Monthly Archives: September 2014

Captain Hank Parker – Battery Commander – Part Two

Captain Hank Parker


ARVN - South Vietnamese Soldiers
ARVN – South Vietnamese Soldiers

Kluk Kluk Kool-Aid

I had been a month without mail when somehow a package comes in for me while I’m on another operation with the ARVNs. I open the package and it’s got Kool-Aid in it. The ARVNs never had Kool-Aid, so when we’re stopped by a beautiful, clear mountain stream I take the opportunity to make Kool-Aid for them. You couldn’t ask for cleaner water. We all go down to the stream and they fill their helmets with water. I mix the Kool-Aid in and they drink it right out of their helmets.

After the Kool-Aid the water looks mighty inviting so we decide to take a dip in the stream and wash up. I been out there so long my fatigues are beginning to walk by themselves. Jeez, talk about smelling bad. I strip down and get ready to hop in the river and bathe. The thing about the Vietnamese when they get in the water they never strip, they got their shorts on. They’re very modest. Well I strip down and I hop in and we’re all swimming around and bathing and having a merry old time.

All of a sudden the Vietnamese start making this sound, “Kluk …Kluk.” The Vietnamese are pointing and all yelling “Kluk … Kluk … Kluk.” I’m looking for a duck and they’re getting out of the water and running all over the place. But I don’t pay it any mind. I’m buck naked, backstrokin’ and spitting water into the air in a nice little fountain. All of a sudden I see these eyes looking at me in the water. Holy crap! I walk on water getting out of there. I never moved so fast in my life. I don’t know how I did it, but I am up and out of the water in a blink. The Vietnamese are standing around laughing and thinking this is hilarious. Kluk … Kluk stands for something like an alligator. It’s the sound the animal makes.

I never knew what this beast was until after Vietnam on one of our family trips to Asia. In a small rural town we’re looking at the egrets coming into roost in the evening. They are a pure white all landing in the trees, and there’s hundreds of them. I’m watching the birds and I hear “Kluk Kluk” and BAM! there goes one of the birds. It was like a huge Komodo Dragon. I got up on top of a dam and saw one that was at least nine feet long. I leaned then that Kluk Kluk meant to get out of the water … fast.

Stripping for Kluk Kluk
Stripping for Kluk Kluk  

That Special Smell

I get word that I’m going back to LZ Sherry as Assistant XO (third in command). But right away I’m going out on a heliborne operation. I get to Sherry the day before the operation and I see the helipad it’s loaded with howitzer ammunition, ready to go, a small mountain of explosives. I say to the battery commander, “What’s the ammo doing on the helipad? It’s not secure.”

He says, “It’s for the heliborne tomorrow.”

I say, “I don’t think that’s wise.”

He says, “Just lump it.”

“OK. You’re the boss.”

I look for a place to hooch for the night in one of the hooches reserved for lieutenants and dump my stuff. Then I walk around talking to the various gun crews. I go to the FDC (Fire Direction Center) to get more information on the heliborne, but they do not have much. So I go back out and I begin to familiarize myself with the battery area: where the perimeter defenses are, where the ARVNs are, where the towers are, things like that.

The day is coming to a close and soon it’s night. You know how Sherry was; when it was dark it was pitch black. In the early morning hours the battery is shooting a fire mission for the infantry and I go back to the FDC to observe. That’s when I hear a call come in from a tanker stationed on our perimeter, “I’ve got movement in the wire.” He says in the wire! Whoever is on the radio is stunned, like a deer in the headlights. I literally take the handset and say, “Jesus Christ, Fire!” Because I know. And BOOM. When a tank fires it’s an entirely different sound. It fires only one round, a canister round (like an enormous shotgun shell loaded with ball bearings).

Things go into slow motion and maybe because I had been in more combat I got a familiar smell. When you have casualties the blood and the cordite from the powder mix and send out a special odor. Almost instantly I smell it and know we killed somebody. Remember at this point we’re in a fire mission, the guns are shooting in support of the infantry. At that point the guns switch to their sector fire on our own perimeter. Now it’s organized chaos. The guns are firing, there’s illumination in the air, the towers are firing machine guns.

I know we wounded a lot people just from the smell, but find out in the morning that we had killed 23 soldiers, a lot in the wire from the tank round, and more in a cluster of bushes probably from the howitzer sector fire. Those guys had Bangalore torpedoes and satchel charges. If they had gotten past the wire the howitzers would have been useless, and had they set off the ammo on the helipad that would have neutralized the battery. We would have been hard pressed to even have fired direct fire with Bee Hive rounds. 

At that juncture everybody who’s anybody in our field force area has to come down and see this and take pictures. The bottom line if you look at the soldiers and the weaponry, you have a combination of NVA, sappers and VC. And of course there among the bodies is our one-armed barber. After that Judson becomes the barber. I have a picture of me sitting with Judson cutting my hair. That’s significant because this is a safe barber.

Parker Getting a Safe Haircut
Parker Getting a Safe Haircut

 The Battle for Outpost Sara

That morning, instead on going on the heliborne operation, I go back to Betty and then out as an FO on an assault with Delta company of the 3rd Battalion of 506th Infantry.

The 506 is a regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. It’s known as The Currahees – Cherokee for ‘Stand Alone.’ Formed in 1942, it played a major role in WWII engagements on D Day and in the Battle of the Bulge.

All of the operations I go on with the 3/506 are to the north of Sherry between the battery and the village of Thien Giao. I am shocked when I see the tunnel complexes and weapons caches, and here is our firing battery sitting in the center of all this. We’re talking battalions of NVA (more than 2000 enemy soldiers). These aren’t VC or regional forces. It’s like swarming bees out there less than a mile from our perimeter.

The whole objective of the NVA is to control the area around Sherry by overrunning outpost Sara a short distance to the northeast, with the ultimate goal of taking LZ Betty (an administrative, military and logistics center south of Sherry on the coast).

You know we have superior airpower, but the 3/506 infantry is outnumbered three to one on the ground. And the maneuvering by their battalion commanders is spectacular. It’s the heaviest fighting the Currahees will encounter all year. Still we clean their clocks, and that has a lot to do with B Battery at LZ Sherry. It fires almost continuously during that period, sometimes all day and all night long. It shows the importance of what a 105 mm howitzer can do. 

Danger Close

The commander of Delta Company is Captain Gerald Wrazen. He is a great company commander. He is on his second tour in Vietnam, and was an enlisted man for his first tour. Early on I tell Captain Wrazen I want to try something I learned in Hawaii.

Captain Jim Schlottman, who had fought at the battle of Ia Drang, shared with me a technique he learned from the NVA. He used the term belting. They belt you. The enemy gets as close as they can to you knowing that when they are close it neutralizes your ability to call in artillery because you’ll injure your own men.

I said to Captain Schlottman, “What do you do in those situations?”

He said, “That’s when you set up a false perimeter. You set up, you make a lot of noise, you leave trash laying around, and as soon as the sun sets you back up 50 or 60 yards. You wait until they come and when they hit your false perimeter you call the artillery in on top of them – HE (High Explosive) first round.

Now in Vietnam I’m still a new FO and Wrazen is pretty skeptical. He says, “We’ll see.”

When we set up our NDP (night defensive position) Wrazen wants me to register four targets on the cardinal directions. I say, “Captain Wrazen, that’s silly to do. Don’t you appreciate that if I fire four rounds north, south, east and west, you don’t think Charlie or the NVA’s gonna know we’re in the middle?”

He says, “You know Hank, I never thought of that before.”

I say, “Let me show you this.” I call B battery FDC at Sherry and give them four targets away from our position. I tell them I just want to show the company commander something. So they fire the four targets and no more than ten minutes later BA-ROOM, BA-ROOM, BA-ROOM. They mortar right in the center of those four rounds. So now Captain Wrazen gives some credence to what I’m saying.

That night as we’re setting up our position I call FDC back at Sherry with the coordinates for them to set a gun up for us. I say, “I want the base piece howitzer ready, one round, HE, and I want it fast when I call for it.” They say they’re not going to give me an HE on the first round. I say, “It’s a false perimeter, we’ll be away and off the target line.” They say as long as I call it in DANGER CLOSE they’ll do it. At this point I know the guns and I know the guys at B Battery, they know me, and I know they’ll fire for me. I was there the night of the ground attack and that means lot.

Then we set up the false perimeter. We make a lot of noise, leave a few cans laying around and then pull back about 100 yards. Early in the morning, around 2:00 AM, Charlie hits that perimeter and they open up with small arms fire. I call up FDC and right now I get one round of HE. BOOM. End of attack. Nails ‘em right there. All over. It is a total surprise to the enemy. They expect smoke, or illumination or white phosphorous. They don’t expect a first round HE.

So from that point on with our FDC and Captain Wrazen, if I want first round HE I get it. All I have to do is say DANGER CLOSE.

You see that one shot was fired off three digit grid coordinates, that was it – three digits east and three digits north from the grid coordinate. Again the importance of map reading and knowing where you are. What I do with Captain Wrazen when we’re on operations, I always make sure that the pilot takes us to where we were supposed to be. I learned my lesson at Green Valley. Then when we get on the ground and start maneuvering, my radio operator and I always count our paces off a known feature. I ask the infantry point man to do the same thing, and with Captain Wrazen we all have to agree on where we are within a couple yards.

Playing At Infantry

During this time two guys from the meteorological section up at Sandy are a little bored. So they go out to the trash dump to play infantry. They take their weapons and they want to kill some Charlie. They go out and they don’t return and are reported as missing. The infantry goes out to search and they find their three quarter ton truck but no sign of the met guys. They call for a search team with dogs and the dogs still don’t find them. Later their bodies are found decapitated.

“Who Won the World Series?”

 We’re out on an operation, this time platoon sized (about 30 soldiers). We are on an air assault coming into a hot landing zone (taking fire from the ground). That is interesting because I’d already prepped the site with artillery and gunships. We’re going in and typically Captain Wrazen and I are in the lead helicopter. He’s out on the right skid and I’m on the left. You get on the skid when you’re on the final run into the LZ, so you can just hop off.

We’re over tall elephant grass and I’m on the skid. I don’t have an RTO (radio telephone operator who carries and operates the radio equipment). Wrazen won’t get me an RTO so I have to carry the thing myself. I’ve got the PRC 25 and two battery packs strapped on my back and my weapon. For me that is a lot of weight.

When we start taking fire the helicopter banks left and up, which throws me off into the elephant grass. I hit with a thud that knocks the wind out of me. My steel pot goes flying, but I hold onto my M16, which is another lesson I learned. My ears are ringing, I’m in a panic, and all I know is they’re gone and I’m the only one in this tall elephant grass. So I just start shooting, not on automatic – I learned this from the ARVNs – not to open up and empty a magazine. They had good fire discipline, knowing they only had so much ammo. I start shooting 360 degrees, a couple rounds each burst. Unknown to me the infantry had landed a few hundred yards off to my right, and they’re coming to get me. I’m still firing away and I hear this racket coming toward me. From the grass someone says, “Hank, stop shooting”

I say without even thinking, I guess from my basic training, “Who goes there?”

He say, “It’s me, Captain Wrazen.”

I say, “Who won the World Series?”

He says, “Hank, the World Series hasn’t been played yet. Stop shootin’ so we can get on with our mission.”

I am embarrassed. I grew up watching John Wayne and war movies. I’d watched enough movies that’s what I came out with. I was a Yankee fan and loved the World Series. But to be honest, I worked with some Vietnamese who spoke pretty good English. I knew Captain Wrazen but in a crisis situation like that, you’re in a panic, you revert back to your training.

The benefit of my getting thrown off the helicopter is that Captain Wrazen now realizes I need an RTO. So shortly I get my RTO and don’t have to carry the radio.

Still during this period I never know if my RTO is going to be with me or not, whether he’s going to drop the radio or have the SOI with him (Signal of Operating Instructions). Each day you go to your SOI and that gives you your radio call sign for that day (your handle). With all this going on I simply keep the call sign Joyful Orphan until I leave Vietnam. I don’t bother with the SOI because everybody knows me and knows my voice. 

Combat Cross-Dressing

 The next morning we do another combat assault. We are platoon size again and tromping through rice paddies. There are mama-sans planting rice. Out of nowhere I say to Captain Wrazen, “Those are not mama-sans planting rice.” Again this is something I had learned through observation in my time with the Vietnamese. I know what a mama-san planting rice looks like. These are not women squatting and planting rice. These are somebody else. We position, we engage and open fire. Now they come up men with AKs and we wipe them out. We do a search and we find their backpacks, where we find their uniforms and more women’s clothing. It was instinctive. I knew those were not women.

Napalm Up Close and Personal

 In that area the enemy has tunnels and sophisticated bunker systems. We are pinned down by small arms fire, and artillery is not denting them. Captain Wrazen wants air support, so I call in the Air Force and we drop napalm. I had never dropped napalm before. These canisters come tumbling down, hitting the trees and bouncing all over the place bursting into flame. When they burst you immediately smell it and it sucks the air right out of the area. We were a little bit close, and when the platoon pulls back we don’t have hair on our arms or eyebrows.

When we get to the bunker complex we find the enemy burned to a crisp – in place and weapons in hand.

 A Zippo To The Rescue

We are out on a clover leaf operation with a squad (about 10 soldiers). Typically an FO did not go out with a small unit, but I wanted to observe and learn from their tactics. We get out there and we spot a couple of VC. I think they are NVA. We follow them for about half a mile and we come under mortar, rocket and heavy weapons fire. To me that’s not a platoon of VC. The weaponry itself tells you you’ve encountered something much larger.

At that point I call in artillery from Sherry, I call in big guns from LZ Sandy, I then get the searchlights on Whiskey Mountain, and I call in gunships. They’ve got me pinned behind a rice paddy dike. My RTO falls and drops the radio, so the radio’s between him and me and there’s no way in hell he can get out to it because he’s pinned by the fire. I at least got the rice paddy dike, so I crawl back to get the radio and come back to the dike. I see the green tracers above me (every fifth round), and the fire is chewing down the dike, so I’m getting lower and lower. The gunships are overhead but they can’t tell who’s who. So I pull my Zippo lighter from my pocket, I light it and throw it over the dike and say to the pilot, “Can you see that?”

He says, “I see a flame.”

I say, “That’s it. They’re north of that flame.” It was just enough light to show the gunships where to fire. They fired and gave us enough cover to get back to our platoon in a safe area. I’ll always admire Zippo lighters because that sucker just burned and burned.

The next day I go out looking for that lighter and cannot find it. It had Snoopy on the lid, and engraved on the side was,

Yeah though I walk through the valley of death

I will fear no evil,

for I am the meanest son of a bitch in the valley. 

I would have given anything to have found that lighter.

I say to Captain Wrazen, ”We were outnumbered and we were outgunned, yet they disappeared without a fight. That means something. I don’t know what it means, but something just isn’t right.”

We were just a squad against two battalions. They could have taken us on and chose not to. The reason they could disappear were the tunnel complexes. I mean this is 400 yards out from Sherry. There has to be something else going on.

Later I figure out the reason they did not want to engage us was that they were getting ready to hit Betty. If they took us on they were going to take on casualties and not be able to go after the larger target. In reality I don’t think they wanted Outpost Sara. It was a diversion so the main NVA force could position for an attack on Betty, which proved to be the case eleven days later. 

Captain Hank Parker – Battery Commander – Part One

Captain Hank Parker


Captain Hank Parker served two tours in Vietnam. These stories in all their parts cover his first tour from November, 1968 to November, 1969. It was during this first four that he     served with B Battery. Among the many awards and medals he earned on this tour are:

The Silver Star

Three Bronze Stars – two with “V” Device for Valor

The Air Medal

The Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Bronze Star

The Purple Heart

On his second tour he earned another Purple Heart and the Combat Infantry Badge.

When I got to Vietnam I served a long apprenticeship with the infantry before becoming XO and then battery commander of B Battery. I was an artillery forward observer (FO) on search-and-destroy missions with the Special Forces; and I went on airmobile operations with two South Vietnamese infantry battalions (ARVNs); and then accompanied the 3/506 airborne infantry as it took on two battalions of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). On one of my efficiency reports the battalion commander said that I’d become a seasoned combat officer. I think that is how I ultimately got to be battery commander at LZ Sherry as a first lieutenant. 

Preparation in Hawaii

 Before Vietnam it was significant that I did a tour in Hawaii with an artillery battalion attached to the 6th Infantry Division. The battery commanders were all seasoned Vietnam vets. My commanding officer was Captain James Schlottman, who had been a forward observer in the bitter fighting in the Ia Drang valley, portrayed in the book We Were Soldiers Once … and Young. He did not talk about Vietnam a lot, but when he did I listened. I used one of his lessons in Vietnam when I was out with the infantry – Delta Company of the 3/506 – and my guess it saved some lives. I was on a special artillery test team, where I practiced aerial observation for mobile artillery positions. By the time I got to Vietnam, what most guys had to learn in country, I already had.

First Things First

 The brave person that I am, the first thing I do when I got to Vietnam is find a chapel and go to a service. I ask the priest if he has a rosary and he gives me one. It is in a plastic bag and I carry that rosary with me day in and day out. It never gets wet. I keep it in my breast pocket and it is with me the whole time. To me that is very important, because I had gone to a Catholic seminary for three years and religion is important to me. When I get into situations of life or death, what am I going to do? I want to make sure I am in an OK place with my faith and with my God. That’s the first thing I do when I got to Vietnam – make sure I am in an OK place.

I keep it in my breast pocket where I can touch it. The times when I am particularly scared I touch it for solace and to be reassured. It is a good way to ground myself. To make sure I stay in the here and now and make sure things are OK.

I am concerned mostly with the safety of everyone around me, that the decisions I make be logical, at the same time that I keep in mind my humanness and my compassion, and that I not go against my principles, my own beliefs. The rosary provides me that. It is my combat rosary.

I brought the rosary home and my daughter has it now.

I also carry a piece of paper in my wallet, which I still have and carry.

Hank leaves the room to retrieve his wallet.

Every morning I take this out and read it. It’s been with me all these years. It reminds me that whatever happens, he’ll see me through.


God does not promise skies always blue … but …

he does promise to see us through. 

Special Forces

I’m assigned to B Battery out at LZ Sherry and I figure this is going to be my permanent assignment. I fly there from Phan Thiet where Captain Gilliam greets me. I dump my gear in a hooch, and then the XO introduces me around the battery. The place is busy, very hot, dusty, miserable, and nobody’s particularly interested in meeting a green first lieutenant. I go back to unpack my gear when they tell me not so fast. You’re going back to Phan Thiet to deploy with a Special Forces unit. And better yourself a rucksack because you’ll be living in the field. Beyond that nobody told me what I was supposed to be doing.

These SF guys are strac, everything in order, know their mission to a T. They do not seem to need me and I feel like dead weight. I fire a couple artillery missions with them, but go out mostly on pacification operations to the villages. I don’t think I’m learning a lot, but I am just by watching and hanging around these guys. That experience proves irreplaceable in terms of how I will later function in crisis situations in real combat.

I go to LZ Judy for about a week (firebase west of Sherry) as Assistant XO (executive officer) and Fire Direction Officer.

Then I convoy in APCs (armored personnel carriers) loaded with ammo to LZ Sandy (northeast of Sherry.) They’ve got the big guns, the 8” and 175 mm howitzers. I am put in charge of a single 105 mm howitzer on loan from Sherry to shoot illumination at night. I think, Okay, at least this is getting me closer to home, to my 105s that I know.

It begins to dawn on me I am also learning a little about the 8” and the 175 mm. I have the opportunity to learn all of the resources that are available to me when I am out in the field. The Army did not plan it that way, but that is how it is working out. When I start calling in fire the folks at Sandy are gonna know who Lt. Parker is, and I will also have confidence in them.

Out With the ARVNs

The missions I fired with the Special Forces impressed a major enough that he now wants me back. He sends me up to Song Mao with the 23rd ARVN division.

Lt. Parker Near Song Mao
Lt. Parker Near Song Mao

 When I get there I am shocked when I see my FO is one of my classmates: Rich DeSoto. This proves to be very fortuitous for me because there is not a better map reader than Rich. We are in dense triple canopy jungle, sometimes the sun cannot penetrate, and Rich always knows where he is. I watch how he does it and he teaches me. Whenever we take a break and whenever we stop, Rich has his compass and his map and he’s figuring, where am I? In that type of environment you don’t have the reference points we had in training. You can’t see a nearby mountain. We are maneuvering with battalion size elements (about 500 – 600 soldiers). When you have three companies clover-leafing you got to know where they are if you’re going to call in artillery. Because if you don’t, you’re going to hit them. Being an FO is 90% map reading.

On a maneuver with Rich the ARVNs have these chieu hoi, POWs and deserters who are now working for us. They wear the crappiest uniforms the ARVNs can give them They carry equipment, make fires, and cook for the troops. On one of our stops the chieu hoi are off in their own area. A unit of VC comes through and sees our chieu hoi and think they are ARVN deserters because of their lousy uniforms. So the VC sit down to have supper with them. Shortly into the meal they realize, oh my god, these are actually ARVNs, they are not deserters. Then the gunfire breaks out and we hear it and join in the action. It’s like keystone cops with people screaming and diving everywhere. In those close quarters, with the foliage and the density of the undergrowth, somehow nobody gets hurt.


Chieu Hoi
Chieu Hoi

 Years later I am in DC with Rich and another vet friend. We’re having dinner and drinks when Rich goes into the story about when he was out with the ARVNs. He says that all of a sudden he hears loud voices in Vietnamese arguing back and forth and he doesn’t know what’s going on but knows somebody’s not happy. Next thing, he says, there’s gunfire.

I break into his story and say, “Yea, we were duckin’ and takin’ cover, jeez there’s AK47 and M16 fire going back and forth.”

He says, “You weren’t there, you don’t know anything about that.”

I say, “Rich, I was there with you. I took your picture!”

“You were not.”

So I get my picture and show him doing his map reading in the jungle.

He says, “I remember that now. You were there.”

So he writes a book, Never a Hero, puts this escapade in, and puts the picture on the back cover.

Lt. DeSoto Studying His Map
Lt. DeSoto Studying His Map

Trung Úi Boom-Boom

 I go out on another operation, not with Rich this time, and again I’m with a battalion size force. We load up in Chinook helicopters and away we go. I’ve got my map and compass and I know where we’re going. I have it already plotted and I have the radio frequencies for calling in fire. Everything’s great.

We’re in the air awhile and I know enough of where we are going to realize that we’re in the air too long. I get real uncomfortable. I say to the infantry officer on my chopper, “This cannot be where we’re going, we been in the air too long.”

We land and I can’t believe it. We’re in a beautiful, lush green valley. I bet there had not been people in that valley for hundreds of years. Beautiful. The companies form up and start to cloverleaf in the cardinal directions on search-and-destroy type missions. I’m the FO so I stay at the command post with the battalion officers.

The day before I had some Vietnamese food and it really didn’t settle well with me. Because of that I have a really bad case of the scoots. The old belly gurgles and I know I’m going to have a bout, so I charge out into the woods and find a relatively private spot. I drop my jungle fatigues and am in such a hurry not to ruin my pants that I put my M16 up against a tree. The diarrhea is painful and I break out into a sweat, but I don’t mess my pants and I’m feeling good about that.

I hear something and I look up and I see two North Vietnamese coming down the trail. And then it dawns on me this is a well traveled trail. These guys are smoking and laughing and chatting. They got their AK47s. Then I realize, oh my goodness I don’t have my rifle. It’s against the tree. As they proceed down the trail I think they may not see me but they’re definitely going to smell me. Sad to say, but that’s absolutely the case. It isn’t going to be that much longer and I have to decide what I am going to do. When they are directly in front of me I jump up and yell and at the same time grab my rifle and start firing, my pants still around my ankles. The funny part is they scream back and run up the trail as I’m shooting at them, probably spooked by a crazy man with no pants.

I immediately pull my pants up, fasten my belt, and I get back to the battalion CP. I say we need to get the hell out of here because we are not in the right area.

The Vietnamese battalion commander says, “Trung úi, pháo binh.”

I know trung úi means lieutenant, but I do not know what pháo binh means. I take a guess and say, “Boom-boom?” which is the closest sound I could make to suggest a howitzer firing. I don’t realize what boom-boom really means. It does not mean artillery.

He says, “Pháo binh.”

I come again with, “Boom-boom? Boom-boom?”

“Pháo binh! Pháo binh!”

When I figure out we both mean the same thing I call in a smoke round on where we’re supposed to be. Not only do I not see the smoke, I do not hear the report of the howitzer. Immediately I call for two more rounds of smoke. I neither see it, nor do I hear it. I say, “We need to get helicopters out of here, because we’re in a well traveled area by the NVA and don’t have any artillery support.” The ARVN battalion commander sets up a perimeter, calls the infantry back in and orders helicopters.

By the time the Chinooks land to pick us up the NVA have massed and are coming at us. We are just about loaded and as the ramps are coming up on the back of the Chinooks the NVA are trying to get on with us. We’re pushing them out and throwing them off as fast as they try to get on. It’s mayhem, a real cluster. Amazingly there’s no shooting, and at the end of it all nobody gets hurt.

There is a lot for me to think about on the way back. The two NVA coming down the trail were obviously raw recruits in spanking new uniforms and shiny new AK47s. A scream and a couple M16 bursts from a half-naked soldier shooed them away. Had we hit a seasoned NVA element, they would have brought us down with rockets, B40 Bangalores. We’d be gone. We were lucky we were battalion sized. With that many men maybe we had them outnumbered. Still why didn’t anyone fire his weapon when they came at us, including me? I conclude that basically soldiers do not want to die.

I also figure out how the helicopter pilots misread their maps. In that part of the mountains there are multiple parallel valleys and they just went down the wrong valley. That’s another lesson. Pilots don’t always know where they’re going. As the FO I should have known at all times. And when you touch the ground – another lesson from DeSoto – you always fire a marking smoke round to verify you’re where you’re supposed to be. I probably would have done that, but nature called and I had to go into the woods first.

In the ARVN forces there are tiers of soldiers. I am with a higher tier. These are not regional forces, or popular forces. These are trained soldiers, guys who want to be in the Army. They are good soldiers. Typically the officers speak pretty good English, and all have a good sense of humor. After that operation they give me the nickname Trung Úi Boom-Boom. I picture the battalion commander screaming in Vietnamese for artillery and me yelling back, “Sex? Sex?”

Alone on the Mountain

 After we bring the battalion back from Green Valley I am out with another ARVN battalion whose commander does not want any contact. It’s what I call a search-and-avoid mission. We go out on patrol, do everything we can to stay away from the enemy, and at the end of the day go to the highest point we can find. On this night the highest point is the top of a mountain.

I had a nylon hammock, because the ARVNs slept in hammocks. I could not convince them the safest way to sleep in a hammock is to dig a hole, tie the hammock to two trees and let your body weight take you beneath ground level. The ARVNs lost a lot of men because of that. You get into a fire fight – it’s either Charlie or NVA that comes on you first – and they’d be sleeping above the ground and would take high casualties because of that. Instead the Vietnamese camp in stream beds, which is their way of getting below ground level.

During the night a typhoon hits. The rains are torrential, the wind is howling, and it’s miserably cold, jeez it’s cold. I lash myself to a tree with my hammock to keep from getting blown or washed off the mountain. I wrap the hammock around me and the tree. I’m sitting upright at the base of the tree. That way I’m secure while everyone else is sliding down the mountain, equipment and all. When the sun comes up I’m the only one left on the top of the mountain.

The entire battalion had slid down the mountain, all four sides of it. It takes us three days to reform, and then we go back to Song Mao to dry out. I think two to three ARVNs drowned.

Feet Flavored Rice

I eat at least four to five bowls of rice, while the average Vietnamese soldier has one. My strategy is if they cook it too long they burn the bottom. The Vietnamese will not eat burned rice but I will, I like it. Still they think I eat too much as a matter of cost. I have to start getting and carrying my own rice, which I pick up in Song Mao and carry in two boot socks around my neck.

The AWOL Bronze Star – Part Two

The AWOL Bronze Star


March 17, 2014

 The VFW hall in Brighton, Michigan was packed. Andy’s wife Marsha, his sons Jeffrey and Justin, daughter Rachel and her husband Antinie, extended family, a seven-member honor guard, members of his church, friends, and eight B Battery veterans. Two of them – Tommy Mulvihill and Tony Bongi – were there the night of August 28.

The following is an excerpt from The Livingston County Daily Press & Argus

Vietnam vet recognized for

‘Michigan toughness’

U.S. Army Pfc. Andrew Kach, a Brighton Township resident, on Monday received the Bronze Star Medal with a “V” device for valor in a ceremony at the American Spirit Centre in Brighton Township.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Howell, presented Kach with his medal.

“The men I served with, every one of them bears the scars of serving their country at LZ Sherry,” Kach said after receiving his medal.

“Most people run from danger. They ran to it,” he added.

Kach served with the B-Battery Fifth of the 27th Artillery.

He explained that his unit, nicknamed both “The Professionals” and “The Bulls,” was under constant enemy attack during the war.

Eight members of Kach’s unit traveled from all over the country to see their comrade recognized for his service.

“We didn’t bend to the resistance. The Bulls stood strong and did their job no matter what the cost. And there were many that paid the ultimate price for that stubbornness,” he said.

“This medal is more about them than me. The men that are standing here with me, this is your medal as well as mine,” Kach added.

He individually saluted each of the surviving members of the unit in attendance.

Rogers’ office worked on a service affidavit compiled by Capt. Henry Parker, Kach’s captain during the war.

Parker said it took just over three years to confirm Kach’s medal through the U.S. Army. He said the military requires verified accounts of service, a challenge for a war fought more than four decades ago.

Parker said 12 members of the unit were killed in combat. Kach was one of many Michigan members wounded.

“We had a lot of guys from Michigan and they brought Michigan toughness and stubbornness, they were good, good guys,” he said after the ceremony.

“We cared for one another. Our job was to put steel on the enemy, but take care of your guys,” Parker added.

Kach’s son, U.S. Air Force Technical Sgt. Jeffrey Kach, has served eight tours of duty in the U.S. Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rogers said it’s important to know soldiers earn medals rather than win them, and that each medal signifies a sacrifice.

“It means they gave up some time away from their family. It means they engaged in an act of bravery that we all hope that we would do that many of us won’t be asked to do because they stood in our place,” he said.

U.S. Congressman presenting Andy the Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device for Valor Photo copyright Rik Groves
U.S. Congressman Rogers presenting Andy the Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device for Valor
Photo copyright Rik Groves

After his formal remarks Andy began telling stories – of sleeping on the perimeter with his M16 across his chest, of his innocence in the hanging of Farrell’s monkey, of the night he and Mulvihill got caught outside the wire after dark. The stories tumbled out as the crowd prodded him with, “Tell the one about ….” At each story the room laughed, then cried, then laughed again. Those in the room who knew Andy knew he could go on for hours, and seemed to be all in favor. The buffet was waiting, and a quiet voice from the front row somehow cut through the clamor.  “Andy,” Marsha said, “That’s enough stories.” Marsha is his sure foundation in life, the woman who “picked me up as a lump of coal and is slowly making me into a rough diamond.” 

Captain Parker:

To have the battery guys there that served with him, which was just overpowering. And to see the pride in his sons and daughter, his family and friends, and most importantly his wife Marsha. That was very moving for me. It further validated the guys who were there from B Battery, it validated their service. It was also very satisfying to First Sgt. Durant and to General Crosby. They both are very aware of how these oversights can happen. In a combat situation it happened too often.

Jeff said to his father after I gave Andy the Bronze Star at Ft. Sill, “Dad, I’m not going to honor that Bronze Star until you have orders.” Andy related that to me and said he felt the same way. He was not going to wear the medal without official orders. He said he did not want to get in trouble for a valor violation.

I told Andy, “You’re gonna get orders.”

It just shocked me that the process was this complicated. I figured with general Crosby signing, that would be all it would take. For them to insist that I get the original chain of command sort of puzzled me a little bit. I said to Andy, “It seems like you’ve got the pull teeth to get awards for Vietnam vets and especially for the artillery.

And I think some of that has to do with the artillery not structured to give awards like the infantry does. In the infantry they get their awards done because they recognize the importance more than the artillery did. I don’t think the Army appreciated the role of the artillery in Vietnam. Often we had more contact with the enemy then the infantry did.

I remember around the August 12 incident that it came back to me I was abusing the awards system for putting guys in for Bronze Stars. My response was I saw what the infantry did to get their awards, and I could certainly compare what our guys on the guns did to be even more brave than what I saw guys in the infantry do. The artillery had to stand tall under fire. The infantry could take cover.

I knew what I was talking about because I was a forward observer with the 3/506 Airborne Infantry for most of my first tour in Vietnam. I was out there on patrol with them to call in artillery fire, and because of that I earned a Bronze Star with “V” for Valor. On another tour I earned the Combat Infantry Badge (a highly coveted award given to infantrymen who came under hostile fire. No other branch has a comparable award). I could get behind a rock or tree and shoot. Or I could look out and call in fire. But at LZ Sherry you were out in the open on your gun and you continued to pump rounds out. To me that’s an act of valor.

I really felt bad because I kept Andy in the field when he was injured. The battery was full of walking wounded because we were very short of men. I impressed it on the doc could he stay or not stay. If you look at the record for both Andy and Jerry Cleaton, who was wounded the same night, they said their wounds were just scratches anyway and they weren’t really hurt and not to notify their parents. And I look back on that and reflect on it, that was probably adrenaline working. I did that with Tony Bongi too, kept him wounded in the field, and I really felt bad about that. But the reality was our mission was ongoing and I didn’t have much of a choice.

That’s one of the reasons I worked so hard on Andy’s medal. The other is that some guys left LZ Sherry without the awards that they should’ve had.

You know I made up Combat Artillery Badges and orders, and sent them out to all the guys. To recognize artillery guys who came into direct combat with the enemy, equivalent to the badge the infantry gets. Congress would not act to create the award, so I did it for them. I could probably go to jail for it, but I figure three squares a day and a cot ain’t a bad life.


First Sergeant Durant was like a father to us. One thing I liked about him was when we’d get in say 1600 rounds of ammunition; he’d get in the line and hump the rounds with the rest of us. Our previous first sergeant would never do that.

Durant saw a picture of me in my uniform when I was acting as an honor guard for a military funeral. He calls me up and tells me I’ve got my ribbons on backwards. I had my Army Commendation ribbon on in front of the Purple Heart ribbon. He told me the Purple Heart always goes first. So for the Bronze Star he tells me he’s going to be checking I don’t put it on backwards.

If you look at infantry guys almost all of them have medals of one kind or another. It seems like the Army did not like giving medals to the artillery. I serve on an honor guard with a guy who was with the 101st Airborne, the 3rd/ 506 after it left Phan Thiet and went up to Da Nang. He was a clerk typist. I saw on his uniform that he had a Bronze Star and I said,” What did you get the Bronze Star for?”

He is kind of a joker and said, ”I dropped a typewriter on my foot.”

The AWOL Bronze Star – Part One

The AWOL Bronze Star



The night of August 28, 1969 Andy Kach and Pedro Rodrigues were pulling guard duty in Tower 2. They had been alerted to a possible attack that night. Shortly after the watch began the mortars started falling, their explosions marching through the battery with uncanny accuracy. One hit behind Tower 2, sending shrapnel into Andy’s shoulder. Then another made a direct hit on their tower, spraying sand and shrapnel into Rodrigues’ face, blowing both of them out the rear of the tower and burying them under a pile of sandbags. For this they both earned Purple Hearts.

What Andy did next also earned him a Bronze Star Medal for Valor. With a wounded shoulder and more pain in his jaw from the fall, Andy found Rodrigues. “His face looked like a piece of raw meat.” Andy dug out from the sandbags and under continuing mortar fire got Rodrigues to the medic, blind but able to stumble along. Andy hurried back to the tower and went to climbing back up, not sure the damaged and swaying structure would hold him. He pulled the M60 machine gun from underneath sandbag debris and put it back into action, raking his sector of fire against a possible ground attack. He kept at it alone all night until it was nearly dawn.

A few weeks later Andy was called in from trash duty to get his Purple Heart. The Bronze Star Medal would have to wait 45 years.

Rebuilding Tower 2
Rebuilding Tower 2



My old battery commander, Hank Parker, helped me get qualified for treatment at the VA, mostly for my teeth and hearing issues. You have to prove your condition is from Vietnam; otherwise you go way down on the list. Hank has helped a lot of guys over the years. He knows who to talk to, what forms to fill out, and he goes to bat for guys.

The VA sends me a packet of paperwork, and in my records there is an evidence page that tells the doctors and medical staff something about what happened to you in Vietnam. This evidence page also lists all my awards. They put on there that I had a Purple Heart, a Commendation Medal, and a Bronze Star. I look at that and think they’re mistaken because I never got a Bronze Star.

I haul out my DD 214 (discharge papers) and in the awards box down at the bottom I see BS for Bronze Star, but that’s not the medal. It has to say BSM in capital letters for it to be a Bronze Star Medal. So I figure maybe some clerk typist just forgot to hit the M. The VA already told me I had a Bronze Star Medal, so why isn’t it on my discharge papers?

Now I’m more confused, so I call Hank Parker, my old battery commander. He said to send him the evidence page and my DD 214. He said they had put numerous people in for bronze stars at LZ Sherry, and a lot of them never went through. So Hank and First Sargent Durant got together, compared notes, and then Hank pursued it. Hank said,” I’m just going to pin it on you, and that’s the way it’s going to be.”

I said, “I don’t want to wear anything that I don’t have orders for.” I did not want to be one of those guys that gets thrown in jail for a valor offense. So Hank said okay we will pursue it through the awards department, through channels. They’ll do an investigation and whatever they come up with, that’s what we’ll live with. It took three years. Every six months or so I would get an update on what they were doing.

Captain Hank Parker:

It started when I wrote a statement of support of claim for Andy back in 2010. He had filed a medical claim with the VA, and he needed someone to back up the events, so I wrote a statement to the Veterans Administration describing him being blown out of the tower. He got a statement then from the Veterans Administration with the rating decision and it was dated January 21 2011, and in that they list his awards. They say he’s got the National Defense medal, the Purple Heart, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device, Vietnam Service Medal, Bronze Star Medal, and Army Commendation Medal. That was part of the evidence that the VA referred to in establishing his claim for medical care. So Andy says, ”Where’s my Bronze Star? I never got it.”

I told him I remember putting him in for the Bronze Star.

Then he said, “Well it’s on my DD 214. “

So I said, “Send me a copy of your DD 214 and let me look at it.” So he sent me a copy, and I said, “No Andy, what that’s referring to is your Vietnam Service Medal with three bronze service stars. That did not refer to the Bronze Star Medal.” On our Vietnam Service Medal, every time you were in a campaign you goy a bronze service star. During the course of the 10 years, there were something like 18 campaigns. So in Andy’s one year he got three bronze service stars on his Vietnamese Service Medal. 

But clearly somebody at the VA found it in his record. The evidence sheet they sent Andy is very specific. It documents Bronze Star Medal and Army Commendation Medal in the proper manner and sequence. I was convinced Andy had been awarded the BSM and for some reason never received it.

From there we go to the 27th Field Artillery Alumni reunion (October 2011 at Fort Sill) and Andy’s got his uniform on. I said, “Andy, where’s your Bronze Star Medal?”

He said, “I don’t have it.”

That’s when I went to the PX and bought a Bronze Star Medal, and I awarded it to him that night in a formal ceremony, Colonel Munnelly presiding. After Fort Sill I said, “Andy, now order your full military record and there should be evidence of your having been awarded the Bronze Star Medal.” So he gets his records from the Personnel Records Center in St. Louis and there is no evidence of any Bronze Star Medal award.

So I said to Andy, “What we need to do now is for you to sign a release for me so I can contact the Personnel Records Center and asked them to look on specific dates when a Bronze Star Medal should have been awarded.”

At that point I thought I’m going to have to take some action to find out what is going on here. The VA and the Personnel Records Center in St. Louis have independent sets of records. What’s in one file is not necessarily in the other file. They can be different. St. Louis has military files with original paperwork: requests for award, battalion and headquarters company commanders approvals, documentation that they’ve been forwarded to Corps and then to Field Force levels, and finally award authorizations – the whole paper trail. I find no record of a BSM in Andy’s military file.

But clearly somebody at the VA found it in his record, because its report is very specific. They wrote Bronze Star Medal and Army Commendation Medal in the proper manner and sequence. So I figured somebody lost the paperwork. Back when I used to do comp and pension exams it was not unusual to go through a military file and find someone else’s records. If it got put into the wrong file, you’re never going to see it again. Sad to say but that happens.

So at that point St. Louis tells me to begin from scratch. I had to complete DA Form 638 for Recommendation for Award. It had to be completed and signed by a major general (two stars) or higher. I also had to provide an award narrative describing the event leading to the Bronze Star Medal award. And I had to include DA Form 1594, the official daily staff journal for 28 August 1969, to show that there was in fact a mortar attack on LZ Sherry on that date.

Further they said I had to diagram LZ Sherry and provide them with two eyewitness reports. Fortunately Rik Groves had drawn that wonderful diagram of our LZ. I took that and I marked where the attack was. And then I called First Sergeant Durant to see if he remembered the incident, and he did. He provided me with an eyewitness account and signed affidavit. I did my own eyewitness account, for which I signed an affidavit. I then contacted Lieutenant General John Crosby (three stars) and asked him if he could sign off on the application. Lt. Col. Crosby, at the time, had left battalion but was still in Vietnam on August 28 and he remembered the incident. So he wrote a statement and also signed an affidavit signing off on the application. All that then went to St. Louis, to a review board of the Awards and Decorations Branch.

The review board came back told me that I needed to contact the original chain of command. I said, “Meaning what?” They wanted me to locate Lieutenant Colonel Judd, who was battalion commander. I learned he was deceased, which meant I had to prove he was deceased. I had to get the date of death and where he was buried. It took forever to get this information. Even with his Social Security number the records are very hard to get anymore. I searched and searched and finally I went to, and there found when he died and where he was buried.

I then had to locate what they called “intermediate authority:” Brigadier General Siddell and Lieutenant General Charles Corcoran, commander of First Field Forces.

I found General Siddell, but had a hard time finding General Corcoran. I knew the general had come out to our firebase for a visit. Again I ran into the dilemma of privacy policies. Nobody will give you information even though they may have it, they cannot release it. So I goggled General Corcoran and my goodness, the name goes back to British generals, through the American Revolution and through the Civil War to the present day family. Finally I found a Colonel Corcoran who had gone to The Citadel. So I called The Citadel and talked to a very nice secretary there. I said, “I am in a dilemma. I know that the Corcoran I am looking for is probably his uncle or his father.

She said, “I cannot give you his contact information but your request is very reasonable. I will call him and leave your name, number and email and then it will be up to him whether he contacts you are not.”

Lo and behold about three weeks later and I get a call from Colonel Corcoran. He said that his father was alive, that’s why I could not find any death record. He is 99 years old and he is in a nursing home facility because he has Alzheimer’s. The colonel had talked to his father and said his father had some good memories and recollections of Vietnam. It was important to his father that if he had not followed through on a reward for one of his soldiers, he wanted that to happen. The colonel wrote me a letter on the condition of his father, where he was residing, and a telephone number to satisfy the review board’s requirement for identification of intermediate authorities.

I still wonder why I needed documentation on the intermediate chain of command. I just needed to find out where they were, dead or alive, without any requirement for affidavits. By this point I’d quit asking why.

Next I get a call from a young lady about some discrepancy in dates. I was aware of that. An award for Pedro Rodrigues, who was blown from the tower with Andy, was dated September 6. I said that could happen, because even though he was wounded with Andy Kach on August 28, we Medevac’d him to the rear, where the medic’s report could have had a later date on it, leading someone to mistake it for the date of the incident. She said that if I could clarify that, it would make the review board happy.

Next I get a letter from a major that kind of tics me off. In the salutation she says, “Dear Mr. Rambo.” I had given them everything they needed, and in the salutation to me she is a smart ass. I am a retired captain. She is supposed to at least recognize me by my rank. I wrote her back, and I told Andy afterward I may have screwed up his chances. I write to her that the salutation of Rambo puzzled me. I say that Rambo is a fictional character made up by the movie industry and stereotypical, and does not characterize Vietnam veterans. I tell her she’d be better served in the awards branch if she read the book Stolen Valor and see why this award is important, not to me but for the man I am trying to get it for. That’s when she is pulled off of this case and I get a call that everything is moving forward.

At this point I decided I’m going to get Andy’s Congressman involved. Mike Rogers, U.S. Representative from the 8th District of Michigan, is dedicated to veterans. He has a full time person on his staff working exclusively on veterans affairs: awards, medals, medical treatment and anything else that needs attention from Washington.

Eventually I get word from Congressman Rogers’ office that the award has been approved and now we just have to wait for the orders to come through.