The Day Roger Root Was Killed

by Jerry Prater, Jerome Church, Wayne Westenberger, and Michael Dyess

The 1st Platoon of Company A, 1/8 Cav. was on another search and destroy mission on Friday, August 21, 1967. We were patrolling in the Bong Son valley about 4 or 5 klicks west of the South China Sea and about 3 klicks east of LZ Santana.  At approximately 0820 hours, we approached a hamlet located at map coordinates 872121 that contained about five or six hooches. As the platoon was leaving the area with heavy foliage and entering into the clearing area of the hamlet, the squad that was at the head of the platoon consisted of Michael Dyess, Roger Root, Ronald Gunsaulas, Wayne Westenberger and Michael Washburn. I was in the squad that was immediately behind the point squad.

When the point squad entered the open area, they spread out, and Root and Gunsaulas noticed an opening in the ground that looked like a well. They approached the area and looked down in the opening. They saw an NVA soldier in uniform, who immediately moved away from the opening so he would be out of sight. My squad, and the remainder of the platoon was now making its way into the clearing, and the rest of the members of the platoon began spreading out and progressing cautiously as they approached the hamlet.

   
Ronald Gunsaulas and Larry Winslow   Larry Winslow and Roger Root in a Hamlet near the Sea

At 0824 hours, Root and Gunsaulas noticed a structure that had the appearance of the entrance to a pagoda, and a few wooden steps that lead to what appeared to be a door to a cellar was at the front of the structure. Both went toward the steps and they opened the door. A burst of gunfire came out of the door opening, and Root took three rounds in his chest. Gunsaulas fired a few rounds into the opening before he was shot in the leg. Root began staggering to the right of the structure and fell down after moving about 15 feet. Someone in the platoon yelled out “There’s a gook, shoot him up.” Both Wayne Westenberger and I yelled out a couple of times “No, don’t shoot, it’s Root.”

   
Richard Dieterle, Roger Root, Wayne Westenberger, "Truck" Schmidt   Ronald Gunsaulas

After Root fell to the ground, Westenberger yelled “Medic,” moved forward, grabbed Root, and dragged him from the open area to some cover underneath a tree. As Westenberger got him to the area of cover, he was holding Root’s head and shoulders in his arms. Root looked up and said, “Wayne, I’m dying,” and he died about 15 seconds after that. Westenberger looked over at Gunsaulas, who had moved to the back and left of the door, and shook his head, indicating that Root had died. Our medic, Doc Ferguson and I arrived at the place where Root lay at about the same time. Doc Ferguson examined Root and, after he discovered that he had died, he punched his medical bag with fist and uttered a comment which indicated that he was very upset. I then knew that Root had died. Richard Waller, the RTO for Lt. Church, called for a medevac to take Gunsaulas to the hospital and remove the body of Root.

Lt. Jerome Church, our Platoon Leader, called Captain Henderson, the commanding officer of Company A, and informed him of the events. Captain Henderson informed Lt. Church that a tank was in the area and it could be sent to our platoon if he wanted to use it. Lt. Church requested the tank, and it arrived at the hamlet within 15 minutes. After the tank arrived and was in position, Lt. Church told all the squad leaders to move their men to positions of safety. My squad moved to the area immediately to the right of Lt. Church. Lt. Church then called Sgt. Yelland, who was on the opposite side of the hamlet, and asked if everyone was cleared from that area. After receiving assurance that the area was clear, Lt. Church instructed the tank commander to fire into the ground in the area where the shots had been fired. The tank fired three rounds into the ground. After the third round exploded on the ground, I saw a deformed body fly approximately 15 to 20 feet into the air and fall back to the ground. That apparently was the NVA soldier who was in the tunnel, and the one who killed Root and wounded Gunsaulas. A short time later, the tank left our position and returned to its previous location.

After these events, it was the opinion of many in the platoon that tunnels had been cut below the hamlet, and they had been used as a medical station for wounded VC and NVA in the area. After the tank had destroyed the tunnel, a couple members of the platoon indicated that they had seen what appeared to be remnants of medical supplies in the exploded area. As a result, the platoon had a zippo raid on the hamlet by setting fire to the all the hooches. This was the one and only time while I was with the platoon that we set fire to a village or hamlet.

     
Lt. Church (Left) and Capt. Henderson   The Bulldozer Plowing Up the Hospital     Lt. Church and Michael Dyess

After we began burning the village, Lt. Church was advised by Captain Henderson that a dozer was close by and could be sent to dig up and close up the tunnel.  The dozer arrived at the hamlet within 20 minutes and began dozing the area from where the shots were fired.  During this process, the blade of the dozer hit and opened a barrel of coconut oil that was used as anesthesia when enemy soldiers were being treated for their wounds.  When the barrel was hit, the oil sprayed out and a large amount landed on Michael Dyess.  The coconut oil confirmed our belief that we had located and destroyed an enemy hospital.

The death of Roger Root was devastating to everyone in the platoon. Root was a very good guy that everybody liked, admired and respected. He was always upbeat, he was very friendly and helpful to everyone, and he pulled his duty to the best of his ability. I remember him humping through the heavy foliage, up and down the mountains, and slouching through the watered down rice patties with a temperature of 101 degrees. He wouldn’t go to LZ English and receive medical attention until he was ordered to by the Platoon Lieutenant. In addition, he demanded to be treated by our medic in the field when he had a very bad case of boils. Not only our platoon, but the U. S. Army and the entirety of mankind lost a tremendous human being on August 21, 1967, the day that Roger Dale Root died in a small hamlet in the area of Bồng Sơn, the Republic of Vietnam.

   
Westenberger, Washburn, and Root   Root and Winslow in the An Lão Mountains

LZ Santana — for the LZ Santana area of operations, see "The Odyssey of 'A' Co., Base Map for LZ Santana (August 19 - September 5, 1967)," and for the events related in this account, see "The Odyssey of 'A' Co., August 21."