Letters From Readers – December 2012 Vietnam magazine

Remembering LZ Hereford
The article “Last Stand at LZ Hereford” by Michael Christy (October) had me living that experience as if I were there. I served in Vietnam with the Marines, including 40 days under siege at Con Thien in 1967. We always feared a human wave attack like that experienced by the soldiers at Hereford. I would like to know if Lt. Col. Rutland Beard was ever charged with negligence for ordering Charlie Company commander Captain Don Warren to leave his mortar platoon behind in a vulnerable position with no infantry support, while the rest of Charlie moved out. Also, I was curious to know if Staff Sgt. Robert Kirby was recognized for his harrowing attempt to lead that small group of soldiers and journalist Sam Castan to safety. I have to wonder how John Spranza, who was badly wounded and played dead before his rescue, and the other survivors are doing today after their dreadful experience.

James P. Coan
Sierra Vista, Ariz.

Michael Christy responds: As one would expect, the horrors of the massacre at LZ Hereford had a tremendous impact on the lives of all those involved. Capt. Don Warren became an alcoholic and eventually committed suicide. Sgt. Robert Kirby retired from the Army and refuses to talk about LZ Hereford, claiming he remembers almost nothing about it, although he did receive a Silver Star for his part in the battle. Bob Roeder has a severe case of PTSD but still managed to succeed. He married his high school sweetheart, raised a family and operated a multimillion-dollar medical supply business. John Spranza overcame his physical injuries but suffered emotional damage. His drinking led to three divorces, yet the same determination that saved his life 46 years ago allowed him to work successfully in two long careers, first in the printing industry and then as a rural postman for 20 years. He and his wife of 26 years are retired and live in Northern Georgia. Charles Stuckey died of cancer six years ago. No one has heard from Isaac Johnson since LZ Hereford was overrun. No official record exists on Rutland Beard receiving any reprimand. He retired from the Army as a colonel. As for the company members who rushed to the rescue, all are still horrified by the carnage they witnessed once they reached LZ Hereford.

 

The story of the carnage on LZ Hereford is a riveting piece of work but, as noted, it varied glaringly in spots from the S.L.A. Marshall narrative published 46 years ago. Nonetheless, both authors accurately captured the overall horror of the event. About a week before the attack described by Christy, a company from another battalion had been overrun at Hereford, and my company from the 1-5 Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, was airlifted onto the LZ the following morning to assist. In his book Battles in the Monsoon, Marshall claimed that the KIAs had been evacuated the previous evening, but I distinctly recall seeing the poncho-covered bodies of U.S. soldiers still ringing the landing zone. Dead enemy were everywhere; the Americans gave as good as they got.

Bill Nixon
Joliet, Ill.

An absolutely great article, and told like it was—as opposed to S.L.A. Marshall’s account. I knew one of the soldiers you identified in the story, James Windham—who missed the battle because of malaria treatment. I was a platoon leader and Windham was the first soldier I lost. He approached me in late September 1966 and said he wanted to extend his tour for six months and join the 3rd Platoon. He explained that he’d missed Hereford and heard that I was a good and very lucky leader. He asked me to call him “Jew.” After an engagement at Hoa Hoi, where he performed as an excellent soldier, he said he wanted to walk point because he had the most experience. Windham was on point during a search and destroy mission west of LZ Bird on October 6. (I’ve posted some photos of that day at www.12thcav.us.) I trusted him so much as point man that I walked slack behind him with my RTO. He was hit in the head by a sniper and I still can see his helmet coming straight up off of his head. There isn’t a month goes by that I don’t regret my decision to let him extend and join my platoon. I had always thought he took the nickname Jew because he was Jewish, until one of my soldiers explained at a company reunion 45 years later that it stood for the initials of his name: James Eugene Windham.

John H. Rudd
Amelia Island, Fla.

Parrish Nailed the Grunts’ Life
I always value reading articles that are able to express my thoughts, feelings or memories better than I can. Dr. John Parrish’s An Autopsy of War (October) was dead-on. I was a grunt in the Americal Division in 1969-70. Most of Dr. Parrish’s words and descriptions mirrored exactly what I experienced during my tour. By the time I got to Vietnam, I was aware that the American populace was not really behind the war or too concerned about my welfare. Only my girlfriend and immediate family were concerned. That helped put me in the mindset I needed to survive the one-year tour. Parrish gives one of the best explanations of the infantry experience and most accurate description of what was going on in the field I have come across.

Bob Duesterhoeft
Redwood City, Calif.

Getting Tet Attackers Straight
I enjoyed Ted Meyer’s letter in the August issue concerning “Tet’s unsolved mystery” of the Los Angeles County sheriff. However, Meyer misidentifies the Viet Cong regiment that attacked the II Field Force compound during Tet. It was actually the 275th Regiment of the 5th Viet Cong Division. In the first hours of the attack, MPs collected a chieu hoi (“open arms” defector) from Widow’s Village. As an officer in the 219th Military Intelligence Detachment, I took custody of this individual. We were flown to the III Corps compound where subsequent interrogation revealed that he was an NVA lieutenant in the 5th Division Recon Platoon. He had become discouraged when he saw that the Viet Cong rockets had not caused sufficient damage to the II Field Force compound to allow the ground attack to commence. Credit for his discouragement goes to the aviation units that disrupted those rocket attacks and the 199th Infantry Brigade that stemmed the flow of enemy into the Long Binh area.

Mike Thorpe
Cottonwood Heights, Utah

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3 Responses

  1. Charles Krohn

    Mke Cristie’s account is chilling and deserves to be studied today at every level of command. As for SLA Marshall’s account, other things he was written been impeached by others for being more dramatic that factual. Regardless, I think we are better off for him than if he never existed.

    Reply
  2. Les Beck

    I was with the 552nd MP Co II Field Force during the Battle of Widows Village (TET 68). Our company as well as many IIFF units took part in repelling the assault. Thanks to all those who served and God Bless.

    Reply
  3. Rich Bissett

    I still can remember clearly coming back up that mountain to help these men.Just Can not forget what I seen on LZ Hereford.This was the worst day ever for my time in the military.God knows I love these guys.The old saying is so true.-Men that are close to death are close to each other.

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