Charlie Troop 1/9th Cavalry Bruce Huffman: “They’re all dead”

Posted on May 11, 2010

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The following is a true story about the deaths of John Clayton Wallace, John Wayne States and Douglas Eugene Gossage. It is written by J. Bruce Huffman. Bruce was a pilot of a Light Observation Helicopter (LOH). His aircraft tail number was 67-16079. His crew consisted of SSG John States and SP/4 Douglas Gossage. The crew of a helicopter fondly referred to the ship by its last three digits. In this case, Zero Seven Niner (079). The complete version of this story can be found by clicking on the “C Troop (website) home page” link on the right hand side of this blog’s home page and then click on “Stories” and “A Brave Air Crew”.

I landed to a hover on the nasty oiled dirt strip we shared with Bravo Troop and saw WO (Warrant Officer) Wallace running toward my bird. WO Wallace was relatively new but had shown skill and aggressiveness. I sat the bird down and Wallace leaned in and said “Get Out! I need your bird and crew. Lobes Echo is in contact and the Snake (Cobra) is cranking.” I said, “we’ve already been up 3.8 hours. Give me the damn brief or get your own bird up!” John replied, “We don’t have time, it looks like it is going to be a “Prairie Fire!” A Prairie Fire is called when an American unit is in contact with the enemy and it is possible they might be over run.

I stepped out of the LOH, picked up my chicken plate ( Aviator’s armored chest protector ) and helmet and watched as John flew over the concertina wire and turn west headed for the foot hills leading to the Ashau Valley. Less than 30 minutes later Cavalier White (1LT James G. Ungaro) walked into my Hooch to tell me that “Wallace is down and they are all dead!!”

WO Wallace had “checked in” with Lobes Echo and found out they felt they were engaged with at least a Battalion of NVA (North Vietnamese Army) troops. Echo was under canopy on the high ground that overlooked a depression held on three sides by the NVA. Echo was a company size unit against a much larger force but they had the high ground and they also had the “great equalizer” on their side: fire power.

John made an initial pass and discovered a 12.7mm machinegun in a doughnut bunker and had Gossage mark it as they blazed by. The AC (aircraft commander) of the Snake refused to shoot due to the proximity of the friendly positions. He had recently been involved in a “short round” incident that wounded US troops and had been badly reprimanded and humiliated by an office that should have know better for doing exactly what the US ground commander had requested. While the high bird was fooling around trying to get some artillery cranked up, Wallace decided to take out the gun.

He flew in and with a combination of M-60 fire and fragmentation grenades got the 12.7 mm. Unfortunately the other two positions that were protecting the NVA regimental CP got him. The aircraft landed in the wrecked position of the first gun. SSG States stepped over what once had been the front console and canopy and went head to head with an NVA who got off the first shot. WO Wallace un-strapped and went out the right door and began to run for his life toward Lobes Echo who was laying down an intensive base of fire to cover him as he ran up the hill with less than 100 meters from the down bird to the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) position. Wallace was hit in the legs 40 meters from relative safety. He went down hard and before he could get up an NVA officer, in full view of the US Advisor working with the ARVNs, shot him in the neck with a pistol. SP/4 Gossage had everything he needed; lots of ammo and plenty of targets. The ARVN Rangers said that the sound of the M-60 rattled on until finally the NVA fired an RPG-7 (rocket propelled grenades) into the down bird and the gun went silent. When the recovery was complete, the bodies of 12 NVA were found in and around the remains of ‘Zero Seven Niner’. Gossage had done his duty.

I often reflect on ‘What if?’ about their loss, but realize that on that day their fate intersected with their destiny with terrible consequences. It was an honor to serve with them;   Warriors to the end.

I agree with Bruce’s assessment of these three men. Just for one minute close your eyes and try to see things as these three men did.

John States stepped out of what was left of the helicopter and before he could get a shot off the enemy soldier in front of him shot him dead. What was John’s last thoughts on this earth.

Close your eyes and try to see things as John Wallace did. Here he is shot in the legs and lying on the ground and before he could get up an enemy soldier shot him dead. Did he see the man or not? What were his last thoughts.

 I think the hardest would be trying to imagine what was going through the mind of Douglas Gossage. He had plenty of time to know what was happening. He was barely 19. Here he was fighting for his life with no help. Did he see the RPG grenade coming at him? I hope not. I hope he had no idea of what was to happen. Try to remember what it was like when you were 19 years old. Try to think just how you would have reacted in that situation.  I was there and I can tell you that the thought of what this young man (kid) went through brings tears to my eyes. The next time you find yourself in a lousy situation or having a “bad” day just think of Douglas’s last day.

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