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The History
Of The
K Troop Bandana

K Troop Bandana

When I was first assigned to K Troop I was issued a K Troop Bandana like the one above (click on the image for a larger view).  I was told that the blue bandana with the yellow embroidered K 3/11ACR was worn in memory of the 16 brave K Troopers who were ambushed and killed on May 21, 1967.  Before the introduction of the blue bandana, a black bandana with a red K was worn.  I was proud to honor their memory and I was proud to wear the K Troop Bandana. The 16 brave men of K Troop killed on that fateful day were:

William Centers

  SP5 William Centers

Eugene Dickinson   SGT Eugene H. Dickinson
Jerry Houser   PVT Jerry L Houser
Toler L. Hutchins, Jr.   SP4 Toler L. Hutchins, Jr.
Phillip E. Ireland   SP4 Phillip E. Ireland
James A. Jackson   SSG James A. Jackson
Alfred Lee   SGT Alfred Lee
Henry D. McInnis   SP4 Henry D. McInnis
James D. McWhorter   SP4 James D. McWhorter
Anthony W. Royball   SP4 Anthony W. Royball
Rodolfo Saenz   PFC Rodolfo Saenz
Walter S. Simpson    * SGT Walter S. Simpson 
William C. Stanley   SP4 William C. Stanley
 James T. Steighner   SP4 James T. Steighner
Dwight E. Timberlake   SP4 Dwight E. Timberlake
Larry A. Williamson

  SP4 Larry A. Williamson

PFC Patrick M. Loisel, a member of M Company and a Loader on M-34 was also killed.

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The graphic account of these 17 brave men's sacrifice is told in the following "After Action Report".  This lengthy chronicle details the courageous efforts that these men made to save their lives and the lives of their buddies.   After reading this story, you will easily see why I and my fellow K Troopers were proud to wear the

K Troop Bandana

Barbed Wire

US Flag

After Action Report
May 21, 1967

Flag Of South Vietnam


First platoon, Troop K, 3rd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry, commanded by Lt Michael Boyd, was conducting a normal resupply run along National Route 1 from the GIA RAY Rock Quarry to the junction on National Route 1 and Interprovincial Route 2 on the morning of Sunday, 21 May 1967.  Shortly before, the platoon had completed clearing Route 1 for mines and VC activity between GIA RAY Rock Quarry, where the bulk of Troop K was providing security for an element of the 595th Engineer Company, and SUOI CAT village to the west.  This distance of approximately 6 kilometers had proved in the past to be the stretch of road most generally interdicted by VC activity.  The clearing operation had proved uneventful, and the platoon had returned to GIA RAY, picked up the troop mess truck and Engineer jeep, and proceeded down the cleared route through SUOI CAT village.

When passing through SUOI CAT none of the members of the platoon noticed anything out of the ordinary.  The usual civilian traffic was on the road, farmers were tilling their fields, and children were waving to the troopers and begging for candy.  The advance guard cleared the village, crossed the bridge over SONG RAI stream (see figure 1), and moved west without incident.  The main body followed.

The first indication of danger came suddenly at about 0850 hrs when the advance guard, about 600 meters ahead of the main body, was cresting a slight ridge 2 kilometers west of the bridge.  The lead ACAV was suddenly hit from the right flank with a 75mm recoilless rifle round that penetrated the vehicle and set the vehicle’s basic load of ammunition ablaze.  The two machine gunners and the grenadier immediately abandoned the ACAV with their individual weapons and hit the nearest ditch.  SSG Pittman, the vehicle commander and acting platoon sergeant, barely had enough time to hurriedly give a radio call of “ambush, ambush, ambush” to the platoon before he and the driver, SP4 Steidl, were forced by exploding ammunition to abandon the flaming ACAV.  Prior to leaping from the vehicle, however, SSG Pittman had enough presence of mind to seize a number of had grenades from the ACAV.    Likewise, SP4 Steidl quickly dismounted one of the side mounted M-60 machineguns from the ACAV and began to lay down a heavy volume of suppressive fire.   K-11, the ACAV following K-10, stopped long enough to take aboard SP4 Brush,   SP4 Royball and PFC Puglisi, the crew members who had abandoned K-10 about 100 meters east of the point where it had finally come to a halt.  K-11 then fought its way through the main part of the ambush,  by passing the gutted K-10.  SSG Pittman, after dropping from his flaming vehicle, saw a group of five VC in mixed black pajama and fatigue uniforms approximately 25 meters to the northwest of his position and engaged them with grenades.  He saw several bodies fly, but had no time to count VC casualties, as in his words, “bullets were flying everywhere”.  Pittman ducked behind the left side of his vehicle and spotted three VC armed and turned to see 2 more VC crossing the road to his rear.  He also grenaded them and saw them fall.   Pittman then threw several more grenades to all sides to neutralize any more who might be nearby.

As soon as the lead vehicle was hit by recoilless rifle fire, a huge volume of recoilless rifle, mortar, RPG-2, automatic weapons, and small arms fires erupted form both sides of the road against the entire length of the column.  The rear of the column had just cleared the bridge over SONG RAI stream when it was hit.  The main body of the column extended form SONG RAI stream to the west a distance of about1 kilometer.  Dust conditions were so bad that the vehicles had been forced almost 100 meters distance to conserve the visibility.

The platoon leader’s ACAV, K-16, was the second vehicle in the main body.  It was driven by Lt Hendrickson, a platoon leader with the 595th Engineer Company, which manned the GIA RAY Rock Quarry.  Lt Hendrickson was returning to LONG GIAO based Camp to attend to personal business and had expressed a desire to drive an ACAV.  K-16 followed the M48A3 Tank, M-34, attached to the platoon from Company M, 3rd Sqdn, for added fire support.

Simultaneously, Lt Boyd the Platoon Leader, heard SSG Pittman’s excited radio message of “ambush, ambush, ambush” and saw the tank ahead of him take a hit from a recoilless rifle on its right and become lost in a cloud of smoke.  The crew of K-16 watched as the tank fired one round in reply from its 90mm cannon and moved on.  The tank took several more hits and began to angle left on the road, coming to a halt 100 meters west of the point where the initial round had struck.

The Platoon Leader’s initial reaction was to try to radio the four trail ACAV’s which he did not think were yet in the killing zone.  He instructed them to go south along SOUO RAY stream and set up a base of fire while he attempted to fight through the ambush.  Boyd did not know whether his trail ACAV’s received his message since he did not receive an answer from any of them.   K-16 itself went forward, stopping momentarily at the tank.  There was no sign of human activity at the tank.  Boyd assumed that the crew was either dead or had abandoned the vehicle.  As automatic weapon and small arms fire was starting to build up in this area from both sides of the road, K-16 moved on around the tank and continued west on the road.  Boyd tried to contact his Troop Headquarters at GIA RAY by radio and give information on his increasingly desperate situation, but by some fluke, his radios had ceased functioning at this critical moment.

After passing the tank, K-16 moved west for about 60 meters before it too was hit by a recoilless rifle round from the left.  The round penetrated the vehicle directly under the radio, wounding the entire crew, and spinning the ACAV to the left.  Lt. Hendrickson quickly regained control of the vehicle and aided by heavy suppressive fire from the two side mounted M-60 machineguns manned by SP4 Mace and SP4 Shelton and the fires of PFC Henry and SP4 Poorman, rammed his way through the ambush to where SSG Pittman and SP4 Steidl were fighting beside the burning K-10.  The ACAV suffered two more recoilless hits in the rear during this dash which further injured the crew members.  Between the tank and K-10, the crew members of K-16 had counted no less than six recoilless rifles with crews and numerous RPG-2 teams.  All the Viet Cong seemed to be dressed in black, and all appeared to be unconcerned about the fire directed against them.  This fact, noticed by many survivors of the platoon gave them the impression that the VC were “doped up”.

K-16 halted by K-10, picked up Pittman and Steidl and overtook K-11 which was still moving to the west.  Boyd hailed the ACAV, and it stopped.  Pittman mounted K-11, and both vehicles then turned back into the ambush, K-11 leading and K-16 stopping periodically while Boyd sprayed both sides of the road with his caliber 50 machinegun.

The rear portion of the column was also undergoing its special little hell.  With the Platoon Leader’s loss of communications and the Platoon Sergeant’s loss of his vehicle, all concerted action as a Platoon ceased and the fight degenerated into a series of undirected actions on the part of single vehicles and individuals.  The Troop K mess truck, K-4, followed the Platoon Leader’s ACAV.  In it were the driver, PFC Gregory, and the Troop Motor Sergeant SSG Jackson.

As soon as the ambush was sprung, Jackson and Gregory jumped from the truck with their M-16 rifles and hit the ditch to the south of the road.  They saw about 20 VC in mixed uniforms kneeling behind some shallow mounds and firing.  The VC seemed to be more interested in plugging holes in the truck than firing at Jackson and Gregory; some of the VC were exposing themselves unconcernedly and firing from a standing position.  A heavy machinegun was also raking the truck from the woodline to the south of the road.  Jackson and Gregory fired at the VC to their front until they had only half a clip of ammunition left apiece.  Between them they had dropped several VC and the incoming fire had subsided somewhat because the heavy machinegun had been neutralized.  They decided to return to the truck and attempted to make a run for it.

Upon leaving the truck, Gregory had forgotten to turn off the engine.  Miraculously, when they returned to it the truck was still operational and the engine running.  They moved down the road through a hail of small arms fire for about 50 meters before an RPG-2 round hit the truck in the middle of the drivers seat.  Gregory only avoided being killed because he was hunched down in the seat in order to avoid small arms fire, only his eyes peering over the dash board.   His flack jacket protected him from the shrapnel effect of the blast, but he was stunned and lost control of the vehicle.  It veered to the left, ran off the road, and came to a halt about 60 meters to the left rear of the tank, Jackson leaped from the vehicle and tried to get to the tank, but was cut down midway between the truck and the tank by Viet Cong small arms fire from the south.  PFC Gregory jumped from the truck and as he hit the ground was struck by fire from a group of VC standing about 20 meters away.  He fell to the ground, and his 45 caliber pistol dropped about 2 feet from his body.  Still alive, Gregory decided that the best course of action was to play dead.   His ordeal of terror had just begun.

For what seemed to him an eternity, PFC Gregory lay beside the truck as the VC fired at him and the truck thinking that so long as the VC were firing in his direction they would not come over to determine if he were still alive.   Finally the firing ceased and a group of Viet Cong approached Gregory.  One VC turned Gregory over on his back and calmly fired two shots into his left side.  He was already so numb with pain that he did not react physically to this indignity.   The Viet Cong then sat on Gregory’s face and rifled his pockets while the other VC explored the truck.  As luck would have it, the truck carried a 55 gallon drum of CS crystals in its bed.  Sometime during the firing, bullets had penetrated the CS drum and the tear gas began to permeate the area in overwhelming waves.  This drove the VC from the area.  Gregory, because of his low position was not overly bothered by the tear gas fumes and lapsed into unconsciousness.  He awakened slightly and half remembers the tank firing on the opposite side of the truck.  He was rescued by the Troop K relief force about 20 minutes later.

The four rear ACAV’s which bore the brunt of the ambush, had varying fortunes.  K-14 stopped behind the halted 2   ton truck after the ambush warning and took up a temporary firing position to the left facing south.  K-14 could not close upon the tank to the direct front of the 2 ton truck because of heavy recoilless and RPG-2 fire.  The ACAV quickly sustained an RPG-2 hit on the right side about midway on the track..  Sgt Dickinson, the vehicle commander, then jumped from the TC hatch over the drivers compartment, seizing the driver’s M-16 and, disappeared to the left of the road.  His body was later found riddled by small arms fire.

SP4 Ates, the driver, and PFC Walker, the right machine gunner, by natural inclination started to follow Sgt Dickinson, but were knocked back into the vehicle by a second RPG-2 hit.  Walker then climbed into the TC hatch and the whole crew settled down to the business at hand.  The initial round had come from the north of the road, but the main threat soon developed to the south as the crew could see large numbers of VC milling around and firing small arms and RPG-2’s at the ACAV’s.  There were still many civilians lying prone in the field between the two engaged forces.  One of the most startling sights was three small babies lying on a blanket under a tree between the firing lines.  The group of VC that had initially engaged from the right had shifted to the rear of the column and had infiltrated the village of SUOI CAT from which they fired on the ACAV’s with small arms and RPG-2’s.

ACAV number K-13 following directly behind K-14, was hit by a recoilless rifle in the first burst of firing.  The entire crew was wounded and everyone disabled except PFC Miller, a machine gunner.  He was knocked inside the vehicle, and as he attempted to get up, another recoilless round hit the left side mounted  machinegun and knocked it off.  Miller found a box of hand grenades and started throwing them in an arc around the vehicle to prevent the VC from closing with the vehicle.  He would pop his head out of the vehicle just long enough to throw a grenade and then duck back into the vehicle as protection against the intensive small arms fire.  Miller saw tree VC lying behind a mound about 20 meters to his south.  Two of them were armed with rifles and one carried a radio.  He tried to grenade them but could not reach them as his right arm had been severely injured by shrapnel.  The ACAV was then hit again by a recoilless round and Miller was blown out of the vehicle, losing consciousness.  The next thing he remembers is his Troop Commander arriving with the relief force.  He was the only survivor of ACAV number K-13.
 
ACAV number K-17 and ACAV number K-18 were the last two vehicles in the column..  Sgt Lee, the vehicle commander of K-17 received Pittman’s message of “ambush, ambush, ambush”, just as he spotted a large number of VC on his left and alerted his crew with the words “VC on the left”.  The crew immediately began firing right and left.  Lee saw K-13 take its initial recoilless hit in front of him and thinking the vehicle lost, ordered the driver PFC Timberlake to move on through the ambush.  K-18 followed K-17.  As the two ACAV’s passed K-14 firing from its position to the south of the road, K-18 sustained a recoilless hit that disabled the vehicle.  It ground to a halt directly west of K-14 and took several more recoilless kits.  There were no survivors from K-18.

K-17 kept moving.  SP4 Force, the platoon medic, was manning machinegun.  He saw VC to the south of the road firing small arms and several VC behind a barn about 75 meters from the road firing crew served automatic weapons.  He engaged all targets he could see and saw several VC fall.   Civilians were lying all over the fields.  The small arms fire was extremely heavy and accurate, causing Force to fire through his gun shield and allowing him only a very limited view of the battleground.  In moving a distance of 400 meters., the ACAV was hit 4 times by RPG-2 rounds.  K-17 had not suffered much damage, but the shrapnel from the last blast had caused Forces machinegun to malfunction and superficially wounded most of the crew members.  The driver halted the ACAV temporarily.  Force applied immediate action to his weapon as SP5 Centers, the platoon mechanic, provided covering fire with his M-16 rifle.  Force finally gave up on the machinegun and grabbed his M-16 to engage the numerous VC to the south.  Over the din of battle Force heard SP4 Williamson, the right machine gunner, cry “hand me ammo”.   Force handed him a box of 7.62mm machinegun ammunition but Williamson said “no, M-16”.  His machinegun was inoperable also.

The driver moved the ACAV out through the gauntlet again, dodging and weaving to avoid the hail of anti-tank rockets directed at the track.  Sgt Lee was still firing his caliber 50  machinegun to the left and right of the road, and Force, Williamson, and Centers were blazing away with their rifles, while SP4 Wheeler, an ex-cook newly assigned to the platoon, handed them ammo from inside the vehicle.  However, K-17 kept sustaining hits.  Williamson was hit in the stomach with a burst of shrapnel from an RPG-2 round that penetrated the right side of the track.  Finally an RPG-2 round penetrated the driver’s compartment, killing the driver, Timberlake and Sgt Lee.  The ACAV stopped.  Force leaped up to the top of the TC hatch to attempt first aid on Lee, but was knocked off the track by another RPG-2 round that hit the front of the TC cupola.  He was slightly wounded by shrapnel, but still held grimly on to his rifle.  He tried to regain the ACAV but could not because of the heavy volume of small arms fire directed against it.  Force crawled into the ditch paralleling the road and stated crawling south looking for other GI’s.   He heard the ACAV take at least three more RPG-2 hits.  Force remained alone in the ditch desperately hoping he would not be discovered by the  VC until the relief column arrived.  He then returned to K-17 and found Wheeler still alive in the vehicle and gave him first aid.  Centers’ body was found 25 meters to the rear of the ACAV riddled by small arms fire.

It had initially appeared to LT Boyd that the M48A3 tank M-34 leading the main body of the column, had been critically damaged and abandoned by its crew.  This was far from the case.  The tank was a little late in getting into the battle, but when it did, it made its presence felt.  The tank crew had just received Pittman’s warning, and Sgt Wright, the tank commander, had notified SP4 Blancarte, the driver, of the situation, when a recoilless round hit the TC cupola a glancing blow and destroyed the 50 caliber machinegun.  The tank was about 400 meters west of SUOI RAI stream at this time.  PFC Loisel, a recent replacement, who had never been under fire and disdained any real VC threat, was tank loader.  He was riding on the tank equipment rack and was severely wounded by the blast from the first recoilless round.

The tank replied with one round of 90mm canister fire to its right side and continued to roll.  It moved another 100 meters before a second recoilless round hit the underside of the tank’s front slope and knocked Blancarte, the driver unconscious.  The tank rolled to the left of the road and halted.  Simultaneously, a third round penetrated the front turret lacerating the face of SP4 Nelson, the gunner, and disabling the coaxially mounted M-73 machinegun.   As Loisel was severely wounded and lying on top of the tank exposed to heavy small arms fire, Wright manhandled Loisel through the TC’s cupola into the tank.   Nelson helped fit Loisel into the relative security of the gunner’s seat and slid over to the loader’s position just as another recoilless rifle round took the left range-finder cover off the tank.

By this time, all the tank sights were inoperative because of recoilless hits.  Wright came up from the Tank Commander’s cupola and saw two VC at a distance of about 100 meters to the left rear of the tank.   Thinking that the tank’s entire fire control system was destroyed, Wright used the only weapon available, his caliber 45 service pistol.  The results were predictable, he missed.  Nelson then came up with his caliber 45 submachine gun and emptied two clips of ammunition at the VC with no greater success than Wright.  At this time, the tank was hit by another recoilless rifle round that pierced the turret wounding Loisel again.

Loisel became hysterical and lapsed into incoherency.  Wright dropped into the turret to check on him and noticed that the 90mm gun light switches were on.  Hoping that the main gun might function, Wright yelled to Nelson, “Let’s try it”, Wright hit the switch and the main gun fired.  Nelson and Wright then began to fire south of the road from east to west traversing the gun slightly after each round until they had completed an arc covering the south of the road.  While this transpired, the tank suffered four or five more recoilless rifle hits, one of which temporarily blinded Nelson who just kept on loading.   Wright was firing from his TC override; however, Loisel at one time came out of shock long enough to  fire two rounds from his gunner’s switch.

After completing this maneuver, Wright came up and began to engage targets of opportunity.  About 125 meters directly to his west, straight south of the road Wright spotted two VC with a 57mm Recoilless rifle firing at the tank.  There was no way for him to aim the gun, so he just pointed and fired.   The white phosphorous round landed about 50 meters short, so Wright made a visual adjustment as Nelson loaded a canister round and fired again.  The gun position was destroyed.  The tank then received two more rounds of RPG-2 fire from the two VC to the left rear that Wright turned the main gun and fired two rounds of canisters at them.   The tank received no more fire from this direction.

Wright could not see any GI’s on the road when he looked out of the tank, all he could see were two burning ACAV’s, one 200 meters to his west and another 300 meters to his east.  He also spotted two VC at about 150 meters distance, crossing the road to his east, carrying a litter.  He repeated his previous maneuver and fired a canister round and had the satisfaction of seeing the VC’s and the litter go flying.  The tank fired two more times with unknown results in the general direction from which it had received recoilless rounds.   Before the relief column arrived, Wright could remember firing his 45 pistol at a VC in the ditch 75 meters to his West.  When the relief element arrived, Wright and Nelson saw for the first time SSG Jackson’s body midway between them.  The tank had sustained  a total of 14 hits from recoilless weapons,  not including numerous other glancing hits and near misses.  But the tank would still run and all the crew members had survived the battle, although Loisel died of wounds shortly afterwards.

As the battle progressed in the vicinity of K-14, SP4 Walker, now manning the caliber 50, saw a VC caliber 50 firing at the truck and jeep in front of him from a position in the woodline to his south.  He and PFC Fails on the left M60 machinegun took it under fire with about 100 rounds apiece and silenced it.  The crew noticed a VC officer dressed in fatigue shirt and camouflage trouser carrying a 45 pistol followed by a woman radio  operator emerge from the woodline to the south.  As both Fails and Walker were loading their weapons, they could not fire, and the strange pair quickly faded into the woods again.  At this time, the VC who had infiltrated the village, opened up again with RPG-2’s and scored two glancing hits on the back ramp but obtained no penetration.  In quick succession a mortar shell scored a direct hit on the left machinegun, destroying it and wounding SP4 Dickenson the grenadier and team leader, and heavy small arms fire was directed at the vehicle from both sides of the road.

All the crew members were pinned down by the fire and could not operate their weapons.  Sensing their opportunity, four VC advanced from the left and 3 VC advanced from the right.  One VC was dressed in an ARVN uniform complete with web gear and steel helmet.  Another, the lead man on the right carried 8 M-26 hand grenades on his belt.  In this desperate situation, SP4 Ates, the vehicle driver rose to the occasion.  Employing his driver’s periscope, he thrust and M-16 from his hatch and fired to the left and right felling several VC and driving the rest back.  The crew returned to their positions and resumed the battle.  Walker noticed the K-18 track that had stalled in front of his ACAV and saw a VC dressed in fatigue trousers and black shirt and armed with an M-16 climbing on the track.  He quickly tore him to pieces with the 50 caliber.  SP4 Hutchins was still alive and fighting on K-18 at this time.

A strange thing then happened.  Lt Boyd, having had no communications since the fight began, suddenly came over the radio of K-14 loud and clear, saying “move out, move out!”.  It was later determined that Boyd had been talking to his own driver, and by some chance, had accidentally transmitted this message.  K-14, however, quickly complied, but immediately took a recoilless hit that penetrated the left side, wounding both Fails and Walker.  The ACAV, however, moved out and soon took another hit from the left through the driver’s compartment just as it passed the tank.  Ates, the driver, was hit in the hand and foot and temporarily lost control of the vehicle.  It swerved to the right, but Ates quickly regained control and sped on down the road.  Walker remembers seeing Nelson firing his sub machine gun at the VC as K-14 passed the tank.

K-14 continued down the road spraying the VC lining the road and behind the mounds to the left and right of the road with machine gun and M-16 fire.  The crew engaged one group of 8 VC carrying three RPD light machineguns with unknown results.  Finally, K-14 was out of the ambush.  It continued slowly west on the road for another few kilometers until its engine quit.   As the crew looked behind them, Lt Boyd pulled his ACAV up directly behind them.   He loaded the crew on his vehicle and took them to the XUAN LOC dispensary.

The Engineer jeep following the K Troop Mess Truck received the warning to “ambush, ambush, “ over its vehicle mounted radio.   The driver PFC Heppen decided to make a run for it even though numerous VC along the road and behind the low mounds beside the road were firing small arms at the jeep.   SP4 Curz was riding “shotgun”, and SP4 Friend was manning the M-60 machine gun mounted in the rear of the vehicle.  Both men sprayed the sides of the road with fire.  The dust and smoke on the road were so heavy that none of the jeep occupants could see.  They made it a distance of about 500 meters before a recoilless round hit the right front of the jeep and smashed it into the ditch at the right of the road.

Heppen was killed by small arms fire at this time.  Cruz and Friend were hurled from the jeep into the adjacent field.  Cruz recovered and crawled west in the ditch until he was picked up by Lt Boyd’s ACAV on its initial run through the ambush.  Friend was dazed when he was thrown from the jeep and had some trouble regaining his senses.  He went to the road and saw an ACAV about 100 meters to his west.  Friend tried to run towards it and saw two VC behind a mound of dirt to his right with rifles aimed at him.  He hid his head in his arm and ran on past them.  Strangely, the VC did not fire, but only looked at Friend bewildered.  Friend ran on a few feet more and found his path blocked by another VC   carrying a rifle at sling arms.  As he had lost his rifle when the jeep was destroyed, Friend was unarmed except for a hunting knife.  He quickly unsheathed it, without losing stride and drove it into the VC’s belly with an underhand stroke.   The VC crumpled on the road, and Friend hurried on until he found SP4 Steidl standing beside K-10, firing his M-60.  Steidl and Friend were also picked up by K-16.

Just as K-16 and K-11 had turned back into the ambush, several of the crew members of K-16 faintly recall seeing K-14 move past them heading west.  It appeared to them as though all the crew members were wounded.   K-16, stopping to fire as it moved down the road to the east, soon lost sight of K-11.  K-16 picked up several wounded and engaged a large number of VC on the road.   Hendrickson remembers passing two burning ACAV’s, the 2 ton truck and the jeep as he drove into the ambush.  Boyd was still attempting to reach his troop headquarters on his radio and was calling for air and artillery, but he had negative radio contact with anyone.  The crew sighted large numbers of VC firing at them from both sides of the road,  The VC, dressed in mixed black pajama and fatigue uniforms, seemed unconcerned and moved very slowly and deliberately.

K-16 moved to a position slightly east of the tank, which was obscured by smoke and dust.  Neither Boyd nor Hendrickson could see any signs of life at this point, so the decision was made to turn around and fight their way out.  As the ACAV turned around a recoilless round smashed into its side, wounding Boyd’s hand.  Directly to the front of the ACAV Boyd spotted a recoilless rifle with its two man crew attempting to close the breech on  the weapon.   It was located just off the road.  Boyd had lost power in his hand and could not fire his caliber .50.  Hendrickson, knowing he had to act immediately, gunned the ACAV and ran over the rifle, crushing it and its crew.  He spun the ACAV back on the road and ran over a wounded VC dressed in fatigues who was dragging  himself across the highway.  K-16 then proceeded west through heavy small arms and automatic weapons fire until it was clear of the ambush.  K-16 continued west until it pulled up behind K-14.  The wounded crew was loaded into K-16, and it moved west again until it met an ARVN column near the junction of Routes 1 and 2.

As K-11 moved down the road to the east ahead of K-16, it sustained several close-in hits from RPG-2’s, one of which entered the rear of the vehicle and killed SP4 Royball and PFC Saenz.  When passing the tank, a VC stepped into the  road and fired an RPG-2 round head on into the ACAV.  The round penetrated the engine compartment, but the driver, SP4 Christianson kept gunning the engine, rolling over the VC.  Midway between the gutted hulks of K-13 and K-18, another round stuck the transmission of K-11 and it ground slowly to a halt just east of K-13.  During his ride back into the ambush, Pittman had finally contacted GIA RAY radio relay and appraised them of his situation.  This was not the first notification of ambush that had been received, however, and a relief force was already on the way.

As soon as the ACAV halted, the crew began to abandon the vehicle heading for cover behind a woodpile, just south of the road.   Small arms fire was coming in on the small group from all directions, but Pittman realized that salvation lay in unloading enough weapons and ammunition from the vehicle to make a fight with.  So, while Christianson seized one of the side mounted M-60’s and lay down covering fire, Pittman, SP4 Edwards, SP4 Moline, PFC Puglisi, and SP4 Brush threw ammunition boxes from the ACAV to the woodpile.

Then the six men settled down for a last stand.   One M-60 was positioned on the right, covering southwest; the other, on the left, covering northwest.  The remaining four men lay between the machine guns with rifles.   The enemy could not be seen very clearly but the small arms fire directed at the six GI’s was heavy and accurate.  Whenever a VC firing position could be seen, Pittman directed his men to fire on it with all they had.  Luckily there were no VC to the east of them and they could direct the entire attention to the west.  The small group fought a touch and go battle for about 20 minutes before VC fire began to slack.  Soon afterwards, the first elements of the relief force arrived and their fight was over.

In retrospect, it cannot be said that the platoon would have been saved if certain things were done differently, but, after investigation two points are worthy of discussion.  Number one, the elements of the platoon lost radio communications with each other and ceased functioning as a platoon.   Also, the platoon lost communications with its troop headquarters.  It was only by chance that Lt Boyd’s voice came over the troop net at 0910 excitedly saying “hard right, hard right, move out!”.  Lt Burr, the troop exec, speculated from the highly excited tone of his voice and the fact that he had no other communication with him, that Boyd was in an ambush.  On this basis alone, Captain Hoffman, the K Troop Commander, committed his other two platoons as a relief force.  Perhaps, if   SSG Pittman, the acting platoon sergeant, had been riding in K-17 the platoon sergeant’s vehicle with its dual radio capability, he could have notified his troop headquarters of the situation earlier.  As it was the fight had been going on some 15 to 20 minutes before Captain Hoffman received notification and committed his relief force.

Number two, both Pittman and Boyd were at the head of the column.  There was no strong directing hand among the four rear ACAV’s who took the majority of the casualties.  If  Pittman had been with the main body rather than the advance guard (no place for a platoon sergeant in the first place), he might have been able to organize them and coordinate their maneuver.  However, the Battalion (+) size ambush and the huge volume of anti-armor weapons employed by the VC in what was basically an ambush by fire would probably still have overcome any action the platoon might have taken.

The ambush in itself was thoroughly planned and devastatingly executed by the VC.  Against a single cavalry platoon, unsupported by either air, artillery or friendly ground forces, the result was a foregone conclusion.   That as many men survived as did is a tribute to the courage and initiative of the individual American soldier. 

Barbed Wire

*  Staff Sergeant Walter Stephen Simpson is counted among the 16 K Troop members who was killed as a result of the ambush of May 21, 1967.  His date of death is listed in several reliable data bases as being May 22, 1968 - a year and a day after the ambush.  His body was not recovered.  The Department of the Army listed him as Missing In Action.  After a year and a day, he was reclassified as Killed In Action.  His name is not mentioned in the After Action Report but so are several others who are included in the list of "16".  If you have information about Sgt. Simpson, please send feedback..


Footnote: Gary W. Johnson of Dewey, Arizona has contributed a map of the ambush site along with a news article, written for the Associated Press by report Peter Arnett, chronicling the ambush and the heroism of Lt. Hendrickson.  Visit Gary Johnson's Corner of Contributor's Corner at K Troop - hosted by Bob Hersey.

Footnote: Tony Puglisi, one of the crewmembers of K-10, writes an account of the events that he witnessed as a participant in the action of May 21.  His account may be found HERE.

Footnote: Staff Sergeant Homer L. Pittman, Jr. was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during the ambush of May 21, 1967.   Homer was a frequent attendee of the annual reunions of the 11th ACVVC.  Sadly, Homer died on June 25, 2002 in Baton Rouge, LA at the age of 70.  Homer is remember HERE.

Homer Lee Pittman, Jr.

Photo courtesy of P. Walter submitted by Jim Settle.
Jim Settle succumbed to cancer on Sept. 13, 2006.  He was 75.

 

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