Attack on Cam Lo
Golf & Hotel 3/12
The battle for Cam Lo and it’s artillery batteries started about a week before the reported engagement. Hotel and Golf Batteries had positions on the south side of Route 9 at Cam Lo village. Looking back, it wasn't a great location because the village provided cover and concealment to any attacking NVA forces from the north and northwest. Additionally as 2/4 moved northwesterly, the guns were not always able to provide coverage due to the infantry unit moving beyond their maximum ranges. To compensate, Hotel and Golf were each given a 155 towed howitzer, helping to achieve better artillery coverage foe 2/4. A platoon of tanks with their 90mm rounds were also used as artillery to supplement the 105’s. Approximately the 17th of August Golf and Hotel batteries moved forward, heading west along Route 9. We set up on a small ridgeline that ran from the northeast to southwest; Route 9 was carved through the position. Golf was the easterly battery; It's 155 howitzer parapet dug into the ridge. Sergeant Troester, who was section chief of gun 4 was also the 155 crew chief. Guns 3 through6 also had parapets carved into the ridge; we started building the ammo bunkers to our rear. We had tangle foot and a triple row of concertina wire in front of our guns; a company of grunts supplemented our lines from Golf's 155 howitzer, running to the southwest connecting into the lines at Hotel Battery's location. There were 2 tanks and a tank retriever inside the lines to our left rear. Headquarters Battery joined us on August 25th, bringing mess and living quarter tents; the site became congested with tents. Our Motor T section was used on the lines to help coverage; Marines on watch for Golf and I think Hotel, were manning lines to their battery fronts as well as the rear lines. I’m sure we had LP’s out front but we didn’t know where. We had long days of shooting, building ammo bunkers, and nights shooting H and I’s along with the normal fire missions. As usual it was exhausting work for the gun crews. The batteries transferred one Marine from each 105 to the 155 howitzers to create another two crews. I don’t know if this is the right place for this but in August of 1966, Marines along Route 9 and north of it were pretty gung-ho. There was no antiwar sentiments that I recall. Gun 4 had Corporal Lonergan, Lance Corporal Jones, our driver, JJ Casadena, Private Botts, myself, "Stump," and I think Butler. JJ and Butler were new to Nam, Jonesy was a good guy from Alabama. Lonergan was from southern Illinois and was going home in another month. I had a small reel to reel tape player that I would use to make tapes, sending them home and to friends “from the world.” In turn, they would send me tapes of songs. It was at this location I got a tape with 2 very weird songs that made everyone think the world was going nuts. Those 2 songs, “They’re coming to take me away Ha Ha” and “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles. So during work parties I always had 1 of those 2 songs playing. We had a couple of gooks from the village that would come into our position and give haircuts. This would proof fatal to them on the 26th. On the 25th both 155’s moved forward approximately two clicks west to provide better coverage on the reverse slopes of the Razorback. The day of the 25th was like most, building ammo bunkers, shooting and filling sandbags. The mess tents were set up; Alpha 1-4 came into our position to take over perimeter security. This evening bought mail call and hot chow, about as good as it gets in the field with the exception of "beer call." As I stood in line for chow with Rhorbach, I looked back; there was Lynwood Inman. Lyn had dated a girl that was friends with a girl I had dated in high school. I think I screamed out his name; we immediately got together and talked about "the world." I had received six newspapers from home that day and I gave him three of them, keeping three so we could switch the next day. That night Gun 4 shot H and I’s. I took gun watch from 1am until 3am; after finishing my watch, I got my replacement up making sure he was awake. I had been thinking a long time had passed since I “aired” out my feet. Arriving at my tent, I went to my rack, took off my pants and boots; this was something I would never do again at night in the Nam. It seemed like I had just laid down when all of a sudden explosions went off behind our tent. I could see a red star cluster and then a large explosion sent the tank retriever into a ball of flames. It seemed all hell had broken loose in a matter of seconds... The crews for Guns 3 and 4 were sharing a tent; after the explosions, it was chaotic getting out. Everyone was trying to get through the entrance at once; as both crews ran for the guns, we realized nobody had grabbed their M-14’s; I turned around and ran towards our tent. As I made my way back, there now seemed to be rifle fire everywhere. I knew they were inside the wire; arriving at our tent, I grabbed all the rifles, all the web gear I could find, and ran out of the tent towards Gun 4. I wasn't five feet out the door when an automatic weapon started firing at me; I hit the deck and tried to cover my head with rifles. No shit, I was scared... It seemed like 5 minutes passed but I know it was more like 30 seconds when suddenly, there was an explosion where the rifle fire was coming from. I jumped up and ran to the gun; Jonesy was a-gunning, Lonergan was gunning, JJ and Botts were loading. I moved to the parapet wall, covering our front. Rifles were given out to everyone; as I remember, Jonesy and Lonergan’s were hanging on the shields of the 105. I started seeing green tracers coming from below our gun being fired towards our front. I started firing back, trying to stop anything from coming our way. As the battle progressed the CO stopped at our gun, asking what I was shooting at. Almost immediately a green tracer passed through our position, I think he said to continue and cover our front. We had “Puff” come on station; he started firing at the Gook positions. All those red lines from the air to ground, then the buzz of bullets impacting. Everything seemed like slow motion, but it wasn’t. We kept firing our 105 untill we were out of ammo; as daylight arrived, the jets came in and started bombing runs to our rear. They continued all the way up, into the hills to the southwest where the gooks were trying to escape. The enemy small arms fire started dying out; we began carrying ammunition for the gun from the ammo dump. I know I had a rifle over one shoulder and an 105 round over the other. H-34’s started bringing in ammo for the grunts and taking our wounded out; the sun had risen when the last jet dumped his load on the gooks, made a pass over us, wagging his wings. Everyone started policing ammo tubes, getting ready for another attack, trying to make sense of the mess around us. The mess tents were also "home" to the cooks; they were blown and burned. I think 3 cooks or mess duty Marines died there. Corporal Clark from Golf Battery had been on mess duty and was never the same again. He was a good Marine but the war that night had taken a heavy toll on him. I can’t recall how many wounded came from those tents but I believe Clark was the only one not wounded or killed. The Gooks lay dead in weird positions; I recall one NVA soldier was running, then suddenly his midsection was missing and his chest and head lay about 10 feet away from his legs; bullets had hit the explosives on his hips, litterly blowing him in two. Everyone started dragging dead NVA to an area where a bulldozer was digging a mass grave; we started throwing them in. The final count was 80 inside our lines; Lord knows how many were outside. All the North Vietnamese had tied strings to their pressure points; if they were shot and still capable, the Gooks would stop, tighten the string to control bleeding, and continue on. Were they taking opium? Who knows but usually a rifle wound would take anyone to the ground. Maybe the weirdest I saw was an NVA soldier who had been shot through the head; he had stopped to bandage his wound when someone had finalized his days on earth with a few more rounds to his body. The Golf Battery Marines on watch that night had more than eleven dead North Vietnamese in front of their fighting hole, and more behind and in the hole with them. I know PFC Blain was with Lance Corporal Kowalyk; it may have been Bell or Mcrae, but all three were wounded, Kowalyk the worst, but he had stopped the NVA from entering the back of their hole killing one as he tried to get to the other Marines. It was interesting because over the last few nights, Blain, and others in that position had seen and heard movement to their front. They had tossed grenades, but found nothing in the morning. That night the new Lieutenant had told the holes “if you throw a grenade you’d better have a body out there in the morning.” I recall Blain yelling “there’s a gook, there’s a gook , you want a body I’ve got bodies.” An eight year old boy had been induced to attack with these NVA soldiers; they gave him a wooden rifle with a selector. He died charging across our compound as did the “barbers.“ Golf Battery had 7 wounded: Blain, Kowalyk, Hite, Mcrae, Bell, Schlacter, and Lieutenant Westfall. I believe Kowalyk was awarded the Navy Cross. It was a long time before he recovered from his wounds; I also believe Lieutenant Westfall received the Bronze Star for his actions. My buddy Inman from A-1/4 received the Silver Star or Navy Cross, a Purple Heart and a trip home. I wouldn’t see him again untill November 10, 1985 when we went to a Marine Corp Birthday party; he and I spent the whole night trying to recall August 26, 1966 and the horror of that night. Hotel Battery had three killed in action as did Headquarters Battery. Wounded from Hotel was six, and four from Headquarters. S-2 was reduced to one person because of the losses. The next night at about 11:00pm we started receiving small arms fire again but nothing more happened. During the morning hours of the 28th, the hole manned by the grunts right beside Golf’s Gun 4 had an incoming grenade and one additional WIA. I was on gun watch at the time and immediately went forward to the parapet wall but nothing more happened that night. I’ve often wondered about the 26th after reading the after action reports and journal entries, why no one gave us notice; the LP’s had movement, contact was assured. Then, on the 28th, why that grenade wasn’t thrown ten feet to the left of that hole. It would have been me in a big gun pit trying to escape the outcome.
Please send more information about the battles at LZ Cates...