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War Stories

Deadly Ambush, but No Body Count - May 67

William G. "Bill" Aldenhofen


In May 1967 the ¾ Cav Squadron was searching the 25th Division area of operations, looking for Viet Cong (VC). First Lieutenant Andrew Gerrie would find out where the unit was set up for the night, and he would take the Aero Rifles to pull an ambush nearby. When I (as platoon sergeant) asked why we were pulling so many ambushes, he said we needed to get a body count.

ironTriangle Once when the squadron had stopped in the “Iron Triangle” and set up for the night, we flew out and joined them. The lieutenant arranged with squadron operations where we would go and who would be our reaction force. The Rifles waited until dark and started out to the ambush site among some old rubber trees. I was a little nervous, as this was the VC’s backyard. I took the “tail gunner” position (in the rear). On the way to the ambush site we went through a brushy area and made a lot of noise, and I suspected we were being followed or shadowed. I would stop for a few minutes hoping to hear if someone was following us, but never did catch anyone moving and it was too dark to see. When we got close to the ambush site I waited again – this time for what seemed forever but was only three or four minutes – and didn’t hear anybody. Just had a strange feeling that I was being watched.

The ambush was set up along a trail, and when I arrived the men were already in position. I came in at the end of the front leg of the ambush. I told the men that I was sure we had been followed and to keep a close eye on the brushy area in front of them. Then I teamed up with the combat medic. claymoreHe had set out the claymore (antipersonnel mine) with a trip flare underneath, to alert us in case someone tried to move the mine. Three of the men were on my left with a machinegun and two more on my right. We were in the rear of the ambush, which was formed like a triangle. The first and second squads were along the trail with their claymores, and the third squad was on the right side of the ambush.

We had been in this position about a half hour when two VC came down the trail carrying a large mine. They saw one of our claymores in front of a tree. They set their mine down, one of the VC walked over and picked up the claymore, and our man with the detonator set it off. The other VC started running back down the trail and another of our men fired a magazine at him, but the VC outran the bullets. The lieutenant radioed squadron that we had set off the ambush, and asked for the reaction force to be sent out to pick us up. The major at squadron asked how many bodies we had; he was told that one had been blown up and the other had escaped down the road. He ordered the lieutenant to wait until we had a few bodies that could be counted, so we stayed in place.

Soon I started hearing strange noises outside our perimeter – bird calls, pieces of wood being rapped against each other, grunts, and whistles – which seemed to surround us. Suddenly a lot of things happened at once. The machinegun on my left started firing. I told the medic, who was holding the detonator for our claymore, to set it off. But he handed it to me and said, “You do it.” I asked him if he was sure he had kept the wire tight and he said “Yes,” so I fired it. He had placed the claymore against a large rubber tree, and the back-blast knocked the tree down into the area where all the noises had come from. We heard an explosion from the front of the ambush and saw tracers flying over our heads. At first I thought the machinegun at the front of the ambush had started firing back over us, but the tracers were green and coming from across the trail in the brush. Someone at the front called for a medic and he went racing over. I felt something hit my shoulder and wondered where it had come from. Looking up I could see small explosions in the trees that we were under, probably of rifle grenades being fired on our position by the VC.

The reaction unit got to us so fast that one of the tanks ran over a VC. Another tank, driven by a former member of the Rifles who had transferred to B Troop so he could drive tanks, hit a tree. The top of the tree broke off and fell on the tank; a branch hit the driver in the face and cut his lip. One of our men was hit by shrapnel from a rifle grenade that fell on the trail. The final body count was one VC dead and one possible (who outran the bullets). We did not get credit for the VC who was killed by the claymore, because there was no body left to count. Our casualties were two wounded.

Bill Altenhofen, SSG (US Army Retired)