|, March 29, 2016|
|Topic: General and miscellaneous|
Discussion: Impending April Fool's Day Always Reminds Me of How Happy I Am to be Here!!
Cavalry Trooper, C Troop, 2/1 Air Cavalry.
Copyright 2012: Steve Belcher - All rights reserved. (copy permission at bottom)
On April 1, 1970, I was a member of the “Purple Gang” at Firebase Trooper. We were not the regular combat guys; most of them stayed in the jungle, led by Captain Bergeron, a majority of the time. I certainly held them all in the highest regard; they were tough. First Sergeant Casciaro and Lt. Scott were tough as well. They had the responsibility of keeping the rest of us together. We were the headquarters platoon--clerks, medics, commo, truck drivers, supply, and weapons repair ( armorer--that was me ). Firebase Trooper was about one mile from Headquarters Firebase ( I think to our north ) and one mile from MACV and Song Mao ( to our east ). Small villages and jungle lay to our south.
Our Headquarters Firebase usually showed a movie, when available, around dusk, then we would receive it and start showing it by ten p.m. As supply help, I was given the responsibility of running the movie projector. The films sometimes ran until midnight or after. Fortunately (really, God’s providence) HQ delivered the movie early on the night of April 1. By
ten p.m. or so, a few were in their bunks or on guard duty. Guard duty for me was to be around 2 a.m. I remember being ill all day and had over 100 degrees temperature when I bedded down. If memory serves me well, the first enemy rocket came in at midnight. It struck the southern end of our brand new mess hall; it hit squarely on the ice machine in the corner. Earlier that evening, I had been standing less than three feet from the ice machine, operating the movie projector.
When the rocket hit, I ran from my bunk in the supply building to the front door; the sky was lit as bright as day by blares. On the northwestern end of our firebase, our guys had built a shower--a 500 gallon tank up on stilts with water lines running to the shower house. I do not remember the young man’s name, but he was in the shower, lathered up, when
a second rocket struck a small tree right next to the shower. I have never seen a naked man, streaming soap bubbles run approximately 60 to 70 yards as fast as he did at that moment!
First Sergeant Casciaro and Lt. Scott were fearless. They and the mortar crews set the example for the rest of us. We all had a job to do; After the first few minutes of initial shock, adrenalin took over. We stayed vigilant, on red alert until daylight, after the fighting subsided around 3:30 a.m. On the next afternoon, in discussion with mortar crew members, I learned that they had fired untold hundreds of rounds. They had numerous burns from handling the tubes, eventually firing at zero elevation. At some point during the firefight,
one mortar crewman heard and felt a loud thump at his feet. He assumed a dud round had landed. He stayed at his post, expecting to be blown away at any moment. At daylight, he discovered a VC’s head instead of a live round!
Ironically, before April 1, nothing much had occurred directly around Firebase Trooper. The Purple Gang had settled into pretty much of a routine. Top would lead some of us on short recon patrols to break the monotony. On the morning of April 1, our unit ( C Troop) received two new men, a truck driver and commo man. When asked about action, we assured them that they had nothing to worry about! Not many hours later, they were fighting for their lives.
Along with strategic towers placed around the perimeter, we also had walking guards , who circled the entire firebase. When the firefight started, B.J. Ricker was the walking guard. He was near the south side ( the point of VC attack ) so he dug in where we had a machine gun nest. At some point during the fight, sappers were seen dragging a body back through the hole in the wire in the southwest corner. Word got out that it might be BJ! In my mind, I can still see Top, myself, and others, at daylight , lamenting his capture, when up behind us walked BJ! Top literally had tears in his eyes as he jumped up and hugged BJ, then started punching him for putting us through that!
During the course of the night, men would move from position to another. Early in the fight, as I ran back and forth from the supply room or ammo dump distributing supplies ( LSA oil, weapons, ammo, etc ) I passed by a bunker just outside the supply room.
A voice rang out: “Belcher, I’m barefoot, bring me some boots.” Outside, it was bright as day when the flares burst, but inside the supply room, it was pitch black. I grabbed a pair of boots off the top shelf. As I ran back by the bunker, I yelled out: “Sarge, here’s your boots,” then lightly tossed them in. Minutes later, as I dashed back by the bunker, the boots came flying through the air, striking me in the back. He yelled: “Belcher, you ___ __ _ ______, these are 12’s; I wear 7’s.”
Top had assigned me and another man to guard the front gates. At some point near the end of the fight, a tank and two APC’s from HQ never slowed down as they
crashed through multiple layers of wire and the gates to Trooper. They drove around to the southwest side, then moments later returned, exiting the firebase. We thought for a moment that the fight had been lost. “Should we go with them?” Minutes later, we learned that we had a KIA and wounded; the vehicles had come to rescue them.
Since most of my time was spent on the north and eastern sides of Trooper, I was not directly involved in the majority of combat. However, I do remember at some point, being behind the supply room, on the eastern side of Trooper. I was feeding an M60 while
another fired. 5 Sappers, naked, covered in oil to help them slip through the wire, throwing explosives, were headed straight to us. Our weapon jammed. 20 yards from us, the sappers had run out of weapons. It seemed an eternity; we stared at one another, as if to say: “Well, what next?”. They turned and fled through the wire on the east. We got the last one when
our weapon finally unjammed.
Early, after daylight, we discovered one of our South Vietnamese scouts outside the CO’s office, still in his cot, unconscious and bloody. However, he was not shot. The explanation soon came. One of the men explained. When the fight started, he came by the cot. The scout lay there with his blanket over his head. “Get up and fight” he demanded. The scout replied: “You will think I am enemy, you will think I am enemy.” He hit the scout with his rifle butt, knocking him out!
Minutes into the fight, a sapper climbed on top of our outhouse in the southwest corner of Trooper. Before he could fire a round, one of his own rockets blew him and the outhouse away. When “all clear” sounded, some of us ran to the water trailer. The
first in line let out a few choice words as entrails poured from the spout. Someone had left the cover open on top of the water trailer!
I remember that fighting continued around the area of Song Mao for a total of about 3 days. The following week, I rode with a friend to MACV. We passed a pile of bodies in the town square. The Song Mao officials had piled them there as a message to
the enemy. I seem to remember that someone said that there were over 160 bodies. True or false, I do not know. I do know this: the stench was overwhelming, and seemed to reach all the way back to Trooper.
I celebrated my 21st birthday ( 8-25 ) and my first wedding anniversary ( 4-4 ) in 1970, now almost 46 years ago. I may have directions confused, and I cannot remember all of C Troop, but I will never forget Song Mao, April 1, 1970.