Sp4 Philip Thomas Randazzo
2nd Platoon, Charlie Troop
C21 Recon, ¾ Cavalry, 25th Infantry Division
Vietnam Duty - September 1967 - September 1968
To detail all of my experiences during my tour of duty in Vietnam at one time would take a quite an amount of time and extensive writing. So, I am focusing on this particular event at this time. I have read some accounts, which do not; I believe bring out the true facts about operations that went on in Vietnam with certain individuals of 2nd Platoons of the ¾ Cav.
Prior to the events at Tan Son Nhut Air Base I had more than 4 months of almost daily eight man ambushes, Three-man Ops., Boo Coo night patrols on Highway 1, plenty of Search and Destroy, Convoy running and more than my share of tunnels to crawl into and search, and for the "coup de grace" I had the misfortune to be in the 2nd Platoon Hooch when it was hit by a rocket at 0200 hours (2:00 AM in the morning). With all the firefighters that 2nd Platoon, Charlie Troop had experienced, I had lost 3 APC.’s by RPG’s, by the time TET had begun. I had quite a bit of experience with the Viet Cong and had lived in all kinds of hellish conditions. I am sharing these experiences to describe how skilled on combat with a survival type mentality that Charlie Troop had adopted by that point. We had begun in body and mind to think like the enemy that we were up against. All of this on the job training had helped to pull me through the infamous January 31st at Tan Son Nhut Air Base and also at the U.S. Embassy and the battle at Hoc Mon. To this day still, I can close my eyes and still see the actions that led up to the actual contact with the enemy at Tan Son Nhut. It started with the 2nd Platoon being called back into Cu Chi on the 30th of January from the field. While we were in Cu Chi the camp was under a mortar attack very sporadically during the day. The attack was continuing into the might with more intensity when Sgt Strayer (my Platoon Sergeant) told us to amount up on our vehicles. The notice came about 0230 hundred hours, (2:30 AM). The 2nd platoon mounted their vehicles in the motor pool, as was the usual procedure. What happened next was unusual. We did not move toward the main gate of Cu Chi. We instead proceeded in the opposite direction and made a right turn out of Cu Chi through a makeshift opening in the barbed wire. We drove through narrow overgrown jungle trails and wooded areas that barley let out vehicles through, the branches and foliage constantly brushing up against us; this type of driving making it difficult to concentrate on our weapons, (50 Cal.).
I was in the second vehicle in the column. The tank as usual was the lead vehicle with Sgt. Strayer as the Platoon Sergeant. Sgt Dolan was my TC (track Commander) on C21. The time was 0300 hundred hours, (3:00 AM). I had asked Sgt. Dolan what we were attempting to do in this thick terrain. His reply was that we had been told to find mortar positions that were firing heavily on Cu Chi. We were moving at a slow pace because of the thick jungle. Flares were being dropped to illuminate our way for about the first fifteen minutes, but that was discontinued. I could feel that we were in trouble by the way we were traveling at a crawl through this thick terrain. Feeling very uneasy I had attempted to protect myself as much as possible. I had put my M16 bandoleers across my chest and over my frag jacket. I had hung grenades from my vest. My M16 was slung over my shoulder. I also had my steel pot. The guys in my platoon rarely wore our steel pots. I had also placed another frag jacket across my legs. I was gripping my M60 machine gun as well as could be expected considering the up and down jerky movements of the APC and machine gun combined. I mentally also tried to prepare myself as good as I could. I knew we were not going to get out of that jungle without getting hit with a RPG and being blown off or killed.
We continued in this manner for hours on a very straight course and then we made a right column movement. In a short time, I was surprised to see that we had come up on a highway, it was highway 1.
In front of us, Sgt. Strayer’s tank made a left turn directly on the highway and we proceeded down the road just a little way just as dawn was breaking. I always felt a sense of relief when I saw daylight. The relief I allowed myself this time I was greatly mistaken about and was almost downfall. I started to relax, taking off my bandoleers, my grenades, my frag jacket and my steel pot and biggest mistake of all I began to let my guard down. Because then, one of the oddest things happened, the tank stopped and on our left was a small village, I saw heavy thick barbed wire fencing running horizontal on my left and running parallel to the road in front of us. On the right was a hedgerow of tall trees and foliage.
The next surprising event was when Captain Virant’s track pulled up on the ditch on my left and stopped between my track C21 and Sgt. Strayer’s tank off the road about 20 feet. Captain Virant dismounted his track with the FO. The Captain’s track was in the middle of the column prior to this development. I immediately jumped on the M60 on the left side of my track to give cover when I saw our officer’s approach. Two (2) ARVIN officers and two or three ARVIN soldiers. They only talked for about a minute, and then the Captain and Lieutenant mounted their tracks and motioned for Sgt. Strayer’s tank to move ahead forward. We, (C21) started forward but then halted because Captain Virant’s track pulled right in front of our tack at that point. We lost our positions as lead track giving fire protection to the lead tank, as was ordinary operating procedure. As a tank is very vulnerable to the enemy (Charlie) and because a tank has no real gun protection from the rear or the right or left flank we had operated in the manner as described above for the past four months that I was on the C21. In the meantime, the tank is still moving forward and the Captain’s Track is trailing behind it. We started moving and then kept our normal spacing behind the Officer’s Track. Then I lost view of our lead tank. Everything seemed very quiet except for our vehicle noise taking into the consideration the village on our right flank and the barbed wire on our left. There was an A.P tower on our left that was vacant.
We continued moving forward with the orders coming from somewhere higher up that we were to enter the main gate of this Air Base. I was amazed to see buildings on my left in the Air Base. It had somewhat of a civilized air about it, which I had not seen so far, their hooch's were set back further and hey appeared to have a woodland landscape terrain for front yards. The trees had a diameter of 15” to 20” and there were berms almost like the one surrounding the rice paddies in the area of Cu Chi. There was a noticeable lack of people in the village moving around but I explained that to myself as it being very early in the morning and also considering their curfew. My spot on the C21 track was on the back deck on the M60 machine gun on the right side. Then my track stopped which was usually nothing out of the ordinary, I was still holding onto my M60, facing directly at the village when I noticed slight movements of shadowy, illusive figures. While my mind was trying to decipher these images in front of my track Sgt. Strayer’s screaming voice go to my attention. I turned around and saw that he was hanging onto the top of my track. He was holding onto the edge of the opening of the back deck with his feet apparently positioned on the track road wheels. His face was almost completely covered with blood. I looked at him while holding onto my M60, he started yelling out orders. “Fire! Fire! The captain is dead! Everybody on the tank is dead! Kill everything!” I immediately turned from him and started to spray my M60 from center to left and back to right and so on and so on. The shadow figures were becoming clearer now; they were NVA. They were lying along those berm in-groups of six to eight (6-8) spaces apart firing back at us. At that point my track got hit with an RPG. I was blown off the back of the track and I landed on the black top of the highway, close to the ditch. My TC, Sgt. Dolan was on the ground with me. I don’t know what happened to the driver of my track. I crawled into the ditch, Sgt. Dolan was lying on my right side and Sgt. Strayer was lying on my left side. The NVA were trying to creep closer to cross over on us. As I was blown off my track and away from my weapons I had nothing left to defend myself. Sgt. Dolan and Sgt. Strayer had there 45s, Sgt shot his 45 between my track and Captain Virant’s at the NVA, then his head slumped over, I pushed his head to the side and I could see the bullet hole in his forehead. Every soldier including the Captains Track, the lead tank and my C21 track were either dead or seriously injured in 1 ½ to 2 minutes of initial contact with the NVA.
This narrative is one of my first of actual events that occurred on January 31st, 1968, at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. I am putting these writings down of the fighting and heroics of certain men, the downing of the helicopters, actual NVA trying to cross over etc. in order to have these truths recorded for the actual true history of the actual battle. I have read many writings on this battle and an enormous amount of information is missing. There wee a lot of heroic fighting up in front of the column that kept the entire column from being totally wiped out and the air base being taken over that morning that needs to be noted.
The men who are real soldiers in the 2nd Platoon. Sgt. Strayer, Sgt. Dolan, Sp, Martinez, Sp. Longabardi, Sp. Cowman, Sp. Steve Porter, and Lt. Pinto.
Proud to be a 2nd Platoon Scout in Charlie Troop
Philip T. Randazzo, Typed June 4th, 2002, NJR