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War Stories

Letter Home - 6 July 1967

Bruce Powell

Minor editing with photos added. Main battle 7 May 1967

Dear Mom and Dad,

Got your letter of 29 June yesterday. Would have gotten it sooner but I've been gone for 3 days. I finally made it to "Vung Tau" (I hope you got my other two letters. One long one and one large envelope.)

iron Things got pretty slow around here after we moved out of the "iron Triangle." Our whole CAV outfit needed some time off. (Mostly for repairs.) Alpha troop (CPT Strickland) and Bravo troop got stung pretty bad in the there. The jungle was much thicker there than anywhere else that we've had the tanks. Some areas of the Triangle were too thick for even the tanks.

These areas were not completely bypassed. The gunships made strikes on them; artillery hit most of them; and the most active areas were hit with air strikes (500 bombs dropped from F-100's (Jets.))

Alpha Troop came back with the only one tank operational (out of 6 or 7.) Three were totally destroyed and the rest crippled. Charlie had "mined" the area very heavily. He also followed along behind and laid more mines in our tracks; and some were laid in front of the tanks only minutes before.

Charlie snuck into the perimeter one night and placed a large mine right in front of a tank. When the vehicles pulled out in the morning, BLEWEE!! Killed one man and wounded several others. it also destroyed the tank. It must have been a huge mine. Usually a mine will only blow off a track or damage the road wheels that the tank tracks ride on. Alpha had over 30 casualties, (about 7 killed and the rest wounded) from that one operation.

Bravo troop had about 20 casualties. Several platoon leaders (lieutenants) were killed. Lt. Rodgers was the only officer that I knew, the others were recent replacements.

Delta Troop (D Troop Air) didn't get hit too bad. Our Areo Rifle platoon leader (1LT Gerrie) was wounded in 4 different places. He was riding a tank that hit a mine. The rest of his troops were in APC (armored personnel carriers) following behind. The mine was "command detonated" (means manually set off) type. Charlie was waiting in the brush for them. When the tank drove over the mine, Charlie set it off (electronically.) At the same time another VC shot them with an RPG2 (anti tank weapon; like a small bazooka.)

Lt. Johnson (the platoon leader of the "tracks") jumped off one side and Lt. Gerrie jumped off the other. Johnson got wiped out, Gerrie was seriously wounded. LTC Shea the new commander of the 3/4 CAV was riding on the second APC. He came flying out the back with a grenade in one hand and a .45 pistol in the other. He made a one man assault on the VC position with his .45 blazing. Lt. Gerrie (who was still conscious) told me that' Shea looked like John Wayne himself. Boy was the Colonel pissed off. He threw the grenade into the VC emplacement, and blew it up, killing one VC. Then he kept right on stomping threw the brush until he caught up with the second one, which he killed with his .45. (7 May 1967)

Later on that day the division commander himself (General Tillson) landed at their position and pinned a "silver star" on LTC Shea. It sure makes a guy gung ho to have a leader like him.

Lt. Mosenthal (LRRP Leader) from our troop was slightly wounded in the same battle. We had about six others wounded from our troop; mostly men from the Areo Rifle Platoon. One young kid from the LRRP platoon was fatally wounded (Who was that?).

CPT Delvy and I were overhead assaulting the woods in front of the LRRP ground troops. Charlie was in there alright; because the LRRP's began receiving fire before we made our attack. Maybe if I just could have opened fire with my machine guns a little sooner I might have made Charlie duck or maybe even have hit him, either way would have saved one man from dying. One week this kid had been here; fresh out of high school.

The MEDAVAC chopper received fire going in to pick up the young LRRP. We covered them with machine gun fire.
On the way out the pilot radioed "Sorry, but this ones a KIA." (means killed in action) And that's the way it went in the Iron Triangle.

The 3/4 CAV suffered a total of 6 casualties, and killed a total of 16 VC by body count (12 of which were killed by Centaur gunships.) Not too good, but next time will be different. The main thing is to learn from each experience and don't make the same mistakes twice.

I was sure lucky to get to go to Vung Tau. WO Arthur (Rick) one of the guys in my hooch was lined up to go. He didn't have anything else to do. He's grounded until his leg heals up. He was wounded last month by his door gunner. The door on his gunship jarred open on a "gun run" and his door gunners machine gun fire splintered right through it. Pieces of metal caught Rick in the lower leg. (Not real serious.)

Anyway, it was about my turn to go to Vung Tau, so I asked. Sure 'nuff, it was a good time for me to go. A few weeks several more pilots will be going home and we won't be able to let anyone go to Vung Tau… Don't you remember Vung Tau? I told you about it before. It's the R&R center of Vietnam; right on the coast east of Saigon… I only had ten minutes to eat lunch and pack for the three day trip. Rick was ready so he went over to the tower, while I packed a few things. (We had to hitch hike (by aircraft) there and back.) What you do is tell the tower operator where you want to go and he asks each aircraft that comes into the field, where they are going. Soon one will be going your way, and if they have room, you have a ride. It sure feels funny to ride in the back of a huey after all that time up front! (I'd much rather fly it myself than ride.)

There it was. The South China Sea in all its splendor! And the Rung Sat, that I had just read about, bordered the shore line very similar to the swampy Siletz River Bay in Oregon. The Rung Sat is unexplored swamp land on the coast of Vietnam, just short of Vung Tau. It looks quiet and peaceful from the air; almost beautiful with the ocean in the background but it's a VC haven. The Navy Seals (commandos) are working in this area. Then we could see Vung Tau. And the beach! I sure was excited; and glad to finally be here.

These screwball kids we were riding with didn't seem to know very much about flying. Nether one of them looked a day over 19. Both were warrant officers. They were from a new unit at Tay Ninh called the Blackhawks of all things… I was beginning to wonder if we were going to make it… We were over a portion of the bay, I was looking straight down at the water a thousand feet below, wondering what I would do if the engine quit. Wham! And we started falling. It was just like my engine failure at Rucker. I started to reach down to take my boots off, and then realized that it wasn't an engine failure. The pilots hat fell off of the instrument panel (it shouldn't have been there in the first place.) It startled the pilot and he lunged forward to catch it, knocking the controls around a bit. Scared the piss out of me! Those crazy knot heads. I was sure happy to get out of that aircraft!

Rick has a buddy in Vung Tau that he went through basic training and flight school with. He's a maintenance platoon leader (Army) at the Vung Tau military base. Zeke Broadly, (warrant officer - 26 years old heavy set - personality similar to uncle Pat,) was his name. What a character. He busted his bottom to show us a good time. We did more in two days and three nights than most people could do in a month.

The first thing he did was get a Jeep and drive us to the officers club (Pacific Hotel) in downtown Vung Tau. I had to stop off at the PX before we left post to buy some shoes and a shirt (which I forgot to bring in my haste.) One dollar per night each, for a room (three beds.) We were like a couple of kids. We unpacked our junk, shed our crumby jungle fatigues, took a shower, donned civilian clothes and headed for the hotel bar. They had a game room full of slot machines and I couldn't resist it. Five bucks apiece we blew. Great fun! Well that was the start. We went full bore, the whole time we were there…

jellyfishWent down to the beach the next day and went swimming in the South China Sea. Not to many people were swimming because of all the jellyfish. I borrowed an underwater face mask, grabbed a big stick, and set out to catch jellyfishes. it was great! They looked like a big hamburger (10" diameter) with sauerkraut hanging out. Ha! I'd get 'em on the stick then lift them out of the water so they couldn't swim; then carry them back to the shore to rot in the sun. I got about ten of them before one got me. Right in the joint behind the kneecap. Just like a bee sting (I guess, I haven't been stung by a bee since we lived on Church street.

Some American girls (4) came out. (Picture like about 200 GI's and 4 girls?) two of them were pretty good looking. They were wading out in the surf (the surf is more like that of Detroit Dam than of an ocean. Real calm. Good for waterskiing. No boat or skis available that day. Shallow water; you can walk out a 1/8 mile without it going over your head! I caught a jellyfish and swam towards them. They must have thought I was King Neptune himself when I popped up next to them. There Ii stood in my cutoff ragged jeans in about waist deep water, face mask on, holding a big stick with a big fat jellyfish on the end. I slid my mask up onto my forehead.
"Anybody for a jellyfish hunt?"

Well it was a different approach, anyway. Rick didn't swim much cause the salt water hurt his leg wound. We stayed out in the sun for about an hour and a half, which was almost too much. I was turning lobster red… Back in Vung Tau we shopped around and took pictures. What a mad house! Great fun…

cannon The second afternoon Zeke got the day off, and a Jeep, and we went exploring. We drove every mountain cat road and cow trail we could find. There are three large mountains (a little bigger than the one behind the cabin) in the area of Vung Tau. That's where we spent most of the afternoon. We found some ancient Japanese naval guns on the side of one mountain overlooking the main bay. They were huge. I could almost stick my head in the breach! They were covered by the dense jungle ground (and believe me its jungle up there.) We found an old French fort also. All built from rock with big tunnel entrances and rusty steel doors. It sounded like a scene from a horror movie when we opened one door. A big lizard (about a foot and a half long) ran out of one tunnel. It was gray with red streaks on it. Ugh! Tried to get a picture of it; but no luck. I sure felt naked without a weapon. Especially when I found out we explored a restricted area; and an area of known VC activity…

Counting every cent, I spent about a $100 while we're there in Vung Tau. I'd like to tell you more but it's tomorrow (0600hrs 7 July to be exact) already. By the way I'm OD (officer of the day) last night and this morning. That's why I've had time to write this long letter. I must end now the mail goes out only once a day at 0700.
See you later.

Love,
Bruce