Monthly Archives: February 2015

Alex Taubinger – Forward Observer – Part Eight

B Battery

Lt. Taubinger makes only the occasional visit to LZ Sherry, even though he is formally assigned to B Battery. What few memories he has are vivid.

Of all the batteries I had fire for me, B Battery at LZ Sherry was more responsive than any of the other batteries. Farrell was the first sergeant at the time.

First Sergeant Farrell
First Sergeant Farrell

Not On The Ceremony Agenda

I was up in a tower taking pictures of a change of command ceremony (probably early May 1969 when the new battery commander arrived who could come to be known as The Ghost),when an F-4 jet comes on a bombing mission off our perimeter. He makes multiple drops on a single target and when he comes in for another run he goes into a nosedive and never pulls out of it. I turn my camera in that direction and take a picture of the black plume of smoke that comes up when he hit. I felt sorry for the pilots, and I felt really bad that we could not go out there, because we were not geared for that kind of thing.

F-4 crash
F-4 crash

Safe Place During a Mortar Attack

One night at Sherry they had me bunk with the battery commander, I don’t remember his name. I woke up to incoming mortar rounds and said to him, “That’s incoming.”

He said, “No, that’s out going.”

Then the whole battery woke up – the incoming siren going off, the machine guns in the towers opening up, illumination popping in the air and lighting up the battery – I got my helmet and flack vest on and started out the door. I turned around and saw him going underneath his bunk. Outside Farrell came around the corner and asked me where the captain was, and I told him, “Under his bunk.”

No Table Manners

Another incident with this chickenshit captain – I was there a of couple days – we had a monkey there at the base (Sergeant Farrell’s monkey). Susie was her name and the captain did not like her one bit. He told me how the monkey once ran up his back, sat on his shoulder, and began looking for lice in his hair. I also heard the story of how Susie went into his hooch while he was in his cot, got up on the T-bar supporting the mosquito net, and peed on him.

I was with the captain in the mess hall, both of us eating pie when Susie came and sat at the table. The captain said, “Get that monkey out of here.” At which the monkey grabbed food from the table and threw it in his face.

Welcome Back

 My radio operator and I went out with the South Vietnamese and worked along the border with Cambodia for quite a while. We were both real grubby when we came back and we stopped in at Sherry. This captain told us to get haircuts, so out of spite we got buzz cuts and showed up nearly bald, which made him even madder.

Party Time

With only a couple months left in Vietnam I go to the Tactical Operations Center at Betty. At the TOC I am responsible for ammo getting out to the firebases, the helicopter resupply runs, and making sure our guys get everything they need.

Hank Parker is still at the TOC, about to go home like me. I say to him, “I hear there’s a party up at the morgue.” Four of us go up there in a jeep. I’m driving, there’s a little short pudgy master sergeant riding shotgun next to me, with Hank and another guy in the back. After I round a sharp corner the guy in the back says, “Where did Top go?” I look over and see he’s gone. I stop and right away back up and I hear someone yell, “Oww.” I had run over his shoulder. It was in the sand so he isn’t hurt too badly. The pins securing the seat were not in and when I went around a corner he had slipped right out.

We get up to the morgue and we see an older Marine lieutenant outside scratching his head. He says, “I was backing up and my jeep fell into this big hole here.” We look and see a large sinkhole with his jeep in it upside down. He is all worried about getting into trouble, so we tell him we’ll call a wrecker when we get inside.

We go inside and they tell us all the food is stored in a big refrigerator room with a sign saying HUMAN REMAINS ONLY. I walk in and see beer, steaks, chicken and lots of other food, but no bodies at the moment. I grab beers for all of us, but the guy who was in the back with Hank says he’s not about to eat anything that came out of that refrigerator. To me it looked cleaner than grocery stores you see today.

Worth More Than A Man

At the TOC I got called out for whatever they might need me for. B Battery was shooting H&I one night (random short range shelling to protect a perimeter) and two rounds landed in a village, killing an old man and a water buffalo. I had to go out to the village to investigate the incident and do a crater analysis. I had thousands of piaster with me to make reparation pay offs. But before I went to the village I went to the battery Fire Direction Control center to look at their charts and any coordinates they may have plotted. I told the battery commander not to say anything until after I got back, because it might have been a VC rocket they were claiming was U.S. artillery.

When I got to the village there were Vietnamese military and province officials there as well. The villagers were running in and out of the craters obliterating the spray, so you could not tell where the rounds came from. They handed me 105 mm fuses they claimed they had dug up from the craters.

I called the battery commander back and said my official determination was we didn’t know what it was. It could have been VC rockets. They could have given me fuses from anywhere. But the battery commander had already found the error and reported it. It was a mistake with the powder charge. Thank god he did not get relieved over the incident. The old man cost us 500 piasters and the water buffalo 1,000 (about $2 and $4 respectively in 1969).

Gentle Persuasion

I got a call to meet a convoy from Sherry at the ammo dump, saying they might have a problem picking up their ammo because of the ASR (ammunition supply rate). They were already over their allotted rounds for the month and might not be able to get their ammo.

The supply sergeant in charge of the ammo dump was a fat E-6 staff sergeant. Had to weigh 400 pounds. He was wearing a Combat Infantry Badge and I asked him how he got it. He said, “I was on guard duty at Cam Ranh Bay. A sniper shot at the base and everybody got a CIB that day.” Then he said he wasn’t going to give us our ammo. He got sarcastic that we were out there at Sherry just shooting away wasting ammo.

I put my hand on my .45 pistol and told him we’re going to get the ammo one way or another. One of the guys from Sherry, a big blonde E-5 buck sergeant in charge of the convoy (Sgt. Rock), shifted his M-16 to a very aggressive position. We got our ammo.

Sergeant Rock
Sergeant Rock

A couple days later I was called to the 1st Logistics Command at Cam Ranh because they wanted to talk to me. They were going to charge me with something, and ordered me to meet with the general. I hitchhiked chopper rides up there and when I get there I see the Playboy Playmates walking around his office building, a real nice building. The general could not see me because he was busy with the Playmates. He was giving them a tour when I was supposed to see him. And these weren’t your average donut dollies. I told his aide you drag me all the way up here to see the general and I see him walking around with a bunch of girls. You guys sit up here in these plush offices, but I’ve got work to do. I said it wasn’t right and I demanded to see the general.

The general, a one star, finally saw me and straight out asked me what happened. I told him about the high casualty rate at the battery and said, “Sir, we need our ammo. If we don’t get it I’ll write every single newspaper in the country.” I got a little insubordinate with him. “If you arrest me every newspaper in the country will hear about it. A stupid thing that you can’t shoot at the enemy because you don’t have ammo.” I also hinted that Senator Howard Baker (of Tennessee) was a family friend. He was actually just an acquaintance. Baker was a real hawk. I said I’d send the senator a letter or call him from jail.

The general was real nice about it. He said, “OK, I just wanted the whole story. The ammo sergeant got upset, told his colonel at Betty, and that colonel called it up the line to me.”

The general was never belligerent with me, which I did not expect. But I wasn’t the typical young officer either. I already had seven years experience. I knew how far I could push the conversation without going too far. I also knew General Camp who was the Corp artillery commander. Camp was a guy who would back up his officers. This was late in 1969 when I was getting ready to go home in a few weeks anyway; I had a real short timer’s attitude.


Wanted Alive

One of my proudest moments was when I heard about VC propaganda leaflets that put a bounty on me and Hank Parker for a couple thousand dollars – each. I know one of the platoon leaders in the 506 also had a bounty out on him. They did not want me and Parker dead, they wanted us turned over alive, and then the whole family would get the money.

The highest bounty placed on a U.S. soldier was for the death of legendary sniper Carlos “White Feather” Hathcock. By his own estimate he killed over 300 enemy soldiers. The NVA gave Hathcock the nickname for the white feather he wore in his bush cap. They placed a $30,000 bounty on him, worth almost a quarter of a million today and a fortune in Vietnam at the time. The typical bounty on a U.S. soldier was $8 – $2,000, putting Lieutenants Taubinger and Parker proudly at the upper range.

Alex was promoted to captain immediately after leaving Vietnam on his way to his next assignment in Augsburg, Germany. He spent a total of ten years in the Army.

Alex Taubinger – Forward Observer – Part Seven

Born Again The Hard Way

On an operation just south of Song Mao we find a huge abandoned base camp and tunnel area.  it’s a big find. Abrams is with us that day and when the word gets out about the complex a bunch of dignitaries come down: the squadron intelligence officer, a full colonel and a one star general. Abrams has me meet them at the chopper and bring them to the complex. Walking down the same trail we had just walked up I am leading the way and all of a sudden I step into a hole and I see a trip wire just touching my ankle. I say, “Oh shit.”

I freeze. We do not know if this things is live or dead. We call in a guy in who knows how to undo booby traps, a guy I know and the only one I trust, but he is nowhere near us. They bring me a five gallon fuel can to sit on while we wait. My leg is in the ground and I’m trying not to move and drinking one beer after another. It takes him an hour and a half for him to show up and now I’m about 20 sheets gone. He looks and roots around a little and says, “This fuse is all rotted. Pull your foot out.”

I say, “Are you sure?”

He laughs and says, “Yeah, pull your foot out unless you want to sit there the rest of your life.”

After my foot is out I dig around and find the explosive beside the fuse, a 105 mm howitzer shell. I put some C4 on it and blow it in place. I tell Abrams I think I’ve used up my three strikes.

Taubinger exposing land mine, fuse trap on right
Taubinger exposing land mine, fuse trap on right

It takes us about an hour and a half to get back to our base camp at the base of Titty Mountain, which contained an abandoned Buddhist temple. The chaplain is there setting up for a service. I walk up to him, “Chaplain, can I get a couple of those crosses?” He also gives me a rosary even though I am not Catholic. I tell him, “I’ve just become a born again Christian. I’m gonna start sitting in the front row whenever you show up.”

Turkey Shoot

We got intel one night that there was a North Vietnamese unit coming down through the Lee Hong Fong Forest about four miles south of Song Mao. That morning my platoon headed north with three tanks and four APCs. Each tank had a 50-caliber machine gun mounted on it and an M-240 coaxial machine gun at the turret. (comparable to the M-60 machine gun, but more reliable and also more expensive to manufacture) The APC’s had a 50-caliber and two M-60 machine guns. The whole floor of the APCs were covered two deep in ammo boxes. The tanks had beehive rounds and 90 mm high explosive rounds, plus again the floor was covered with ammo. That was a lot of fire power. You can imagine we didn’t run out of ammo.

When we got near where the NVA were spotted we got off the road and went into the woods for a sweep. When you did a sweep like that you had a tank on each flank. Usually the platoon leader’s tank was in the middle and you had an APC between the tanks on each flank. I told the platoon sergeant, Why don’t you take your tank in the middle, because he had more combat experience with armor than I did, and I’ll take my tank down the right flank up the tree line. He told me to stay in the middle.

Next thing I know we’re getting hit with a ground attack, B-40 rockets and everything else. We let loose with everything we’ve got, and right away I see my platoon sergeant’s tank on the right flank blow up. A B-40 rocket hit it perfectly between the turret and the body of the tank. The driver jumpe out, the tank is in flames, and we cover him to where he can make it to one of the other vehicles. He is the only one to make it out. The gunner, the loader and the platoon sergeant didn’t make it.

We backed off a little bit while I called in the 8 inch guns from LZ Sandy. I had them start the rounds 500 yards out from us and then walk the rounds towards us, all airbursts. I was trying to steer the enemy towards us. We were buttoned up in tanks and APCs, so we were safe from airburst shrapnel, unless a fuse malfunctioned and a round hit one of our vehicles. When the enemy came out of the trees it was almost like a turkey shoot. One guy stood up in front of a tank, he thought he could hurt us by shooting his AK-47. He had to be hopped up on something. The tank gunner said, “Should I smack him with the tube, or open the breech and yell at him?” Instead he just ran over him.

Then they all retreated back into the trees dragging bodies with them. And that was it. The whole engagement lasted a good 20 minutes.

The guy the tank ran over was still alive. While the medics were working on his leg he was sitting up and tried to pull a pistol from his pack. A soldier behind told the medic to move, then put two M-16 rounds in the back of the prisoner’s head, which blew the whole front of his face off. Like I say, he had to be hopped up on something.

My platoon sergeant’s tank burned for days. We had to just let it burn, there was no way to retrieve the bodies. They carried those people as missing in action for a long, long time until it was confirmed. We could not confirm them because we couldn’t see the bodies, so we had to call it in as three MIA. We wanted to pronounce them killed in action, but we were not allowed to.

Night Owl

The whole troop got the Combat Infantry Badge even though we were not infantry. Someone gave the troop a temporary infantry designation for 30 days so they could get the badges. All except me. Abrams wanted to do the same for me because I was part of the unit, to the point of acting as a platoon leader. I even went on nighttime ambushes because Abrams wanted a forward observer with them, so much they gave me the nickname Night Owl. But it was not in his jurisdiction.

4th of July

Fourth of July Abrams’ whole troop is parked a little north of Titty Mountain on the sand dunes. He brings up the subject: Be nice if we saw some fireworks. I look for a reason for a fire mission, and maybe I see lights moving on the side of Titty Mountain. I call into Sherry for illumination rounds, white flairs bursting high in the air and drifting down on little parachutes. And now maybe I see Viet Cong running for cover, so I bring LZ Sandy into the mission with airbursts of high explosive, and have Sherry shoot airburst white phosphorous along with continuing illumination. Now we’ve got our fireworks! Abrams says, “This is nice. It’s not like back home, but it’ll do.”

John Abrams retired a four star general, no small feat given his lack of a West Point pedigree. His older brother, Creighton Abrams III, retired a one star brigadier general. The youngest brother, Robert Abrams, is a three-star lieutenant general now serving in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He is the only one of the four Abrams generals, including the famous father, to have attended West Point.

Alex Taubinger – Forward Observer – Part Six

The day I exchanged my bullet ridden helmet for a new one, that afternoon I went to an armored cavalry unit, Charlie Troop, 2nd Squadron of the 1st Cavalry. (A troop was made up of nine tanks, over 20 APC armored personnel carriers, and a total of about 100 soldiers – broken into three platoons.)

Charlie Troop M-48 medium tank
Charlie Troop M-48 medium tank
Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) of Charlie Troop
Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) of Charlie Troop

My troop commander was Captain John Abrams, whose father was General Creighton Abrams, then commander of all US forces in Vietnam. I had daily contact with Captain Abrams for the three months I was with the 1st Cav. He was a real nice guy; we were on a first name basis, even though he was a captain and I was a lowly lieutenant.

He was a hands-on guy and in the middle of everything. The first time I met him he was just coming in from the field and his right hand was all bandaged up. I saluted him and he said, “I can’t salute you back or shake your hand. This is what happens when you try to change your 50 caliber machine gun barrel without the glove.” He did not hesitate to get behind that 50 and start shooting things up.

The 50 caliber machine gun barrel could get hot enough to glow in the dark, sometimes hot enough to melt itself crooked. “The glove” was an essential piece of 50 cal crew gear.

Abrams knew everything about his troops. Let me put it this way. If you got a letter from your wife saying one of your kids was really sick, you could talk to him about it. He was a good one. I never felt like I was in any danger when I was with his unit. He knew his tactics and was the type of guy who told you to dismount your tank and charge with your bayonet, I’d say 90% of the guys would do it. I think a lot of that came from his father’s guidance over the years.

He told me once he applied to West Point but was not accepted. For the admission interview he had his hair cut short, wore a suit and tie. McNamara’s son and another VIP’s son interviewed at the same time, and both of them came in looking like hippies with long hair. They were accepted for West Point and he wasn’t. He said it didn’t bother him that much, except it was hard to make general without going to West Point. But he did alright. He retired a four-star general with nothing but praise from the people who worked with him throughout the years. He still keeps in contact with the people from Charlie Troop.

Everybody loved him. He was always out front with the troops. Sometimes he pushed the Abrams thing a bit. My first night there firing harassment and interdiction (H&I), he had me plot a bunch of targets along with def-cons (defensive concentrations) and friendly forces. I called them in for clearance and somebody called back and said because of the low ASR (ammunition supply rate.) allowed to us we couldn’t fire H&I. When I told the captain he went out to the commo van, got the guy on the line and said, “Listen. My name is Abrams: Alpha … Bravo … Romeo … Alpha … Mike … Sierra. My father is in Saigon with four stars. When my FO here calls in for anything, I don’t want anyone to tell him that he can’t do it.” After that if I wanted toilet paper delivered to the field they’d ask me how many helicopter loads did I want.

About two weeks later Abrams sent a platoon leader up to Cam Ranh Bay to be the liaison for supplies. Somehow word got to him that I’d spent some time with the 69th Armor down at Ft. Bragg, so he had me replace that platoon leader and put me in the platoon leader’s tank.

We are going through a wooden area and I am standing up through the copula, the hatch on the top of the tank where the platoon leader stands to look around outside the tank as its moving. I turn my head to the side and then look to the front just in time to see the tube catch a branch and the branch coming back at me. It has short spikes all over it, like its smaller branches had all been broken off. I raise my arms and it catches me on the inside of both arms, scraping off the skin and leaving spikes in my flak vest. Not a very dignified thing for a new acting platoon leader.

This is hilarious. We get a call one day from the liaison sergeant in Cam Ranh whose platoon I took saying the PX was throwing away pallets and pallets of Ballantine beer because nobody was buying it. (Ballantine was an acquired taste.) He said they were going to dump it into the harbor, or would sell it very, very cheap. Abrams called a meeting and said, “Officers ten bucks, sergeants five bucks, enlisted men zero. We’re gonna buy all the beer.” I don’t know how he did it but we had a convoy of lo-boys with tank protection all the way from Cam Ranh Bay down to us close to Titty Mountain. We’re brushing our teeth in beer. The water canisters hanging on the tank turrets are filled with beer.

Ho Chi Minh Footprints

 Every day we did mine sweeps to clear the roads. We would look for a certain footprint from a Ho Chi Minh sandal (made from tire treads) we knew belonged to one guy. As soon as you saw it you knew there was a mine somewhere in the area. Then we looked around for loose dirt. His detonator was made from a split piece of bamboo with wires wrapped around each half and a spacer to keep the two contact points apart. The wire ran to a flashlight battery and the whole thing was buried about an inch in the ground. Anyone stepping on or driving over that spot would collapse the spacer and complete the circuit. The explosive was usually an unexploded 105 mm howitzer round or a mortar round. Except for the bamboo everything was US made. 

No Good Deed Goes Uncriticized

We got a call that there was a booby trap on QL-1, the main highway into Phan Thiet, and that buses were refusing to move. We went up with our three Kit Carson Scouts (North Vietnamese Regulars who defected and acted as scouts for US troops). All three were ex-North Vietnamese officers. One of them even had his own separate NVA company. After they had defected they went back to North Vietnam and got their families and came back to work for Abrams. All three spoke English well enough that we did not need interpreters.

We found a 500 pound bomb laying in the culvert off the highway. Everybody looked at me, “Take care of it, will ya.” I packed it with C-4 plastic explosive and ran hundreds of feet of wire away from it. When we got all the people away from it, which was hard because they were curious, I set down behind Abrams’ APC thinking we’re plenty far away. I hit the clanker (hand detonating device) and when the bomb blew we had chunks of asphalt road dropping behind us.

Our scouts later told us, These people are really pissed at you guys. They want to know why couldn’t you have pulled it out with one of your tanks.

We Like You … But

I loved to drive the vehicles, but only got to drive two. Every time I drove something, the next day that vehicle would hit a mine.

Kit Carson Scout with APC Taubinger had jinxed In background one he had never driven
Kit Carson Scout with APC Taubinger had jinxed
In background one he had never driven


Alex Taubinger – Forward Observer – Part Five

Part Five

Sometimes You Shouldn’t Advertise

 We were working a mission with the RFPFs (Regional Forces and Popular Forces, sometimes called Ruff-Puffs) and just doing a grid sweep. We came to this village and somebody says, “Look at all those rockets hanging on top of that house.” Apparently the owner was proud he had a weapons cache in his basement. It looked like he was advertising.

House with rockets on roof
House with rockets on roof

 There were only women and children around. One of the Vietnamese, the guy with the baseball hat in the middle of the picture, pulled out a pistol and put it against a little kid’s head and started talking to him. He then fired a round next to the kid’s head that could easily have broke his eardrum. Now you could not shut the kid up.

Under the house we found hundreds and hundreds of rockets, grenades, you name it. It was a Viet Cong weapons cache, all brand new U.S. ammo and other stuff from North Vietnam. On one of the boxes you can see in the picture says 15 ROCKETS ANTITANK.

Stolen U.S. ammo
Stolen U.S. ammo

We started taking sniper fire so I called in artillery from LZ Betty. During the mission I did something I wasn’t supposed to do, I moved around while adjusting fire instead of staying put at a fixed point. In the middle of the firing I got a call from Outpost Nora, where B Battery had two guns on a mobile operation. They said they had been following the mission and wanted in on the action. I said, OK but first I want a smoke round. The smoke round came in 100 yards long and instead of bursting in the air landed between me and a Vietnamese lieutenant standing 20 yards away. It bounced off a rice paddy dyke and then burst. That’s a good example of why you always shot a smoke round first if you could. I instructed Nora to “DROP 100” and called for high explosive with an airburst. The first volley was on target, and before the second volley could come in I got a call saying they’d had a misfire and were canceling the mission. I think that was the day the gun blew up at Nora.

The mishap at Nora that day, killing Sgt. Johnson and PFC Handshumaker, was due to a faulty batch of time fuses used to create airbursts.

How a Helmet Works

 Another Captain K incident, one that proved his undoing. We were in a village right at the base of Titty Mountain. We were working with the South Vietnamese again and our joint mission was to pacify and secure the village.

Note: A year earlier General Creighton Abrams succeeded Westmoreland as commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam. Westmoreland ran the war using search-and-destroy tactics with an emphasis on enemy attrition. Abrams pursued a very different clear-and-hold strategy, focused on winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese. He separated American forces into small units that lived with and trained civilians to defend their villages. Abrams also devoted vastly more time than his predecessor to expanding, training and equipping the South Vietnamese Army.

We had a MACV major with us and were all invited to lunch with the village chief. The major told me to get drunk first. I asked why and all he would say was, “If you don’t eat it’ll piss them off, and you do not want to piss off a village chief. To eat whatever’s put in front of you you’re gonna want to be drunk.”

I see them preparing ducks and I think we’re getting duck a l’orange or something. They bring out our plates with duck heads and duck feet on them. You were supposed to suck on them. Fortunately we got the rest of the duck a little later.

We spend the night there in one of his orchards. The next day around mid-morning we get a call from Titty Mountain saying there’s a whole group of VC coming toward the mountain. We have a jeep with us, so Captain K says, “Taubinger get your radio man. Let’s go. We’re going to attack.” It is all sand duns in that area. We jump in the jeep with a mounted machine gun and take off. The radio operators up on Titty Mountain are telling us which way to go. I get on the radio and talk to our guys up there, guys I know and usually talk to. I say, “You see me in the back of the jeep?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Keep an eye on me, because if I get killed I want you to write me up really good.”

They say, “What are you guys doing? There’s at least 30 of them out there.”

When I tell Captain K he says, “If it’s a platoon or less we’re going to dismount and charge them. If it’s more than a platoon we’re gonna drive through them.”

All of a sudden the jeep stops, stuck in the sand, and we have a flat tire. We’re up on top of a hill, and the guy I’m talking to up on Titty tells me the VC are only about 100 yards away in the scrub brush, but they’re not coming at us. My radio guy, Eddie Sandoval, and I start digging a hole. We pull the sand bags out of the jeep, pile them up, straighten the pins on our hand grenades, and dismount the machine gun. Captain K is yelling at his driver to fix the tire. The spare is flat, plus there is no way to jack up the jeep in the sand. Captain K gets on the radio to the rear for a resupply helicopter to bring out a tire. This is June 5, 1969.

Blackhawk hears this, the battalion commander. Apparently the VC don’t think we’re worth it and they go off. About an hour later Blackhawk lands. He calls Captain K over and says, “Here’s your tire.” Then he looks at me and says, “You’re in charge until I get a new company commander. I’ll have one by tomorrow if not tonight.” Our job was to pacify the village, not go out with a handful of guys in a jeep after an unknown number of VC. I suspect the word about Captain K had gotten up through the ranks to Blackhawk, and this incident of poor judgment was the last straw.

We somehow get the tire onto the jeep and go back to the village. Right away I send out a couple of clover leaf patrols (reconnaissance pattern in multiple directions around a central point, thus mimicking a clover leaf). One of the patrols observes the enemy setting up rockets aimed in our direction. They are setting up the big boys, the 120 mm mortars aimed right down in our direction, along with 210 mm rockets (over eight inches in diameter). The coordinates are at a crossroads with four buildings showing on the map, but I know they are not there anymore. I call in for an artillery strike and am told we could not shoot because of the buildings. I call back with a map correction that there are no buildings there anymore, but they won’t buy it. I’m almost in tears because I know what’s going to happen.

I start calling all over the place. The province chief is the only one who can give us permission. A Vietnamese officer tells me he is with some whore and not to be disturbed. So I say, “Fine, OK, but if we get hit I’m gonna kill somebody.” At midnight we get hit … hard … I see tracers going through the poncho which we were using for a makeshift roof over our fox hole. They hit you first with mortars, then rockets, and finally a ground attack. There is a beer sitting on the hood of the jeep. I grab it, guzzle it down, throw on my helmet and run over to a nearby rock wall. The nighttime listening posts I have out call in saying they are being surrounded. We need artillery support but nobody will shoot for us because we are in a village; all I can get is illumination. A mortar company of the 3/506 is right down the street from us. They say they’ll shoot for us, and start lobbing four-deuces (4.2 inch mortars).

While I am directing fire I get hit, I think in the back. It gives me a kind of whiplash and knocks my helmet off. I pick up my helmet and go back to pat my back where it hurts a little bit and my hand comes away all bloody. Doc Williams the company medic is right behind me and I say, “Doc, did I get hit?”

He says, “Get down or else you will.” I guess I am standing a little too high while adjusting the mortar fire.

The whole sky is lit up like daylight. We see only VC running around out there, and we’re starting to cut them down with the mortars. A Vietnamese lieutenant tells me they’ve got artillery right down the road and I say, “Why the hell aren’t you firing it for us?” The Vietnamese can do things we can’t and I know they have no problem firing into a village. He calls in the fire mission and after about half an hour we are able to silence the mortars and small arms.

Around 9:00 that night Hank Parker calls me. “Alex, where are you?” I tell him where I am and he says, “Yeah, you’re right up the road from me. By the way, if you hear some shooting, come down here and get me.” He is not too far away, two villages maybe.

I say, “What do you mean?”

“I’m in a bar with a bunch of Vietnamese, and the VC who kicked our ass today just came in for a victory party.”

The next morning I look at my helmet and see two bullet holes on one side and two more 180 degrees on the other side. The rounds had gone in one side, traveled around the helmet between the steel pot and the helmet liner, and out the other side. The helmet did what it was supposed to do. The blood I saw on my hand the night before must have been from a jagged piece of medal when I reached around to feel my back.

Taubinger helmet with bullet holes
Taubinger helmet with bullet holes

 A machine gunner also got hit in the helmet. The bullet hit right in the front of his helmet, went through everything and straight out the back, leaving a nice red streak across the top of his head.

We found out we had been up against over 200 Viet Cong, maybe as many as 300. We found well over 20 blood trails from them dragging off bodies. The nighttime listening posts had been surrounded all night, scared shitless the whole time. There are no U.S. casualties, but one Vietnamese soldier was killed and a couple wounded early in the attack. They were sleeping in hammocks, while the Americans were dug in underground. (South Vietnamese soldiers often slept in hammocks instead of foxholes.)

That morning a first lieutenant comes down with Blackhawk as the new company commander. He gets his captain’s bars a couple days later. The machine gun operator, my radio man and I go back that day to base camp at Betty. While I’m waiting for my extraction helicopter I call Hank. “You never called me for help.”

He says, “I bought a round and we’re all friends now.”

On the helicopter the machine gunner and I have our helmets on our laps. We look at each other and we’ve both got tears in our eyes. We were that close to dying.

I go into Betty, get a new helmet, and that is it. I wish I would have kept the old helmet, but I didn’t want it then.

That afternoon I go out to an armored cavalry troop to be their FO. The troop commander is Captain John Abrams, son of General Creighton Abrams.