(November 1969 to April 1970)

17 May, 1970 – “A Rainy Day off Firebase Maureen”, I Corps Republic of Vietnam

    I woke up wet, tired and hungry.  It was the 17th of May, 1970.  My unit, C. Co., 1st of the 506th, 101st Airborne, was conducting combat operations in the A Shau Valley, I Corp, Vietnam.  We had been out of food for about two days and were also running low on ammunition.  As I focused on waking, I realized things were just as f---- up as they were when I had fallen asleep. 
     Within the past week, 2nd platoon managed to shoot or blow up more of their own men than I cared to remember.  It seemed that every time it rained hard, 2nd platoon had a major faux pas ending in rounds going down range, grenades being thrown, and claymores exploding. 
     As I came to full focus, I had two things on my mind.  The first being we were in serious Indian Country with well traveled paths crisscrossing the mountain we were logged on.  The second was how the hell I was going to manage to break the 3rd platoon away from 2nd while we were still standing.
     Only a short time passed before shots rang out.  Our Listening Post, which had been prepositioned, ran into the defensive perimeter telling the tale of enemy traveling the trail.  I immediately grabbed my basic load (rifle/ammunition/grenades) and moved quickly across our position towards the gunfire.  As I passed SSG McGee, Booker T, and one or two other soldiers, I ordered them to follow. 
     McGee and I were outside the perimeter moving on a trail and Booker T, along with the others, was bringing up our rear.  I was moving down the left side and McGee was walking slack on the right side.  We were both re-conning by firing bursts on full automatic into the area in front and to the side of our position.  I flipped my rifle from full automatic to single fire for I was expending too much ammunition.  Glancing down, I saw several “Ho Chi Minh” footprints.  As I looked up I caught just the slightest movement to my right front.  I then pulled off several rounds into the bushes where I observed the movement.  After my third round the area I was firing at exploded with gunfire.  I saw muzzle flashes from at least two guns firing on full automatic. 
     Suddenly I felt my right shoulder rip.  The impact spun me to the right and knocked me down.  As I was falling, McGee yelled “are you hit”.   Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion.  My very first thought was “Purple Heart” as I looked at my shoulder for the first time.  When I impacted the ground my thought was “God is not going to let me die”. 
     Bullets were zinging all around impacting the ground as I watched McGee traverse his way to where I lay.   I could see his rifle spitting out fire but the cracking of bullets seemed far away.  I was drifting slightly and knew I was losing consciousness.  McGee slammed down beside me and I told him “be careful, they are shooting baseball bats”. 
     As McGee continued to fire I looked back to see where the other Troops were that started out with us.  I could see no one.  Realizing that we were alone I awkwardly looked for my rifle.  I was trying my best to focus but the mental fog was thickening.  All I could see and hear was McGee firing on full auto and bullets zinging in.
     I realized the volume of enemy fire was increasing and they were closing the distance.  In my peripheral vision I could see the expended brass flying from McGee’s weapon.  I again wondered “where the hell is everyone” as I watched rounds impact the dirt around us.  Out of nowhere Halpain, our M-60 gunner, dropped in on my left side.  Expecting to hear the gun engage all I could do was cuss when I realized Halpain was trying to clear it for it would not fire.  Someone, I believe McGee, then pulled me to my feet and pointed me down the trail towards our defensive perimeter.
     I was moving at a stumble gate as I approached the perimeter.  I could hear the firefight continuing but it seemed to be in the far distance.  Once inside I fell to the ground and crawled to sit up against a tree.  Doc Banks immediately came to me and started assessing my wound.  I recall him raising his voice and then his open hand slapped me in the face.  It stung and I flashed with anger.  As I attempted to react I realized I was in and out mentally.
     Banks was putting a field dressing on my shoulder when another Soldier from the Command Post (CP) came over and asked “is he going to be okay?”  When Banks responded “yes” the Trooper reacted by saying “what do you mean he is okay, half his shoulder is gone”.  I remember thinking “dumb ass” and being thankful the Trooper belonged to the C.P. and not the 3rd herd.
     It was raining and the fog faded the neighboring mountains.  I frequently looked to the sky all the time knowing a chopper could not get to me.  Pain set in and my right side felt as if it was frozen.  My thoughts raced from my Mother and Father back home to the Soldiers I was leaving behind.  The radio crackled that a Medevac was inbound.  As I was helped from the ground I could hear the rotor blades of the chopper.  Prop wash was pushing the surrounding trees but the fog blocked any view.
  Seemed like only seconds elapsed and I, along with another Trooper, was strapped onto the three pronged seat of a jungle penetrator.  With a jolt, we were being hoisted up and out of the perimeter.  I was looking down at Capt. Smith (Zippo) and I could see several other soldiers beside him.  I was uneasy for the speed and sequence of events was out of my control.  Hard lessons had taught control of yourself, your troopers, and the situation (when possible) equalled staying alive.  No control usually resulted in bad things happening to all involved. 
   This day was no different.  As we ascended to about 10 or 12 ft, I heard the pitch of the helicopter change dramatically.  I immediately looked skyward and saw the chopper bank hard left and pick up speed.  Before I was able to understand exactly what was happening, the penetrator that I had been strapped to slammed against a large mahogany tree.  Limbs were breaking around my head area as we gained altitude.  We were about to clear the triple canopy cover when the buckler, attached to the penetrator seat, lodged in the fork of a large tree.  I heard the pressure on the hoist cable and immediately looked past the buckler at the chopper.
     It had lost altitude and was shuddering, banking left and down.  I knew the chopper was going to crash and a flash thought went through my mind of being drug behind and dropped somewhere in the jungle.  I was angry as hell at the pilot, not understanding why he had not cut the cable loose to free us.  Within seconds I heard a tremendous crack (cable snapping) and the penetrator that I was seated on was now headed back to the ground.  Limbs and brush were striking my lower body and as we fell, I tucked my head down, pulled my elbows in, and put my feet together.
     I recall thinking that by assuming the “tree landing position” I could at least save (if my training was correct) my groin area from a major catastrophe.  Each time we encountered a major limb or branch our falling position changed from head up, to head down, to sideways.  Before I could mentally process what landing position I desired, we hit the ground.  We were in a “sideways” position when we impacted with me being on top and my fellow passenger being on the bottom. 
     Once we were on the jungle floor it took a short time for me to assess that I was alive and half-ass functional.  I recovered to my feet as fast as I could and my immediate thought was to find a weapon and shoot the hell out of the chopper.  After a short time I calmed some and then told Zippo that I wasn’t getting on another jungle penetrator.  I tried my best to Ranger up and present confidence when saying “I can walk out to an LZ, I am not getting on another penetrator”. 
     Zippo responded by telling me that I was hurt too bad to walk out and that another chopper was inbound.  The field radio crackled traffic from the Dust Off pilot and when he identified himself as “Triple Niner” I felt a degree of relief.  I had never met Triple Niner face to face but we had often talked via the radio.  Over the past months Triple Niner had earned a well deserved reputation for his willingness to recover the wounded when others would not. 
     As I waited for Triple Niner to come on station I found myself looking across the defensive perimeter and pondering the chances of a successful extraction.  The rain had increased and the fog had seriously cut visibility.  My shoulder ached severely and my entire body felt as if someone had worked out on it with a wooden mallet.  The radio cracked again with Triple Niner reporting that he was inbound and off in the distance I could hear his rotor blades.  Within no time Triple Niner was on station and lowering another penetrator.  As I looked at the cable coming down I thought, how appropriate: “they have a basket”.  I crawled into the basket and was positioned on top of my previous penetrator companion.  My head was between his boots and I was laying face down.  My final thought, as they hoisted us out, was that at least this time, if we don’t make it out we are already in a half- ass casket.
     The basket spun around several times as we ascended.  Once we were level with the door of the helicopter, the crew chief started pulling the basket in.  He had managed to pull us about half way when the chopper dipped its nose and started forward.  Once the basket was secure inside, the onboard medic asked me if I could move off the soldier I was laying on.  I then crawled to the side and leaned up against the open door of the helicopter.  Within a very short time we broke out of the bad weather and flew into the sun.  I looked down and saw the shoreline of the South China Sea.   
     As I sat in the door the wind blew warm clean air into my face and all seemed surreal. My mind was having a difficult time adjusting to the contrast of where I was just a short time ago, bleeding on the jungle floor and where I was now, flying over clean blue water.  Before I was able to totally focus on the events of the day I saw a huge white ship steaming off the starboard side of the chopper.  As we made the approach I could see a red cross on the deck and in large print I read “USS Sanctuary”.  Once the chopper landed on the deck I felt a surge of strength.  I stepped off the skid firmly putting my boots down on the flight deck.  I could see several figures dressed in solid white jump suits coming towards me.  Seeing that they were pushing gurneys, I started to walk towards them.  When I took the first step I immediately went down.  It was as if someone had just swept my legs leaving me no support.
     As I fell, I turned slightly in an attempt to shield my right shoulder.  I recall thinking that the flight deck was hard.  I then almost laughed for I knew it was made of steel and it was supposed to be hard.  The first person that reached me put one hand on me and asked if I had any weapons or ammunition.  Realizing that I still had a 45 pistol in my fatigue leg pouch I replied yes and told him where it was.  When he pulled the pistol from my pants I snapped on the fact it had a round up the pipe.  Before I could say anything the person ejected the magazine and pulled the slide back to clear it.  As they loaded me on the gurney, I thought “lucky I didn’t get a 45 round in the ass”. 
     The gurney was quickly pushed across the flight deck to a small hanger.  Once in the hanger the staff started cutting off my pants and shirt.  A medic was trying to start an IV but was having a difficult time finding an arm vein that would work.  A nurse took over and told me to turn my head to the side.  She gently pushed my chin a bit farther and then inserted the IV in the side of my neck.  Once the IV was secure they pushed my gurney into a smaller room.  After taking x-rays of my shoulder they moved me to an operating table.  When they removed the field dressing from my shoulder I heard one of the nurses gasp slightly.  I remember telling her she “shouldn’t do that” and as I finished my comment, a plastic nose/mouth piece was placed on my face.  I took a deep breath and bam, the lights went out.  I am not sure how long I was in surgery nor do I recall how long I was out, but I do remember when I awoke I had already been placed in a ward. 
     A short time after waking a medic came to my rack and asked if I was hungry.  I replied that I was starving and he indicated that he would round up some food for me.  Before leaving the Medic cranked my bed up slightly to raise my head.  A Marine was situated in the rack next to me.  He had been wounded but not seriously for he was sitting on the edge of his bed.  He asked me how I was doing and I responded by saying that I am not sure.  At the same time I started checking myself out and realized that I had no clothing on and that I had been cleaned up while asleep. 
     During our talk I told the Marine that something didn’t feel quite right.  I then pulled my cover sheet off and realized that my shoulder was bleeding and the blood had pooled in the mattress impression made by my buttock.  The Marine started yelling for a Corpman and a LCDR Nurse arrived beside my rack.  A short time elapsed and several other medics came with a gurney.  Once loaded I was again whisked off to an operating room.  The nurse stayed with me and when the doctor arrived, advised him about the amount of blood I had lost. 
     While looking at my shoulder wound the Doctor seemed to become angry.  He started pulling and pushing on the wound and at the same time demanded to know “who had operated on me?”  The LCDR Nurse was holding my left hand as the Doctor continued working on me and asking “who did this?”  I recall looking the nurse in the eyes and saying without speaking “is this jackass serious?” A short time later I told the surgeon, that “I do not know the name of the fellow that shot me but he was definitely an NVA Soldier”.  The Nurse immediately squeezed my hand more firmly as if to say stand by for you’re really going to get it now. 
     The Doctor continued to work on my shoulder but did not ask again for the identity of “who did this”.  Thinking back the Doctor obviously fixed the problem (stopped the bleeding) but did not care about the pain he caused me in the process.  Why he acted the way he did I do not know.  What I do know, is that from that point in my life on, I have not allowed a doctor or anyone else to treat me with such arrogance or disrespect. 
     My stance on this issue has not always resulted in positive boosts to my personal or professional life.  However, it has resulted in the satisfaction of knowing that I have rewarded “rude behavior” with more pain than I received.  From 17 May, 1970 until today, the equation (give me pain I will double it back to you), has dominated my words and actions in such situations.
     I awoke on the morning of the 18th of May and needed to go to the bathroom.  As I maneuvered out of bed and to the head I could not believe how painful my entire body was.  Once I arrived I leaned my head against the bulkhead to steady myself and urinated.  While leaning, a Marine asked me “were you hurt somewhere other than your shoulder?”  I immediately responded by saying “no” but then reflected and said “it will take a bit to figure out what exactly I did hurt”.
      As I traversed out of the head and back to my rack I was thinking, “Maybe today will be better than yesterday”.  When I got close to my rack I could smell eggs and bacon.  My eyes went large and I immediately spied a wheeled table with a breakfast tray.  As I slipped back into my rack my thought was, at least today is starting off with “clean sheets and a hot breakfast”.  I smiled and almost laughed.  I caught the laugh before I made a noise and quickly reminded myself “pay attention” for I was still in Vietnam and without notice sitrep’s were subject to change.   

Stephen R. Smith

Note:  This story was written by Steve Smith.  On the 17th of May, 1970 Steve, a twenty (20) year old U. S. Army, Airborne Ranger SSG, was serving as the Acting Platoon Leader with 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st of the 506th, 101st Airborne Division, I Corp, Republic of Vietnam.




Steve Smith here.  In looking at the C. Co roster I think I can assist you on two of the guys.  First one is listed as "Pinky".  He was a SP4 and his name is Bruce Kotschwar. 

He recently moved and as of now I do not have his new address.  Pinky was in the 3rd platoon and came into C. Co. a short time after I left (Spring of 70).

The second is "Chief".  His name is Ken Hamil.  He was the RTO (secure set) for Zippo.  Came from the 1st Infantry Div.  Rank - SP4.

I also remember "Chicken Man" but do not recall his formal name.  He was a Lt. (forward observer).

Larry Sonnier was nicknamed "Little TX".  He joined C. Co. late May 70 (3rd Platoon).  After Zip left country the new C.O. sent Larry to the field when he had two weeks or so left. 

Larry stepped on a booby trap and lost his left leg just below the knee.  His wife's name is Rita.  Larry is currently in a rest home (VA) in Lafayette, La.  I am not sure of the date of his injury.

I do vividly remember the fight on Granite.  I was 3rd Platoon Sgt. during the assault.  We lost (3rd Platoon) one dead and three wounded.  The KIA was with our listening post along with the three wounded men.  Danny Richards was one of the wounded.  He along with SGM Foronda most probably could tell a pretty good story. 

About two or three days after the initial attack I ran the recovery of the Sniper Team that suffered two dead one wounded, one missing. 

The missing man ended up walking in that morning while we were still recovering the wounded man and the two KIAs.  SGT Sams was one of the KIAs and I believe Wells was the other. 

The next night we were getting socked in again.  I was getting a brief from Farmer when "The last bird" to Evans was leaving.  Guys were scrambling trying to get loaded.  All the rear guys that came out (Chaplain, Cooks with chow, others, etc.) were "big eyed" and moving fast.

When I returned to my Platoon's fighting positions I found that my Platoon Leader had also loaded on the "last bird".  I was 3rd Platoon Leader when we walked off (that night or a day or so later) and my platoon took point.  We humped all night until about 3 or 4 a.m. 

We hooked up with another Company (C.O. carried a 12 ga).  Next day we choppered back into Granite.  Pretty strange series of events.  When we arrived back at Evans I, along with the team that was with me (during the recovery of the Sniper Team members), were summoned to BN. 

Upon arrival we were greated by a W.O. from C.I.D.  All of us provided written statements regarding what we found (type of terrain, condition of the KIAs/WIA, etc.).

I have previously written a detailed summary about Granite.  I will forward it to you for it will provide more details.