The Old Reliable
3 July, 1968
'We felt like we didn't have a chance'
Three stranded soldiers survive terror-filled night amid bombs, mini guns, rockets and enemy battalion
By SGT Dewey Noble
BINH CHANH – Isolated from their company amid a VC battalion, three 9th Division soldiers survived a night of terror in which they were shot at, bombed and strafed by mini guns and rockets.
The men are Private First Class Edwin S. Carpenter, 22, of Sag Harbor, N.Y., PFC Mauricio Guerra, 22, of Lubbock, Tex., and PFC Clifford Byers, 25, of Texarkans, Ark.
They were with the 5th Mechanized Battalion, 60th Infantry, May 13 when it became embroiled in vicious fighting with a VC battalion about five miles south of Saigon. The enemy unit was one of many trying to storm the capital city.
As fighting waned during the early afternoon, Carpenter said he and five other men volunteered for a small patrol to search a wood line for a dead buddy.
"We found the man and a machine gunner set of security for us nearby." Carpenter recalled, "We were just starting to bring him back when bullets began thudding all around us. One of our men was wounded in the left thigh and the five of us jumped into a ditch for cover."
Other company elements began returning fire and a heavy battle was soon in full fury. Enemy fire increased as they brought in more men and the 5th/60th regrouped.
"The wounded guy had been bleeding for about 45 minutes and we tried everything to stop it," Carpenter said. "We had to get him out of there so Byers put him on his back. Guerra toop point and I covered the rear. We just got out of the ditch when the ground exploded with bullets and rockets all around us. We had to fall back. There was no chance."
Soon it was dark and the men tried to comfort their wounded companion, telling him that a track would soon be there to pick them up. A few minutes later they heard a track start, and then another.
"When we heard the rest of the company start up, we were hit with a dreaded thought – they were pulling out," Carpenter said.
"The three of us realized that we had to work together as a team," he said. "It was our responsibility to get the wounded man medical attention and to get ourselves out of the middle of all those VC. Flares were all over the sky and we hoped something would happen soon."
And it did. Two silhouettes appeared against the flare-lit sky and the three men realized the VC were looking for them. The men lay on their backs, protecting their unconscious wounded friend and keeping their weapons pointed toward the figures.
"I guess they were looking for their own dead and wounded," Carpenter recalled. "I was about read to shoot them when they suddenly turned and walked away."
He said the three then decided to get out despite the enemy presence and were picking up the wounded man when they realized he was dead.
"We didn't want to accept the fact that he was dead so we tried everything we could think of to revive him," Carpenter said. "But all failed. We had to face the truth."
He said the men took off all equipment and emptied their pockets of everything that rattled. Then, carrying only their sling less rifles and a few magazines, they crawled up the dike and started for the edge of the wood line. When they reached the wood line, flares began popping all over the area.
"Then the Air Force began bombing and strafing the area," Carpenter recalled. "We realized we had been moving toward the impact area, toward the enemy. Luckily there was a huge indentation in the ground and we crawled into it to escape all the debris and fragments which were hitting all around us."
After 15 minutes of air strikes, the jets finally left but the men stayed in the 15 foot deep hole listening for enemy movement.
"We decided that everything was quiet and had just started climbing out of the hole when two helicopter gunships dove in and started ripping the area," Carpenter said. We changed our position to the opposite side of the hole. This proved to be a lifesaving move because we had no sooner shifted than mini guns stitched a deadly pattern across the place we had been sitting. At times rockets passed only 15 ro 20 feet over our heads, smashing directly behind us. By this time we felt like we didn't have a chance. We knew how the VC must feel when we rain hell on them."
but the siege wasn't over even after the gun ships left. Artillery and mortars began pounding the area. The barrage continued for what Carpenter said seemed like hours until it finally tapered off about 3 a.m.
"After it had been quiet for an hour, we pulled out," Carpenter recalled.
Carpenter said they had been walking for about 15 minutes when they found tracks left in the mud by the APCs. They studied the ground and began following the trail.
"We had walked about 400 meters when, all of a sudden, we saw the silhouettes of APC antennae outlined against the sky," Carpenter said excitedly. "But we didn't know whether we should walk toward them in the dark. We could be mistaken for VC and shot.
"Maybe it was a foolish idea but we decided to go in. We made ourselves as conspicuous as possible, walking right down the middle of that rice paddy standing tall and as proud as we could be."
The daring stunt worked. The three were immediately spotted but their "standing tall and proud" identified them as American soldiers. The no-fire order was given and the three relived men walked into the perimeter.
"We felt like we were on the winning team in the World Series," Carpenter smiled "We jumped up and down and hugged each other. It was out of this world, a really fabulous moment. The first sergeant came down, the company commander came down. It was like a miracle and no one could believe we had made it."