The 1/92nd Field
Moving into LZ Kate. When we arrived at the LZ we set up the guns then started building our fortifications, which I’m sure every Artillery Man knows about. Sandbags had to be filled, bunkers created, Joes (a 97 pound projectile that came in a variety of configurations from explosive, flares, or anti personnel) stored and protected, Powder Canisters also needed protection. Our hootches also had to be dug in. Depending on how deep you wanted it, how much you wanted above ground, how much head room you were able to put up with, and support for the sides and top. Of course there were sandbags, lots of sandbags, for protection.
The 155’s were placed in the southern part of the LZ, and the 105 was placed in a saddle to cover the jungle to the north. The west side of the LZ was very steep, and there was a ridge line overlooking us to the east. These direction designations are only to assist in the visualization of the LZ. I was unaware of compass directions when I was there.
During the setup process I noticed little things about our area. Our location, on top of a peek had a nice saddle going off into the jungle while the other 3 sides of the peek had a fairly steep drop off. Two of the three sides were considered too steep for a ground attack; I later would learn how wrong this assumption was. I was positioned with some Montagnards on the east side of the LZ where the ridge line to the east overlooked us. Forward of our position was a small river, the ridge line that overlooked our position was within the range of my M-79. Tactically we were in a very poor position. The NVA held the ‘high ground’ and were in a position to shoot down on us. The side opposite my hootch, West side, was very steep and went down the entire length of the mountain into a really nice looking valley that seemed to go on forever. Looking down into the valley a person standing in the valley would look no larger than an ant. The jungle started about 50 yards from the top on all sides of our location. The side opposite the saddle, South side, was also very steep and the ridge across from it was also higher, going left to right it dropped off sharply going into the same beautiful valley.
Before the Strom. After getting all setup and ready for almost anything, if one could ever really be ready to get hit, the days became routine and somewhat enjoyable. The morning was set by filling empty Powder Canisters with water, placing them on top of the Powder bunkers so we could have warm water to bathe with. There was always a volley ball game sometime during the day where we would either play the other 155 section or the 105 section would compete against our best players. I don’t remember which side was dominant I only remember having a good time. The evenings would start with a ‘whore bath’ since the water from the powder canisters was always warm by that time and a bath was welcomed. Warm water just seemed to removed more of the dirt and grime of the day’s activities and relaxed one just enough to enjoy the exceptionally beautiful sunsets you receive from on top of a mountain.
Attack of the Bugs. During that first week we were overrun by a small gold bug. It was about ¼ of an inch and sucked your blood; everything in Vietnam seems to want your blood in one way or another. In the late mornings, for 3 days, they would come up the South side of the LZ in a swarm, land on anything that had blood and start biting. After the first day when the swarm attacked we would all run for cover. After they quit swarming the next bug to attack was a HUGE black bug which we nicknamed ‘Little Chinook’; it was the size of your hand. They did not swarm in the hundreds like the little gold bugs nor did they want our blood, but they were so large they were a distraction.
I became friends with some of the Montagnards and sometimes invited them to play volley ball with us. I remember trading them C-Rations for some of their food, just for a change in diet. On occasions they would take me on excursions down into the jungle. We would go to a small river located some distance down our mountain. They would fill their canteens and I would just look around enjoying the jungle scene without thinking about what might lay ahead. My misgivings about this location were falling by the way side simply because it all seem so peaceful compared to the other locations the last 6 months had placed me in, Fire Base 6, Dak To, Ben Het to name a few.
The New Chain of Command. I have seen a report from Reginald H. Brockwell in an article called ‘The Battle for LZ Kate’ (located at: http://www.bravecannons.org/stories.html) - states, “On Oct. 27 SGT Dan Pierelli, a 22 year, old relieved SFC Arbizo. CPT. William Albracht, the executive officer at Bu Prang, arrived the following day to relieve CPT Braham, who was leaving for R & R.” I remember this because CPT Braham only seemed to want to party and play volley ball, this new CPT. William Albracht wanted to ‘tighten up’ the place a little too much, no more volley ball and the life of leisure would be gone. Mr. Brockwell also states there were 27 Artillery Men, but I know there were only 4 people in my section and I think 5 in the other 155 section and 5 on the 105. I guess the other Artillery Men were associated with the FDC. That day, after returning from one of the excursions to the river, I loaned the Montagnards our 60mm machine gun to use along with a bunch of ammo. I remember after they set up the 60 someone noticed some movement in the trees, so we opened up with the 60 directing shots at the place where they saw the movement.
The First Attack. If I remember correctly the next morning proved to be one I will never forget. CPT. William Albracht had set up patrols, which we understood were not conducted regularly under the prior command. The next morning I awoke to the sound of what I initially thought was the 105 firing, until I heard a loud PING. I knew that was not a good sound. I quickly got out of my hootch and saw that my gun had been hit with something. I then noticed holes walking up my side of the mountain ending up at a discolored point on the tube of my 155. Since the ridge across from us was higher than us the NVA set up a Recoilless Rifle, which is a direct fire weapon, and they just started walking the rounds up our side of the LZ until it hit the howitzer. Game On!
I don’t remember much of that day, but I do remember hearing the patrol CPT. William Albracht sent out the night before had made contact with the NVA. This first night under fire was a very restless time with very little sleep since I did not go back into my hootch but stayed close to my damaged 155. I felt safer there than anywhere else, probably because it was already damaged so why would the NVA want to hit it again. I had also heard, in AIT at Fort Sill, the worst thing you can do is to stay inside a hootch or bunker. You cannot see what is coming at you and it insures you will be overrun.
The next morning was another day of heavy incoming so I went around checking on people, talking to them about what they knew and how they were feeling. When I went to the 105 section, they told me they were going to get another 105 brought in, since their gun was also damaged during that initial attack the previous morning. I went with a few of my guys to check on the one 155 howitzer still working. We loaded it up to test fire it on the ridge across from us at a point where the ridge dropped down to the valley below. To be on the safe side, we create a long lanyard, backed away from the gun and pulled the lanyard. The round struck the ridge and we received a secondary explosion which surprised us. We randomly selected a point not knowing or thinking there was anything there. We informed everyone that we could at least use one 155 in our support.
One of the 105 crew, Norton, and I both carried an M-79 as a personal weapon. We got together to look at the higher ridge facing the East side of our LZ. He saw movement so both of us fired our M-79, all movement stopped after the rounds hit. A few seconds later Norton fired again, and as the projectile was sailing through the air we both saw an NVA low crawling. A second later the M-79 round struck the guy and we both jumped up yelling, “Got ya”. We went down to Norton’s gun to inform his crew what happened and to receive congratulations. As I was coming back up to the top I heard a whooshing sound come over my head, I looked up and saw a red object going over my head. I remember watching war movies and the zigzag you were supposed to do when being fired at so I immediately started running up the hill to get to the top, zigzagging all the way. I thought to myself, “Man you probably look silly running like this.” But it did not matter since I made it up to some of my guys and the protection of some sandbags. They told me it looked like the movies with me running up the hill with a Recoilless Rifle shooting at me.
The New LT. Later in the morning LT Smith, he was one of the officers in my AIT unit at Ft Sill, was wounded and was evacuated from the LZ. I seem to remember there was a chopper that came in, after LT. Smith was evacuated, carrying a Colonel. Doc and I went up to this chopper and the Colonel asked how we were doing. Doc asked him to take some of the wounded, but he refused and took off not even touching the ground. Later a chopper touched down and a LT Ross jumped out. Prior to his notifying CPT. William Albracht I had a chance to talk to him; he said he was supposed to be on his way for RR to see his wife. He stated he pissed off a Colonel and the Colonel sent him here. My last day on the LZ I heard from Doc that a piece of shrapnel from a B-40 Rocket went through both of his juggler veins and there was nothing CPT. William Albracht could do but watch him die. I was really pissed off at this Colonel and sorry for the LT’s wife.
I remember walking the perimeter with Capt Albracht, which he does not remember, and we saw movement in the valley below. He called for an Air Strike on that location, and I will never forget seeing the concussion wave when the bombs hit. After that there was no movement we could see.
Picking Shrapnel. Up towards the top on the steep side, West side, of our location, where I thought it was too steep for a ground attack, there was a ground attack taking place. Both Capt Albracht and I dove into a bunker where Doc and a few Montagnards were. Then Capt Albracht called for gunship support and they would rank the area with gun fire. Then as the gunships passed we would pop up and fire. I was so confused and scared that I popped up at the wrong time and received pieces of shrapnel in my arm. When some of the pieces bounced off my arm one of the Montagnards patted me on the back and said, 'You Number 1, I stay next to you'. I had to laugh, if he only knew how confused and scared I was he would not want to be within a mile of me. Doc told me the wounds on my arm were worth a Purple Heart, which I thought was silly. Two years later I was still picking out pieces of shrapnel. .