Falcon Logo used Courtesy of Jim Bowers, 77th FA Assn.
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From the Pages of Vietnam Magazine
Again, courteousy of Jim hardin, 2/22 Inf. (M)
An account of Soui-Tre by former CPT. Robert Hemphil, C.O. B/3/22 Inf.Who retired a Lt. Colonel
Like the Cavalry in the Old West, an armored task force arrived just in the nick of time to relieve the besieged defenders of FSB Gold
Time: 06:31 hours, March 21, 1967. The sound of small arms fire, answered by the distinct sound of AK-47 fire and the 'crump' of grenades, suddenly jolted CPT. James ("Walt") Shugart III commander of Bravo Company 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment,4th Infantry Division out of his reverie. He stuck his head out of his command post bunker at Fire Support Base Gold to see what the firing was all about. SP4 Terry Smith, his Radio Operator,(RTO)on the company communications network was outside the bunker. He told Shugart that the firing was coming from the direction of the first platoon's ambush patrol site, about 500 meters outside the perimeter. As the firing continued, Shugart called the first platoon leader, (call-sign: Bravo 1-6)2nd Lt. John H. Andrews for a situation report. Andrews informed the Bravo company commander that his patrol was engaged in a serious firefight. While breaking down their ambush site, the men had spotted a couple of VC. When they opened up on the enemy and threw their grenades, the VC had returned their fire-they had been in the tall grass around them. When Shugart inquired about casualties, Andrews knew only that part of the patrol had made it back in to get help, but that there were still about five guys pinned down out there. Shugart told him to get a squad ready to provide help, but he withdrew that order a few minutes later, when the firing died down and he heard several bursts of AK-47 fire. He knew the short, distinct bursts meant that any survivors had been executed. Shugart looked around for 1st Lt.William Pacheco,artillery forward observer (FO)and ordered him to call in some high explosives (HE) around the ambush patrol's last position. He wanted it near the position, not right on it, in case somebody was still alive out there. Shugart told Pacheco to walk the HE around the area in case any larger forces were nearby. But the fire missin was never executed - before the target could be plotted, everyone in the perimeter heard the sound of enemy mortar rounds going down the tubes beyond the ambush position. Shugart shouted a warning that echoed throughout the firebase. Men could be seen diving for the nearest bunker as 61mm and 82mm mortar rounds started falling everywhere, walking all around the perimeter and the artillery tubes. So started what became known as the battle of Soui Tre or the defense of FSB or (or LZ) GOLD. The location was a small clearing in a remote section of jungle near Cambodia in War Zone C, III Corps Tactical Zone.The 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, (Brigade call sign "Flexible")commanded by Colonel Marshall B. Garth, was operating in the area. On the perimeter at FSB Gold were Alpha and Bravo companies, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry, (3/22, call sign "Falcon"), commanded by Lt. Col. John A. Bender, with the 2nd Battalion, 77th Artillery (2/77) 105mm(call sign "Focus"), and its three howitzer batteries inside the firebase. The artillery battalion commander, Lt. Col. John W. Vessey, would later become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Operating in the nearby jungle were the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry, (2/12, call sign "Flame"), and tank - mechanized infantry task forces of the 2nd battalion, 22nd Infantry, (2/22 mechanized call sign "Fullback")and the attached 2nd battalion, 34th armor (2/34) supporting FSB Gold. From other locations were other units of 8 - inch, 175mm, and additional 105mm and 155mm howitzers. At 06:35 the opening mortar attack drifted toward Alpha Company's side f the perimeter. Suddenly, from the 2nd Platoon's area in Bravo's center to teh east, the perimeter was raked by intense fire. The small arms fire, punctuated by exploding grenades and claymores, gradually crescendoed. RTO Smith informed Shugart that "Romeo 6" (the recon platoon leader) had reported a large number of VC to his front. They had sneaked up to within 30 or 40 meters of his positions, and he was heavily engaged. The recon platoon had been given to Shugart the day before to reconstitute his 2nd platoon after the platoon leader and half of its members had been wounded on the 19th at the LZ. He told Romeo 6 to send in his final protective fire when he thought it was necessary, to which Romeo 6 responded that it was already necessary. Shugart looked around for Lt. Pacheco and saw that he was already on his radio calling in his defensive contact artillery fires. The FO glanced up and reported that it was on its way. As Shugart was about to warn the other platoons, Bravo's entire sector erupted in gunfire. The biggest outbreak of outgoing and incoming fire was on the right (southeast) in Bravo 1-6's area. Andrews reported massive waves of black - clad enemy to his front at a distance of less than 50 meters. He said they were just boiling out of the woodline. Shugart ordered Andrews to provide final protective fire. The 3d platoon leader on the left,northeast, Lt. James Slinkard (Call sign "Bravo 3-6")reported that enemy troops were massed to the front, but he was holding his own. He was also instructed to call for his final protective fire. Mortars continued to fall inside the perimeter among the artillery tubes and near Alpha Company. The defenders could hear the shells crashing near the perimeter and the more distant explosions of counter-mortar fire. The volume of mortar fire was diminishing. It was now 06:38. Only seven minutes had passed since the ambush patrol had set off the VC attack. The VC had been sneaking up on them in the woods and tall grass when the patrol had surprised the enemy troops. Shugart turned to Sp4 Henry Toyama, his RTO on the battalion radio and told him to inform the battalion S-3 (Operations Officer)Major Cliff Roberts, that they were fully engaged and calling for final protective fire. He also instructed Toyama to ask Falcon 3, Col. Bender, where the Air Force Tactical Air Support was - it was clearly needed. At that point, Smith shouted to Shugart that all platoons reported VC in the wire. Romeo6 and Bravo 1-6 reported hand-to-hand combat. Lieutenant Andrews radioed that the enemy was surrounding some of his positions. Shugart told Pacheco to notify the 2/77 Artillery to have their reaction force standing by. He expected to need them shortly, most likely in 1-6's sector. It was a move they had rehearsed the day before. Shugart also wanted the 105mm howitzer fire to keep coming as close to the perimeter as possible and the heavy artillery plastering the woodline to get some of the enemy troops still coming out of the woods. Toyama relayed a message from Falcon 3 that the FAC was inbound toward them. He woud start with four sorties of fighters. Flexible 6 had alerted the 2/12, the 2/22 and the tankers (2/34) to get to Gold as soon as possible, but they first had to negotiate the jungle and bamboo surrounding the position. At 06:40 Bravo 1-6 called Shugart and reported VC around his positions. Shugart instructed him to get as far inside the perimeter as he could. He assured Andrews that help would arrive soon. Shugart told Toyama to inform Falcon 3 that Bravo 1-6's position had been penetrated. Agitated and anxious, Shugart told Pacheco to call for Focus's reaction force. He made sure that they knew that they were to execute exactly what they had rehearsed the day before to restore the perimeter. And they had to move as soon as possible. As Shugart sat back against the side of the bunker at 06:55, the firebase continued to be swept by incoming small arms and recoiless rifle fire and falling mortar rounds. Looking out over the battlefield, Shugart shouted to Pacheco over the tremendous din to move the artillery to within 100 meters of the perimeter. Pacheco informed Shugart at 07:01 that the reaction force was on the move. Shugart informee Bravo 1-6 of the movement and cautioned Andrews to be alert and not shoot them up. Andrews certainly needed them, since he was being pushed hard from the east and southeast. Five minutes later, Andrews was back on the air, reporting that the VC were all around his men. The reaction force was nowhere in sight. The fear in his voice was obvious. Shugart turned to Toyama and inform Falcon 3 that Bravo 1-6's position had been overrun and was surrounded,and that they were fighting hand to hand. He also told Falcon 3 that the Artillery reaction force had not arrived. At 07:11 Shugart had smith check on the status of the other two platoons. Romeo6, the recon platoon was holding it's own against tremendous pressure on it's front. Bravo 3-6 Slinkard, reported that they were fighting VC in his foxholes at the center of his position. Slinkard was not sure how much longer he could hold out; Both Romeo6 and Bravo 3-6 were really burning up ammo and would need resupply soon. Suddenly Shugart heard Andrews exclaiming that the reaction force had arrived and was counter attacking on line across his positions. His men were concentrating on keeping their heads down out of the line of fire. Shugart cautioned him not to get in their way. A silver object swooped down overhead at 07:15, passed along the edge of the woods to the east, and pulled up to the north, followed by the thunder of ordinance. The Air Force had arrived! A second Macdonald Douglas F-4 Phantom appeared and repeated his wingman's performance. Shugart saw the FAC in a small plane, circling to the southeast, directing the fighter-bombers. Two more silver birds swooped down and delivered their loads. Shugart had Pacheco tell the FAC to move some of his strikes down to the southeast corner in front of Bravo 1-6. Shugart wanted him to make some napalm runs in closer. He was trying to catch the VC in the open. By the time the planes launced their attacks, the mortars had tapered off, due to the continuing artillery counter-mortar fire. The VC were still shooting at the artilery positions with rocket-propelled grenades, and 75mm and 57mm recoiless rifles from the woodline. The firebase was raked by automatic fire as the attack on the perimeter intensified. At 07:45 Shugart glanced back toward the FAC's plane. As he focused on the small silouhette, the plane spiraled from about a 1,000 foot altitude down into the trees. Shugart asked Pacheco what had happened. Pacheco looked up from his map, shocked and said that the VC had shot him down. That meant that there would be a lull in the airstrikes. As the ramifications of the loss of air support sank in, Shugart directed Pacheco to tell the artillery fire direction center that he wanted beehive rounds loaded and standing by - now! Beehives were anti-personnel rounds that contained thousands of small flechettes capable of converting a human being or a group of them - into hamburger - in the blink of an eye. They had not been used much before but the commanders had been briefed on them. Shugart called Bravo 1-6 and asked for a report. Andrews reported that they had just linked up with the reaction force. The VC kept on coming, despite their losses. Shugart decided to use the beehives in 1-6's sector. He told Andrews to get his men under cover, then gave the order to Pacheco to fire toward the east, and southeast. One minute later, the first shell screamed overhead and exploded over 1-6's sector followed by several more. The company radio crackled to life and Andrews' excited voice attested to the effectiveness of the beehive rounds. The flechettes had torn a wide swath in the attacking ranks of VC - he wanted more. On the battalion radio Shugart called "Alpha 6" Captain George Shoemaker. He quickly summarized his situation, particularly in Bravo 3-6's sector, and and requested that Alpha have a reaction force standing by, expecting to need it for 3-6. Shoemaker agreed. Shugart told Toyama to report what was going on to Falcon 3. He also wanted to know when they were getting another FAC. The company radio jumped to life at 08:00. It was Slinkard, reporting that his sector had been penetrated. The VC had occupied a couple of foxholes in his center. His reserve squad was trying to block them, but he needed help. Reassuring 3-6 that help was on its way, Shugart notified Alpha 6 to dispatch his reaction force. Shoemaker replied that his 20 man force would be moving in two minutes. At 08:10 Slinkard called Bravo 6 to say that Alpha's force had linked up with him and that they were containing the penetration but the fighting was fierce. Shugart told his FO to get some beehives into 3-6's area. Three minutes later, rounds began screaming in that direction. At 08:20 Shugart received reports from all platoons that they were barely holding their own and that ammo was running low. Clearly, they were firing a lot of ammunition, since they had started the battle with a double basic load. The VC were continuing to press Shugart's perimeter as more troops flowed from the woods. The platoons had prepared secondary positions back around the artillery tubes the day before. In addition to rehearsing an artillery counter-attack, Shugart had made the platoon leaders rehearse the movement back to those positions. Now was the time to use them. He gave each platoon leader instructions for moving back to their secondary positions. They would have to fight their way back, holding off the attackers as their squads leapfrogged backward. He test fired the artillery while they were moving. By 08:40 all Bravo platoons had completed their move to the secondary postions and obtained ammo from the artillery. In their new positions, they were closer together, making their formation harder to penetrate. Furthermore, the artillery could now fire their beehives over the soldiers' heads, directly into the attacking VC, making it much more effective. However the swarm of VC kept coming at them like an army of ants after a jar of honey. Although the enemy troops did not penetrate the dense rain of small arms and automatic fire, and beehives, they were within hand-grenade range of the battalion command post and within five meters of the aid station. But the tenacious managed to blunt the waves of attackers before they could get to most of the artillery. At 08:45 a silver bird again swooped down and laid it's 500 pound high explosive egg. Another FAC was on station. Shouting so that he could be heard above the din of battle, Shugart told Pacheco to have the FAC put HE in the woodline and napalm within 50 meters of his current position on the east. Pacheco had to make sure that the FAC knew they had pulled back to secondary positions. After relaying Shugart's instructions, Pacheco informed Bravo 6 that 2/77 had run out of beehives. The guns would be using direct fire HE at point-blank range. By 09:00 Bravo was running short of ammo again but their reduced perimeter was still intact. Alpha was under moderate pressure from VC 15 meters from their positions, but they still held their original perimeter. Staff Sergeant Robert E. Freeman, the second squad leader in 2/22 Charlie's second platoon halted his armored personnel carrier 30 meters inside the woodline southwest of FSB Gold. He checked to make sure the other tracks were ready. His track commander pulled back the cocking handle twice to ready his .50 caliber machine gun for firing. Freeman's job was to lead the company in the charge against the VC trying to overrun GOLD. He checked to see that his squad members had their weapons ready. Earlier that morning as they were preparing to break camp just south of the Soui Samat river, the members of the platoon had heard the mortars and automatic weapons fire erupt around FSB Gold, about 400 meters to their front.Every man in the company knew that they were in a position to assist the defenders. Task force Fullback was comprised of most of most of 2/22 mechanized with company A 2/34 armor, attached. Although - Charlie Company with one tank platoon - was only 400 meters from FSB Gold, the rest of Fullback was 3,000 meters to the southwest. They had spent most of the previous day trying to cross the Prek Klock river,just managing to get all units across before nightfall. They had established their night position near the river. Charlie company, commanded by Captain George C. White III had crossed first and been sent ahead of the task force. The recon platoon, commanded by 1st lt. Roger Frydrykowski was postiioned with the task force headquarters until the firing started at FSB Gold. The platoon then moved forward to Charlie company's location. When White heard the firing at Gold,he requested permission from Lt. Col. Ralph W. Julian(call sign Fullback6)to react to Falcon. Julian, who wanted to consolidate his combat power, denied his request. But the Brigade commander, colonel Garth, wanted the 2/22 to move more quickly through the jungle and bamboo to get some combat force up to the firebase. Garth prodded Julian until he finally gave in. From his observation helicopter, Julian told White (call sign Charlie-6)to go in with all he had. Since the task force was only about 500 meters from Charlie's location, they could assist if necessary. White issued his instructions to his platoon leaders and Romeo6. He told the second platoon leader, 2nd Lt. Thomas Utter to have freeman lead the attack, since Utter had not seen much action. White told Freeman to cross the shallow river and have the FAC guide him into position. Beyond the river, Freeman executed a flanking movement to the west to avoid some big trees and to allow the company to get on line. While this was being done, the Recon platoon crossed the river, to the west and surged ahead of Charlie, heading back east and then north, and the tankers followed. As Freeman prepared to launch the assault, he looked to the east and saw the 2/12th infantrymenbursting in to the southern end of the clearing, firing as soon as they cleared the trees. They had fought their way through the sniper fire in good time. Freeman waved the company on. At 09:01 Shugart heard firing off his right flank to the south. He could infantrymen emerge from the woodline, heading for the perimeter, with weapons blazing into the flank of the attacking VC. He told Toyama to inform Falcon 3 that the 2/12 was approaching the perimeter from the south. He then ordered Pacheco to shift the artillery away from that area to avoid hitting the good guys. Toyama relayed a message from Falcon 3 that Alpha company was was the 2/12's lead element and that Bravo 6 was to guide him into position. Shugart contacted Alpha 6, Shoemaker and then began planning how to use the 2/12 to restore his perimeter. Suddenly, from the southeast corner of the clearing came the roar of engines and the crash of heavy-caliber machine guns. Through the battlefield haze, Shugart saw a line of tracks emerge from the woodline, pass through the 2/12's lines and head directly for the southern end of Alpha's sector. A few moments later he saw more tracks charge out of the woodline from the south, followed by several tanks. They passed around the perimeter and charged into the flank of the attackers between the perimeter and the woodline. Shugart watched 2/22 Charlie company's tracks sweep across the clearing through Alpha Company's southern perimeter, through the southern half of his sector and back out to the east the .50 calibers cutting wide swaths in the VC ranks. Charlie's tracks crashed into the attackers head-on, track grinding bodies as the vehicles rolled over everything ahead of them. Soldiers used pioneer tools to knock off VC who attacked tracks with their bayonets and tried to swarm over the turrets. Passing through the original perimeter, Charlie turned north to cover the VC's exit route. Recon and the tanks swept to the east outside the perimeter and north along the woodline, cutting deeply into the enemy ranks. As they continued to chew up the attacking formations, the VC began to turn and run towards the woods, dragging many of their casualities with them. The tanks roared forward, trying to cut them off before they reached the trees. When Alpha 6 of 2/12 arrived, Shugart briefed him on his plans for the counter-attack. He then told his platoon leaders to move out on his order. At 09:20, after 2/22 moved beyond the perimeter, Shugart gave the order to move out. A line of men from each platoon sector stood up simultaneously firing point-blank into the VC still moving around them inside the perimeter. Moving forward, they took out anything in their way, firing, changing magazines, and then closing in on the few enemy troops that survived the furious onslaught. Moving with precision, they arrived at their old positions, pulled out the dead and wounded and began firing from their old positions. Medics evacuated any friendly wounded uncovered by the counter-attack. At 09:28 Shugart had Toyama inform Falcon 3 that they had reoccupied their old positions.Toyama then relayed a return message from Major Roberts that Charlie 2/22 had found a VC aid station just north of the perimeter. They also came across Bravo's ambush platoon position, where they found 4 KIAs, and one man alive - Pfc Edward Watson. He had hidden under some bodies until help appeared. Across the battlefield, the VC attack faltered.They ran from the firebase back into the woods to the northeast. The mechanized and armored formations chased the VC into the woodline,trying to get as many of them as possible. The supporting artillery had been shifted into the woods to pound their avenue of withdrawal. As Charlie recon and the tanks entered the woodline after the VC, the remainder of task force Fullback reached the clearing, taking up positions outside the perimeter. Later, they were joined by the 2/34 armor. After the firing died down inside the perimeter, Col. Vessey, the artillery battalion commander, toured the units on the perimeter, congratulating them on the tremendous job they had done. As Vessey was talking to Bravo 6, Flexible 6's commanded chopper landed, and he turned it over to Vessey to evacuate the casualities. Soon, medevac choppers appeared as well. Later that evening Major Roberts called a meeting, and the Commanders learned the extent of their victory.They were told that the battle would be called "Soui Tre" after a village that had once been nearby.Bravo Company had taken the brunt of the attack, which had been conducted by the VC 272nd Main Force Regiment, reenforced by 2 battalions for a total of 6 battalions, consisting of about 2,500 men. The attackers had lost 647 men. As many as 200 more were believed to have been killed and dragged away after the battle.Friendly casualties included 31 KIAs and 187 wounded. Supporting Artillery had fired more than 3,900 rounds of various sizes, with the 2/77 alone firing more than 2,200 rounds of HE and 40 rounds of beehives, most of it fired point-blank. The Air Force had flown 31 sorties around the perimeter,dropping 34 tons of ordinance. Participating 3d Brigade units later received the Presidential Unit Citation.
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