23 FEBRUARY 1971, “A DAY I’LL NEVER FORGET”, BY WILLIAM F. CARTER

I remember 23 February 1971 like it was yesterday. From that day on we called it “The Dahl Ambush”. It seemed easier to talk about it that way. It struck me hard because it was the second time since I left the world that I lost someone I really knew and trusted with my life. The first time was on 21 November 1970 when we lost Jimmy Ray Callison. After that day we all called it “The Callison Ambush”. I was a driver in that ambush, I was the second or third truck in that contact, and drove on through the kill zone with only a few small arms holes in my tanker, and a bullet hole in the left fuel tank of my tractor. I was pulling diesel fuel that day. I had been in country a little less than three months when Jimmy was killed, and three months later we lost Larry. I had been in several harassment contacts, where a sniper would try to pick off several drivers, or a small group of Viet Cong would hit the convoy with small arms and rpg”s then disappear in ten or fifteen minutes. But nothing like November and certainly nothing like the Dahl Ambush. It was making me hard inside, and causing me to doubt our leadership and my purpose of being in country. We were all waking up and wondering exactly what we were fighting for “except” for each other! I arrived in country on 2 September 1970 and was assigned to the 597th Transportation Company, 10 days later (12 September 1970) I was transferred to the 359th Transportation Company because the 597th had to many drivers, and the 359th needed a few.

Anyway I’m getting ahead of my story, 23 February 1971 started like any other day. The platoon leader woke us up at 0400 hours. I got up and went down to the shower shed and brushed my teeth, washed my face, combed my hair and went to the mess hall for breakfast. I knew it was going to be another long, hard, hot, muggy day, and being an addicted coffee drinker, I wanted to tank up on java and eat a good breakfast before we kicked out. For a couple of bucks (M.P.C.) monthly, the Vietnamese woman that served us would pack a couple of BLT sandwiches, whatever other sweets we had, and fill my Stanley with coffee. Ed Bonner my driver had come in and we had breakfast together.

When we both had our fill, we headed over to the arms room with “Lil Brutus” and hung the M60’s on it, I threaded the belts in the gun’s, and drew  an M1911, Bonner drew a M79 and an M16 with a couple of bandoleers of ammo. I kept 10 boxes of M60 ammo, a gm-50 cal box full of M79 rounds, and a law rocket on the jeep. Along with a few other items, like the AK47 I hung in the back of the box, and a razor sharp machete I kept on the jeep beside the drivers seat. I called the commo shack for a radio check after drawing my trip log from the motor pool, then waited for Lt Porter outside the HQ shack. He was our Convoy Commanded for the trip. The drivers began to fire up their tractors, draw their manifests, trip logs, and were heading to pick up their tankers from the trailer park on the way to the Ponderosa. It was still dark, so their headlights were on. Lt Porter boarded, and we headed for Gun Truck row at the Ponderosa. I remember stopping in front of “Brutus” and crawling up into the box to chat with the guys. Richard Bond was at Phu Tai taking the E-5 promotion board interview, that I had stood a week before in Cha Rang. SSGT Hector Diaz was NCOIC on “Brutus” for the trip, Larry Dahl was the 50 cal gunner, Chuck Huser was the mini gunner, and Ron Mallory was the driver. SSGT Diaz manned a 50 cal. We shot the breeze for a few minutes and I took a picture of them. I kept a camera with me my whole tour of duty. Then I climbed down to go test weapons at the range. While we were waiting for the road to open we test fired the weapons, everything fired properly and we drove back to Gun Truck row.

About o700 hours the road (QL19) was cleared for traffic. The first convoy kicked out for Pleiku with a convoy of fuel tankers. They had the gun truck’s “The Creeper”. “The Playboys”,  “The Boss”, and a couple of gun jeeps from the 545th Transportation Company with them. About 0800 hour’s the 359TH kicked out for Pleiku with our convoy of fuel tankers. We had a lead jeep, I think SSGT Bullington was on it, and the gun truck’s “Brutus”, “The Untouchable”, “The Misfits”, the gun jeep “Lil Brutus” and I think we had either an ARVIN gun truck< or an M.P. gun vehicle with us. Everything seemed normal, like a thousand other convoys. No warning that anything other than road waited ahead of us. Usually the coke girls at the kick point would tell us if they had heard about trouble. But this morning, not a hint. You learn to expect the unexpected on the road. You just never knew when or where it’s going to take place.

At about 1050 hours our convoy’s lead jeep was about a kilometer from the first curve at the bottom of the An Khe pass, and I had not changed to the second radio frequency. I could hear what sounded like muffled explosions. When I changed the radio frequency Lt Porter and I heard the very thing you never want to hear in a convoy! “CONTACT, CONTACT, CONTACT, I have a gun truck down near the top of the An Khe pass, We need help”. I had two head sets attached to the radio, the Lt’s was a double, while mine was a single set, so I could hear what was going on around me. Both head set’s had thumb switch’s for talk and face mikes. We had two head sets because I didn’t trust green Lt’s to make the right calls. I had the radio set up like that. As we approached the bottom of the pass, we could see the telltale mushrooms of rising above the hill ahead of us.

At about 1100 hours Lt porter told the lead jeep to pop smoke and stop the convoy. we “Lil Brutus”, pulled out and went down the line motioning for the drivers to pull over out of the middle of road. We heard again over the radio “CONTACT, CONTACT, CONTACT, WE NEED HELP, CALLING ANY GUN TRUCK IN THE AREA WE NEED HELP”. By that time the radio was jammed with cross talk, it seemed like in the confusion of the ambush everyone in the first convoy was talking at the same time. This made it difficult to call in air support and medevac choppers.

One of our gun trucks called Lt Porter and asked if we could give them a hand. After thinking about it for a second, Lt porter gave the order for our three gun trucks to head into the kill zone. We left the lead jeep and one other gun vehicle with our convoy. I don’t recall who the gun vehicle belonged to. “The misfits”, “Brutus”, “The Untouchable”, and  “Lil Brutus” headed into the kill zone.  I remember thinking “how bad is this going to be”? Then I remember seeing David Ross hanging over the side of the gun box on “The Untouchable” making funny faces and taking pictures of “Lil Brutus” as we sped past the check point. I thought that was pretty cool. As we went through the hairpin, I remember thinking where is the ambush? I could see the smoke from burning tankers over the rise ahead of us, but no enemy. Then as we rounded a long curve above the hairpin we passed a couple of fuel tankers that were below the kill zone. As we climbed a small rise I saw “The Untouchable” firing the mini gun on the left side, so we passed on the right. After coming over another small hill, I could see “Brutus” about 100 yards ahead facing west beside, or close to, a burning fuel taker. I told Bonner to pull to the left of the road, because I could see muzzle flash’s from the tall grass and from a flat area on the left side. I was cocked and loaded, then I saw the smoke trail from a b40 rocket there also. I opened up on the area with my right M60, once I sighted in good I used spraying fire on that position. It didn’t take long to run a belt of ammo through the M60. I went to the left M60 and continued to spray the area. Some N.V.A moved in the grass about 50 yards from the road. I could see body parts flying when I laid fire on them. I could hear the mini gun on “Brutus” ahead of me, and the mini gun on “the Untouchable” behind my position. That was a good sound. It was very unnerving to hear the sound of bullets whizzing past my head. That sound I’ve never forgotten! Another B40 rocket went off again, but it seemed to be targeting “Brutus”. It missed. He had moved closer to the road, and was about 60 yards from “Brutus”. I finished the belt on that area, and I did not see him fire again. It seemed as if I was moving in slow motion while rebelting both M60″s. I t seemed to take a lifetime reaching down and grabbing the boxes of ammo, getting them open, and reloading both M60’s. It was also a little hard to stand with a couple of hundred ammo casings on the floor of the jeep. I think I went through five boxes of ammo that day. I don’t know what my heart rate was, but it was pounding a hundred miles an hour in my throat. Lt Porter was dropping M79 rounds right on target along the tree line slightly right of our position and out about 100 yards. We could see movement and muzzle flashes from that area. Bonner was knelling down to the rear and right of the jeep with his M16 guarding our right flank. This put the jeep between him and the enemy fire that we were receiving. I didn’t want the enemy to come over the hill behind us undetected. I guess it couldn’t have been more than fifteen or twenty minutes when the enemy fire subsided except for some sporadic small arms fire up the road. But they hadn’t given up, it started and stopped several times, but the positioning seemed different each time. I don’t know if they were moving away from “Lil Brutus” firepower, or that they were jockeying for position on “Brutus”. After about twenty or thirty minutes from the time we had arrived, the enemy attack seemed to stop. I remembered I hadn’t heard the mini gun on “Brutus” for awhile. Someone called a cease fire over the radio. To this day I don’t know who. I was still scanning for movement when Lt Porter said let’s pull ahead.  I hadn’t heard a shot in about ten minutes so I agreed. Someone had moved a tanker down the pass and it was on the left side of the road facing Qui Nhon. There was a gathering of guy’s beside it in the road. The gun truck “Sir Charles” had arrived some time during the fight, but I didn’t notice when it showed up. We had been pretty busy for a while and didn’t see it come in. Then I took a picture of the scene. I believe it was a maintenance operator named McQuilllan and some driver I didn’t recognize, maybe Gaylin Weeks, Eric Freeman, and the Lt from the 545th Transportation Company. “Brutus” was further up the pass by the burning tanker. Lt Porter gave the order to return to our convoy to await recovery to clear the road after he had conferred with the 545th commander. “Brutus” was in the process of turning around, and had backed up to an abutment on the right side of the road.

All of a sudden everyone ducked their heads down into their necks when the 50 cal went off on “Brutus”. Then there was a loud explosion in the gun box. Everyone was scrambling for cover or their gun vehicles. I swung my gun’s around in that direction, but didn’t see anything to shoot at. I did see “Brutus” make a hard left turn, and push the burning tanker out of the way and head for a safe point where medevac Choppers were waiting. Lt Porter asked if we could drive up to the place where “Brutus” was last positioned, and we did. We saw three dead V.C. on the ground near where “Brutus” was sitting. It was obvious they were killed by the 50 cal. After an intense period of time scanning for targets and expecting another attack, our gun trucks rejoined our convoy. I remember my throat felt like it had dirt in it, it was so dry my tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth. While we were waiting for recovery to clear the road I sat on the hood of “Lil Brutus” and tried to light a cigarette. I was shaking so bad my hands didn’t want to work, I kept dropping my lighter. Bonner finally lit it for me, and I just sat and stared down the road while my skin crawled. It must have been a couple of hours when we got the word the road was passable. Maintenance and recovery had cleared the road and sanded the areas where fuel had spilled for traction. We took our convoy on to pleiku, driving back through the ambush scene was emotional for all of us. Somehow it didn’t seem real at the time. It took me the rest of a sleepless night to settle down, “The Misfits” and “Brutus” remained overnight in An Khe.

We later found out that Larry Dahl was killed. Huser and SSGT Diaz had both been seriously wounded and sent to the hospital. This was tough news. Larry had been a close friend and I miss him to this day. Ron Mallory was as good as could be expected after losing the whole crew for the time being. As far as I’m concerned Ron Mallory saved both Huser and Diaz’s lives. Any hesitation on his part in the withdrawl from the kill zone and both Diaz and Huser would have bled out. There is no doubt he saved both their lives.

That’s all I can remember about that day, except I never ate my BLT sandwiches. I remained on “Lil Brutus until two weeks before I left Vietnam for home. The last two weeks I climbed poles and replaced perimeter lights, ran commo lines in the compound, and did electrical work in the company area. Upon returning home I went back to work with the power company as a lineman.

SP/5 WILLIAM F. CARTER

359th Transportation company

27th Transportation Battalion

8th Transportation Group

1st Logistical Command

Phu Tai R.V.N

 

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