|LZ Geronimo on July 2, 1967|
Another View of the Road to Disaster
by Jerry Prater
with Cliff Veazie and Doc Jimmy Aguirre
JULY 4, 1967 — The First Platoon of Company A, 1/8 Cav., was working out of LZ Geronimo during the first week of July 1967. Lt. Pape had just completed his tour of duty as our Platoon Leader and was reassigned to other duties in the Battalion. “A,” “B” and “D” Companies had been involved in a fierce firefight in Túy An (1), an uninhabited village located at coordinates 865134, on July 2. As a result of this fire fight, two enlisted men in the First Platoon were killed and three others received wounds requiring them to be medevaced. Lt. John M. Rooney was assigned as the new Platoon Leader and reported to the First Platoon on July 3.
We were told on July 4 that our platoon would be providing security for two tanks that had been involved in the July 2 firefight as they returned to their base. They were to travel southeast on a dirt road for a distance of approximately 4 klicks until we got to Highway 1, which was located close to the South China Sea. We left LZ Geronimo and met up with the tanks, and we all got on the tanks because the trip would be much faster if we rode rather than walked. My first reaction when I got on the tank was the terrific heat. The sky was clear and the sun was beating down on us, as well as the steel on the tank, and the exhaust from the engine added to the already intense heat.
The ride over the dirt road was very uneventful, and we arrived at the destination at which our security ended without any incident. We got off the tanks and formed up for the hump back to LZ Geronimo, and our route on the return trip took us on the same dirt road we had just traveled while we provided security for the tanks.
My squad was the lead squad, and Cliff Veazie was walking point. We walked on the dirt road for a time without encountering any obstacles. However, the one thing that concerned all of us was the intense heat. The trip out was very hot, but it didn’t wear on us very badly because it was in the morning and we were riding on the tanks instead of walking. But, now we were walking back in the heat of the afternoon and carrying a very heavy load of ammo, water, and other items in our ruck sack. There was no relief from the heat because there were no clouds in the sky, and no shade on the road. We were all sweating profusely, and it was affecting our ability to effectively concentrate on what we were doing, and our ability to recognize signs of danger. We just wanted to get back to the LZ so we could take our shirt off and douse ourselves with water.
Then someone mentioned to me that Lt. Rooney had received a message on the radio that a helicopter pilot had noticed a Vietnamese man possibly digging in the road. The message also indicated that the man went into the foliage on the side of the road when he spotted the chopper. As a result of the message, we were told to be alert and look for any signs of digging in the road for the possibility of a booby trap. Everybody seemed to be a little more alert as a result of the radio message.
At 1600 hrs., we continued on the road back to the LZ when, all of a sudden, we heard an explosion and someone in the platoon yelling out in pain as he fell to the ground. Everyone in the platoon froze, then we all hit the dirt because no one knew if someone stepped on a land mine, if someone was throwing grenades at us, or if we were receiving mortar fire. After the initial confusion, we realized that Private Davis had stepped on a booby trap and his foot and ankle had been blown off.
|Larry Nunn||Terry Johnson|
Lt. Rooney then decided that we should search on both sides of the road to see if any enemy elements were in the area. The area on both sides of the road had very heavy foliage, so enemy soldiers could hide and would be very difficult to locate. My squad was on the left side of the road, and we were slightly ahead and to the left of the place where Private Davis had stepped on the booby trap, which was either a concussion grenade or a small land mine. Lt. Rooney instructed Sgt. Sam Witcher, my Squad Leader, to take the squad and search the area on the left side of the road. Sgt. Witcher, Larry Nunn, Terry Johnson and myself started to climb an incline that was about five feet tall to search the area. Since all four of us were starting to climb in the same area, I looked around and noticed that about ten feet to my right was an area where the ground was relatively level. Since I’d rather walk on a flat surface than climb a steep five foot incline, I started walking to the flat area on the right. Sgt. Witcher grabbed my arm and told me to go climb the incline and he would search around the flat area. I went back and started to climb the incline and I glanced at Sgt. Witcher as he entered the foliage.
|Wall of Faces|
|Sgt. Samuel E. Witcher||Doc Jim Aguirre|
Just as I got to the top of the incline and took a few steps into the foliage, I heard a very loud explosion and the concussion threw me backwards with such force that I fell down the incline. I received shrapnel wounds in my chest and right leg, and I received several abrasions when I was knocked backwards down the incline. The concussion from the explosion also knocked Nunn and Johnson down the incline as well, and they also received minor shrapnel wounds and contusions. Someone yelled out asking what happened and I yelled back that Sgt. Witcher had stepped on a land mine. I knew it was Witcher because I would have been killed instead if he had not stopped me from going on the level spot.
Jimmy Aguirre was the Second Platoon medic but he accompanied us on this trip because Doc Gerrit Schouwburg, who had been our medic, was killed on June 24 and no replacement had yet been assigned to our platoon. After Doc Aguirre heard the explosion, he saw something that resembled a rag doll thrown 10-15 feet in the air. After hearing me yell that Sgt. Witcher had stepped on a land mine, he started moving very cautiously from his position close to the rear of the formation to the area just off the road where Witcher’s body had landed. Doc Aguirre found the body motionless and lying face down on top of a large rock. Both of his legs, half of his buttocks, and other body parts had been blown away. Nunn, myself and one other person who was relatively new to the platoon had to gather up Sgt. Witcher’s body parts and put them in a poncho half. Sgt. Witcher had stepped on a 105 artillery round with a trip wire attached and his body was blown into many pieces, and that was by far my dirtiest detail.
A chopper came out to medevac Davis and take Witcher’s body parts. Since we had three members of the platoon killed during the past two days and four others wounded so severely that they had to be medevaced for treatment, my wounds were treated by Doc Aguirre so I could remain with the very undermanned platoon. The remainder of the trip back to LZ Geronimo was very somber for me because all I could think about was how fortunate I was not to be killed by the land mine, and that I would have to endure actions similar to this for the next ten and one half months. That was a very frightening thought.
As a side note, I went to the VA Hospital in Dallas in 1982 to be tested for Agent Orange exposure before my wife and I made the decision on whether or not to start a family. The doctor informed me that there was no evidence that Agent Orange presented a health hazard to anyone who may have been exposed to the chemical. He also told me that I still had shrapnel in my chest, but I didn’t have to worry about it moving around and causing internal injuries because scar tissue had built up around them.
For a map of this patrol, see "The Odyssey of A Co., July 3-4, 1967."