|May 12, 1969 - Quan Loi Vietnam|
I still remember going down to Bunker 8 earlier that evening, May 12, 1969, with
a guy I called “Big Abe”, from N.Y. We used to visit the bunkers when they were
manned by our friends, whether we had guard or not, just to bullshit and see if
anyone wanted coffee or anything. We would hang out awhile and then if we didn’t
have any duties that night we would make our way to the EM Club. I don’t think
anyone was on guard yet because it was still early. We all liked the new
location of Bunker 8. It was inside our perimeter whereas Old 8 was by the road.
I also remember no one was set to be pulling guard on the Old bunker 8; luckily
for us al. as it took direct hits that night. There’s no doubt in my mind that
if there had been guards there they wouldn’t have survived.
I believe it was Sgt. Anderson’s, and Lt Wey’s idea to build the New Bunker 8 at that location, and to stop putting guards on Old bunker 8, but not to remove it. I think they did it because of the Intel that was gathered. (See previous story) I always admired the way Sgt. Anderson did things. He was a Soldier to the core. He figured if they targeted Old Bunker 8, they would waste some rounds and give away there position. Sgt. Anderson was always aware of everything that was going on around the perimeter. I believe it was Sgt Anderson that formed the Reaction Force, and he was in charge of the perimeter defense in our Sector .I remember we always reported directly to him and to Lt Wey, who was our Battery Commander, when I was there, if we saw anything unusual on guard duty or in our area. Sgt Anderson was always looking to make improvements to the perimeter defenses. I also had the greatest respect for Lt Wey. He was another no nonsense guy. He was a great Battery Commander. Between him and Sgt. Anderson, whatever it was that needed to be taken care of, got done and it got done right. When your ducking mortars and rockets, or RPG’s and an officer who is Battery Commander is on one side of you and the 1st Sgt is on the other side, that tells you something, about the kind of people they were.
By the way, “Big Abe”, as I called him, was with survey. His real name was Abraham. I’m not sure if it was his first or last name. He was a drummer and a friend of his David Hess aka “Elliot Ness” was a bad ass guitar player from California. Hess was teaching me guitar, and showing me some “Cream” and ”Hendrix” tunes. Stark also played the drums and we would jam when we could. Elliot got a hold of some old beat up acoustics and, with a little work, he made them playable. On a few occasions Stark used cans for drums. Brupbacher was also in Survey, if I’m not mistaken. I met him through Big Abe and Hess. When Survey wasn’t in the field they spent a lot of their time with us in the Motor Pool or building bunkers and sandbagging with us. By the way, “Big Abe” was the drummer for a band called ”The Bob Seiger System”. He had a demo of a song they recorded before he was sent to Nam. It was called “Rambling Man” It turned out to be a top 20 hit. while he was in Nam. The Band later became “Bob Seiger and the Silver Bullet Band”. Talk about Nam ruining your career.
Afterwards we went to the EM Club and drank until the club closed down for the night. We went back to our bunkers and wrote letters, or whatever and shortly afterwards we heard explosions, small arms and incoming. We were still fully dressed so all we did was grab our ammo and weapons and we ran out toward Bunker 8. I was always told to go to Bunker 8, or to report to Sgt. Anderson when there was incoming, or a ground attack. I was also in the Reaction Force. On the way to the bunker we ran into Sgt. Anderson.
Word was that VC had penetrated the wire and they were in the compound. They were spotted to the left of us, in the Mortar Platoon area, and possibly in Alpha Battery’s area. Sgt Anderson said to be very careful, Bunker 8 had been hit and to watch what you shoot at” - There’s friendlies out there too. He said he would be there shortly. He was coordinating things with Lt. Wey. How Sgt Anderson managed to get all that information within a minute or so is beyond me, but that was him. So Abe and I took off towards Bunker 8 and we were getting fired at. I remember running and a flash flies by me. I hit the dirt. It was an RPG. One gunship was so low I thought it was going to take our heads off when it fired its rockets. It was flying low from behind us firing towards the wire. ”Blue Max” was the call sign for the Cobra Gunships, and they were already firing all along our perimeter.
We used the tower to call in Arty from An Loc. It was set up where the first rounds would land about 350 meters from the tower and cover everything from the road by the main gate to the front of HQ and Alpha Battery. I remember the Tower was manned by someone from our unit, and personnel from the 1st Air Cav., and the 11th Armored Cav., or the 1st Infantry Division. When I first had guard there it was all our people, but later it was changed. When we saw anything that looked like it was moving or didn’t seem right, we’d call in the Cobras. If they saw anything, they would spray the area with there mini-guns. I’m not sure if “Blue Max” was always in the air over us at night. It sure seemed like it. If you needed them, they were there in an instant.
So Big Abe made it to the small fighting position that was just to the left of the Officers Bunker. I was crawling along and rounds were going off everywhere. Abe emptied a clip at some VC he saw before I got there. I made sure I saw what I was firing at because I knew there was a bunker to the left across the road and maybe someone from our unit was told to get into the Old Bunker 8 at that time. I didn’t want to shoot any friendlies.
We didn’t fire at anything we couldn’t identify. There were shadows running around in front of us by the road. When we did see it was VC, we opened up. We were right by the VC that was torn apart, to the left of Bunker 8, and we heard movement to our right. We checked it out and it turns out to be another VC just behind Bunker 8 and the Officer’s Bunker. There was someone with a flashlight there shining it on the VC, I forget who it was. We went there and took a look at him. He was all shot up, but still alive, but I doubt he lived very long. An officer came to us and said we’re going into the Mortar Platoon area. I think that’s when Sgt.Anderson and the Reaction Force arrived.
Someone said something about getting the medic to see if he could do something for the wounded VC ,and I don’t exactly remember who replied, but I do remember someone said shoot him, or fuck him. It might have been Big Abe. The wire by Bunker 8 had been cut or it was left open so the mortar platoon could walk in and out of our area to go to the Mess Hall etc., I’m not sure which. Some of it looked like the sappers might have put a charge on it. You could see where there was an explosion. It was damaged, but you couldn’t get through it - we couldn’t anyway. Everything happened so fast. It seems like everyone got to the wire within a few minutes.
On the way to Bunker 8 we saw Head our Medic. He told us he was treating a wounded GI. Looking back, I’ll bet anything it was Larry Hutchison and he said he was sure there were casualties in the Mortar Platoon and soon as he was done treating the wounded soldier he would go there.
I read Roger Mallory’s story of May 12th and the reason the MotorPool was locked and chained was because a few days before we had one of our trucks taken for a joy ride and we found it crashed in a ditch. It seems as if some of our Bros went cruising one night. I don’t know if they were from our unit or one of the 1st Cav’s. There was no real damage done. Actually I found it kind of funny. I remember when we used to race the ¾’s down to the Frenchman’s Pool. I think we did more damage to them than the incoming mortars and rockets did but we always fixed them. So anyway, I got the orders to put on the chains and locks. I figured if anyone really needed something they would blow the gate away or just drive through it.
So now we crawl into the Mortar Platoon area. It must have been just moments before every one else. The officer tells me to check the first bunker to the right. I’m hesitant and I ask the officer, “Do the friendlies know we are here? “ I ask because the Mortar Platoon got hit hard and if there’s friendlies taking cover in the bunker, they’ll think I’m VC. This is what I was thinking.
He tells me “It’s alright, they know”. I didn’t think it was a good idea to yell. “We’re friendlies and we’re coming in” either. My thoughts were if a sapper was in the bunker, all he had to do was fire, while I had to see if the were on our side. If it was a VC bunker I would have just grenaded it, but it was one of ours. A lot to think about when the sweats pouring off of you like you were in the rain, and your about to shit in your pants. So I crawl along and by the entrance to the bunker to the right is a soldier lying there. I move him slightly so I can see his face. I knew he was dead. He got shot in the side of his head. It must have been point blank. I can’ even describe the look he had on his face - it was horrible.
I don’t remember anyone else in that bunker. We moved to the next bunker and two guys are lying on the ground inside. We tell them we’re friendlies. I remember one saying to his friend, looks like we’re going home. They both had bad wounds. One of them told us to get his boots on the other side of the bunker. He said I think my feet are in them. I never forgot that. They both had terrible leg injuries. Among other things, I’m thinking. The sappers must have got them with grenades.
I forgot to mention when we first went into the wire there was a body of a soldier before we got to the 1st bunker. He was to our left. We didn’t check him as we knew he was gone. I won’t even describe how he looked. I was sweating so badly that night that I took off my helmet and flak jacket. I just carried my rifle and ammo and my 45. It looked like the Mortar Platoon got taken completely by surprise. I guess the sappers got past everyone without being spotted until someone nailed the two by Bunker 8
The next bunker we came upon was directly in front of Alpha Battery. As I looked up toward Alpha Battery someone opened fire on our position .So much for “Yes, they know we are here”. We yell like maniacs that it’s HQ’s and the shooting stopped. They tell us no one said anything about friendlies going in there and they thought everyone in the Mortar Platoon was gone - so of course, they fired. I would have done the same thing. Luckily we were behind a bunker. It wasn’t the best time to be yelling back and forth to each other either as the area wasn’t yet secured.
Before I forget, the next morning after everything was over a soldier from Alpha Battery who fired at us found us and we spoke for a moment. It’s like he was relieved that we were alright. Unfortunately, I can’t even remember what he looked like let alone his name. He said that the 50cal. had broken or jammed just a little while before we got there so he fired his rifle. Now that I look back I realize how fortunate we were. There’s no doubt of what the outcome would have been if the the 50 cal. had not been disabled. That 50 cal. would have turned the bunker into a sand pile, and got all of us.
Now, by this time the area was full of our troops and I believe an officer from the Ist Infantry Division was there. I think the Mortar Platoon were his boys. Sgt Anderson was helping our Medic along with some others. Some of the team were searching for VC, treating the wounded and carrying the dead. I remember our Medic well - his name was Head. He gave me some morphine to give to any wounded I found. I remember going back and finding a soldier half buried in a bunker. His body was twisted where it looked like half of him was facing the opposite way. I remember one of those heavy beams was across his legs and it was buried in what was left of the sandbags. I couldn’t get him out right away so I gave him some morphine.
We went into the area where the mortars were set up and we found more bodies. We had checked the whole area except the mortar position all the way to the right of Alpha Battery. When we reached the last position a soldier, it turns out to be one of the survivors from the Mortar Platoon, sticks his head up from behind the sandbags and I almost killed him. I’m glad I was young and had lightning fast reflexes. I know I put my M-14 on auto when we went into the wire. Sgt. Anderson was working with someone from the 1st Infantry Division and he told us some of the Mortar Platoon weren’t accounted for at that time and that kept me from firing instantly. What had just happened to us by Alpha Battery made me cautious of just firing too. I thank God I didn’t pull the trigger. He had no weapon on him. Neither did the soldier who was shot in the head by the first bunker. I’m not sure about the others we found outside. So sad, those VC caught them totally by surprise. They never had a clue the VC were in the compound until they opened up on them.
For the record, Sgt. Anderson was like a father to me from when we were ducking rockets and mortars during the Tet Offensive until the time I finally left Nam. If there was something going on Sgt. Anderson was there. He always went where the heaviest incoming was or basically the worst place to be at that particular time. You didn’t have to look for him as he was always there to see if everyone was all right, or needed anything. He had a gentle strength about him. I always admired him as he made me feel safe when I was with him. He was one hell of a soldier. I’ll remember him always.
I forgot to mention that while all this was going on we were getting some incoming rockets and mortars and a few RPG’s fired at us. Some of those rounds came damn close. After the Mortar Platoon area was secured and the wounded evacuated, I remember seeing someone loading bodies into the back of a ¾ or 2 ½. . I believe it was Barnett. I looked at him and he at me. We said nothing. I believe at the end of the night there were 7 killed, 3 wounded seriously, and 2 survivors from the Mortar Platoon, not counting the casualties from Alpha and HHB Batteries.
It was still early in the morning and we figured this might not be the last of it and it wasn’t. I believe it was the officer from the 1st Infantry Division suggested we take one of the mortars and set it up and fire some flares to illuminate the valley in front of Alpha Battery. I remember seeing the tower smoldering and I’m not exactly sure where it was we set up the mortar. I do know it was near a bunker. It may have been one of the bunkers in the Mortar Platoon area.
So we popped flares from the mortar .There were flares going off all over the perimeter Someone said “Spooky” was flying over us and dropping the flares. Gunships were flying all over the place. I Loved those “Cobras”. I was standing with Huffman, and the1st Infantry Officer and some of the people from A Btry and HQ were told to man a position just to the right of us. I believe there were three of them. It wasn’t a bunker, just a few sandbags. The sun was just rising when the troops got to that position and incoming mortars landed. It seemed as if they had the area zeroed in. I swear the first round missed us by 3 ft. and the next one almost landed directly on the troops in the fighting position to our right. They fired maybe 3 more rounds and then they stopped. How no one was killed or even wounded is beyond me. It seems the rounds went off deep in the soil and that absorbed the impact .If the ground was hard and the mortars detonated on top we were all gone. I’m glad they weren’t rockets
It was daylight now and it turned out that those mortar rounds were the last of the incoming
We made our way around the perimeter and just looked around. There were some dead VC here and there - a number of them never made it past the wire. I remember seeing a few bunched up and tangled in the last strand of wire just before the bunker that was across the road from and to the left of Old Bunker8. Old Bunker 8 got hit hard. I noticed one bunker in the mortar platoon area had collapsed from the explosives of the sappers, I guess. I’ll never forget seeing the tip of an M16 sticking out of the top of the burned out bunker. We started to dig to see if we could find anyone, but we were told to report back to Sgt Anderson. I wasn’t there when they dug up the bunker. If there was anyone in it, I know they were gone.
The bunker by the Tower - that was overrun. Simon was in it that night. At daybreak I saw him come out. I yelled to him and he came over by us. I was so happy to see him. I think I gave him a hug. We thought everyone in that bunker and the Tower were dead. That bunker took a lot of hits, and I guess the sappers thought they finished it off. A lot of rounds from the VC landed there and at the tower next to it. Simon staying put probably saved his life. We were sending a lot of ordinance that way too. If he ran towards us when the VC first got in, he could easily have got caught with friendly fire, or by the gooks who were still alive. It was one hell of a night for Simon, I think, as he was there alone. A miracle he survived. Now that I think of it, he was probably in the Tower when it got hit and made his way down to the bunker. He probably got pinned down there, that’s why he was alone. As I remember we always had three people in the tower or on the bunkers.
So now we meet up with Sgt. Anderson and the rest of Reaction Force and we start going through everything. We made our way into Alpha Battery and they took some hit’s alright. I remember seeing a lot of fins from RPG’s that had detonated. One was sticking out of a bunker at the very edge where the beams were located. It reminded me of the tail end of a dart. I think an 8” or a 175 took a few rounds from an RPG. or mortars. After that I believe we got some chow. I know we drank some coffee, but I don’t think anyone ate. Someone from another unit, I believe, was checking the body of the VC that was torn up by Bunker 8. I think he was with Intel. While I was there I looked at the new Bunker 8 - it was a mess. The Medics ¾ ton was by the Officer’s Bunker and it had a hole in the rear of it from some shrapnel. The fuel tank was ruptured and it was towed to the Motor Pool for repairs. After that we all went back to our normal duties. I don’t think anyone said a word about what had happened.
So I end my story of May12, 1969 in Quan Loi, Viet Nam. I never forgot it nor will I ever forget. This story isn’t about me or anything I did. I wrote about what I saw and how I felt. This story is about the soldiers I had the honor to serve with. I was a witness that night to an awful tragedy that took place in Quan Loi as it did in so many other parts of Vietnam. I also was there to witness and be so proud of all the soldiers of HHB and Alpha Batteries, and everyone else that was there…Though I never met most of you personally or even spoke with you, I never forgot you. I don’t remember everyone that was there, and I’m sure most of you don’t remember me or even knew I was there, but that doesn’t matter. I mentioned the names of the people I had direct contact with that night but it by no means takes anything away from those I didn’t mention. You are all part of the reason I’m here at home all these years later, writing this. This is Your Story as I saw it that night.
“Peace” Eddie Zak
Edmund F. Zakrzewski Then and Now