stopped by my bed.  He was all spic and span, wearing a new uniform and a clean head bandage, preparing to return to Granite.  CPT Miestrich (2/319th Arty battalion MD) and one of our aid station medics were with him to see how I was doing, before heading back to Camp Evans with the BC (battery commander).  I felt fine, and wondered how come Michaud was good to go, and I was still bed-ridden.  That's when I was told that my wounds had not been closed because they were deep-tissue wounds, instead of a simple scalp laceration like he had received.

Later that day, I discovered a wounded medic pal on my ward who was a Fort Sam Houston classmate of mine -- Spec 4 Joe Vistante.  I had seen Joe at Granite a day or two after arriving.  We had landed in Vietnam at the same time, but he'd been assigned to the Big Red One (1st Inf. Div.), until its "colors" went home earlier in 1970.  Then he was reassigned to the 101st -- Co. B, 326th Engineer Battalion, which was tasked with carving Granite out of the jungle.  Joe was thoroughly peppered with shrapnel from head to toe on his left side.  His left arm was in a cast, and he had no hearing in his left ear.  He claimed he was the lone survivor of a satchel charge thrown into his hooch at the beginning of the attack.

Next day (22 March) I was transferred to the Air Force hospital in DaNang.  It was there that I finally got an officer (Air Force CPT, medical type) to relieve me of my .45 and unused morphine syrettes.  He and his accompanying MP expressed much more concern about why I had morphine in my possession than the fact I had a loaded firearm with a round chambered!  I'm glad I'd saved the paperwork when they were issued to me, as well as the "receipts" for the missing ones I had administered subsequently.

Was flown to Zama Army Hospital in Japan the following morning (23 March).  Had my  wounds closed on 24 March at Zama.  Sutures were removed approximately seven days later.  For some reason I was kept in the hospital until being re-assigned to Ft. Stewart, GA for the remainder of my active duty.  My 5-month, 4-day tour of duty in Vietnam (which included my nearly 2-month stay at Zama) had been "successfully completed" according to Uncle Sam.  To top it off, I was given a 30-day leave before having to report in at Ft. Stewart.

(My "convalescence" in Japan was more like a fantasy R & R come true.  First, my treating/attending physician was an LTC, second only to the hospital commanding officer.  Second, he was from my home town.  Third, his son reportedly was attending the same private high school I had attended there until graduation in 1964.  Fourth, he claimed he needed someone who knew how to play squash [which I'd enjoyed in HS intramurals] to practice with, because of always losing to a lower-ranking major.  Fifth, I started believing that wounded medics got a lot of special treatment by attending medics.  Sixth I got to see a lot of Japan, courtesy of my doc!)

Upon arrival at Ft. Stewart (Hinesville, GA), I was told they had no room for me!  Strange, since they had received at least a dozen copies of my orders, according to its distribution list at the bottom of the page, when they were cut more than a month earlier.  Anyway, they told me to report for duty same day at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, GA, instead.  I did as told, and the following morning was assigned to work as an emergency room corpsman at Tuttle Army Hospital until separation from active duty, 53 weeks later.

When I arrived at Ft. Steward, I had been in the Army a total of 51 weeks.  What a year!


CPT Phillip Michaud (A/2/319th Arty) was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions as battery commander (BC) on FSB Granite on 20 March 1970.  He remained Alpha battery commander until July, at which time he replaced CPT David Rich as BC of Bravo battery on FSB Ripcord.  Rich had been severely wounded.  It was his seventh Purple Heart.  Michaud was awarded his second Silver Star and Purple Heart medals for his actions at Ripcord.  He retired as a Colonel and now resides with his family in Florida.

1LT Robert Price (A/2/319th Arty) was awarded the Bronze Star with "V" Device for his actions on Granite, 20 March 1970.

2LT George Malleck (A/2/319th Arty) was awarded the Bronze Star with "V" Device for his actions on Granite, 20 March 1970.  He had been the battery's forward observer (until February 1970), particularly during a heated battle at FSB Currahee in the A Shau Valley in July 1969.

SSG Jack Prince (A/2/319th Arty) was awarded the Bronze Star with "V" Device for his actions on Granite, 20 March 1970.

SSG Johnnie Watts (A/2/319th Arty) was awarded the Bronze Star with "V" Device for his actions on Granite, 20 March 1970.

SGT Albert Garcia (A/2/319th Arty) was awarded the Bronze Star with "V" Device for his actions on Granite, 20 March 1970.

Spec 4 Gaetano "Tom" Rumore (A/2/319th Arty) was awarded the Bronze Star with "V" Device for his actions as a battery medic on FSB Granite on 20 March 1970.  Doc Tom remained with the battery until the end of his Vietnam tour in December 1970, served his final months of active duty at Ft. Benning, and now resides with his family on Long Island, NY.

Spec 4 Douglas Moniaci (C/1/506th Inf) was awarded the Soldiers Medal for his actions at Camp Evans rescuing members from a burning Chinook tasked to resupply FSB Granite with ammo on 20 March 1970.

Spec 4 Ralph "Doc" Matkin (A/2/319th Arty) was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions at FSB Granite, 20 March 1970.  I was promoted to Spec 5 in February 1971, and separated from active duty 22 June 1971.  I returned to college graduate school that fall, using the GI Bill.  Received my master's in psychiatric rehabilitation counseling in 1973.  Later used the remainder of my GI Bill to earn my doctorate in rehabilitation service administration in 1982.  Joined the California State Military Reserve, as a medical services officer, in 1988 until 1996 (when my unit was inactivated).  Left as an LTC.  Retired as a professor at California State University, Long Beach in 2009.  Reside in southern California.


Awards of the Purple Heart (General Orders No. 59) -- 21 March 1970:

Burkhart, Daniel C. (SP4)  HHC/326 Engr.
Dickoff, David G. (PFC)  C/1/506 Inf.
Dressel, Gerald D. (PFC)  C/506 Inf.
Harris, Matthew   (SP4)   HHC/326 Engr.
Matkin, Ralph E. (PFC - actually I'd been promoted to SP4 in February)  A/2/319 Arty.
McKee, Don W. (PFC)  C/1/506th Inf.
McVay, Donald G. (SP4)  E/1/506th Inf.
Michaud, Phillip L. (CPT)  A/2/319th Arty.
Moss, Kenneth  (PFC)  A/2/502nd Inf.
Moreland, James K. (SGT)  C/1/506th Inf.
Opland, Paul R. (PFC)  C/1/506th Inf.
Orona, Robert  (PFC)  C/1/506th Inf.
Rangel, Fred R. (CPL)  101 Avn Gp.
Rodriguez, Jose R. (SP4)  C/1/506th Inf.
Sangalli, Robert D. (SP4) A/2/502 Inf.
Shiltz, Gary R. (SP4)  C/1/506th Inf.
Tarpein, Gary E. (SP4)  C/1/506th Inf.
Taylor, Thomas L. (SP4)  HHC/1/506th Inf.
Vistante, Joe R. (SP4)  B/326 Engr.