Falcon Logo used Courtesy of Jim Bowers, 77th FA Assn.
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Junction City (I)
- 16 May 1967
Battle of Soui Tre (FSB Gold)
Version of the Story of Soui-Tre offers the perspective of what where when who why how about the relief column, specifically the 2/22 Infantry part of it:) It is word for word, from the 22nd Infantry Site, and Thanks very much to the Author, JIM HARDIN for permission to use it and get more of "The rest of the Soui-Tre Story!")
Artillery was pounding the flanks to the East, while at the same time I saw F-100s
strafing the North side. In the middle of all of this, helicopter gunships were also
strafing! Normally the Air Force won’t come anywhere near supporting artillery and
the gunships stay clear of close air support. Not today! A water trailer flew by,
streaming water like smoke. We pulled to the far edge of the artillery positions
and stopped on line to dismount. I stopped the 2 Combat engineers and told them to
stay on board and keep the .50 supplied. We had about 3,000 rounds of .50 but 600+
were in "spam cans". Spam cans were for quad 50s. They held 105 rounds, 5 too
many to fit in a regular .50 ammo box. To compound the problem, the wrong end of
the belt was on top! They had a key and opened like a can of spam, unless the tab
broke, which it usually did. For a quad 50 they the "wrong end" of the belt was
started into the magazine and the belt cranked in to load it. We used a P38 can
opener to open the bottom of them then topped off our regular ammo cans. I hit the
ground, with my fireteam on the left front of the PC. When Crum (our gunner) would
fire, the muzzle blast rattled me so hard that I couldn’t see. I finally backed up till I
was slightly behind him. I couldn’t get low enough, and decided that my ammo
pouches were holding my posterior up too high. I unbuckled my web belt and pushed
them to the side. With that part of anatomy safe, I fired two 20 round magazines of
grazing fire into the wood line. We were taking a lot of incoming, but I couldn’t tell
from where, nor did I know if any friendlies were in front of us. It was a gamble. A
squad member ran over and flopped beside me. He wanted to know if my M16 had
jammed. It hadn’t and I had always claimed that a properly cleaned M16 would not
jam. Little did they know how I despised that black piece of junk! He looked
disappointed and told me, his had. We laughed like two fools, while I got out my
cleaning rod to clear the stuck case. It took several tries but we finally got it to fire
a whole magazine without a jam. While doing this I noticed the two combat engineers
popping up out of the cargo hatch with their M14s and firing. An artilleryman slid up
beside me asking for 7.62 ammo. I apologized that all we had was linked. He didn’t
care, the choice was linked or none! The engineers threw out a case and off he went.
He was back a minute later for grenades. Another case and off he went. There was a
large sandbagged position to my left, and I could see what looked like 10 men
frantically de-linking the 7.62 belts and loading M14 magazines. As fast as they would
fill a magazine, two fellows would pop up with M14 Autos and empty them! They also
went through that case of grenades as fast as they could open them. Two of them
started forward but one stopped and turned around when his sergeant demanded to
know where he was going. He was explaining that there were still VC in a hole they
had been trying to grenade. About then an RPD light machine gun peeked out of the
ground and the soldier fell. I called for a medic who came with another man from the
squad to our right. No questions asked, Doc and his ‘guardian’ took off. As they ran
to the fallen artilleryman, Doc emptied his .45 into a dead(?) VC. His ‘guardian’
stopped and looked, then shook his head and caught up with Doc. While Doc worked
on the man the ‘guardian’ crawled over to the hole where two VC were hiding, and in
a reverse move, pointed his M16 into the hole like a pistol and emptied it. He pulled
the RPD out and came back with Doc. He was excited with his souvenir that he
wanted to take home and asked me what it was. I told him it was an RPD and I
doubted that they would let him take it home. I asked Doc about the fellow he treated.
He said he thought he would be OK, but the kid was recently married and worried
about his wound, the bullet exited just above his family planning. As for the .45
shooting, Doc explained he was taking no chances!
By now the rest of the PCs and tanks had caught up and were on line. I saw a blur
come out of the woods and fly at one of the tanks. It bounced off the turret and sailed
off into the woods to explode. The PCs started moving ahead on line. We got up to
move alongside but the incoming was too heavy. Our squad and the one to the right of
us were left behind. VC that were hiding in the many holes and folds of the ground
started to get up and run. I laughed as one PC chased a VC. The .50 was firing away,
but couldn’t hit him as the PC bounded along. Finally the driver caught him.
As the incoming fire dropped off, our two orphaned squads got online and moved
forward. We came across pieces of a quad 50. It had been overrun and as the VC
tried to turn it around, a 105 howitzer took it out! Doc’s ‘guardian’ had stayed with a
friend in my fireteam, and as we paused in a small ditch, I heard a shout to my left
followed by the ‘thump’ of an M79. I checked and found that a VC and come around
a corner in the ditch and nearly bumped into these two. The ‘guardian’ pulled his
trigger, only to find out he was empty and let out the shout. My grenadier turned and
fired his M79. Too close to arm, the half pound 40mm took off the VC’s arm and most
his right shoulder.
We passed through the overrun positions of the 3/22, then turned left and started
checking bodies. No one knew how to do that but we weren’t taking blood pressure!
We fixed bayonets and probed them. Finger on the trigger, safeties on Auto. We didn’t
run them through, just probed at sensitive spots to see if they flinched. At one point we
came across a squad of VC, spread out evenly and on line. All were dead. We didn’t
look too closely but I guessed from the lack of apparent wounds, they had been cut
down by a 105 beehive. I took an RPD from one and noticed that it was clean oiled and
had never been fired. The squad leader spotted a 7.62 Tokarev pistol on one VC. He
wanted it but was afraid of booby traps. I can’t remember the sergeants name, but he
was a huge fellow with a Swedish name. He got the pistol out of the VC’s hand, then
took off running. When he reached the end of the lanyard the VC owner was snapped
into the air like a puppy on a leash! We laughed till tears came.
The PCs returned, Plt Sgt Kay was furious that we had stayed behind. We were furious
that he had left us. He had called to mount up but we never got the word. My heart sank
when I saw one of the combat engineers at the .50. Willie, the driver, wouldn’t even look
at me when I told him to drop the ramp. The inside was a shamble of casings, links, empty
ammo boxes, spam cans and personal gear that had gotten in the way. In the front on the
bench seat was Crum, pale white and without a helmet. I called Doc over. He checked him
out and filled out a evacuation tag while I got the story from the combat engineers. As they
were clearing the area, Crum was reloading the .50 when he fell inside. His helmet had a
bullet hole in the front, with an exit hole at the rear! Crum had felt his head but found only
a tiny scratch. He put on the helmet and went back to work. The bullet had traveled around
between the helmet and the liner to exit at the rear. After firing another box or two through
his .50, the full gravity of what could have happened sank in and he slumped inside in deep
shock. Doc got him evacuated, while I started barking orders to the squad to cleanup the mess. They used entrenching tools to rake out the brass and links. A Chaplin from 3/22 came by, probably attracted by my NCO language, and thanked us for coming.
I got an inventory of ammo, 300 rounds of .50 remained. That meant we went through 2,700 in less than a half hour!!! At that point we were called to reinforce recon platoon. They had gone out to recover the bodies from a L19 forward observer aircraft that was shot down during the battle. On the way they encounter the retreating VC who were still full of fight and took them on! That turned out to be a non-event but with only 300 rounds of .50 left, our pucker factor was way up there.
When we got back to FSB Gold we found that the M88 VTR from the 2/34th Armor had scooped out a mass grave. We got to do police call. I don’t know who did the body count or how they counted some of the pieces I threw in but 650 seems to be about right. I saw the weapons pile aside the grave and decided that this was the time to get a few pictures. I always sent my film to be developed, then home. Since they went home, I never took any "hamburger" pictures. This day was significant, so I would break my standing rule. I reached for my camera but it was gone! Both shirt pocket buttons were still buttoned but I managed to push the camera out when crawling around. It was inexpensive, but I hope someone found it and got some use from it.
We formed a perimeter near the edge of woods for the night. We were winding down when we got a call to take cover, they were going to detonate an unexploded bomb. There was a boom and something big landed to our front. We reported it and a half hour later we got another Fire in the Hole. This time everything went black as the concussion swept over us. Not good for our rattled nerves.
At dusk, I got tagged to take out the Listening Post. I wasn’t too keen on that, we had heard that 3/22 had lost most of their LPs. I ended up with a reinforced squad, complete with an M60 and 800 rounds. We were all very edgy. As I chose a location, a trip flare went off behind us. One fellow started back toward the PCs. I got him stopped, but we gritted our teeth waiting for the .50s to open up. No one fired, even edgy they kept their wits. The VC weren’t coming back that night, but they sent their mosquitoes. Somehow didn’t have any insect repellent, so I passed around a can of weapons oil as a substitute.
This is about all I can remember of that day. If anyone has any pictures I would gladly pay for reproductions.
There is one other story about this battle that I haven’t heard anyone mention. Many months later, I was talking to a fellow from 3/22. He said that at one point that morning a B52 made a low pass over FSB Gold. It didn’t drop anything, just flew by and pulled up into the clouds. My guess is that it was a pathfinder. By flying over the battlefield and marking his position, the others could set their radar bombing controls. I suggest that this was the final option. Had FSB Gold been overrun the B52s would have been cleared in to bomb. If anyone can confirm this, one way or the other, I would like to know.
James Hardin C/2-22, 67 Wrote :
March 21, 1967 started like most. We went to 100% alert (Stand To) before
dawn, then got ready for another day of patrolling. We had been doing this to
the point, that the days seemed to run together. As it got light I noticed there
was an overcast, so maybe it wouldn’t be too hot. Our squad was nearly at full
strength, with 8 men and 2 Combat Engineers attached. These 2 fellows were
great, they stood watches with us and helped out wherever they could. As we
started to move out, we could hear a battle going on in the opposite direction.
As we took position near the end of the column we couldn’t find out any
information as to what the battle was about. It didn’t settle too well with the
squad to be driving away from a fight. Shortly the order came through to
reverse direction and clear the trail so the two M48s could take the lead.
While waiting we found out that the 3/22nd was engaged at Fire Support Base
Gold and we were going to help them. By now the battle had been raging for a
half hour, so we figured that it was going to be over by the time we got there,
as we had done so many times before. The jungle was very heavy and the
tanks were very slow. We got a message that the situation at FSB Gold was
critical and we were to bypass the tanks and make trail for them. Since we
started at the rear, we were now near the front of the column. We moved around
the tanks and formed a staggered column widening the track as we pushed ahead.
We ran at full throttle, clipping a few inches off the trees to widen the path for the
tanks. Our V8 Chryslers were turning at redline in 2nd gear (20mph) and we were
falling behind. We tried 3-4 range but after an initial burst of speed we would slow
and have to drop back into 1-2 range. We had been told that slow or disabled PCs
would be left behind. Our transmission was weak, but the driver (Willie) managed
to keep us in the race. The jungle was getting thinner and we could see light ahead.
We took some small arms fire as we ran through the VC at the edge.
We fired some to the flanks, but basically ignored the incoming and just swept on through. As we entered the clearing, I was struck by the sights before me.
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