The Attack on DaNang Air Base
ULY 1, 1965: At 0130 hours the Viet Cong attacked the airfield. All hands got to the trenches with no losses. Good discipline. No rounds fired. Mortar attack on GVs (C-130) and F-105s. Two GVs destroyed and one damaged. One F-105 destroyed, two damaged. Two Marines injured. Lasted only about 5 minutes. Captured VC said that the helos were a target but ran out of time. [mckee]
Private Sica and I were on interior guard along the flight line when, at approximately 0130 hours, we heard what sounded like a mortar. We saw flames near the Air Force C-130s and F-102s across the runway from us. After three mortars came in we hit the deck and ran into a bunker on the flight line. There seemed like around 20 rounds coming in. We could see the aircraft on fire and hear the fuel tanks exploding. The whole area was lit up from the fire. Then we heard small arms fire and saw some flares all around the base. Meanwhile our compound, and probably the whole base, was up and men came running to the flight line to get some M-60 machineguns and ammo. PFC Sica is the armorer so he gave it to them. We also took an M-60, ammo, flares, and hand grenades to our bunker. We were out there until 0430 hours. When things finally quieted down we got relieved off of post. [winkel]
Glen Newton and I were on guard between the flight line and the squadron tent area when the first explosion racked the C-130 at the Air Force flight line. Running to place ourselves between what we thought was the point of attack and the tent area, we got to the trenches forming our interior defensive perimeter. I was right behind Newton when he dove into one of the trenches. He let out a loud groan when he landed so I decided to just plop down on the ground above the trench works. More explosions racked the C-130s, illuminating the area. Two snapping sounds above my head caused me to try to move into the trench where Newton had gone but suddenly fire came from my right. I knew that that was the area where a grunt company was billeted and also a couple of Ontos anti-tank tracked vehicles were situated so I figured that it was friendly fire that we were receiving. Still it made me mad to have fire directed at me. Newton and I were looking for targets and we saw two silhouetted figures running through the enflamed C-130s but at that distance we couldn't tell whether they were friend or foe. I told Newton to stay in the trench and I was going to run back to the tent to alert everyone of the attack but before I could move more than a few steps tracers swept past me. It was coming from the Marines of the grunt company. I hit the deck fast. The whole company, it seemed, suddenly had opened fire into the night, firing into the flames, into the darkness, at Newton and me.
Finally, I had enough. I had to get back to the squadron to give the warning, so I jumped up on my feet and yelled as loud as I could, "Hold your fire! Hold your fire, goddammit! We're Marines over here!" Now I'm not sure that those trigger happy shooters actually heard me and complied with my cease fire order but it seemed to me that there was a pause in the shooting long enough to allow me to race back to the tent area.
I ran through the tent area yelling, "Attack! Attack! We're under attack!" I reached the officers' tents first and some came stumbling out wearing nothing but their skivvies and armed with their .38 revolvers. As more men came out of their tents I pointed to the direction of the fire that Newton and I had received. Most of the men had their M-14 rifles and were placing themselves in the trenches. Bert Goodfallow came stumbling out of his tent, pulling on his trousers while trying to hold on to his rifle, and complaining that I was too loud and over reacting. First Sergeant Howard Force was all over the tent area organizing the ground defense, placing machinegun crews in their firing positions, dispersing the men and officers in a 360-degree defensive perimeter. After a while we could hear the NCOs of the grunt company yelling for their troops to hold their fire. For the first five minutes of the attack fire discipline among the grunts was bad.
Captain Frain slept through the entire attack. [delrosario]
I had originally thought it was Private Hughey who was with me on the night of the attack, but at the HMM-365 reunion in San Diego, August 2000, Glen Newton told me it was him instead. Also he told me that I yelled "Hold your fire! We're Americans over here!". How the years have clouded memories!
This attack was conducted by a local VC sapper squad accompanied by personnel from the Third Battalion, 18th Regiment, 325th People's Army of Vietnam Division (PAVN). A VC sapper who had participated in the attack was captured and told interrogators that his unit had planned the attack for 30 days prior. U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Terance Kay Jensen was killed by the Viet Cong during their sapper attack on the Air Force flight line. Two U.S. Marines were wounded.
7/2/65: Doubled guards and got set for a second attack. Flares out all night and firefight at the end of the runway for a couple of hours. Nothing serious. [mckee]
7/8/65: Two Viet Cong in ARVN uniforms were caught selling cokes on our base, with acid in the cokes and broken glass fragments in the ice. [winkel]
7/12/65: Night rescue under fire of the Reasoner recon patrol by HMM-365. [eilertson]
EXTRACT OF THE REASONER PATROL|
Dark hills at sunset. Red sky signalling end of day.
Except for the orange and green streaks of light from the tracer bullets it would have been a picture of serenity. But below Charlie Ridge, outside of the village of Dai Loc, sixteen Marines of Alpha Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion were fighting for their lives against an estimated one-hundred to one-hundred and fifty North Vietnamese Army regulars.
Lightly armed, with their ammunition almost all expended, the only thing left for the recon Marines was to call for an extraction from this hellhole. Their primary radio, a PRC-25, had been shot away at the initial exchange of fire. Finally, after eight hours of holding off repeated charges by the numerically superior NVA, someone had gotten the secondary radio, an antiquated PRC-10 of limited range, to reach out to DaNang and to tell of their desperate straits.
We received the call from MAG-16 at the Operations Shack. Immediate launch! There was no time lose, nor was there any hesitation on the part of the pilots and crew. Leading the flight was Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CWO-2) William Barber, a Korean War veteran. He, and the rest of the pilots and crewmembers did not have to be told of the desperation of the Marines on the ground. All have spent time as ground pounders, some on the frozen hills of Chosin, some on the hills of Camp Pendleton. They were Marine infantrymen temporarily assigned flying status.
At about 2100 hours the helicopters reached the tiny landing zone where the recon Marines were still holding on. Their enemy, knowing that they had the upper hand, and wanting a victory over the vaunted U.S. Marines, was throwing caution to the wind and pressing the attack. In the darkness the pilots could tell by the tracers, where the Marines' position was and where the NVA were firing from. American tracer bullets leave a trail of orange while the NVA tracers were green. It was not hard to notice that few orange streaks were leaving the LZ.
The lead Yankee Mike helicopter came in fast on the hot LZ, with Gunner Barber at the helm. The wheels touched and bounced slightly and out of the darkness came a rush of bodies. The crewchief reached out to desperate hands and pulled in the wounded and a lifeless body. In just a few seconds the passenger compartment was filled and Gunner Barber lifted that stuttering bird from that death zone.
Right behind Barber came the second helicopter. Captain John Eilertson brought his bird in fast, flared it, and again the rush of bodies and the desperate clutching of hands and shirts and equipment, the crewchief pulling the trapped Marines to the safety of the helicopter. The crewchief shouted "Clear, sir!", and Eilertson lifted the shuddering bird into the dark sky.
Now only six Marines were left on the ground and their weapons and courage would not be enough to hold back the certain attack of the North Vietnamese. The last bird came in, like the ones before it, fast, flared, and again the desperate clambering of men and equipment. Then at last, the impossible achieved, up into the dark, cold air, the last of the recon patrol was snatched from death's land.
In the hold of one of the helicopters, a corporal holds the lifeless body of his commanding officer. He did not let loose his hold until the chopper touched down at DaNang's field hospital. The only man of that patrol to lose his life, and so gallant the final moments of his life, was First Lieutenant Frank S. Reasoner, the first Marine to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during the tragic years of conflict in Vietnam. [delrosario]
|"We held off the French for eight years," he (Ho Chi Minh) told historian Bernard Fall in 1962. "We can hold off the Americans for at least as long. Americans don't like long, inconclusive wars. This is going to be a long, inconclusive war." [from an article appearing in the July 16, 1965 issue of TIME ® Magazine; © TIME-LIFE]
"Boy, is it ever hot", complained "Doc" Bennett.
Under the shade of the Duty Tent we sought refuge from the burning sun, sweating profusely.
"No matter how hot it gets it's still better than the damn rain", Corporal Buchanan countered. "Doc, you weren't here with us last November during the big flood. It rained, and rained, and rained. Never thought it'd stop raining."
"Yeah, and it was cold rain", added Sergeant Gonzales.
"No, I wasn't", said Bennett, "but anything's got to be better than this heat."
"That's the trouble with you squids - can't take the heat", I said more in jest than to deride our corpsman.
"What do you mean - 'us squids can't take the heat? You know how many cases of heat exhaustion I've brought in from the grunt Marines? At least a dozen."
"A dozen, huh?"
"Yeah, a dozen", added the other corpsman, Doc Paola.
"That Marine we brought in a couple of days ago with a shoulder wound - the wound wasn't bad but he was almost dead from dehydration. You gotta keep drinking water and taking those salt tablets or you'll end up like that guy," Bennett cautioned us.
We just looked at him, letting him lecture to us, not doubting his wisdom. After all, he was our corpsman and combat field medicine was his specialty.
"Thought he was going to go into shock," Bennett continued. "Shock kills more people than the actual wound itself. If I ever get hit, I'm not going to allow myself to go into shock." Bennett just allowed his body to relax on the canvas cot. He had been out on one med evac after another - volunteering even when he didn't have to go., Laying there in this camouflage flight suit, his field medical bag ever at his side, he shifted to a more comfortable position.
"Wake me if anything happens," Bennett said just before he drifted into shallow sleep.
"Go ahead, get some shut-eye," said Buchanan, "we'll take care of you, Doc."
Yes, we look out for our "Doc", our corpsman, for he means the difference between us living or dying if we ever get hit. We wouldn't let anything happen to him.
He was fast asleep before I could get up and return to my own tent. I looked back at him laying there so still, almost like he was dead. [delrosario]
7/17/65: Went to Chu Lai again with YM 5. Had Baxter from HMM-361 with me. Got a couple of med evacs. Marine stepped on a mine. Got back at 1900 hours. Found out that Corpsman Bennett had been killed on a med evac. Tough. [mckee]
Today, E-4 Petty Officer First Class Bennett, a corpsman assigned to our squadron, was killed on a med evac. He was the hardest working corpsman we had and took the most chances. Today he ran to get a wounded Marine and got hit below the armpit and the round went through his heart. Corporal Duncan carried them both to the med evac chopper. Bennett never regained consciousness. [winkel]
DANIEL JOSEPH BENNETT
Hospital Corpsman 3, United States Navy
Born: October 1, 1945, Beverly Hills, California
Killed in Action: July 17, 1965, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam
Age: 19 years old; single
Vietnam Memorial Panel 02E, line 038
First Lieutenant Rich Bender, the officer in charge of Marine Corps property, inventoried Corpsman Bennett's belongings, packed them up, and sent them to his parents. Two years later, in 1967, Rich Bender went to Lake Tahoe, Nevada, to visit Daniel Bennett's parents. The warriors' bond, forged in combat, is never broken or forgotten.
7/18/65: SAR today on Yankee Mike 5. Sent to Chu Lai but went down to Tam Ky with Med Freq. Med evac on Yankee Mike 4. Went to memorial services for Bennett. So crowded I had to stand outside. he was pretty well liked. Got promoted to corporal E-4. Cooper too. [mckee]
7/22/65: Went to Chu Lai again. Had Jones from HMM-361 with me. An Air Force F-105 creamed in on the runway. Flameout. Probably killed instantly. [mckee]
7/24/65: An Air Force F-105 was shot down over Laos today. We picked the pilot up with an F-105 as our escort. Then that F-105 was shot down. We rescued that pilot also. [winkel]
UGUST 1, 1965: Med evac standby all morning. Evacuated 3 men from a hot LZ. [mckee]
Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.
The soul that knows it not, knows no release
From little things;
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear,
Nor mountain heights where bitter joy can hear
The sound of wings.
Amelia Earhart Putnam
photo by John R. Jacobs "Enroute, Vietnam 1964"