LZ Willie Remembered
by Jerry Prater
|A Bunker on LZ Willie|
On September 21, 1967, the 1st platoon of A Company left at 0945 on a search and destroy mission, moving from map coordinate 748997 and ending at 747002. The platoon was air lifted from that location at 1638 and arrived at LZ Willie, map coordinates 783961, at 1641. The 4th platoon was also transported to LZ Willie and both platoons were assigned the duty to modify and secure the LZ because A Company had plans for an operation in that area.
Willie was a small LZ manned by two platoons who provided security inside the perimeter, and a few noncombatants. Additional security was provided by a quad 50 machine gun and a duster with its four-man crew. No artillery or mortars were positioned in the LZ.
Lieutenant Jerry Church, the platoon leader of the 1st platoon, was informed at 1715 on September 22 that A Company would be responsible for bridge security at Willie Bridge, map coordinates 803969. Security was necessary because a new wooden bridge was being constructed to replace a concrete bridge that was old and cracked, making it very hazardous to use. A reinforced squad from the 4th platoon and a duster made their way to the bridge. At 1830 A Company was informed that the 1/9 advised they received information that the bridge was a VC target. Unfortunately, this information was not disseminated to Lt. Church.
The 1st and 4th platoons spent the 23rd and 24th working on LZ Willie with little to no activity outside the perimeter. As a result, each squad was able to take a bath in the river stream adjacent to the LZ, half the squad would bathe while the other half guarded. At 1455 on September 23 a Vietnamese woman and her 5 children walked to the perimeter and stated that she, her husband and children had been held prisoner by the VC. She also advised that the VC killed her husband on September 22.
I have been a big fan of The University of Texas since I was 11 years old, and Texas traveled to Los Angeles to play a football game against the University of Southern California on Saturday, September 23. As I was walking from one location to another on the LZ I overheard an AFRN radio that was giving a delayed broadcast of a football game. I stopped and listened and was excited to hear that it was the Texas - Southern Cal game! Unfortunately, I was only able to listen for a few minutes. As it turned out, USC beat Texas 17-13, primarily because a junior running back who had transferred from a junior college and playing his first game for USC, rushed for 160 yards and scored one touchdown. That player became famous for a variety of reasons, his name was O. J. Simpson.
|Richard Dieterle||Wayne Westenberger|
|Jerry Prater, Dale Heath, and Joe Washington, August 1967||Willie Bridge, the Wooden Span|
I was one of the nine members of my platoon who were assigned to bridge security on September 24, which also included the duster and it’s four-man crew. We arrived at the bridge at 1917 and I was one of the four soldiers on the new, wooden bridge. I wanted to pull the first guard duty but Dale Heath, the machine gunner and my squad leader, took it instead. I was awakened at 2220 with the sound of a Claymore mine exploding then a very heavy volume of AK-47 automatic gunshots, and seconds later the duster was put out of commission by a B-40 rocket. Approximately 20 NVA soldiers had worked their way down a dry stream bed and were directly beneath the concrete bridge when they were detected. Within the first ten minutes, our radio was destroyed, two members of my platoon were killed and five were wounded, all of which were on the old bridge. A few minutes later Heath was wounded and I moved to him and administered first aid, leaving only three of us to defend the bridges. We could get no artillery or mortar support because the enemy soldiers were within ten feet of our positions. The attack had been repelled and the gun fire was sporadic when Lt. Colonel Jenkins, the Battalion Commander, arrived at the bridge at 2259. His chopper landed just off the bridge and took off as soon as he exited. Col. Jenkins brought a radio with him and we were finally able to communicate our situation.
A couple of days later, General John J. Tolson, Commanding General of the 1st Cavalry Division, arrived by chopper at LZ Willie. He made impact awards of the Distinguished Service Cross to Colonel Jenkins and Silver Stars to Robert Cerney, one of the three soldiers that was on the wooden bridge with me, and some Captain that none of us ever saw at the bridge. General Tolson also commented that other members of the security team would receive medals. A few weeks later a Sergeant told me that I had been awarded a Bronze Star with “V” devise, but with no pomp or ceremony!
The next day the 1st platoon was sent on a mission that took over six hours to complete. This was a very tiring mission, and we had to walk up a steep hill just before arriving back at the LZ. All I could think about during the last 30 or so minutes was how badly I wanted to get inside my bunker and out of the hot sun so I could take off my harness, my sweat soaked shirt and my boots. I really wanted to drink a lot of water, and just lay down for a while so I could recuperate from the mission.
When I arrived at my bunker and started shedding my clothes, I noticed that a Donut Dolly, a Red Cross girl about 20 years old, was sitting in my bunker! My first thought was “what in the hell is she doing here and how fast can I get her to leave?” I’m certain she knew she wasn’t welcome because of the expression on my face. I was very irritated and angry because she was keeping me from resting. And, besides that, I was a married man!! She left my bunker within a couple of minutes after my arrival. Due to a transportation SNAFU, the Donut Dollies were not able to return to their base of operation when scheduled. A chopper was sent to remove them just as it was getting dark…. nobody wanted them to spend the night on an LZ with a bunch of guys who hadn’t seen an American girl in several months!
On the evening of the 27th A Company requested a dozer be transported the next day to make improvements to the LZ, and to destroy the old bunkers. As this work was being done on the 28th, the Battalion S-3 stated that the quad 50 would be removed from the LZ. In preparation for its removal, a shipping harness was placed below and around the quad 50. I was selected to connect the cable from the chopper to the harness. As a chinook was arriving at the LZ, I put on my face mask and climbed on top of the quad 50. While the chopper was hovering, I struggled to grab the cable so I could connect it to the harness. The blades from the Chinook were throwing dirt all over the area, which made it hard for me to see what I was doing. Also, the wind currents caused by the two blades made it very difficult for me to keep my balance, and I almost fell off the top of the quad 50 a couple of times. I was finally able to connect the cable to the harness and the quad 50 was taken away.
The operation planned by A Company in the area was canceled and, after we destroyed all the sand bags, the 1st platoon and all the other soldiers left the LZ. An entry was made at 1750 on the Daily Staff Journal dated September 30 “LZ WILLIE is clear of all US personnel”.
LZ Willie — LZ Willie, LZ Willie - My Duc
LZ English — see, Bồng Sơn, LZ English, LZ Two Bits, and Bồng Sơn, the An Lão Valley, and Tam Quan.
For maps showing the full scope of activities during this period, see in the "Odyssey" series: 13-14 August 1967 and 15 August 1967.
For a map of LZ Sandra in relation to other LZs, see Bồng Sơn, the An Lão Valley, and Tam Quan.