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VIETNAM: MY EXPERIENCE

Joseph De Frank - Army

I was drafted in October 1966, took basic at Fort Hood, Combat Medical Training at Fort Sam and was assigned to B Company, 1/6 Infantry, 198th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. We deployed to Vietnam in October 1967 and our area of operations was Chu Lai until the Tet Offensive began in January 1968.

On Jan. 30, 1968, the eve of the Vietnamese New Year (called Tet), we heard there would be a two-day cease-fire. That day, all hell broke loose. We heard rumors of the broken truce and widespread attacks by the NVA and VC in major cities throughout South Vietnam. The news was soon confirmed and we were on alert around the clock.

We were ordered to participate in Task Force Miracle. We went by Chinook, a large helicopter that held our entire platoon, to a Marine base camp near Da Nang. We arrived the morning of Feb. 8, 1968 and were transported to a location near where the Marines had been heavily engaged with a large enemy force.

My platoon moved slowly, on line, dike by dike, toward the hamlet of Lo Giang, where there were supposedly 100 VC. It wasn’t until much later that we found out that the intelligence information had been wrong and there were actually 500 well-fortified NVA regulars in the ville. Just after we crossed a chest-deep paddy, we heard the sound of mortar rounds as the enemy walked them in all around us.

Small-arms fire came from the ville and we started firing in that direction. I heard the cry “Medic” and maneuvered to the wounded soldier. He had been hit in the side of his gut, and I began bandaging the wound. A mortar round dropped in real close and the debris that hit hard on my face, arms and hands, momentarily blinded me.

I quickly recovered from minor scrapes but the wounded man took another piece of shrapnel that penetrated his foot near the arch. After bandaging his wounds, I noticed that the rest of the platoon had maneuvered out of sight. I was never so frightened in my entire life and thought for sure we would be killed.

Suddenly I spotted another guy from my platoon and we carried the wounded man to a designated medevac location, while dodging mortar rounds. When the mortar fire ceased, the wounded man was evacuated along with several others.

We retreated from our position for resupply and watched our artillery and jets bombard the hamlet. A mortar round found its way into our new position every once in a while. The air strikes and artillery continued well into darkness.

The next day we swept through the hamlet and found several dead Americans who had been the victims of an enemy ambush. Some had been tied to trees and shot in the head. We called in choppers and lifted the dead in their ponchos. They were awfully heavy and we were awfully depressed.

We moved through the ville, took a body count and gathered the weapons, equipment and supplies that had been left behind. The First Battalion, Sixth Infantry had won its first major battle. We were told that 250 of the enemy had been killed in the ville and 250 had been captured or killed as they tried to quickly retreat.

The cost of this victory to the 1/6 was 21 men killed and about 40 wounded. An additional 30 Americans from other units were also killed. A general and a colonel inspected the location and congratulated the 1/6 for a job well done. We were glad to be alive and very sad for those who didn’t make it.

Several Silver Stars and Bronze Stars were earned that fateful day, but the predominant medal was the combat award most respected, least desired, the Purple Heart.

The basic price for the chance to have one pinned on your chest is BLOOD; the ultimate price needs no validation. It is made up of pain, skin, muscle, nerve ends, bone and blood folded into a mix of duty, courage, gallantry, decision, and honor. It is then left to harden in the glare of history, memory and appraisal, and becomes an indestructible chunk of pride. The color is purple and it cannot be defiled.

I was informed that I was being recommended for a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. I was just happy that I was able to do my job under real pressure and that my platoon, while earning several Purple Hearts, had only one serious casualty.

After that battle, some referred to the1/6 as “The Da Nang Gang.” We received a Valorous Unit Citation for the victory at Lo Giang, in recognition of our outstanding combat performance in the face of a well-armed enemy.

The battle of Lo Giang was the most memorable and tragic event of our tour of duty after 15 weeks in country. This was no longer life in the jungle, punctuated by sniping and an occasional ambush.

Light combat had been as much as we could handle up to now and our officers and men were greener that the grass we had marched through. I wondered what would happen next now that we had experienced our Baptism of Fire.



 


 



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