A Troop Stories


as related primarily by Skip Bell

Guys, I am appending my query on this incident along with replies received to date from Skip Bell, Greg Street, Jon Laird, Tim O'Brien, and Tommy Mathis. This is an example of how we can work together to put together an accurate report on a unique incident. I hope that others of you will provide whatever you may know.

Incidentally, with their input I believe my mind is beginning to focus better. I seem to recall this particular mission (I believe in the extreme northwestern part of the Iron Triangle, along the Saigon River), as being the nastiest of my command -- booby traps, mines, two AVLB bridges blown, extremely hostile civilian population in the few scattered hamlets, taking casualties without being able to close with the enemy -- the whole works. And the nights were particularly eerie out there. I might have had my Hq with A Troop part of the time (Skip's description of activities sounds familiar). I think it was in the early evening, not long before dark, when I heard the explosion in the distance, and soon got the terrible news. Whenever I heard of casualties a peculiar feeling hit me in the stomach, and when I heard it was a cook (I thought a mess sergeant) that I had chatted with a few days earlier and complimented on his chow, it was particularly sickening.

I believe we lost two bridges to command detonated mines (bombs or large explosives), and I had replacement bridges flown out so we could continue the mission that Skip described. I recall getting a call, I think from the CO of the division support command, saying I had used up the division's supply of bridges, and the division commander said I had better not lose another one. Nothing was said about the men we lost. I was so damned mad I couldn't talk for a few seconds, and then I think I suggested that the division commander come out and stay with us overnight to observe how we were securing the bridges. I suspect he never got the message.

I'm probably off base on some of the above recollection. Perhaps more input will clarify things. (Col Bill Haponski)



There has been some traffic regarding the ability of tanks to take mines. Does anyone recall the incident of the mess sergeant -- I think from B Troop but I'm not sure -- riding on the back of a tank when it hit a booby-trapped 250 lb bomb, I think in the Iron Triangle, maybe Trapezoid, probably May 69? If anyone recalls, please let me know what you remember. Bill (Haponski)


Bill, I recall about that time, May 69, we in Alpha Mike were on a road that it was said a tank hit a mine. Was there a bridge involved? A road culvert? We heard it was a 500 # and it was a Bravo Troop tank. The rumor was that the entire pack and deck cover were dislodged, blown out. We never saw the tank that I can recall, rather, I never saw it or cannot recall it. Greg (Street)


Greg Street or Pat Christiansen have some pictures of a tank that was destroyed by a bomb under a VLB. (Vehicle Launched Bridge) One of them will have the details of that particular incident. Don't know if it's the same one you referred to. Jon (Laird)


I recall hearing of a tank hit a 250 pound bomb, but it was in the Michelin or just outside it. That's all I know though because it was before my time in country. I think it was supposed to have happened in march or April though. Tim O'Brien, BM6


Although I was not in VN at the time, I do recall that the bomb was on the outskirts of the Michelin, and by a steam, so AVLB might be relevant. Tim O'Brien


Bill, I was there. The incident happened in A Troop. I believe it was April of 1969. The cook who lost his legs was a SP5 Terrebone, and he was riding on a tank that day, just because he never had done that before.

The mine was a command detonated one (a bomb, probably 250 lb). It was planted in a stream bed beneath the site of a bridge that had evidently been blown up a long time before. The abutments were there, but the bridge was not.

Scenario is as follows:

A Troop got a mission to SP out of Lai Khe very early one morning on a long road march. The eventual objective (which we got to the next day) was a large NVA logistical bunker complex in the Trapezoid. This was the one I mentioned in the "Incident in the Trapeziod" monograph that I sent you a couple of days ago. The road march was a roundabout route that went from Lai Khe, to Phu Loi, to Cu Chi, Trang Bang, Dau Tieng, and into the Trapezoid.We turned southeast at Dau Tieng and started down the road that paralleled a river (I think it was the Saigon River) which formed one of the boundaries of the Trapezoid.

1st Platoon was lead platoon for the road march, followed by Troop HQ, and the other two platoons (can't remember what order they were in), followed (I believe) by two AVLB's from Squadron HQ and the Troop VTR. We may have also had a flame track or two, but I'm not positive about that.

As we turned southeast (going away from Dau Tieng and the Michelin), the country got increasingly desolate; lots of abandoned hooches, etc. We stayed on the road, but were keeping a sharp eye out for mines. I led with tanks (as usual), with SSG Godwin (the Platoon Sergeant) in the lead tank. I had the tanks overlap their tracks so that the ACAV's would not roll over ground that had not already been covered by the tanks' tracks.

We came to the afore-mentioned blown bridge site. CPT Newell tasked me with taking a dismounted patrol with a mine detector to sweep both bridge abutments and the approaches to/from the abutments. We swept the near-side abutments, forded the knee-deep stream (which ran into the Saigon River about 200 meters to our south), swept the other abutment and about 50 meters of the road leading southeast. The patrol must have waded right over the bomb when it crossed the stream.

I called back to the Troop Commander on the man-pack PRC-25 radio that I carried when we did dismounted operations and told him that the crossing site was suitable for the AVLB. He sent it forward and directed me move my platoon across the bridge and set up a perimeter on the far side to cover the crossing of the remainder of the Troop.

The platoon crossed the AVLB one vehicle at a time, and set up a semi-circular perimeter 75-100 meters from the bridge site, anchored on the left side by the stream, and on the right side by rice paddies bordering the Saigon River (the paddies were soft, so we couldn't get the right flank too far out toward the river). I had put my track on the perimeter and was waiting for the remaining vehicles in the Troop to cross.

The lead tank of the next platoon (and I can't remember if it was Mike or November platoon) started across the bridge when there was a HUGE explosion followed by a concussion wave that tore my CVC helmet off. I turned around just in time to see the AVLB flying off to the south like a boomerang, and the tank was lying in the stream on it's right side. I couldn't hear anything but a loud ringing noise in my ears. All I knew at that point was that something big enough to lift a 50-ton tank and throw it on its side had just blown up. I guess it's a good thing (for 1st Platoon, anyway) that thebomb was in the stream and there were embankments on either side -- it deflected a lot of the blast and concussion straight up in the air. I got on the radio to the platoon and told them to get ready--we were now isolated on that side of the stream, and we could very well be subject to anything from a ground attack to an RPG team to a sniper. Fortunately, the enemy did not choose to exploit that opportunity.

The Troop HQ and the medics immediately went into high gear treating the wounded, calling for Dustoff, etc. 1st Platoon stayed in a defensive posture on the southeast side of the stream while all this was going on.

I heard that everyone on the tank survived (at least long enough to get medevaced) and that Terrebone had lost both of his legs from the knees down. The real bummer of that whole deal was the he was one of the cooks, and was just riding on a tank that day because he wanted to. I recall him as a heavy-set man with a moustache who was from south Louisiana, and who had a very thick Cajun accent. I'm pretty sure he lived long enough to get medevaced, but never heard what happened to him after that.

I believe we must have had a second AVLB with us, because after about an hour or so, a second bridge was thrown across the abutments, and the remainder of the unit crossed the stream without incident.

We then moved several more kilometers down the road. We got a mission to set up a blocking position at last light outside a VC-controlled village (can't remember the name) that bordered the north side of the river. The plan was to insert some ARVN south of the village (along the south side of the river, and adjacent to the village in the paddies on the north side of the river) and for the ARVN on the north to sweep the village. It was a hammer-anvil operation, with two anvils--us on the north side of the village, and part of the ARVN unit on the south side of the river. The objective of the operation was to get the VC/NVA troops -- either in the village itself, or as they tried to escape the infantry conducting the sweep.

The tactics that we used were sort of different. We set up a blocking position about 150 meters from the village along the entire length of it, with the Troop on-line. The tracks were 30-50 meters apart (which is a LONG way at night). The other interesting thing was, that since we didn't know from which direction we might be hit (either out of the village to our south or from the Trapezoid area to our north), we faced every other vehicle in opposite directions -- one vehicle would face the village, the other would face the jungle to the north.

It was a long night. The ARVN made contact in the village and along theriver, and we saw lots of pyrotechnics (and got lots of stray rounds from the firefights). It did not appear that any of the small arms fire was being aimed at us, but here was lots of it going overhead, nontheless. We did receive RPG fire from the village, but it was not effective and there wasn't much of it. That was my first opportunity to observe RPG fire at night, and I could clearly see how the booster charge launched the rocket from the tube, and then the main rocket motor took over (there was a blast of light, an instant of darkness, and then a second blast of light as the rocked motor ignited and sent the RPG round toward its target). That sequence was not observable during the day--it just looked like one big blast and the rocket was launched.

We basically had to sit there and take whatever got thrown at us--with friendlies operating in the village, we couldn't return fire. We got no incoming from the jungle to our north to the best of my recollection.

The next morning, we ate chow and prepared to move out to the north toward our objective (the NVA logistical bunker complex). As we were waiting to for the order to move out, the ground began to shake like it was an earthquake--it was an Arclight (B-52 strike) that was going in as a "prep" for our attack on the bunker complex. There were huge geysers of smoke and trees hurtling up in the air and falling back to the ground. The earth continued to shake, as three waves of bombs were dropped on the objective. I didn't see how anyone or anything could live through that. The power of the explosions was immense, and there was absolutely no warning--the aircraft were flying so high they could barely be seen and couldn't be heard. By the time all this happened, the villagers who hadn't been rounded up by the ARVN had gone out to the fields to tend their rice paddies. Some of them were near our laager. I happened to look at their faces when the bombs started falling and saw the sort of expression one sees in the face of someone who is concerned for the safety of a loved one or friend. They knew what those bombs were falling on . . .

About two hours later, so did we. We were approximately 3 km from the near edge of the bunker complex. As soon as the bombing stopped CPT Newell gave us the order to move out and we went as fast as we could (busting jungle) toward the smoke of the B-52 strike. That was the start of a week-long foray into the large, wheel-shaped logistical bunker complex.

I'll write about that some other time.

This was probably a lot more than you needed to know about tanks and mines, but I got started and couldn't stop. If anyone remembers who the crew was on the tank, what became of them, and what platoon they were from, I'd sure love to know.

Skip Bell


Bill, there was an incident in that area where a tank was crossing an AVLB and the enemy command detonated a bomb, what size I was never sure of. The bridge was blown in half and the tank fell in the ravine we were crossing. The tank was at least half buried in the hole. Took a Tank retriever to get the tank out.

Some people were dusted off, I am not sure if anyone died. I know of no incidence where a tanker was killed from a mine, that is while he was riding on the tank that hit the mine.

SSG Tommy Mathis


-----Original Message-----

From: Bill Haponski Subject: Mines & tanks

Could the mess sergeant who was riding a tank that hit a mine have been Gerral A. Smith, SSG, A Troop, 26 yrs old, Caucasian, Marrried, Eads, Tennessee? Joined 1/4 Cav 17 Mar 69, died of fragmentation wounds 8 April, Bien Hoa. (Info from Vietnam Wall.) The incident I recall occurred somewhere west of Lai Khe, and it is possible he was dusted off to the hospital at Bien Hoa.

A couple troopers asked if the incident was associated with AVLB launchings. I believe it was at the same time, though it may not have been at an AVLB site. We lost two bridges blown, as I recall. Anyone remember anything that might relate?


SSG Smith may have been the TC on the tank that was blown off the AVLB; the time frame looks about right. Unfortunately, most of us only knew folks from our Platoon or the Troop HQ. The Cav had a tendency to do a lot of separate platoon-size operations during that time.

Skip (Bell)


Incident in the Trapeziod

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