|Combat Action of an 8/4th Soldier
While Attached to the 3/5th Cavalry
By Terry Johnson
February 23, 1971, started out as a normal day. I was in the sixth month of my tour of duty in Vietnam. I had been attached to 2nd Platoon, C-Troop 3/5 Cavalry for some months as a forward observer. Our mission during Lam Son 719 was to provide security to the engineers who were building the "Red Devil Highway" from the Rockpile to Khe Sanh. Our job consisted of patrols and mine sweeps of the area in and around the Rockpile.
That morning we were assigned to do a mine sweep in the area known as the "Punch Bowl." Accompanying us was a civilian reporter named Holger Jensen who was doing a story of the operation. He was riding in the fifth armored personal carrier along with my platoon leader Lt. Joe Megginson, a West Point graduate and the best officer I have ever served under, and our troop commander, Captain Carr. I was in the fourth armored personal carrier in the column. About an hour into the sweep I spotted something moving along the side of the road. I thought that maybe we had had dropped a box of ammunition, but I wasn't sure. I dismounted to investigate. Because the troop commander was there, I wore my steel pot and flak jacket. I also brought along my M-60 machine gun with a 50 round belt just in case. When I parted the bush, there I was face to face with a North Vietnamese Army soldier with an RPG pointed right at me no more that a foot away. I don't know what possessed me at the time, but I said "Chieu hoi" (Open arms in Vietnamese -- meaning to surrender). At that point he pulled the trigger.
I can still hear that click today. He was in the process of re-cocking his RPG when I shot him. After shooting him I started firing in the area around him. I still remember my Lt. asking "What the hell do you think you are doing?" I was so scared I couldn't even talk. I ran back to my track and grabbed an M-16 and an ammo can that had some grenades in it and went back to engage whoever was out there. By that time everyone thought that I had gone insane. I still couldn't talk. When I pulled the body of the first NVA onto the road, the unit realized that we were in an ambush situation, but by then it was already over. I had killed four enemy soldiers and wounded at least one more who got away. We were lucky that day, for there were no American causalities. Towards the end of my tour I was called out in formation and presented with the Silver Star and Purple Heart. This was one of the proudest moments of my life. I still remember the hand shakes and pats on the back as if it was yesterday.
Terry J. Johnson HHB 8/4 Arty
|F.O. Team attached 2Plt. C-Trp. 3/5 Cavalry