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War Stories

Angel's Wing Battle - 26 Jan 1969

by Jerry Headley - see also Anglel's Wing: A Shitty Mission

Jerry was the Commander of B Troop, 3/4 Cav and had lots of friends and interactions with the Centaurs;
Joe Owen, Pooch Johnston, Glen Gouge, Moose Marcinkowski, and Bill Chiriamonte to name a few.

AngelWingOur tanks were in Cu Chi as they were drawing the M-551 Sheridans. Even if we'd had them, they probably couldn't get in that area for there was only 1 bridge and our M113s barely made it across.

After we crossed the bridge we had gone about 1 kilometer when we came upon a downed COBRA (AH-1G) lying on its side. We checked it out and could find no signs that it had been shot down. I don't remember it having any unit markings. There was no one near by, which was strange as there was a small village close by. I called in a spot report and we continued on our mission.

We had captured a young NVA/VC recruit headed toward the ville. COL McGowan evaced him to the rear for interrogation (we were told later that we would get attacked at midnight and that's what happened).

We set up our laager between the ville and the Cambodian border so the bad guys could not escape (HA!). Out to the north was a company of Ruff Puffs. I knew the American NCO in charge. He was headquartered in Trang Bang.

COL MAC got a company of Infantry brought in (C company 4th of the 9th Inf "Manchus"). Also brought in 2 105 Howitzer (they saved our ass; just kept firing killer junior). They even flew in one of those spotlights you use to see at a Hollywood opening of a new movie!

While the troop was setting up I took another track (M113) and scouted near the Cambodian Border. We were 3 clicks or less from the border. We found  about 4 or 6 (don't recall) "holes" about 1 click from the border. They ran North to South and were about 10 feet apart.  Later that night we figured out what They were - firing positions for 51 cal.

We had strict orders not to fire toward the town as we had friendlies (Aero Rifles) there plus this town (we were about 100 yards away) was "political" and the government didn't want it destroyed.

That night, just as the POW had said, we were hit. Our Radar had picked up movement coming from the West. and in accordance with Murphys Law, the radar went dead. Batteries died and the operator didn't have any spares.

I was away from my track when we heard something I hadn't before. they fired 2 rockets at us. Both landed outside our perimeter. (We found the firing positions the next day). Then came the mortars and we knew that when that was lifted they would fire their RPGs and attack. I had jumped into a nearby track (radar track, I think) along with four other guys. One was a black cook. He took a seat on the right side of the track which would put him across from the fuel bladder. Soon an RPG came thru the fuel cell and sprayed burning fuel on the cook. And this is the most weirdest thing. That RPG took a right hand turn (180 degrees) and went out the door on the back hatch. I saw it and still didn't believe it.

The track was on fire and a trooper opened the back door and got the cook out. I cracked the top hatch and the rest of us bailed out from there.

By now we are fully engaged. Tracks on fire, howitzers firing non stop. We had artillery firing in support from FSB Stewart at Trang Bang. Eventually my FO got a call saying that they had no more ammo and wished us good luck. I had a Track Commander take an RPG to his chest. It didn't explode but it killed him anyway. Then my 2nd Platoon Leader (LT Smith), who had been with us for a little over a week, got shot in the neck. He was med-evaced, but died 4 days later.

We had SPOOKY on Station and it did a terrific job along with our 105s.
The Centaur Gunships were also making runs (Remember, no night vision goggles in those days).

I requested dust-off because we had a number WIA. Joe Owen came up on the net said he was coming in from South to North, and to lift fires. Joe made more trips during the fight taking out WIAs and bringing ammo. Joe would later receive the DFC for his actions that night.

Don't know how he did it but he did. We put as many WIA on as we could.

Also, during the fight, the NCO with the Ruff-Puffs called and said his guys were getting out and he had to go to. Wished us luck (everyone was wishing us luck!). When they did this that left a hole for the NVA in the village to go thru and back into Cambodia.

Fires began to lift just before dawn. When it was light we checked the area out. Don't recall the number of bodies but there were quite a few.

Also, got some enemy WIAs. I recall one guy sitting there with his left arm hanging by a thin piece of skin. I figured he got hit by a .50. He was smiling and making a motion for a cigarette. One of my troops asked if he should shoot him. I told him no. Just give him a cigarette.

We policed up weapons and ammo. Piled it near one of my burned out tracks and blew it in place before we left the next day.

The CG came out and had us stay 1 more night. I don't think anyone got any sleep. The bodies lay were they were killed. We left them.

As an aside, about a month later we were still operating a little north of this area. Joe Owen was getting ready to DEROS and he came out and spent one of his last nights in the field w/me. I though he was crazy but I think that just shows how close many of the Centaurs and ground troops were.