Michael Washburn’s Friendly Fire Incident

by Michael Washburn, Tom McAndrews, Jim Battcher, Dallas Owens,
Pat Skinner, Jerry Church, Wayne Westenberger, and Bruce Whitish

written by Jerry Prater

"Friendly fire" is the term given to incidents where a soldier is shot at, wounded or killed unintentionally by non-enemy personnel.  This can be the result of a soldier firing his individual weapon at another soldier, helicopters or tanks firing at soldiers, mortar or artillery rounds hitting friendly rather than enemy positions, and airplanes dropping bombs on friendly positions.  The key element in friendly fire is that it is unintentional, it is the result of a mistake or inaccurate firing of weapons.  Fragging is the term given to incidents where one soldier deliberately and intentionally fires at another soldier in an attempt to kill him.

Friendly fire incidents happen more often that non-combatants realize.  I (Jerry Prater) can distinctly remember three instances when I was fired at by guys in my platoon, and once by the South Vietnamese National Police during a cordon and search mission.  I also remember two other instances that almost resulted in my being the recipient of friendly fire, and I almost shot at a soldier who moved in front of me during a close quartered fire fight.

Wayne Westenberger
Washburn (Center), Flanked by Westenberger and Wimberly

Michael R. Washburn arrived in country during the first week of March 1967 and was assigned to the 1st Platoon of A Company 1/8 Cav on March 5.  On February 1, 1968, Michael was one of the most experienced member of the platoon, and had less than 30 days before he would return home to “The World.”  He was a very good soldier, showed leadership qualities, and was promoted up to a buck sergeant and earned a position as squad leader.  He was so highly regarded by his Platoon Leader and Company Commander that he was designated as the acting Platoon Sergeant on December 7, 1967 when Platoon Sergeant Reynolds was wounded during the Đai Đong fire fight.  Michael was a strong leader, and well liked and respected by everyone in the platoon who knew him.

Patrick Skinner
The Leadership of “A” Company, 1/8th Cavalry
LZ Sharon (?), Quảng Trị Provence, January, 1968

Kneeling (Center): Captain Tom McAndrews (CO); Standing (L. to R.): Lieutenants Wesley Moore (1st Platoon), Art Bond (F. O.), Dallas Owens (2nd Platoon), Jim Batch (XO), Gary Anderson (3rd Platoon), Pat Skinner (4th Platoon)

First Lieutenant Wesley Rice Moore, Jr. arrived in country and his tour of duty start date was December 3, 1967.  Moore was a First Lieutenant because he was 27 years old, and had approximately 8 years of experience in the army, with a combination of ROTC, reserve, and active duty service.  During conversations with other officers, 1Lt. Moore indicated that he was a school teacher while serving in the reserves, and his MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) was not light weapon infantry.  However, when he was called to active duty, his MOS was changed to infantry, and he had to go through infantry training schools. 

1Lt. Moore and 2Lt. Patrick Skinner were assigned to A Company and both were on the same chopper when they reported to Capt. Tom McAndrews on or about December 22, 1967.  1Lt. Moore replaced 2Lt. Jerry Church as the Platoon Leader of the 1st Platoon of A Company 1/8 Cav, and Lt. Church was transferred to Battalion S-2 (intelligence).  Lt. Skinner assumed the duties of Platoon Leader for the 4th Platoon replacing Sergeant Love, the acting Platoon Leader who resumed his duties as Platoon Sergeant.

Since 1Lt Moore had limited knowledge and training, and very little experience as an infantry officer, he had to rely on the knowledge and experience Sergeant Washburn had gained during his nine plus months of service in the 1st Platoon.  They got along very well and Sergeant Washburn spent a lot of time teaching 1Lt Moore the tactics used by the 1st Cavalry Division, which conflicted with most of the training Moore had received in his officer training schools.  Moore and Washburn did have disagreement over strategies and tactics based on the terrain, availability of fire support, and best use of and deployment of the platoon members.  Some disagreements would get a little heated, but it never had an adverse effect on their relationship or ability to work together. 

Michael Dyess   Wayne Westenberger
Lt. Col. Jenkins   Lt. Col. Christian Dubia

Captain Thomas McAndrews arrived in country in August 1967 and was originally assigned as Battalion S-2.  While serving in this capacity, Capt. McAndrews had many conversations with Sergeant Major Dave Wright of S-3 and Lt. Col Jenkins, the Battalion Commander, regarding tactics utilized by the 1st Cavalry Division, and other information that would assist him in his next assignment.  He completed his tour in Battalion S-3 and was assigned as the Company Commander of A Company in mid November 1967.

On January 22, 1968 elements of the 1st Cavalry Division were moved from the Binh Dinh Province in II Corp to the Quang Tri Province in I Corp.  Company A was moved from the central highlands to the far northern section of South Vietnam, approximately 20 miles south of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone).  Intelligence reports indicated that the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) had been moving a large number of forces into the Khe Sanh area, and elements of the 1st Cavalry Division were reassigned in order to assist and work with the Marine Corps, and to help counter the enemy buildup.  All units were on very high alert because the Division would be operating in the most dangerous area of South Vietnam.  The Battalion had several briefings regarding the changes to be made in the daily operations.  Such changes were that no VC (Viet Cong) would be in this AO (Area of Operation), they would be facing large numbers of the highly trained and highly equipped North Vietnamese Army that would be supported with artillery, rockets, mortars, and possibly tanks.  When possible, two companies would operate together to provide more fire power and better security.  OPs (Listening or Observation Posts) and ambush patrols were discouraged because of the possibility of them being overrun.  If an ambush patrol was to be set, it would consist of a full platoon.  And, all soldiers were advised not to automatically accept Vietnamese people who were friendly towards them to actually be friendlies.

Late in the month of January 1968, Lt. Col. Dubia, who had replaced Lt. Col. Jenkins as Battalion Commander, informed Captain McAndrews that he needed to begin developing plans to train his replacement.  Capt. McAndrews stated that he would like to choose between his more experienced Platoon Leaders, which were either 2Lt. Dallas Owens of the 2nd Platoon, 2Lt. Gary Anderson of the 3rd Platoon, or possibly 1Lt. Jim Battcher, the Company XO (Executive Officer).  Lt. Battcher had more time in country than any of the other officers, he had preceded Lt. Anderson as Platoon Leader of the 3rd Platoon, but his tour of duty would end about a month before that of Capt. McAndrews.  However, Lt. Col. Dubia insisted that Lt. Wesley Moore, the Platoon Leader of the 1st Platoon, be in line as the replacement because he outranked the other three Platoon Leaders.

Since the decision had been made that Lt. Moore would be the next Company Commander in April or May, Capt. McAndrews began developing a plan to train him in many of the areas in which his knowledge and experience was not up to standard.  Lt. Moore had been in the army longer and had a higher rank, but had less training and experience as an infantry officer than the other three Platoon Leaders.  He mentioned to other officers that he didn’t feel that he had sufficient training as an infantry officer, and that he didn’t feel comfortable as an infantry Platoon Leader.  However, his biggest deficiency was that he only had approximately 40 days of experience leading an infantry platoon in a combat zone and the application of tactics utilized by the 1st Cavalry Division. You can’t be taught or trained on how to have combat experience, you can only gain experience by performing duties and responsibilities in a combat area over a period of time.  This lack of experience caused him to lack confidence, be indecisive, slow to act, and he could be easily talked into changing his mind on how to handle situations. Knowing he was by far the least experienced, Lt. Moore was somewhat intimidated by Capt. McAndrews and the other Platoon Leaders.  However, Lt. Moore was very enthusiastic in the performance of his duties, and he tried very hard to do everything right.  He also tried very hard to fit in with the more experienced Platoon Leaders, and with Capt. McAndrews.

At 0906 hours on Thursday, February 1, 1968, A Company began moving north out of LZ Anne to begin their mission for the day.  A Company continued moving in a northerly direction and the 1st Platoon was airlifted from map coordinates 297406 (16.634295, 107.158591) and arrived at map coordinates 292462 (16.688829, 107.143442) at 1450 hours.  The other three platoons of A Company arrived at the same location at 1535 hours.  At approximately 1930 hours the 1st and 4th Platoons set up for the evening at map coordinates 289460 and the 2nd and 3rd Platoons set up at 279469 (16.696677, 107.133688).

Capt. McAndrews called a Platoon leaders meeting, and all four Platoon Leaders were in attendance.  Before the meeting began, Capt. McAndrews told Lt. Moore to show him the perimeter of his platoon when he was familiar with the locations of all his positions.  At this meeting, situation knowledge was shared, including any activity in the area.  Capt. McAndrews provided the frag o (fragmentary orders) which were verbal orders that included the order of march by platoon, and the general mission for the following day. 

After the meeting ended, Lt. Moore approached Capt. McAndrews and said something to the effect “let me show you our positions.” One of the first responsibilities Capt. McAndrews had planned to train Lt. Moore on was how to check the perimeter each evening to make certain that proper spacing existed between platoons, check each Platoon Leader’s spacing between foxholes, and that each position was set up to provide the best field of fire.  Other items to be checked were setting up of trip flares and claymore mines, as well as the location of the OP and ambush patrol.

When the Platoon Leaders meeting ended, it was dusk with poor visibility but not dark, and there was some light fog because of bad weather earlier in the day.  Lt. Moore was leading Capt. McAndrews around the perimeter to show him how all the positions were set.  Since the visibility was very poor, Lt. Moore inadvertently led Capt. McAndrews about 15-20 meters outside the perimeter, and they stopped in front of the area where Sergeant Michael Washburn was positioned.  Lt. Moore was facing the perimeter and started talking to Capt. McAndrews, who was facing Lt. Moore.  Sergeant Washburn heard the noise outside the perimeter and fired a burst of 2 to 4 rounds in the direction of the sound.  One of the rounds hit Lt. Moore in the chest and it exited through his back.  As Capt. McAndrews began to fall to the ground, Sergeant Washburn fired another burst of 2 to 4 rounds, and one of the rounds hit Capt. McAndrews in his left leg.  The round entered on the left side of his thigh, exited through the right side, then grazed his right leg.  After they fell to the ground, Lt. Moore was gasping for air because he was having trouble breathing.  Capt. McAndrews was holding his head and torso in his arms, and Moore asked “what happened?”  A minute or so later Lt. Moore died.

Capt. McAndrews had yelled out for help and a couple of soldiers moved outside the perimeter to see who had called for assistance.  After he realized that the noise outside the perimeter that caused him to fire was made by Capt. McAndrews and Lt. Moore, Sergeant Washburn was extremely upset and very remorseful that the incident had happened.

Tom McAndrews and Michael Washburn
Colorado Springs, Colorado, 3-7 October 2018

At 1950 hours (7:50 p.m.) a radio message was sent requesting a medevac for “A Co 16,” the designation to identify the Platoon Leader of the 1st Platoon, and “ACo CO,” the designation for the Company Commander of A Company.  As he was waiting for the chopper, Capt. McAndrews told Bruce Whitish, his RTO, to radio the Battalion headquarters and relay the message that he did not want to know who fired the shots, and that the soldier did nothing wrong, he did exactly what he had been trained to do when noises were heard outside the perimeter. The medevac request was cancelled at 2005 hours (8:05 p.m.) because Lt. Moore had died as a result of the chest wound. 

Another call for a medevac was made at 2115 (9:15 p.m.) because Capt. McAndrews had lost a lot of blood and had spells where he would pass out briefly.  He, and the body of Lt.. Moore were picked up by helicopter 15 minutes later and medevaced to Camp Evans.  Capt. McAndrews was taken to the medical unit so the doctors could treat his wound, and the body of Lt. Moore was delivered to graves registration, where Lt. James Battcher, the Company XO, identified the body. 

Major Burba, the Battalion S-3 (Operations), then told Lt. Battcher that he was to assume the duties of Company Commander of A Company on a temporary basis until Capt. McAndrews was able to return, or until he was replaced.  Lt. Battcher asked when he was to join the Company, and Major Burba told him that the chopper was warming up for him now!  However, for safety reasons, the 1st Cavalry Division did not allow helicopters to fly at night unless it was to medevac wounded soldiers, or for other emergence reasons.  Battalion Headquarters radioed 2Lt. Skinner and advised him that he was in charge of A Company for that night.  Lt. Battcher spoke with Capt. McAndrews and was given a quick briefing of the current operations of A Company, then flew out the next morning to take command of the company.  Due to the seriousness of the wound, Capt. McAndrews was shipped to the hospital in Cam Ranh Bay where he received treatment and rehabilitation for approximately 3 weeks.  2Lt. Skinner assumed the duties as Platoon Leader of the 1st Platoon, while maintaining his position as Platoon Leader of the 4th Platoon.  He remained in charge of both Platoons until he was wounded in the fire fight of March 25, 1968.  After recovering from his wounds, Lt. Skinner replaced Lt. Battcher as Company XO in June when he went home.

All incidents of friendly fire where a soldier is seriously wounded or killed are reviewed by Battalion Headquarters to determine what happened, as well how it happened, and most important of all, if it was an accident or intentional.  Such an investigation is mandatory, and taken very seriously, when an officer is the victim of a friendly fire incident.  Approximately four or five days after the incident, the 1st platoon was temporarily on LZ Pedro and an officer from Battalion Headquarters was airlifted by chopper to the location so he could interview Sergeant Washburn. After the interview was completed, the decision was made that Sergeant Washburn acted correctly and no further review was necessary, especially since the entire Division was on High Alert because of the Tet offensive. 

While Capt. McAndrews was in the hospital, the doctors placed a breeding tube that went from the left to the right side of his thigh.  This rubber tube, which covered the path the bullet traveled through his thigh, was to keep the inside of the leg open so the wound would remain clean, prevent infection, allow the internal healing, and allow the regrowth of tissue.  The doctor told Capt. McAndrews that he was very lucky because, if the bullet was about ¼ inch lower, he would have lost his leg. 

©Don Ferguson
Don Ferguson

Capt. McAndrews’ was released from the hospital in the Cam Ranh Bay Convalescence Center at the end of February and assumed his position as Company Commander and Lt. Battcher returned to his duties as Company XO.  His wound had not totally healed, and Don “Doc” Ferguson had to frequently change the bandages and apply medication to the leg to facilitate the healing process, and prevent it from getting infected.  These treatments had to be performed by an experienced and highly trained medic, which Doc Ferguson was, because of the breeding tube.

Capt. McAndrews continued to serve as Company Commander of A Company until the end of May when he was replaced by Capt. Daniel Dixon.  He was then assigned as Company Commander of Battalion Headquarters Company for a short time, then he was assigned as Brigade S-2 until his tour of duty ended and he returned home in August 1968.

The body of 1Lt Moore was shipped home and then buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. 

Kevan Mynderup
LZ Anne, 1968

LZ Anne — located at the summit (275 meters) of Dông Ông Dô at coördinates 16.632957, 107.148606, which is 289402 on our military map in the "Odyssey" collection.

"map coordinates 289460"this area today has been reconfigured, with the course of the river altered by a dam which has created an immense reservoir which is augmented by an artificial channel that takes water due east. Nevertheless, the original contours of the old river channel are plain to see, with the site of action at 289460 still evident at coördinates 16.687257, 107.142387 about 1 km. southwest of Tân Lệ Village.

C 228 Aviation
Camp Evans

Camp Evans — shown on the Odyssey map at 540320 (16.562775, 107.380725). See also Camp Evans and LZ Sharon.

Cam Ranh Bay Convalescence Center

Cam Ranh Bay | Cam Ranh Bay Convalescence Center — for the location of Cam Ranh, see Indochina, Air Fields (12th parallel), South Vietnam, USAF Air Bases. The runway is located at 12.006637, 109.217154.