|Delta Company 1965 - 1971
A Night to Remember: March 23, 1969
Delta Company 1/8 First Air Cav strode onto Forward Firebase LZ White in Tay Ninh province March 23, 1969. Our
company was rotated out of the field every 4-5 weeks to provide bunker security for several days allowing for hot
meals, showers, clean fatigues and resupply. This day Co. D had an appointment with destiny.
Though only in-country for three months, I was very aware of TET and the increase in enemy activity. The Second
Platoon was given three bunkers near from the 105 and 155 artillery batteries. Ordinarily this location would not be
the best, next to the cannons, but the events of that evening proved that theory wrong!
As evening approached, LPs (Listening Posts) were sent outside the perimeter. The LPs would provide an early
warning of any trouble. The rest of us took positions on assigned bunkers. There would be two awake at all times on
the top of the bunker but now we were on high alert all night. As the 2nd platoon 2nd squad leader, I made sure that
everyone was on alert, locked and loaded with plenty of ammo and flares.
Shadows fell in front of us and grew long as the parachute illumination flares dropped and burned out. More flares
were shot up. The familiar pop of the flare could be heard reassuring us that their light would follow. In fact, so many
flares were fired that night they eventually had to be rationed. Were we imagining enemy shadows by the wire or just
jumpy? Early on our LPs began reporting movement. As it turned out, this was not the typical LZ green line duty!
As a grunt, you never forget the sound of an incoming mortar and rocket barrage. Recalling the time, I believe it
was late evening between 10-11pm when the first rounds hit. It could have been 107mm, 122mm rockets, 82mm
mortars or a combination thereof. I could hear the shells explode inside our perimeter and at the same time trying to
visualize its target. I could hear the thump as the shells detonated. I could feel the ground shake as the exploding
rounds came progressively closer to our position. I thought that I could be taking my last breath and wondered how
it would end. Thirty minutes seemed like hours before the bombardment stopped. My prayers were answered but not
for long! The bombardment was followed by more explosions on the wire accompanied by small arms fire. Afterwards,
it was determined that sappers breached our defenses by blowing up the perimeter barbed wire and Concertina wire
during the rocket attack.
LZ White was partially overrun that night. Sappers compromised our defenses providing entry for the enemy
soldiers to destroy bunkers and kill US soldiers. Satchel charges were thrown into bunkers and encampments at will.
G.I's had to be on the lookout towards the green line, as well as, the rear of their bunker to prevent sappers from
throwing satchel charges. I became aware of this from our RTO who relayed the chaotic situation. In order to prevent
any further enemy penetration, our artillery batteries leveled their cannon barrels and fired beehive rounds into the
green line. It would not be until morning when at first light the devastation was revealed. The 2nd platoon was for
the most part intact because of our position in the sector. The 1st, 3rd and the mortar platoon got hit pretty hard with
many WIAs and KIAs. If the enemy rocket and artillery barrage did not flatten their bunkers, then the enemy’s
satchel charges did. Many of LZ White’s green line bunkers were damaged or destroyed except for the portion near
the artillery sector, specifically the CP and the 2nd platoon bunkers. Earlier when LZ White had been taken down, the
bad guys paced out the CP and all the defensive bunkers. They dialed up the coordinates for their mortars and rocket
launchers which were fired towards targets in the LZ with great accuracy. This was the probable scenario.
Not only were the green line fortifications dangerous so was the interior of the LZ. Some of Co. D’s mortar platoon
soldiers had bunkers there. One American hero that night was Spc4 Donald R. Johnson of the mortar platoon who
threw himself onto three satchel charges saving six fellow soldiers. He posthumously received the Medal of Honor.
The location of our bunker was the natural place to bring the wounded (WIA) and dead (KIA) soldiers as it was
directly in front of the chopper pad. Unfortunately due to the enemy activity, Medivacs could not land until it was
feasible. The LZ needed to be secure enough for takeoffs and landings to remove the dead and injured. Men began
arriving to our bunker area on stretchers covered in blankets. We did our best to make them comfortable by supplying
water and additional blankets. As the night gave way to morning, the Medivacs finally began to arrive. I had to turn
on my strobe light to indicate our position to friendly aircraft. I recall 40-50 WIA and maybe 10+ KIA. I’m not sure
what the official tally was of our fallen brethren. Most of the WIA and KIA were from Co. D 1/8.
There was still a battle going on when just before first light, napalm was dropped by fixed wing aircraft. It lit up the
perimeter. After the napalm drop, the battle was essentially over. By then we were finally able to get Cobra gunships
to kill the fleeing enemy.
Good morning Viet Nam!
At last, the sun rose over LZ White or what was left of it on March 24th. The 2nd platoon was to lead a recon patrol
around the outside perimeter and report damage. To my recollection, 2/3's of the bunkers had been damaged or
totally destroyed. The burnt sapper bodies were still entangled in the perimeter wire. Enemy dead were found outside
the perimeter too. I estimate that the enemy lost 80+ men in a failed attempt to take out LZ White.
In the aftermath of the battle, Co. D 1/8 had 50 or less combat ready soldiers. We could not provide security and re-
build the demolished base without more manpower. Other companies were brought in to provide security while we
started to fill sandbags. Sgt. Jessie Castillo took over the platoon as the most senior leader of the 2nd platoon.
Castillo trained me when I was still an FNG; for that I owe him. Sgt. Castillo was in charge of our platoon’s re-building
effort while on White. While surveying the damage inside White, I came across another Fort Benning NCO school
graduate like myself, Sgt. Jack Crussard. He was standing by a very large trench and was holding an entrenching tool
smiling. When I asked what he was doing, Jack responded that he was filling the trench! Maybe a bulldozer would
have been better. Jack ultimately became a valued leader serving the 2nd platoon.
To this day we stay in contact and have visited The Wall many times in Washington DC on Veterans Day wives
included. On one of those trips to DC in 2009, Jack Crussard, Bill Hunt former Co. D 2nd platoon leader and I met for
dinner with Capt. Smith Co. D Company Commander. He was in charge of Co. D that night. When I asked him why we
weren't proactive after our LPs reported movement he said that it was not uncommon for LPs to report probing
outside an LZ especially during TET. LZ White could not expect air or artillery support since many other LZs were
being hit simultaneously and those resources were not available. In retrospect, we were fortunate to have the
competent leadership of a company commander like Capt. Smith. And BTW, he picked up the dinner tab!
A few days later, Co. D marched off the LZ and back to the boonies still under-strength. Some of the wounded, now
healthy enough, began returning to the field. The 2nd platoon was assigned to work with the 11th Armored Cav. We
would provide infantry support for the 11th Armored Cav.
Now that’s another story!
A Night to Remember: March 23, 1969
By former SSG. Art Drago Co. D (and HHC) 1/8 Cav. 1969