Sp4 Philip Thomas Randazzo
2nd Platoon, Charlie Troop
C21 Recon, ¾ Cavalry, 25th Infantry Division
Vietnam Duty - September 1967 - September 1968
Hoc Mon, February 6th & 7th 1968
On February 6th, 1968 word came to our track that we would be heading back to Cu Chi. I was excited about returning. My jaw was really hurting from broken and missing teeth and a few of us needed other medical attention. We all needed food and water. That morning we started our track up and drove it off the porch of the U.S. Embassy. We proceeded down a walkway and out through the gates. This was probably about 0730 hrs. As we went down the street we met up with other vehicles and began to from a platoon formation. It was good thinking about getting back to Cu Chi again. It felt lonely too as I was thinking about my buddies who were either seriously wounded or killed. I have vivid memories of driving back through the city streets of Saigon and leaving its civilization behind us.
We rode through the city gates and proceeded on Highway-1. I cannot put into adequate words my feelings of traveling back through the road that was the scene of our fight just five days earlier. But, the sun was shining and knowing Cu Chi was before us gave me some happier thoughts. We also had the news that base camp was preparing a steak dinner for us. After being in Vietnam since September thoughts of eating a steak was almost too good to be true. We continued our way down Highway-1 with our customary sense for danger so we did not let our guard down. We received an order from track-to-track from Lt. Pinto. He told us through our CVC helmets that we were to halt at a certain intersection. I had never seen this stretch of highway before. It had a small bridge-like structure on it. A tank was the lead vehicle in our column. We, C20, were second in line of the column and I remember the mortar track with Longabardi on it. Longabardi's track was behind us. I've forgotten which track was behind Longabardi's. After our battle we did not have the men for a full complement platoon. It is not normal procedure for the lead scout vehicle of a platoon to be the Officer's track. I was on this track because mine, C21, had been destroyed. We were in a herringbone position for a few minutes on this crossroad.
At about 0845 hrs. orders came for the lead tank to make a right turn onto this road and proceed on. The 2nd platoon column followed the tank down this road. There were explosions that we could hear at a distance in front of us. I turned around and looked at Longabardi on his track. We were eye to eye and I gave him the "thumbs down" gesture and he returned the same to me. We both knew we were heading into trouble. The thought went through my head tat going back to Cu Chi for steaks was a "big Crock". We continued down this road that had the usual terrain on sides of rice paddies and wood lines. The explosions were getting closer sounding and I was hanging onto my M60. When we started entering a village orders rang out, "Recon by fire!!". We opened up our firepower and picked up the speed of our vehicles. We cleared the village and were back to open land on our flanks. The explosions were getting louder, and I could feel myself tensing up. We were coming up on another village. We reconned by fire and again picked up speed and raced through the village as we were firing. We sped down the open terrain road. Explosions seemed to be getting louder and nearer. I was starting to get some really bad vibes. We continued with our advancement and slowed down when we saw a big village that we were about to enter. This village was bigger than Trang Bang. This was the village of Hoc Mon. We did not recon this village by fire. We cautiously drove through it. Civilians in this village were just going about their daily routine like nothing out of the ordinary was happening. the ground was shaking from explosions. The air had a smoky stench to it. We moved to the end of this village and then artillery shells were pinging and hitting all around us. We were getting sprayed with shrapnel and other debris. I was yelling to Lt. Pinto that these rounds were going to kill us. He was busy on the radio trying to find out who was firing these rounds and to get them to stop. He really didn't have any luck with that, so it was a nasty situation. After about five minutes passe3d the incoming rounds ceased. I heard later on that it was the ARVN who were supplying artillery fire. We started clearing the outskirts of the village. When the entire 2nd Platoon cleared we stopped our vehicles but did not form a herringbone defensive position at this time. On one side was an open area about one quarter the size of a football field surrounded by trees and shrubs. We received orders that an Infantry unit had got hit hard and that we were to secure and clean up the area of bodies and equipment. We were told not to let the NVA get their hands on anything. We faced the battleground and started moving in. Lieutenant Pinto's track, C20, was the first vehicle on the right flank to move in. We went down into a culvert and onto the clearing. Soldier's bodies and weaponry were scattered all over the area. We started our forward march. The rest of 2nd Platoon was on one side of our flank on line. Lieutenant Pinto's track made the furthest advancement because we were in direct line of the clearing. The other vehicles were moving very close to the wood-line. Then hell rained down on us. It was a horrible sight to see fellow platoon members being shot off the tops of their vehicles. I started shooting my M60 toward the wood line to my right flank. I sighted three hootchs that were firing at us. I kept firing into them with my M60. It didn't even slow down the rounds coming at us. There were AK-47 rounds coming from the 1100 o'clock position to our 4 o'clock position. The position on one flank turned out to be the deadliest. Those hootches that I mentioned earlier were about 15 feet into the wood line. They were camouflaged somewhat from overhead views. Each vehicle of the 2nd platoon was now on line. I could see every trooper clearly. The AK rounds were bouncing off of everyone's vehicle including ours. The 2nd platoon was in a frenzy firing back. The tanks that were back further on the road pulled up on line with us. They moved in closer when they saw the devastating destruction that we were going through. In a normal procedure of operations, tanks usually stayed on the road if possible. This battle was far from normal. Track C20 moved forward into the clearing, but we caught more hell. A RPG hit just short of our road wheels. It didn't damage our track. Our APC just got sprayed with shrapnel. We then moved our track up on line further. That is when I noticed a fortified bunker. I could see about a three-foot-wide opening just above the ground inside the shrub line. The bunker had beams on the top and bottom. I tried to penetrate it with fire from my M60. Their firepower and accuracy right then seemed to be superior to ours. The enemy had a better position and that gave them their added strength. even though our troopers were getting shot on their vehicles they fired back at the enemy valiantly. Lieutenant Pinto was trying to get artillery and gunship support but was not able to. A slick was circling our rear right flank but not firing into the enemy position below him I tried unsuccessfully to signal by waving and pointing toward the bunker and hootch. Track C20 again tried to advance in the clearing. As we were advancing a Mexican-American trooper, I think it was Sandoval was on the ground next to our track. He was giving close ground cover, so I jumped off and walked crouched down low to see and hear better. We continued a few yards more and the firing started up again. The C20 track started backing up again and we tried to back up with her hastily firing our M16s. Then Sandoval tripped and fell behind the track. I tried grabbing him, but the track knocked my left arm away and he was run over by the track. I was expecting to hear screams of pain and parts of his body to come flying out. I stopped where I was, and the track rolled by me and up popped Sandoval. I could not believe my eyes. He was not hurt at all. He had lain down between the tracks and he had just enough clearance so that he wasn't crushed. He did look pasty-faced though and he was shaken up. He got this moment of terror as thanks for trying to help us out on the right flank. We moved back, and I jumped on my M60 and that's the last I ever saw of him.
We held that position for some time. I kept firing. I tried a M79 (Grenade Launcher) to put explosives toward the enemy's position so maybe one of the choppers would comprehend the situation but it didn't register with any of them. There was too much chaos for it to make a lot of sense to anyone in the area. At the same time all this was going on Lt. Pinto was firing his 50 Cal straight into the enemy's positions that I couldn't see. Our track was "Rocking & Rolling" for what seemed like a long time. I looked to one side and saw the 2nd platoon firing like you wouldn't believe. I could see my TC for the last three months, Sgt. Webster, firing the 50 Cal. from the top of his vehicle. His vehicle was about the second from the last and they were stationed just short of the wood line. I saw Sgt. Webster get shot in the and then his body slumped down into the cupola. He fired his 50 Cal like the soldier that he was until the AK-47 hit him. Him and I had been through many firefights together on C21. We had both been blown off three different APCs by RPGs, once in October and twice in November. By the time that he was shot I had known him for about four months. Webster was a soldier with the type of disposition that you definitely did not want to cross. He was pretty vocal in his attitudes toward "Charlie". He would scream for Charlie to stay put so he could come and get him. Being with Sgt. Webster toughened me up about killing the enemy. It saddened me to see him die. I had already seen enough of my buddies die at Ton Son Nhut. It felt like it was all starting right up again and my whole unit was going towards total annihilation.
A tank was next to us pointed toward the bunker and the hootch using the 90mm cannon and machine guns. I saw the crew getting picked off one-by-one from AK rounds. A trooper, I think his name was Herrera, was on that tank. I saw him get shot in the hand and he fell to the ground. I jumped off and another trooper, Doc. Jones, and I put him inside our track. Since the medic was on C20 we had the back door opened and the wounded started coming in for medical aid. I got back on my M60 and Lt. Pinto was on his 50 cal. The driver had a lot of guts to keep himself exposed to enemy fire, as we were attacking then pulling back and then attacking over and over again. Every now and then I would look down into the track and see the wounded guys groaning in pain. Herrera was in a lot of pain. I was hoping that Lt. Pinto wouldn't try to charge again at the enemy as we had all these wounded troopers. Thank God. we stayed in the same fighting position for a while. While we were in that position the tank to the left was unoccupied. To see a vehicle with that magnitude of firepower vacant of soldiers is a strange sight.
The 6th of February had so much action going on that it is hard to put in order the sequence of events as they unfolded at Hoc Mon. Next, as far as I can remember is when I saw the Quonset box on the tank on fire. I didn't give it much thought, but another trooper did. Trooper Clark had an extinguisher in his hands and he was trying to put the flames out. The trip flares were causing the fire that AK-47 rounds had ignited in there. I watched as this trooper got shot almost instantly. He was wearing a bandolier of M16 ammo around his back and over his shoulder. After a fire burst he dropped to the ground. I jumped off of my M60 and ran over to where I saw3 him get hit. He was shot by a AK-47 in the back. The bullet entered first into one of the M16 magazines and pushed about three M16 rounds and some of the magazine into the center of his back. He must have died the moment I saw him fall. I believe he was also a short-timer. It is still hard to understand why he thought it was so important to try and save that tank. Maybe if he had seen the crew getting shot off of it within a few minutes he may have realized that the NVA and the VC had that tank zeroed in their sights and he would have had second thoughts about trying to defend it. I dragged him back to our track and "Doc" helped me put him inside. The enemy sure had us dead nuts on. Once again, just like in Ton Sun Nhut we were pinned down as targets. We lacked air-support, we had no chopper cover, or artillery. Communication always seemed much worse during our battles as compared to our firefights. My thinking had turned back to hard realistic terms. No more dreamy thoughts of steak dinners, water to drink, or even of Cu Chi. Those pipedreams disappeared. So, I was back to my usual state of not being aware of anything except knowing I was in hell. I jumped off my track and tried to get closer to that damned bunker and the hootch, so I could get off some better shots. Fighting in that position I could only see the rifle flashes. We desperately heeded rocket fire on those positions. A lot of our vehicles were being silenced for lack of troopers. I noticed about this time that a unit of tracks was pulling up behind us on the road. They stopped parallel to us and I ran to either the lead or 2nd in lead vehicle and asked them for more M79 rounds. I don't know who they were. I just remember telling a lieutenant how bad the situation was and where some strategic enemy positions were located. I was more or less yelling at this crew to call in Delta troop or some artillery on these positions. I got M79 grenades but no response to air support. I went back to my track and continued fighting. I still don't know where those APCs went after that.
Lieutenant Pinto's track never left our position the whole day. We kept firing on enemy positions and getting heavy fire back. They were getting the better of us with their AK-47 fire because they had the advantage of concealment and we were open targets. On top of our vehicles I saw many of our troopers just being picked right off by enemy fire. Charlie was definitely not retreating a foot, but we didn't either. This situation went on for some time and then I noticed movement in front of our track. We kept getting pushed back from the heavy firing from a clearing in front of us. I spotted tow APCs in the wood line of that clearing. It was a flanking maneuver that turned into a disaster. It turned out to be part of headquarters platoon. Apparently, they had received orders to attack from that flank. The APC that I saw was our own mortar track. Based on the combat experience I had, that track under normal operating procedures should have stayed on the road behind us. My good Piassano, Longabardi was the TC on that track. That track was not equipped for the type of close combat that we were involved with. I could see that they were trying to hit the enemy head on. They charged the hootch and bunker from left to right. Longabardi was using his 50 cal like it was a toy. Longabardi was a draftee, about 26 years old from New York City. He was big, barrel-chested guy with a typical New York accent. Back home he and his brother owned a bar. His father had passed away, but his mother was living, and he was pretty close to her. I liked his streetwise ways and his openness.
Each vehicle was short of men before we reached Hoc Mon. Now at this point we are just about out of 2nd platoon troopers. another APC did not make it out of the wood line. It was somewhat behind Longabardi;s. They were catching a tremendous amount of fire. I turned away to my right and kept firing on those hooches and that bunker. That was the area with the most intense enemy fire that was devastating to our 2nd platoon. I turned my head back and I saw John Castagna running from the track that I had seen earlier in the wood line. John was 11-Bravo Infantry. He was another New York draftee and he did not like this tour of duty at all. He missed his wife Diane and his two children. Anyway, when I saw John, he was in a breaking point state of mind right then. He was headed straight toward those hootch and yelling out his wife's name, "Diane! Diane". John Castagna and Longabardi were also close friends and I think when he saw the mortar track burning and he knew Longabardi was burning with it he temporarily went into a rage. He didn't seem to even notice the bullets that followed his every step. I got off my track and followed him and brought him back to C20. There was more than one way in which someone could become a causality that day. Our platoon was 90% draftees. To me they were mostly older guys, 25-26. I was 21 and they considered me the "kid". Most of them had families, wives, kids, careers and businesses back home, I had thought that since Castagna had been wounded earlier that he was still in Cu Chi. I couldn't figure out how he got into this suicidal situation. Then, I happened to notice another trooper who was in headquarters platoon, so I realized that Castagna must have been sent out with them. That is when I figured out that they were the vehicles that had pulled to our left front and gave us a L-shaped fighting formation.
So, I have a memory of Hell from that day. We were fighting all day until around 1800 or 1900 hrs. when darkness started to fall, and we received orders to pull back. We backed up onto the road and I felt some relief until I found out that more of 2nd platoon was dead and wounded. We sat on the road in silence, no sound of gunfire, no noise of moving machinery. In front of me I could see armored vehicles burning. I could smell the sickening smell of battle. I could see the bodies lying shot and blasted apart, dead. Like I said, Hell.
Then we were ordered to back through this wood line behind us opposite the direction in which we had been fighting. It was just a small wood line, We made our CP here in a good-sized clearing. Then Bravo troop appeared and reinforced our perimeter. I was getting mentally and physically beaten up. Lieutenant Pinto still looked like a strong leader, which gave me some hope. he said that Cu Chi was going to bring out some hot chow for breakfast. That was hard to believe. Very soon the sky was dark, and we stayed up all night on a very tight vigil. All through the night artillery and rockets from gun-ships kept pounding the area that we fought in. The explosions rocked the ground all night. This was done in order to keep Charlie from pillaging our fighting area for everyone and everything we had left behind there. Dawn broke hazy and rainy. At about 0700 hrs. I remember headquarters setting up marmite cans with chow. I heard that there were eggs for breakfast. What a surprise? i got off my M60 and walked toward the cans. I was waiting for my turn to get some chow when hell came back. From the opposite side of where we were fighting the day before, fire from RPGs was directed at our tracks. There was a wood line about 75 yards away from our position that the enemy was in. That ended the line. I never even got a look inside of those cans. I jumped back on C20 and got on the M60 and we all started firing at the wood line. I still see those RPGs, floating through the air with a stream of smoke following. Orders from Lt. Pinto came across for us to break contact and proceed to our position that we had fought in the day before. The enemy hit us this way to detour us from cleaning up the battleground from the day before.
Our tracks were on the move again for just a short distance when Lt. Pinto had us halt. Lieutenant Pinto told us that Bravo Troop would take lead and bring us safely to our vehicles that we had left the day before. We were really too undermanned to take lead. I found out immediately why this maneuver was taken and very intelligently so. Just before Bravo troop was to approach the road they were hit. I sat on my track and watched the fight. We could not move up to help because B Troop was on line left to right. Lieutenant Pinto told us to sit tight. If they needed help than we will move up. Bravo Troop had a full complement of vehicles. It was one hell of a fight. There was a berm that the enemy had their fortified bunkers in. We had crossed over that berm the evening before. We were surrounded on February 6th. This particular fight went on for about 20-30 minutes. Bravo troop gave us the okay to advance forward behind them. As we had gotten close to them. We could see Bravo troop pulling dead Viet Cong bodies out of these bunkers. The bodies were just being scattered all around and we just kept our vehicles moving on a straight line. My memory is that Bravo troop killed around 27-29 of the enemy. We continued past Bravo troop at that point and moved back onto the highway. It was about 0800 hrs. At this time my guts told me that more of the "hell" that I had gotten to know was coming back shortly. As we moved into the ditch and leveled off we started moving in again. Anticipating the first rounds to go off was a terrifying feeling. We moved in slowly to where we had left our tracks and men the day before. Surprisingly we did not receive any enemy gunfire. We were ordered to pick up this battlefield. there was a lot of damage that was done by the overnight artillery and the gunship fire. The smell alone of a battlefield early in the morning is enough to put you over the edge. Everything was still smoldering and the view in the bright morning light was horrific. We pulled our track in as close as possible and some of us dismounted and started picking things up. That stopped quickly as Lt. Pinto ordered not to pick up anything as they could have been booby-trapped overnight. We were given three-pronged grappling hooks with about 15 feet of rope attached. We would hook something and pull on the rope and wait a few seconds. This is what we did all day long. This was my first time ever seeing anyone use a body bag. I don't have any need to go into detail about everything that we used that hook on. Battles only sound glorious after hearing about them second hand. This was just a dismal, dreary time that I am still haunted by.
That evening Colonel Otis's bubble chopper landed in our position. The Colonel stood in the middle of the battlefield site. It was he and I and a couple of other troopers. We were the ones that were policing up the area. I guess he wanted to gauge the amount of damage done. A gunship was firing at the wood line that flanked us on our left, in the direction of Highway-1 and us. I asked Colonel Otis if they were firing at gooks or just recon by fire. He told me very firmly that they were firing at the enemy. That is not what I wanted to hear. Colonel Otis was on the ground for about five minutes and then his chopper lifted off again. By then we pretty much had the area cleaned up as much as could be expected under the circumstances.
At about 1830 hrs. on the 7th of February, Lt. Pinto ordered me to mount this tank. There was a sergeant on it that I had never met before and we were joined with two other guys that I didn't know. To document for the record this tank was the infamous C35 that is written about all over the 3/4 Cav. website. Our first mission on C35 was to destroy two APCs that were not completely destroyed. I stood up on C35 and directed the main gun to elevate or drop. This may sound strange to someone with education on how a tank operates. But, none of us were trained as tankers (11E). We started firing the 90mm by sight. I aimed the tube the best that I could and yelled to the sergeant to lower or raise it. It took three shots and the APCs were destroyed. This was real on-the-job training and we were learning fast. After that we had orders to get back to the rode in a column formation. Tank C35 was to take lead. I sat on top of C35 leaning against the back of the turret facing the rear. I had my M79 with me. I complained to the sergeant on the tank with me that whoever had given the order for us to start the column didn't know what they were doing. We had orders to go back down the same road that we had traveled two days earlier and to get back on Highway-1. The reason that I spoke out like that was because I was remembering my conversation with Colonel Otis and the chopper firing at Charlie in that position. bravo troop was still in the CP position that we had that night. We were undermanned, and I thought we should regroup with Bravo Troop and dance back to Cu Chi with them as security. But, we sat on the road facing what to me was a very bad move. there were four or five trees that were lying across the blocking our view in front of us. I was flagging with my arms about this roadblock of trees. They were extended more on the left and the tops of the trees were crossing over to the right side. All of the vehicles were trying to get into formation but were having some trouble because of not being able to see past those trees. There were some vehicles still on the battlefield and there were some in the wood line. I could see the headquarters VTR parked waiting to follow into column position. I looked in front of C35 and to my left there was a hootch that was still standing. The firing never touched it. then orders came out to start moving the column. Information came that the trees had probably been knocked over by artillery or gunships. I knew that was a lot of bullshit because they were stacked too precisely and closely across the road. I had a choice of which position to take so I got into the rear-guard position sitting against the rear of the turret. C35 moved forward and pushed the trees out of the way and just as I thought the tops of the trees lying on the right of the road moved forward and brushed along the left side of the tank. Once we had cleared the trees they whammed back into the same position that they were in before. I could not see any of our vehicles and they couldn't see us. C35 was isolated and F---ed!!!. I looked to one side to a hootch that hadn't been touched and up pops Charlie at the entrance with an RPG. The first RPG hit the side of the turret right at the base where it's connected to the body. Sparks were flying all over me and it hit right next to my ass. I ended up in the ditch. I still had my sensed, but my right leg and right arm were pretty bad. I fired my M79 into the hootch door trying to kill some gooks and the tank kept getting hit with more RPSs, The sergeant was lying on top. One trooper a heavyset guy was blown off onto the road. I couldn't see the driver. We were cut off from the rest of the vehicles and I couldn't get out of the ditch because AK-47 rounds were flying over my head. I managed to get about 6 M79 rounds off at the hootch hoping the other troopers would put fire in there also. They held their fire, I believe because they couldn't see us. They thought that they might hit us also. Tank C35 sat there burning and smoking. My right arm was bleeding and also my right hand. Minutes went by and the trees that were lying in the road between the vehicles began to rustle as a trooper came through them to our position. He was being fired at and he didn't care. He was a draftee about 24 years old. I knew him a little because he was from Michigan also, St. Clair Shores, about 20 miles away from my hometown. He approached me with his medic bag and fixed me up somewhat. There were a couple of more troopers who came through the trees and were laying down gunfire as they were approaching the other wounded soldiers. Abrams dragged me back through the trees and I saw all the guys on the vehicles looking down at me. A lot of them looked white-faced like they were in shock. I could see the fear in their faces. Medic Abrams cut my pant leg off and started giving me pain injections and wrappings. I broke free from him trying to get back to that hootch. I was tired. I just wanted it to end either way right then and there. A big monster of a man grabbed me and carried me back to the medic's track. He was the sergeant in charge of Headquarters Platoon. He was the TC for the VTR and someone that you did not want to mess with. I think that he saved my life right then, because I think I list my mind for a moment there. I always wonder what he was doing other than trying to get us guys out of that ambush. The other dead and wounded were also being brought back to the medic's track. It was starting to get dark about this time and I remember them calling for a dust-off. thirty-five or forty minutes later we were dusted-off. Everyone was on his guns but at this point no one was firing anymore. I was so F---ed I just kept firing. I was firing even from the dust-off chopper in the direction of that hootch. We went to Cu Chi for the dust-off and went to a medical tent for treatment. There isn't any point to describe what goes on in a medical tent. The next morning, I was transported back to my hootch. When I got there with the help of the company clerk he also gave me a stack of letters from home. I lay down on my cot and didn't open them for a long time. I just smelled them for a while, the smell of home. That day lying there I saw Tommy Cowan on his cot. He was not in a good state of mind. He staggered slowly over to my cot and softly asked me, "It's bad out there, isn't it?" I can't remember what I had said back to him. then he said quietly, "Longabardi is dead, isn't he?" I told him that he was. Tommy turned around and walked sort of hunched over back to his cot. He sat down and started rocking back and forth slightly. Tommy was with Longabardi on the mortar track for about 6 months. They both were from New York. Tommy was also a draftee. There were other 2nd platoon troopers lying wounded on their cots. You could feel fear in the air in our hootch. Everyone in there knew what hell looked and felt like. The next day comes vividly to my mind. The company clerk came into the hootch with mail and to see how the wounded were doing. By MOS he wasn't really a company clerk. He was 11D (Recon). A mine on Highway 1 hit his track back in September and he was sort of crippled by it. His spine was injured. but not enough to send him back stateside. He was hurt just enough that he couldn't even lift his legs to get on a APC. So, he understood what was going through our minds. He was a real nice guy. He walked over to my cot and said to me that the (I.G,) Inspector General wanted to talk to me immediately. At that time, I didn't even know exactly what an I.G. was. He helped me up off my cot and gave me a pair of crutches to help me walk, the clerk told me how to find the I.G.'s hootch. It took me awhile to walk over there. My leg had a hole in it the size of a golf ball. I was to get that stitched up in three days. The Doc's wanted to let the lead poison drain out before they closed it up. I had my other injuries to deal with too, physical and mental ones. I got to his hootch and banged on the door with my crutch. He ordered me to enter. There was a Major sitting at the desk. I told him that I had orders to see the I.G., he told me he was the I.G., I had expected to see a General with stars on his lapel. I never learned any of this before during rank description in training. He looked at me and saw my leg and arm messed up, my pant leg was missing from my thigh down. I looked like shit. He ordered me to sit down, which I did. I was worn out just walking over to his hootch.
The I.G. started asking me questions about the tank at Hoc Mon. I did not understand where he was going with this line of questioning. He finally spoke frankly to me. He stated, and I quote, "You are going to be Court-Marshaled", It is still a mystery to me, here I thought maybe he was going to tell me I was going to be discharged for all of my wounds and the fighting that I went through and instead he tells me I am in some serious trouble. I had a lot of painkillers in my system right then. Then he started going off and saying, "You are being Court-Marshaled for deserting the tank, (C35)". It started to sink in then. I asked for what reason I was being Court-Marshaled and he stated, "The enemy had taken control of the tank and took it." I could not understand that part at all. After what I had been through I really didn't give a crap. I had lost all my platoon buddies the hard way so what is one more kick in the ass. I asked for an explanation on how C35 had gotten taken over by the Viet Cong. The I.G. explained that it was found off of the road in some wood line coverage. This may sound crazy, but he also told me that C35 was booby-trapped to fire the 90mm when a vehicle would trigger it by rolling over a landmine that was on that road. Supposedly it would roll over the land mine and detonate it. Which means that a vehicle would get hit twice. I told him after all that bullshit what had happened. I explained that the tank was hit with a couple of RPG-2s and that I had gotten blown off of it. He told me that it was hit with 4 RPG-7s. It still wasn't making any sense to me. But then again nothing that had happened the last few days made much sense at that point. He said that the tank was still operable, and that "Charlie took it." I asked him to talk to the other crewmembers and he explained that they were no longer around. I know that the heavyset trooper had been hit in the right cheek of his ass. It was a nice, clean wound and it wasn't bleeding much when I saw him in the medic's tent after dust-off. After that statement from the I.G. I realized that I hadn't seen the other two troopers afterwards. It did make sense that they were either dead or on their way to Japan. So, here I was handed full responsibility for a tank and for a crew I didn't know. I just came out of myself and told the I.G. that I didn't care anymore and that he could do whatever with me. I told him I was exhausted, scared, and my nerves were shot with this whole primitive lifestyle and that I had already been blown off 4 APCs, (C21) by RPGs, one M48 tank (C35). He them made a remark about me being blown off APCs. He asked me what I was doing on APCs, and I told him that I had been on them for about 5 months. Then he got around to asking me what my MOS was and I told him that I was 11D Recon. Then, he asked me what I was doing on C35. I told him that I had lost my track, C21 at the battle of Ton Son Nhut. I let him know that I was on Lt. Pinto's track, C20 but after fighting at Hoc Mon I had been ordered to mount the tank as a crewmember because there were no 11E tanker troopers left for our vehicles. The I.G. said, "You are not an 11E?" I said I wished that I were so that I wouldn't have to go on APs, OPs and LPs etc. He got a serious look on his face and then told me that he couldn't Court Marshal me after al for deserting C35. I had a different MOS, so I was not trained to operate the tank and so I could not be held responsible. Then the I.G. dismissed me and I limped out of there and back to my hooch. That ordeal with the Inspector General was degrading and demoralizing to me as a trooper of 2nd Platoon Charlie Troop.
These details described of the battle of Ton Son Nhut and the Battle of Hoc Mon had to be brought forth out of respect of the 2nd Platoon troopers who were either killed or wounded so that it will be remembered in the history of the 3/4 Cavalry, from a living historian, (myself), that had fought from January 31st, through February 7th, 1968. To me these were not just firefights but real battles.
Also, of note, I have recently been contacted by telephone by a man stating that his brother was killed at Hoc Mon, February 7th, 1968. He had been in Vietnam only two weeks. He matched the description of the Sergeant that was TC for C35. He must have come out to us with Headquarters Platoon on the 7th of February, I never saw him before that.
Philip T. Randazzo