BigWindow BackArrow top
War Stories

The Communist Flag - Aug 1966

Gene Tucker

I will endeavor to tell you how that communist flag in the photo came to belong to the unit.

Flag We did not have team numbers; the LRRP Detachment was so new. Our team which consisted of myself Gene Tucker (SGT) Assistant Patrol Leader, Hugh Howerton (SSG) Patrol Leader, Jerry Spicer (SGT) Point Man, Nathaniel Perry (SP/4) Radio Operator and Charles White (SGT) Rear Security, departed on a mission to locate a Battalion of NVA situated about twenty miles North West of Cu Chi near Tay Ninh and North of the Bol loi Woods.

This mission began on the 7th or 8th of August 1966. Three (III) Corps Headquarters sought information on enemy units and movement in the area we were to recon.

We were inserted by helicopter using the usual technique of false landings with us jumping out on one of them. It was last light and we went into our Security mode after running several yards into the wood line. This was our initial defensive position, everyone facing outward in a tight circle. We were all able to touch one another in case we needed to communicate. We certainly did not want to talk, as it was life or death. This way we were able to touch each other, use hand and arm signals and therefore not give away our position. It became so quiet that we could hear any movement around us and even our own breathing. I was afraid that the enemy would hear my heart pounding, it sounded like a bass drum to me. After about 30 minutes we moved off for several hundred yards and doubled back on our own trail. We were then able to determine if anyone had followed us, no one had so far.

We set up our night defensive position (NDP) or remain over night (RON) position and attempted to get some rest. We placed out our “claymores” and got ready our hand grenades and magazines for our weapons. No one wanted to be fumbling for them during the dark while in a firefight. SP/4 Perry had the radio turned off; we did not turn it on until we were ready to use it. Using the radio was as a rule only done at a pre-arranged schedule so as to not have it give away our position. Team leader Howerton assigned us an hour and a half of security each. Needless to say we had company when we were pulling security. It was too difficult for us to get any uninterrupted sleep and most of us if not all remained awake. It was a long night with many familiar and not so familiar sounds to keep our interest peaked. One cannot describe the thoughts that go through your mind when in situations such as this.

pir Well, things went well the first evening. We were all awake before first light and sent out two man patrols to insure that no one had moved up on us during the night. Security was provided and we gathered our claymores and policed our area. We did not want to leave any sign of our being there. We then moved out before first light so if we missed something and they attacked there would not be anyone. We then moved several hundred meters before we stopped to get our bearings and eat. Some of the team ate their PIR rations and prepared another for later use. PIR rations were made especially for Special Forces and/or Long Range Patrol units; they consisted of foods similar to what the Vietnamese ate. Little dried fish and rice for example. Therefore if we left or dropped some of the food it was similar to the enemies and may not give us away. The wrapping for the PIR’s was usually written in Japanese and English also. We always kept our trash picked up and in our rucksacks.

We had some fairly reliable information from the III Corps and 25th Infantry Division G-2 that there was at least one Battalion of NVA in the area and we did not want them to have the chance to catch us unprepared. Jerry Spicer and Chuck White did a ”clover leaf” recon around our position for added security before we began to move again.

We searched all that day without any significant sightings but Spicer who was on point said several times that he had a feeling that we were close to enemy units. We always paid attention to any of our team that had a feeling such as this, we insured that we moved cautiously and quiet. It began to rain in the afternoon. The rain came down like a monsoon, hard and steady. We had ponchos but did not want to use them in the rain (they were made of a rubbery, plastic substance) for they caused entirely too much noise when the raindrops hit them. We needed to be able to hear any noise, movement, or sounds not conducive to the area. The rain could be a good time for the enemy to sneak up on us if they knew where we were. This also caused us to be extremely cautious not to leave tracks or broken grass, limbs, or any other sign for the enemy to track us by. Chuck White being the rear guard had the job of covering our trail.

Several times during the day we doubled back on our own trail to see if we were being followed. When we stopped to watch our trail the rain made it miserable, as we sat in the rain it fell so hard that it completely soaked us and ran down our bodies like a river. The rain running down our bodies like that took away all of our body heat and we were constantly shaking from the cold. It was like sitting in a cold pond of water. We were concerned about hypothermia and not being able to shoot well because of the shaking. We found a wooded area for our RON and decided to watch a trail that was only a few meters away from us. The rain stopped around nine thirty or ten o’clock. It only took about an hour and a half for our cloths to dry out. That sure did make a difference in our attitude.

Several times during the night we heard noises. We thought it was personnel or animals but were not sure which it was. The noises were faint and across an open area. Since we were hearing those noises we maintained fifty percent alert during the rest of the night. We were unable to determine just what they were; Howerton and I decided that we would move in the direction of the noise the next day.

The next day as we moved through the area we began to notice numerous signs of what we thought were several large enemy units of a battalion size or larger. The number of foot prints, ox cart tracks, and bicycle tracks were too numerous for the number of local populace in this particular area. We realized now what we were hearing the night before. The trail they used was under a heavy canopy of trees leaves; the footprints and tracks were deep in the earth leaving us to believe that they were carrying heavy loads of ammunition and equipment. There being only five of us we knew that we must put to use all the training that we had between us. We knew that we were placing our lives in each other’s hands. This size of enemy unit or units could cause us more trouble than we could handle and our support was at least 40 minutes away. There was no artillery within range and only small outposts of Regional Forces (RF) and Popular Forces (PF) commonly known as RF-PF in the area guarding bridges or villages. They were not about to leave their defensive positions to aid anyone.

We decided to report on our usual situation report (sitrep) instead of stopping so close to the trails, besides if these units had radio triangulation capabilities we might give away our position using the radio too much. We knew that the larger NVA units had some very sophisticated equipment. The less chance we gave them to locate us the better. We moved farther into the wooded area away from the open areas. Soon we began to see even fresher signs of large-scale movement. We knew for sure now that there was more than one battalion of enemy troops in the area. Perry made this sitrep in a whisper. It was so low that I could hardly hear him and I was very close by him. After our sitrep we set up near a trail where we could watch it, we did so for a day but did not see any enemy. They had apparently moved out very quickly. We again moved during the night and put our RON on a small hill where we could see all around us and watch our own trail. Howerton and I decided that we should check around the edges of the rubber plantation the next day. We wanted to know if the NVA was using the plantations buildings and roads. There was no real rest this night either. Rarely did anyone get any rest during one of these missions. We again were up before first light, gathered our equipment and claymore mines. We moved out to prevent anyone from attacking us in case they found us during the night. We were aware that the NVA had some trackers in the area so we doubled back a ways on our own trail and watched it for a while.

The third day we began to hit the edge of a rubber plantation. Since it was a rubber plantation we moved very slow and cautious. It was extremely easy for us or anyone looking for us to see down the rows of rubber trees. There was no real cover or concealment. The rubber trees had been cut (leached) in order to allow the raw rubber to drip in small cans tied just below the small spout which was placed at the bottom of the leached area and there were a lot of those cans being filled. We knew that there were civilians around and we now had to worry about the civilians that worked in the rubber plantation as well as the enemy soldiers.

Apparently we were not as stealthy as we thought we were. About 1530 hours we were startled when a VC began to run from a position about ten meters in front of us. Spicer had just stopped and we sensed that something might be wrong. We all seemed to know what the other team members were doing with out a word being spoken. We knew that he had heard or saw something. We later determined that we had surprised the enemy soldier and he had lay low until he felt that we were getting too close or perhaps he was asleep. I am not sure who was more surprised, the enemy courier or our team. In any case there certainly was fear in us all. Three of us fired at him when he pointed his weapon in our direction and we all fired one shot at the same time. He went down. Jerry Spicer being the point man was the first to his body. He was dead and was carrying a courier bag with a bullet hole in it I might add.

I being the assistant patrol leader immediately placed out security as the team leader (Hugh Howerton) accompanied Spicer began inspecting the enemy soldier and his belongings. Upon inspection they noticed that a courier bag near the dead enemy soldier contained what seemed like important information on troop positions and movements. There were maps and orders for battalion sized units. There was also inside the Couriers bag a communist flag (Russian). There appeared to be a couple of bullet holes in the flag. We covered the enemy soldiers body with earth as best we could, being a rubber plantation there was no foliage available.

We then moved out of the plantation, we knew that we had to get out of there because the enemy certainly must have heard the rifle fire. Also it was extremely important that we let the LRRP detachment know of our find and what we thought the importance of it to be. At approximately 1600 hours while we were reporting this information our security element, of which I was a member came under fire from a Viet Cong machinegun. They had managed to track us even thought our rear security had attempted to cover our tracks.

While we were pinned down I saw Hugh Howerton and Jerry Spicer being taken under fire by the machinegun. Seeing them being fired upon and pinned down, I moved to a small clearing so that I could see the machine gun clearly and began to place fire on the machinegun, they were able to get free. The brush was very thick and breaking trail was not easy. We were making more noise than I wanted but we wanted to get as much distance from the enemy as possible. We began to run and broadcast the words “Flaming Arrow”, which was our emergency distress signal. These words would bring our helicopter support and our extraction bird. Since we were attached to “D” Troop ¾ Cav. we also had the Aerorifle platoon on stand by. We were aware that we were in extreme difficulty and could use all the help available.

We were running from a large unit, size unknown but they sure were not afraid to make noise and they wanted us badly. It sounded like a swarm of hornets coming after us, the rifle fire was intense. Since they were not afraid to let anyone know where they were we felt that they knew the size of our patrol and they were not going to let us get away. They were moving fast behind us on our tails. As we fell back each member of the team remained back until all the others passed and then we fired one magazine on full automatic spraying the area behind us. We used every immediate action drill that we had practiced and they were right there. If this kept up we certainly would be captured or killed. We were able to leave one booby-trapped rucksack behind and soon we heard the explosion of our hand grenade. Even this tactic did not slow them down. It appeared that they knew our tactics to get them off our backs. It took about 40 minutes for the D Troop gun ships to arrive on station.

We used the usual means to mark our advance and get them off our backs with the two smoke grenades. Perry threw one smoke grenade and the gun ships identified it. After we ran about a hundred yards I threw a second smoke grenade and the gun ships identified it. If we would have announced the color of our smoke the enemy had them also and could have thrown the same color, this would have confused D Troops aircraft and we might not have made it out. The gun ships gave us about thirty seconds to make a 90 degree turn and then they strafed with mini guns and used rockets along a straight line between the smoke grenades to get them off our backs. It slowed them down and gave us time to get a little distance away from them.

We ran for about another fifty yards to a small clearing for our extraction. It must have been a slash and burn area for someone because the grass was about shoulder height. There were still enough NVA to go around and they took the helicopter and the team under fire. Chuck White and I lay down a heavy volume of rifle fire on automatic with our M-16’s while the others got on the helicopter. It was a miracle that no one got hit. I don’t know to this day if the helicopters took a hit or not. The gun ships continued to fire all the miniguns and (ARA) aerial rocket artillery (rockets) that they had as Chuck and I got on with the rest of the team. Howerton, Perry, and Spicer were firing their M16’s and the door gunners were firing their machineguns. That small space in the helicopter, even with all the enemy fire coming our way felt like a safe heaven.

We were all overjoyed at being safe and flying back to the base camp. Every one of us never said another word as we flew back to the base camp landing-pad. All you could see was that distant stare in our eyes. We did not have to say anything we were a team and understood each other’s feelings. We knew that there were many chances for us to become wounded or killed (KIA) during this mission but we had faith in our training and our brother soldiers in our team that we would make it out alive.

The entire LRRP detachment was waiting for us to land. We were given a beer and taken to the Division G-2 for a debriefing. The G-2 took possession of the documents and the courier bag. Jerry Spicer kept the flag in his shirt but later during the debriefing turned it over. It was an indication that perhaps those units had Russian or Chinese advisors. We did not want to give it up and we let everyone know our desire. It was returned to us immediately after the debriefing. (I feel that Captain Ponzillo had something to do with that) We had confirmed that the NVA battalion that the G-2 had thought there was in fact there. And we also confirmed for III Corps that several other NVA units were present as identified from the documents. Order of battle and attack plans were also obtained; the NVA had to change most of them since they knew we had the documents.

All of this time we were attempting to get out of this situation CPT Ponzillo and Bill Brantley were on the radio in the LRRP headquarters. They were in constant radio communications with our team, D. Troop ¾ Cav., the air extraction team, and Headquarters 25th Infantry Division, keeping them appraised of our situation and insuring that we were getting our support we needed to escape from the enemy and for the immediate extraction of our team.

There were several LRRP’s along with the Cav’s Aerial Rifle Platoon on those helicopters standing by to providing assistance and fire support during our extraction. The LRRP’s not on duty always made it a practice to be available to assist the team in trouble. One of the LRRP’s was in the command and control ship (C&C) directing the fire support and extraction; it was the XO 1LT Traxler since he had placed us in it was his duty to get us out. The radios were monitored all the while we were running but no one spoke unless we asked for something. They did not want to give us something else to think of except getting out of there with our lives. One thing we were all glad about was that the guys on the other end of our radio had been there and done that (LRRP’s). They were one of our own. You’ll never know how good it feels even if you are in a firefight and your life is on the line to know that another LRRP is there talking to you. They understand your concerns and know how you feel. They will do everything they can to help you. They are a brother LRRP.

The information that we had captured later became vital to our conventional units during Operation Attleboro in November 1966. Those enemy units mentioned earlier were moving fast in order to begin training and practicing for this operation. I believe that we must give the NVA credit for their determination and courage. They fought a very resolute and good battle. It was the largest and most fierce battle to date in the 25th Infantry Division area of operations (AO). The 196th Light Infantry Begrade, 1st Cavalry Division, and several Special Forces Mike Forces were involved. The U.S. Air force participated with their C-130’s and combat aircraft also. I won’t attribute it to our information but the 25th Infantry Division and those other units fought well and inflicted an extremely massive amount of dead and wounded upon the NVA during this operation.

When we returned we gave the flag to the LRRP detachment and it hung in the command Post. We had all taken a picture with the flag for our memories (above photo). I later learned that Jerry Spicer had taken the flag home when he returned to the (World) United States and it now hangs on a wall in a VFW post in Denton, Texas.

Hugh Howerton and Jerry Spicer now live in Texas, Gene Tucker lives in Colorado and we have not been able to locate Perry and Chuck White. We are still looking for them. We want to get the entire team together again and perhaps we can all take another picture with that “Communist Flag”. So Perry and Chuck White if you read this please contact Gene Tucker, Hugh Howerton, or Jerry Spicer. You may also leave a message on the web at HYPERLINK ""

Eugene G Tucker
(SGT E-5) Retired MSG
25th Infantry Division LRRP’s 1966