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War Stories

Battle of the Hobo Woods 29 Jan 1968 (TET)

Updated 9 June 2018
Click on these names to see their input: Morrison Pickett, Todd Jackson, Robert Warner, Ralph Mabry, Tuioalele Suiaunoa, Bill Mosenthal, John Collins, Tom Owen, John Wimberly, Pat Eastes, Rick Arthur, Tom Fleming, TJ Lange, Norm Clark, Doug Olsen, Bill Altenhofen, Walter Cooke, Lee Burgess, Harry Swiencki, Jim Ashbranner, Dennis Pfoor, Larry Lodding, Michael Greber, Col Adams, Buck Buxton, Walt Baum, Ted Mathis- Email Discussions: Tom Fleming, Bill Mosenthal - History Channel Movie

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In the afternoon of 29 Jan 1968, two days before TET (The Battle for Saigon), one the biggest battles of the war for the Centaurs took place. Five of our Aeroriflemen were killed and 4 were wounded; the 2/27th Wolfhounds had 3 KIA and 6 or 7 wounded; 268 enemy were killed. It involved nearly every element of D Troop. An early morning kill of an NVA soldier by the Dawn Patrol (Buxton & Baum) My have kicked off this whole sequence of events. The unbelievable teamwork that day demonstrated the value of having a well trained, self contained unit like the Centaurs. This was also camaraderie at the highest level.

KIA: SSG Morrison Pickett, CPL Todd Jackson, SSG Robert Warner, SGT Ralph Mabry, SSG Tuioalele Suiaunoa

Wounded: 1LT Bill Mosenthal was hit in his ammo pouch, causing internal injuries; SGT John Collins, left arm; Sgt Tom Owen, left arm; and SP4 John Wimberly, headwound, bullet hit his helmet and the helmet caused the wound.

The Battle was so significant that the story was recreated by the History Channel on its' "Shoot Out" television program in July of 2010. They listed it as one of the most significant "Shoot Outs" of the war.

They used video testimonies, reenactments, and graphic animation to show the platoon of AeroRifles from D Troop (Air), 3/4 Cav taking on an NVA Regiment (multiple Battalions) and possibly saving Saigon from being overrun during TET of 1968. Their reenactments are dramatic, and it is a great overview of the battle. See their video.

Author Keith Nolan wrote up the battle in his book "The Battle for Saigon".
He included a bit of the Hobo Woods Battle in his book.

Dale Dow has provided the Squadron Daily Staff Journal for that time period: click here to see the pdf file.

This information is great, but it is not the whole story. There is much more to be told by the men who were there.

We want to use this section of the website to gather the rest of the story and someday present it in a single Essay or even a screenplay.

Here is what Pat Eastes put together in line with that Essay mission: "Firefight in the Hobo"

Mosenthal Audio: The History Channel used only a small portion of their original video interviews with Bill Mosenthal and John Collins. We edited Bill's presentation down to a 22 minute audio which you can listen to here.

Video stories:
Click on these names below to view personal videos telling of their remembrances of that day.

Buck Buxton tells of the early morning (Dawn Patrol) kill of a regular NVA soldier that may have caused the Division to insert LRRPs to get more info.

Rick Arthur tells of the LRRP insertions that preceded the AeroRifle Platoon insertion.

Tom Fleming has two videos. PreBattle (Part One) and Commanders Overview (Part Two) of the Battle

John Collins addresses the ground actions of he and Tom Owens and of them both getting wounded.

Pat Eastes flying UH-1C Gunship support overhead.

TJ Lange as Crewchief of aircraft 462, dropping ammo and supplies to the troops.

Norm Clark, gunner in 513 covering the action.

Bill Altenhofen tells what happened the next day in a sweep of the area and capture of an NVA lieutenant.

Text stories:

Walter Cooke and Smokey Burgess were the OH-23 Scout team providing the amazing support for most of the battle. Smokey has passed on, but Walter has written his recollections.

Dennis Pfoor, was a machine gunner with the 2nd squad and tells his story.

Harry Swiencki, was a crew chief with Cooke and Burgess. We await his input.

Leland "Smokey" Burgess did a Veterans History Project video in 2002. In it he gives a detailed accounting of what he and Walter Cooke did in their OH-23 aircraft. He mentions SSG Pickett directing their fire on each pass until he was killed. It is a long video. Get it started then use the slider at the bottom to move to different areas of Smokey's testimony. We hope to eventually obtain and edit the video into sections for this website.

Ted Mathis, Wolfhound unit leader that came to rescue. Awaiting his story.

Audio discussion:
At the reunion in Nashville (2012) Bill Mosenthal hosted a session dedicated to discussing this battle. The idea was to get as many of the survivors and support troops together as we could to compare stories and fill in gaps prior to each of them making video testimonies of their portion. In attendance were Bill Mosenthal, Tom Fleming, Bill Altenhofen, John Collins, Pat Eastes, Norm Clark, Jim Ashabranner and Rick Arthur. Rick recorded the 50 minute session on audio tape. You can listen to the mostly unedited versions here. Since this was intended to be a coordinating session, much of it is also covered in the individual video presentations above. It is left in here because it contain details not yet covered by a video. Below sketch map provided by Bill Altenhofen.

Sketch

Can you help?
Some of you may have been there! Think about that timeframe. What other gunships were available that day besides 462 and 513? Who were the crew members? Does anyone have contact with Tom Owens? What did it look like from the air? Can you suggest any improvements to the sketch made by Bill Altenhofen of the battlefield (located in the audio section)?

Support Units:
We seek input from the 2/27th Wolfhounds and their Commander Col Adams who, with extremely short notice, came to the rescue of the Centaurs. It was said that he was happy to return the rescue favor for the Centaurs who had so many times helped him out. We would also like to hear from those of the 116th (Hornets) who managed to come up with the necessary lift aircraft to make the rescue happen.
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Email Discussion:

In the first email below Tom Fleming was responding to Moose Marcinkowski's question about the lack of awareness of the building  enemy threat by MACV and the discrediting intelligence they had.  My response was not a theater wide assessment of the growing threat and the changing actions by the VC, rather my observations and responses to increasing activities by the enemy that D Troop was dealing with in the months leading up to the  1968 TET Offensive. One correction in the article is that the incident with the bunker complex and the Assistant Division Commander happened in late December just before we left the old Centaur area.

Tom Fleming to Moose Marcinkowski,
The Battle: It was a hell of a battle. It is my understanding from discussions with General Otis and others that the unit we engaged was the reconnaissance company of a regiment that had infiltrated to the south side of the Saigon River below the Mushroom, and was the security force for the regimental Headquarters on the higher ground beyond the stream with the river at its back. I am guessing at the location of its battalions, but believe they were close in on the south side of the river, probably a portion in the area the 2nd/ 27th fought through. The amount of gunship fire and artillery probably accounted for their high KIA rate.

That night, as I did Command and Control above the battle, I heard reports of enemy troop movement south from our LRRPs in amounts I had never heard before. It was apparent to me (and if reported higher and believed) that a major enemy offensive was under way.

Previously: A week prior the enemy had attacked and inflicted high casualties on a US infantry unit (I can't remember the unit or its size, but there were about 30 US KIA) in the vicinity of Trung Lap in an early morning attack. D Troop was tasked to attempt to interdict the enemy as it was presumed to be infiltrating north to sanctuary in the Ho Bo Woods. As usual the a division waited until after noon to task us.

We picked up traces of them on the edge of the Ho Bo. I put in our Aerorifle (35 Unit) and was maneuvering them against what I presumed was a fortified building disguised as a farm house with trenches emanating from it. The house was too big on the edge of the fire line and had evidence of recent human activity picked up by our Light Scout aircraft. My replacement was with me attempting to grasp the intricacies on managing a developing battle (fuel, ammo, location of artillery units and my attempt to get a commitment of reinforcement should we become decisively engaged). The Light Scouts (WO1 Walter Cook) did a masterful job of killing a mortar team maneuvering against us on one of the trenches. He did it with his skid gun.

I held the 35 element back from full enlargement awaiting word of a back up force. Squadron attempted to send a troop but the distance was too great and Division wasn't giving any commitments. Last light was approaching so I called it off and withdrew.

My replacement, Fred Michaelson, commented that he would not maneuver the troop from a C&C as I did. I shrugged his comment off. When I first became Commander I thought I would not be able to do it. I don't know if he ever picked it up and have resisted trying to find out how he did after I left. I didn't walk in his shoes.

At any rate just before TET68 things were heating up, but no one could have imagined the magnitude of the attack nor could any one in our squadron.

About a week before that engagement our Light Scouts found a massive brand new bunker complex with people in the bunkers that could not be noticed to shoot at them. This was on the East side of the Ho Bo. We reported it to Division. The new Asst Div Cdr came by came to our operations and started berating me for reporting false information and said that reporting things like this destroyed our reputation. I put him in one of our Light Scout aircraft (OH-23G) that had been working over the bunker complex and told the scout pilot to show him the bunkers. He did and did it low and slow pointing out not only the bunker, but the individuals inside them and the boxes of stored material.

When the BG came back he was visibly shaken, said he would from now on believe our report and to never again do that to him. He tasked the 2/27th (Wolfhounds) to exploit the complex & to coordinate with us. The XO was in charge because the Commander was on R&R. He told me that he wanted our 35 element attached and that he would send them in to the complex and then would react. I forcefully rejected that and he thanked me by telling me that he now knew where he wasn't going to go.

Incidentally he put a company plus into a night position about 7k away in the middle of the Ho Bo, brought in a chow line and night packs, didn't set out security and was ambushed at close range while his troops were lined up for chow. They really got waxed. I don't think division ever did exploit that bunker complex. Tom

Michael Greber

Tom Fleming 08 Nov 2011
One of the survivors of the battle who was found the next day in the sweep of the contact area by 2/27 and CPT Haskell Stone and SSG Altenhofen was a soldier by the name of Michael Gerber (no email) 2268 Victory Blvd, Staten Island NY.  I corresponded with him back in the ‘90s helping him get a Purple Heart (that he legitimately deserved) that he wanted to prove to the VA that he had the basis for a claim for PTSD.  He and another trooper (whose name I can’t remember) drove into the stream when the battle started, hunkered down and stayed there all night through all the artillery, rockets and gun fire and survived without a scratch.  He may have a story to tell that will add to the overall story of the battle.  I think I queered Bill Mosenthal about him and he didn’t have much to say about him then.  I never asked SSG Altenhofen.  I may have asked Dale, I can’t remember. Tom

Bill Mosenthal 11 Sep 2011
His name is actually ‘Greber’. I corresponded with him a few years ago about some VA benefits he was seeking, sent him some corroborating information. He is not particularly communicative but it is worth a try. I think Bill Altenhofen retrieved him out of the creek the next morning.   …Bill M.

Bill Altenhofen 8 Jun 2018
Greber was part of the squad that did not participate in the actual fighting.  He got a Purple Heart from another incident I think happened in another part of the HOBO woods.  I believe it was in November of 67, the Squadron was on a recon of the area and run into a section of rice paddies.  The tanks started getting stuck and had to be pulled out by the APC hooked in train fashion to get the tanks out of the mud.  They brought in the rifles because there was a section of elephant grass that they could not get to.  When we started to search I found a stack of five gallon oil cans, they had the "Shell Oil Co" logo on them.  It was a large number of them stacked in a pyramid.  As a guess I would say the lowest row was about fifteen cans square, and tiers of cans stacked up until it was about fifteen feet tall.  It was covered with dried grass, it would have been hard for the aircraft to identify what the pile was.  I called it in and was told to destroy it, I had no means of destroying all the cans so I ask if one of the aircraft had a heat grenade.  One of the ships came over and dropped a couple of them on the pile of cans.  The cans started burning and that was the way I left the area.  Later we found a well and a pile of beans and rice stacked up, again it was too much to carry away so they decided to destroy it.   We dumped the beans in the well until it was full and scattered the rest on the ground.  While we were doing that the tanks were operating about a click away and got fire from a wood line.  A squad of infantry was sent over with the tanks, but the enemy fire was so intense the tanks backed off.  There had been talk of setting up an ambush by the well, but it started getting dark and we were taken back to the compound.  I believe this was the action where Greber got wounded.  I had talked to him once at a reunion in Kentucky, his stories were so wild I was wondering what unit he was talking about.