John 'Dutch' Holland                                                      3 September 1996

Co'B'1/503rd INF 173rd ABN Brig (Sep)

3rd Sqd 2ndPIt  1965-66




When we arrived on the LZ the Hueys were unassed in the normal chaotic fashion for an area assumed to be hot or full of enemy. But in short order the troops were formed into their respective units and vacated the landing zone for the security of the jungle.

  When the companies had assembled we began the tedious task of patrolling the dense, hot, and very humid jungle in search of Viet Cong. We patrolled for a couple of days with no enemy contact at all. At nights we'd sit into defensive perimeters with half on full alert while the other half slept. This kind of routine will quickly wear down the best of soldiers because we stayed on edge expecting to fight the enemy instead of the difficult elements presented by this unforgiving terrain.

  Then on the morning of November the 8th while we were patrolling our areas of operations all kinds of automatic weapons fire resounded from over the ridgeline where our sister company was operating. We began joking about Charlie Company finding a sniper in the trees and blowing the branches out from under him. Little did we know that they had stepped into an ambush and was getting their shit shot away while fighting for their lives.  We were ordered to advance over the ridge and support them but as we began to move artillery started bursting in the treetops and raining frags down on us. A few of our platoon were wounded by shrapnel and couldn’t be evacuated because of the denseness of the jungle. So the platoon was split leaving some of us behind to care for and defend the wounded while the rest advanced to Charlie companies support.

We set into a small clearing about twenty by thirty meters in area. It elevated to our right and was densely surrounded by foliage with a dry ravine at the bottom of the elevation. This ravine would be the assembly point of the few left living. Security was placed facing the trail we'd just come up and forward where the rest of the platoon had just gone to support Charlie Company.1 was to the right of the trail we'd came up with dense undergrowth partly hiding me when I saw what looked like Americans coming up the trail. These bastards were wearing fatigues, helmets, back packs, and walked as though they were expecting friendlies in the area.1 whispered to my squad leader SSgt Theodore Shamblin that it looked like friendlies were coming up on our rear. He looked through the undergrowth and also mistook them for our troops then hollered Bravo Company 2nd platoon and it was a deadly error on both our parts. While facing back down the trail that put the rise to our left and that's where the enemy immediately set up their RPD on the top of the slope with others flanking it on each side of us.

The first to die was a young kid whose name I can’t recall. He was no more than a couple of meters from their machine gun when it cut him down. Even as he laid dead the sons-of -bitches continued to fire into his body literally tearing him apart. No more than two to three meters behind him were Everett Goias and I behind a small log but directly in the RPD's field of fire. I heard Goias kind of grunt as the first round hit him and as I looked over I could see smoke from a WP round coming out of his right shoulder yet he continued to fire around the end of the log.1 knew this dead tree wouldn’t stand up to much more of this intense small arms fire and that we were to close for a frag-grenade when the inane thought hit me of tossing the tear gas canister I was carrying. When I threw it a small branch to our front interrupted it's flight and it burst rather close to us. No matter what anyone says concentrated tear gas will make you move regardless the event. No way could we remain there so I started helping Goias down the hill and to our advantage the RPD stopped firing. Probably to, relocate from the irritating gas. We weren't more than a few feet from the log when an enemy grenade hit me right on the side of my helmet and with all the firing still coming in from our flanks there wasn’t much I could do but turn my head and wait for it to blow but luckily it was a dud as so many of their mortars and grenades were. As we continued our slow trek down the hill another grenade hit and rolled right up to us and after an eternity of waiting it also failed to detonate.

When we reached the main group most of them were dead, while the remaining poured heavy volumes into the enemies positions. The only reason they were alive is because of the dead bodies sheltering them from the intense incoming fire. About the time we reached them my blood nearly turned to ice as Charlie blew that damned one note bugle and charged into the clearing camouflaged with small tree branches and screaming their fuckin' heads off. Us left living fired everything we could find to stop this mad suicidal assault and thanks to the ammo of the dead it was a temporary success.1 mention the ammo of the dead being essential in surviving their fanatical charge because at that time each trooper took five hundred rounds of ammunition to the field but only seven magazines because of a supply shortage and in the heat of battle reloading is next to impossible

After we stopped their attempt to over run us they went back to firing from the jungle. Then heavy small arms fire started coming in from behind us on the other side of the dry ravine and it wasn’t hard realizing they were Americans by the sharp crack of the M- 1 6 rifles the automatic fire didn't last long then all firing ceased by both sides and during that lull I hollered Bravo company over here. Again it was a deadly mistake because the patrol poured heavy automatic fire into our position. Between these volleys fired on us by one of our patrols I told Goias he was on his way home with the million-dollar wound but he never made it. When the second burst was fired in on us I was holding this brave mans head and looking into his eyes and unlike action movies there was no cry of pain, distortion of features, or animated facial expressions instead his eyes just lost their glow of life and I knew he was dead from friendly fire. It's a shame that some died from what's referred to as friendly fire but I for one found nothing friendly about it. Yet after all these years I feel no one person is responsible we all tried our damned best to protect our fellow soldiers as well as ourselves but in a situation as we had that day errors occur. It's a sad fact of war!

At one point I thought I was the only one left alive and began slowly crawling back down toward the dry ravine when Jerry Langston came inching up from that directional was sure he'd lost his mind going back to the area that had been the main field of fire. But of the two of us Jerry was the only one thinking rationally at the time and was heading for the field radio which by some miracle was still operational after so many had died while attempting to use it. He did make contact and led a patrol in by firing a 45cafiber pistol for them to guide in on. The patrol arrived in record time and checked out the jungle from where the enemy had been firing and I heard one say that dead VC were everywhere.1 later thought that was a small tribute to the gallant men who gave their all in the short but very intense battle for survival.

  The patrol was small and needed some for security while others handled the wounded. So the more seriously wounded were taken first such as Russo and Shamblin.1 knew Russo was still alive because when the patrol arrived he was screaming' give me some water I'm dying’! The troopers who took Russo returned rather quickly so I though the battalion perimeter couldn't be far away.1 opted to put my arm around a troopers shoulders instead of tying up two with a makeshift stretcher to get us all out of there-I had a small piece of my scalp shot away, A piece of frag was under my right shoulder blade, and my right buttocks was mostly gone from a round out of the RPD. But I hadn't lost so much blood that I couldn't move myself with some support. A very short distance from our battle site a sniper fired on us and as I was dropped to the ground I realized why they had returned so fast after taking Russo because there he lay. He died and the troops left him to return for the living but his body was later recovered with the rest. The soldier who dropped me when the sniper fired I never saw again but I was aided the rest of the way to the battalion perimeter by PSGT Bemowsi.

When the companies were united it was to late in the evening for a detail to cut out MEDAVAC landing area so it meant a long night in an unsecured jungle. By then I was really keyed up and almost came unglued at every sharp noise especially recon by fire from inside our perimeter. When the first fight of the day came I really realized the extreme of the battle as I lay among the wounded and dead and watched the medics in their futile efforts at keeping some of the very seriously wounded alive. It was some time before a clearing could be cut to get the Hueys in but the Air Force brought in a little ugly helicopter with offset rotors that would allow it to remain stationary in flight. This little chopper also had a power wench, which they utilized to get a few of our dying paratroopers out and to emergency surgery.

  Finally a clearing was cut through the very unyielding foliage and they started bringing in the single runs of Hueys to evacuate the wounded.1 remember being taken off the craft but I can't remember any of the trip back to Bien Hoa so I guess the much needed sleep finally over took me. When they off loaded us at the surgical unit in Bien Hoa we received immediate life saving surgery then we were shipped to Saigon where follow up operations and infection control were performed before most of us were sent out of country for final recuperating procedures.

As you read my description of our isolated battle your probably thinking we had a force larger than we did but in reality we had only eighteen men. Of those eighteen only five were living when the patrol arrived and of those five two died leaving only three survivors. I’ve thought of that fight for life many times over the years and to this day don’t realize how any of us lived against such odds. They were in the wood lines while we were in the clearing, they had the high ground with a machine gun above us, they drastically out numbered us, we had no mortar or artillery support, they put a suicide charge on us in a confined area, but we did have one huge advantage over them we were American paratroopers who wouldn’t say die!

While in the Saigon hospital General Westmoreland came in to present our wounded with Purple Hearts and tell us the 1/503rd had been put in for a Presidential Unit Citation but the news and medals meant little as I learned my squad leader SSgt Shamblin had just died in surgery.

As long as I live not one paratrooper who died on that worthless hill will be forgotten. They may have died without cause but they didn’t die in vain because they were part of an elite unit standing well above others they were Skysoldiers!