QuarterHorse Stories

MULTI-MOS TEAM WORK, A Troop Style

by Ed Novack


I have been in touch with Bill Kampfert who checked in last month. As you know, Bill was also in ground surveillance and we trained together when I was transferred to the QuarterHorse from the 63rd Armor. Funny, we spoke of him some months ago when I first found the website. The radar people all seemed to end up somewhere else. I was still trying to get our batteries operative when I left Vietnam. Our radar sets worked, but it was the battery packs that were damaged on the trip over there. We could run our radar with a generator, but the noise ruined any advantage of being concealed. I was in touch with a staff sergeant at Division headquarters who was trying to get those batteries repaired or replaced. I always wondered whether operational ground radar would have made a difference on 12 Nov 1965 at Bau Bang. Which brings me to the matter at hand. I had a strange connection to the Battle at Bau Bang. I was there the day and evening before the battle and also the afternoon and evening of the major action (12 Nov) -- let me explain. On 11 November I was part of the rear detachment at Lai Khe while most of the troop was on their search and destroy mission. That afternoon, Pfc. DeSena, a mechanic (whose name escapes me), and I went to the troop's location to deliver water, mail and other supplies. We drove an APC up Highway 13 unescorted (that was unusual, wasn't it?] and met up with the troop where it was camped near the village of Bau Bang. We originally were going to stay with the troop, but the troop commander determined that he needed other supplies and maps (I believe his name was Lt. Garcia). So, the same group of 3 of us was sent back to Lai Khe (unescorted again), and we were to return the following morning. So, we bid farewell to our comrades, joking that they'd probably get more sleep than we would, what with loading supplies, pulling guard duty, and rising early to rejoin the troop. Little did we know that many of us would never see each other again and that the troop was on the brink of an historic day in the early stages of the Vietnam war. On the way back, we took some sniper fire, but sped away and the rest of the trip was uneventful. Early the next morning, I was in the operations tent when we began hearing the live reports. The troop was being hit very hard and the APC's were ordered to keep moving to keep from being zeroed in by incoming mortars. But, the infantry commander protested, saying his ground troops would be in danger of being overrun by friendly vehicles. I distinctly remember an infantryman being KIA while approaching a supposed body who was playing possum, so everyone was ordered to do what had to be done to any body they encountered. These transmissions kept coming in, from people seeking medical assistance to orders to move or attack, and for urgent requests for air support. Bill, it was so difficult to listen and hear that we were in the midst of a brutal attack, but one thing really stood out to me. There was a sense of urgency, but no one seemed to panic. And every call for help was for a fellow trooper or infantryman, no one was more concerned for himself that for his comrades. The troop's bravery under fire was extraordinary. Meanwhile, back at Lai Khe, everyone was gathered in the operations tent listening to the transmissions. And many of these wanted to go and join the troop. Our APC was ready, but the acting First Sergeant would not let us leave. Finally, we loaded mortar shells onto the APC - they were now needed as you well know, Bill - and headed back up Thunder Road. We were joined by a 2nd Lt. whose name I cannot remember, and three other volunteers who wanted to go with us. As we approached Bau Bang, we saw a lot of civilians fleeing the area. Then, when we saw the village-it was completely in flame. Our air support came in and took out the village (I believe it was officially a friendly village). When I first viewed the field where our troop was, I was moved to tears. The remnants of the APC's and the realization of the dead and wounded that occupied them was the singlemost moving moment of my life. As we walked around, we embraced surviving members of the troop -- it was great to see anyone who had survived. Then, we all were ordered to bring all the dead bodies of the enemy to the side of the road. The Division photographers were taking photos and I remember one of them commenting on the number of sad letters that would be written that day. After we had completed the gruesome task, we lined up our vehicles and waited for a convoy of ARVN troops that were due. As they came past us yelling "GI number one," etc., I couldn't help but feel that we had taken over the fighting for these people and had sacrificed our best so they could travel in safety. That is only my opinion, and I won't comment on that again. That evening, the troop made its way back to Lai Khe. The mess sergeant had done his best to prepare as fine a meal as he could, but few people had much of an appetite, and the silence during the meal was strange, but most men seemed to want to be buried in their own thoughts and memories of this long, long day. The next day, the First Division commander, General Seamen, came to Lai Khe to visit "A" troop and talk to the men. He said how happy he was with the ratio of our KIA to that of the enemy. I guess that is how generals are trained to think, but my thoughts were more along the lines of one man lost is one man too many. General Westmoreland also visited "A" troop in the next few days, and offered condolences for our losses as well as congratulations for a victory against the enemy. We also had services for our dead troopers - both Catholic and Protestant chaplains held services - and everyone attended both services no matter what faith they were part of. The troop was in a somber mood for quite awhile - we had casualties which amounted to 40% of our troop's strength. But officially, our casualties for Bau Bang were listed as light. Slowly some of the less seriously wounded troopers returned to Lai Khe, and replacements were checking in every few days. I personally went on two convoys to division headquarters to pick up and drive replacement vehicles. But "A" troop was never the same as far as I was concerned. SP4 Burnette was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor and reassigned to Division Headquarters duty, but he, too, missed "A" troop. I had a long conversation with him on one of the convoys, and his main concern was the casualties we had suffered. Vietnam was a long time ago and the years have a way of making names harder to remember and the passing of time more difficult to gauge. At the time of Bau Bang, I considered us as seasoned troopers. But the truth is, we were only "in country" a total of 5 weeks. I find that so hard to believe, and yet it is black and white. So much seemed to happen in those 5 weeks that in many ways, it was a lifetime. Thank God that so many of us are around today to remember and relate these things. But not a day goes by in my life that I do not think of DuPere, Santilli, Giordano, Sears, McMillon, and the rest of the heroes who never came home. Last spring, I visited the wall in Washington with my son. An emotional moment matched only by 12 Nov.65. The First Infantry Division also has a memorial in Washington and also lists those special men who can't be here with us. They will always carry a place in my heart.

Combat Mechanic

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