We Were Lob Bombed Too
Following up on General Stanley Cherrie’s article (December,“Case of the Mysterious Lob Bomb”), I was a first lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines, headquartered on Hill 55 southwest of Da Nang in the summer of 1969, serving as a fire direction officer and the crater analysis officer. We took two lob bombs in the position. The first was probably a 250- pound bomb that landed in the middle of a 105mm battery, killing a Marine. The second, launched a week later, barely cleared the Fire Direction Center and, by the size of the crater it left, must have been 500 pounds. Miraculously no one was injured. I took out patrols to a village from which the bombs were catapulted. It was amazing how the North Vietnamese could move those bombs across a river, dig holes for them and then catapult them 750 meters without being seen by our watchtowers. It was unnerving, because there wasn’t a bunker on Hill 55 that could withstand a direct hit of one of those bombs.
Edward Kliewer III
San Antonio, Texas
As amplification of General Cherrie’s December 2011 article, I was a watch officer in the 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines Fire Direction Center on Hill 55, eight miles southwest of Da Nang in late 1968 and 1969. There were several lob bomb attacks against the Marines there, as the intelligence section of the June 1969 Command Chronology for 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines states:
“The enemy continues to attack by fire using his relatively newly developed technique of catapulting dud ordnance onto the cantonment, as evidenced by the attacks on 12 May, 20 May, and 27 May 1969. The method remains the same: 250 lb. bombs are refitted with a new fuze, a small hole is dug, a launching charge is prepared, the bomb is placed over the charge and aimed toward the target, and the initial charge is detonated.”
Remembering Song Re
I enjoyed your article about the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in the Song Re Valley in your December issue. I was the platoon leader of the 2nd Platoon, A Company, 2-8 Cavalry, and went into Landing Zone Pat with the second flight on August 9, 1967. I worked with Captain Robert Thompson during an earlier mission. I saw his gunship get hit and blow up as he was making a run on the anti-aircraft guns in the saddle between Hills 625 and 450, although I did not know it was him at the time. I have attached a picture (above) of Hill 650 while it was under air attack.
Robert L. Wilkinson
I was pleasantly surprised to see the excellent article by Paul Hart in the December issue concerning the assault into the Song Re Valley in August 1967. I was the commander of Company A, 2-8 Cavalry (Airborne) that made the combat assault onto LZ Pat on August 9. I have never been so proud of my men as I was that day, and of the fearless support given by the chopper crews who supported us in that four-hour firefight. As was so often the case, the fight was totally unexpected—by both sides. The isolated situation that Company A found itself in cannot be really appreciated unless you understand the terrain of the area. LZ Pat was a very steep finger-ridge that jutted south out from Hill 450 on the north, which was in turn connected to the higher Hill 625. While the LZ and Hill 450 had only short grass on the top, their steep sides and Hill 625 were covered with dense brush and forest. All three were occupied by the dug-in enemy armed with heavy weapons—12.7mm machine guns, 82mm mortars, 57mm recoilless rifles— whose range covered the LZ from three directions. Once the fighting began, Company A, with 120 men spread along the ridge, was on its own. Reinforcements could not land, nor could I withdraw off the 1,200-foot-high ridge down to the lowland with my wounded. And I was leaving no one behind!
Unknown to us was the camouflaged and covered underground fighting position in the center of the LZ, which had several automatic weapons that swept most of the LZ with fire at knee-high level. Other enemy positions were along the slopes of the hills. With the heavy fire incoming from so many directions, it took me a little time to suspect that we had bad guys in the middle of us. Once I did, I tasked Lieutenant Dick Hostikka to form a hunter-killer team from his 1st Platoon and sweep the LZ. They had to do this by low crawl, as standing up meant quickly getting hit. They finally found and eliminated the bunker. The men most exposed were our medics, who ran from wounded to wounded to treat and drag them back to a slight dip in the ridge that provided the only low area. We lost one medic killed and others wounded doing that. The heavy anti-aircraft and orientation of the terrain prevented resupply and medevacs from coming directly in.
In an amazing display of courage and flying skill, several pilots finally got to us by approaching from below the top of the LZ ridge, then rising slowly up to us with the chopper skids parallel to the side of the ridge. With a chopper holding position just below the top of the ridge, men were able to stand up enough to drag off ammo resupply and load several of the wounded with only a few getting hit. Five men in the company were awarded Silver Stars, a number of Bronze Stars with V device, and a Valorous Unit Award was presented. Thanks for telling the story of those heroic soldiers and pilots.
So much in your December issue touched me personally. Raul Taboada (“Eyewitness at LZ X-Ray”), who was portrayed in one of Bill Beck’s sketches, and I rushed to volunteer for the 1st Air Cav in the waning days of July 1965 so we could go to Vietnam with them. I was assigned to the 2-7 and he went to the 1-7. Raul was wounded at X-Ray on November 14. When my company arrived on the 16th to reinforce 1-7, the X-Ray battle was over. My platoon was assigned the left flank of the dry creek bed and the positions near where the 500-pound bomb fell that morning. We found Captain Nadal’s backpack somewhere outside the creek bed. I was wounded three days later, at LZ Albany. Somehow, Raul had learned about it, and when I arrived in San Francisco, an orderly at the hospital told me that Raul was expecting me. Raul was back in the field by December as an interpreter to the 82nd Airborne in the Dominican Republic. In 1968 he was in the 9th Infantry Division, and in heavy Tet battles in the Delta. We met again in 2001, at a 1st Cavalry reunion for a screening of the movie We Were Soldiers Once.
I knew Jack Geoghegan (“Ghosts of Ia Drang”) from Pennsylvania Military College (PMC) days. He was in the Class of 1963; I graduated in 1964. Jack was an outstanding individual. Soft spoken, but firm and resolute, respected and admired by all. I’m glad to learn that at PMC he had not been forgotten.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
An Unlucky Choice of Words?
I was an Army nurse in 1968-69 at the 71st Evacuation Hospital in Pleiku and was fascinated by Karl Marlantes’ article in the December issue (“The Truth About Lies in Vietnam”). It was informative and honestly written, but when I read the line, “luckily for me, the battalion commander was killed,” I was so stunned that I re-read it several times to be certain that I had read it correctly. I would like to think that this cannot be what Mr. Marlantes meant to write. I suppose it is the word “luckily” that I find difficult and sad. Perhaps another choice of word could have conveyed the same idea without the same shock.
Maggie LaBarbera Bailey
Karl Marlantes replies: I was trying to convey the irony of what happened, and obviously failed. Had I known the effect that was produced, I’d have written it differently.
Inspired to Seek Closure
Your December interview with Lt. Gen. Ron Christmas took me back to 1969 and the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division at An Hoa combat base, southwest of Da Nang. A visit to The Wall and the Marine Corps National Museum is now high on my bucket list since reading the interview. The general’s words have inspired me to seek what I have for so very long avoided, coming face-to-face with myself at The Wall, with my brothers, and come to closure. Semper Fidelis.
David B. “Bubba” McClellan
Originally published in the February 2012 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.