Sitrep: RED-West of Khe Sanh by John McGuire

Posted on January 20, 2019

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Many Units served in the 1st Cavalry . This is what is called “A Sitrep”. A “Situation Report” a story about the 1/5th Cav, the 2/5th Cav and the 1/77th Field Artillery.

Third DRAFT EDIT [JBH] August 16, 2018

In the predawn hours of May 5, 1968, except for the constant churning of insect wings, the surrounding landscape west of Khe Sanh was unusually silent.  In a floodplain valley that snaked from Khe Sanh to the old Lang Vei Special Forces in the west, Route 9 showed no sign of human activity.   It was the stifling humidity that lay like a warm wet blanket that kept Lieutenant Dean Turpin out of his foxhole begging for a whisper of cooling wind.  With his starlight scope pressed closely to his eye, Turpin strained to look west across this widely splayed valley to the dark green shapes of hills a few thousand meters north and west from his position.  Without notice, Turpin began to witness intensifying light green streams of small arms fire chasing themself up and down one of the hills.  Occasionally, this light show was punctuated with an explosive flash.  Several seconds later, a muffled boom registered where Turpin and the remainder of Bravo Company of 2/5 Cavalry were hunkered down on a hill west of Khe Sanh.   His Georgia zip code was betrayed by a slight New York accent, as Turpin excitedly mutters to no one in particular; “Jesus….. LZ Peanuts is catching hell.”  A few kilometers southwest on a non-descript hill called Landing Zone Snapper, the squelch of urgent radio transmission came into the 2nd Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division headquarters from Landing Zone Peanuts.  “Black Jack Six India this is Old Grand Dad Six India.  We have gooks in the wire.  Say again……. we have gooks in wire!  We have multiple penetrations of the perimeter.  Request immediate illumination and Blue Max support.”   By daybreak, broken bodies of dozens of North Vietnamese and the flotsam of war littered the slopes of LZ Peanuts.  The Landing Zone had remained in American hands, but at a significant cost of life for both sides.    And yet, history preserves the fight for LZ Peanuts as merely another nameless battle of many witnessed by the U.S. Army Air Cavalry forces that were busy fighting in dangerous region of Vietnam at a dangerous time.   For most of those who survived this battle, the fight for LZ Peanuts was among the most significant they saw during their tenure in Vietnam.

In early April, 1968 all elements of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division began assembling up near the demilitarized zone with North Vietnam to take part in Operation Pegasus.  The goal of this operation was to lift the siege of beleaguered Marines at Khe Sanh by inserting First Air Cavalry Division elements onto the high ground around the Marine Base.  For the 5th Cavalry Regiment, mobility began at the tropical sands of Quang Tri Province near a place called Utah Beach and terminated at a dusty orange, hastily constructed airstrip outside of Khe Sanh designated as LZ Stud.   Leaving what had the seeming appearance of serenity of a Catholic Church at LZ Hardcore or a sandy beach called Wonder, the infantry of the 5th Cavalry grabbed their rucks and what few personnel belongings they possessed and waited anxiously for the arrival of the transport helicopters.  For the companies of 5th Cavalry, air assaults were a well-rehearsed routine.  Meanwhile, the “Red Legs” of 1/77 Field Artillery prepared their 105 mm howitzers, ammo and fire direction center for loading onto the underbelly slings of Chinook helicopters that were en route.   Private Fred Woodruff of Alpha Battery described the transport; “And now we sat, vibrating across its sky in an open-sided helicopter in the middle of yet another war. I checked my watch and realized that already an hour had passed, and this was, by far, our longest move yet… . .We were most certainly heading North, and North is not the place to be heading in Vietnam.”

With this change in going Up North came a change in the fighting conditions.  From the air, the countless bomb craters of B-52 Rolling Thunder airstrikes took on the appearance of open orange lesions filled with fetid rainwater.  This moonscape around Khe Sanh consisted of rolling hills largely defoliated of their leafy vegetation.  What remained of the underbrush consisted of tall elephant grass thick enough for predators, animal or human, to move about freely.  The lack of shade trees and sea breeze did little to shelter these troops from the 95-degree sunshine.  For those with the luxury of overhead bunker cover, shade provided scant comfort from the 85 percent humidity that crept into underground hooches like a hot steamy intruder.  However, few infantry were provided the indulgence of spending time in bunkers and, instead, were in constant, grueling Search and Destroy pursuits of an elusive enemy hiding in well concealed bunkers, tunnel complexes and spider holes.  Though water supplies were plentiful, ingestion was just as likely to result in gastroenteritis as refreshment.  For these men, time for rehydration typically came from the afternoon rain showers or from a saline drip-line inserted into a dehydrated vein as their bodies began to shut down from heat exhaustion.

Unlike the pajama clad guerilla fighters encountered further south in the Central Highlands, the proximity to Laos and the Demilitarized Zone meant that U.S. Cavalry would be engaging a well-trained North Vietnamese Army.  Private Bobby Kronenburg of New York described the NVA troops “well trained, well-armed, uniformed, backpacks full of rice and physically bigger than the VC.”  The enemy was secure and, at all hours emerged from their concealed bunkers to lob mortar rounds into unsuspecting Landing Zones.  Perhaps more terrifying, NVA 152 mm guns, well hidden in the sentinel peaks of the Laotian Co Roc Mountains, rained down relentless artillery barrages into Landing Zones or troops that lingered in one place too long.  This was the I Corps Tactical Zone of Vietnam in 1968; a hostile, and very dangerous place.  As accurately stated in the Presidential Unit Citation for the 1st Cavalry Division, fighting in the I Corp presented “as difficult and hazardous conditions as experienced by U.S. Army troops in this or any war.”

South of the Marines at Khe Sanh, were two hills that would serve as insertion points for the 2nd Brigade to conduct their maneuvers as part of Operation Pegasus.  Specially fused construction sorties called Daisy Cutters dropped from sky cranes and B-52 Arc-Light strikes softened up the landscape while 8th Engineers and old-fashioned grunt labor prepared these LZ’s for operations.  On April 3, one day ahead of schedule, the 2nd brigade under the leadership of Colonel Joseph C. McDonough would air assault the 2-5 Cavalry to LZ Tom and 2-12 Cavalry and 1-5 Cavalry to LZ Wharton (also known as Tim and Pat).   A total of eighteen 105 mm howitzers would be staged on both LZ Tom and LZ Wharton.  A Battery of 155 mm towed howitzers would also be staged at LZ Wharton.  Alpha and Bravo Batteries of 1/77 Artillery would follow 2/5 Cavalry from Wonder Beach to LZ Tom while Charlie Battery 1/77 Artillery and Alpha Battery 1/30 Artillery would follow 1/5 Cav and 2/12 Cav to LZ Wharton.

Enemy shelling began almost immediately during the airlift on April 3.  By 10:15 that evening, 25 artillery rounds had rained onto LZ Wharton.  In shallow bunkers, casualties quickly began to mount.   “This ground makes Georgia clay seem like mush” bemoaned Alpha Company 1/5 Cavalry grunt private Richard Loeffels of Greenville, SC to fellow southerner Don Sykes of Savannah, GA while breaking through the rock-solid clay during bunker construction on LZ Wharton.   Sykes turned his head slightly to a growing noise that reminded him of squirrels running through leaves back home.  The conversation was left lingering as the noise was soon registered as incoming artillery.  Sykes jumped up and made a frenzied dash over the hill towards his own bunker.  He would be cut down en route to safety.  The mortar platoon for Alpha 1/5 Cavalry would also receive a direct hit.  Private Greg Pylman’s mortars would be destroyed while he received shrapnel wounds to his chest.  For Pylman, the physical war in Vietnam would be over, but the memory of seeing ponchos covering dead American GI’s would never leave him.   The scramble to tend to the wounded on LZ Wharton, included a Georgian with the 2/12 Cav who would receive a Silver Star for his actions and later run for the Senate; Joseph Cleland.

Capt. Michael Nawrosky

By early morning, the information relayed to Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Runkle, Commanding Officer of 1/5 Cavalry, was dire “Sir we have multiple casualties in all our Companies.  One of the severely wounded is Black Gold Six who is having a lot of problems with his breathing.”  The 1/5 Cavalry would draw heavy casualties that night with the four companies receiving six killed and 17 wounded.  Black Gold Six (Captain Michael R. Nawrosky) would die a few months later from his wounds in an Army hospital.  From that point on, fighting with understrength Companies would be the hallmark of the 1st Cavalry Division.

With a firm message from the Colonel to push forward, in the morning hours of April 4, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Leslie Runkle was found in the underground command post on LZ Wharton surrounded by his officers.  Pulling a slender cigar from his mouth in the cramped quarters, Runkle gestured to an area with his right hand northwest and west of their current position.  In a hoarse voice aggravated by the chain smoking of the past several days, Runkle looked to his reliable old-timers of Captains George Kish of Alpha Company and Dan Terry of Charlie Company.  “The Old Man wants your boys to Charlie Alpha just south of Highway 9 and seize the Old French Fort from the northwest.  The Red Legs will soften it up for you but intelligence tells us that there could be upwards of a NVA battalion hold up in this area so expect heavy resistance.” With that, Runkle turned to the Forward Observer of the 1/77 Capt. David Peters and 1/5 Cavalry headquarter staff Capt. Joe Lyttle (Joe Lyttle was on board to replace Mike Nawrosky) “You two will be going up with me on the Charlie Charlie at 0930 to lead the attack.”

In the morning hours of April 4, once the fog began to lift off of LZ Wharton, four companies of 1/5 Cavalry would begin their combat assault on the old French Fort.  In addition to fire missions provided by howitzers on LZ Wharton and Tom, air strikes would be used to break the enemy prior to the battle.  This incoming would prove to be largely ineffective in breaking the fighting spirit the NVA on this day.

LTC. R. Leslie Runkle

As early as 10:00 Specialist Tom Perkowski grew anxious, straining to listen to his headset in the command bunker on LZ Wharton as his radio contact with the 1/5 Cavalry Command and Control Helicopter drew only static.  Turning to the Operations Sergeant standing nearby, Perkowski looked up and conceded “Major Bean, I’ve lost commo with the Charlie Charlie.” A few hours later, Scout Birds relayed the information that many on LZ Wharton had already feared; the UH-1H that carried Colonel Runkle had been shot down by NVA guns.  Survivors were discovered by the NVA and summarily executed and included the four crew of the helicopter, Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Runkle, and Forward Observer Captain David Arthur Peters.  Being partly concealed by the downed helicopter, Lyttle escaped execution but was permanently paralyzed from the waist down; shot in the spine.

Colonel McDonough was forced to reconstitute the command structure replacing LTC Runkle with Lieutenant Colonel Zeke Jordan, a dashing West Point Graduate with a pencil thin mustache and Captain Duke Wheeler, another no-nonsense West Point graduate, would be elevated to Liaison Officer for 1/77 Artillery replacing Captain Peters.

In the ensuing disorder over a change in command structure, 1/5 Cavalry would continue their assault on the old French Fort in the face of heavy resistance from a well-entrenched NVA battalion.  On April 6, 1/5 Cavalry continued to press their attack of the old French fort until their west flank became subjected to withering enemy fire resulting in heavy casualties.  In a thick Texas accent, a be-speckled, Private Lamar Crouse with Bravo Company 1/5 Cavalry described the assault of the Fort; “We all stopped to look at some large, white-bellied trees.  As soon as I pulled out my camera and snapped a picture, the NVA opened up on us with what seemed like everything they had.  From then on, we were chased up and down the hill by NVA mortars.  We eventually pulled out because them mortars was tearing us up and we had a lot of casualties.”   From LZ Wharton, the constant stream of medevac helicopters was witnessed as casualties were pulled out, cut to pieces by enemy mortars.  During the first three days of Operation Pegasus (April 3-5, 1968) the four line companies of 1/5 Cavalry would see 13 killed and 127 wounded.

The futility of the tactic of attacking the Fort from the Northwest was abandoned and 1/5 Cavalry was replaced with the 2/5 Cav who ended up seizing the fort on the next day.  The seizure of the Fort resulted in the last known strong hold between the First Team and Khe Sanh.   In the following days, green replacements of enlisted and officers alike began to filter in.

On April 12, the 2/12 Cavalry and Battalion headquarters would break ground on a steep sided hill east of the old Lang Vei Special Forces camp, called LZ Snapper while the remainder of 2nd Battalion conducted cleanup operations in the immediate Khe Sanh vicinity for the next few days.

Following the termination of Operation Pegasus on April 15, 1968, the greater part of the 1st Air Cavalry division would redeploy to the dreaded A Shau Valley as part of Operation Delaware.  The 2nd Brigade, 1st Air Cavalry Division, would stay behind near the DMZ and become OPCON to the 3rd Marine Division as part of Operation Scotland II.  Operation Scotland II would continue to operate around Khe Sanh area and continue to “comb the area” of NVA troops.   The 2nd Battalion would move further west to within a few kilometers from the Lang Vei Special Forces Camp and the border with Laos; Indian Country still heavily contested by fresh NVA troops.  Two infantry Battalions of the 2nd brigade would stay behind; the heavily battered 1/5 Cavalry and 2/5 Cavalry.  The 2/5 Cavalry would displace 2/12 Cavalry on LZ Snapper.

The two remaining Cavalry Battalions would be supported by two Batteries of 105 mm howitzers, one battery of 155 mm towed, and one battery of ARA assault helicopters.  The 155 mm guns of the Alpha Battery 1/30 Artillery and the 105 mm howitzers of B Battery 1/77 Artillery would be situated along the slopes of LZ Snapper providing fire missions.   Bravo Battery 2/20th Aerial Rocket Assault helicopters would remain garrisoned at LZ Stud; 15 minutes air time to the east on LZ Stud.   Alpha Battery 1/77 Artillery would be flown over to a hill north of Lang Vei in mid-April.

On April 16, Alpha and Bravo Companies of 1/5 Cavalry would begin its air assault from LZ Tom into the Lang Vei region onto a very steep 527 meter pinnacle shown as Co Put on the map and called LZ Boots by the grunts.  Having been previously prepped by ARVN forces during Operation Pegasus, the transition was quick.  Though the transport from LZ Wharton was relatively short (roughly 10 minutes flight time), the trip was made over land still contested by the NVA.  The first casualty en route came when LT Richard Deusch of Alpha Company would be shot through the calf as his leg dangled out the side of the helicopter.

As the advanced party for Battalion headquarters arrived on LZ Boots, the hill began to receive incoming mortar fire.   To minimize detection during the incoming rain of mortars, the Command and Control helicopter positioned itself on a steep slope with one skid on the hill and the other suspended in the air.   In the chaos of incoming rounds, there was a rush to get on the CC chopper and disaster followed close behind.  From an inbound helicopter carrying the 3rd squad of 3rd platoon, Sergeant Larry Rau watched as one officer walked down to the CC chopper and fall immediately to the ground.  With little room to spare, Major Dick Bean (the 1/5 Cavalry S3) walked into the blade of the bird balanced on the steep slope, holding his helmet with his free hand.  Bean was knocked flat with his head and hand a bloody mess, suffering a concussion and several fingers lopped off.  He would survive his wounds and a subsequent tour in Vietnam.    Major Bean, would be replaced temporarily by Lt. Charles Brown of San Bernardino, CA as S3A for 1/5 Cavalry.

The incoming shelling on LZ Boots ceased shortly thereafter and gossip soon began to spread amongst the enlisted men.  Ice cream had been delivered with their afternoon chow!  Many sat on the edge of their fighting positions enjoying this rare escape allowed by the ice-cream treat.  However, the daydreaming inspired by the ice cream did not last long as a strange battle began to unfold a few thousand meters away on an adjacent hill.  On the adjacent ridge, reminiscent of something that would have been seen on Mount Suribachi two and a half decades earlier, Company Charlie 1/9 Marines were witnessed by the Army Cavalry in disbelief as the Marines advanced up the steep hill in a bayonet charge.  The head high elephant grass at the top of the adjacent hill ended up concealing a well-fortified bunker complex of NVA. Over the next few hours, the Marines took heavy casualties and eventually were forced to pull back.

Over the next two days, the concussions of fixed-wing airstrikes rattled the landscape as the Marines called them in to suppress a resolute enemy.   It was soon determined that the NVA had tied down a Marine prisoner in an attempt to thwart further air retaliation.  Over the coming days, talk of this battle spread like wildfire through elephant grass amongst the First Cavalry enlisted men on the LZ.  One disturbing detail that was communicated with building contempt amongst the infantry; “did you hear that Chuck cut the heads off and gutted about 15 Marine wounded?”

With LZ Boots lacking adequate space to place howitzer Batteries, the 1/5 Cavalry would instead have to wait for the 8th Engineers to prep a landing zone roughly two kilometers to the northeast.  On April 17th, Alpha and Bravo Companies of 1/5 Cavalry would air assault onto an amoebic looking 542 meter tall hill and began to prepare their fighting positions.   The Battalion Headquarters, Delta Company and Alpha Battery 1/77 Artillery followed on the 18th. As they arrived, the 8th Engineers were still busy with a bulldozer and a backhoe digging holes for the command post, mortar pits, fighting position and so forth.   The hill ultimately would be dubbed LZ Peanuts (initially named LZ Snoopy and renamed on April 23rd ).

In a landscape that had most of its distinguishing features removed, LZ Peanuts looked like just another hill amongst many.  The LZ was the western most location of American troops in the Khe Sanh area.  From the air, the hill looked like an upside down “T”.  To the Southeast stood a roughly 400-meter hill formerly known as LZ Snake; a location where 72 NVA were purported to be killed on April 8th by the 3rd ARVN Airborne Battalion (while NVA purported to have killed 320 ARVN during the same battle).  On the other side of LZ Snake was the gravely contested Route 9.   Immediately to the east, a small knob previously secured by Charlie Company 1/5 Cavalry called LZ Red.  Beyond that was open plain for a few thousand meters towards Khe Sanh.  Immediately to the north and northwest stood the higher ground where the 3rd Marines conducted most of their operations.

On the North and South, LZ Peanuts was exceptionally steep.  To the West and East, moderate slopes spilled into two wood-lined creeks.  The Tactical Operating Center (TOC) was placed roughly at the top of the 542 meter hill.  Immediately to the Northwest of this was a narrow spit that served as the landing pad.   Jutting off to the northwest of the landing pad was another finger where the 4th platoon A/1/5 Cavalry would set up their mortar platoon.  This area large enough for multiple mortar platoons was prepped for 155 mm howitzers that would never be transferred from LZ Snapper.  South of the TOC was the Fire Direction Center (FDC) of Alpha Battery 1/77.  Subtly grading downslope from the FDC was a roughly 150-200-meter-long finger where the six guns of A Battery were staged in a “Lazy W” formation with the guns facing towards the primary area of operations; Lang Vei and Route 9.

Fighting positions were constructed around the entire perimeter of the Landing Zone. If wood was available it was laid down for overhead cover.  Often pierced steel planking (psp) was put down with clay filled sandbags over the top of that.  The Landing Zone was large and required a significant perimeter. On the first night, three (albeit understrength) companies of 1/5 Cavalry would secure the perimeter around LZ Snoopy.  Over the coming days, hooches would continue to be fortified, Concertina wire was laid in some (though not all) areas of the perimeter and elephant grass cut down with machetes to provide clear fields of fire.

Along the finger on LZ Peanuts where the 105 mm howitzers were set up, the men of 1/77 Field Artillery would construct their bunkers.  Using dirt filled shell casing boxes, their hooches would be constructed partly above and partly below ground.  Unlike the infantry, the gun bunnies of the field artillery unit were a tight knit group seen on LZ Peanuts enjoying downtime around a guitar or sitting in a parked jeep talking about newborn children.   To the Red Legs on LZ Peanuts, there was little concern over perimeter safety as that was the job of the infantry.  The job of the Red Leg was to provide fire missions from LZ Peanuts. Infantry of the 1/5 Cavalry would establish a perimeter around this finger.   Their role was to keep the LZ from being overrun.   Otherwise, there was little communication between these two different units as both were very busy performing their missions.

As soon as the howitzers were laboriously rolled, cursed, and pulled into place, Marine CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters would begin to deliver ammunition to the Battery ridge.  Given the volume of fire missions, there would be continuous supply required.   From a small landing pad on that ridge, the ammunition would be stockpiled slightly upslope between guns numbered one and two.  Soon, the supply exceeded demand and a significant cache of artillery powder and rounds began to build up.  Eventually upwards of 2000 rounds of howitzer ammunition would be stored in this centralized location.

Either skittish with the prospect of incoming mortars, or simply in too much of hurry, before long the delivery of this ammunition by the Sea Knight helicopters became sloppy.   In haste, as opposed to the controlled deposit the pallets of ammunition, many pilots would drop the delivery from several feet off the ground.  The resulting impact would often spill the cargo contents down the steep sided ridge.  Grumbling and openly swearing, the men of 1/77 Artillery would form a snaking human delivery line and pass the heavy rounds up the slope to one another.

Contrasted against the golden-tanned, often bare-chested and somewhat unkempt gun bunnies, their commander, Captain Ron Weiss, stood out like a green recruit with his pasty white skin, well-groomed hair and black horn rim glasses.  Over the coming days, however, the soft-spoken Reservist would gain the respect of many of his men through his fatherly leadership qualities.  Having seen enough of his sweaty men haul heavy ammunition rounds up the steep sides of LZ Peanuts, Captain Weiss grabbed the radio as the next Marine Sea Knight chopper lumbered off after a bungled ammunition drop.    “Longhorn this is Birth Control Six Alpha.  You pickle that drop again and I’ll shoot you out of the sky. Do you copy?”  Soon after, the call came in from Colonel White over on LZ Snapper who instructed Captain Weiss, in not so many words that shooting down a Marine transport would be outside of his scope of work.

By May 4, 1968, LZ Peanuts had been manned for nearly two weeks.  At this point, the location that once shared a hint of verdant purity was now a testament to human filth.  With lack of human sanitation, the hill could be (as described by Sergeant Doug McPhee) “detected by the NVA by their sense of smell rather than finding on a map.”  Empty C-rations, shell boxes and so forth filled open bomb craters on the hill, the ripe stench of un-showered bodies was everywhere, and a detectable haze from “shit burning” could be seen as well as smelled.  Likewise, all the human activity pulverized clods of red soil into a fine red dust, creating an aerosol laced with residual dioxins that became airborne with every incoming helicopter.

The radio operator for Captain Kish, Private Wayne Zack was a well-known with the riflemen of Alpha Company 1/5 Cavalry.    As the soldier responsible for handing out everything from torrid love letters from girlfriends, packages of home-made cookies from wives and calling in cold chow and hot beer deliveries, Zack got to know many soldiers in a group that otherwise had grown weary of making new friends.  During a lull on May 3, Zack wandered away from his bunker to talk with some of the nearby infantry on the perimeter.    He struck up a conversation with an olive complexioned Cajun from Baton Rouge named Private George Singleton.  As soldiers often do, the conversation quickly turned to stories from home.  In a slow brogue indicative of south Louisiana, Singleton went on to lament to Zack “This is da first time in my life that I’ve missed Mardis Gras.  I sure hope this damn war ends soon because I do not want ta miss another.”  With a nod of agreement, Zack slowly made his way back over to his hooch.  It was close to lunch and Zack would need to coordinate a delivery from LZ Stud.  As he was waited for Captain Kish and Bronx native Lieutenant Richard Zuccarelli to finish their conversation, Zack suddenly recognized the whirling whistle of incoming mortars and instinctively ducked and covered his head.  The explosions of two 120 mm mortar rounds registered within the LZ perimeter.

As the dust from the incoming mortars settled nearby, Lieutenant Charlie Brown struggled to get to his feet pushing Lieutenant Jim Hackett (the S2 for HHQ 1/5 Cavalry) off of him from inside the cramped confines of the TOC where they had both just jumped into for cover.  Lt Brown turned to look at Lt. Hackett saying with mild alarm “Jim you’re bleeding, did you catch some shrapnel?” With mild agitation, the lanky towhead from Massachusetts muttered in response “No Charlie, I caught your God-damned elbow in my face.”   Picking a thumb sized piece of hot shrapnel out of his upper back, Lt Brown turned and responded with a wheezy chuckle upon exiting “Well go see the Doc, I’m going to go check on the damage.”    

Walking downslope to the location of one the mortar impacts, Lt Brown took pause as he looked curiously at what looked like a white ball laying on the side of the hill.  “What the hell is a soccer ball doing up here?” he thought to himself.    Elsewhere, word quickly reached the Alpha Company Commander’s bunker: “Captain Kish, we need a dust off for Private (Clinton) Heckstall.  He’s stable but has shrapnel wounds to his knee and hand. . .. we did a roll call and we’re missing Private Singleton.”  Upon closer inspection, Brown realized what others were also finding out; George Singleton had taken a direct hit from one of the incoming mortar rounds and his body was obliterated.

PFC George Singleton

Wayne Zack recalling his earlier conversation with Singleton could not escape the last lingering conservation with him.  Singleton would never “see another Mardis Gras.”  Lieutenant Gary Perkins (the Forward Observer tied to 1/5 Cavalry) watched with solemnness as pieces of George Singleton were hauled up the hill to the helicopter pad, his body in death as indistinguishable a form as the first few months of life.  Perhaps as a way of diminishing the specter of death, Perkins muttered to himself “one in a million shot.”  There would be little time for further reflection.  The NVA had bracketed LZ Peanuts and an additional eleven rounds would fall within the perimeter of the landing zone that day.

The morning of May 4th started out with a solemnness following the first death on LZ Peanuts.  Elements of the second platoon of Alpha Company 1/5 Cavalry would leave the perimeter of LZ Peanuts at sunup to investigate enemy activity on the abandoned LZ Boots.

Bravo and Charlie Companies 1/5 Cavalry moved out of their Forward Operating Bases to conduct operations in the Lang Vei Region.  Delta Company would be operating out of nearby LZ Butcher.  By early morning, Charlie Company was finding above average sign of enemy activity in the operating area just west of LZ Peanuts.

The wakeup call at LZ Peanuts came at 8:30 a.m. with the first incoming artillery from the West.

At roughly 2:00 p.m. the second incoming round would land near the Battery finger, falling short of its intended target of the ammunition dump.  One enlisted man from A Company and two soldiers (Blackhats) from the 227th platoon of the 11th Aviation Group Pathfinder Company would be seriously injured and have to be medevac’d out.

Lieutenant Ted Cattron of the 228th Platoon Pathfinder Unit sat on nearby LZ Snapper.  Contemplating the news of the two Blackhat casualties on nearby LZ Peanuts, Cattron watched as the platoon leader of the 227th Platoon walked up to him and said “Ted, I only have Corporal Lewis Payton left on LZ Peanuts.  Since he’s a short-timer, do you mind going over there and relieving him?  It’d be a favor to me?”  As talk among the officers was that Operation Scotland II was coming to an end and air traffic would be needed on LZ Peanuts, Lt. Cattron agreed to head over to hill across the valley from him.   Hopping on a chopper from nearby LZ Snapper, Lieutenant Cattron would shuttle over to LZ Peanuts to assume the role of “Peanuts Control”.

During this same shelling, two 90 mm recoilless rifle rounds were damaged on LZ Peanuts.   Specialists Mike Kern and Steven Rawlings of the 25th Ordinance Detachment (aka EOD) received word that their assistance was needed on LZ Peanuts disposing of these ordnances.  Having been called out to LZ Peanuts multiple times over the past couple of weeks, the two were familiar with the layout of the hill.  Jumping on the first Huey out of LZ Stud, they arrived at LZ Peanuts fifteen minutes later.  Thinking this trip was going to be short jaunt, each only carried their M-16’s, a demolition bag of C-4 explosives, caps and fuses.

As the pair, navigated their way throughout the mortar platoon to find the 90mm recoilless rounds, they scanned the area for the officer in charge.  Standing, looking about, Kern grabbed Rawlings upon hearing incoming rocket fire and yelled “hit the deck.”   The two men dropped to the ground as the incoming round hit a mortar pit, blowing the tube and boxed ammunition into various directions.  One of the unexploded rounds careened through the air grazing Rawlings.   Brushing themselves off as they sheepishly got to their feet Rawlings turned to Kern and wryly said “well, I can now say I’ve survived being hit by a mortar.”     

It was during this early afternoon time that Charlie Company 1/5 Cavalry began to run into intensifying enemy resistance a few kilometers to the West of LZ Peanuts.  The action started out as sniper fire by intensified over the next few hours as “superbly located” NVA fighting positions unleashed with small arms fire and satchel charges being thrown at the Company.  Bravo Company would deploy to the area to assist but significant casualties had already been taken.  As Lieutenant Brown circled overhead of his former Company in the Command and Control helicopter with the Battalion Commander,  he heard the shocking news; the news arrived that among the three dead and six wounded was a friend and mentor, 1st Sergeant Robert Fowler.  Having taken three additional wounded, Charlie Company pulled back and called in Aerial Rocket Artillery (ARA) support from LZ Stud.

With the afternoon sun still high in the sky, Private Barry Ludke of A/1/77 was making small talk his buddy Sergeant Eddie Chervony near the FDC.  “Eddie, I hear we just got a new Chief of Smoke” Ludke said to his short Puerto Rican friend.

“Yep, I hear the same” said Chervony.  “I haven’t got his name yet, but that’s him down by gun two.” 

As they strained to make out distinguishing features on the new arrival 75 meters down the hill, the distinct whistle of an incoming mortar round forced them to dive to the ground.   As they stood up to assess the damage, the two saw dust beginning to settle near gun number two.

“Damn close to the ammunition dump.  Second time today.” Said Ludke.

Ludke looked closer to where the mortar landed and watched as Corporal Jimmy Ray Clark get to his feet and staggered around.  As Clark turned and faced Ludke, he could see Clark holding his throat, trying to stem the flow the blood now streaming out behind his fingers.  As others rushed to Clark, he fell over on the dusty hillside, his life draining away into the orange soil of LZ Peanuts.

Word soon reached the FDC.  With Captain Weiss at an officer’s meeting on LZ Snapper, Mike Maynard, paced around as the news came in; “Second platoon got hit that go around.  One dead and 10 wounded.  The new Chief of Smoke is one of the wounded, Jimmy Ray Clark is dead and Specialist Gariepy is seriously wounded and probably not going to make it.”   Lt. Maynard’s response was sallow “Get Captain Weiss on the horn and tell him what happened.”

Ten minutes later, a solemn Captain Weiss set back down on LZ Peanuts and looked down at the bodies of his two Artillerymen.  Turning to Lt. Maynard, he said “alright Lieutenant let’s get these boys flown out of here. . . . . . I want you to do a crater analysis of the last incoming round.” With a short pause for further reflection, Captain Weiss turned and headed up the hill to the FDC.

The crater analysis was a task done with great trepidation.  With many skittish of the incoming rain of heavy metal, few wanted to help determine the location of origin of the mortar that killed Clark and Gariepy.  As the crater analysis was being completed, First Sergeant Charles Marshall came up to Lt. Maynard, holding a boot in his hands with an awkward look on his face.   On edge and agitated, Maynard glanced up to the Marshall and growled “what is it sergeant?”  The reply caught Maynard by surprise.

“Sir, I found this boot near our lines. . . . .  It has a foot in it sir. . . . I did a roll call of the Battery and it does not belong to us” said Marshall.

Not sure how to respond, Maynard replied “take it up the hill to the infantry CP and see if anyone is missing a foot.” 

With that, Sergeant Marshall spun around and headed up the slope.  The answer would prove that the foot did indeed belong to the infantry; another grizzly reminder of the violent death of Private Singleton the day before.

For the next hour, activity quieted on LZ Peanuts.  Lt. Maynard was busy preparing a situation report in the FDC.  Lt. Cattron was steadily filling ammo boxes to add to the security on his small bunker near gun number one.

At roughly 4:30 p.m. the lull was fractured as three rounds 122 mm rockets landed in the perimeter of LZ Peanuts.  After a few unsuccessful attempts, the NVA had finally gotten their coordinates adjusted as one round landed squarely in the ammunition depot area now containing over 2000 rounds of 105 mm howitzer ammo.   The ensuing explosion sent men from the Battery scrambling for cover.  Several more wounded from the other two explosions would call out for the medic.

With a raging fire causing ammunition and explosives to cook off outside the only exit, Captain Weiss, Lieutenant Mike Maynard and several personnel were trapped inside the bunker complex that made up the FDC.  As several infantry tried to extract them from the backside of the FDC, the crew trapped inside could do little but wait and call in support.

From a hiding observation post not far away, a nameless forward observer with North Vietnamese 308th “Iron” Division called in the climbing plume of white smoke he was seeing coming from the American Base north of Route 9.  He had done his job well.

While working resupply in the Khe Sanh area, Chief Warrant Officer Dale Emerson, of Charlie Company 228th Aviation heard over the radio chatter that the ammo dump on LZ Peanuts had caught fire.  During the Tet Offensive near Hue in February 1968, Camp Evans had received rocket fire which subsequently ignited 58,000 tons of ammunition.  It was discovered that a solution to temper the fire was to sling 500-gallon water blivits (bladders used to transport water for cooking, showers, etc) under the CH-47 Chinooks and drop them directly on the fire where they would break open on impact.   Sensing the same would be attempted on LZ Peanuts, CWO Emerson became anxious for the order to come about and turn the nose of his Chinook towards LZ Stud to pick up water.  At roughly 5:45 p.m.  the call from LZ Peanuts that secondary explosions were preventing both assessment and containment of the ammo dump fire and further assistance was requested from the Chinooks of the 228th.

From within the sweaty confines of the FDC, after a wait that seemed like hours, the faint whump, whump, whump of helicopter blades could be heard cutting through the air.  As Emerson maneuvered his hulking CH-47 along the Battery ridge, his hand tightened around the control stick as rising convection heat began to buffet the 33,000 pound Chinook like a small boat on rough seas.  Trying to slowly bring his Chinook to a hover, Emerson instinctively flinched as exploding rounds and shrapnel bounced off the outside of his ship.   Hovering as long and low as he could, Emerson dropped the blivit of water on the inferno below.  Cursing to himself, Emerson immediately knew that drop had too much inertia.  From the FDC came the call; “Crimson Tide this is Birth Control Two ThreeThat drop was a little long.”  After a pause came the response “Birth Control Two Three, roger that…we’re going back for some more water.”

As the Chinook made its water drop, much of the water spilled down the hill, flooding the position of the some of the infantry perimeter below.  “I’ve had enough of this shit sandwich” protested Specialist David Hillary with Bravo 1/5 Cavalry to those in bunker with him.  “If we don’t get blown up first, we’re going to drown.”  

While waiting for the second water drop, those in the FDC were finally extracted out of the back by infantry and Red Legs working together to dig them out.  Though the rush of fresh air into the FDC was a relief, it was not long before the acrid smell of cordite from the fiery dump began to the burn their lungs.  Sensing the anxiety of the situation unfolding before him, Lt Maynard watched keenly as a clammy looking Captain Weiss grabbed an entrenching shovel in one hand and a wide-eyed Private Barry Luedke in the other and barked in an accentuated Montana tongue “We’re going to put out that dang fire.”  As Weiss stumbled in the direction of the burning ammo dump, Maynard reached out grabbing the Captain by the arm, pulling him back and saying quietly “Sir, I don’t think that is a good idea.” Staring at Maynard glassy-eyed, Weiss said nothing and half sat & half collapsed onto the floor of the FDC.  With the unremitting heat of the burning ammo dump and the anxiety of his battery (and men) dying, the fight was over that day for Captain Ron Weiss.  And just like that, a canister of purple smoke was popped, and Captain Weiss was medevac’d off of LZ Peanuts, never to return again.

A second drop of water from the returning Chinook would hit its mark and help suppress though not extinguish the flames. This would provide enough relief for the men of the 1/77 Artillery to retrieve important items from the Battery finger.

Over the next few hours, incoming rounds continued to pour in.  By the end of the day, LZ Peanuts had received 21 incoming rounds.  Twelve casualties were reported on the hill for May 4; two killed and ten wounded.

As night approached, Colonel Jordan felt the consternation of having his ranks greatly diminished.  It was obvious that LZ Peanuts now had the full attention of the North Vietnamese “across the wire” in Laos.  On a LZ that was initially laid out for both a battery of 155 and 105 mm howitzers and security provided by at least three infantry companies, he now had no batteries and an understrength infantry company providing security.  As night began to fall on May 4th, roughly 150 personnel were staged on LZ Peanuts.

“Alright Captain Weiss is out of the game and that makes me Acting Jack” instructed Lieutenant Maynard.  Turning to first sergeant Charles Marshall, Maynard added “gather up some of the FDC men and we’ll head down in the battery to retrieve weapons, rations and I need a working Prick 25.  Then we need to find some place for our boys in with the eleven-bravos until we’re certain that dump has stopped cooking off ammo.”

Word would also soon filter down the hill from Colonel Jordan for 4th platoon of Bravo Company 1/5 Cavalry to evacuate the perimeter around the howitzers and the burning ammunition storage area.  With ammunition continuing to randomly cook off, Specialist Hillary and the remainder of the 4th platoon of Bravo Company, slunk along the side of the hill and moved west.  Some of the men jumped in hooches shared with the first platoon of Alpha Company and others filtered into hooches being reconstituted by Red Legs of A/1/77.  Hillary and three others of his platoon would move into a foxhole downslope of several large bunkers.    To their immediate east was a B-52 crater and the smoldering ammunition dump. Off in the distance to their right was a tit of hill that was to be used as listening post that evening.  Above them, they could see several Red Legs from A Battery starting to occupy bunkers.  Hillary and those with him would attempt to make their foxhole as secure as possible following a shared gut feeling that they were going to get hit that night.

The diminishing ranks of the Alpha Battery were redistributed into bunkers up on the hill, abandoning the ridge where the Battery was located.   Some were moved to unoccupied bunkers and foxholes and others were reconstituted with holes shared with the infantry.   Several of the FDC crew would merely hunker down on the FDC roof while remaining officers would stay in the FDC.

Sergeant Barry Dimaria would be moved into a large bunker with three infantry and three others from his Battery.  “I’m the cook and not supposed to be here” he joked.

“Not anymore, if we need you, you’re now infantry” came the reply.

A similar feeling of impending attack would be shared by most of the infantry; a sixth sense most has developed from months in the bush.  A specimen of Germanic ancestry, Private Kurt Sarcosy with the 1st platoon of A Company checked the action on his M-16 and in diluted Germanic English said “well, I hope them gooks try and come, I’ve been bored off my ass pulling perimeter duty.”  Private Don McKim, a solid mass chiseled by many long days growing up on a Wyoming ranch, was never known to back down from a fight whether it was NVA or MP’s.  McKim looked at private Chris Newman with a sly grin while cutting his eyes at Sarcosy and joked “Don’t listen to the Foreign Exchange Soldier, he’s a crazy son of a bitch.”  

The need for a heightened state of alert would never reach most in the Battery or several others not directly tied to the infantry.  With the activities associated with the burning ammo dump taking precedence, EOD’s Specialist Mike Kern and Lieutenant Steve Rawlings would be stuck on LZ Peanuts for the evening. With nothing between them and the clear Vietnamese night sky, the two EOD would merely hunker down on the ground near the TOC for the evening.  Lieutenant Maynard would return to the FDC, take off his boots and stretch out after an exhausting day before calling in his situation report.

In the ensuing confusion, silently downslope of LZ Peanuts a company of nearly naked NVA sappers would begin their protracted crawl up the hill towards the US troops from multiple sides.  Wearing only a small drab loin cloth, their nearly naked bodies smeared with black soot, the sappers of the 304 NVA Division, 66th Regiment inched through thick elephant grass that grabbed and sliced at their skin.  On their shoulders they carried satchel charges and folding stock AK-47s.  Though some carried medical supplies, most knew that this mission was a suicide mission.  Their role was to open up wide gaps in the infantry perimeter large enough for regular NVA to follow through to attack at close quarters.  Hidden in the thick brush of the creek bottoms on the West and East, and from positions on the northern side of the LZ, uniformed NVA Regulars would begin moving into staging positions.

Specialist Earl Lego of HHC 1/5 rubbed his eyes looking up at Tom Perkowski with bloodshot eyes. “I’ve got the four to seven shift this morning in the TOC.  It’s been a hell of a day and I’m going to call it a night. Can I take a rain check on that cribbage game?”  As he left Perkowski’s bunker he turned and said; “You think (Master Sergeant) Schroeder is right?  We gonna get hit tonight?”  The statement was left lingering more as a willful thought against the idea. Lego would settle into his bunker just downslope of the TOC. Trying to forget Schroeder’s warning, he would eventually drift off, albeit fully clothed with his .45-caliber sidearm strapped to his side.

A few hours after nightfall, Specialists David Hosu and Thomas Mullins sat in their underground outpost bunker lacing up their boots, when Britton Kaur peered his head around the sandbagged corner; “Alright damnit I’m up.” whispered specialist Hosu in a hiss.  About 200 meters outside the perimeter of LZ Peanuts, Kaur, Hosu, Mullins, and two others of 1st squad of the 1st platoon had pulled the duty of manning the listening outpost.   After a few more minutes, Kaur gestured to Private Terry Misener to head back in the bunker as their guard was being relived.

As soon as both men stepped behind the bunker, their silhouettes were illuminated by two trip flares that something had set off immediately outside their perimeter.  In almost a fluid, orchestrated movement, the men stripped four hand grenades off their flak jackets, pulled pins and tossed the grenades in the direction of the flares were set.   The resulting sound of human contact indicated that the flares were not tripped by something like a pig or tiger but someone probing their line.  An instant later, a blast went off about 10 feet in front of Kaur and Misner, still outside the bunker.  Kaur yelled down “Who the hell threw that grenade?”  The response from inside the bunker sent chills down his back; “What grenade?”  Wide eyed, Kaur and Misener looked at each other.  Kaur grabbed the PRC-25 talking into the headset trying to control his alarm “Foggy Day Six, this is Foggy Day One One.  We have definite movement out here.  I think they’re trying to get inside the perimeter.”  As Kaur was trying to relay information to Captain Kish, Hosu exited the bunker with a M-79 and Mullins right behind with his M-16.

Those in the bunker, now including the very much awake Privates Jackie Lee Riley and Don Collier, began tearing down sections of their walls to create better points of observation.  As the men did this, another satchel charge landed close to the bunker to which, David Hosu answered with his M 79 grenade launcher.  Three more charges landed.  “Close, damn close.”  As quickly as it started, the action again (momentarily) subsided for the men for the five men on the listening post.  Don Collier glanced down at his watch.  2:17 am.  As he did, his attention was drawn over his shoulder upslope and to the left where saw small arms fire and explosions begin to intensify on the ridge where the battery of howitzers was staged.  LZ Peanuts was under attack!  Over the radio, came a frantic call “We have beaucoup gooks inside the perimeter.”

The call to Battalion from the Operations Sergeant was slightly more professional but relayed an equal amount of urgency; “LZ Peanuts is Sitrep Red, I say again, LZ Peanuts is Sitrep Red.  We have enemy in our east, northeast and southwest perimeters using satchel charges and small arms fire.”

Disoriented, Earl Lego jumped to his feet as the concussion of nearby blast shook dust off the stacked sandbags inside his bunker.  Peering out the opening in his hooch, red and green tracers flashed across the opening.  Someone’s yell of “Gooks in the wire” would be suppressed by an exploding satchel charge.  A veteran of Hue months before, Lego’s optimism had waned on this morning as he looked out of his bunker.  Grabbing hold of his M-79 loaded with high explosive rounds and checking the action on his .45-caliber sidearm, Lego muttered to himself under his breath “Oh shit, we’re dead.”  With that, he exited his bunker, unwilling to be inside with satchel charges going off nearby.

A dozen meters away, Tom Perkowski would also jump to his feet.  Grabbing his rifle and helmet, Perkowski exited his small bunker and peered out from behind a sandbag wall.  As he did, an explosion went off forcing him to retract back behind the wall.  As he sat crouched behind the wall, the noise around him became deafening with yells, screams, and explosions filling the air.  In a surreal moment, Perkowski forgot the action around him as he sensed a mouse that must have crawled into his pants pocket overnight and had suddenly began to move around.  Reaching in to pull out the mouse, he jerked his hand back instantly.  His mouse was a hot piece of jagged metal that had somehow settled in his pocket yet missed skin entirely.   For the rest of the night, Perkowski stayed at this position, firing randomly at phantom mice and the NVA downslope from his position.

Specialist Dennis Kellen sat up in his bunker alert to the trip flares that had gone off in front of his position with the 4th platoon of Alpha Company.  Moments later an unrecognized person ran by double-time and saying, “We’re being overrun!”  With their newly replaced Lieutenant a hundred meters away and out of earshot, the 4th platoon began to act on instinct. When the call came from Captain Kish to start putting up illumination, twenty or so men of the mortar platoon of Alpha Company began to rush out their bunkers like ants whose mound has just been kicked.  Kellen grabbed his 12-gauge shotgun and rushed towards the mortar pit with a panicked realization that illuminating mortars would be high acquisition targets.  Although this action had been practiced over and over the past the few weeks, it had never been done so under fire or at night.  With bullets zipping through the air, the mortars of the 4th platoon began sending up an immediate shower of illuminating ballistics.

Specialist Kellen was hunched over trying to arm an illumination round, when he glanced up and saw a form moving in his direction.  Having yet to be in a position to distinguish friend from foe, he kept low with his hand of the 12-gauge and allowed the form to pass.  As an illumination round lit the sky, Kellen’s stomach almost jumped out of his mouth as he would immediately recognize the form sneaking away from him as a sapper.  “Too far of a shot for the 12 gauge.” Kellen thought to himself.  Quickly assessing that the sapper was moving away, Kellen once again set about setting the illumination rounds.  Now constantly alert to the presence of enemy, he would glance up frequently.  However, having pressed his luck too long, Kellen looked up one last time just as a B-40 rocket popped by his ear.  When he awoke he was on his stomach, his head ringing from the concussion.  “Got to get up, our lines are penetrated”.  

On the southern perimeter overlooking the listening post, Private Scott Thompson of A/1/5 was on full alert.  A few minutes earlier Thompson had seen activity down the hill on the outpost.  Now to his left, he could hear the sound of sporadic gun fire near the howitzers start to intensify.  Off to his right, he could hear Staff Sergeant Carlyle Guenther out of his bunker, shouting “Get that sixty going” as the chatter from the big gun started to slice red tracers over the hill.  Having just been awarded the Cavalry’s “Soldier of the Month,” such actions were not so expected but were representative of Guenther’s character.

As Thompson peered out the slit of his bunker into complete blackness, he closed as eye as an illumination round started to fizzle high above him.   As his open eye adjusted, a nauseating fear hit him as the round revealed the figure of a nearly naked man moving in a crouched run up the hill, bypassing his position.  Incredulous, “How can the gooks be in my perimeter?” he thought as he immediately spilled out of his bunker and leveled his M-16 up the hill in the direction of the passing sapper.  With labored breathing and his finger shaking on the trigger of his M-16, Thompson hesitated, thinking to himself “Friendlies, friendlies….. if I open up now, I’ll hit friendlies!”  Within the milliseconds of contemplating this action, a small explosive charge landed sizzling at his feet.  Instinctively Private Thompson leaped out of the way, sliding head first into the trench that happened to filled with a substantial accumulation of human excrement.  As he landed, the blast from the charge blew over him.  Thompson rolled over realizing where he was and started to yell out, “Mother Fu%#*er!” but was precluded just as another charge landed squarely on his chest.   Scurrying to get out of the trench, Thompson jumped and slide face first across the hard ground as the second charge went off blowing dirt and human waste everywhere.  Shaken from two near death experiences, Thompson pressed himself up, feeling the recognizable cold steel of his firearm in the process.  As he jumped up and checked the action on the M-16, something hard hit him between the shoulders.  Though he desperately wished it to be an errant softball, he knew a third charge had just been thrown at him and rolled back into the relative safety provided by a trench full of Air Cavalry shit.

Private Fred Woodruff was asleep on the roof of the FDC when a flare was tripped somewhere near his perimeter and immediately answered with a M-60.  Despite the M-60 starting to throw a curtain of lead down the slope, two more claymore mines went off nearby.  As a hand flare went off, Woodruff could see down into the abandoned battery area as ghostly bodies moved around from gun to gun.     Then he saw it; a sapper setting a satchel charge under gun number three.  The blast rocked the 5000 pound off its parapet onto its side.

What followed was a complete chaos of red and green tracers chasing each other across the slope like deadly humming birds flitting around a feeder.  As Woodruff rolled off the roof of the FDC, he tried to get inside this bunker.  “No room in here” a faceless mouth yelled at him.

Grabbing his M-16, Woodruff scurried up the hill into the consolidated perimeter and jumped in a crater with two others.   He opened up his M-16 firing at shadows, firing at space, firing at human outlines he thought were “bad guys.”  When he ran out of ammunition, he reloaded and fired more.   With death looking them straight in the eye, many others did the same.

 “Damnit do they know we are down here?” cursed Specialist Hillary as M-16 and M-60 rounds fired over his head which caught them in a deadly crossfire of small arms being fired from below.  Slightly downslope of the reconstituted perimeter, Specialist Hillary and three other 4th platoon B/1/5 members were forced to keep their heads down.

Upslope from Hillary, the luck ran out for fellow platoon member Specialist Craig Walters, as bullet would cut him down as he stuck his head up out of foxhole.  Slugs of lead tumbling randomly through the air became bereft of nationality.

Slightly to the West of Hillary, an illumination round went off in front of Don McKim’s bunkers exposing a sapper trying to make his way through one of the few areas of Concertina wire.  “Jacobson, there’s one in the wire!”

The alarm was immediately answered with Private Jake Jacobson putting his weight behind the M-60.  Meanwhile, McKim and Private Chris Newman jumped out the bunker and laid down on the roof firing their M-16 rifles while the M-60 in the bunker continued to lay down heavy suppression fire.  Despite this, the flash of an exploding satchel charge caused everyone in the bunker to shield their face.  Then another blast.  The two other men in the bunker began push their rubber air mattresses against the slit openings in the bunker.  All the while the M-60 continued to sound off.  A third explosion.  “They’re keying in on the tracer rounds from the sixty!” yelled McKim.  “Start rolling out grenades.”

Lieutenant Maynard had by now found his boots and was outside his bunker calling in illumination on the PRC-25 he had grabbed earlier.  “Hard Charger Two Three this is Birth Control Two Three.  We need all the illumination you can send our way. . . “

“Hard Charger Two Three, copy that.  Illumination coming your way.”  With that Lieutenant Jim Harris turned to the FDC personnel with him on LZ Snapper.  “All right, you heard the man, let’s light them up!”  Fifteen minutes after first contact on LZ Peanuts, the guns on LZ Snapper began providing their illumination support.  As the 155 mm howitzers of A Battery 1/30 Field Artillery started dropping in illumination rounds on LZ Peanuts, it was quickly realized that many of the old rounds were faulty.  Lt. Harris quickly adapted alternating shots between two howitzers.  “Fire gun one!….dud, dud…Fire gun two!”  Over the next few hours the alternating howitzers would continue to drop in illumination rounds.

From nearby Hill 689, 3/4 Marines started receiving incoming mortars and in response, made a call into LZ Peanuts to shift illumination as they were lighting up the Marine position.   Infuriated, Lt. Charlie Brown happened to be in TOC when this message came in and grabbed the radio headset.  His response was terse and agitated; “Darting Star this is Old Grand Dad Two.  Fuck off; we have hands full over here!”

In a slouched fast walk, Maynard made his way towards the FDC to find Sgt. Marshall.  Awkwardly holding the 25 pound radio by one of the handles, Maynard uneasily made his way towards the FDC as small arms fire snapped through the air.  A sharp spark and ricochet erupted as the radio caught a round of ammunition almost forcing Maynard to drop it as he reeled backwards.  “Damnit there goes the radio” Maynard yelled forgetting that that hunk of metal he was now holding had just saved him from a gruesome wound.   When Maynard reached Sgt. Marshall, he barked “I need to find another radio in case I need to adjust any of that incoming illumination.  Do you have one?”

“No sir, without that PRC we are without a radio.  I think the Blackhat downhill from us has a radio. . . . But sir, there are gooks all over our artillery.”

“Don’t have much of choice” said Maynard.  “I’m going down to find the Blackhat.”

Through the melee occurring around him, Lieutenant Cattron strained to identify distinguishing features from his small bunker.  Out in front of him, he could see the smoldering ammunition dump and beyond that, the abandoned ridge were the six field artillery pieces stood like broken pieces on a chess board.   Behind him and further upslope, he registered the explosions of satchel charges going off.   “They must have completely passed me by” Cattron thought.  As fate would have it, he had two PRC-25 radios in the bunker with him.

Mike Maynard crouched anxiously by the FDC waiting from the next illumination round.  As the round went up, he sprinted the 50 meter distance from the FDC to the position being held by Ted Cattron.   As Maynard neared, a M-16 in Cattron’s position was frantically firing.  Off on the ridge where the Battery lay abandoned, Maynard could hear the distinct crack of AK-47’s.   As he got near Cattron’s position he started to yell “friendly, friendly” and slid into the bunker with the wide-eyed Blackhat.  Lacking any formality, a winded Maynard looked up to Cattron and said “I hear you have an extra radio?”

Cattron didn’t immediately answer Maynard’s question.  Instead he motioned towards the howitzers and said “I think there are Regulars out there?”.  Both looked incredulously as they saw dozens of uniformed regular North Vietnamese Army cautiously advancing through the artillery.  Cattron finding his voice said; “They don’t know we have contracted our perimeter.  Open that box right there and start throwing those grenades as far out there as you can.”  “No problem” sneered Maynard “I used to pitch in college.”

After several minutes of pitching grenades out onto the Battery finger, ammunition would run low and the duo decided to abandon Cattron’s position outside the main perimeter and move up the slope.  As they cautiously moved their way back up the slope, a red tracer round ricocheted off the side of Lt. Maynard’s canteen.  “SOP is to shoot at anything that moves….we’re in a bad spot” thought Maynard.

As the two made their way up the hill they came up to a collapsed bunker occupied by Specialist James Carroll of A/1/5.  “Mama, mama” came a faint cry as Lt. Maynard walked up on the imploded foxhole.  Cattron immediately set to work peeling off the sandbags and twisted PSP exposing Carroll crumpled up at the bottom.  As Cattron continued to throw off sandbags, Maynard grabbed Carroll by his flak jacket and pulled him up.  A satchel charge thrown in the foxhole had paralyzed Carroll’s lower body with broken leg bones while the concussion blew his eardrums forcing blood to drain from his ears.  Though Carroll couldn’t hear (and thus communicate) well, he managed to convey that he had taken shrapnel in his groin area.  Cattron quickly took a look and muttered; “I think your family jewels are intact.”  With that, the soldier seemed to relax as he was hauled up the hill to the aid station.

Back upslope, a frenetic Lt. Brown found Colonel Jordan outside the TOC being nursed with a leg wound from an illumination round.  “Colonel Jordan, our perimeter near the Battery is breaking apart.  I’m going to grab some men and try to fill in the gap.”  Receiving a nod of approval, Lt. Brown spun around on his heels and made his way downslope towards the direction of the FDC.

Almost bounding down the slope, Lt. Brown slowed only long enough en route to grab several soldiers almost lifting them up with one arm and throwing them in the direction of the fight.  “They’re busting through down there.  Plug up the hole.”   Overlooking the Battery, Brown climbed up on top of the FDC roof directing men into fire positions.  As he looked down into the abandoned Battery, he could see NVA through the illumination moving at quick pace up the hill.  He extended his arm pointing “down there” he said.  As he did, a sharp slug to his arm dropped him to a knee.  Being his forth wound in Vietnam, Brown instantly knew what had hit him.  Still being functional he stood back up and continued to direct fire.

Similar actions were being taken by others including Sgt. Guenther on the western side of LZ Peanuts.  As he was outside of his bunker yelling for the perimeter to readjust, a bullet ripped through his chest.  He slunk down to his knees, lowered his head, and died; frozen in a prayerful position.

Several kilometers east, the fog hung low over LZ Stud.  Lieutenant Steve Malencon was asleep in his bunk, taxed after having logged over 3 ½ hours of combat flight that day.  His slumber was disrupted by a nameless form sticking his head in his bunker shining a flashlight in his face. “Captain’s having a briefing in five minutes.” 

“What the hell for?” grumbled Malencon.  “We’re socked in.”

A few minutes later, still buttoning up his field jacket as he entered the command post, Malencon looked around at the bunker already filled with other bleary-eyed pilots.  The Captain wasted no time.  “You may have already heard the scuttlebutt. LZ Peanuts is being overrun.  Their perimeter has been infiltrated on multiple sides and they are requesting immediate ARA cover.  The sky over LZ Peanuts is clear so take off and operations are (relatively) not as problematic for night flying.  However, you all can see, the ceiling here at Stud is under 100 meters meaning that landing will require a tactical ADF (beacon) landing.  We all practiced those landings at Benning.  However, to my knowledge no one has done this yet in Vietnam.  For certain, no one has tried this in a valley surrounded by tall mountains.  Under these conditions, Army regulations cannot require us to fly. …I’m looking for volunteers.”    Requiring only a few seconds for the information to soak in Malencon (among a few others) stepped forward.  “I’m in!”

After having fired a burst from his M-16 Larry Rau of A/1/5 listened closely.  Sergeant John Lauterjung had just slid into the bunker with delivery of ammunition.  The underground bunker was hardly large enough to fit the two stocky men.   Rau looked intently at him and uttered “I think there is a pile of Regulars down in the creek, trying to make their way up this North Slope.  I swear I heard a bugle.”  As that statement was left floating, both turned and wearily grinned at each other… “incoming choppers!”

Upslope, Captain Duke Wheeler the 1/77 Arty LNO, made his way out of the TOC, hauling a PRC-25 in one hand and M-16 in the other.  As he made his way north, he nearly tripped.  “Sandbag” he thought.  As he looked back he noticed under the illuminating light that what he thought was a sandbag was a dead sapper.  “Damn close to the TOC.”

Hearing incoming radio chatter from inbound ARA, Captain Wheeler spoke up; “Blue Max Four Nine this is Birth Control Four Six.  What is your arrival time?”

Malencon’s voice came vibrating over the radio “Birth Control, Blue Max Four Nine.  We are about 2 minutes out.”

“Copy that Blue Max.  We’ve got gooks in the wire, danger close.   Come in from the north.  I’ll fire up a solid round of tracers to mark my location.  From my location make your first run along this North Slope.  Friendlies all along the slope but so are bad guys.”

“Copy that Birth Control.  Danger close.  We’ll look for your mark.” 

Still hunkered down near the TOC, EOD’s Mike Kern and Steve Rawlings instinctively fell to the ground and tried their best to burrow themselves into the hard dirt of LZ Peanuts as the first UH-1H flown by Lt. Melancon nosed in out of the darkness.  Two bright flashes of incoming 2.75 in. FFAR’s exploded onto the North Slope showering Kern and Rawlings with dirt.  As the ship passed, bullets from the door gunner zipped over their heads.

“Blue Max, Birth Control.  From that run, you need to adjust your fire three zero meters down slope” spoke Captain Wheeler somewhat nervously into the radio.

Immediately following behind Melancon’s ship, the second Bell Huey thundered in out of the darkness.  Unleashing it rockets, the next explosions went off a little further downslope.

“Good hit Blue Max.  Bad guys are all over that slope.  Hose it down really good” yowled Captain Wheeler.

With ARA rockets hitting out front of his bunker, Larry Rau looked wide eyed at Lauterjung.  His thought was shared; “Are we going to make it through this?”

Three more passes of ARA support and LZ Peanut was again at the mercy of sappers and regular NVA army.   From down in the valley, anti-aircraft fire chased the ARA out of the operating area.  Throughout the chaos of next few hours, in an action rarely seen elsewhere, waves of sappers and NVA would continue to penetrate the perimeter of LZ Peanuts.    Sprinkled on the sides of LZ Peanuts and in the valley below, likely 300 or more North Vietnamese (a company of sappers and two companies of regular NVA) stood determined to drive the American’s off this hill.

On the South Slope of LZ Peanuts an illumination round sizzled overhead as Private Richard Loeffels of A/1/5 watched as a sapper snaking through the perimeter in the steep ravine below him. Instinctually leveling his M-16 squarely on the sapper’s chest, he fired two rounds.  Following this, the sapper dropped to the ground.   Shaking from the adrenaline pumping through his body, after a minute, Private Loeffels watched incredulously as the sapper got to his feet and continued up the hill.  Again, he leveled his M-16 on the sapper, fired and watched the sapper fall.  Firing downhill and at night proved to be exceptionally difficult for many that night.  By the time the sapper got up a third time, a M-79 loaded with a buckshot round had shown up in Loeffels’ hooch.  There would be no fourth time.

Continuing to fire harassment with his M-16 in short controlled bursts, Private Leoffels was temporarily distracted as blast went off immediately to his right.  “Damn there goes the bunker with those four artillery guys in it.” Someone said inside the bunker.  With sappers still trying to coming up the steep slope below them, there was little time to reflect.  It was roughly 3 a.m.

As this and several of the bunkers on the South Slope of LZ Peanuts continued to be systematically destroyed by charges, the men in Specialists Hillary’s bunker were able to poke their heads up high enough to get a better understanding of what was going on around them.  Pointing off to his right, Hillary said; “I think they are staging in that crater over there and hurling satchel charges.”

Upslope, with word that the listening post was cut off, volunteers were being gathered around Alpha Companies Capt Kish’s command post to help extract them.  Private William MaGee found Lt. Zuccarrelli gathering volunteers and said “Sir, that’s Slim and Chubby down there.”  The big Southern-bred gunner tightened his hands around his M-60. “I ain’t leaving dem guys down there.  I’m in.”  With that, Wayne Zack coupled up with fellow Chicagoan Private Adam Ruiz and the group wound down the Southern Slope.  Along the way, sappers materialized in and out of the shadows being chased by M-16 rounds.  After several harrowing minutes, the group made their way outside the perimeter on the Southwest Slope and began working their way towards the LP to provide suppressive fire.

The group didn’t make it too far down the slope towards the LP before withering small arms fire forced them to take a fighting position in a B-52 crater.   With bullets zipping over the top the carter, the rescue team knew their chances were slight that they’d be able to go any farther.  “We’re in a bad spot guys……..We need to do something” a group member said.  Though all were in agreement, they were pinned down with counter fire and unable to do little but keep their heads down.  As they waited helplessly for their chance to make a break from the crater, Private Zack looked up, as if in slow motion, the body of sapper holding a satchel charge came flying into the crater rim.   Instinctively Zack shielded his face from the explosion.

As he came to with a tremendous throbbing in his head, Zack could see Private Ruiz writhing on ground mouthing something to the effect; “I’m hit, I’m hit oh Jesus.”  Zack looked down and saw the Ruiz’s leg was shredded.   As his faculties continue to return, Zack looked over and saw the crumpled mass of the sapper; his naked body still smoking from the explosive charge.

Battered and broken, the rescue party shifted their attention to self-preservation.  Despite the intense pain he was feeling, Zack reached down to help move Ruiz back up the slope.  After several good tugs on Ruiz’s flak jacket, Zack reached up to wipe the perspiration from his face.  As he retracted his hand, it came back covered in blood.  “Damn I’m bleeding” he thought.

Holding his hands out in front of him, Zack turned them over and over again.  By now, the sting of powder burns began to reach the nerve endings in his hands.    With his face beginning to feel similar sensations, he gingerly moved his blackened hands over his face and began to finger his wounds.  More powder burns.  Eventually he ran his finger over the open cuts on his face split open by shrapnel, rocks and other debris from the exploding satchel charge. With his head throbbing and his body damaged, Zack thought to himself “it hurts like hell, but I’m not going to die out here.”   As the process of throwing bandages on Zack’s open wounds finished, the task of hauling Ruiz back up to a makeshift triage site uphill continued.

As the group approached the perimeter, members of the Alpha Battery assisted in carrying them further upslope.  Private Dennis Piehl, grabbed ahold of Adam Ruiz and pulled the soldier writhing in pain up the hill to a makeshift aid station.  Despite having shrapnel wounds, Sergeant Eddie Chervony along with Corporal Michael Montgomery also assisted in moving wounded further up the hill.

Sgt. Eddie E. Chevrony

After carrying the wounded up to the aid station, Chervony and Montgomery headed back down the hill.  As small arms fire intensified, the pair soon realized that their position had been cut off.  Both men jumped in their bunker and Chervony tried to open up with his M-60.  As they did, a satchel charge came in through the bunker slit and landed near Montgomery.  As Chervony reached over the grab the charge, it went off, imploding the bunker around them.

Roughly one hour after the attack began, Lt. Jim Hackett made the call to Battalion on LZ Snapper.  “Black Jack Six India this is Old Grand Dad Three Alpha.  We need an emergency resupply of M-79, M-60 round and hand grenades. “ Under the cover of darkness, an emergency resupply of ammunition and grenades would encounter the same weather problems as the ARA had at LZ Stud.  Regardless, some twenty minutes later, the distinct sound of another incoming helicopter was heard on LZ Peanuts.  The skittish Huey pilot would land by the TOC with one skid on the earth and the other in space; quickly relinquishing its contents to LZ Peanuts.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Brown would continue to make trips back and forth from the TOC to the perimeter overlooking the abandoned Battery.    On one of his trips to check on the perimeter line, he collided with a sapper.  The two foes immediately grabbed ahold of one another and wrestled to the ground; scratching, clawing and struggling for their life as they rolled down the hill.    However, on this night, the prospect of death put the similar impression in the mind of his foe.  After what seemed like an eternity, Brown, a high school wrestler, maneuvered his hand up the assailant’s face.  With all his strength, he plunged his thumb into his opponent’s eye.  The sapper screamed in pain, pushed himself loose of Brown’s grip and bounded away in the darkness.   Winded and sweating, Brown moved down along the South East Slope and noticed several imploded bunkers.

Scott Thompson looked up at the officer standing above him as Brown said; “Soldier, I need your help with these bunkers.”  Getting up and cautiously moving along the South slope, the duo would grab another infantry soldier for help along the way.

The first bunker they came to had all the sides collapsed with a small wisp of smoke leaving the top.  As they pulled off sandbags and twisted PSP they came upon the bodies of four Red Legs, soldiers from A/1/77, their M-16’s found still resting along the walls of the bunker.

“Didn’t even know what hit them” mumbled Brown.

Laboring to pull the bodies out of the destroyed bunker, they laid the deceased on the slopes of LZ Peanuts.  Silently facing upwards to a beautifully starlight sky.

Next, Brown’s group went to work on another imploded bunker with the bodies of Corporal David Haefner and Sgt. Jerry Dundas inside.  Two more Red Legs.  As Sgt. Dundas’s body was pulled from the bunker, those working to pull him out couldn’t help but notice that the face of the young boy from a Detroit suburb was frozen in a mask of fear.  The two would be laid down side by side on the slope; Haefner with eyes closed in peaceful repose and Dunda’s eyes wide open and mouth agape in a scream trapped for perpetuity.

As they made their way to the next bunker, Thompson excitedly muttered to Lt. Brown. “Sir, I think someone is alive in this one.”   As the three men, jumped in and started throwing off sand bags, they came upon an artillery sergeant laboring for breath.  Thompson grabbed him under the arms and began to pull him from the collapsed bunker.  As he heaved, the soldier’s badly mangled arm swung up in an unnatural position and hit Thompson in the helmet.

At the same time, Brown came across the body of another artilleryman and went to pull him out.  As he pulled, the thorax separated from the lower body causing Lt. Brown to jump back in nauseating surprise.  The silent body did not scream out in pain.

With Thompson still holding onto the gravely wounded soldier outside, Lt. Brown made his way out of the bunker and took a knee and tried to make comforting talk.  The soldier’s eyes were glazed and his light brown skin was quickly losing its color.

“Where are from soldier?” asked Brown.

“I’m from Southern California” struggled Chervony to reply.

“I’m from San Bernardino. Where about in Southern California?” asked Brown.

“Los Angeles” whispered Chervony closing his eyes.

Brown nodded.  “You married soldier?”

With that question, Chervony opened his eyes slightly.  “Yes sir…. married …have a baby daughter.”  As the breathing became more labored, Chervony struggled to say this last sentence.  “Please tell my wife I love her.”   As he did, he closed his eyes again and labored on with breathing.  That would be the end of the questioning.

Brown turned the soldier near Thompson and said; “go find some help.” Turning to Thompson, Brown said “stay with this guy until the Medic arrives.”  With that, Brown turned and made his way east towards the Battery.  Chervony was near death and there was not much he could do for him.

Lt. Brown ended up finding with way down to the bunker overlooking the Battery and occupied by Lt. Cattron.  With a look of surprise, Brown nodded to Cattron, the two having met several months previous.

“Give me a situation report” asked Brown.

“Regulars and sappers moving freely throughout the Battery.  They are keyed in on destroying the howitzers.  There are no friendlies between us and them.” Said Cattron.

It was roughly four a.m. roughly one hour before sunrise.  As the two stood at the edge of the bunker, the volume of small arms fire began to intensify.

“They are making another push” screamed Brown over the intensifying noise.

“There, about 50 meters out……..the gooks are using the jeeps to hide behind” retorted Cattron.

What happened next was a display of boldness only brought about with the realization that death was guaranteed unless action was taken.  Acting as stars in Spaghetti Western, the pair jumped out of the bunker and ran screaming toward the jeep, firing their M-16’s from the hip.  As they covered the 50 yards in a few seconds, they threw grenades over the jeep.  In response, a satchel charge returned from the other direction.  For a few minutes, the group would continue to trade grenades and small arms fire for satchel charges.

After several minutes of intense fighting, Cattron yelled over Brown. “Pull back to the bunker.  I’m calling in Blue Max support.” 

As Cattron grabbed the remaining PRC 25 he tuned it to the LNO’s push.  “Birth Control Four Six, Peanuts Control.  I need immediate Blue Max support on this east finger with the Battery on it.  As you come in from the north, you will see a line of jeeps and trailers.  Use the jeeps as your bearing and hose down the hill to the southeast.  Bad guys all over that ridge.”

With that Cattron turned to Brown and muttered; “alright, keep your head down, these guys are coming in danger close.”

At this same time, the stranded squad on the listening post received an alarming message from the TOC.  “Foggy Day One One, we count about 18 NVA moving up the finger towards your position making another thrust.  We’re calling in ARA support to clean that area.  Keep your heads down.”

In between the two groups, the men in Hillary’s foxhole were busy throwing grenades down towards the crater near them.  Though they had yet to physically see any enemy, they would catch on occasion a satchel charge sailing through the air in their direction.  Around the same time the message came into the LP, the men watched as two ARA hueys moved out of the darkness, downslope and parallel of their position.  With each pass, the hueys would continue to walk their rockets further up the hill towards the LP Bunker.  “No way those boys are going to survive that shelling” Hillary thought to himself.

With their mind distracted on the ARA activity, one final satchel charge would sail in out of the darkness and find its mark right outside their bunker.  Being closest to the blast, Hillary would be thrown backwards into the others around him.  As he came to, his head was pounding.  He reached his hand up to inspect his ears.  Bloods was by now draining out of both ears.  As he looked around to the others near him they were looking at him wide-eyed.  Though their lips were moving, he could not hear any words.  The intent, however, was understood.  Get up the hill and out of this position.

As the squad in the LP watched as the HE 2.75 in. rockets begin to explode up towards their position, they jumped in their bunker.  Specialist Mullins turned to a bare-headed Hosu and shouted “put your damn helmet on!  These guys are going to fire in right on top of us.”  Almost on premonition, moments after he put on his helmet, Hosu’s head would jerk to the side as a piece of shrapnel bounced off of it.  Between each run of the ARA support, the NVA down below would fire up the hill towards the LP bunker.  Because of the shape of the hill, their bullets would whiz harmlessly into space.

With daylight still ½ hour away, a distressing problem was becoming obvious to Lt. Harris over on LZ Snapper.  “Birth Control Two Three this is Hard Charger Two Three.  We are running low on illumination rounds.  Do you copy?” 

Around 4:30 in the morning, many on LZ Snapper watched the last illumination round fizzle to ground across the valley from them.   Lt. Harris exhaled audibly as he would be unable to provide the illumination required until sunup that was so tantalizingly near.  As Harris hung his head, in the distance he detected the distant rumble of aircraft engines.

Over the radio channel came the call “Peanuts Control, Peanuts Control, this is Spooky.  We are coming on station.  Where do you need us?”  At that moment, a roar erupted on LZ Snapper as men jumped up and down, howling with excitement as the twin engines of the Douglas AC-47 announced the arrival of the deadly gunship. “Puff the Magic Dragon has arrived!” many shouted.   Spooky was capable of dropping powerful MK-24 flares with each able to produce brilliant illumination for up to three minutes.  More impressive though, with its three 7.62 mm Gatling mini-guns capable of shooting 6,000 rounds a minute, the tide of overwhelming firepower was about to permanently shift in favor of LZ Peanuts.

With the orange of morning light faintly glowing on the Eastern horizon, the AC-47 would start to make large lazy turns over the beleaguered LZ Peanuts.  As the Gatling guns opened up, a ribbon of red fire would leap out of the plane and touch the valley below.

“They’re pulling back” said Cattron to Brown.

“Yeah, probably pulling off their dead and wounded” said Brown.

As the warming rays of sunlight began to reach LZ Peanuts, the sound of warfare began to diminish.  Over time, heads began to stick up out of underground bunkers.  Incredulous to what had just happened.  Across the hill, the wreckage of war was strewn everywhere.    .

Feeling the inside of his right arm his arm, Lt. Brown noticed it was soaked with blood.  As he stopped in briefly at the aid station, the medic said.  “Looks like a pretty good wound, Lt. Brown.  You’re going to need to be medevac’d for this one.”

Looking at each other in disbelief, the six men on the exposed finger off of LZ Peanuts, began the process of inspecting around their position before closing their position and hiking up the hill.  Daylight had not come soon enough.  Seven of their eleven trip flares had been triggered and only one grenade was left between them.  Surprisingly, no enemy bodies were found, only blood trails leading off towards the West.

The remainder of the Alpha Company 1/5 Cavalry began the grisly task of searching dead bodies and gathering weapons.  Sleep deprived and skittish from a night of intense fighting, most were on edge.

From his position near the TOC, Captain Wheeler watched as a group from the 3rd platoon came upon the body of sapper and turned it over.  As the body expelled one last trapped breath, the men reeled back and fired into the lifeless corpse.   Private Sarcosy would be searching near his position where a substantial number of dead sappers lay.  Out of the corner of his eye, he caught movement and almost involuntarily turned and fired several rounds into the body.  Very few uniformed NVA are found and instead, dozens of blood trails lead off the hill.

By 07:00 that morning the bodies of 30 North Vietnamese would be found, including two wounded prisoners who would not make it off the Landing Zone.  In addition, a substantial cache of weapons would be found including 15 AK-47 rifles, 3 B-40 rocket launchers, a radio, numerous grenades and satchel charges.   It soon became apparent that the attack on LZ Peanuts was not a disorganized attempt by sappers to wreak havoc, but a well-coordinated attack likely weeks in preparation.

As mop up operations around the perimeter were started, a stream of medevac helicopters began to appear on the horizon as wounded were move up to the helipad.  With over twenty wounded, the transport of severely wounded would take numerous lifts.  Among the wounded that morning included Colonel Runkle and Lt. Brown.  The degree of wounds varied from burns to burst eardrums, shoulder wounds, broken legs, gunshot wounds, bayonet wounds and so forth.  Numerous infantry soldiers would receive “relatively minor” wounds and refuse extrication.  Over the coming weeks, these unattended wounds would often degrade to cellulitis infections in the humid Vietnamese air.   Over on LZ Snapper, two enlisted men with Alpha Battery 1/30 would be also be casualties of this battle suffering burns during the illumination shelling.

As the wounded were lifted off the hill by 6:30 a.m. the task of moving the American dead followed.  Captain Wheeler would look down from the open doorway of his outbound and stare blankly as the ponchos rustled over the bodies of eleven US troops lined up neatly on the helipad of LZ Peanuts.   With many in the Battery walking around in a state of shock, Mike Kern and Steve Rawlings would be enlisted to help move the dead to the helipad for dust-off back to LZ Stud.    With no personnel connection to any of the dead, Kern began the grizzly task of loading the dead onto an awaiting helicopter.  “So many they’re stacked just like cordwood” he thought to himself.  Seven deceased personnel from Alpha Battery 1/77 Field Artillery four infantry including three from Alpha Company and one from Bravo Company 1/5 Cavalry would be loaded onto an outbound Huey.

By 8:30 a.m., word would filter down to the remaining infantry of 1/5 Cavalry still mopping up the perimeter of the beleaguered LZ Peanuts.  They were being flown off back to LZ Stud and then to Dong Ha to support the Marines on the eastern edge of the DMZ.  They would be replaced by Bravo Company 2/5 Cavalry.  The relief would be short-lived as seven more incoming rounds would fall on LZ Peanuts occurred with a 15 minute period.

Roughly one hour later, all elements of 1/5 Cavalry had been airlifted off LZ Peanuts and deposited on LZ Stud.  B Company had now assumed perimeter responsibility of LZ Peanuts.   Some twenty minutes later, the North Vietnamese is a twisted welcoming, rained 3 rounds down on the perimeter.

Throughout the remainder of the day, 12 more rounds would land on LZ Peanuts.  During one of the barrages, the dust settled, the cry came out; “Medic”!  John “Doc” Nagel and the senior medic Doc Beatty went running towards the one of the impacts and saw six wounded already being tended.  Among the more seriously wounded was Private Ron Wotring with broken arm and leg bones and a sucking chest wound.  Doc Nagel would do his best to attend to Wotring and five others wounded on LZ Peanuts that day.  Wotring would ultimately survive his wounds but died in 2011 with his body riddled with over 300 pieces of metal collected on his short stay at LZ Peanuts.

After a short assessment of his Battery, Mike Maynard called in to Battalion Headquarters; “We have 100% combat loss of our six howitzers, all of our vehicles, all of FDC inventory and most of my soldier’s personal effects.”

Several minutes later, the Battalion S-3’s retort caught Maynard off guard; “Hooks are inbound and thirty minutes away.  You are to evacuate the entire Battery off of LZ Peanuts.”

“Most of our howitzers are blown off their parapets.  After what my boys have been through they are in no shape to sling the guns.  Besides we’re still receiving incoming” stammered an agitated Maynard.

The response from Battalion was terse; “You have thirty minutes.  Battery personnel will not be evacuated until the howitzers are off LZ Peanuts.  Do you copy?”

Realizing this was a battle he was not going to win Maynard turned to Specialists James Potenzianni and Barry Ludke who were standing nearby and with a quavering confidence repeated; “Alright, he heard the man, we need to start loading those guns.”

Five minutes before the arrival of the Chinooks from minutes a winded Barry Ludke came back with word for Lieutenant Maynard.  “Sir, I’ve rounded up some volunteers to help load the guns.”  Not quite sure how to broach the next topic, he stammered…. “Sir…. Corporal Miller….Corporal Miller says he’s not coming out of his bunker.”

“What do you mean he’s says he’s not coming out of his bunker?” shouted an agitated Maynard.

“Just that sir” retorted Ludke.  “Miller has refused to come out of his bunker and do any of the hook-ups.” 

With the hooks less than five minutes out, Maynard had little time for reprimand.  Miller had looked death square in the face enough that morning and did not want to see it again.  For Miller, the fight was over that day.

Still on LZ Peanuts, Ted Cattron watched as the CH-47 pilots approached low from the East and climbed up the East side of the ridge coming to a hover over the howitzer loads to be picked up.  “Nerves of steel” he thought as he watched them hovering with the cockpits exposed for several minutes while the slings were being hooked up.  He held his breath with every pickup.  At 1:30 p.m. Cattron nearly expelled that air as two 57 mm recoilless rifle rounds came out of the surrounding countryside and sailed harmlessly over a hovering Chinook.  As the sixth howitzer was loaded and last Chinook turned towards LZ Jane, Cattron watched with a sense of relief as the few dozen stragglers of Alpha Battery walked down the hill to the east towards Khe Sanh.

On May 6,1968 LZ Peanuts would be relinquished back to the jungle from whence it came.  Unwilling to provide the enemy with fighting position, B/2/5 Cav had spent the past day destroying the sturdy bunkers constructed weeks before with the help of Bangalore torpedoes.   A day later, Operation Scotland II would officially end.  However, the hill called LZ Peanuts was allowed one last opportunity to kill Americans.  On May 26 and 27th, Mike Company 3/4 Marines would lose two on the former landing zone known as Peanuts.

For the grunts of the 2nd Brigade of the First Cavalry Division, the ending of Operation Scotland II would mean little as they air-assaulted two days later into Dong Ha to take place in another joint operation with the US. Marines called Operation Concordia Square.  Significant casualties would continue to mount as part of this operation.

The battle of LZ Peanuts would be captured in several pages of after action reports but otherwise lost in the shuffle of countless dangerous battles in dangerous places of Vietnam in the year 1968.   In just over 30 days in the Spring of 1968, the unassuming hill a few kilometers from the Laotian border and the DMZ and called LZ Peanuts witnessed nearly fifty American casualties and (in all likelihood) an equal number of Vietnamese casualties.   In the early morning hours of May 5, 1968 young men of two armies fought their best to defeat each other.  As was so often the case in Vietnam, the hill was abandoned two days later. Today, the hill has reassumed its original lush landscape.    However, for those soldiers who survived on the hill called LZ Peanuts, the smell of the cordite, the screams of the wounded, and the loss of friends will always stay alive.