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War Stories

LRRP Rescue War Zone C - May 67

Tom Fleming

Centaurs mentioned: WO1 Michael Banks, MAJ Oscar Thoreson (Deceased), CPT Jackson (LRRP Cdr)


In late May the troop had a particularly hairy LRRP mission in War Zone C about 5 kilometers north of LZ Gold. A new 25th Div G-2 was not utilizing the LRRP to the liking of the troop or the LRRP. He had been assigning missions to the LRRP that were unrealistic and were nearly impossible to execute. This mission was typical of the mission impossible that had been coming down recently.

D Troop was assigned an Area of Operations for this mission that was a 4 by 4 kilometer box that contained only one landing area in the center. This open area was about 500 by 500 meters in a continuous cover of rain forest for an extended distance and has a north south track running through it. The area had been bombed significantly and was well cratered. The Division G-2 briefed the LRRP Cdr that radio intercept indicated that a VC Main Force Regiment headquarters was located in the middle of the area and that the LRRP mission was to verify this.

As D Troop developed the mission planning it was evident that the only fire support for this mission would come from an 8 inch artillery battery of 4 guns located at Tay Ninh firing at its maximum range and air support from our guns ships and the Air Force. The LRRP requested and received an Army O-1 that would be aloft throughout the duration of the mission with one of the LRRP officers in the back relaying radio transmissions and standing by to coordinate fires and AF close air support as needed.

The plan called for the Aero Rifle Platoon, insertion/extraction, back up extraction maintenance recovery and troop C&C helicopters standing by at the assault strip at Soui Da. Soui Da is about 12 k south east of the AO. The insertion plan called for the insertion helicopter to fly low level to an insertion point which was a small indentation on the south edge of the central open area. As the helicopter was inbound for insertion, close air support F-100s laid down 250 lb bombs parallel to its flight path, at a kilometer distance to the south in an attempt to keep the heads down of any VC observers.

The insertion helicopter piloted by WO Michael Banks was directed by the Troop Commander, Maj. Thorenson, in his C&C helicopter to the insertion point. Upon landing at the insertion point the 5 man LRRP tram exited the LZ and moved directly south parallel to the overgrown track that ran south out of the center of the LZ. In the LRRPs initial radio contact they informed the Commander that there was a concrete bunker in the LZ that they landed in and that there was a 51 cal mg barrel sticking out from it. Fortunately the machine gun port was oriented to shoot down aircraft landing in the central open area and could not be traversed into the corner they landed in.

The team moved about 300m south and set up adjacent to the track. After the team was in position to observe the movement on the track for about one hour a VC soldier came along and sat down on a log facing the team. The team did not know if they had been compromised or not, but could not move or they would be seen for sure.

About an hour passed and two more VC came along and sat on the log facing them and not long after the team could hear the sound of chopping wood and dogs barking, sure signs that the VC were getting ready to search for them.

While this was going on the Troop assembled at Soui Da went to high alert, helicopter crews and Aero Rifles in their seats engines at flight idle and all ears glued to the radio. The troop commander called for close air support and was informed that 4 sorties of F-100s were holding and ready. He then called for artillery to fire one round 200m short of the team and on the track. After firing several rounds to insure that they had the rounds on target he had them fire one round 50m up the track towards the team and wait one minute an then fire another 50m up the track after one minute. He kept this up sequentially until it was apparent that the next 8 inch round would land directly on the team and the observing VC.

From the radio we could hear the dialog of the team indicating that the observing VC were getting increasingly nervous and they got up and ran north 30 seconds before the next round would impact. Unfortunately for them the next round landed 50m north of the team on the VC and was the signal for the team to run north toward the pickup point. The artillery was directed to fire back on the point where the team had been and then continued firing north 50m every minute toward the PZ.

The LRRP team was being hotly pursued as they raced toward the same location they landed at. The entire troop came airborne and was orbiting just east of the extraction point. The troop C&C directed the extraction ship low level in to what was presumed would be the pickup point. In the Maintenance Recovery helicopter I positioned myself behind the extraction helicopter so that if they were shot down I could land on top of the downed bird and attempt to rescue any survivors.

As the extraction ship raced in it went through my mind that this was going to end in a disaster. The extraction ship, again with WO Banks as the Aircraft Commander, escorted by 6 gunships flying as two parallel heavy gun teams back 2000 meters west to east, overflew the pickup point. The LRRP team did not put out any smoke as called for in SOP (they hadn’t arrived yet).

The troop commander called for Stable Boy to take over the extraction. As I let down to extraction point the extraction ship did a quick stop, pedal turn and came back to the pickup point dropped down into an active close quarters fire fight between the VC and the team, picked them all up and got the hell out of there. I did a hard right and got out of the way of the gunships that were now pounding the center of the open area where there was a very large number of VC racing across the area from north to south and were now in the open.

As the gunships were on their second pass a large number of VC (25 -50) sought cover in a big B-52 crater; the close air support screamed in from north to south and dropped napalm right on top of them and kept pounding the surrounding area with bombs, napalm and cannon fire. As all the troop helicopters departed the area the post adrenalin fatigue set in. It had been a long tense several hours.

If the Aero Rifles had to have been inserted in an attempt to rescue beleaguered LRRP team it would have been a disaster. The body count for that mission was very high and a lesson was learned on just how far the Division could push the LRRP. The LRRP Commander Capt Jackson and the Division G-2 had a post mission confrontation that ended the suicide missions and ultimately contributed to the disbanding of the LRRP Detachment in late July. The LRRP was resurrected in all divisions’ country wide as Ranger Companies in September.