Sp4 Philip Thomas Randazzo
2nd Platoon, Charlie Troop
C21 Recon, ¾ Cavalry, 25th Infantry Division
Vietnam Duty - September 1967 - September 1968
This written account is an attempt to explain what actually was going on when the photograph on the front cover of "A Hundred Miles of Bad Road" was taken.
It is a photograph of the 2nd Platoon, C Troop 3/4 Cav. I would like to maybe be able to explain it to the families of these troopers. The lead tank (C26) as depicted in this cover photograph. Those of the public that are interested would maybe have a better understanding of what it was like in Vietnam during that time.
The book cover that I am speaking of is, "A Hundred Miles of Bad Road", by Dwight Birdwell and Keith W. Nolan. The photograph on the front cover of the book really struck a chord with me. I had a tingly feeling in my heart and stomach when I looked at it. I brought back strong memories. In the photograph there is a M48 tank with troopers gathered around it. Just to look at this picture does not explain the whole story behind it. I will attempt to state the facts as they happened.
It begins like this. We, 2nd Plt C troop, were located up between Trang Bang and the Michelin Rubber plantation. We were involved in a search and destroy mission. We were off Highway 1, to the east about a half mile or so in a heavy, dense wood line. The front cover shows this. The formation of 2nd Plt was the same as if we were riding on highway 1. Somewhat of a clearing was in front of Sgt Strayer's tank, (C26), the same tank that led the 2nd Plt into the hell at Ton Son Nhut). Of special note, this photograph was taken around the end of November, or the beginning of December 1967.
We were ordered to halt; I myself was behind that tank on track C21. I was told to dismount, with Zuniga and Sandoval, from other tracks. We already had a good idea what we were going to be doing. A part of all of our MOSs was to recon on foot. Sergeant Strayer did not want our platoon to advance into that opening that is very visible in the front cover photo. So, us three walked up in front of the tank and started doing our job. I was in the middle, flanked on both sides by Zuniga and Sandoval. We walked cautiously and tried to keep in sight of each other. We had only gone about 50 meters when in front of me I saw a Vietnamese Pagoda (a type of religious structure). It was really colorful, a lot of shades of yellows, oranges and browns. This was a first for me; it was definitely strange seeing this type of structure in this environment. I looked to my side and waved Sandoval to get down and did the same with Zuniga. I scanned the entire area with my eyes before any of us advanced. I noticed a small foot trail about 6-8 inches wide to my immediate front. It went straight to the Pagoda. At that moment I recalled something that I had been told. G.I.s do not like walking off of trails in mud or bush if they could help it. That single thought made me concentrate on that trail. Recalling that is what probably saved my life, and maybe Zuniga's and Sandoval's too. I spotted something that I thought did not look right for jungle terrain like this. It was a piece of newspaper, no more than 6" in circumference. It was right on the edge of this foot trail. I signaled to the guys that I was going to move forward and had them cone up to my position to cover. As I approached closer to the paper I laid down on the ground and reconned by sight again. It was just a piece of newspaper I thought but it just seemed odd being there. I belly crawled forward slowly up to it until my nose was almost touching it. I tool another really close look and decided what I was going to do. I took a deep breath and blew on the paper. It blew off and exposed what I thought was my personal goodbye to Nam. It was the nose cone of a 175mm artillery shell. It was buried into the ground with just the nose sticking out. I really did not want to move, breathe or shit. I was 2-3 inches away from being blown sway to hell. I examined this shell cone very closely until I figured out my best move. On the tip of the cone there was a rod inserted into it. There was about 2 inches of it sticking above the tip. I could also see a cotter pin coming through the rod resting on the tip of the cone. A thin wire was attached to the loop of the cotter pin. I started to blow on the dirt and leaves to show more of this tripwire. This wire was lying across the foot trail into heavy foliage. The whole booby trap scenario was pretty clear by this point. I stood up and walked back to the other guys and the lead tank. I told Sgt Strayer what I had found. He dismounted his vehicle and wanted to see first hand the entire situation in front of us. Four of us went back to the booby trap and Sgt Strayer radioed back to the platoon for some C4 and a blasting cap. We set a charge carefully on the 175mm round and hurried back to our column of vehicles. The end result is what is shown on that photograph, on the cover of "A Hundred Miles of Bad Road". I went back with Zuniga and Sandoval to continue our recon mission and the pagoda that was standing there was not there any longer. It was a hell of an explosion. The significance of this story is just that it explains the explosion in the photo in front of 2nd Platoon's lead tank.
I will go on to say that if there was any shit around, 2nd Platoon C Troop usually ended up in the middle of it. I can also identify some of the troopers in the photograph; Steve Porter is sitting on the 50cal. I an standing on top of the tank next to Porter. Lying down on the left side of the tank was a member of the tank crew, he was a guy from someplace down south, he was a gunner and he liked that 30 cal. that was mounted on the turret. On the ground, the trooper leaning to his left with the baseball type cap that looks brownish in color is Sgt Dolan. He was the TC of C21. At the front left of the tank is another tanker. We all called him by the nickname that we gave him "Farmer". He was another excellent tanker. He saw his share of firefights. The trooper with the steel pot on, and the trooper standing behind the tank I cannot identify. I also would like to mention that this tank is the vehicle that led us into battle at Ton Son Nhut on January 31st, 1968.
Also of interest, the caption states that this cover photo was the courtesy of Leo Virant. He must have been mounted on top of my track, C21. You can see the camera looking down upon the troopers while this photo was taken. This is something that has aroused my curiosity. I think that he may have gotten it from McGarvey as he was C21 driver. We did have a Polaroid instamatic camera aboard. I got great footage myself when I was there. I have VHS that I converted from 8mm. My film show mostly 2nd Platoon from CuChi to the Black Virgin Mountain and all the other exciting tourist attractions in between.
Philip T. Randazzo