|Echo Company 1968 - 1971
Rick Smith on the Phouc Vinh ambush April 17, 1969.
This is the way I remember it happened. Not necessarily the way it happened. Jim Rook certainly saved us that night and
probably some doctors and nurses at the base.
For many years I thought the base was Long Binh. We were CAed to an area near Phouc Vinh late one afternoon and the
birds landed on the gravel road leading to the base. This was my first time walking point and first real combat. This wasn’t
long after Abel Mendes became platoon sergeant. The platoon CP was just off the road in clear view of the base. It looked
like the base was overrun; the fires and rockets were clearly visible. My squad was sent on night ambush. I want to think
Bill Breck was my squad leader that night but I’m not sure. We were walking down a narrow trail thru thick foliage. It
reminded me of a hedge maze. We had to stay on the trial because if you tried to walk parallel to it your gear and clothes
would be ripped off in 20 meters or so. It was nearly dark and when I saw the first soldier I froze. Later I thought this
“child” was one of the locals leading the NVA to the base. He was not wearing an NVA uniform and appeared to be
carrying an old bolt action carbine. My brain just couldn’t process what was in front of me. In the first few seconds I
remember asking myself, “Is that a child?”, “Is that a weapon on his shoulder “, What kind of weapon is it?”
The guy walking behind me, David Ramsey, was faster than me and said, “Don’t move” as he put his M-16 on my shoulder
and opened up full rake. I fell to my knees and started shooting. This is the point I realized what was happening and fear
and survival mode set in. After a few seconds we fell back down the trail about 20 meters and started throwing grenades
and continued firing. One of our guys was bleeding from his ear because some of the grenades were thrown pretty close
to us. This was Ed’s memory but I sure remember the chi-com grenades. It was at this point that Bob Lowery was able to
get his M-60 talking in a wider area of the trail. We could hear the NVA talking and it sounded like they were somehow
moving towards us thru the brush. One of them was crying as if for his mother.
We then fell back to the road and Jim Rook called in artillery on the area. No doubt Jim Rook saved us that night and
probably saved some doctors and nurses on the base. If the enemy had reached our CP area they would have had a clear
high. It was a great place to sleep but probably not a good position for an ambush. I don’t think we even setup claymores.
I remember staying up on guard duty and waking guys up because they were snoring so loud.
I had never been in a situation like that in my life. To be faced with mortal danger was very shocking and that night will be
etched in my memory as long as I live. I think about that night nearly every day. Soon after I returned from Vietnam, I had
horrible nightmares about that night which, in my dreams, turned out much different. Ed Hill was wrong. I got in country 20
Mar 1969, one day before LZ White was hit. So he was the senior FNG that night.
My Dad used to tell me about that letter he sent home in World War II on a section of a C-ration box. The next morning we
had a lot of VIPs fly out to see what had happened. Our company Top sergeant, a rotund Puerto Rican guy was there with
a camera. A buddy and me sat on our helmets and ate breakfast right next to a NVA soldier. There were body parts and
blood everywhere. I wrote a letter home on a C-ration box.