The CAP 2-9-2 patrol of five Marines and six Vietnamese Popular Forces (PFs) Militiamen left Phu Da with full gear. Sergeant Donald Eifford led the patrol down a small, dusty path between two tall cornfields. I was the M-79 Grenadier and a Lance Corporal. When we exited the cornfields, Sergeant Eifford took out his field glasses and spotted three figures entering a known Viet Cong frequented treeline. The treeline was once the site of a peasant village.
Since no villagers were allowed that far from Phu Da, it was safe to believe that the three figures entering the treeline were Communists. Sergeant Eifford radioed for mortars on the jungle treeline from the Fifth Marines Headquarters at An Hoa. (Only a month before, CAP 2-9-2, two tanks and a company of about 130 Marine Grunts from the Fifth Marines worked the same area. Even with all those Marines and supporting equipment, the treeline was a bad neighborhood to say the least.)
Using Eifford’s map grid coordinates, the Marine mortars from An Hoa were very accurate. (He was excellent at calling in support for us.) Our sergeant decided for the eleven-man patrol to go after the Communists.
About a mile into the thin, open rice patty dikes, fear triggered five of our six Village Militiamen to refuse to go any farther toward the mile long piece of jungle. Even though we tried to influence their decision, the militiamen refused. They were terrified. To be honest, having experienced combat there myself, I was a little worried. Without the other PFs, there would be only six of us in the thick treeline.
Like I already mentioned, the last time we dealt with the Communists in the same piece of jungle, we had about 130 men and 2 tanks. In spite of all the men and equipment, we still had to call in F-4 Phantom fighter jets for a couple of bombing runs.
The lone Vietnamese militiaman, who agreed to go along with us, was walking point (first) anyway. He had to pass through five Marines on the less than two-foot wide rice patty dike in order to leave with his buddies.
As the CAP 2-9-2 patrol came close to the treeline that only minutes earlier three Communists entered, the sergeant ordered me to walk point (first) and slam the face of the treeline with M-79 Grenade Rounds. Immediately, I moved up in line and started firing. About a hundred yards outside the large treeline, we had to stop. My grenade launcher jammed from a BeeHive (shotgun-like) round casing. I cleared my weapon and reloaded with just high explosive rounds.
(In the Command Chronology for CAP 2-9-2 for July 17, 1970, it was documented that I shot a total of 22 M-79 High Explosive (HE) rounds that entire day. Although I picked my targets well, I thought that I shot much more than 22 high explosive rounds. It was a long day under the hot sun.)
Once we entered the jungle, we immediately spread out into two-man teams and found Communist huts, bunkers, and trenches and stored food supplies. My buddy
L/Cpl. George Dros did some extra searching under some heavy jungle canopy. Inside a large hut that George found was Communist military documents and the equipment for making booby traps. In another hut, we found freshly cooked rice still warm in four bowls.
We were elated that we chased off the Communists. I took my handy Kodak Instamatic Camera from my field jacket and started taking pictures. A couple of the guys even posed.
This feeling of satisfaction lasted only a few minutes. Suddenly, we were hit from what seemed like every direction. The Communist fire was extremely intense.
Immediately, Sergeant Eifford radioed for mortars from the An Hoa Fifth Marine Base. The Willie Peter placing round was right on target. However, probably because of the shifting of the M-81 mortar’s tri-pod, the ten M-81 high explosive rounds walked directly towards where we were pinned down. We thought that our own mortars would kill us. I didn’t know what to do. The thought of moving to my right or left was out of the question. The Communist fire was too furious. The last round exploded only about 20 yards in front of us.
After calling in the mortars, our sergeant called in helicopter and fixed-wing air strikes. During one of the initial passes over the trees, the fixed-wing pilot spotted a cluster of huts deep in the treeline. He concentrated his ordinance and succeeded in triggering some secondary explosions.
During all the action, the rest of the Marines from CAP 2-9-2 and a few Vietnamese PF militiamen arrived from Phu Da. Meanwhile, CAP 2-9-1 from the other side of the
An Hoa Marine Base rushed to our aid, but they got pinned down just outside the treeline that the six of us were surrounded in.
For a number of hours, we had to fight off the Communists ourselves. It was in July and the temperature was said to be over 100 degrees. (I don’t remember for sure, but the number 110 comes up. Our Navy Corpsman had his mother send a thermometer just about a week before. (He was always saying how hot it was. It became a joke for us.) Regardless, whether it was 100 or 110 degrees, it was extremely hot. Water ran
Once CAP 2-9-1 arrived, the Communists broke contact with us. As the CAP’s demolitionmen, George Dros and I blew as much as we could with our C4 plastic explosives. After we ran out of C4, George and I collected some hand grenades and destroyed the remaining Communist belongings and equipment.
It was very important what route we left the jungle. We needed to take a route that the enemy would not expect us to take. Otherwise, the Communists would be setting up an ambush for us. We set up security then left the treeline together on a route that crossed through a chest high, slow moving stream. (My camera’s film was destroyed.) While in the stream, a few guys were a little nervous about the poisonous snakes, especially the deadly Bamboo Viper.
Once on the other side of the stream, CAP 2-9-1 left for their own village. The Americans and the few PF Militiamen of CAP 2-9-2 rested on a small knoll for a couple of minutes. We were out there under some ugly conditions for many hours and we needed a much-needed rest. Besides, our water ran out hours before and a few of us were near Heat Exhaustion. Myself included.
Our Navy Corpsman was tired of telling us not to drink the filthy rice patty water. Since the patties were the universal toilets for their peasant caretakers as well as water buffaloes and the watery grave of many insects, the Corpsman didn’t appreciate us drinking the filth through our closed teeth and then wiping our teeth clean. (We didn’t bring our toothbrushes.) Our sweat-soaked, camouflaged utilities were our tooth implement of necessity.
Three of my buddies went to search for some desperately needed clean water.
(The problem was the three Marines went without their weapons. I’d
say the intense heat; the day’s activities and lack of water were getting
After only a few minutes of rest, our sergeant jumped up. He was in a hurry to get back to Phu Da for fear that the Communists might attack the unprotected village. (One of the Vietnamese Militiamen might have read one of the Communist documents that George Dros found in the makeshift booby trap factory.)
I told the sergeant that the three men went for water without their weapons. I volunteered to stay. All I cared about was that my friends were out there with no weapons.
The Communists must have followed us. About fifteen minutes later, as my three, joyful, wet-buddies were returning with the much needed water, the Communists attacked with rifle fire and small explosive weapons. For protection, each of my buddies drove into a large, rice patty filled with water. It was about a hundred yards wide and it separated us.
For the next fifteen to twenty minutes, I fought alone in the open to draw the Communists' fire, so that my buddies would survive or not be captured. The sounds of the zinging bullets and bombs were constant.
Thank God, those Viet Cong Terrorists were bad shots.
In order to give the impression that there were more Marines on the knoll than just me, I switched between my M-79 Grenade Launcher to my buddies' M-16 Rifles and a
M-60 Machinegun. However, I'm sure it didn't take long before the Viet Cong Terrorists realized I was the only American on the small knoll in the middle of the open rice patties. If they killed me, the V.C. Terrorists could just walk up to my buddies and do what they wanted to them.
(The Communist fire was pretty fierce.)
I was no different than any other American in the Combined Action Program. The thought of leaving my Cap Brothers did not even enter my mind. At the time, we only had about eight Americans living in Phu Da. I loved them. One of my buddies pinned down before me in the rice patty was even married and had children. Some of George Dros' comments are below.
You could say that back then; I felt my buddies were all I had. Due to a number of different circumstances, we felt very alone. Even, many American people back home were against us fighting the Communists. In June 1970, during a military sweep just outside our village, we found thousands of American Dollars that were donated to the Communist Terrorists by an American College student group at Berkeley University. The donated money may have been used for the bounties on our heads.
I served in Phu Da during the student shootings at Kent State University.
I was also in Phu Da when my hometown of Rosedale, Queens had its Vietnam Veteran Memorial attacked twice by tar and paint during 1970. (It's the first Vietnam Veteran Memorial in all of America.)
Back at the knoll, a couple of the Marines who left with my sergeant returned to help but it took them some time walking along the thin rice patty dikes. For all they knew, they were walking into an ambush themselves. Our sergeant led the rest of the CAP 2-9-2 Americans and Vietnamese PFs back to protect Phu Da from a possible Communist attack.
Daniel Gallerger was the first Marine to arrive to help me. He came into the firefight shooting his weapon and laid down right next to me. Daniel’s on The Wall in
Washington DC for something that happened months later. He was a good Marine.
In the end, everyone was saved and my sergeant received a well-deserved medal for his actions. It was a miracle that no Americans were hurt that entire day.
On July 22, 1970, CAP 2-9-2 returned to the jungle treeline with three infantry companies (C, E, and F) of the Fifth Marines, tanks and CAP 2-9-1.
My buddy George Dros (one of the guys I saved) wrote his parents about the episode and they wrote and thanked my parents. I felt great.
To this day, George and I are extremely close and we both live up here in the beautiful, hilly farmland of Sussex County, New Jersey. However, we don't really talk much about the war portion of serving in Phu Da, Vietnam. To this day, it's still extremely hard to talk about the ugliness of war. Instead, we talk a lot about our American Buddies as well as our Vietnamese Friends and the many Vietnamese Parents and Vietnamese Grandparents who adopted us into their families.
ACTUAL UNIT REPORT FOR JULY 17, 1970
17 July 70
A PF member of a CAP 2-9-2 patrol accidentally detonated an unknown type booby trap rigged with an unknown type firing device alerting an enemy ambush at AT 872500, 2.5 km N of Duc Duc District Headquarters. The patrol received SAF and returned fire with organic weapons fire, 22 M-79 HE rds,
2 M-72 LAAW rds, and called a helicopter gunship fire mission on the enemy. The enemy fled in an unknown direction. One PF was WIA by the exploding SFD. The PF was rendered first aid and medevaced by helicopter. A sweep of the area was nonproductive. RESULTS: 1 PF WIA(E).