The Firefight of 2 July 1967 at Túy An (1)

I had just returned from the hospital to LZ English where I was told that the Company was in contact with an enemy force. I was going to proceed to the helipad, but was told not to leave. They told me that they had enough duties at English to justify my presence there, and that there was no point in getting anyone else killed. The next day, I spent some time cleaning the clotted blood off jammed M-16s. The one that I was cleaning with gasoline, said to be Salmieri's, had a ramrod jammed down its barrel and blood around the area of its chamber. They said that Salmieri and another guy had been found dead in a single foxhole, both killed by small arms fire. — Richard Dieterle

I was not involved in the fire fight of July 2. I remember that we were working out of LZ Geronimo and, on that particular day, we were either adding or repairing concertina wire in certain parts of the LZ. I remember that Salmieri and Hoeweler, both of whom were killed in the firefight, were a part of the group working on that project, and, at one point Salmieri was talking to and flirting with a Vietnamese girl who was about 18 years old. I then remember that we were informed that another Company had been hit and for us to saddle up and get ready to go join the firefight. Then, one of the squad leaders asked which of us were married, and I responded that I was married. I was then told to stay on the LZ and pull guard duty in case the NVA was going to attack a sparsely guarded LZ. At first light on the morning of July 3, about 3 or 4 of us boarded a chopper and were flown to the site of the firefight, and I was a part of the group that went through the area for a final sweep through the entire area. — Jerry Prater

Since this episode was first introduced, it has come to my attention that a member of the Second Platoon of our company had written a memoir of his time in Vietnam, April 1967 - 68. He has a firsthand account of his experiences in this fight, which I reproduce here.1

"[161] Twenty minutes later, the platoon halted briefly while Lt. Welton [a pseudonym for Lt. Ashenbrenner] was conversing on the radio. ... A minute later, Lt. [Ashenbrenner] passed the news back down the line. Another company needed our help. We would be going back to assist them in a firefight. This meant we would have to backtrack the six kilometers we just came. Then we would proceed three more kilometers in the opposite direction from the LZ we had left [LZ Geronimo]. Immediately, we turned around to rush back across the foothills and through the rice paddies. ...

The sun was now shining brilliantly overhead. The sweat poured freely and my legs ached from walking. ... There was no stopping; no rest break was forthcoming. The other company was in desperate need of our help. The lieutenant said there would be no rest for us while others were dying. As fast as our legs could carry us just short of running, we continued the pace over the dikes of the paddies. An hour later we were passing by the LZ from where we had come. ... My fatigue was growing unbearable also. A hernia was developing in my [162] groin and was beginning to pain me while walking. I longed for just one minute to stop and rest. Increasingly, I found myself wishing that we would hurry and reach the battleground. There, maybe I could find one minute to rest. The possibility of getting killed once we reached the battle weighed heavily on my mind, but the overriding desire to find relief from the my fatigue momentarily shoved aside the fear of dying. I just wanted to hurry and get thee. Maybe then, there would be at least one minute to rest.

Onward across the paddies we proceeded. Two of my canteens were empty as I attempted to assuage my thirst under the baking heat of the sun. Soon the sound of heavy firing could be heard as we neared the battle. Delta Company was engaged in a struggle with a battalion of the North Vietnamese Army. Being informed of this I cringed to think of the odds against us. This would be no petty skirmish. We were approaching what could be my biggest encounter yet.

Coming closer now to the forested village, we no longer walked at a fast pace — we ran. As the bullets whined past us, we sped from the rice paddies to find refuge inside the tree line firing back into the North Vietnamese's positions as we ran. Finding the first row of trees, we halted and sheltered ourselves behind them while the platoon leader received further instructions by radio from the battalion headquarters.

Delta Company had been pinned down by the N.V.A. While the platoon would assault the enemy's position from the flank, Delta Company could extract themselves and move to a better strategic position to encircle the North Vietnamese. Still crouched behind the trees, we waited until the plans were finalized. In the meantime, I was thankful for the rest for which I had so desperately yearned.

The break didn't last long. On command from the lieutenant, we resumed firing into the direction of the enemy, simultaneously bounding from behind the trees to push forward through the village. A volley of lead poured from the N.V.A. and sent us scattering for cover. Two the the troops were caught in the shower of fire and fell to the ground.

[163] Running with all the strength I could find, I crouched through the flying lead and headed for a hole that had been dug earlier. With my selector switch set on semiautomatic, I returned the fire to the N.V.A., emptying a full magazine of ammo as I ran.

As others found a hole to dive into or a tree to hide behind, the firing subsided for the moment as both sides regrouped. A helicopter was called to retrieve the two who had gotten hit by the initial exchange. For the next few minutes, we waited until Delta Company made its next move.

The medivac wasted no time in getting there. Having received word over the radio that he was inbound, a couple of the rear troops hurried to the men still lying farther behind us and dragged them to the waiting chopper. Just as the medivac lifted off the ground and became airborne again, the N.V.A. fired several round toward the chopper. Immediately responding to the enemy fire, we showered their position with another magazine of ammunition as the medivac quickly made its exit.

From across the fields of rice, a tank came rumbling along toward our platoon. "Big Bertha" (the name painted on the long gun barrel) noisily rolled along, its tracks flattening the dikes as it went. Hurriedly, the tracks clambered over the fields and brought the tank alongside of my position.  Its long barrel was tilted downward and pointed towards the enemy. Feeling a new sense of reassurance, I was glad to be near the tank. If there had been a mass assault planned by the enemy, this monster should give them a second thought.

Minutes later, there came the sound of heavy firing again as the N.V.A. apparently were engaging Delta Company. The noise of battle grew more intensely as we waited for the next several minutes. Then suddenly without warning, the barrel on the tank swivelled slightly to one side. With a thundering blast from the tank, a shell was fired into the N.V.A.'s area. Again, another deafening blast came from the long-barreled gun as I cupped my hands over my ears in anticipation of yet another round.

As the battle continued with Delta Company on the far side, the tank rolled forward. Being ordered to stay with the tank, we [164] ran ahead on line with the steel monster. The N.V.A., although still stubbornly resisting, seemed to be withdrawing slowly from the platoon. Luckily, there were more foxholes available which had been previously dug by the opposing side.

Finding one just in time, I quickly dived for cover a the firing resumed from  the enemy. The rest of the platoon had sporadically located others holes. Like myself, they were now hugging the ground for dear life. With no letup, the N.V.A. fire came in a steady stream, pouring a solid wall of lead into our position. Tracers by the hundreds zipped barely overhead as I held my head beneath the level of the ground. No return fire answered the enemy from the platoon. Everyone buried themselves in their foxholes or behind the embankments and the N.V.A. continued unabated with their murderous rounds. We were clearly on the defensive.

For several minutes longer the barrage continued while the automatic weapons from the N.V.A. pounded us without a challenge. Then the tank suddenly came to life again. With an earthshaking boom, the tank shelled the enemy with several rounds in succession, crisscrossing the N.V.A.'s position with each exploding shell. Then for the next few minutes all was quit.

Meanwhile, more of the GI's had been hit by the enemy fire. A chopper was on its way to evacuate the dead and wounded. Waiting during the lull, I kept my vigilance over the berm in front of my position. Suddenly, to the left of the tank, two troops from another platoon made a dash across a narrow clearing to proceed closer to the enemy lines. At the same time, the tank swivelled its gun barrel quickly in the direction of the troops. With a single blast, the tank fired a shell toward the running men, causing a thunderous explosion in the area to which the men had run.

"Hey, did you see that?" I shouted to the fellows next to me.

"No, what happened?" they asked.

"That tank fired right into two of the men from the other platoon. That gunner may have intended to fire over their heads at the N.V.A., but I believe he got those two men."

[165] Again the guns from the North Vietnamese resumed their intensity. The air became saturated with the wall of burning tracers. Peeping over the hole, I joined the others in pumping several magazines of ammo back toward the enemy. The medivac in the meantime had reached the battlegrounds, but the pilot adamantly refused to land near the battle. He insisted instead that the casualties be brought out to the rice field.

"We can't get back to the rice field!" Sgt. Hanson shouted over the radio. "It's too far back and we can't move! We've got a lot of casualties, so get that chopper in here!"

"Have the casualties ready," the pilot of another medivac calmly broke in. "I'm coming in, but it'll only be for a moment."

From over the treetops, the medivac was preceded by two A.R.A.'s (aerial rocket assault helicopters.). Swiftly coming toward the N.V.A. positions, the first chopper nose-dived toward the ground. A volley of rockets spouted from the launching tubes and whistled toward the enemy. A second and third round of rockets hissed from the chopper and pounded the enemy.

Following the A.R.A., the medivac came rushing in to evacuate the casualties. With engines still revved for a swift takeoff, the dead and wounded were hurriedly shoved aboard. Among the dead was Lt. [Ashenbrenner], who had been hit during the initial assault by the N.V.A.

As the medivac began its ascent, the second A.R.A. blasted the enemy's position with several rounds of rockets. Coming out of its nosedive, it circled around again to repeatedly blast the enemy with several more missiles.

Immediately, as the attack choppers left the area, the enemy fire resumed. Two other platoons in our company had inched forward to join us in an attempt to bottle up the North Vietnamese. As they crept forward, the enemy guns opened up, hitting several of the troops as they came. Seeing the movement beyond the tree line we were facing, I fired a magazine of ammo toward the suspected enemy position. A hail  of bullets answered mine as the opposing force concentrated their firepower toward others [166] and me in the platoon. Quickly changing magazines while hidden down in the hole, I raised by head again to eye level with the ground to see figures on the other side moving frantically to another location. Keeping a low silhouette, I sprayed round after round toward the running enemy. Seeing the ensuing action, the soldier next to me simultaneously pumped a dozen rounds toward the enemy.  Following suit, the platoons laid down a continuous stream of fire for the next few seconds.

Already, it was past mid-afternoon, but the heat of the midday sun still lingered. Sweating profusely, I wished for a drink of water to satisfy my increasing thirst. But I didn't dare risk a moment to be off guard. The firing could result at anytime and I wanted to be ready when it came. But for now, it was a pleasure just to relax during the lull.

Minutes later, as if on cue, the bombardment of both sides resumed with intensity. The A.R.A.'s returned for another pounding of the North Vietnamese and then was followed by a Chinook that spurted out several hundred small explosive rounds. Each made three or four passes over the enemy-held territory before leaving. While the enemy was being beaten from the air, we fired more rounds into the thicket of trees toward them to keep them pinned down.

But the N.V.A. were still not beaten. Stubbornly, they fought on. Machine gun fire erupted again from the trees. In the same instant, we answered it with another magazine of ammunition. Then the gun was quieted.

A moment later, Sgt. Hanson received orders for our  platoon to advance closer toward the enemy. Shouting for us to move, Hanson pushed us forward as we sprang from our holes, but not before three others caught a bullet from the enemy guns. Again as we hastily found cover behind some trees, the N.V.A. unmercifully saturated our position with thousands of rounds of lead. I pulled myself into a knotted ball behind a large tree, praying the enemy couldn't see me. However, the bullets whined around me, each round seemingly coming closer than the one before. The rounds continued; the enemy battalion was making [167] a desperate stand. The lead came so heavy from the opposite side there was little chance to fire back.

"We're moving out!" Sgt. Hanson shouted down the line over the noise of the battle. "Get ready to run!"

In vain, I tried to see where Sgt. Hanson was located. I couldn't move without being hit. The bullets were chipping the bark from the tree which I was crouched behind. My fear turned to worry. Couldn't Sgt. Hanson see we were pinned down? Were the others going to make a suicidal attempt at moving under this hailstorm? I didn't plan to move; I would stay put. But, please Lord, I prayed, don't leave me by myself.

As if to answer that quick prayer, the whining of jet engines suddenly thundered over the noise of the firing. I looked up to see the bomber just in time as it swiftly descended into a diving position to release its load of bombs. Within seconds, it disappeared, only to return on another bombing run. Coming in at a descending angle this time, it zeroed in on the N.V.A. Several more bombs were unleashed. The ground vibrated with the explosions as small tree trunks and debris went flying through the air.

Without further waiting, we leaped from the safety of the trees to sweep over the enemy positions. Delta Company had closed in on the rear of the N.V.A. and destroyed any remaining enemy troops. Only random shots of small arms fire came from the remaining force.  Quickly silencing these, we swept through the bombed out area. The bodies of the North Vietnamese lay scattered among the trees and trenches that had them so well fortified. Inside a stream bed that ran through what once had been a village, lay many other badly mauled bodies.

Searching the area further, we swept through the forested area for the next hour until nearly sunset. ... [168] The day was drawing to a close; the sun was setting over the horizon. Regrouping, the three platoons in our company found a clearing outside the forested area. For the night, the platoons would encamp there. Another day drew to a close without either a noon or evening meal and very little breakfast. One hundred percent guard was posted until midnight. After then, this was reduced to fifty percent. Not only did I have barely anything to eat, but scarcely any sleep likewise."

Buy this book: 1, 2.

What follows is the After Action Report.2

Commanding General
1st Air Cav Div
APO 96490
  Commanding Officer
1st Bde, 1st Cav Div
APO 96940
5 July
Per your request, attached narrative is submitted.
Major, Infantry
  Robert W. RisCassi, who later held the rank of Full General, and was the author of many innovative military doctrines

page 1

SUBJECT:  After Action Report

At approximately 1000 hours on [2] July, a platoon of A Company, 1-8 Cav with a platoon of tanks from A Company, 1-69th Armor and two bulldozers left LZ Geronimo to join D Company, 1-8 Cav at BS 8810. The platoon was to move down the west side of the valley crossing a stream at BS 865134 reconnoitering as they made their way toward D Company.

Shortly before noon the platoon reached the creek. The bulldozers spent approximately 20 minutes improving the crossing for the tanks. At this time no enemy activity had been noted.

After crossing the creek, personnel in khaki uniforms were noticed in the southern edge of the village of Tuy An (1). One tank and an infantry squad were left with the bulldozers at the crossing site and the remaining tanks and the platoon (-) deployed moving to the southern edge of the village to investigate the sighting. Upon approaching the hedgerow at the edge of the village, the platoon (-) receive a high volume of automatic weapons fire from enemy units defending along the hedgerow. The encounter was at close range with the infantry and tanks engaging the enemy with grenades, small arms, and the tanks’ major caliber weapons, with only the hedgerow separating the forces. The enemy forces along the hedgerow broke and retreated into the village with the infantry and tanks firing as they retreated. During this initial encounter the U.S. Forces sustained three (3) KIA and ten (10) WIA. Approximately twenty (20) enemy were killed. The encounter was brief and vicious, lasting approximately 20 minutes.

After the initial engagement, the tank-infantry team was moved through the open area to the east of the village to the northeastern edge of the village where the TF linked up with D Company, 1-8 Cav which had been moved from its location at BS 8810 to the northern part of the village. The remainder of A Company, 1-8 Cav was also moved by foot from LZ Geronimo to the northern part of the village. The movement of the tank-infantry team and the other two companies to the area of contact was support by 1-9 Cav weaponships, aerial rocket artillery (ARA), and tube artillery.

By approximately 1400 hours the U.S. forces on the contact area were disposed as shown on sketch map #1 [missing]. A tank refueling and ammo resupply point had been established at BS 869138. This area was also utilized as a medevac point. At this time another heavy section of tanks were en route to the contact area from LZ English.

During the afternoon, air strikes, ARA, gunships, Go-Go, and artillery were employed in the contact area. CS gas was also used to harass the enemy.

The main enemy force was concentrated in the area south of hill Zebra in the contact area. Some casualties were sustained by A and C Companies while attacking to seize the hill, which was used as the [... ?] for

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Lt. Aschenbrenner  

the tank-infantry attack on the main enemy positions. The company commander of A Company [First Lieutenant Dennis Dale Aschenbrenner] was killed in this area.

The village itself was not inhabited, however it did contain a well developed trench system, spider holes, and numerous heavily constructed bunkers. The terrain was rolling and contained three different levels sloping down from hill Zebra to the north. There are many large rock formations throughout the area, which inhibited the tank movement and limited their operation to the southern half of the village. Many small fighting tunnels had been constructed by the NVA, which were dug into the southern slope of hill Zebra. Although the U.S. forces were attacking downhill, and advancing on many occasions after taking out bunkers to their front, they had to turn and fight the tunnels to their rear.

At 1630 hours CS gas was employed by helicopter and a coordinated tank-infantry attack was launched with A Company on the west and D Company on the east. The attack with the tanks leading progressed well for about 15 minutes. Approximately 1645 hours the tanks went through a heavily fortified bunker complex on the western side of the village. The tanks believed they had eliminated resistance in the area. However, as the infantry approached, it developed that the enemy had let the tanks pass and were fighting from a well developed strong point. This stopped the attack for about an hour as the tanks and infantry destroyed the strong point. At 1800 hours the attack was resumed and by 1900 hours had progressed to the southern end of the village and all enemy resistance had been overcome. The area was then traversed form south to north a second time to reconfirm the elimination of the enemy force.

At this time fifty-four (54) enemy bodies had been counted and thirteen (13) weapons, including three (3) machine guns, had been recovered.

At 1815 hours B Company, 1-8 Cav was air assaulted to block egress routes to the south. See sketch map #2 [missing].

Night dispositions to block the escape of stragglers from the area are shown at sketch map #3 [missing].

Search of the contact area on 3 and 4 July resulted in the finding of many packs and other items of equipment, 5 additional weapons including a machine gun, a pistol, and documents indicating the NVA unit had been elements of the 8th Bn, 22d Regt. Also 32 more enemy bodies were discovered in bunkers and long the creek. Three local VC prisoners were found in a hole and stated that the NVA unit had moved into the area the night of 1 July, however, the area had been stocked with ammunition several nights before.

The total enemy casualties were 86 NVA KIA and 3 VC POW. Total U.S. casualties were 15 KIA and 39 WIA.

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Annex A

Artillery in support of contact at Tuy An (1)

  1. Requested Missions:
105   155
168 68 4 8   104 12 4 4
  2. Blocking Fires and Routes of Egress:
105   155
325 20 0 2   27 3 0 1
  3. Special Interdiction:
105   155
226 0 0 0   404 0 0 0
  4. Total by Type:
105   155
226 88 4 10   535 15 4 5
Total 105 Rds:  821 Total 155 Rds:  559        
Total Rds Fired:  1380            

1 Richard E. Flanders, Lord, Send an Earthquake! (Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2003) 161-168.

2 The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University, Bud Harton Collection, ARMY 1967 1ST BN 8TH CAV AAR JULY, Folder 01, 05 July 1967, Item 168300010165

See also the Daily Staff Journal for 2 July 1967. 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Division Association Collection, Daily Staff Journals, 1965-1969; Virtual Vietnam Archives, Texas Tech University, Collection 369, Daily Staff Journals 1965-1969, 3690120003.

"Tuy An (1)" – for a map of the region, see Túy An (1) in Relation to LZ Geronimo. For the highly abbreviated DSJ account of this battle, see the map for 2 July 1967 in the "Odyssey" series.

"Hill Zebra" — this hill is not indicated as such on any map, and probably represents an informal name. Since there is only one hill to the north and west of Túy An (1) & (2), it must be the 320 meter summit at BS 846154. The center of its southward facing slopes is 853142, which are actually opposite Túy An (2) almost due south. See the map Túy An (1) in Relation to LZ Geronimo.