Home
Stories
Ambush Between Dong Ha and
Camp JJ Carroll
By Doug Shifflett

We were part of a resupply convoy that had left Dong Ha around noon on 24 Jan 1968. There were several members of A Battery. Members that I recall were SFC Gillespie, Claud Calvert, Lt. Howell, Hoye Solomon, John Shea and myself. There was a 2 1/2 Ton truck and a jeep that Calvert was driving. Sgt. Gillespie was in the 2 1/2 Ton truck. Both Gillespie and Calvert received shrapnel wounds.

We were headed back to JJ Carroll when an Army 3/4 Ton truck was headed back to Dong Ha. He flagged us down and told the Marine Lt. in the front of the convoy that there was an ambush down the road. His truck had been hit several times. The Marine Lt. approached Lt. Howell and talked for a few minutes, then Lt. Howell headed towards the truck we were riding in. I could see the Marines in the 2 1/2 Ton truck placing bunker material and lumber against the sides of the truck for cover. When Lt. Howell approached A Battery personnel, he told us that there was an ambush between where we were and JJ Carroll. He asked if we wanted to have a fire fight. Everyone agreed and we headed down the road.

After several miles, we all noticed what appeared to be civilians crossing the road. When we got closer, it was the NVA herding women and children out in front of the convoy. We were forced to stop. At the same time, automatic fire started and mortars were landing in the road and on the side of the road. Not being seasoned ground troops, we violated our training and scattered on both sides of the road. All of the vehicles were hit and most were on fire. SFC Gillespie was close to me and indicated that he was going to try and turn the truck around and head back to Dong Ha. When he got into the truck, a mortar or rocket hit the truck knocking him off of the vehicle. He landed near me. He had a large piece of shrapnel in his hand. The fire and mortars continued for what seemed hours. Somehow I lost contact with everyone and didn't know what direction to head. I was laying on my stomach in the tall grass saying the Lord's prayer over and over. I thought that I was the only one left alive. A few minutes later, someone was running near me and I thought it was the NVA. The person tripped over me. I looked up and it was John Shea. He was in a panic mode and asked me what we were going to do. I told him I was going to lay flat and keep praying. John joined me.

The firing continued and we decided to crawl towards the road and see if anyone else was alive. I found SFC Gillespie. He was holding his chest and said he was having chest pains. He said that the only way out was to run for help. Several of us took off towards Dong Ha with the NVA opening up on us with automatic fire. I was able to get past the main ambush and headed towards Dong Ha. I came across some Seabees that were working in a rock quarry. The had a small group of Marines providing support. I told them what had happened and we headed back to the site. I think there were 14 Marines. I ran ahead and told SFC Gillespie that help was on the way.

The Marine Sergeant asked me to lead his squad to the ambush site and to describe where the fire was coming from. I lead the squad down the road until we got closer and then we moved into the high grass. The Marines brought a radio and medic. When we got to the site, NVA were on top of the truck removing clothes and supplies. We started opening fire. The fighting continued and the Marines called for help from JJ Carroll and Dong Ha. He also called air strikes in on our position. I remember the canisters of napalm falling from the jets and heading on all fours for safe ground. The grass was wilting in waves due to the heat. Tanks and twin forties were coming from JJ Carroll to provide support. The air strikes were so close that a bomb hit one of the twin forties killing 2 personnel and wounding 1. After the area was secured, we had over 44 wounded and 8 dead. Medivac helicopters came in for the dead and wounded.

I remember hearing someone yelling from inside a twin forty and when we looked inside, there was one of the gunners alive. He was calm and asked that we help him out of the hole. We reached for him and he told us to grab his flak jacket and lift. When we pulled him up, both arms were torn and broken.

One of the Marine Lt.ís that came from around JJ Carroll to rescue the group was sitting on the gas can of a tank. An RPG hit the gas can and it blew up. When we found him, all that was left was his belt that was smoldering.

We loaded wounded on helicopters and were told to look for dead NVAs and remove all personal items and weapons. I found Hoye Solomon searching the bodies of the dead NVA. Some looked like they were 14 years old. I was surprised as to how close they were to the road. Some were in fox holes and had set up machine guns. As Hoye and me approached one fox hole there was a very young NVA slumped over the side of the hole. When we approached, he raised his head and tried to get his weapon. Solomon emptied a clip.

We were told to destroy the radios and climb on any vehicle that had room. We stayed overnight at an ARVN compound and returned to Dong Ha the next day. The members of A Battery had a couple of wounded but we all survived. It was a long and sad day. There were more members of A Btry but I can't recall all of the names.